Space Weather Summer School Lab Activities

(An extended version of the introductory text that follows has been published in Gross et al., EOS, V 90, p. 13-14, 13 January 2009.)

The Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM), a Science and Technology Center (STC) funded by the National Science Foundation, has the goal of developing a suite of integrated physics based computer models that describes the space environment from the Sun to the Earth [Hughes and Hudson, 2004]. In support of this mission, along with the research and development of the various models, CISM has adopted the educational goal of training the next generation of space physicists to view the space environment as an integrated system from the Sun to the Earth, rather than a series of separate disciplines. One program that furthers this goal is the CISM Space Weather Summer School.

The Space Weather Summer School is a two-week intensive program targeted at first year graduate students, although advanced undergraduates and space weather professionals also profit from attending. The daily schedule of the summer school consists of a series of three morning lectures from experts in the field and an afternoon laboratory session where students use data and computer simulation results to further explore the topics covered in the morning.  An example of a detailed syllabus can be found on the CISM website.

The afternoon labs are a unique aspect of the summer school and are designed for students to explore space physics concepts and space weather forecasting. Since the lab activities use results from CISM models, publicly available data, and visualization software that is either open-source or readily available, the lab activities are easily adaptable for use by ther instructors and so are appropriate for dissemination.

Nine labs have been developed for use during the summer school. The first lab is an introduction to the visualization package, CISM-DX [Wiltberger et. al., 2005. ] that is used by many research groups throughout CISM. Many though, not all of the labs use this visualization package to one extent or another. Versions of this package are available for UNIX and Mac based systems. With the exception of the first lab, all of the labs have some component that does not rely on CISMDX, so contain useful materials even if the package can not be installed.

Presented here are brief desctiptions of each lab along with the activity titles and the goals for each lab. Additionally, the student manuals are presented in pdf format to give instructors a better idea of the materials and activities that are available. For the complete set of lab materials, including simulation results and visualizaton files, contact the CISM Education Corrdinator, Nicholas Gross. If you intend to use any of these lab materials, please contact Dr. Gross.

  • Hughes, W. Jeffrey and Mary K. Hudson. Editorial: Towards an Integrated Model of the Space Weather System. JASTP, 66, (15-16), Oct. – Nov. 2004, pp 124
  • Wiltberger, M., R. S. Weigel, M. Gehmeyr, and T. Guild, "Analysis and Visualization of Space Science Model Output and Data with CISM-DX", J. Geophys. Res. , 2005.

Table of Contents:

Lab1: Introduction to Visualizing Results from Space Weather Models

Lab 2: Exploring the Structure of the Solar Magnetic Field Using the MAS Model

Lab 3: Sources of the Solar Wind

Lab 4: Exploring Solar Wind Structure Using the ENLIL Model

Lab 5: Predicting and Modeling the arrival of the May 12th 1997 CME

Lab 6: Exploring Magnetospheric Structure Under Varying IMF Conditions

Lab 7: Particle Motions in the Magnetosphere

Lab 8: Satellite Drag

Lab 9: Exploring the Structure of the Ionosphere using TIE-GCM


Lab 1: Introduction to Visualizing Results from Space Weather Models

In this lab participants interact with simulation results through a visualization package. Students gain experience using the particular visualization package common to most of the other labs and use different visual tools common in space weather such as cut planes and field lines. Results from three different space weather models are used as examples: the MAS model (see lab 2 for details) that simulates the solar corona, the ENLIL (see lab 4 for details) model that simulates the solar wind, and the LFM model (see lab 6 for details) that simulates the magnetosphere. The goal here is not for students to understand the models completely, but rather for them to gain experience with the visualization package and to think about how it might be used to explore these models.

Activities Goals
  1. Visualizing Magnetic Field Lines in the Solar Corona using the MAS Model
  2. Using Cut Planes to Visualize the Solar Wind in the Enlil Model
  3. Using “Interactors” to Visualize the Magnetosphere using LFM Model
  • recognize the importance of visualizations in understanding results of complex simulations
  • be able to describe the gross structure of the solar magnetic field, the solar wind, and the magnetosphere.
  • become familiar with visualization structures such as field lines and cut planes.
  • gain experience with visualization interactions: rotate, pan & zoom, adjust visualization parameters

Lab 2: Exploring the Structure of the Solar Magnetic Field

In the first of the solar labs participants use magnetogram synoptic maps to analyze the structure of the photospheric magnetic field at different solar latitudes, different phases of the solar cycle, and from one cycle to the next. Participants then visualize model results from the Magneto-hydrodynamics Around a Sphere (MAS) model [Linker, et. al., 1999] to explore the 3-D structure of the solar magnetic field in the region of the solar corona, comparing its structure at solar minimum and solar maximum. As a final exercise, students compare images of the white light coronagraphs to the structure of the solar magnetic field predicted by the simulations.

  • Linker, J., Mikic, Z., Biesecker, D.A., Forsyth, R.J., Gibson,W.E., Lazarus, A.J., Lecinski, A., Riley, P., Szabo, A.,Thompson, B.J., 1999. Magnetohydrodynamic modeling of the solar corona during whole sun month. JGR 104, 9809.
Activities Goals
  1. Introduction to Solar Photospheric Magnetograms and Synoptic Maps
  2. Sunspots and Magnetic Active Regions
  3. Active Regions Over the Solar Cycle
  4. Active Regions from Cycle to Cycle
  5. Exploring the Structure of the Corona Magnetic field
  • identify sunspots with magnetic active regions
  • identify the difference in structure of active regions between the northern and southern hemisphere
  • compare the properties of active regions over the course of a solar cycle
  • compare the structure of the solar magnetic field at solar minimum and solar maximum
  • compare the properties of active regions from one solar cycle to the next
  • compare coronal magnetic field structure to coronagraph images

Manual for Activities 1- 4

Manual for Activity 5


Lab 3: Sources of the Solar Wind

In the third lab participants study the 2-D synoptic map generated from the Wang-Sheeley-Arge model [Arge, et. al., 2004]that is used in forecasting at the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) at NOAA ( ). These maps display the foot points of open magnetic field lines and those points that connect to the sub-earth point on given dates. This representation is compared to a 3-D visualization generated using results from the MAS model which shows the field lines that are connected to the sub-earth points along with the foot points of the all the open field lines. In both simulations the open foot points correspond to the coronal holes derived from each of these models and so the regions on the sun from which the solar wind originates. These can be compared to the coronal holes as shown by EIT synoptic maps generated from spacecraft ultraviolet images.

  • Arge, C.N., Luhmann, J.G., Odstrcil, D., Schrijver, C. J., and Li, Y.; Stream Structure and Coronal Source of the Solar Wind during the May 12th, 1997 CME, JASTP, 66, (15-16), Oct. – Nov. 2004, pp 1295
Activities Goals
  1. A 3-D Look at the Sun-Earth Connection
  2. Synoptic Maps of Derived Coronal Holes
  3. Comparing Derived and Observed Coronal Holes
  4. Structure of Magnetic Active Regions and Recurrence
  • identify the magnetic field lines connected to earth
  • understand the structure of the solar wind and where it originates on the Sun
  • identify coronal holes from Extreme UV (EIT) images
  • identify the magnetic structure associated with coronal holes
  • identify the phase of the solar cycle (solar maximum or solar minimum) from the configuration of the coronal holes
  • be able to use a modern forecasting tool to predict the next likely period of space weather activity

Lab 4: Exploring Solar Wind Structure Using the ENLIL Model

In the fourth lab results from the ENLIL solar wind model [Odstrcil, 2003] are viewed using cut planes painted with plasma parameters and field lines. Here participants explore the structure of the solar wind during solar minimum and solar maximum, identifying how the plasma parameters vary as a function of radius and solar latitude. Structures such as the current sheet, co-rotating interaction regions (CIR), and the organization of fast and slow flows are revealed. [Almost all of the activities in this lab use CISMDX to visualize the results of solar wind simulations]

  • Odstrcil, D., Modeling 3-D solar wind structure, Adv. Space Res., 32 (4), 497-506, 2003
Activities Goals
  1. Exploring the Global Structure of the Solar Wind
  2. Comparing the Plasma Flow Direction to the Magnetic Field Structure
  3. Magnetic Sectors and the Solar Current Sheet
  4. Fast and Slow Streams & Corotating Interaction Regions (CIRs)
  • the variation of solar wind plasma parameters as a function of distance from the sun
  • the variation of solar wind plasma parameters as a function of latitude above the solar equator
  • the difference in the overall structure of the solar wind from solar minimum to the solar maximum
  • the relationship between plasma flow and the magnetic field line topology
  • the interaction of fast and slow solar wind flows and how they affect the solar wind structure

Lab 5: Predicting and Modeling the arrival of the May 12th 1997 CME

In the fifth lab, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is modeled using the “CME-Cone” model [Odstrcil, 2004]. The evolution of the CME is compared at solar minimum and solar maximum. In addition, participants use coronagraph images to predict the launch speed and arrival time at Earth of an actual CME. The procedure used is similar to that used by SWPC though the specific tools used are different.

  • Odstrcil D., P. Riley, S. P. Zhao, "Numerical simulation of the 12 May 1997
    interplanetary CME event"
    , J. Geophysical Res., Vol. 109, A02116, doi:10.1029/2003JA010135, 2004
Activities Goals
  1. Exploring Satellite Images of Solar Activity
  2. Differenced Coronagraph Images
  3. Estimating the Launch Speed of a CME from Coronagraphs and
    Calculating Arrival Time of a CME
  4. Interplanetary Acceleration
  5. Identifying the CME Arrival from Measured Solar Wind Data
  6. Seeing the Unseen: Simulating the Evolution of the Global Structure of a CME at Different Phases of the Solar Cycle
  • interpret satellite data for use in space weather forecasting
  • identify Earth directed CME from satellite data
  • understand that a CME interacts with the ambient solar wind
  • learn procedures for predicting arrival time for a CME
  • understand how global structure of a CME evolves for different solar wind conditions (solar min vs. solar max)

Image File (pdf format)


c2eit movie

Lab 6: Exploring Magnetospheric Structure Under Varying IMF Conditions

In the sixth lab summer school participants begin to explore features of geo-space using the visualization of results from a magnetospheric model, the Lyon-Fedder-Mobury (LFM) model. Participants identify various structures in the magnetosphere such as the: bow shock, magneto-pause, tail-lobes, reconnection points, the plasma sheet, current systems, etcetera. Participants are also asked to identify dynamic structures such as a plasmoid, and bulk flows in the tail. Comparisons are made under varying solar wind conditions.

Activities Goals
  1. Static Features of the Magnetosphere
  2. Dynamic Features of the Magnetosphere
  3. Westward IMF
  4. Realistic Solar Wind Conditions
  5. Open Exploration
  • identifying structures in the magnetosphere: bow shock, magneto-pause, magneto-sheath, lobes, plasma sheet
  • identifying Dynamic structures: current systems, reconnection points, plasmoid, earthward flows from the tail
  • the structure of open and closed field lines under varying solar wind conditions

Lab 7: Particle Motions in the Magnetosphere

Participants view results from particle dynamics simultions to identify the various motions of particles in the magnetosphere. In the first activity, participants can explore how the speed and pitch angle of the a particle moving in a dipole field affects the motion. The second activity takes advantage of a pre-existing web application that was designed for outreach to the general public. In this activity students explore how particles move in various field configurations to build up their conceptual knowledge of the motion of particles in the magnetosphere. The last activity uses simulation results for particles moving in a realistic, evolving magnetosphere simulation [Elkington, 2004; Kress, 2005].

  • Kress, B.T., M.K. Hudson, and P.L. Slocum, “Impulsive solar energetic ion trapping in the magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms”,
    Geophys. Res. Lett
    ., 32, L06108, doi:10.1029/2005GL022373, 2005

  • Elkington, S., Wiltberger, M., Chan A. A., Baker, D. N., "Physical models of the geospace radiation environment",
    Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 66 (2004) 1371–138
Activities Goals
  1. Particle Motion in a Dipole Field
  2. Exploring Particle Motion with Magneto-Minigolf
  3. Particle Drifts in a Realistic Geomagnetic field
  • categorize motions of charged particles in the Earth's magnetic field
  • observe the time scales on which those motions occur
  • observe how electric fields can affect the motion of a charged particle in a magnetic field
  • observe how particles are lost from the radiation belts into the atmosphere
  • observe how the dynamics of the magnetosphere affect the motion and population of high energy particles


Lab 8: Satellite Drag

The eighth lab looks at how satellite drag is affected by space weather. This lab was adopted from one developed at the Air Force Academy by D. Knipp. It has been described in detail in elsewhere (The Physics Teacher, October 2005 ,Volume 43, Issue 7, pp. 452-455). Briefly, this lab uses the Mass Spectrometer and Incoherent Scatter Radar (MSIS) emperical model of the atmosphere to predict the atmospheric density in Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) and its effect on the decay of satellite orbits.

Activities Goals
  1. Drag and orbital dynamics
  2. Assumptions of the exponential thermosphere
  3. Predicting satallite orbits with a realistic thermosphere simulation
  • how orbital altitude and speed are affected by drag
  • assumptions that go into the exponential atmosphere calculation
  • how the thermosphere is affected by input from space weather (F10.7 and Ap)
  • affects of variations in the thermosphere on the satellite orbit



Worksheet Key


Lab 9: Exploring the Structure of the Ionosphere using TIE-GCM

In the last lab session of the summer school, students use results from the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Electrodynamics General-Circulation-Model (TIE-GCM) to look at the altitude and latitude structure of the ionosphere. Students are asked to look for evidence of the auroral ovals, Chapman layers, and electro-jets. Participants compare the ionosphere at solar minimum and solar maximum case. They also look at the evolution of the ionosphere during a geomagnetic storm

  • Richmond, A. D., E. C. Ridley, and R. G. Roble, A thermosphere/ionosphere general circulation model with coupled electrodynamics, Geophys. Res. Lett., 19, 601, 1992.
  • Roble, R. G., E. C. Ridley, A. D. Richmond, R. E. Dickinson, A coupled thermosphere/ionosphere general circulation model, Geophys. Res. Lett., 15, 1325, 1988.
  • Activities Goals
    1. Exploring the Electron Density at Solar Min and Solar Max
    2. The structure of the ionosphere as a function of position on the Earth
    3. Exploring the Electron Density During a Geomagnetic Storm.
    4. Other Thermosphere Fields
    5. Vertical Structure of the Ionosphere
    • altitude and latitude structure of the ionosphere
    • daily and seasonal variations in the structure at various latitudes
    • variations in the ionosphere at different phases in the solar cycle
    • variations in the structure during storm time
    • duration of storm effects
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