The entire solar system depends upon the Sun for stability. Life on Earth needs its light and warmth. The sun provides not only these, but drives the weather and provides the orbital forces that give Earth and other planets seasons.
The Sun has sunspots, regions of cooler temperatures and strong local magnetic fields, that can give rise to solar flares. Sunspots have an 11 year cycle - the next peak in sunspot activity will be in 2012. During these peak periods, the sun occasionally emits Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), large emissions of sub-relativistic particles and xrays that appear as an explosive eruption on the sun's surface. If these CMEs hit a planet such as Earth, they cause a spaceweather storm. During these electromagnetic and particle events, large electrical currents can be induced in the Earth's ionosphere, resulting in an Aurora Borealis display or, in extreme cases, disruption of the power grid and satellite communications. These solar storms are also especially dangerous for astronauts and satellites. There is an important need for as early an advanced warning about a coming spaceweather storm as possible.
Today's technologies can provide reliably at most a 30 minute advanced warning before such a storm arrives.
The mission of the STAR lab is to develop a much earlier, more reliable alert so that protective measures can be taken to protect people and infrastructure. Moreover, the Lab is developing algorithms to deploy an early warning system for Mars in order to provide proper protection for future colonists, since Mars has very little of the protection offered by Earth's magnetic field and thick atmosphere.