The Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Universities and Science), opened the Met Office Space Weather Centre, which is a key milestone in the protection of the UK economy and infrastructure from the real threat of severe space weather events.

Based at the Met Office’s headquarters in Exeter, the Centre is the culmination of more than three years’ work to combine the space weather resources and scientific expertise of the UK and USA and was made possible by £4.6 million funding from Government. It is operational 24/7 providing space weather forecasts and developing an early warning system aimed at protecting critical infrastructure from the impacts of space weather.

Space weather is the dynamics of the region of space surrounding the Earth. It involves complex interactions between solar radiation, solar wind, the Earth's magnetic field, and the upper extremes of the atmosphere. Understanding it is of great importance, as space weather events can interfere with communications, damage satellites and overload electrical grids. It can also affect navigation and timing signals.

Professor Cathryn Mitchell and her team in the Department's Invert Centre for Imaging Science have created a software package that enables the Met Office forecasters to better understand how space weather can disrupt GPS data in particular. Known as Multi-Instrument Data Analysis System (or MIDAS), it monitors the changing nature of the Earth’s upper atmosphere (called the ionosphere) as it responds to space weather. Importantly, it then uses this information to calculate, in real time, the exact effect of space weather on the position errors in GPS measurements. This enables the Met Office to assess far more accurately the impact of solar storms, and therefore predict when GPS data will become unreliable.

“We are very pleased to be a partner enabling the UK’s first dedicated space weather centre,” commented Professor Mitchell. “Many electronic devices and systems now rely on GPS satellites for navigation or timing, so a better understanding of potential errors in GPS is increasingly essential for our everyday lives."

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark said: “The Met Office Space Weather Centre is a clear demonstration of how the UK is a world leader in space weather. Not only will it help us to guard against the impact of space weather, but its capabilities will mean benefits for British businesses like those in the space industry and the wider economy.”

Other partners involved include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Centre, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), British Geological Survey (BGS), RAL Space, British Antarctic Survey and several other universities and research organisations to optimise the use of data, knowledge and models.

Professor Mitchell was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live about the Met Office Space Weather Centre opening , listen from 6:20 here.

Also, to find out why we need space weather forecasts, read Professor Mitchell's piece on The Conversation

If you are interested in this, you may also enjoy:

Space weather monitored on UK’s pilot CubeSat mission

UK needs defending against space weather ‘superstorm’

Britain’s first ‘lightning into space’ scientifically validated