The united KINGDOM is to contribute to a sophisticated new radar system in the Arctic to study the “space weather”.
This phenomenon describes the effects on Earth of the environment in the broad sense as it is constantly bombarded by particles and the magnetic energy of the Sun.
Impacts can damage satellites and even disrupt power grids.
The radar, to be built across Norway, Sweden and Finland by the European Incoherent Scatter Association (EISCAT), should enter service in 2021.
The international organization now operates radar facilities in the north, but the new technology is seen as a great step forward in the ability.
“This is the next generation,” said Dr. Andrew Kavanagh, a EISCAT scientific member working with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
“The system is going to look like a flat field of antennas, a bit like some of the large radio astronomy telescopes such as LOFAR and the SKA. We will be able to do much more with this new system to search large parts of the sky simultaneously. A 3D view of the sky.”
Britain is now paying Â£4-6m Â£63m total cost. The participation will be to give to the nation the researchers working in the field of solar-terrestrial physics access to the radar data when it becomes available.
The Sun perpetual billows of clouds of magnetic energy and plasma, a gas of electrically charged particles) in all directions. But often, the big eruptions of this issue are directed directly at the Earth.
When these interact with our planet’s own magnetic field and atmosphere, they set off all kinds of disorders.
The Aurora Borealis is one of those consequences, as the particles are accelerated downwards to collide with the molecules of the air to produce the colorful light curtains to high-latitude sky.
But there is more about the interactions that can lead to upsets in the spacecraft electronics, the losses in the radio communications and power surges in power networks on the ground.
There is even evidence that the magnetic disturbance of solar storms can disrupt the “biological compass” whales use to navigate the oceans resulting in their grounding.
The concerns have led the BRITISH government to put space weather on the National Risk Register.
A London Economics analysis earlier this year revealed that the loss of access to the GPS satellite navigation service for a period of five days will cost the British economy more than Â£5 billion.
The new radar system will be put in place to Skibotn in Norway, near Kiruna in Sweden, and near Kaaresuvanto in Finland.
Skibotn will have a transmitter and a receiver array, while the other two regions have receiver arrays.
The technology will allow scientists to probe into the details of the ionosphere – the region of Earth’s upper atmosphere which ranges from 70 km to 1000 km altitude.
It will sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at different heights along the direction of the radar beam.
Dr. Kavanagh explained: “We will have a digital beam-forming and direction, which means in practice that one can generate multiple beams looking in multiple directions, so that we can cover a volume of the sky rather just look at what we call a pencil beam.”
Some interactions may stimulate currents that then heat the upper atmosphere. It is of particular interest to some UK scientists.
The heating may change the density of air molecules at altitudes where satellites in low earth orbit move. This disturbs their trajectory very slightly. And at the same time, it also changes the way of equipment redundant, or “space junk”, speed up or slow down the time it takes for this material to fall to the Ground.
Professor Duncan Wingham is head of the directorate of the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), which owns the UK members of EISCAT.
He said: “EISCAT_3D will give us a 3D picture of interactions between time, space and our upper atmosphere, with a detail we have not seen before, to give us answers to questions that researchers have about the impact of space weather on the upper part of the atmosphere.
“We need this information in order to reduce the risks posed by space weather on our communication systems, satellites and electricity distribution networks, upon which we all depend.”
The British Antarctic Survey does a lot of his time to the search space at the other end of the world, to the polar bases, Rothera and Halley.
The latter has recently been evacuated because of the development of cracks in the ice platform on which he is sitting. This meant Halley of the space weather instruments had to be turned off, the breakdown of their contribution of data to the forecasting models produced by scientists.
Dr Kavanagh said LOW hoped to get this equipment back up and running soon, adding that there was a plan for the future, which would allow for the instruments operated at a distance must Halley needs to stop again.
Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos