The UK’s first centre dedicated to forecasting the weather in space has opened.
It is hoped that the Met Office Space Weather Centre, based at the organisation’s headquarters in Exeter, will help to protect the UK from the threat of “severe space weather events”.
Space weather is a term used to describe the Sun’s activity, which can interfere with the Earth’s magnetic fields.
The Sun is in constant flux and the impact of this solar activity is more apparent as people become more reliant on technology.
Solar flares, coronal mass ejections and solar wind affect satellites, GPS systems, power grids and radio communications.
And being able to accurately predict space weather is of importance to the armed forces, electricity suppliers, satellite operators and the aviation industry.
Along with flu and volcanic eruptions, solar storms appears fourth on the National Risk Register because of the problems they can cause.
The centre will work around the clock to provide forecasts and release early warnings aimed at protecting the UK economy and national infrastructure.
After British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama highlighted the countries’ space weather partnership in London in May 2011, scientists worked for more than three years to found the institution.
Mark Gibbs, the Met Office’s space weather business manager, said: “It’s a new, emerging and exciting area of science where understanding is growing rapidly.”
The centre, which received a grant of £4.5 million from the Government, was opened by universities and science minister Greg Clark.
Mr 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.”