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The effects of solar storms are seen on the Earth

Visiting professor Eija Tanskanen ended up as a researcher when she could not find sufficient answers to her questions.
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Eija Tanskanen, who has started to work as a visiting professor at the Aalto University Department of Radio Science and Engineering, leads the MAGNETIC team in the ReSoLVE Centre of Excellence of the Academy of Finland. The team studies storms that take place in the Sun and their magnetic effects on the Earth.

‘ReSoLVE focuses on the effects of the Sun’s long-term evolution. We especially study the variation of solar storms in the past and how they would vary in the future. This is important information as an eruption of particles caused by solar storms can disturb satellites and their effects can be seen at the space station, and in electric grids and natural gas pipes on the Earth,’ says Tanskanen.

Disturbances in transformers and the following power outages have been observed in many countries, and air transport is familiar with the radiation impacts especially on flights in the polar routes. Flights are already routinely rerouted due to the effects of solar storms. Recently Finland has made a national risk assessment on solar storms. Do we need to worry about the threat of magnetic disturbances?

‘There is no need to worry, but we should prepare for them. We are now heading for less well known periods in the solar activity. Our research has shown that the solar activity cannot be estimated merely on the basis of the number of sunspots.’

Curiosity made Tanskanen a researcher

Tanskanen ended up as a researcher when she could not find sufficient answers to her questions.

‘Curiosity has always pushed me forward. I still feel the same as in the beginning. It seems that we will always find new interesting open science questions,’ she says and laughs.

According to Tanskanen, one of the things motivating researchers in their work is international debate and collaboration. Tanskanen, who moved from the Finnish Meteorological Institute to Aalto University to work as a visiting professor, has gained experience, for example, three years at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and at the University of Bergen, where she conducted research and taught for almost six years.

‘Space physics research here in Finland is excellent, but I consider the experience I have gathered during my posts abroad very important. I still actively go to teach on international summer and winter courses. For example, I go to Svalbard once a year.’

Tanskanen is also a qualified teacher and finds that teaching has an important role in the development of the field. She also calls for new teaching methods and new courses in space physics.

‘I believe Aalto University is a good place for new openings in research and teaching.’

What kind of advice would you give to future students?

‘I would say that you cannot learn if you do not give it a try. I am also in favour of openness to new lines of research and, once more, I would like to stress the importance of international experience and collaboration.’

Photo: Lasse Lecklin

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