Looking back at the Seventh European Space Weather Week
November 15-19, Belgium
posted: Dec 21, 2010

European space weather is quickly growing in professionalism and maturity. This has been particarly noticeable at the annual European Space Weather Week, ESWW. Whereas in the past years we still had many wooly discussions of the popular kind, these days we discuss hard core developments, services and new insights. Something is clearly changing.

Space Weather got a boost thanks to the significant investments for example by the EU FrameWork 7 and by the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Program of ESA. The European community working in the field of space weather has a natural focus on the Space Weather part of the SSA. This ESA program supports new and existing initiatives that meet the requirements of a broad group of users of space weather applications and products. At the ESWW it became clear that SSA is an opportunity for Europe to strengthen its skills and play an important role in the space scenery.
From this increasing number of space weather programs, one could conclude that space weather is overall getting worse. It's not, but our vulnerability is increasing as our technology is getting more advanced. In these optics, the space weather effects on spacecraft and its environment are a hot issue. Post-analysis of space weather radiation events causing hazardous effects in spacecraft, seems to be a way to handle future events. It becomes more and more critical for space craft engineers to be one step ahead of the Sun. More in-depth research, modelling and forecasting can help. Data input is crucial for performing this task.
The ESWW showed again clearly and loudly that we are at the beginning of a new era, with enormous data flows coming in, e.g. from the NASA SDO mission or from dedicated space weather monitors such as PROBA2. To handle all that data we need new machinery such as virtual observatories, online quicklook viewers and automatically generated data catalogs. Space weather products and services, following naturally as the output of research and modelling activities evolve rapidly.
We are progressing to more mature, worldwide, American and European application centres. But there are limitations to our space weather capabilities, including the sparsity of certain experiments, e.g. coronographs. Efforts are done, however, to assimilate data into models and implement these models into a usable platform. Bridging the gap between models and applications is an issue relevant for all physical layers, from the Sun and the corona, through the heliosphere and the magnetosphere, across the radiation belts, over the earth poles, the ionosphere, to the Earth's surface. This diversity of scales and processes is difficult to control, but several groups try.

Beside these hard core issues, other side-events are also on the ESWW-menu contributing to a lively and dynamic conference. The space weather tutorial served as an ice-breaker and helped the people in the field to get into the subject. The keynote lecture dragged us into the world of Birkeland and aurora's. The style could -how do we phrase it- cause some controversy, but was perceived as 'more than excellent' by others. Birkeland's life teaches us the need to communicate with non-experts and to build a firm bridge between pure science and applications. The debate put the question about space exploration on the foreground: 'What is the rationale behind the decision to send humans to space?' It's in the human nature to explore, how small or grown up you are. Children's biggest fantasy are about dinosaurs and ... space, the past and the future. Further, the possibilities of a scientific market were explored during a fair: the Matroshka phantom draw our attention to the received radiation dose while traveling through space, the aurora and the Sun were visible in 3D, a huge radio receiver was mounted in the exhibition hall and the planeterrella experiment was also demonstrated. And of course, the students did their best to deliver a nice oral or poster presentation. Two nominees left home with a small but nice present in their bags.

The European Space Weather Week offers the platform to meet in a formal and informal environment, during the plenary sessions, the numerous splinters and a whole bunch of side events like the tutorial, the space weather fair, the debate-evening. Many, scientists, engineers, space weather product developers, students, national delegates, ... take this opportunity.
These are exciting space weather times, whether we are in a solar minimum or heading towards a solar maximum. There are many new aspects of space weather to discover and to deal with!