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Irish space scientists develop new project using AI to forecast space weather

Space scientists from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) have developed a new project, using artificial intelligence, which will allow them to give faster and more accurate warnings about powerful explosions on the Sun, known as solar flares.

Solar flares can disrupt vital technologies and infrastructure, including radio communications, electrical power grids, navigation systems and pose risks to spacecrafts and astronauts.

This new project, called ‘Active Region Classification and Flare Forecasting’ (ARCAFF), will use a special kind of artificial intelligence known as ‘deep learning’ to make better predictions than what is currently used in operational forecasting centres. It will also provide information about how certain the predictions are – information which is not currently available.

Commenting on the project, Dr Shane Maloney, Senior Research Fellow at DIAS and Project Lead for ARCAFF, said “As scientists, we have long been predicting the weather, but now we also have the ability to predict events happening much further away on the Sun.  It may seem like these events have little effect on our daily lives, as we are largely protected from the Sun’s harmful radiation, by the magnetic field around the Earth. However, solar flares emission can change the atmosphere and create technological issues, like interfering with radio communication and GPS on Earth. They can also create beautiful displays in our night skies like the Northern Lights or aurora borealis.

“Space weather covers a variety of phenomena that occur because of the Sun’s turbulent behaviour, and its predictions are becoming more important as we further advance technology. Studying these space weather events helps us learn more about the Sun and better predict space weather. The new ARCAFF system will be more accurate and faster at giving us warnings about solar flares – which will greatly benefit space weather forecasters who provide guidance to spacecraft operators, and the power and aviation industries that are impacted by space weather.”

Also commenting on the ARCAFF project, Prof. Peter Gallagher, Head of Astronomy and Astrophysics at DIAS, said “The ARCAFF project is unique as it brings together science, analytics, and computing experts to work together in creating an advanced system to forecast solar flares. It has been an excellent opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration in DIAS and across the various partners involved.

“As well as being faster and more accurate at predicting solar flares, ARCAFF will make new datasets and software available for scientists to use, and the outputs of the project will be freely available online. We are also excited to educate the wider public about space weather and how it impacts Ireland and Europe, through our public engagement hub at DIAS Dunsink Observatory.”

The ARCAFF team includes partners across Europe that combines expertise in the fields of solar physics, machine learning, and computer science, including:

  • DIAS – solar physics and space weather forecasting experts;
  • Università di Genova in Italy – machine learning experts;
  • University of Westminster in the UK – science gateway development experts;
  • SZTAKI in Hungary – science gateway development experts.

The project is funded by Horizon Europe. Further information can be found here.