December 18, 2017

08.05.11: The Zooniverse & the Dawn of Citizen Science.

Hubble zooms in on Hanny’s Voorwerp. (Credit: NASA/STScl).

Galaxy Zoo. Moon Zoo. Old Weather. From galaxy classification to crater counting, citizen science is growing and expanding in a way that no one would have dreamed a decade ago. Like social media in general, scientific information is becoming something that people interact with and share rather than simply consume…and nowhere is this more evident than in the Zooniverse. [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.

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!

Review: Hubble 3D IMAX.

After much anticipation, we finally had a chance to make the pilgrimage to the Kennedy Space Center earlier this week to catch the IMAX film Hubble: 3D! All we’ve got to say is…wow! This is definitely one not to miss. Hubble 3D takes you from the launch pad to on-orbit repairs following the crew of STS-125 as they train for a mission that almost never was. But the film is more than simply a tale of a telescope; Hubble 3D is no less than a testament to mans quest for understanding in the universe. Some of the 3-Dimensional fly-arounds were particularly captivating; I felt as if I could reach out and touch some of those proto-solar cocoons in M42 as we dived in!

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Remembering the Super Flare of 1859.

This coming Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of a unique astronomical event that has repercussions even today. On the morning of September 1st, 1859, Astronomer Richard Carrington found his routine of carefully drawing and recording the transit times of sunspot groups disrupted by an odd phenomenon emerging on the face of the Sun. The day dawned unusually sunny over his private observatory in Redhill, England, and 33 year old Carrington had taken to his usual daily task of sketching sunspot groups projected onto a screen in a darkened room. The scope used was a 2-meter long brass refractor, (scopes were often measured by focal length instead of aperture in those days) and it yielded an 11-inch diameter projected image of the Sun. the Sun itself had been extremely active most of the year, and there was plenty to draw.

[Read more...]