#3 Solar Monitor
Hi there! Itâ€™s Oscar & Ruth here and weâ€™re going to continue the blog, by talking a bit about our summer project with DIAS Astronomy and Astrophysics.
This summer we are working with the Solar Physics and Space Weather Group, specifically helping to update and upgrade the SolarMonitor website (https://www.solarmonitor.org/).Â SolarMonitor is a website which contains near real time images of the Sun, in various different wavelengths, taken by different instruments from both space and the ground. It is used as an archive for information on active regions and solar activity.
Active regions of the Sun are areas which have particularly strong magnetic fields. The outermost layer of the Sunâ€™s atmosphere, the corona, is responsible for solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which affect us here on Earth, over 150 million kilometers away. Solar flares occur when the corona experiences a sudden increase in brightness, which often occurs near sunspots (which are areas on the surface with lower temperature due to concentrations of magnetic field flux). Coronal mass ejections are larger eruptions which involve immense amounts of ionised gas being emitted from the corona. These result in solar wind, when the corona ejects mass into space.Â
The effect of the Sunâ€™s activity on Earth can be seen in auroras, which are disturbances in Earthâ€™s magnetic field caused by solar wind. Radio communications and the electric power grid can also be damaged by high energy emissions coming from the Sun.
The Solar Physics Group at DIAS study patterns of activity on the Sun, to help predict when events such as solar flares occur. In addition to this, they also research geomagnetic storms and radio bursts, with focus on the impact of these events on Earth.
SolarMonitor is thus a very important tool used by both solar physicists and amateur astronomers, to help keep them up to date with activity on the Sun. Individuals are able to visit the website, see almost real time information on the Sunâ€™s activity, as well as having the ability to download the data themselves, to use for their own research. The website has been around for over 20 years, and many people have worked on it over this period of time. Recently it has become more difficult to maintain and update. The site does not work properly on tablet or mobile devices. In addition to this, the site often crashes, due to how it manipulates the data taken from various instruments.Â
Therefore, we are designing a new SolarMonitor website this summer, working with the Solar Physics and Space Weather Group to update and optimise it. The main tasks of our work involve back-end processing (getting the existing images from the old SolarMonitor website, as well as current data from the instruments) and the front-end processing (showing the images of the Sun on the website). Below is an image of how it currently looks!
So far we have been looking at how we can see different features on the Sunâ€™s surface, by using instruments which look at different wavelengths of the radiation being emitted. The Sun emits radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio to x-ray, with the peak of the emission centering at the visible part of the spectrum. The different wavelengths of radiation tend to come from different parts of the Sun, and thus studying emissions in various wavelengths allows for more of its features and characteristics to be studied. The image below shows the Sun viewed in different wavelengths.
Working on a software development project means that weâ€™ve learned how to work collaboratively on code, using Gitlab (https://about.gitlab.com/). Itâ€™s definitely different going from coding for our assignments in college, to writing code which needs to be robust enough to run smoothly for a website. Weâ€™ve been using Flask (https://flask.palletsprojects.com/en/1.1.x/), a Python based web application framework, which is then packaged and run using Docker (https://www.docker.com/). Docker is a platform which delivers software in packages called containers. We have also been using a Python library (a set of functions) called SunPy (https://sunpy.org/), which is used by Solar Physicists for data analysis and visualisation. When working on a project like this, it is very important to have good code practises, where our work is constantly reviewed, and where we test everything that we write to make sure that it works! We have also been carefully documenting our work, to ensure that the next person who works on this project is able to understand what we have done.Â
Some of the features we have added so far include adding functions which show images taken throughout the day for some of the instruments, and creating a better navigation bar. We have processed images from the AIA and GOES missions, as well as improving the general functionality of the site, by tidying up the code. Our next steps involve figuring out a better way to display the active region images on the site, as well as contacting individuals who use SolarMonitor, to make sure that we are designing the new site with the user in mind.
Thanks for reading our update, and hopefully the next time you hear from us, we will have an open link to SolarMonitor2!