A better knowledge of "space weather" above the region between Tasmania and Antarctica is promised by an array of 20 radar antennas set amongst the gum trees of Tasmania's South Bruny Island, which started their work today (Monday 29 May 2000).

Not only that, the powerful data-gathering device promises to help improve radio communications, reliability of electricity supply and navigation, and satellite safety, as well as making pigeon fanciers happier.

The radar array is called TIGER (for Tasman International Geospace Environment Radar). It will explore the impact on our planet of solar disturbances by mapping their location, intensity and effects as they reach the outer atmosphere.

TIGER will be officially commissioned at 11:30am today (Monday 29 May 2000) by Professor Michael Osborne, Vice-Chancellor of Latrobe University.

The second part of the TIGER array is to be established in New Zealand. Together they will make up the Australia-New Zealand part of an international network of similar sounders operated by 10 nations in both Arctic and Antarctic space regions.

There are practical as well as scientific benefits from TIGER .

Like the weather at ground level, the region where satellites operate, between 100 and 800km above the ground, is very changeable with winds up to 800km/h, temperature variations over 100°C, and changes in atmospheric composition.

Most extreme events in this region are caused by flares from the sun, which result in geomagnetic storms sometimes visible to us at nighttime as auroras. Many such solar disturbances affect communication and navigation systems, satellite services, electricity transmission and even the inbuilt navigations systems of birds, including racing pigeons.

TIGER , which will be operated remotely from Melbourne's La Trobe University, also involves investigators from the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston, Tasmania, as well as the Australian Government's Defence Science and Technology Organisation and IPS Radio and Space Services, British Antarctic Survey, Monash and Newcastle Universities, and industry partner RLM Systems Pty Ltd.

TIGER was funded by consortium members, grants from the Australian Research Council and the Tasmanian Government's Office of Antarctic Affairs.