He who looks long upon the aurora soon goes mad.
Why Space Weather
The Space surrounding our planet is definitely non-empty, even if you go up much higher than the clouds, much higher than stratosphere, and you exit the ionosphere, and you travel to the Sun. There is space plasma all over, partly blown by the Solar Wind, partly “evaporating” from the lower near-Earth strata, partly created by Sun’s radiation through ionization. Not only the place is a definitely-non-empty material continuum, it is a complex set of highly variable ionized gas populations interacting among each other via electromagnetic fields, chemical reactions, mechanical turbulence, under an omnipresent magnetic field, with sources in the Sun and in the core of the Earth. The complex set of magnetized plasma populations is referred to as Sun-Earth environment.
The configuration of these different particle populations, from the interplanetary space up to the higher layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, definitely has an impact on human life and technology: it is what determines the conditions of radio conductivity properties of the upper atmosphere of our planet, deeply influencing the navigation and positioning facilities; and what can alter the geomagnetic field ground values, determining current systems interacting disruptively with electric networks and power plants. This all renders it important to understand the dynamics of the Sun-Earth environment in order to forecast, as possible, at least the effects its variability has on our life and technology: this effort is what we call Space Weather.
The Sun-Earth environment is a kind of Eldorado for anyone who wants to put the theory of fluids, turbulence, magnetohydrodynamics, dynamical systems to work on concrete examples… In few words, this is “Why Space Weather”.
The near-Earth plasma definitely looks like a well self-organized system undergoing the forcing of Solar Wind, planet’s gravity and planet’s neutral atmosphere. On the one hand, it is characterised by local proxies that are strongly fluctuating quantities, rather unpredictable in their short time behaviour. On the other hand, its large scale structure (its “general anatomy”) is a rather robust configuration that does not show very big changes in time, repeating rather predictably a standard behaviour after the characteristic tempos of Earth’s orbit and Solar magnetic cycle.
The study of how a richly self-organized system may arise “spontaneously” in Nature, even if in the absence of “life”, is an extremely intriguing issue by itself, and might place Space Weather science in the position of putting together interdisciplinary tools from different branches of research, ranging from information theory to fractal geometry, from non-equilibrium thermodynamics to noisy and stochastic system science, not to mention, of course, all the possible aspects of plasma physics.
I do not like easy jobs, this is why I work in ionospheric science representing the ionosphere and the near-Earth plasma as a complex dynamical system. Besides jokes, and most of all, Space Weather science has a lot to give and to take from dynamical system theory and science of complexity.
In particular, complexity methods may lead to understanding better what the causal relationships between the different phenomena taking place in the Sun-Earth environment are; to which extent the ionospheric effects can be predicted observing the Solar Wind or the near-Earth space; how the ionospheric turbulence should be characterized and what its effects on radio communication can teach on its local dynamics.
My interests, and work, in Space Weather are then:
- Space Weather and the Sun-Earth connection;
- Magnetic reconnection;
- Multifractal formalism for turbulence. Statistical aspects of multi-scale
dynamics in turbulence;
- Ionospheric turbulence and radio scintillation.
These are some of my future research lines in Space Weather:
- Fractal and multi-fractal properties of the ionospheric medium;
- Stochastic formulation of ionospheric multi-fluid equations;
- Stochastic and multi-fractal formulation of the physics of magnetic reconnection;
- Application of information theory data analysis techniques to Space Weather.