Scientists from NASA have released a computer rendering of how space weather occurs that was constructed using data collected through the New Horizons mission in the Pluto system.
Compared to weather occurrences on Earth such as torrential rains or clear skies, weather patterns in space consist of plasma released by the sun that travels to the different corners of the solar system.
In the latest NASA video created by the American space agency's Scientific Visualization Studio, the temperature in space is represented by the color red, density is represented by the color green and shock waves passing through the plasma field are represented by the color blue.
Areas that show more than one trait is represented in the visualization using color combinations such as those in purple, which depicts portions with low density and hot shock waves.
Robert Steenburgh, a researcher at the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained that space weather is composed of a combination of plasma, energetic particles, solar wind and flares that are released by the sun.
Steenburgh makes use of a scientific model known as Enlil to monitor the behavior of space weather in order to predict disruptive occurrences such as radio blackouts that could severely damage satellites in orbit.
NASA and NOAA researchers use the Enlil model to determine the impact of space weather on Earth. The reach of the model, however, only extends to just past the planet Mars. Weather patterns beyond that point remain a mystery to scientists.
"We don't have data to constrain our models," Peter Macneice, a researcher from the Community-Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) of NASA, said.
The New Horizons mission provided agency scientists with a rare opportunity to gather space weather data from the Pluto system.
For the project, Macneice had the Enlil model extended to include the planet system to find out the type of weather that part of the solar system has.
The visualization that NASA was able to come up with is an approximation of how the physics in the planet system works. Its purpose is to determine if the area experiences similar occurrences as portions of the solar system closer to the sun.
One of the factors scientists want to find out is how wind from the sun interacts with particles of hydrogen that typically pass through the edge of the solar system.
According to Macneice, six research teams have already released their findings using the extended Enlil model.
While some of the teams made use of different physics, others considered certain factors, such as coronal mass ejections, in their study. It remains unclear, however, how much these factors impact the outer regions of the solar system.
The NASA scientists hope that once they receive the weather data from the New Horizons spacecraft, they will be able to verify their findings to determine which model came the closest, or to make recalibrations as necessary.
This will also provide them with more information on how space weather affects far away regions of space.