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The Sun may be 150,000,000km away, but as Earth orbits its parent star, it is very much inside its sphere of influence. In fact, the Earth is moving through the Sun’s outer atmosphere – the heliosphere – a bubble of charged particles emanating from the sun in the form of the solar wind, and extending beyond the orbit of pluto. Within the heliosphere, the heliospheric current sheet follows the folds of an invisible, gigantic ballerina’s skirt, coiling around as the Sun’s magnetic field trails its physical rotation. These magnetic effects and charged particles interact with Earth atmosphere, affecting our own magnetosphere, atmosphere, ionosphere, and even possibly our climate.
For over 30 years, EISCAT (European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association) has operated three scatter radar systems in Northern Scandinavia and one on the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard. The EISCAT_3D project aims to provide an update to EISCAT’s existing mainland facilities and will harness developments in data gathering technologies.

EISCAT_3D is designed for year-round continuous operation, with the passive sites operating unattended. Automated systems will be used to control and monitor the radar operations and undertake the data
handling, exploiting the new capabilities in high-speed networking, high performance computing and large volume data storage now available in the Nordic region. Intelligent scheduling algorithms will allow multiple experimental modes to be run in parallel, with experiments being interchanged automatically to exploit better the changing geophysical conditions, while the data handling system is designed to preserve the lowest level data for as long as practical, retaining all available information so that it can be re-processed in the optimum way to extract the most scientific value from each observation. No radar presently operating has such advanced capabilities for flexible and autonomous operation.