TCD included in European team to predict future solar flares

15 Jan 2015

A European team of astronomers, including members from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have won €2.5m of European Commission funding to create a solar storm forecasting service to lessen storms’ impact on Earth.

Known as FLARECAST (Flare Likelihood and Region Eruption Forecasting), the team includes members from some of Europe’s most astronomically minded universities from Ireland, the UK, Greece, France, Italy and Switzerland.

The aim of FLARECAST is to give those looking to avail of the service the ability to choose from a range of flare-forecasting techniques.

These techniques will then be integrated with advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to improve the skill scores of solar flare prediction.

Keeping us out of harm’s way

While solar storms on our sun have been occurring since its creation billions of years ago and their bursts of radiation tend not to affect humans due to the Earth’s atmosphere, in the right circumstances, the storms can cause havoc to technology, including radio signals, electric infrastructure and computer systems.

By being able to predict when a solar storm will occur, we can at least ready ourselves for any potential harm coming our way.

FLARECAST project scientist and TCD senior fellow Dr Shaun Bloomfield said the project brings together European expertise in fundamental solar physics, artificial intelligence and neural networks, as well as state-of-the-art data-mining techniques to characterise the sources of solar storms – sunspots – and to upgrade flare forecasting to unprecedented levels of precision.

Solar flares image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic