SANSA Space Science News

First ground-based observations of sprites over South Africa

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The South African National Space Agency recently recorded the first images of Sprites from Sutherland on 11 January 2016. Triggered by lightning, Sprites are optical gas discharges from the top of convective thunderstorm clouds at an altitude of 50-100 km.

"Despite being easily visible, nobody has ever reported seeing spites over Southern Africa. We are extremely excited to have finally captured the first images of Sprites over South African skies," says Prof Michael Kosch, Chief Scientist at SANSA's Hermanus office in the Western Cape and the principle investigator on the Sprite project.

Using an NRF-funded night-vision TV camera the sightings were made possible from the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Sutherland, one of the world's darkest astronomical sites. The image shows the first South African observation of a "jellyfish" sprite, initiated by a single lightning strike, approximately 300 km north-east of Sutherland.

Space Talk at SANSA - Space Weather Impacts on Aviation

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Antarctic team heads for the Ice

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The departure of the 55th Antarctic expedition aboard the SA Agulhas II on 5 December this year marked a milestone for SANSA Radar Engineer, Jon Ward, who will be spending his 5th consecutive summer in Antarctica. Jon has been appointed as the SANSAengineering team leader and Chief Land-based Scientist for the entire voyage. He will assist the new overwintering engineers, Padraig Riley and Parikshit Bohra, take over from the departing team.

Despite a few delays to their departure, the team hopes to arrive at the base in time for Christmas, where they will spend the next six weeks conducting routine maintenance and performing critical repairs to the SuperDARN radar. According to Jon, "the main antenna array sustained severe damage due to extreme weather conditions and we will all be working hard to get the repairs done before the ship departs at the end of January 2016."

The team will also deploy a new GPS experiment called DemoGRAPE. This is a collaborative project with the Italian institute INGV, to improve the accuracy of GPS navigation in the Polar Regions. The DemoGRAPE equipment consists of two new technology GPS ionospheric scintillation monitors and a Software Defined Radio receiver. The receivers will feed data into a Cloud-based computing system (Internet-based computing) to provide a superior platform for data sharing among partner organisations and the scientific community. One of the Cloud nodes will be setup at SANSA in Hermanus, with the other nodes being at INPE in Brazil and at INGV in Italy.

The overwintering team consists of 10 people (a doctor, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, diesel mechanics and a meteorologist) who will live at the Antarctic base for 14 months. Padraig and Parikshit trained at SANSA for three months to learn about the SuperDARN radar transceiver boxes. "I can now build one up basically from scratch if anything were to go wrong with the existing equipment," said Padraig.

The training also included fire-fighting, first aid, rope work, crane operation and even basic cooking lessons, to ensure they don't go hungry. "We have to be prepared to face anything the Antarctic environment may present on an expedition like this. Not only do we need to be prepared physically for the harsh environment, but also mentally for the long period of isolation," said Parkishit.

The engineers will keep a close eye on SANSA's space monitoring equipment over the next year to ensure that important research data is transferred to the facilities in Hermanus and other global networks.

You can visit the SANAE55 expedition website or follow them on facebook and twitter @sanae55.









Meet this year's team! Hardie Pienaar, Padraig Riley, Jon Ward, Parikshit Bohra and Anthony Mokgolo, aboard the SA Agulhas II on their way to Antarctica.

Space Agency Holiday Programme

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High speed solar wind stream may cause strong geomagnetic storm

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SANSA Space Weather forecasters are predicting the possibility of a strong (NOAA scale G3 - geomagnetic storm over the next 24 hours due to a high speed solar wind stream impacting Earth's magnetic field. Solar activity is currently moderate with background x-ray flux at upper B-class levels with occasional C-class solar flares.

"Space weather data is showing that the storm is currently in progress with solar wind speed reaching approximately 600km/s," said SANSA Space Weather Practitioner, Mpho Tshisaphungo. "Strong geomagnetic storm conditions may be expected over the next 24 hours."

A G3 storm may lead to disruption of HF communications, power system voltage irregularities, increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and GPS errors.

While geomagnetic storms can impact technology on earth and in space they will not harm humans and other life forms on Earth as we are protected by the Earth's magnetic field.

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