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Academic who predicted solar storms says more likely in coming weeks and months


Graphic showing solar flares

A University of Bradford academic who accurately predicted last week’s solar storms, says it is likely that more will occur in the coming weeks and months.

Professor of Visual Computing Rami Qahwaji, who set up the Space Weather Prediction Group, said solar activity could increase in the short term.

Professor Qahwaji led a dedicated team of Research Assistants and PhD students to develop the AI and Computer Vision Technologies needed for monitoring sunspot activity and predicting solar storms.

Our system successfully predicted the latest solar storms, which produced the northern lights seen across the UK last week.

He said: “Here in Bradford, we developed one of the world’s first automated real-time systems for the 24/7 monitoring and prediction of extreme solar flares by processing the latest satellite images.

“Our system is called the Automated Solar Activity Prediction (ASAP) and it works with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite, integrated into NASA’s online space weather portal, used as a decision-making tool for NASA’s robotic missions and to manage radiation effects on NASA’s Chandra x-ray observatory orbit. It is widely acknowledged as an international benchmark.

"The development and impact of ASAP was submitted as an impact case study for the Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) and was rated as 100% Internationally Excellent (3*).”

Professor Rami Qahwaji

Professor Qahwaji, pictured above, said: “We are now going through the solar maximum. Initially, it was predicted that the solar maximum would be in 2025, but it seems the sun has reached its peak earlier than expected.

“Solar storms can happen at any time. The biggest solar storms typically happen weeks to years after the solar maximum is reached. As the solar cycle progresses, more sunspots appear and could be located closer to the Sun’s equator. The chances of having coronal mass ejections aimed directly at Earth rather than out into space could also increase.

“Our system successfully predicted the latest solar storms, which produced the northern lights seen across the UK last week."

Professor Qahwaji is invited to talk about the ASAP development experience and the use of AI in space applications during the COSPAR 2024 conference in South Korea, which is the largest space conference in the world, usually attended by around 3,000 international delegates and all major stake holders in the space industry.

Solar maximum

Professor Qahwaji said the sun was currently going through a phase known as the ‘solar maximum’.

He said: “The sun's magnetic field completely flips approximately every 11 years, where its south and north poles switch places. This causes the solar cycle, and this cycle affects activity on the surface of the sun, such as sunspots. The solar cycle starts with a solar minimum, when the sun has the least number of sunspots. Gradually, the number of sunspots increases until the solar maximum is reached. During solar minimum, there will be fewer solar storms and fewer space weather effects.”

He added: “Our sun is a medium-sized star. Other stars could have similar cycles, although their durations will vary considerably.”