The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in Hermanus has been selected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as one of two regional centres to provide space weather services, including solar storm forecasts and warnings, to the global aviation sector.

Space weather describes events that happen in space, which can disrupt modern technologies such as satellites, GPS, power grids, navigation and communication systems.

The Space Agency has been developing space weather services over the past nine years. It currently hosts the only Space Weather Regional Warning Centre for Africa, which operates as part of the International Space Environment Service.

Utilising data from NASA and ESA space weather satellites and SANSA’s ground-based instruments located across Southern Africa, the Space Weather Centre conducts real-time monitoring and forecasting of space weather and provides a range of services to national power facilities, the Defence Force and other clients. This centre was recently upgraded and unveiled by the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

“SANSA’s monitoring of the sun and its activity has been providing the country with vital early warnings and forecasts on space weather conditions, and these benefits will now be extended to the international aviation community,” said Minister Kubayi-Ngubane.
Over the next few years SANSA will be working closely with the Air Traffic Navigation Service (ATNS), the South African Weather Service (SAWS), and the Civil Aviation Authority and other applicable aviation partners to investigate the implications of the ICAO recommendation to the African aviation sector.

“We need to ensure the aviation industry understands the risks related to space weather, what to look out for and what to expect. SANSA will provide the necessary information to enable key decision makers to make informed decisions,” says Dr McKinnell.

The aviation sector (both commercial and private) is required to comply with the ICAO amendments, and having access to information and expertise locally will ensure South Africa is able to meet the requirements.

While South Africa is the only African country with operational space weather capabilities, SANSA with the support of the DST, will engage with other African countries on data sharing, infrastructure hosting, training, product development, and research collaboration opportunities.

For more information, visit www.sansa.org.za or contact SANSA Communication Practitioner, Catherine Webster on 028 312 1196 / 073 601 4488 or cwebster@sansa.org.za. Follow SANSA on Facebook or Twitter @SANSA7 for regular updates.

What was that big bang?

An inexplicable, explosive boom that left the earth trembling on the evening of Wednesday 16 January was experienced by alarmed residents not only in the Overstrand but all over the Western Cape and even as far away as Pretoria. Almost immediately, social media was abuzz with questions and theories as to the origins of this unusual event, ranging from an earthquake and thunder to a massive bomb explosion.

According to SANSA researcher and local resident, Dr Pieter Kotze, all indications suggest that a meteor (a small rocky or metallic object from space) entered the earth’s atmosphere above the Western Cape around 20:15. A bright light trail could be seen from Malmesbury to Gansbaai. The end point of the meteor (where it burnt up in the atmosphere) was east of Hermanus.

“This is a rare event for the Western Cape although meteor sightings are quite common across the globe,” said Kotze. “We are fairly certain that it was a meteor which most likely burnt up in the atmosphere and did not hit the ground.”

Photos taken of the event show that the meteor broke up into at least two pieces high up in the atmosphere. In all probability it burnt up in the atmosphere as no impact has been confirmed at this stage.

“A shock wave or sonic boom was created ahead of the meteor while travelling through the atmosphere of the earth. This phenomenon is experienced as a loud bang, and sometimes when the meteor breaks up into smaller pieces, it adds to the loud thunder-like noise,” said Kotze.

Meteors in general, depending on their size, start to heat up due to atmospheric resistance and radiate light at an altitude of between 50 and 80 km above the surface of the earth. “We therefore estimate the size of this meteor as between 1 and 2 m in diameter which makes it extremely difficult to detect by telescope warning systems,” added Kotze.

When a meteoroid, comet, or asteroid enters earth’s atmosphere at a speed typically in excess of 20 km/s, aerodynamic heating of that object produces a streak of light, both from the glowing object and the trail of glowing particles that it leaves in its wake.

The South African National Space Agency will continue to provide updates as and when more information is received. Please send any videos, photos or comments on the meteor, especially describing how it moved, to spacesci-info@sansa.org.za

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