Space Weather Lab

Bob Weigel, Director

Acronym: SWL Website
Unit: College of Science
Department: Department of Physics and Astronomy Phone: 703.993.1361
Location: 222 Planetary Hall, University Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030

Space weather research addresses understanding of the physics of the connected Sun-Earth system.

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission


Launched in November 2013 and entered the Mars orbit in September 2014, MAVEN spacecraft has been exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars in an unprecedented detail.

Student Article: History’s Greatest Comet Finder

By Karl Battams (a scientist at NRL who is doing a PhD with a concentration in Space Weather at GMU)

I have a curious claim to fame. I have almost certainly seen more individual images of comets than any person in history. A good ballpark estimate would be around 50,000 unique images of comets, but that may be slightly on the low side. Either way, it’s a lot.

More …

Student Paper: Signatures of tidally distorted solid exoplanets

The observational effects and signatures of tidally distorted solid exoplanets

Prabal Saxena,
Peter Panka and
Michael Summers


Our work examines the detectability of tidally distorted solid exoplanets in synchronous rotation. Previous work has shown that tidally distorted shapes of close-in gas giants can give rise to radius underestimates and subsequently density overestimates for those planets. We examine the assumption that such an effect is too minimal for rocky exoplanets and find that for smaller M Class stars there may be an observationally significant tidal distortion effect at very close-in orbits. We quantify the effect for different stellar types and planetary properties using some basic assumptions. Finally, we develop a simple analytic expression to test if there are detectable bulge signatures in the photometry of a system. We find that close in for smaller M Class stars there may be an observationally significant signature that may manifest itself in both in-transit bulge signatures and ellipsoidal variations.

Media Coverage:

Dieter Bilitza honored by Norwegian Academy of Sciences

The Norwegian Academy of Sciences awarded Dieter Bilitza the International Kristian Birkeland medal for outstanding scientific results related to Space Weather and Space Climate.

The Birkeland medal is awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science in conjunction with the European Space Weather Week (ESSW). It will be presented at the ESSW meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.

SEEDS (Solar Eruptive Event Detection System)


The goal of SEEDS is to automatically detect, characterize and classify transient/eruptive solar events, including CMEs, coronal dimmings, and flares, using state-of-the-art image processing, machine learning and data mining techniques.

At the present stage of development, we have implemented two modules to automatically detect, track, and characterize CMEs based on SOHO LASCO C2 observations.

(1) A near-real-time module

(2) A CME catalog starting from 1996

A CME catalog based on STEREO SECCHI COR2 observations is forthcoming.

Data usage: While the SEEDS CME catalog is timely and non-subjective, precaution must be taken when used for research. An automated catalog may be associated with certain computational biases.
Acknowledgment: This project has been supported by NASA Living With a Star Program and NASA Applied Information Systems Research Program.

Links to other SOHO/LASCO and STEREO CME catalogs:

CACTUS – generated by the software package “Computer Aided CME Tracking” (Automated).
ARTEMIS – generated by “Automatic Recognition of Transient Events and Marseille Inventory from Synoptic maps” (Automated)
CDAW Catalog – generated by visual manual methods (Manual).
NRL LASCO CME List – generated by operators (Manual).
COR1 CME Catalog – generated by the STEREO COR1 team (Manual)
HI1 Event List – generated by the STEREO HI1 UK team (Manual)

Curators: Oscar Olmedo …

Solar system caught in an interstellar tempest

Article in New Scientist Sept. 6, 2013

The solar system is travelling through much stormier skies than we thought, and might even be about to pop out of the huge gas cloud we have been gliding through for at least 45,000 years. That’s the implication of a multi-decade survey of the interstellar wind buffeting the solar system, which has revealed an unexpected change in the wind’s direction…. Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1239925

Quotes by Robert Meier in New Scientist article

“It’s possible we’re seeing a structure that is not necessarily an edge,” saysRobert Meier, now at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, who helped make the original STP 72-1 measurements. “A change of direction of flow in a stream could mean you’re near the bank, or that there’s a rock in the middle of the stream or something like that. It’s always harder to figure out what’s going on when you’re in the middle.”

Meier adds that there might be an issue in comparing different types of data. None of the more recent spacecraft have looked at the scattered UV light created as atoms from the cloud interact with solar particles. Instead most made direct measurements of the helium atoms. It would …

‘Magnetic Ropes’ that Cause Solar Storms

Mason scientists discovered recently that a phenomenon called a giant magnetic rope is the cause of solar storms. .

The discovery was made by Mason computational and data sciences professor Jie Zhang and his graduate student Xin Cheng using images from the NASA Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) spacecraft.

Space Weather Risks

From the Washington Post… July 10, 2013

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years….

Student project: Tran Tran

Student: Tran Tran
Sponsor: OSCAR program, won a $1,000. grant to do the work
Project: Determine the absolute velocity of hot gases in coronal loops.
Faculty Mentor: Art Poland

  • Fall 2015 Space Science Seminars

    11 AM – noon, Room 242 of Planetary Hall unless otherwise noted.

    December 1st

    James Leake


    November 17th

    11 AM – noon, …

  • Fall 2014 Space Weather Seminars

    Announcements are sent via the email lists for faculty ( and students (  Send an email to …

  • Journal Club

    Spring 2014

    Tuesdays (Jan 28; Feb 11, 25; Mar 18; Apr 1, 15, 29) from 12:00pm to 1:00pm in Planetary Hall room 242.

    Fall 2013

    Alternate …

  • Orientation for SPACS Graduate Students- Friday August 16, 2013

    Please note that some of the locations have changed.

    We are holding a new graduate student orientation on Friday August 16th.  Note …

  • ISEST 2014 Workshop

    The workshop is to improve the scientific understanding of the origin and propagation of solar transients, and develop the prediction capacity of these transients’ arrival and potential impact on the Earth.

    This workshop is the activity of the ISEST program in CAWSES-II / Task Group.

    The workshop engages coordinated international activities in observation, theory and modeling, involves scientists in both developed and developing countries, and provides an online platform for educational opportunities for students

  • Research initiatives for physics grad students- August 5, 2013

    We are working with the Office of Equity and Diversity Services to develop a plan to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in physics at all levels. We are meeting with Corey Jackson on the 20th of August to discuss our plans.

  • ISEST Workshop June 17-20, 2013

    This workshop is the activity of the ISEST program in CAWSES-II / Task Group 3.

    ISEST Workshop (International Study of Earth-Affecting Solar Transients)
    Hvar, Croatia

  • Satellite observations of the space shuttle’s main engine exhaust plume

    Satellite observations of the space shuttle’s main engine exhaust plume: Unexpected global-scale transport and polar mesospheric cloud formation

    March 26th, 2013

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