December 21, 2014

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!

Death by Superflare?

An enormous sunspot group in 2001 that produced the largest flare seen in 25 years! (Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO).

An enormous sunspot group in 2001 that produced the largest flare seen in 25 years! (Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO).

A close runner-up in the pantheon of cosmic catastrophes is a killer flare courtesy of our Sun. While this may not be as lethal as a giant space rock, its also much more likely over the span of our short lifetimes. But what is the exact potential hazard posed by this threat? What has happened in the past? And what can be done about it? [Read more...]

March 2009 News & Notes.

 

Students.

Herschel, LeVerrier, Tombaugh, and…ReMeFra? (Credit: Leiden University).

Student exoplanet confirmed! Three students of Leiden University of the Netherlands are now the proud parents of a recently discovered exoplanet. And what a weird world it is; OGLE-Tr-L9b (OK, I know…we need better names!) orbits its fast spinning parent star in 2.5 Earth days at only 0.03 AU. [Read more...]

Top Astronomy Events in 2009.

 

Penumbral.

A 2002 Penumbral. Photo by Author.

The International year of Astronomy presents several outstanding viewing opportunities for 2009. Here is the Astroguyz short list of highlights for the year. These are our personal +12 best, must see events; we thought that rather than laundry list moons phases and solstices, we would narrow in on some of the best upcoming opportunities; [Read more...]