This past summer, a Keene State College faculty member got the opportunity to go to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to gain more knowledge about weather science.
Physics professor Sarah McGregor was the faculty member to receive this opportunity and said one area of science she learned more about was how the sun affects what is happening on earth, also known as space weather.
The reason that McGregor had the opportunity to go to NASA was because of a grant from KSC’s Faculty Enrichment Committee. Instructional Consultant of the Faculty Enrichment Committee Chris Odato said, “Part of the stipend was to work with NASA. One purpose of the presentation is to bring it into the classroom.” The government page for NASA describes space weather as, “Conditions on the sun, in the solar wind, and within the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and can endanger human life or health.”
McGregor said sun particles are fast, small and they can hurt people by ripping through deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which can result in tumors. The Earth’s magnetic field shields us as these particles come toward us, but there are still reasons why we should care about energetic particles, said McGregor. “Airplanes go above poles, the military care about it, people that are mining depend on [global positioning system or] GPS to do their job. Also, oil companies because of corrosion, truckers and construction workers because of power lines. [They] all care about space weather as it could have an affect on their work,” said McGregor.
McGregor said because of the dangers of space weather, NASA has been developing ways to forecast it. Using a coronal model is one way that NASA is predicting space weather, she said. The NASA website stated detecting the phenomenon on the surface of the sun will help to monitor solar activity.
McGregor said that KSC has become the first college in the U.S. to receive the Wang-Sheeley-Arge Semi-Empirical Coronal Model, which is a space weather forecasting model.
Biology major and senior at KSC Ian Lehner said he thought it was interesting that KSC was given the opportunity to have a faculty member go to NASA. “It’s really interesting, but also scary. I had no idea that the physics department had the resources to do that.”
McGregor said that she is hoping that the connection between KSC and NASA continues. “I am hoping to possibly have a student do an internship there over the summer.”
Environmental Studies Professor Thomas Webler said that the lecture was important to him as it is a major threat to today’s world. “As she said, the charges ions can induce electric currents into power lines, large currents that run the length of the power line and blow out the transformer at the end of the wire. These transformers are giant beasts, specially made, and take months or years to replace. That could seriously interfere with our electricity network. Without electricity, so much of our modern society is at risk of failure.”
Colby Dudal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org