UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


IRDR0007 - The Variable Sun: Space Weather and You

Module tutor: Dr Robert Wicks

Module code: IRDR0007, 15 credits

Department: IRDR

Space weather was added to the UK National Risk Register in 2012 and is currently graded as the fourth highest civil emergency risk to the UK. The USA has a similar assessment of the impact of severe space weather and as we increasingly rely on technology for essential services the risk will continue to grow. Yet, very few people have any idea what space weather is, how it may impact the Earth or how to respond to it. 

In this course we will cover the underlying physics of the outer space environment, understand how the varying behaviour of the Sun impacts outer space, the Earth, people and technology. We will gain knowledge of the forecasting of space weather, how response to severe space weather is changing and what our vulnerabilities to space weather are. The course will also compare space weather to other forms of risk from outer space, such as space debris and meteorite impacts.

The module will consider the following topics:

  • The history of space weather
  • Solar activity cycle
  • Sunspots
  • Solar flares and solar eruptive events
  • The Earth's magnetic field
  • Geomagnetic storms and aurora
  • The radiation environment in deep space (cosmic rays, solar energetic particles) and in the inner magnetosphere (radiation belts)
  • Ionospheric and ground-induced currents
  • The impacts of space weather
  • Vulnerabilities to space weather: satellites, electrical power grids, radio and radiation
  • Space weather forecasting and international response to space weather
  • Space debris and collision probability
  • Extraterrestrial impactors

These topics will be covered in a series of lectures, with a field trip to  the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre to see how the UK forecasts space weather.