The Mahali Space Weather Monitoring Project


Space weather describes the conditions and evolution of Earth’s near space environment. These regions are significantly influenced by both the Sun and terrestrial processes. Many observed phenomena have large signatures in the ionosphere and can have a direct impact on our daily lives, particularly when they affect communications, navigation, and power systems. Recent studies have also discovered that tsunamis and earthquakes can influence ionospheric electron density variations. These findings suggest in general that the ionosphere has large potential as a worldwide sensor registering many types of earth and space based phenomena. To fully realize this potential, ionospheric electron density needs to be monitored through a wide-area sensor mesh that has been expensive to realize with traditional observation techniques. 

The Mahali project prototypes a revolutionary architecture that uses mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, to form a global space weather monitoring network. Mahali exploits the existing GPS infrastructure - more specifically, delays in multi-frequency GPS signals observed at the ground - to acquire a vast set of global TEC projections, with the goal of imaging multi-scale variability in the global ionosphere at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.  With connectivity available worldwide, mobile devices are excellent candidates to establish crowd sourced global relays that feed multi-frequency GPS sensor data into a cloud processing environment to reconstruct the structure of the space environment, and its dynamic changes.

This vision is made possible owing to advances in multicore technology that have transformed mobile devices into parallel computers with several processors on a chip. For example, local data can be pre-processed, validated with other sensors nearby, and aggregated when transmission is temporarily unavailable. Intelligent devices can also autonomously decide the most practical way of transmitting data with in any given context, e.g., over cell networks or Wifi, depending on availability, bandwidth, cost, energy usage, and other constraints. Mahali also facilitates asynchronous data collection from remote locations such as deserts or on oceans.

"Kila Mahali" means "everywhere" in the Swahili language.  This project will follow that spirit by enabling space weather data collection even in the most remote places, resulting in dramatic improvements in observational gaps that exist in space weather research today. The dense network may enable the use of the entire ionosphere as a sensor to monitor geophysical events from earthquakes to tsunamis, and other natural disasters.

Dr. Victor Pankratius
Principal Investigator
MIT Haystack Observatory
pankrat at mit dot edu


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under INSPIRE Grant Number AGS-134396. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.