Space weather

Gabriel FRUIT
05 61 55 66 79

05 61 55 77 50

sun solar wind Earth magnetic field magnetic storm

Learning objectives

With the expansion of modern technologies using an increasing number of spacecraft, human activity has become more sensitive to perturbations of the near Earth-space, the latter being strongly influenced by the state of the Sun.

If the Earth magnetic field provides a fairly impenetrable barrier to the continuous flow of charged particles – the solar wind – emitted by our star, it turns out less efficient to counteract huge plasma bubbles released regularly by the Sun into space. When such a bubble hits the Earth, large electromagnetic perturbations strongly modify the spatial environment of the planet, from the geostationary orbit to the ground and the atmosphere.

These magnetic storms may cause breaks in the communication or navigation systems, power plant breakdowns, or damages to the spacecraft themselves…

The aim of this course is to understand the origin of these major perturbations of the solar atmosphere, their propagation towards the Earth and finally to forecast their impact on the atmosphere-ionosphere system or the technological structures. We may use to that purpose a all-range of tools developed at IRAP in connection with the many spacecraft missions launched in the solar wind and around Earth (CDPP resources:


  • Fluid dynamics (L3 level)
  • Electromagnetism (Maxwell equations) (L2 level)

Brief description of the course

Introduction to Space Physics

  • Sun atmosphere: structure and principal proprieties
  • Formation and propagation of solar wind in the heliosphere
  • Interaction between solar wind and magnetized planets – Magnetospheres, Dungey cycle, auroras

Formation and propagation of solar perturbations

  • Solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs): formation and propagation in solar wind
  • Coronal Interaction Regions (CIR) and their link with CMEs
  • Solar Energetic Particles events: acceleration process and propagation in the turbulent wind
  • Interplanetary space modelling

Solar wind interaction with the Earth magnetic field

  • Magnetic storms and magnetospheric substorms
  • Survey of the ground magnetic perturbations: magnetic indices, coupling functions

Impact on the Earth atmosphere and environment

  • Ionosphere – Thermosphere: structure and dynamics
  • Electrodynamic coupling between Magnetosphere and Ionosphere
  • Instrumentation and observation methods : from ground to space
  • Perturbations of radio waves propagation induced by magnetic storms and scintillation phenomenon
  • Induced ground currents
  • Impact on the spacecraft orbits

Some practical workshops will be proposed using numerical tools developed at IRAP: Proptool, 3DView, ionosondes, TRANSPLANET etc.