Hays Workers have begun construction on a pair of antennas in western Kansas that will ultimately help scientists around the world study space weather.
Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, on Thursday announced the project, which is being done in partnership with Virginia Tech University. Virginia Tech chose Fort Hays State as a partner because of its location near the geographic center of the U.S.
Once the antennas are in place in a field southwest of Hays, Hammond said the project would help attract students and faculty interested in space weather.
“This will open the door for a whole new area of research for Fort Hays State University,” Hammond said.
The National Science Foundation is paying for most of the 10-year project although Fort Hays State will cover the cost of computers and the salary of an intern.
The antennas will be part of the worldwide Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, or SuperDARN, which also includes sites at Dartmouth University, the University of Alaska and Johns Hopkins University.
Researchers plan to use the SuperDARN to look at space weather, which causes the northern lights, among other phenomena.
The system will send radar waves into the upper part of the earth’s atmosphere, or ionosphere, said John Heinrichs, chairman of the university’s geoscience department.
“The main goal of the installation is to map the plasma motion over central North America,” Heinrichs said. “Ionospheric plasma circulates over the entire globe in response to interaction of the solar wind with earth’s magnetic field.”
He said the plasma reacts much like a low-pressure system affecting weather closer to the ground.
“It’s not well understood what’s moving that ionosphere,” he said.
Scientists plan to compare information obtained by the radar with weather events on the earth’s surface.
Workers have begun pouring concrete pillars that will eventually support two dozen 56-foot-tall poles holding wires 42 feet apart. The antennas will resemble vertical clothes lines.
Hammond said the radars are expected to be up and running by the end of the year.