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  • richardmitnick 5:15 am on July 7, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Earth's magnetic field Explained", CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, Earth has two sets of poles-geographic poles and magnetic poles., Earth's magnetic field-a.k.a geomagnetic field-is generated in our planet's interior and extends out into space creating a region known as the magnetosphere., Earth's magnetic poles have also 'flipped' whereby North becomes South and South becomes North., , The magnetic reversals occur at irregular intervals every 200000 years or so., , Without the magnetic field life on Earth as we know it would not be possible as it shields us all from the constant bombardment by charged particles emitted from the sun — the solar wind.   

    From SPACE.com : “Earth’s magnetic field Explained” 

    From SPACE.com

    Daisy Dobrijevic

    Our protective blanket helps shield us from unruly space weather.

    Earth’s magnetic field is generated deep within Earth’s interior and extends out into space. (Image credit: Elen11 via Getty Images. )

    Earth’s magnetic field — also known as the geomagnetic field — is generated in our planet’s interior and extends out into space, creating a region known as the magnetosphere.

    Without the magnetic field life on Earth as we know it would not be possible as it shields us all from the constant bombardment by charged particles emitted from the sun — the solar wind.

    (To learn what happens to a planet when it loses its magnetic field, you only need to look at Mars.)

    Earth has two sets of poles-geographic poles and magnetic poles. Earth’s magnetic field can be visualized if you imagine a large bar magnet inside our planet, roughly aligned with Earth’s axis. Each end of the magnet lies relatively close (about 10 degrees) to the geographic North and South poles. Earth’s invisible magnetic field lines travel in a closed, continuous loop and are nearly vertical at each magnetic pole.

    Geographic North and South poles are where lines of longitude converge according to GIS Geography. The Geographic North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and the Geographic South Pole is found in Antarctica.

    Magnetic poles are located where the magnetic lines of attraction enter Earth. The Magnetic North Pole is also known as the North Dip Pole and is currently found on Ellesmere Island in Northern Canada. When a magnetic compass points north it is aligning itself with Earth’s magnetic field and points to the Magnetic North Pole, not the Geographic North Pole, which is actually about 310 miles (500 kilometers) away according to GIS Geography!

    And just to make things that little more confusing, what we call the North Magnetic Pole is actually a south magnetic pole… bear with me on this. Magnetic field sources are dipolar, meaning they have a north and south pole. And when it comes to magnets, opposite poles (N and S) attract while other poles (N and N, S and S) repel. So when a compass points north, it is actually attracted to the south magnetic pole which lies close to the Geographic North Pole, according to Physicist Christopher Baird’s science FAQ website Surprising Questions with Surprising Answers.

    Unlike the geographic poles, Earth’s magnetic poles are not fixed and tend to wander over time. British polar explorer James Clark Ross first identified the Magnetic North Pole on the Boothis Peninsula in Canada’s Nunavut territory in 1831, according to the Antarctic travel site Antarctic Logistics. Since its discovery, the magnetic north pole moves about 25 miles (40 kilometers) a year in a northwest direction according to the Royal Museums Greenwich. What is more, Earth’s magnetic poles have also ‘flipped’ whereby north becomes south and south becomes north. These magnetic reversals occur at irregular intervals every 200000 years or so.

    Earth’s magnetic field is generated by what is known as the geodynamo process. According to National Geographics, for a planet to generate its own magnetic field by the geodynamo process, it must have the following characteristics:

    The planet rotates fast enough
    Its interior must have a fluid medium
    The interior fluid must have the ability to conduct electricity
    The core must have an internal source of energy that propels convection currents in the liquid interior.

    The generation of Earth’s magnetic field occurs deep within the Earth’s interior, in a layer known as the outer core to be precise. Here the convective energy from the slow-moving molten iron is converted to electrical and magnetic energy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (opens in new tab). The magnetic field then induces electric currents which in turn generate their own magnetic field which induces more electric currents, in a positive feedback loop.

    Our protective magnetic “bubble,” known as the magnetosphere [above], protects us from harmful space weather such as solar wind. Without the magnetosphere, the solar wind [above] would erode our atmosphere, making our planet devoid of the life-giving air we breathe.

    According to NASA, the magnetosphere also protects Earth from large quantities of particle radiation emitted during coronal mass ejection (CME) events and also from cosmic rays — atom fragments — raining down on Earth from deep space.

    The magnetosphere repels harmful energy away from Earth and traps it in zones called the Van Allen radiation belts.

    These donut-shaped belts of radiation can swell when the sun’s activity increases.

    But our protective shield is not completely invincible.

    During particularly strong space weather events such as high solar winds or large CMEs, Earth’s magnetic field is disturbed and geomagnetic storms can penetrate the magnetosphere and lead to widespread radio and power blackouts as well as endangering astronauts and Earth-orbiting satellites.

    In 1859, a large solar storm known as the Carrington Event caused widespread telegraph system failures and in 1989, a CME accompanied a solar flare and plunged the entire province of Quebec, Canada into an electrical blackout that lasted around 12 hours according to a NASA statement.

    The degree of magnetic disturbance from a CME depends on the CME’s magnetic field and Earth’s. If the CME’s magnetic field is aligned with Earth’s, pointing from south to north the CME will pass on by with little effect. However, if the CME is aligned in the opposite direction it can cause Earth’s magnetic field to be reorganized, triggering large geomagnetic storms.

    A less destructive and far prettier side effect of magnetosphere disturbances is the aurora above Earth’s polar regions. The phenomenon is known as the northern lights (aurora borealis) in the Northern Hemisphere and the southern lights (aurora australis) in the Southern Hemisphere.

    CMEs can trigger large geomagnetic storms that result in impressive auroras like this one pictured in Alaska. (Image credit: Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon via Getty Images)

    The disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field funnel ions down towards Earth’s poles where they collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere, creating dazzling aurora light shows.

    According to Science Daily, in the last 200 million years alone, Earth’s magnetic poles have reversed hundreds of times in a process where north becomes south and south becomes north.

    The magnetic poles flip approximately every 200,000 to 300,000 years according to NASA, though it has been more than twice that long since the last reversal. Earth’s most recent magnetic reversal occurred approximately 790,000 years ago so we are rather overdue for another. But don’t worry, the magnetic poles won’t just switch overnight, it can take hundreds or even thousands of years for the poles to flip.

    Earth is not the only planet in the solar system to possess a magnetic field. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all exhibit magnetic fields far stronger than Earth’s, according to Union University (opens in new tab), though the underlying mechanisms driving these magnetic fields are not yet completely understood.

    Not every planet is fortunate enough to have a protective magnetic layer. Mars does not have enough inner heat nor does it possess the liquid interior required to generate a magnetic field. Venus, on the other hand, has a liquid core but does not spin fast enough to generate a magnetic field.


    Baird, C. S. (November 15, 2013). Why does a magnetic compass point to the Geographic North Pole? Science Questions with Surprising Answers. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/2013/11/15/why-does-a-magnetic-compass-point-to-the-geographic-north-pole/

    Buis, A. (August 3, 2021). Earth’s magnetosphere: Protecting our planet from harmful space energy – climate change: Vital signs of the planet. NASA. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.climate.nasa.gov/news/3105/earths-magnetosphere-protecting-our-planet-from-harmful-space-energy/

    Do other planets have magnetic fields like our Earth? Union University. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.uu.edu/dept/physics/scienceguys/2004Sept.cfm

    Earths Interior. National Geographic Society. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/core

    Fox, K. C. (June 9, 2015). New tool could track space weather 24 hours before reaching Earth. NASA. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/new-tool-could-track-space-weather-24-hours-before-reaching-earth

    Magnetic North vs Geographic (true) North Pole. GIS Geography. (May 27, 2022). Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.gisgeography.com/magnetic-north-vs-geographic-true-pole/

    NASA. (November 30, 2011). 2012: Magnetic Pole Reversal happens all the (geologic) time. NASA. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-poleReversal.html

    Odenqald, S. (March 13, 2009). The Day the sun brought darkness. NASA. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html

    RMG. John and James Clarke Ross North-West Passage expedition 1829–33. Royal Museums Greenwich. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/john-james-clarke-ross-north-west-passage-expedition-1829-33

    ScienceDaily. (December 28, 2009). As the World Churns: Earth’s liquid outer core is slowly ‘stirred’ in a series of decades-long waves. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091223222743.htm

    Sir James Clark Ross. Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.antarctic-logistics.com/2010/08/28/sir-james-clark-ross/

    USGS. How does the Earth’s core generate a magnetic field? USGS. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from http://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-does-earths-core-generate-magnetic-field

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:02 pm on June 21, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Here Comes the Sun—to End Civilization", CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, If just nine transformers were to blow out in the wrong places it found the country could experience coast-to-coast outages for months., If the CME has the same polarity as Earth’s protective magnetic field you’ve gotten lucky., In an event the plasma will begin to flood Earth’s ionosphere and the electron bombardment will cause high-frequency radio to go dark., It’s 27 million degrees inside and packed with excited bodies—helium atoms fusing; nuclei colliding; positrons sneaking off with neutrinos., Prolonged national grid failure is new territory for humankind., Reliability standards are now developed and enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation-NERC-a trade association., , Some find the NERC reliability standards laughable., Sunspots turn into the muzzle of a gun., The average American transformer is 40 years old pushed beyond its intended lifespan., The Carrington Event as it’s known today is considered a once-in-a-century geomagnetic storm—but it took just six decades for another comparable blast to reach Earth., The Carrington Event: A typical bolt of lightning registers 30000 amperes. This geomagnetic storm registered in the millions., The cause of the ruckus is the sun’s magnetic field., The Deep Space Climate Observatory will offer at most one hour of warning before impact., The good news is that a technical fix already exists. Mitigating this threat could be as simple as outfitting vulnerable transformers with capacitors., The point in the worst-case scenario is when the meltdowns at nuclear power plants begin., The sun has played this game of Russian roulette with the solar system for billions of years., The US National Center for Atmospheric Research, The weakest points in the grid are its intermediaries—machines called transformers., To a photon the sun is like a crowded nightclub., To date however American utility companies haven’t widely deployed current-blocking devices to the live grid., When a coronal mass ejection comes your way what matters most is the bullet’s magnetic orientation., When another big one heads our way as it could at any time existing imaging technology will offer one or two days’ notice., When the photon heads for the exit the journey there will take on average 100000 years.,   

    From “WIRED“: “Here Comes the Sun—to End Civilization” 

    From “WIRED“

    Jun 21, 2022
    Matt Ribel


    To a photon the sun is like a crowded nightclub. It’s 27 million degrees inside and packed with excited bodies—helium atoms fusing; nuclei colliding; positrons sneaking off with neutrinos. When the photon heads for the exit the journey there will take on average 100,000 years. (There’s no quick way to jostle past 10 septillion dancers, even if you do move at the speed of light.) Once at the surface, the photon might set off solo into the night. Or, if it emerges in the wrong place at the wrong time, it might find itself stuck inside a coronal mass ejection, a mob of charged particles with the power to upend civilizations.

    The cause of the ruckus is the sun’s magnetic field. Generated by the churning of particles in the core, it originates as a series of orderly north-to-south lines. But different latitudes on the molten star rotate at different rates—36 days at the poles, and only 25 days at the equator. Very quickly, those lines stretch and tangle, forming magnetic knots that can puncture the surface and trap matter beneath them. From afar, the resulting patches appear dark. They’re known as sunspots. Typically, the trapped matter cools, condenses into plasma clouds, and falls back to the surface in a fiery coronal rain. Sometimes, though, the knots untangle spontaneously, violently. The sunspot turns into the muzzle of a gun: Photons flare in every direction, and a slug of magnetized plasma fires outward like a bullet.

    The sun has played this game of Russian roulette with the solar system for billions of years, sometimes shooting off several coronal mass ejections in a day. Most come nowhere near Earth. It would take centuries of human observation before someone could stare down the barrel while it happened. At 11:18 am on September 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, a 33-year-old brewery owner and amateur astronomer, was in his private observatory, sketching sunspots—an important but mundane act of record-keeping. That moment, the spots erupted into a blinding beam of light. Carrington sprinted off in search of a witness. When he returned, a minute later, the image had already gone back to normal. Carrington spent that afternoon trying to make sense of the aberration. Had his lens caught a stray reflection? Had an undiscovered comet or planet passed between his telescope and the star? While he stewed, a plasma bomb silently barreled toward Earth at several million miles per hour.

    When a coronal mass ejection comes your way what matters most is the bullet’s magnetic orientation. If it has the same polarity as Earth’s protective magnetic field, you’ve gotten lucky: The two will repel, like a pair of bar magnets placed north-to-north or south-to-south. But if the polarities oppose, they will smash together. That’s what happened on September 2, the day after Carrington saw the blinding beam.

    Electrical current raced through the sky over the western hemisphere. A typical bolt of lightning registers 30000 amperes. This geomagnetic storm registered in the millions. As the clock struck midnight in New York City, the sky turned scarlet, shot through with plumes of yellow and orange. Fearful crowds gathered in the streets. Over the continental divide, a bright-white midnight aurora roused a group of Rocky Mountain laborers; they assumed morning had arrived and began to cook breakfast. In Washington, DC, sparks leaped from a telegraph operator’s forehead to his switchboard as his equipment suddenly magnetized. Vast sections of the nascent telegraph system overheated and shut down.

    The Carrington Event as it’s known today is considered a once-in-a-century geomagnetic storm—but it took just six decades for another comparable blast to reach Earth. In May 1921, train-control arrays in the American Northeast and telephone stations in Sweden caught fire. In 1989, a moderate storm, just one-tenth the strength of the 1921 event, left Quebec in the dark for nine hours after overloading the regional grid. In each of these cases, the damage was directly proportional to humanity’s reliance on advanced technology—more grounded electronics, more risk.

    When another big one heads our way as it could at any time existing imaging technology will offer one or two days’ notice. But we won’t understand the true threat level until the cloud reaches the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a satellite about a million miles from Earth. It has instruments that analyze the speed and polarity of incoming solar particles. If a cloud’s magnetic orientation is dangerous, this $340 million piece of equipment will buy humanity—with its 7.2 billion cell phones, 1.5 billion automobiles, and 28,000 commercial aircraft—at most one hour of warning before impact.


    Activity on the solar surface follows a cycle of roughly 11 years. At the beginning of each cycle, clusters of sunspots form at the middle latitudes of both solar hemispheres. These clusters grow and migrate toward the equator. Around the time they’re most active, known as solar maximum, the sun’s magnetic field flips polarity. The sunspots wane, and solar minimum comes. Then it happens all over again. “I don’t know why it took 160 years of cataloging data to realize that,” says Scott McIntosh, a blunt-speaking Scottish astrophysicist who serves as deputy director of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. “It hits you right in the fucking face.”

    Today, in the 25th solar cycle since regular record-­keeping began, scientists don’t have much to show beyond that migration pattern. They don’t fully understand why the poles flip. They cannot explain why some sunspot cycles are as short as nine years while others last 14. They cannot reliably predict how many sunspots will form or where coronal mass ejections will occur. What is clear is that a big one can happen in any kind of cycle: In the summer of 2012, during the historically quiet Cycle 24, two mammoth coronal mass ejections narrowly missed Earth. Still, a more active cycle increases the chances of that near miss becoming a direct hit.

    Without a guiding theory of solar dynamics, scientists tend to take a statistical approach, relying on strong correlations and after-the-fact rationales to make their predictions. One of the more influential models, which offers respectable predictive power, uses the magnetic strength of the sun’s polar regions as a proxy for the vigor of the following cycle. In 2019, a dozen scientists empaneled by NASA predicted that the current solar cycle will peak with 115 sunspots in July 2025—well below the historical average of 179.

    McIntosh, who was not invited to join the NASA panel, calls this “made-up physics.” He believes the old-school models are concerned with the wrong thing—sunspots, rather than the processes that create them. “The magnetic cycle is what you should be trying to model, not the derivative of it,” he says. “You have to explain why sunspots magically appear at 30 degrees latitude.”

    McIntosh’s attempt to do that goes back to 2002, when, at the behest of a postdoctoral mentor, he began plotting tiny ultraviolet concentrations on the solar surface, known as brightpoints. “I think my boss knew what I would find if I let a full cycle pass,” he recalls. “By 2011, I was like, holy fuck.” He found that brightpoints originate at higher latitudes than sunspots do but follow the same path to the equator. To him, this implied that sunspots and brightpoints are twin effects of the same underlying phenomenon, one not found in astrophysics textbooks.

    His grand unified theory, developed over a decade, goes something like this: Every 11 years, when the sun’s polarity flips, a magnetic band forms near each pole, wrapped around the circumference of the star. These bands exist for a couple of decades, slowly migrating toward the equator, where they meet in mutual destruction. At any given time, there are usually two oppositely charged bands in each hemisphere. They counteract each other, which promotes relative calm at the surface. But magnetic bands don’t all live to be the same age. Some reach what McIntosh calls “the terminator” with unusual speed. When this happens, the younger bands are left alone for a few years, without the moderating influence of the older bands, and they have a chance to raise hell.

    McIntosh and his colleague Mausumi Dikpati believe that terminator timing is the key to forecasting sunspots—and, by extension, coronal mass ejections. The faster one set of bands dies out, the more dramatic the next cycle will be.

    The most recent terminator, their data suggests, happened on December 13, 2021. In the days that followed, magnetic activity near the sun’s equator dissipated (signaling the death of one set of bands) while the number of sunspots at midlatitude rapidly doubled (signaling the solo reign of the remaining bands). Because this terminator arrived slightly sooner than expected, McIntosh predicts above-average activity for the current solar cycle, peaking at around 190 sunspots.

    A clear victor in the modeling wars could emerge later this year. But McIntosh is already thinking ahead to the next thing—tools that can detect where a sunspot will emerge and how likely it is to burst. He yearns for a set of satellites orbiting the sun—a few at the poles and a few around the equator, like the ones used to forecast terrestrial weather. The price tag for such an early-­warning system would be modest, he argues: eight craft at roughly $30 million each. But will anyone fund it? “I think until Cycle 25 goes bananas,” he says, “nobody’s going to give a shit.”

    When the next solar storm approaches Earth and the deep-space satellite provides its warning—maybe an hour in advance, or maybe 15 minutes, if the storm is fast-moving—alarms will sound on crewed spacecraft. Astronauts will proceed to cramped modules lined with hydrogen-rich materials like polyethylene, which will prevent their DNA from being shredded by protons in the plasma. They may float inside for hours or days, depending on how long the storm endures.

    The plasma will begin to flood Earth’s ionosphere and the electron bombardment will cause high-frequency radio to go dark. GPS signals, which are transmitted via radio waves, will fade with it. Cell phone reception zones will shrink; your location bubble on Google Maps will expand. As the atmosphere heats up, it will swell, and satellites will drag, veer off course, and risk collision with each other and space debris. Some will fall out of orbit entirely. Most new satellites are equipped to endure some solar radiation, but in a strong enough storm, even the fanciest circuit board can fry. When navigation and communication systems fail, the commercial airline fleet—about 10,000 planes in the sky at any given time—will attempt a simultaneous grounding. Pilots will eyeball themselves into a flight pattern while air traffic controllers use light signals to guide the planes in. Those living near military installations may see government aircraft scrambling overhead; when radar systems jam, nuclear defense protocols activate.

    Through a weird and nonintuitive property of electromagnetism, the electricity coursing through the atmosphere will begin to induce currents at Earth’s surface. As those currents race through the crust, they will seek the path of least resistance. In regions with resistive rock (in the US, especially the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, and Eastern Seaboard), the most convenient route is upward, through the electrical grid.

    The weakest points in the grid are its intermediaries—machines called transformers, which take low-voltage current from a power plant, convert it to a higher voltage for cheap and efficient transport, and convert it back down again so that it can be piped safely to your wall outlets. The largest transformers, numbering around 2,000 in the United States, are firmly anchored into the ground, using Earth’s crust as a sink for excess voltage. But during a geomagnetic storm, that sink becomes a source. Most transformers are only built to handle alternating current, so storm-induced direct current can cause them to overheat, melt, and even ignite. As one might expect, old transformers are at higher risk of failure. The average American transformer is 40 years old pushed beyond its intended lifespan.

    Modeling how the grid would fail during another Carrington-class storm is no easy task. The features of individual transformers—age, configuration, location—are typically considered trade secrets. Metatech, an engineering firm frequently contracted by the US government, offers one of the more dire estimates. It finds that a severe storm, on par with events in 1859 or 1921, could destroy 365 high-voltage transformers across the country—about one-fifth of those in operation. States along the East Coast could see transformer failure rates ranging from 24 percent (Maine) to 97 percent (New Hampshire). Grid failure on this scale would leave at least 130 million people in the dark. But the exact number of fried transformers may matter less than their location. In 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported findings from an unreleased Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report on grid security: If just nine transformers were to blow out in the wrong places it found the country could experience coast-to-coast outages for months.

    Prolonged national grid failure is new territory for humankind. Documents from an assortment of government agencies and private organizations paint a dismal picture of what that would look like in the United States. Homes and offices will lose heating and cooling; water pressure in showers and faucets will drop. Subway trains will stop mid-voyage; city traffic will creep along unassisted by stoplights. Oil production will grind to a halt, and so will shipping and transportation. The blessing of modern logistics, which allows grocery stores to stock only a few days’ worth of goods, will become a curse. Pantries will thin out within a few days. The biggest killer, though, will be water. Fifteen percent of treatment facilities in the country serve 75 percent of the population—and they rely on energy-intensive pumping systems. These pumps not only distribute clean water but also remove the disease- and chemical-tainted sludge constantly oozing into sewage facilities. Without power, these waste systems could overflow, contaminating remaining surface water.

    As the outage goes on, health care facilities will grow overwhelmed. Sterile supplies will run low, and caseloads will soar. When backup batteries and generators fail or run out of power, perishable medications like insulin will spoil. Heavy medical hardware—dialysis machines, imaging devices, ventilators—will cease to function, and hospital wards will resemble field clinics. With death tolls mounting and morgues losing refrigeration, municipalities will face grave decisions about how to safely handle bodies.

    This is roughly the point in the worst-case scenario when the meltdowns at nuclear power plants begin. These facilities require many megawatts of electricity to cool their reactor cores and spent fuel rods. Today, most American plants run their backup systems on diesel. Koroush Shirvan, a nuclear safety expert at MIT, warns that many reactors could run into trouble if outages last longer than a few weeks.


    If you thumb through enough government reports on geomagnetic storms, you’ll find that one name comes up almost every time: John G. Kappenman. He has published 50 scientific papers, spoken before Congress and NATO, and advised half a dozen federal agencies and commissions. The soft-spoken utility veteran is the man behind the cataclysmic Meta­tech projections, and he is either a visionary or an alarmist, depending on whom you ask. Kappenman spent the first two decades of his career climbing the ladder at Minnesota Power, learning the ins and outs of the utility industry. In 1998, he joined Metatech, where he advised governments and energy companies on space weather and grid resilience.

    His end-of-days predictions first gained national traction in 2010, setting off such alarm that the Department of Homeland Security enlisted JASON, an elite scientific advisory group, to pull together a counter-study. “We are not convinced that Kappenman’s worst-case scenario is possible,” the authors concluded in their 2011 report. Notably, however, JASON did not challenge Kappenman’s work on its merits, nor did the group offer a competing model. Rather, its objections were rooted in the fact that Metatech’s models are proprietary, and utility industry secrecy makes it hard to run national grid simulations. Still, the authors echoed Kappenman’s essential conclusion: The US grid is dramatically underprepared for a major storm, and operators should take immediate action to harden their transformers.

    The good news is that a technical fix already exists. Mitigating this threat could be as simple as outfitting vulnerable transformers with capacitors, relatively inexpensive devices that block the flow of direct current. During the 1989 storm in Quebec, the grid fell offline and stopped conducting electricity before the current could inflict widespread damage. One close call was enough, though. In the years after, Canada spent more than $1 billion on reliability upgrades, including capacitors for its most vulnerable transformers. “To cover the entirety of the US, you’re probably in the ballpark of a few billion dollars,” Kappenman says. “If you spread that cost out, it would equal a postage stamp per year per customer.” A 2020 study by the Foundation for Resilient Societies arrived at a similar figure for comprehensive grid hardening: about $500 million a year for 10 years.

    To date however American utility companies haven’t widely deployed current-blocking devices to the live grid. “They’ve only done things, like moving to higher and higher operating voltages”—for cheaper transmission—“that greatly magnify their vulnerability to these storms,” Kappenman tells me.

    Tom Berger, former director of the US government’s Space Weather Prediction Center, also expressed doubts about grid operators. “When I talk to them, they tell me they understand space weather, and they’re ready,” he says. But Berger’s confidence waned after the February 2021 collapse of the Texas power grid, which killed hundreds of people, left millions of homes and businesses without heat, and caused about $200 billion in damage. That crisis was brought on by nothing more exotic than a big cold snap. “We heard the same thing,” Berger says. “‘We understand winter; it’s no problem.’”

    I reached out to 12 of the country’s largest utility companies, requesting information on specific steps taken to mitigate damage from a major geomagnetic event. American Electric Power, the country’s largest transmission network, was the only company to share concrete measures, which it says include regularly upgrading hardware, redirecting current during a storm, and quickly replacing equipment after an event. Two other companies, Consolidated Edison and Exelon, claim to have outfitted their systems with geomagnetic monitoring sensors and be instructing their operators in unspecified “procedures.” Florida Power & Light declined to meaningfully comment, citing security risks. The other eight did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    At this point, curious minds may wonder whether utility companies are even required to plan for geomagnetic storms. The answer is complicated, in a uniquely American way. In 2005, when George W. Bush, a former oil executive, occupied the Oval Office, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which included a grab bag of giveaways to the oil and gas industry. It rescinded much of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority to regulate the utility industry. Reliability standards are now developed and enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation—a trade association that represents the interests of those same companies.

    Some find the NERC reliability standards laughable. (Two interviewees audibly laughed when asked about them.) Kappenman objected to the first set of standards, proposed in 2015, on the grounds that they were too lenient—they didn’t require utilities to prepare for a storm on par with 1859 or 1921. Berger took issue too, but for a different reason: The standards made no mention of storm duration. The ground-based effects of the Carrington Event lasted four or five consecutive days; a transformer built to withstand 10 seconds of current is very different from one ready for 120 hours.

    Under pressure from the federal government, NERC enacted stricter standards in 2019. In a lengthy written statement, Rachel Sherrard, a spokeswoman for the group, emphasized that American utilities are now expected to deal with an event twice as strong as the 1989 Quebec storm. (Comparison with an old storm like Carrington, she noted, “is challenging because high-fidelity historical measurement data is not available.”) Though the new standards require utilities to fix vulnerabilities in their systems, the companies themselves determine the right approach—and the timeline.

    If the utilities remain unmotivated, humanity’s ability to withstand a major geomagnetic storm will depend largely on our ability to replace damaged transformers. A 2020 investigation by the US Department of Commerce found that the nation imported more than 80 percent of its large transformers and their components. Under normal supply and demand conditions, lead times for these structures can reach two years. “People outside the industry don’t understand how difficult these things are to manufacture,” Kappenman says. Insiders know not to buy a transformer unless the factory that made it is at least 10 years old. “It takes that long to work out the kinks,” he says. In a time of solar crisis, foreign governments—even geopolitical allies—may throttle exports of vital electrical equipment, Kappenman notes. Some spare-part programs have cropped up over the past decade that allow participants to pool resources in various disaster scenarios. The size and location of these spares, however, are unknown to federal authorities—because the industry won’t tell them.

    One day regulators may manage to map the electrical grid, even stormproof it (provided a big one doesn’t wipe it out first). Engineers may launch a satellite array that gives us days to batten down the hatches. Governments may figure out a way to stand up emergency transformers in a pinch. And there the sun will be—the inconceivable, inextinguishable furnace at the center of our solar system that destroys as indiscriminately as it creates. Life on this little mote depends entirely on the mercy of a cosmic nuclear power with an itchy trigger finger. No human triumph will ever change that. (But we should still buy the capacitors. Soon, please.)

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:40 am on January 14, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Are we ready for the next big solar storm?", , CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections,   

    From Astronomy Magazine : “Are we ready for the next big solar storm?” 

    From Astronomy Magazine

    January 4, 2022
    Joshua Rapp Learn

    The biggest geomagnetic storm in recorded history happened more than 150 years ago. Now, we’re entering yet another period of solar maximum.

    Lia Koltyrina/Shutterstock.

    It was just another September night in 1859 when Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson witnessed a remarkable event. The British astronomers weren’t together, but both happened to be peering at the Sun through telescopes at the precise moment that a massive ejection spewed from the fiery star. Within a few days, others on Earth noticed colorful aurora streaking across the skies and telegraph lines — the advanced technology of the day in Europe and North America — erupting in sparks.

    The solar flare came to be known as The Carrington Event, named after one of the two astronomers who first described it. Despite occurring more than 150 years ago, it still stands as the strongest known geomagnetic storm (though we lack measurements to say precisely how big it was).

    Earth has felt the effects of a few significant geomagnetic storms since then, all of which caused power blackouts and satellite damage. As a result, power companies and satellite manufacturers have built resistance into our technology. But what would happen if another Carrington Event-level solar flare occurred today? Would we be ready for it?

    According to Alexa Halford, an associate chief of the Heliophysics Science Division at The Goddard Space Flight Center-NASA (US), the answer is a cautious affirmative. “There’s still a lot to learn, she says, but we’ve had success.”

    Decades of learning

    Flares occur when electromagnetic radiation erupts from the Sun. These bursts often last a few minutes, though they are sometimes longer. They are sometimes associated with coronal mass ejections [CME’s], which blow out gas material and magnetic fields. But not every solar flare or coronal mass ejection will have an impact on Earth; it depends on both the size of the burst and the direction it’s heading. If a solar flare occurs on the far side of the Sun, for example, it’s unlikely to affect us.

    Even if it does happen on the near side, the direction of the burst often misses us — as we’re quite far away and a relatively small target compared to the Sun. This occurred in 2001, for example, when one of the largest solar flares in recorded history exploded into a coronal mass ejection at a speed of about 4.5 million miles per hour. Luckily, it swept by us on its way into space.

    Technology was relatively simple in 1859 when the Carrington Event occurred, but it still had a big impact on telegraph lines. At the time, people had to unplug the wires to stop the sparks erupting from them. But they remained partly functional, thanks to the particles ejected from the flare that struck the current in the lines. “They actually had to unplug them, and they still had enough energy and currents to run for a period of time,” Halford says.

    There have been earlier solar flares whose impacts were felt on Earth, of course. A Sun storm that occurred in 993 C.E. left evidence on tree trunks that archaeologists still use today to date ancient wood materials, such as the brief Viking settlement in the Americas. Another significant solar flare occurred during World War I. It wasn’t as large as the Carrington Event, but it still confused detection equipment. Technicians believed bombs were dropping when it was actually interference from the flare hitting the magnetosphere, Halford says.

    A large coronal mass ejection recently struck Earth in March 1989, and the resulting geomagnetic storm caused serious havoc on Earth. The flare knocked out the power grids in Quebec and parts of New England, as the utility company Hydro-Quebec was down for nine hours. Power transformers even melted due to an overloading of electricity in the grid.

    Safety measures

    That 1989 event finally got the attention of infrastructure planners. “Those are the kinds of things that we have really learned our lesson from,” Halford says. Power companies began building safety measures, such as tripwires, into the electricity grid to stop cascading failure. If power increases too quickly, these tripwires are programmed to switch off so that damage is limited and transformers don’t burn out as they did in 1989.

    Geomagnetic storms can also cause bit flips, surface charging or internal charging to satellites orbiting our planet — all things that occurred this October when a solar flare produced a coronal mass ejection and a geomagnetic storm that hit Earth. Satellites are particularly susceptible because they don’t benefit from the relative protection of our atmosphere. But most of the satellites launched in the past two decades have been built robustly enough that they are resistant to overcharging.

    The bit flips occur when ionized particles from the solar outbursts switch the function of memory bits. This can cause big problems for GPS satellites, which effect everything from navigation to precision drilling. Even banking relies on GPS satellite to dictate the timing of transactions. “That kind of failure would really hurt the economy,” Halford says. “It’s important and definitely something we should be worried about.”

    While satellites are now built more robustly, she adds that it’s unlikely a storm would take out enough GPS satellites to cause many larger problems, though. These problems can also sometimes be easily fixed by power cycling, or simply by restarting the affected device. The October flare caused some minor problems, but the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t report any major navigation issues, Halford says.

    Positive impacts

    Not all impacts of a large solar flare would necessarily be negative. When these events occur, they thicken the density of Earth’s upper atmosphere. In effect, the atmosphere rises in altitude for a short period. This can impact the orbits of satellites, potentially causing problems, but it can also affect the orbits of space debris floating around up there. The extra drag could cause this junk to fall into orbit and burn up.

    “You want some storms so we can naturally get rid of some of the debris,” Halford says. But it might be a double-edged sword, as the event could cause the orbital decay of operating equipment up there as well.

    Another potentially positive effect for Earthlings living closer to the equator is the increased visibility of aurora. Northern lights and southern lights are caused when solar particles enter the atmosphere and collide with gas particles. This usually happens at the poles, where the magnetic field is weaker. But during solar flares, more of the particles make it through the atmosphere. Aurora borealis was recently visible in New York during the October solar storm.

    These opportunities will only increase as we approach a period of solar maximum, which is when we see the greatest period of solar activity every 11 years or so. “The next few years should be really exciting because we will have a lot more chances to see the aurora,” Halford says.

    This might also be a likely time for another big solar flare to strike. According to Halford, it’ll be a chance to see how well our safety measures and precautions can deal with this influx of solar particles — but don’t hold your breath. A study published in 2019 [Scientific Reports] found the chance of a Carrington-like event occurring before 2029 is less than 1.9 percent. “A Carrington Event is one of those kinds of things that you kind of want to have happen,” Halford says, “because we think we can weather it.”

    See the full article here3 .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Astronomy is a magazine about the science and hobby of astronomy. Based near Milwaukee in Waukesha, Wisconsin, it is produced by Kalmbach Publishing. Astronomy’s readers include those interested in astronomy and those who want to know about sky events, observing techniques, astrophotography, and amateur astronomy in general.

    Astronomy was founded in 1973 by Stephen A. Walther, a graduate of The University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (US) and amateur astronomer. The first issue, August 1973, consisted of 48 pages with five feature articles and information about what to see in the sky that month. Issues contained astrophotos and illustrations created by astronomical artists. Walther had worked part time as a planetarium lecturer at The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (US) and developed an interest in photographing constellations at an early age. Although even in childhood he was interested to obsession in Astronomy, he did so poorly in mathematics that his mother despaired that he would ever be able to earn a living. However he graduated in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, and as a senior class project he created a business plan for a magazine for amateur astronomers. With the help of his brother David, he was able to bring the magazine to fruition. He died in 1977.

  • richardmitnick 10:45 pm on December 9, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A young sun-like star may hold warnings for life on Earth", , , , CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, , , The star EK Draconis which looks like a young version of our sun.,   

    From The University of Colorado-Boulder (US) : “A young sun-like star may hold warnings for life on Earth” 

    U Colorado

    From The University of Colorado-Boulder (US)

    Dec. 9, 2021
    Daniel Strain

    Artist’s depiction of the star EK Draconis ejecting a coronal mass ejection as two planets orbit. (Credit: The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan[[国立天文台](JP))

    Astronomers spying on a stellar system located dozens of lightyears from Earth have, for the first time, observed a troubling fireworks show: A star named EK Draconis ejected a massive burst of energy and charged particles in an event that was much more powerful than anything scientists have seen in our own solar system.

    The researchers, including astrophysicist Yuta Notsu of the University of Colorado Boulder, published their results Dec. 9 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    The study explores a stellar phenomenon called a “coronal mass ejection,” sometimes known as a solar storm.

    A coronal mass ejection seen erupting from the surface of Earth’s sun in 2015. (Credit: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (US))

    Notsu explained the sun shoots out these sorts of eruptions on a regular basis. They’re made up of clouds of extremely hot particles, or plasma that can hurtle through space at speeds of millions of miles per hour. And they’re potentially bad news: If a coronal mass ejection hit Earth dead-on, it could fry satellites in orbit and shut down the power grids serving entire cities.

    “Coronal mass ejections can have a serious impact on Earth and human society,” said Notsu, a research associate at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder and The National Science Foundation (US)’s National Solar Observatory.

    Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, DKIST, atop the Haleakala volcano on the Pacific island of Maui, Hawaii, USA, at an altitude of 3,084 m (10,118 ft).

    The new study, led by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Kosuke Namekata—formerly a visiting scholar at CU Boulder—also suggests the ejections can get a lot worse.

    In the research, Namekata, Nostu and their colleagues used telescopes on the ground and in space to peer at EK Draconis, which looks like a young version of the sun. In April 2020, the team observed EK Draconis ejecting a cloud of scorching-hot plasma with a mass in the quadrillions of kilograms—more than 10 times bigger than the most powerful coronal mass ejection ever recorded from a sun-like star.

    The event may serve as a warning of just how dangerous the weather in space can be.

    “This kind of big mass ejection could, theoretically, also occur on our sun,” Notsu said. “This observation may help us to better understand how similar events may have affected Earth and even Mars over billions of years.”

    Superflares erupt

    Notsu explained coronal mass ejections often come right after a star lets loose a flare, or a sudden and bright burst of radiation that can extend far out into space.

    Recent research, however, has suggested that on the sun, this sequence of events may be relatively sedate, at least so far as scientists have observed. . In 2019, for example, Notsu and his colleagues published a study [The Astrophysical Journal] that showed that young sun-like stars around the galaxy seem to experience frequent superflares—like our own solar flares but tens or even hundreds of times more powerful.

    Such a superflare could also happen on Earth’s sun but not very often, maybe once every several thousand years. Still, it got Notsu’s team curious: Could a superflare also lead to an equally super coronal mass ejection?

    “Superflares are much bigger than the flares that we see from the sun,” Notsu said. “So we suspect that they would also produce much bigger mass ejections. But until recently, that was just conjecture.”

    Danger from above

    To find out, the researchers set their sights on EK Draconis. The curious star, Notsu explained, is about the same size as our sun, but, at just 100 million years old, it’s a relative youngster in a cosmic sense.

    “It’s what our sun looked like 4.5 billion years ago,” Notsu said.

    The researchers observed the star for 32 nights in winter and spring 2020 using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Kyoto University’s SEIMEI Telescope.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology(US) TESS – Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite replaced the Kepler Space Telescope in search for exoplanets. TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (US).

    KYOTO UNIVERSITY[京都大学](JP) 3.8-m Seimei telescope.

    And on April 5, Notsu and his colleagues got lucky: The researchers looked on as EK Draconis erupted into a superflare, a really big one. About 30 minutes later, the team observed what appeared to be a coronal mass ejection flying away from the star’s surface. The researchers were able to catch only the first step in that ejection’s life, called the “filament eruption” phase. But even so, it was a monster, moving at a top speed of roughly 1 million miles per hour.

    It may also not bode well for life on Earth: The team’s findings hint that the sun could also be capable of such violent extremes. But don’t hold your breath: like superflares, super coronal mass ejections are probably rare for our getting-on-in-years sun.

    Still, Notsu noted that huge mass ejections may have been much more common in the early years of the solar system. Gigantic coronal mass ejections, in other words, could have helped to shape planets like Earth and Mars into what they look like today.

    “The atmosphere of present-day Mars is very thin compared to Earth’s,” Notsu said. “In the past, we think Mars had a much thicker atmosphere. Coronal mass ejections may help us to understand what happened to the planet over billions of years.”

    Co-authors on the new study include researchers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, The University of Hyogo [兵庫県立大学](JP), Kyoto University [京都大学](JP), Kobe University [神戸大学](JP), Tokyo Institute of Technology [東京工業大学](JP), The University of Tokyo {東京大学](JP), and Doshisha University [同志社大学](JP).

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Colorado Campus

    As the flagship university of the state of Colorado The University of Colorado-Boulder (US), founded in 1876, five months before Colorado became a state. It is a dynamic community of scholars and learners situated on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country, and is classified as an R1 University, meaning that it engages in a very high level of research activity. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities (US)), a selective group of major research universities in North America, – and the only member in the Rocky Mountain region – we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.

    University of Colorado-Boulder (US) has blossomed in size and quality since we opened our doors in 1877 – attracting superb faculty, staff, and students and building strong programs in the sciences, engineering, business, law, arts, humanities, education, music, and many other disciplines.

    Today, with our sights set on becoming the standard for the great comprehensive public research universities of the new century, we strive to serve the people of Colorado and to engage with the world through excellence in our teaching, research, creative work, and service.

    In 2015, the university comprised nine colleges and schools and offered over 150 academic programs and enrolled almost 17,000 students. Five Nobel Laureates, nine MacArthur Fellows, and 20 astronauts have been affiliated with CU Boulder as students; researchers; or faculty members in its history. In 2010, the university received nearly $454 million in sponsored research to fund programs like the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and JILA. CU Boulder has been called a Public Ivy, a group of publicly funded universities considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

    The Colorado Buffaloes compete in 17 varsity sports and are members of the NCAA Division I Pac-12 Conference. The Buffaloes have won 28 national championships: 20 in skiing, seven total in men’s and women’s cross country, and one in football. The university has produced a total of ten Olympic medalists. Approximately 900 students participate in 34 intercollegiate club sports annually as well.

    On March 14, 1876, the Colorado territorial legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution that provided money for the establishment of the University of Colorado in Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines(US) in Golden, and the Colorado State University (US) – College of Agricultural Sciences in Fort Collins.

    Two cities competed for the site of the University of Colorado: Boulder and Cañon City. The consolation prize for the losing city was to be home of the new Colorado State Prison. Cañon City was at a disadvantage as it was already the home of the Colorado Territorial Prison. (There are now six prisons in the Cañon City area.)

    The cornerstone of the building that became Old Main was laid on September 20, 1875. The doors of the university opened on September 5, 1877. At the time, there were few high schools in the state that could adequately prepare students for university work, so in addition to the University, a preparatory school was formed on campus. In the fall of 1877, the student body consisted of 15 students in the college proper and 50 students in the preparatory school. There were 38 men and 27 women, and their ages ranged from 12–23 years.

    During World War II, Colorado was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a navy commission.

    University of Colorado-Boulder (US) hired its first female professor, Mary Rippon, in 1878. It hired its first African-American professor, Charles H. Nilon, in 1956, and its first African-American librarian, Mildred Nilon, in 1962. Its first African American female graduate, Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, received her degree in 1918.

    Research institutes

    University of Colorado-Boulder’s (US) research mission is supported by eleven research institutes within the university. Each research institute supports faculty from multiple academic departments, allowing institutes to conduct truly multidisciplinary research.

    The Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG) is a research institute within the Graduate School dedicated to conducting and facilitating research on the genetic and environmental bases of individual differences in behavior. After its founding in 1967 IBG led the resurging interest in genetic influences on behavior. IBG was the first post-World War II research institute dedicated to research in behavioral genetics. IBG remains one of the top research facilities for research in behavioral genetics, including human behavioral genetics, psychiatric genetics, quantitative genetics, statistical genetics, and animal behavioral genetics.

    The Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) at CU Boulder promotes interdisciplinary research and training in cognitive science. ICS is highly interdisciplinary; its research focuses on education, language processing, emotion, and higher level cognition using experimental methods. It is home to a state of the art fMRI system used to collect neuroimaging data.

    ATLAS Institute is a center for interdisciplinary research and academic study, where engineering, computer science and robotics are blended with design-oriented topics. Part of CU Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, the institute offers academic programs at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels, and administers research labs, hacker and makerspaces, and a black box experimental performance studio. At the beginning of the 2018–2019 academic year, approximately 1,200 students were enrolled in ATLAS academic programs and the institute sponsored six research labs.[64]

    In addition to IBG, ICS and ATLAS, the university’s other institutes include Biofrontiers Institute, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research (INSTAAR), Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS), JILA, Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics (LASP), Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

  • richardmitnick 11:11 am on November 1, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA selects CubeSat to assess the origins of hot plasma in the Sun's corona", , A solar flare happens because the magnetic field in that active region has become so twisted and tangled that it basically 'snaps' back into a less tangled shape., CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, CubIXSS will determine the origins of hot plasma—highly ionized gas—in solar flares and active regions., Measuring the elemental composition of multimillion-degree plasmas in the Sun's corona—its outermost atmosphere., , The Southwest Research Institute (US), The SwRI-designed CubeSat Imaging X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (CubIXSS)   

    From The Southwest Research Institute (US) via phys.org : “NASA selects CubeSat to assess the origins of hot plasma in the Sun’s corona” 

    SwRI bloc

    From The Southwest Research Institute (US)



    November 1, 2021

    Simulations of what the CubIXSS imaging spectrometer will see during one minute of a solar flare (top) and over one hour from an active region. At the top of the detector, four images of the Sun are taken through different filters that block different X-ray wavelengths (“colors”). At the bottom of the detector, the entire X-ray spectrum from each point on the Sun spreads out sideways, allowing a detailed measurement of the temperature and composition of plasma at each point in the corona. (The solar images are rotated so the solar north pole points to the right.). Credit: SwRI.

    The CubeSat Imaging X-ray Solar Spectrometer (CubIXSS) Mission Concept.

    The layout of the SwRI-designed CubeSat Imaging X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (CubIXSS), which has been selected by NASA as an upcoming space mission. CubIXSS will measure the abundances of elements in the Sun’s corona to determine the origins of hot plasma in solar flares and active regions. Credit: SwRI.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (US) has selected the CubeSat Imaging X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (CubIXSS), led by The Southwest Research Institute (US), to measure the elemental composition of multimillion-degree plasmas in the Sun’s corona—its outermost atmosphere. The nanosatellite is expected to be launched in 2024 as a secondary payload on another satellite launch. CubIXSS will determine the origins of hot plasma—highly ionized gas—in solar flares and active regions.

    Concentrations of strong and complicated magnetic fields at the surface of the Sun are called “active regions.” These regions frequently spawn strong solar activity including explosive “solar storms” such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

    “A solar flare happens because the magnetic field in that active region has become so twisted and tangled that it basically ‘snaps’ back into a less tangled shape,” said SwRI Principal Scientist Dr. Amir Caspi, the mission’s leader. “That snap releases a lot of energy, which we see as a solar flare.”

    The solar flare heats the Sun’s plasma in that region to heat up to tens of millions of degrees Celsius. That is considerably hotter than the rest of the Sun’s corona, which typically ranges from 1 to a few million degrees, and much hotter than the Sun’s surface, which is only about 6000 degrees.

    “One of the interesting things we don’t really know is how much plasma in solar flares is heated directly in the corona, and how much is heated in the Sun’s lower atmosphere and then transported up to the corona,” Caspi said. “CubIXSS will measure the X-rays that come from these phenomena, to allow us to unravel this mystery.”

    A standard CubeSat is a 10-centimeter cube with a one-liter volume, referred to as “1U.” CubIXSS takes up six of these units, or 6U, about the size of a shoebox or two loaves of bread. It will carry multiple spectrometers to measure different wavelengths, or “colors,” of X-rays from the Sun, including a new kind of X-ray imaging spectrometer to determine the amounts of certain key elements in the Sun’s corona, which will in turn allow Caspi to identify where that plasma was heated.

    “Some elemental species—certain ions—can only exist in a specific range of temperatures, so seeing which elements are more prevalent helps us to create a temperature map,” Caspi said. “Previous observations have shown a higher proportion of certain elements in the corona than other regions of the Sun. By measuring the abundances of these elements at each temperature, we’ll be able to tell where the heated plasma came from.”

    CubIXSS will be the first device of its kind to routinely measure certain wavelengths of solar X-ray emissions, which not only help to determine the abundances of solar elements but also have a direct impact on the Earth. X-rays from the Sun can contribute to expansion of Earth’s upper atmosphere, which can cause increased drag on satellites in low orbits and alter their trajectories. They also cause changes in Earth’s ionosphere, a charged region in the upper atmosphere, that can affect radio communications.

    “Even though it might seem like what we’re doing is very academic, studying the Sun is very important for people living on Earth. It drives almost everything that happens on our planet,” Caspi said. “CMEs and solar flares can impact satellites and radio frequencies, disrupting communications both on Earth and to satellites in space. Understanding how these things happen is very important to understanding why they happen, which will help us predict these ‘space weather’ events and mitigate their effects.”

    Work is set to begin on CubIXSS in late 2021, with a projected launch date of late 2024.

    Heliophysics from SWRI.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SwRI Campus

    The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) (US) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development (R&D) organizations in the United States. Founded in 1947 by oil businessman Tom Slick, SwRI provides contract research and development services to government and industrial clients.

    The institute consists of nine technical divisions that offer multidisciplinary, problem-solving services in a variety of areas in engineering and the physical sciences. The Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, also operates on the SwRI grounds. More than 4,000 projects are active at the institute at any given time. These projects are funded almost equally between the government and commercial sectors. At the close of fiscal year 2019, the staff numbered approximately 3,000 employees and research volume was almost $674 million. The institute provided more than $8.7 million to fund innovative research through its internally sponsored R&D program.

    A partial listing of research areas includes space science and engineering; automation; robotics and intelligent systems; avionics and support systems; bioengineering; chemistry and chemical engineering; corrosion and electrochemistry; earth and planetary sciences; emissions research; engineering mechanics; fire technology; fluid systems and machinery dynamics; and fuels and lubricants. Additional areas include geochemistry and mining engineering; hydrology and geohydrology; materials sciences and fracture mechanics; modeling and simulation; nondestructive evaluation; oil and gas exploration; pipeline technology; surface modification and coatings; and vehicle, engine, and powertrain design, research and development. In 2019, staff members published 673 papers in the technical literature; made 618 presentations at technical conferences, seminars and symposia around the world; submitted 48 invention disclosures; filed 33 patent applications; and received 41 U.S. patent awards.

    SwRI research scientists have led several National Aeronautics Space Agency(USA) missions, including the New Horizons mission to Pluto; the Juno mission to Jupiter; and the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission(US) to study the Earth’s magnetosphere.

    SwRI initiates contracts with clients based on consultations and prepares a formal proposal outlining the scope of work. Subject to client wishes, programs are kept confidential. As part of a long-held tradition, patent rights arising from sponsored research are often assigned to the client. SwRI generally retains the rights to institute-funded advancements.

    The institute’s headquarters occupy more than 2.3 million square feet of office and laboratory space on more than 1,200 acres in San Antonio. SwRI has technical offices and laboratories in Boulder, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Warner-Robins, Georgia; Ogden, Utah; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Rockville, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Beijing, China; and other locations.

    Technology Today, SwRI’s technical magazine, is published three times each year to spotlight the research and development projects currently underway. A complementary Technology Today podcast offers a new way to listen and learn about the technology, science, engineering, and research impacting lives and changing our world.

  • richardmitnick 8:52 am on October 26, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Pathfinding Experiment to Study Origins of Solar Energetic Particles", CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, , , , , UVSC Pathfinder — short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder, UVSC Pathfinder is unique because it’s combined with a spectrometer that measures ultraviolet light., UVSC Pathfinder will peer at the lowest regions of the Sun’s outer atmosphere-or corona-where SEPs are thought to originate.   

    From NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (US) : “Pathfinding Experiment to Study Origins of Solar Energetic Particles” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    From NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (US)

    Oct 25, 2021

    Lina Tran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    A joint NASA- Naval Research Laboratory (US) experiment dedicated to studying the origins of solar energetic particles — the Sun’s most dangerous form of radiation — is ready for launch.

    UVSC Pathfinder — short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder — will hitch a ride to space aboard STPSat-6, the primary spacecraft of the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission for the Department of Defense.

    UVSC Pathfinder — short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder. Credit Leonard Strachan

    STP-3 is scheduled to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket no earlier than Nov. 22, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

    Solar energetic particles, or SEPs, are a type of space weather that pose a major challenge to space exploration. A solar particle storm, or SEP event, occurs when the Sun fires energetic particles into space at such high speeds that some reach Earth — 93 million miles away — in less than an hour. Flurries of the powerful particles can wreak havoc with spacecraft and expose astronauts to dangerous radiation.

    UVSC Pathfinder will peer at the lowest regions of the Sun’s outer atmosphere-or corona-where SEPs are thought to originate. While the Sun releases eruptions almost daily when it is most active, there are only about 20 disruptive solar particle storms during any given 11-year solar cycle. Scientists can’t reliably predict which of these will produce SEPs, nor their intensity. Understanding and eventually predicting these solar storms are crucial for enabling future space exploration.

    “It’s a pathfinder because we’re demonstrating new technology and a new way to forecast this type of space weather,” said Leonard Strachan, an astrophysicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and the mission’s principal investigator. “Right now, there’s no real way of predicting when these particle storms will happen.”

    A close up of a solar eruption, including a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection, and a solar energetic particle event. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO

    Understanding and predicting SEPs

    UVSC Pathfinder is a coronagraph, a kind of instrument that blocks the Sun’s bright face to reveal the dimmer, surrounding corona. Most coronagraphs have a single aperture with a series of occulters that block the Sun and reduce stray light. The novelty of UVSC Pathfinder is that it uses five separate apertures, each with its own occulter — significantly boosting the signal from the corona.

    In the corona, scientists expect to find the special group of particles that eventually becomes solar energetic particles. Not just any regular particle in the Sun’s atmosphere can be energized to an SEP. Rather, scientists think SEPs come from swarms of seed particles residing in the corona that are already around 10 times hotter and more energetic than their neighbors. Those could come from bright bursts of energy, called flares, or regions of intense magnetic fields in the corona, called current sheets.

    It takes some prior energetic solar activity to fire up the seed particles. Occasionally, the Sun unleashes massive clouds of solar material, called coronal mass ejections. Those explosions can generate a shock ahead of them, like the wave that crests at the front of a speeding boat. “If a coronal mass ejection comes out fast enough” — 600 miles per second at least — “it can produce a shock, which can sweep up these particles,” Strachan explained. “The particles get so much energy from the shock, they become SEPs.”

    Unlike most coronagraphs that take images in visible light, UVSC Pathfinder is unique because it’s combined with a spectrometer that measures ultraviolet light, a kind of light that’s invisible to human eyes. By analyzing the light in the corona, researchers hope to identify when seed particles are present.

    Scientists have routinely observed SEPs from the near-Earth perspective — 93 million miles away from their origin. Since seed particles are only present in the corona, it has been impossible to measure them directly. UVSC Pathfinder aims to observe the elusive particles by remotely sensing their signatures in ultraviolet light. “We know rather little about them,” said Martin Laming, a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory physicist and UVSC Pathfinder’s science lead. “This is really a ground-breaking observation.”

    The impacts of SEP swarms are serious. When it comes to spacecraft, they can fry electronics, corrupt a satellite’s computer programming, damage solar panels, and even disorient a spacecraft’s star tracker, used for navigation. The effect is like driving through a blizzard and getting lost: SEPs fill the star tracker’s view, and losing its ability to orient itself, it spins off orbit.

    To humans, SEPs are dangerous because they can pass through spacecraft or an astronaut’s skin, where they can damage cells or DNA. This damage can increase risk for cancer later in life, or in extreme cases, cause acute radiation sickness in the short-term. (On Earth, our planet’s protective magnetic field and atmosphere shield humans from this harm.) A series of enormous solar flares in August 1972 — in between the Apollo 16 and 17 missions — serves as a reminder of the threat solar activity and radiation poses.

    The UVSC Pathfinder experiment marks a major step toward understanding where SEPs come from and how they evolve as they travel through the solar system. The data will help scientists predict whether a solar explosion could generate problematic SEPs much the way we predict severe weather events on Earth. Forecasts would enable spacecraft operators and astronauts to take steps to mitigate their impacts. “If our thinking is correct, seed particles will be a really important signature of radiation storms to watch out for,” Laming said.

    Images from NASA’s STEREO satellite show a coronal mass ejection followed by a flurry of solar energetic particles. Credits: NASA/STEREO

    NASA/STEREO spacecraft

    Joining NASA’s heliophysics fleet

    UVSC Pathfinder is the latest addition to NASA’s fleet of heliophysics observatories. NASA heliophysics missions study a vast, interconnected system from the Sun to the space surrounding Earth and other planets, and to the farthest limits of the Sun’s constantly flowing stream of solar wind. UVSC Pathfinder provides key information on SEPs, enabling future space exploration.

    The mission’s observations will complement those of two other solar observatories. The new coronagraph will look as close as 865,000 miles from the Sun, while NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar Orbiter will directly sample the space up to a distance of 3.8 million miles and 26.7 million miles from the Sun, respectively.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker.

    European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/National Aeronautics and Space Administration (US) Solar Orbiter.

    “We hope coordinated observations will be useful in pinning down the evolution of SEPs as they move out from the Sun,” Strachan said.

    “The NASA science program has a long history of obtaining predictive space weather tools from the results of pure research missions,” said Daniel Moses, chief technologist in NASA’s Heliophysics Division. “Collaboration between the NASA Science Mission Directorate, the Naval Research Laboratory and the Department of Defense STP program has been particularly fruitful in this area. UVSC Pathfinder continues this proud tradition of basic research collaboration with the potential of developing a new, high-impact tool with predictive capability.”

    UVSC Pathfinder is a NASA and U.S. Naval Research Laboratory payload aboard the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6). It flies alongside NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which is testing an enhanced communications capability with the potential to increase bandwidth 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems — allowing space missions to send more data home.

    UVSC Pathfinder was designed and built at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. It was funded through NASA’s Heliophysics Program and the Office of Naval Research. It is managed by the Heliophysics Technology and Instrument Development for Science, or H-TIDeS, program office at NASA Headquarters. STP is operated by the United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center campus

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD (US) 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.

    GSFC also operates two spaceflight tracking and data acquisition networks (the NASA Deep Space Network(US) and the Near Earth Network); develops and maintains advanced space and Earth science data information systems, and develops satellite systems for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(US) .

    GSFC manages operations for many NASA and international missions including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope; the Explorers Program; the Discovery Program; the Earth Observing System; INTEGRAL; MAVEN; OSIRIS-REx; the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory ; the Solar Dynamics Observatory; Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System ; Fermi; and Swift. Past missions managed by GSFC include the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, SMM, COBE, IUE, and ROSAT. Typically, unmanned Earth observation missions and observatories in Earth orbit are managed by GSFC, while unmanned planetary missions are managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California(US).

    Goddard is one of four centers built by NASA since its founding on July 29, 1958. It is NASA’s first, and oldest, space center. Its original charter was to perform five major functions on behalf of NASA: technology development and fabrication; planning; scientific research; technical operations; and project management. The center is organized into several directorates, each charged with one of these key functions.

    Until May 1, 1959, NASA’s presence in Greenbelt, MD was known as the Beltsville Space Center. It was then renamed the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), after Robert H. Goddard. Its first 157 employees transferred from the United States Navy’s Project Vanguard missile program, but continued their work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., while the center was under construction.

    Goddard Space Flight Center contributed to Project Mercury, America’s first manned space flight program. The Center assumed a lead role for the project in its early days and managed the first 250 employees involved in the effort, who were stationed at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. However, the size and scope of Project Mercury soon prompted NASA to build a new Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. Project Mercury’s personnel and activities were transferred there in 1961.

    The Goddard network tracked many early manned and unmanned spacecraft.

    Goddard Space Flight Center remained involved in the manned space flight program, providing computer support and radar tracking of flights through a worldwide network of ground stations called the Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STDN). However, the Center focused primarily on designing unmanned satellites and spacecraft for scientific research missions. Goddard pioneered several fields of spacecraft development, including modular spacecraft design, which reduced costs and made it possible to repair satellites in orbit. Goddard’s Solar Max satellite, launched in 1980, was repaired by astronauts on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984. The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, remains in service and continues to grow in capability thanks to its modular design and multiple servicing missions by the Space Shuttle.

    Today, the center remains involved in each of NASA’s key programs. Goddard has developed more instruments for planetary exploration than any other organization, among them scientific instruments sent to every planet in the Solar System. The center’s contribution to the Earth Science Enterprise includes several spacecraft in the Earth Observing System fleet as well as EOSDIS, a science data collection, processing, and distribution system. For the manned space flight program, Goddard develops tools for use by astronauts during extra-vehicular activity, and operates the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft designed to study the Moon in preparation for future manned exploration.

  • richardmitnick 5:33 pm on January 10, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Coronal Holes During the Solar Maximum", , , , CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, Coronal holes, , , , ,   

    From Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics: “Coronal Holes During the Solar Maximum” 

    Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    From Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    Sunspots were first seen by Galileo, and in the eighteenth century Rudolf Wolf concluded from his study of previous observations that there was a roughly eleven-year solar cycle of activity. In 1919 the astronomer George Ellery Hale found a new solar periodicity, the twenty-two year solar magnetic cycle which is composed of two eleven-year cycles and today is referred to as the Hale cycle. The eleven-year cycle is a complex dynamo process in which the Sun’s twisted magnetic fields flip to the opposite direction as the result of the combination of the Sun’s differential rotation and the convection in its atmosphere. Then, after a second cycle, the original polarity is recovered. The cycle is characterized by periodic changes in solar activity such as the number of sunspots and active regions (ensembles of looped magnetic structures); during the period of maximum activity the number of sunspots reaches a maximum. The number of coronal holes provides another measure of activity, a coronal hole being a darker appearing region of colder gas on the Sun’s surface. During maximum activity, coronal holes are found at low latitudes of the Sun with fewer of them at the polar regions.

    An ultraviolet image of the Sun showing a coronal hole – a dark region, seen here at the north pole of the Sun with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Coronal holes are regions where the weakened magnetic field allows for a stronger solar wind to emerge.

    Solar winds-Sun’s coronal holes release solar winds towards Earth. National Geophysical Data Cantre.

    Astronomers have found correlations between coronal holes near the Sun’s equator and the eleven and twenty-two year solar cycles. Credit: NASA/SDO.


    Energetic events on the Sun like eruptions, flares, and coronal mass ejections peak at or near times of solar maximum.

    Solar flare. Credit NASA/ SDO.

    Coronal Mass Ejection. Credit ESA.

    At the same time some structures in the magnetic field weaken to zero strength and then increase but with the opposite sign. A particularly powerful solar wind can escape during these periods of weak magnetic fields and its charged particles can then travel into space and towards the Earth.

    Coronal holes are key structures that indicate these weakened fields. CfA astronomers Nishu Karna, Steven Saar, and Ed DeLuca and a team of colleagues performed a statistical study of the coronal holes near the equatorial region, and of active regions, during the maximum phase of the last four solar cycles spanning the years from 1979-2015.

    The scientists found a strong negative correlation between the numbers of equatorial coronal holes and active regions as well as statistically significant differences in the properties of the two eleven-year cycles of the Hale cycle. For example, they examined the changing distances (“pairings”) between equatorial coronal holes and active regions and find more of the close pairings during the peak of activity in one half of the Hale cycle…but not in the other. Most significantly, during these active times the solar wind flow and wind pressure also increase significantly. The results lead to important insights into how solar activity impacts the Earth and highlight important processes that are still not understood like the different behaviors of the two halfs of the Hale cycle.

    Science paper:
    A Study of Equatorial Coronal Holes during the Maximum Phase of Four Solar Cycles
    The Astrophysical Journal

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Center for Astrophysics combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a single director to pursue studies of those basic physical processes that determine the nature and evolution of the universe. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1890. The Harvard College Observatory (HCO), founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and provides facilities and substantial other support for teaching activities of the Department of Astronomy.

  • richardmitnick 11:10 pm on December 3, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Voyager spacecraft detect new type of solar electron burst", , , , CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, ,   

    From University of Iowa: “Voyager spacecraft detect new type of solar electron burst” 

    From University of Iowa

    NASA/Voyager 1.

    NASA/Voyager 2.

    Heliosphere-heliopause showing positions of two Voyager spacecraft. Credit: NASA.

    The Voyager spacecraft continue to make discoveries even as they travel through interstellar space. In a new study, University of Iowa physicists report on the Voyagers’ detection of cosmic ray electrons associated with eruptions from the sun—more than 14 billion miles away.

    Richard Lewis
    Office of Strategic Communication

    More than 40 years since they were launched, the Voyager spacecraft are still making discoveries.

    In a new study, a team of physicists led by the University of Iowa, report the first detection of bursts of cosmic ray electrons accelerated by shock waves originating from major eruptions on the sun. The detection, made by instruments onboard both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, occurred as the Voyagers continue their journey outward through interstellar space, making them the first craft to record this unique phenomena in the realm between stars.

    These newly detected electron bursts travel at nearly the speed of light, some 670 times faster than the shock waves that initially propelled them. The bursts were followed by plasma wave oscillations caused by lower-energy electrons arriving at the Voyagers’ instruments days later—and finally, in some cases, the shock wave itself as long as a month after that.

    The shock waves emanated from coronal mass ejections, which are expulsions of hot gas and energy that move outward from the sun at about 1 million mph. Even at that speed, it takes more than a year for the shock waves to reach the Voyager spacecraft, which have traveled further from the sun (more than 14 billion miles and counting) than any other human-made object.

    “What we see here, specifically, is a certain mechanism whereby when the shock wave first contacts the interstellar magnetic field lines passing through the spacecraft, it reflects and accelerates some of the cosmic ray electrons,” says Don Gurnett, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the study’s corresponding author. “We have identified through the cosmic ray instruments these are electrons that were reflected and accelerated by interstellar shocks propagating outward from energetic solar events at the sun. That is a new mechanism.”

    The discovery could help physicists better understand the dynamics of shock waves and cosmic radiation that come from flare stars (which can vary in brightness briefly due to violent activity on their surface) and exploding stars. The physics of such phenomena would be important to consider when sending astronauts on extended lunar or Martian excursions, for instance, during which they would be exposed to concentrations of cosmic rays far exceeding what can be experienced on Earth.

    The physicists believe these electrons in the interstellar medium are reflected off of a strengthened magnetic field at the edge of the shock wave and subsequently accelerated by the motion of the shock wave. The reflected electrons then spiral along interstellar magnetic field lines, gaining speed as the distance between them and the shock increases.

    In a 2014 paper in the journal The Astrophysical Letters, physicists J.R. Jokipii and Jozsef Kota described theoretically how ions reflected from shock waves could be accelerated along interstellar magnetic field lines. The current study looks at bursts of electrons detected by the Voyager spacecraft that are thought to be accelerated by a similar process.

    “The idea that shock waves accelerate particles is not new,” Gurnett says. “It all has to do with how it works, the mechanism. And the fact we detected it in a new realm—the interstellar medium—which is much different than in the solar wind where similar processes have been observed. No one has seen it with an interstellar shock wave in a whole new pristine medium.”

    The findings were published online on Dec 3, 2020 in The Astronomical Journal.

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Iowa is a public research university in Iowa City, Iowa. Founded in 1847, it is the oldest and the second-largest university in the state. The University of Iowa is organized into 12 colleges offering more than 200 areas of study and seven professional degrees.

    On an urban 1,880-acre campus on the banks of the Iowa River, the University of Iowa is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. The university is best known for its programs in health care, law, and the fine arts, with programs ranking among the top 25 nationally in those areas. The university was the original developer of the Master of Fine Arts degree and it operates the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which has produced 17 of the university’s 46 Pulitzer Prize winners. Iowa is a member of the Association of American Universities, the Universities Research Association, and the Big Ten Academic Alliance.

    Among American universities, the University of Iowa was the first public university to open as coeducational, opened the first coeducational medical school, and opened the first Department of Religious Studies at a public university. The University of Iowa’s 33,000 students take part in nearly 500 student organizations. Iowa’s 22 varsity athletic teams, the Iowa Hawkeyes, compete in Division I of the NCAA and are members of the Big Ten Conference. The University of Iowa alumni network exceeds 250,000 graduates.

  • richardmitnick 9:27 am on August 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Carrington Event still provides warning of Sun’s potential 161 years later", At the time the link between auroral displays and the Sun was not yet known., CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, Lloyd’s of London and the Atmospheric and Environmental Research agency in the United States estimated that a Carrington-class event impacting Earth today would cause between $0.6 and $2.6 trillion , , On 28 August 1859 a series of sunspots began to form on the surface of our stellar parent., The Carrington Event is officially known as SOL1859-09-01., The massive solar storm caused widespread disruption to electrical and Telegraph services and spawning auroras visible in the tropics., The same day that the sunspots appeared strong auroras began to dance around Earth’s magnetic lines.   

    From NASA Spaceflight: “Carrington Event still provides warning of Sun’s potential 161 years later” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    From NASA Spaceflight

    August 28, 2020
    Chris Gebhardt

    A Coronal Mass Ejection erupts from the Sun on 2 December 2002 as seen by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory — SOHO.


    On 28 August 1859, a series of sunspots began to form on the surface of our stellar parent. The sunspots quickly tangled the Sun’s magnetic field lines in their area and produced bright, observed solar flares and one — likely two — Coronal Mass Ejections, one major.

    The massive solar storm impacted our planet on 1-2 September 1859, causing widespread disruption to electrical and Telegraph services and spawning auroras visible in the tropics.

    Officially known as SOL1859-09-01, the Carrington Event as it has become known colloquially showcased for the first time the potentially disastrous relationship between the Sun’s energetic temperament and the nascent technology of the 19th century.

    It also resulted in the earliest observations of solar flares — by Richard Carrington (for whom the event is named) and Richard Hodgson — and was the event that made Carrington realize the relationship between geomagnetic storms and the Sun.

    Coming just a few months before the solar maximum of 1860, numerous sunspots began to appear on the surface of the Sun on 28 August 1859 and were observed by Richard Carrington, who produced detailed drawings of them as they appeared on 1 September 1859.

    The same day that the sunspots appeared, strong auroras began to dance around Earth’s magnetic lines, visible as far south as New England in North America. By 29 August, auroras were visible as far north as Queensland, Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Richard Carrington’s drawings of the sunspots of 1 September 1859, including notations (“A” and “B”) from where the solar flare erupted (“A”) and where it disappeared (“B”). Credit: American Scientist, Vol 95.

    At the time, the link between auroral displays and the Sun was not yet known, and it would be the Carrington Event of 1859 that would solidify the connection for scientists not only due to observations performed by Carrington and Hodgson but also because of a magnetic crochet (a sudden disturbance of the ionosphere by abnormally high ionization or plasma — now associated with solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections) recorded by the Kew Observatory magnetometer in Scotland during the major event.

    On 1 September, Carrington and Hodgson were observing the Sun, investigating and mapping the locations, size, and shapes of the sunspots when, just before noon local time in England, they each independently became the first people to witness and record a solar flare.

    From the sunspot region, a sudden bright flash, described by Carrington as a “white light flare,” erupted from the solar photosphere. Carrington documented the flare’s precise location on the sunspots where it appeared as well as where it disappeared over the course of the 5 minute event.

    What neither could know at the moment is that a major Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) had just erupted from the surface of the Sun and was headed straight for Earth.

    The major CME event traversed the 150 million km distance between the Sun and Earth in just 17.6 hours, much faster than the multi-day period it usually takes CMEs to reach the distance of Earth’s orbit.

    Follow-up investigations over the last century and a half point to the auroral displays of the 28 and 29 August 1859 as the clue for why the 1 September CME traveled as fast as it did. It is now widely believed and accepted that a smaller CME erupted from the Sun in late-August and effectively cleared the path between Earth and the Sun of most of the solar wind plasma that would normally slow down a CME.

    By the time the 1 September event observed by Carrington and Hodgson began, conditions were perfect for the massive storm to race across the inner solar system and slam into Earth within just a few hours.

    When the CME arrived, the Kew Observatory’s magnetometer recorded the event as a magnetic crochet in the ionosphere. This observation, coupled with the solar flare, allowed Carrington to correctly draw the link — for the first time — between geomagnetic storms observed on Earth and the Sun’s activity.

    Upon impact, telegraph systems across Europe and North America, which took the brunt of the impact, failed. In some cases, telegraphs provided electric shocks to operators; in other cases, their lines sparked in populated areas and — in places — started fires.

    The event produced some of the brightest auroras ever recorded in history. People in New England were able to read the newspaper in the middle of the night without any additional light. Meanwhile, in Colorado, miners believed it was daybreak and began their morning routine.

    The auroras were so strong they were clearly observed throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, southern Japan, southern China, and as far south as Colombia near the equator in South America and as far north as Queensland, Australia near the equator in the Southern Hemisphere.

    The strength of the Carrington Event is now recognized in heliophysics as a specific class of CME and is named after Richard Carrington.

    Historical evidence in the form of Carbon-14 trapped and preserved in tree rings indicates that the previous, similarly energetic CME event to the one in 1859 occurred in 774 CE and that Carrington-class Earth impact events occur on average once every several millennia.

    ScienceCasts: Carrington-class CME Narrowly Misses Earth.

    Still, lower energy CMEs erupted from the Sun and impacted Earth in 1921, 1960, and 1989 — the latter of which caused widespread power outages throughout Quebec province in Canada. These three events are not considered to have been of Carrington-class strength.

    However, a Carrington-class superstorm did erupt from the Sun on 23 July 2012 and narrowly missed Earth by just nine days, providing a stark warning from our solar parent that it is only a matter of time before another Carrington-class event impacts Earth.

    Coming shortly after the 2012 near miss, researchers from Lloyd’s of London and the Atmospheric and Environmental Research agency in the United States estimated that a Carrington-class event impacting Earth today would cause between $0.6 and $2.6 trillion in damages to the United States alone and would cause widespread — if not global — electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damages to electrical grids.

    Cascading failures of electrical grids, especially in New England in the United States, are also particularly likely during a Carrington-class event. Power restoration estimates range anywhere from a weak to the least affected areas to more than a year to the hardest-hit regions.

    Electronic payment systems at grocery stores and gas stations would likely crash, electric vehicle charging stations — that rely on the power grid — would likely be unusable for some time, as would ATMs which rely on an internet and/or satellite link to verify account and cash disbursement information.

    The world’s heliophysics fleet of spacecraft that keep constant watch on the sun. Credit: NASA.

    Television signals from satellites would be majorly disrupted, and satellites, too, would experience disruptions to radio frequency communication, crippling GPS navigation.

    Planes flying over the oceans would likely experience navigation errors and communications blackouts as a result of the disrupted satellite network.

    Astronauts onboard the International Space Station would either seek shelter in one of the radiation-hardened modules of the outpost or, if enough time permitted and the CME event was significant enough, enter their Soyuz or U.S. crew vehicle and come home.

    The question of exactly how to best protect astronauts on the Moon or at destinations farther out in the solar system is an on-going discussion/effort.

    Unlike 1859, however, today, we have an international fleet — including the Solar Dynamics Orbiter, SOHO [above], the Parker Solar Probe, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Solar Orbiter — of vehicles constantly observing the Sun and seeking to understand the underlying mechanisms that generate sunspots, solar flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections, which while linked to one another do not automatically follow each other.


    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker.

    ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter depiction.

    Understanding the underlying mechanisms that trigger CMEs and how severe they would be is a key driving force for heliophysicists. But even with the current fleet in space, all scientists can really do at this moment is provide — at best — a multi-day warning that a CME has occurred and is heading toward Earth.

    NASA | Comparing CMEs.

    Simply having a multi-day warning would give us time to shut down power stations and transformers, stop long-haul and transoceanic flights, and basically hunker down and wait for it to pass. The best we could do now is simply try to minimize the damage.

    It would take a large financial and time and workforce commitment to preemptively rebuild power grids and communications systems in a way that they could fully withstand a Carrington-class CME, and that is something governments around the world have shown little to no interest in doing.

    Still, the Parker Solar Probe from NASA is literally diving into the solar corona to try to unlock the mystery of how Coronal Mass Ejections form and accelerate to incredible velocities as they leave the Sun. What’s more, ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission is attempting to compliment that data by looking at the Sun and observing it from an orientation never before possible.

    But a harsh truth remains: 161 years after the Carrington Event, the world is still not prepared for a large-scale solar storm and what it would do to us.

    The nine day near miss of the 2012 Carrington-class event should have been a major wake-up call, especially given technological advancements and our dependence on it for everyday life.

    But it’s warning does not appear to have been heeded as well as it should have.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA Spaceflight , now in its eighth year of operations, is already the leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space faring nations.

    Breaking more exclusive space flight related news stories than any other site in its field, NASASpaceFlight.com is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many thousands of space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Space Alliance and commercial space flight arena.

    With a monthly readership of 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

  • richardmitnick 2:45 pm on February 7, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Five things we’re going to learn from Europe’s Solar Orbiter mission", CME's - Coronal Mass Ejections, , , , , , ,   

    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine: “Five things we’re going to learn from Europe’s Solar Orbiter mission” 


    From Horizon The EU Research and Innovation Magazine

    ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter depiction

    07 February 2020
    Jonathan O’Callaghan

    At 23.03 (local time) on Sunday 9 February, Europe’s newest mission to study the sun is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US. Called Solar Orbiter, this European Space Agency (ESA) mission will travel to within the orbit of planet Mercury to study the sun like never before, returning stunning new images of its surface.

    Equipped with instruments and cameras, the decade-long mission is set to provide scientists with key information in their ongoing solar research. We spoke to three solar physicists about what the mission might teach us and the five unanswered questions about the sun it might finally help us solve.

    1. When solar eruptions are heading our way

    Solar Orbiter will reach a minimum distance of 0.28% of the Earth-sun distance throughout the course of its mission, which could last the rest of the 2020s. No other mission will have come closer to the sun, save for NASA’s ongoing Parker Solar Probe mission, which will reach just 0.04 times the Earth-sun distance.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

    Dr Emilia Kilpua from the University of Helsinki in Finland is the coordinator of a project called SolMAG, which is studying eruptions of plasma from the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

    Coronal mass ejections – NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center-SDO


    She says this proximity, and a suite of cameras that Parker Solar Probe lacks, will give Solar Orbiter the chance to gather data that is significantly better than any spacecraft before it, helping us monitor CMEs.

    ‘One of the great things about Solar Orbiter is that it will cover a lot of different distances, so we can really capture these coronal mass ejections when they are evolving from the sun to Earth,’ she said. CMEs can cause space weather events on Earth, interfering with our satellites, so this could give us a better early-warning system for when they are heading our way.

    2. Why the sun blows a supersonic wind

    One of the major unanswered questions about the sun concerns its outer atmosphere, known as its corona. ‘It’s heated to (more than) a million degrees, and we currently don’t know why it’s so hot,’ said Dr Alexis Rouillard from the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France, the coordinator of a project studying solar wind called SLOW_SOURCE. ‘It’s (more than) 200 times the temperature of the surface of the sun.’

    ESA China Double Star mission continuous interaction between particles in the solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield 2003-2007

    ESA China Smile solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield – the magnetosphere spacecraft depiction

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    A consequence of this hot corona is that the sun’s atmosphere cannot be contained by its gravity, so it has a constant wind of particles blowing out into space, known as solar wind.

    This artist’s rendering shows a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet’s upper atmosphere. NASA/GSFC

    This wind blows at more than 250km per second, up to speeds of 800km per second, and we currently do not know how that wind is pushed outwards to supersonic speeds.

    Dr Rouillard is hoping to study the slower solar wind using Solar Orbiter, which may help us explain how stars like the sun create supersonic winds. “By getting closer to the sun we collect more (pristine) particles, he said. “Solar Orbiter will provide unprecedented measurements of the solar wind composition. (And) we will be able to develop models for how the wind (is pushed out) into space.”

    3. What its poles look like

    During the course of its mission, Solar Orbiter will make repeated encounters with the planet Venus. Each time it does, the angle of the spacecraft’s orbit will be slightly raised until it rises above the planets. If the mission is extended as hoped to 2030, it will reach an inclination of 33 degrees – giving us our first ever views of the sun’s poles.

    Aside from being fascinating, there will be some important science that can be done here. By measuring the sun’s magnetic fields at the poles, scientists hope to get a better understanding of how and why the sun goes through 11-year cycles of activity, culminating in a flip of its magnetic poles. They are set to flip again in the mid-2020s.

    ‘By understanding how the magnetic fields are distributed and evolve in these polar regions, we gain a new insight on the cycles that the sun is going through,’ said Dr Rouillard. ‘Every 11 years, the sun goes from a minimum activity state to a maximum activity state. By measuring from high latitudes, it will provide us with new insights on the cyclic evolution of (the sun’s) magnetic fields.’

    4. Why it has polar ‘crowns’

    Occasionally the sun erupts huge arm-like loops of material from its surface, which are known as prominences. They extend from its surface into the corona, but their formation is not quite understood. Solar Orbiter, however, will give us our most detailed look at them yet.

    ‘We’re going to have very intricate views of some of these active regions and their associated prominences,’ says Professor Rony Keppens from KU Leuven in Belgium, coordinator of a project called PROMINENT which is studying solar prominences. ‘It’s going to be possible to have more than several images per second. That means some of the dynamics that had not been seen before now are going to be visualised for the first time.’

    Some of the sun’s largest prominences come from near its poles, so by raising its inclination Solar Orbiter will give us a unique look at these phenomena. ‘They’re called polar crown prominences, because they are like crowns on the head of the sun,’ said Prof. Keppens. ‘They encircle the polar regions and they live for very long, weeks or months on end. The fact that Solar Orbiter is going to have first-hand views of the polar regions is going to be exciting, especially for studies of prominences.’

    5. How it controls the solar system

    By studying the sun with Solar Orbiter, scientists hope to better understand how its eruptions travel out into the solar system, creating a bubble of activity around the sun in our galaxy known as the heliosphere.

    NASA Heliosphere

    This can of course create space weather here on Earth, so studying it is important for our own planet.

    ‘One of the ideas we have is to take measurements of the solar magnetic field in active regions in the equatorial belt of the sun,’ said Professor Keppens. ‘We’re going to extrapolate that data into the corona, and then use simulations to try and mimic how some of these eruptions happen and progress out into the heliosphere.’

    Thus, Solar Orbiter will not just give us a better understanding of the sun itself, but also how it affects planets like Earth too. Alongside the first-ever images of the poles and the closest-ever images of its surface, Solar Orbiter will give us an unprecedented understanding of how the star we call home really works.

    The research in this article is funded by the European Research Council. Sharing encouraged.

    See the full article here .

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    Stem Education Coalition

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