July 31, 2014

Review: Earth Girl by Janet Edwards.

Out in March!

You can’t go home again as the old cliché says, but what if you were trapped there permanently? We’re uniquely adapted for life on our tiny blue-green planet, but one often wonders if our space-faring descendants might see it as otherwise. Would a living on the Earth be seen as a blessing or a curse?

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05.03.11: A New Breed of Sundog?

A Solar Halo…(Photo by Author).

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is well on the path to producing some ground-breaking solar science this Solar Cycle #24, and that trend started the minute it left the launch pad. On February 11th, 2010, SDO lifted off atop an Atlas V rocket, and gave viewers a memorable sight. [Read more...]

14.02.11: Sol Unleashes A Powerful Radio Flare.

An SDO spectrum composite of the sun as of Monday, February 14th.  (Credit: NASA/SDO).

Our nearest star unleashed the most powerful solar flare of 2011 thus far yesterday, and amateur and professionals alike were on hand to bear witness to the event. On Sunday, February 13th at approximately 1738 Universal Time, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory detected the burst emanating from the large Earthward facing sunspot group 1158. Likewise, radio amateur astronomers detected a large simultaneous spike in the 19 to 21 MHz frequency range. [Read more...]

07.02.11: Seeing the Sun in STEREO.

Current Positions of NASA’s STEREO A & B Spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/STEREO).

Amid the Super Bowl madness that was this past weekend, a quiet milestone was reached in the realm of Spaceweather; NASA’s twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft achieved a 360 degree coverage vantage point in respect to our sun. [Read more...]

17.06.10: Living with Solar Cycle #24.

The beginnings of solar activity earlier this year. (Photo by Author).

The beginnings of solar activity earlier this year. (Photo by Author).

 

     As our local star gets underway into solar cycle #24, all eyes, orbiting and ground based, are keeping a close watch. The very concept of space weather is coming very much into vogue, and the activity over the next several year span may test the underpinnings of our technological civilization like never before. This past June 8th, scientists, authorities and civic planners met in Washington D.C. at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum at the National Press Club to discuss what if anything can be done to protect ourselves from the tempestuous throes of the Sun. This next cycle got off to a sputtering start but is forecast to be a rough one; keep in mind, while the solar cycle lasts 11 years, technology as per Moore’s law has been doubling exponentially once every 18 months. Ask yourself, what would you have read this on 11 years ago? And a really nasty flare such as the Carrington event in 1859 would do more than simply put your cell on the fritz; increasingly, everything from emergency services to navigation to commerce depends on technology. Heck, knocking out the power grid on a humid summers’ day might spell death for hundreds… with this apocalyptic setting in mind, the National Academy of Sciences built a report two years ago entitled Severe Space Weather Events- Societal and Economic Impacts, which outlined the possibilities of a really massive solar flare and efforts to minimize its impact. This year’s meeting marks the fourth symposium on the subject. It been suggested by the study that a century class storm could have the impact of Katrina twenty fold, but it is also true that there is simply no precedent for such an event. On the frontlines of the space weather wars are Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, and Thomas Bogdan, director for the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Along with ground based networks such as GONG (The Global Oscillation Network Group), three key elements stand at the ready in their Sun monitoring arsenal;

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). It’s no coincidence that NASA’s premiere solar observing platform took to orbit at the start of the solar cycle; SDO will be able to monitor solar activity with unprecedented detail and resolution.

STEREO: The Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory, STEREO is actually a pair of satellites, one Earth-leading and one Earth-trailing. This will allow us to peer around the backside of the Sun to see if anything nasty is rotating our way.

But one of the most vital instruments may be the one you’ve never heard of; ACE, or the Advanced Composition Explorer. ACE was launched in 1997 and samples the near Earth solar environment from its upwind position and gives scientists a 30 minute warning before an event begins interacting with our planet.

So what can be done if the big one is on the way? In many instances, equipment can be saved simply by disconnecting transformers or placing satellites in safe mode…but one thing is for certain, we can no longer afford to think that our daily lives are somehow separate from the space environment. Like it or not, we are now a space faring culture, with all that entails. Be grateful that NASA and the NOAA are on continued solar vigil!

26.05.10: SDO and the Coronal Rain.

Coronal Rain as imaged by SDO. (Credit: NASA/SDO).

Coronal Rain as imaged by SDO. (Credit: NASA/SDO).

  

   NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory continues to astound. Launched earlier this year, SDO is already providing insight into key solar mysteries. One long standing mystery has been the action of what’s termed “coronal rain.” This long documented phenomenon is caused by super heated blobs of plasma in-falling back to the fiery surface of the Sun. But until now, no one could adequately model the slowing down of this sinking material. It was as if an unidentified medium existed, “cushioning” the fall of the coronal rain. In a recent news conference, SDO scientists revealed a key culprit; an underlying area of hot gas. What makes SDO standout from previous solar observatories is its acute temperature sensing technology. Utilizing its ultraviolet Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), SDO can probe the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere as never before. The picture emerging is of relatively cool (60,000 K) plasma falling through hotter material standing between 1,000,000 K and 2,200,000 K.

All of this portends to a future understanding of our Sun in intimate detail. As Solar Cycle #24 gets underway, Platforms like SDO will study our nearest star in unprecedented resolution. As Dick Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division stated; “I’ve never seen images like this…” Keep em’ coming!

23.04.10-SDO Unveiled.

(Credit: NASA/SDO).

(Credit: NASA/SDO).

An SDO Original!

    Cool images Alert: NASA’s recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has released some fairly mind-blowing pics and videos this week. The video below is but a small sampling of the capabilities showcased by this Sun-monitoring spacecraft. “We’ve seen prominences before, but not like this!” states Alan Title of Lockheed Martin. SDO was launched on February 11th, 2010 and studies the Sun from a polar inclined geosynchronous orbit. Equipped with high definition cameras and a 4096x 4096 –pixel array, you haven’t seen the Sun the way SDO has revealed it. Part of NASA’s Living With a Star program, SDO will provide a continuum in solar astronomy started by the ESA’s SOHO satellite in the 1990’s. One can only hope that SDO’s data will be as easily accessible and provide real time access to the public as SOHO has done. Not only will SDO have the capability to monitor the Sun in ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet, but it also possesses an Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) and a Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager. But beyond pretty pictures, SDO also promises to give us a unique insight into the inner workings of our Sun. And with sunspot cycle #24 just gearing up, this capability may have come none too soon!

Astro-event: SDO and STS-130 are go!

The Crew of STS-130! (Credit: NASA/KSC).

The Crew of STS-130! (Credit: NASA/KSC).

Two (count ‘em!) launches will light up the Florida Space Coast over the next few days; that of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-130 and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). STS-130 is scheduled to liftoff from launch pad 39A out of the Kennedy Space Center on the morning of Sunday, February 7th at 04:39 AM EST enroute to the International Space Station. Cargo includes the Tranquility connecting node which houses the Cupola, a Millennium Falcon-like window that will give residents unprecedented views and aid in spacewalks and exterior work. [Read more...]

February 2010: Life in the Astro-blogosphere.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory being readied for launch at the Cape. (Credit: NASA/SDO).

The Solar Dynamics Observatory being readied for launch at the Cape. (Credit: NASA/SDO).

 (Late breaking news: looks like Astroguyz will be tweeting live from the Johnson Space Center in Houston Feb. 17th as part of the STS-130 NASA Tweetup! Now is a good time to follow us on Twitter, as we partake in all things STS, and give you the blow-by-blow live!) 

Cheer up, ye benighted souls of terrestrial northern hemisphere winter; astronomical things are afoot! The month of February sees the return of the Shuttle Endeavour to low Earth orbit, as well as the long anticipated launch of NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory. So, without further adieu, here’s a sneak peak at what we’re watching here in the month of February from Astroguyz HQ; 

February Skies:  February sees the passing of the not so close opposition of Mars from late January, although the Red Planet will be placed favorably for viewers throughout the northern hemisphere in February. A recent posting here at Astroguyz will tell you how to accomplish a rare feat: how to spot the Martian Moons.  A more curious and exceptional event happens on the Feb 9th close passage of NEO asteroid 2009 UN3. The Full Snow moon occurs on February 28th at 11:38 AM EST. [Read more...]

2010: A Lookback at the Year in Science and a Look Ahead.

 

 

New Hubble pics! (Credit: NASA/ESA/STS Inst.)

New Hubble pics! (Credit: NASA/ESA/STS Inst.)

 

2009 was a year of silent triumph in the world of science. Unmanned spacecraft scoured the solar system, while at home, we saw the first tentative steps signaling a transitioning of manned spaceflight. Indeed, as we pause to enter a new decade, all eyes are on change and what it will bring about for science and the world at large. As we endeavor to keep up with our ceaseless calendar, here’s the Astroguyz down and dirty on happenings in 2009 A.D. and a look ahead;   [Read more...]