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  • richardmitnick 2:51 pm on September 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Auroras, , Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From SPACE.com: ” Solar Storms Are Bombarding Earth Now, Amped-up Auroras Possible” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    Two waves of solar material blown out by powerful sun eruptions this week are hitting the Earth now, and could amplify the aurora displays for observers in northern regions.

    aurora
    Images of the aurora australis and aurora borealis from around the world, including those with rarer red and blue lights

    Scientists with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, expected the first wave of solar flare particles — unleashed by a so-called coronal mass ejection, or CME, on Monday (Sept. 8) — to reach Earth Thursday night (Sept. 11). A second wave, this one caused by a massive solar flare on Wednesday, is due to arrive between Friday and early Saturday.

    cme
    NASA Captures Image of M1 Coronal Mass Ejection April 18, 2012

    flare
    On August 31, 2012 a long prominence/filament of solar material that had been hovering in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT

    “We do expect these storm levels to cause significant auroral displays across much of the northern U.S. on Friday night,” SWPC Director Thomas Berger told reporters on Thursday. “With clear skies currently forecast for much of these regions, this could be a good opportunity for auroral sightings.”

    The enhanced auroras would likely be most visible across the northern tier U.S. states, along the U.S.-Canada border, as well as in New England, added SWPC program coordinator William Murtagh. Clear, dark skies far from city light pollution are vital to observe any auroras.

    The first of the two solar storm waves reached Earth late Thursday right on time, space weather center officials wrote in an update late Thursday. Also on Thursday, NASA released a new video of the X1.6 solar flare from its sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory, showing the event in two different wavelengths.

    Coronal mass ejections are powerful eruptions of super-hot plasma than can be blown out from the sun during major solar flares. This week, the an active sunspot known as AR2158 sun fired off a moderate M4.6 solar flare on Monday, followed by a much more powerful X1.6-class flare on Wednesday, Sept. 10. X-class flares are the most powerful flares the sun experiences.

    Sunspot AR2158 is about the size of between 10 and 20 Earths, but appears to be in the process of breaking up, Berger said. The huge X1.6 solar flare may have been its swan song as it breaks down, he added.

    spot
    This NASA image shows the active sunspot AR2158, which unleashed a massive X1.6 solar flare on Sept. 10, 2014, as it appeared on Sept. 8, when it fired off a moderate M4.6 solar flare. On the right, Jupiter and Earth are superimposed to give a sense of the sunspot’s size. Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (Little SDO)

    The two solar flares this week were accompanied by coronal mass ejections, and both were aimed at Earth. When directly aimed at Earth, the most powerful solar flares — events stronger than the X1.6 storm on Wednesday — can pose a danger to satellites and astronauts in space, and interfere with communication, navigation and even power distribution surfaces on the Earth’s surface.

    Berger said that the two CMEs from this week’s solar storms could cause some radio and GPS navigation system hiccups, as well as voltage irregularities in power grids of the northern United States, but nothing too extreme.

    “We don’t expect any unmanageable impacts to national infrastructure from these solar events at this time, but we are watching these events closely,” Berger said.

    flare
    The huge X1.6-class solar flare is seen erupting from the sun in this three-wavelength composite image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Obervatory on Sept. 10, 2014. The solar flare occurred at 1:45 p.m. ET. Credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (Little SDO)

    Berger did say that it is fairly rare for two significant coronal mass ejections to hit Earth head-on at nearly the same time. A minor radiation storm was detected from the solar flares, as well as temporary radio blackouts, space weather officials said.

    Space weather officials did say that the most intriguing aspect of this week’s solar flares are their potential for boosting this weekend’s northern lights displays.

    When charged particles from solar storms reach Earth, they are funneled to the polar regions by the planet’s magnetic field and can great so-called geomagnetic storms.

    A minor G1-class storm is underway now, with levels expected to rise to a potentially strong G3-class by Saturday evening, Berger said.

    When solar particles collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they let create a glow that can be visible from the ground as auroral light. In the northern regions of Earth, this glow is known as the aurora borealis, or northern lights. In the south, it is called the aurora australis, or southern lights. Significant solar flares can amplify those displays into dazzling dances of ethereal light.

    See the full article, with videos, here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:46 pm on August 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Coronal Mass Ejections, , , Solar Storms   

    From NASA/Goddard: “Researchers Use NASA and Other Data to Look Into the Heart of a Solar Storm” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    August 28, 2014

    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    A space weather storm from the sun engulfed our planet on Jan. 21, 2005. The event got its start on Jan. 20, when a cloud of solar material, a coronal mass ejection or CME, burst off the sun and headed toward Earth. When it arrived at our planet, the ring current and radiation belts surrounding Earth swelled with extra particles, while the aurora persisted for six hours. Both of these are usually signs of a very large storm – indeed, this was one of the largest outpouring of solar protons ever monitored from the sun. But the storm barely affected the magnetic fields around Earth – disturbances in these fields can affect power grids on the ground, a potential space weather effect keenly watched for by a society so dependent on electricity.

    fila
    A filament of cold dense solar material moved toward the front of a Jan. 20, 2005, coronal mass ejection, which led to an unusually large amount of solar material funneling into near-Earth space during a Jan. 21 solar storm.
    CreditJanet Kozyra

    twelve
    Twelve spacecraft in Earth’s magnetosphere – in addition to other missions — helped scientists better observe and understand an unusual January 2005 solar storm. The four Cluster spacecraft were in the solar wind, directly upstream of Earth. Picture not to scale.
    Image Credit: ESA

    Janet Kozyra, a space scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, thought this intriguing combination of a simultaneously weak and strong solar storm deserved further scrutiny. In an effort to better understand — and some day forecast — such storms and their potential effects on human technology, an unusual event like this can help researchers understand just what aspects of a CME lead to what effects near Earth.

    “There were features appearing that we generally only see during extreme space weather events, when by other measures the storm was moderate,” said Kozyra. “We wanted to look at it holistically, much like terrestrial weather researchers do with extreme weather. We took every single piece of data that we could find on the solar storm and put it together to see what was going on.”

    With observations collected from ground-based networks and 20 different satellites, Kozyra and a group of colleagues, each an expert in different aspects of the data or models, found that the CME contained a rare piece of dense solar filament material. This filament coupled with an unusually fast speed led to the large amount of solar material observed. A fortuitous magnetic geometry, however, softened the blow, leading to reduced magnetic effects. These results were published in the Aug. 14, 2014, issue of Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics.

    The researchers gathered data from spacecraft orbiting in Earth’s ionosphere, which extends up to 600 miles above the planet’s surface, and satellites above that, orbiting through the heart of Earth’s magnetic environment, the magnetosphere. The massive amount of data was then incorporated into a variety of models developed at the University of Michigan’s Center for Space Environment Modeling, which are housed at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a facility dedicated to providing comprehensive access to space weather models.

    With the models in hand, the team could put together the story of this particular solar storm. It began with the CME on Jan. 20, 2005. The European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured images of the CME.

    NASA SOHO
    NASA SOHO

    At their simplest, CMEs look like a magnetic bubble with material around the outside. In this case, there was an additional line of colder, denser solar material – an electrically charged gas called plasma – inside called a solar filament. Solar filaments are ribbons of dense plasma supported in the sun’s outer atmosphere – the corona — by strong magnetic fields. Filament material is 100 times denser and 100 times cooler than the surrounding atmosphere. When the supporting magnetic fields erupt, the filaments are caught up in the explosive release that forms the CME. Despite observations that the majority of eruptions like this involve solar filaments, the filaments are rarely identified in disturbances that reach Earth. Why this might be, is a mystery – but it means that the presence of the solar filament in this particular event is a rare sighting.

    Subsequent observations of the CME showed it to be particularly fast, with a velocity that peaked at around 1800 miles per second before slowing to 600 miles per second as it approached Earth. Just how many CMEs have filaments or how the geometry of such filaments change as they move toward Earth is not precisely known. In this case, however, it seems that the dense filament sped forward, past the leading edge of the CME, so as it slammed into the magnetosphere, it delivered an extra big dose of energetic particles into near-Earth space.

    What happened next was observed by a flotilla of Earth-orbiting scientific satellites, including NASA’s IMAGE, FAST and TIMED missions, the joint European Space Agency, or ESA, and NASA’s Cluster, the NASA and ESA’s Geotail, the Chinese and ESA’s Double Star-1; other spacecraft 1 million miles closer to the sun including SOHO and NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, Wind various other spacecraft; as well as the National Science Foundation-supported ground-based SuperDARN radar network. At the time Cluster was in the solar wind directly upstream of Earth. Meanwhile, Double Star-1 was passing from the outer region of the planet’s magnetic field and entering the magnetosphere. This enabled it to observe the entry of the solar filament material as it crossed into near-Earth space.

    “Within one hour of the impact, a cold, dense plasma sheet formed out of the filament material,” said Kozyra. “High density material continued to move through the magnetosphere for the entire six hours of the filament’s passage.”

    Despite the intense amount of plasma carried by the CME, it still lacked a key component of a super storm. The magnetic fields embedded in this CME generally pointed toward Earth’s north pole, just as Earth’s own magnetic fields do. This configuration causes far fewer disruptions to our planet’s system than when the CME’s fields point southward. When pointing south, the CME’s fields clash with Earth’s, peeling them back and setting off magnetic perturbations that cascade through the magnetosphere.

    The magnetic field orientation is what kept this solar storm to low levels. On the other hand, the extra solar material from the filament catalyzed long-term aurora over the poles and enhanced the particle filled radiation belts around Earth, characteristic of a larger storm.

    “This event, with its unusual combination of space weather effects really demonstrates why it’s important to look at the entire system, not just individual elements,” said Kozyra. “Only by using all of this data, by watching the event from the beginning to the end, can we begin to understand all the different facets of an extreme storm like this.”

    Understanding what created the facets of this particular 2005 storm adds to a much larger body of knowledge about how different kinds of CMEs can affect us here at Earth. By knowing what factors lead to the total strength of a storm, we can better learn to predict what the sun is sending our way.

    flash
    A coronal mass ejection on Jan. 20, 2005, produced an extreme amount of solar particles, seen as white static in this imagery from ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Closer to Earth, it created a solar storm with an unusual combination of strong and weak effects.
    Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO

    This work was supported by NASA’s Heliophysics Division, in combination with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From NASA: “How the Sun Caused an Aurora This Week “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this image of the aurora, seen from above.

    aurora

    This auroral display was due to a giant cloud of gas from the sun – a coronal mass ejection or CME – that collided with Earth’s magnetic fields [magnetosphere] on Aug. 19, 2014, at 1:57 a.m. EDT. This event set off, as it often does, what’s called a geomagnetic storm.

    gs
    Artists’s rendition Goddard

    This is a kind of space weather event where the magnetic fields surrounding Earth compress and release. This oscillation is much like a spring moving back and forth, but unlike a spring, moving magnetic fields cause an unstable environment, setting charged particles moving and initiating electric currents.

    The geomagnetic storm passed within 24 hours or so but, while it was ongoing, the solar particles and magnetic fields caused the release of particles already trapped near Earth. These, in turn, triggered reactions in the upper atmosphere in which oxygen and nitrogen molecules released photons of light.

    The result: an aurora, and a special sight for the astronauts on board the space station.

    map
    This model shows where the aurora was visible at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 19, 2014, as the International Space Station flew over it. The model is an Ovation Prime model and it is available from the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
    Image Credit: NASA/CCMC

    storm
    A coronal mass ejection, or CME, burst from the sun on Aug. 15, 2014. When it arrived at Earth, it sparked aurora over North America. This looping animated GIF of the CME was captured by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The bright planet seen moving toward the left is Mercury.
    Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 3:43 pm on July 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From SPACE.com: ” Huge Solar Storm of 2012 Would Have Sparked Calamity on Earth” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    July 29, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    If a huge solar eruption in 2012 had hit the Earth, the effects would have been so devastating that we’d still be recovering two years later, scientists working on several new studies conclude.

    A huge coronal mass ejection — a large cloud of hot plasma sent into space — burst forth from the sun on July 23, 2012. The CME went through Earth’s orbit, and had it happened only one week earlier, our planet would have been in the way and faced severe technological consequences.

    There would have been three waves of damage associated with the extreme solar storm. First, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation from the solar flare would have produced radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. The second part would have seen satellites fried by energetic particles like electrons and protons, which arrived only minutes to hours later.

    Finally, magnetized plasma from the CME would have struck our planet within the next day. Power blackouts could have been devastating, making it difficult to even flush the toilet because most urban areas use electric water pumps.

    “I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Daniel Baker at the University of Colorado, who led a study of the storm in Space Weather, said in a statement.

    spurts
    A huge solar storm in 2012 could have cause wide-spread devastation on Earth, if it had given the planet a direct blow.
    Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

    Disturbance in the solar force

    Researchers know about severity of the space weather thanks to NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft, one of a twin NASA pair of satellites that is examining the sun. It found that the magnitude of the flare was similar to the Carrington event, an 1859 solar storm that set telegraph lines aflame as the Northern Lights were seen as far south as Cuba.

    stereo
    NASA/STEREO

    STEREO-A wasn’t hurt by the blast because it travelled safely outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, a zone above our planet that carries magnetic currents and can short out satellites. Also, the satellite was designed to withstand solar shocks — unlike some others.

    “Thanks to STEREO-A we know a lot of about the magnetic structure of the CME, the kind of shock waves and energetic particles it produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, the number of CMEs that preceded it,” Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc., who published an unrelated paper in Space Weather, said in the same statement.

    Riley calculated that in the next 10 years, there is a 12 percent chance that a Carrington-class solar storm could happen. He used a parameter called Dst, “disturbance – storm time,” that looks at how much the magnetic field around Earth shakes when coronal mass ejections hit.

    Astronomers today estimate the Dst for Carrington was anywhere between negative 800 nanoTesla (nT) and negative 1,750 nT. By comparison, an ordinary storm that causes northern and southern lights only produces about negative 50 nT.

    In March 1989, the province of Quebec in Canada lost power due to an intense solar storm that was measured at negative 600 nT. The geomagnetic storm that narrow missed Earth in 2012 was twice as powerful, Riley said.

    ‘Perfect solar storm’

    The 2012 storm was so powerful that several coronal mass ejections erupted from the sun, creating a “superstorm” that made it many times more powerful than an ordinary one, an unrelated paper in Nature Communications said.

    The blast was actually a “double-CME” — two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes — that whizzed through an area of space that had already been cleaned by another CME just four days before.

    This meant the interplanetary medium in that region was not as thick as usual, the University of California, Berkeley’s Janet Luhmann and former postdoctoral researcher Ying Liu found.

    “It’s likely that the Carrington event was also associated with multiple eruptions, and this may turn out to be a key requirement for extreme events,” added Riley. “In fact, it seems that extreme events may require an ideal combination of a number of key features to produce the ‘perfect solar storm.”

    See the full article here.


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  • richardmitnick 8:48 am on July 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From NASA Science News: “Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012″ 

    NASA Science Science News

    NASA Science News

    July 23, 2014
    Dr. Tony Phillips

    If an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century appeared out of deep space and buzzed the Earth-Moon system, the near-miss would be instant worldwide headline news.

    Two years ago, Earth experienced a close shave just as perilous, but most newspapers didn’t mention it. The “impactor” was an extreme solar storm, the most powerful in as much as 150+ years.

    “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” says Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado.

    cme
    Coronal Mass Ejection

    Baker, along with colleagues from NASA and other universities, published a seminal study of the storm in the December 2013 issue of the journal Space Weather. Their paper, entitled A major solar eruptive event in July 2012, describes how a powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012. Fortunately Earth wasn’t there. Instead, the storm cloud hit the STEREO-A spacecraft.

    stereo
    STEREO-A spacecraft

    “I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” says Baker. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.

    Extreme solar storms pose a threat to all forms of high-technology. They begin with an explosion–a “solar flare“—in the magnetic canopy of a sunspot. X-rays and extreme UV radiation reach Earth at light speed, ionizing the upper layers of our atmosphere; side-effects of this “solar EMP” include radio blackouts and GPS navigation errors. Minutes to hours later, the energetic particles arrive. Moving only slightly slower than light itself, electrons and protons accelerated by the blast can electrify satellites and damage their electronics. Then come the CMEs, billion-ton clouds of magnetized plasma that take a day or more to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Analysts believe that a direct hit by an extreme CME such as the one that missed Earth in July 2012 could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.

    Before July 2012, when researchers talked about extreme solar storms their touchstone was the iconic Carrington Event of Sept. 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who actually saw the instigating flare with his own eyes. In the days that followed his observation, a series of powerful CMEs hit Earth head-on with a potency not felt before or since. Intense geomagnetic storms ignited Northern Lights as far south as Cuba and caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices and thus disabling the ‘Victorian Internet.”

    A similar storm today could have a catastrophic effect. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.

    “In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event,” says Baker. “The only difference is, it missed.”

    In February 2014, physicist Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc. published a paper in Space Weather entitled On the probability of occurrence of extreme space weather events. In it, he analyzed records of solar storms going back 50+ years. By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

    The answer: 12%.

    “Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” says Riley. “It is a sobering figure.”

    In his study, Riley looked carefully at a parameter called Dst, short for “disturbance – storm time.” This is a number calculated from magnetometer readings around the equator. Essentially, it measures how hard Earth’s magnetic field shakes when a CME hits. The more negative Dst becomes, the worse the storm. Ordinary geomagnetic storms, which produce Northern Lights around the Arctic Circle, but otherwise do no harm, register Dst=-50 nT (nanoTesla). The worst geomagnetic storm of the Space Age, which knocked out power across Quebec in March 1989, registered Dst=-600 nT. Modern estimates of Dst for the Carrington Event itself range from -800 nT to a staggering -1750 nT.

    In their Dec. 2013 paper, Baker et al. estimated Dst for the July 2012 storm. “If that CME had hit Earth, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have registered a Dst of -1200, comparable to the Carrington Event and twice as bad as the March 1989 Quebec blackout.”

    The reason researchers know so much about the July 2012 storm is because, out of all the spacecraft in the solar system it could have hit, it did hit a solar observatory. STEREO-A is almost ideally equipped to measure the parameters of such an event.

    “The rich data set obtained by STEREO far exceeded the relatively meagre observations that Carrington was able to make in the 19th century,” notes Riley. “Thanks to STEREO-A we know a lot of about the magnetic structure of the CME, the kind of shock waves and energetic particles it produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, the number of CMEs that preceded it.”

    It turns out that the active region responsible for producing the July 2012 storm didn’t launch just one CME into space, but many. Some of those CMEs “plowed the road” for the superstorm.

    A paper in the March 2014 edition of Nature Communications by UC Berkeley space physicist Janet G. Luhmann and former postdoc Ying D. Liu describes the process: The July 23rd CME was actually two CMEs separated by only 10 to 15 minutes. This double-CME traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by yet another CME four days earlier. As a result, the storm clouds were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.

    “It’s likely that the Carrington event was also associated with multiple eruptions, and this may turn out to be a key requirement for extreme events,” notes Riley. “In fact, it seems that extreme events may require an ideal combination of a number of key features to produce the ‘perfect solar storm.'”

    “Pre-conditioning by multiple CMEs appears to be very important,” agrees Baker.

    A common question about this event is, how did the STEREO-A probe survive? After all, Carrington-class storms are supposed to be mortally dangerous to spacecraft and satellites. Yet STEREO-A not only rode out the storm, but also continued taking high-quality data throughout.

    “Spacecraft such as the STEREO twins and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (a joint ESA/NASA mission) were designed to operate in the environment outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, and that includes even quite intense, CME-related shocks,” says Joe Gurman, the STEREO project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “To my knowledge, nothing serious happened to the spacecraft.”

    The story might have been different, he says, if STEREO-A were orbiting Earth instead of traveling through interplanetary space.

    “Inside Earth’s magnetosphere, strong electric currents can be generated by a CME strike,” he explains. “Out in interplanetary space, however, the ambient magnetic field is much weaker and so those dangerous currents are missing.” In short, STEREO-A was in a good place to ride out the storm.

    “Without the kind of coverage afforded by the STEREO mission, we as a society might have been blissfully ignorant of this remarkable solar storm,” notes Baker. “How many others of this scale have just happened to miss Earth and our space detection systems? This is a pressing question that needs answers.”

    If Riley’s work holds true, there is a 12% chance we will learn a lot more about extreme solar storms in the next 10 years—when one actually strikes Earth.

    Says Baker, “we need to be prepared.”

    See the full article, with video, here.

    NASA leads the nation on a great journey of discovery, seeking new knowledge and understanding of our planet Earth, our Sun and solar system, and the universe out to its farthest reaches and back to its earliest moments of existence. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the nation’s science community use space observatories to conduct scientific studies of the Earth from space to visit and return samples from other bodies in the solar system, and to peer out into our Galaxy and beyond. NASA’s science program seeks answers to profound questions that touch us all:

    This is NASA’s science vision: using the vantage point of space to achieve with the science community and our partners a deep scientific understanding of our planet, other planets and solar system bodies, the interplanetary environment, the Sun and its effects on the solar system, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns, such as climate change and space weather. At every step we share the journey of scientific exploration with the public and partner with others to substantially improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education nationwide.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 5:57 pm on July 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Coronal Mass Ejections, , L A Times, Sunspots   

    From L.A.Times: “Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?” 

    L A Times

    L.A. Times

    July 18, 2014
    Deborah Netburn

    Our sun has gone quiet. Almost too quiet.

    A few weeks ago it was teeming with sunspots, as you would expect since we are supposed to be in the middle of solar maximum — the time in the sun’s 11-year cycle when it is the most active.

    sun
    A nearly spot-free sun as viewed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 18.

    But now, there is hardly a sunspot in sight. If you look closely at the image above, taken on July 18 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, you will see a tiny smidge of brown just right of center where a small sunspot appears to be developing. But just one day before, there truly was nothing. It was a totally spotless day.

    So what’s going on here? Is the “All Quiet Event” as solar physicist Tony Phillips dubbed it, a big deal or not?

    “It is weird, but it’s not super weird,” said Phillips, who writes about solar activity on his website SpaceWeather.com. “To have a spotless day during solar maximum is odd, but then again, this solar maximum we are in has been very wimpy.”

    Phillips notes this is the weakest solar maximum to have been observed in the space age, and it is shaking out to be the weakest one in the past 100 years, so the spotless day was not so out of left field.

    “It all underlines that solar physicists really don’t know what the heck is happening on the sun,” Phillips said. “We just don’t know how to predict the sun, that is the take away message of this event.”

    sunspot
    Granules-like structure of surface of sun and sunspots (size around 20’000km). Visible light. Taken by Hinode’s Solar Optical Telescope (SOT). These sunspots belong to AR 10930 where X3.4 flare occurred on that day.

    NASA Hinode
    NASA/Hinode

    Sunspots are interesting to solar observers because they are the region of the sun where solar activity such as solar flares (giant flashes of light) and coronal mass ejections (when material from the sun goes shooting off into space) originate.

    solar flare
    On August 31, 2012 a long prominence/filament of solar material that had been hovering in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT

    They are caused by highly concentrated magnetic fields that are slightly cooler than the surrounding surface of the sun, which is why they appear dark to us. Those intense magnetic fields can get twisted up and tangled, which causes a lot of energy to build up. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur when that energy is released in a very explosive way.

    Alex Young, a heliophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said it is hard to say what is and isn’t unusual when it comes to the sun.

    “We’ve only been observing the sun in lots of detail in the last 50 years,” he said. “That’s not that long considering it’s been around for 4.5 billion years.”

    And it’s not like astronomers have never seen the sun this quiet before. Three years ago, on Aug. 14, 2011, it was completely free of sunspots. And, as Phillips points out, that year turned out to have relatively high solar activity overall with several X-class flares. So in that case, the spotless sun was just a “temporary intermission,” as he writes on his website.

    Whether this quiet period will be similarly short-lived or if it will last longer remains to be seen.


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  • richardmitnick 9:46 am on December 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From INL: “Illuminating results: INL broadens understanding of solar storms” 

    INL Labs

    Idaho National Laboratory

    storm
    A June 20, 2013 eruption of solar material shooting through the Sun’s atmosphere. The coronal mass ejection hurled millions of charged particles outward. INL’s full-scale power grid can reveal how geomagnetic disturbances affect critical power system components. Photo courtesy: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

    By Craig Wise & Misty Benjamin, INL Communications & Governmental Affairs

    A solar flare ejected from the surface of the sun propels charged particles into space that sometimes collides with the Earth’s magnetic field. These solar storms, or coronal mass ejections, can and have caused significant damage to critical infrastructure and left millions without electrical power for some time.

    testbed
    INL’s Test Bed facilities allow scientists to replicate conditions electric utilities experience from geomagnetic disturbances.

    Until recently, effects of the geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar storms on critical power system components had not been tested on a full-scale, realistic power grid. Sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with Scientific Applications & Research Associates Inc. and Baylor University, researchers at Idaho National Laboratory modeled and validated these phenomena, confirming some geomagnetic storm theories and bringing new concerns to light.

    “INL’s tests not only confirmed industry model predictions of potential power interruption and equipment damage, they also revealed several unexpected secondary effects capable of causing significant impairment,” said Scott McBride, INL Power Systems program manager. “Over the past decade, many researchers have modeled and evaluated damage caused by geomagnetic disturbances; however, most of these models and predictions have not been validated in real world conditions.

    “Recently, INL and DTRA used the lab’s unique power grid and a pair of 138kV core form, 2 winding substation transformers, which had been in-service at INL since the 1950s, to perform the first full-scale testing to replicate conditions electric utilities could experience from geomagnetic disturbances.”

    The research team found high levels of power line harmonics created during the simulated solar event and how these harmonics impacted power transmission and distribution equipment.

    INL’s tests demonstrated that geomagnetic-induced harmonics are strong enough to penetrate many power line filters and cause temporary resets to computer power supplies and disruption to electronic equipment, such as uninterruptible power supplies. An uninterruptable power supply provides immediate protection to electronic equipment to ensure it isn’t damaged by an unexpected shutdown. Damage to these backup systems could lead to injuries, fatalities, serious business disruption or data loss.

    See the full article here.

    INL Campus
    In operation since 1949, INL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Energy’s missions in nuclear and energy research, science, and national defense. INL is operated for the Department of Energy (DOE) by Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) and partners, each providing unique educational, management, research and scientific assets into a world-class national laboratory.

     
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