15.12. 2015

The universe is in shock

Posted by: Václav Bureš
The universe is in shock
Thanks to the international project called SHOCK, we know more about how the Sun affects space weather. We can understand its complex behaviour thanks to a sophisticated model which simulates the interaction between solar wind and planetary magnetospheres. The data is the result of cooperation between Czech, French, Italian, and British scientists; university professors, doctoral students, and the employees of this project’s industrial partner - Sprinx Systems.

The SHOCK Project

The name SHOCK was created as an acronym for “Solar and Heliospheric Collisionless Kinetics. A team of researchers from four European countries – The Czech Republic, France, Italy and Great Britain – worked on a project worth 2 million EUR; financed from EU funds since the beginning of 2012. Over the past three years cooperation of leading experts sharing their data, the research of space plasma has leaped forward. With contributions from Pavel Trávníček and Petr Hellinger, senior scientific workers of the Astronomical Institute of The Czech Republic and masters in their fields, developed new methods, applicable particularly in the field of numerical modelling of space plasma. The entire project schedule can be found at

Academics, scientists, and Sprinx Systems

The research was conducted not only on the grounds of scientific institutions, but also in an academic environment. Students of post-graduate study programs and their teachers became partners with scientists of the National Research Centre in France and the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Involved universities – the UK University of London, the Scottish University of St. Andrews, and the Italian Università degli Studi di Firenze - have a long tradition in their countries and they boast international acclaim. An Equally successful colleague in the research is SprinxHPC, a Czech division of Sprinx Systems, on which shoulders the smooth running of the technical background of the project.
Each institution had its own approach to the research. The different methodologies and techniques interacted, which made it possible to connect different concepts and distribute the work among researchers according to their leading research orientation.

Virtual Mission Laboratory (VML)

There has been great support available not only to the researchers, but also to a wide professional community; thanks to the unique Virtual Laboratory Mission web portal, which was developed by Sprinx Systems for the purpose of this project. The data located on this portal can be displayed by the user in their raw form, as well as, in the form of a virtual simulation from the satellite’s point of view. A space designated for scientific data sharing along with the possibility of its subsequent visualization was used in the Virtual Laboratory Mission mainly by the research team, but the application can also serve as a data source for other scientists or university students who would otherwise have difficulties finding such information. The scientists will use the data for further research and the students get the opportunity to work with them. You can try working with the application at

Reserved for data

The basic data for the numerical model settings was collected by experts mainly from real measurements of Cluster (ESA) and Messenger (NASA) missions, as well as, other international missions – Themis, WIND, and Helios. Unstructured simulated data is inserted into the VML web interface. It is then recalculated using sophisticated formulas and presented to the user in the form of graphical visualizations. The user holds the key to an understanding of elementary processes governing the solar system’s plasma dynamics.

Mystery of turbulences and solar wind

Based on the analysis of physical phenomena in space plasma, the SHOCK project brought an understanding of solar wind behaviour. A stream of particles flowing from the corona of the Sun to the outer boundaries of the Solar System, as well as, the related knowledge about turbulences, heating, and acceleration of particles.
The 2-D hybrid simulation shows physically unstable particles next to strong plasma turbulences. The turbulence can transmit energy from the electromagnetic fields to the particles, increasing the temperature of the solar wind. The energy transfer finally leads to energizing and overall heating of the plasma.

What is next?

In the following years, the results of the SHOCK project will positively affect the preparation of satellite missions planned by the European Space Agency (e.g. Solar Orbiter) and by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (e.g. Solar Probe Plus). The Mission Virtual Laboratory technical platform is prepared for these missions, and both agencies – ESA and NASA – can take advantage of the knowledge gained and verified by SHOCK.
The discovered mechanisms through which the Sun affects space weather can be considered invaluable progress for the exploration of the Solar System. Thanks to the knowledge of these specific events that may affect the areas of telecommunication systems and electric power distribution network, we can prevent and prepare for various problems.

We were six

Astronomical Institute AV CZ (AsU) focuses its research on the entire heliosphere, as well as, distant galaxies - from Sun to distant stars. The SHOCK project was carried out by the Heliosphere and Space Weather Group of the Sun Department. It was the Astronomical Institute, in collaboration with Sprinx Systems management, the project idea originated several years ago.
The National Research Center (CNRS), headquartered in France, is Europe's largest organization for research and development. The scientists involved in the project work at the Laboratoire d'Etudes Spatiales et d'Instrumentation en Astrophysique, or at Lagrange where the research is being conducted for three research institutes simultaneously.
SprinxHPC is a division of Sprinx Systems with more than seventeen-years of experience as a leading provider of design, optimization, and delivery solutions; e.g. operation of sophisticated mathematical computations (parallel and GPGPU clusters) and Web sites (e-shops, portals). HPC also delivers specialized supercomputer software and high performance hardware designed according to specific customer needs. The most successful projects of Sprinx Systems are; Amalka, one of the most powerful supercomputers; the Floreo project, allowing for risk prediction of floods; and the infrastructure design and optimization of the portal. For the SHOCK project, Sprinx is the main industrial partner and implementer of the Mission Virtual Laboratory website.
The University of London has the largest number of students in the UK. One of the largest faculties, Queen Mary, boasts an impressive international reputation in research. The SHOCK project was carried out by the Astronomical Unit of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy.
At the University of St Andrews, the oldest campus in Scotland, the Solar and Magnetospheric Theoretical Group from the Faculty of Mathematics and Statistics contributed to the project. The Group of Applied Mathematics studies the Sun and the magnetosphere using numerical modelling techniques of the Earth and its environment.
The University of Florence, a centre of academic life in Tuscany, is amongst the largest and oldest Italian universities. The research for the SHOCK project took place at the Institute of Physics and Astronomy of the Faculty of Scientific Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences.

  • 7
  • ERA
  • ESA
  • Queen Mary
  • CNRS
  • ASU
  • Sprinx systems
  • University of St. Andrews