October 20, 2017

AVOW-Gaia Catches a Solar Transit… of Earth’s Moon

A graphic of Gaia’s perspective.

Image credit: ESA

Sure, you’ve seen a total solar eclipse. You might’ve even caught sight of the historic 2012 transit of Venus… but check this out.

ESA’s Gaia spacecraft recently caught an interesting perspective and hybrid of the two: a transit of the Moon across the disk of the Sun. [Read more...]

Review: The Sun’s Heartbeat by Bob Berman.

Out from Little-Brown!

Think you know our nearest star? Think again… no other astronomical object influences our often mundane daily lives like our Sun. Think about it; the fuel in our cars, the energy in that Twinkie you had for “breakfast” (admit it) and the very power in the electrons that propel this blog can all be traced back the fusion force coming from our nearest star. As Bob Berman points out in his latest book, The Sun’s Heartbeat, and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers out Planet, all Earthbound energy with the exception of nuclear fission can be traced back to our Sun. Fans of Astronomy magazine (which JUST finally joined the ranks of the digital, winning back at least one more subscriber!) will be familiar with Mr. Berman’s Dave Barry-meets-Carl Sagan style of writing from his monthly column. [Read more...]

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!

28.04.10-Green Light Given for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.


ATST: An Artist's Conception. (Credit: NSF/ATST/AURA/Tom Kekona).

ATST: An Artist's Conception. (Credit: NSF/ATST/AURA/Tom Kekona).


   Move over, SDO: the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy is going to kick the telescope envy game up  a notch.  The National Science Foundation gave the go ahead earlier this year to break ground on the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), a 4-meter Sun dedicated platform to be built atop Haleakala Mountain on the big island of Hawaii. When completed in 2017, ATST will be the largest solar telescope in existence. From this pristine site, the ATST will deliver resolution in the order of 0.1” arc seconds and have imaging capabilities spanning the ultraviolet to infrared spectrum. Originally in jeopardy of ever reaching construction, a deposit of $146 million courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act breathed new life into ATST.  8-year costs are expected to extend to about $298 million dollars total. ATST will join a growing battery of telescopes atop windswept Haleakala, including the Mees Solar observatory, the USAF Advanced-Electro-Optical System, and the Faulkes Telescope North. Environmentalists oppose the construction of the telescope, as they have for most of the instruments constructed on the big island of Hawaii. It is interesting to note, however, that where observatories are built land is usually preserved, as these instruments tend to need remote undeveloped wilderness to operate. In fact, the foot print of telescopes on the environment is pretty small compared with the average strip mall… perhaps a dual use/protection agreement would be equitable to all parties concerned? Whatever is the case, the future looks bright (pun intended) as both NASA and the NSF received boosts to pursue solar physics over the next decade.