The Air Force has employed a global network of ground-based solar optical observatories known as SOON (the Solar Observing Optical Network) to monitor the Sun for flare and sunspot activity that may affect Department of Defense systems. For decades, SOON has provided the only dedicated, reliable, and operational source of solar optical imagery to the Air Force and its customers through the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, NE. SOON solar products are also used by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, as an input to real-time space weather watches, warnings, and alerts.
The SOON telescope system provides the capability to observe, analyze, and report visible solar phenomena such as solar flares, sunspots, magnetic fields, disk and limb activity. Solar flares can trigger high velocity Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that propagate through interplanetary space. CMEs can interact with the Earth's magnetosphere to create geomagnetic storms. Major geomagnetic storms can result in the following impacts:
- Satellite charging and solar cell damage
- Increased satellite drag
- Communications fadeouts and blackouts
- Navigation system anomalies
- Targeting system errors
- Damaging high altitude radiation
- Power grid failures
- Pipeline current surges
SOON’s primary observed wavelength of light is Hydrogen-alpha (Hα, 6563 Å). This wavelength allows analysis of complex solar activity in the Sun’s lower atmosphere, or chromosphere. Images of the Sun in the continuum (pseudo-white-light) provide analysis of sunspots on the Sun's surface, or photosphere. SOON’s Magnesium (Mg-b2) subsystem, also known as the spectrograph, produces magnetograms, analyzing right-hand and left-hand circularly polarized light which correspond to positive and negative line-of-sight components (Doppler shifting) of the magnetic field in the photosphere.
The 2d Weather Squadron’s SOON telescopes are operated at three sites around the globe:
- Detachment 1, Learmonth, Australia
- Detachment 4, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M
(Current as of July 2016)