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  • richardmitnick 3:06 pm on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Largest Flare of Past 9 Years Erupts from Sun, , Solar Events   

    From Eos: “Largest Flare of Past 9 Years Erupts from Sun” 

    AGU bloc

    Eos news bloc


    Kimberly M. S. Cartier

    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image, blended from two ultraviolet filters, of (left) the X9.3 class solar flare that erupted from the Sun on 6 September and (right) a simultaneous smaller flare from a different active region. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Solar Dynamics Observatory


    A flare erupting from the surface of the Sun on Wednesday blocked communications and interfered with navigational frequencies across the globe. Large portions Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia experienced disruptions to low-frequency radio communications, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    As the flare jetted outward from the Sun’s surface, the star’s outer atmosphere, or corona, belched a huge cloud of ultrahot, electrically charged particles, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. The CME prompted a warning from NOAA solar storm watchers of an impending strong (G3) geomagnetic storm or greater through today. An updated NOAA report at 1:57 p.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) today revised the agency’s assessment to “G4 (Severe) geomagnetic storm levels” for the day-lit side of Earth.

    In addition to roiling communications and navigation signals, such geomagnetic storms can create surges or shutdowns in power grids and produce brilliant auroras visible at lower latitudes than usual.

    Two solar flares exploded from the same region of the Sun within a few hours of each other. This time-lapse footage of the region, seen here in extreme-ultraviolet wavelengths, shows flares and CMEs many times larger than Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO

    According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the flare sprung from the Sun at 12:02 p.m. UTC on 6 September, accompanied by the CME, which arrived at Earth late last night and is expected to persist through today.

    A Blast amid the Calm

    NOAA heliophysicists identified Wednesday’s flare as the largest solar flare to date in the current solar cycle, which is an approximately 11-year cycle that tracks when solar activity increases and decreases. The current solar cycle began in December 2011. Although the Sun’s activity is declining on average, large flares such as these are not uncommon during this stage of the cycle.

    “Some of the strongest solar events occur near solar minimum,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, explained on Twitter. “Space Weather matters during the entire solar cycle!”

    Heliophysicists associated with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) classified this event as an X9.3 solar flare, meaning it’s in the most intense class of flares. What’s more, the same region of the Sun had produced another X-class flare about 3 hours earlier on the morning of 6 September. Three other moderate-intensity flares have exploded from the region since 4 September, in addition to flares from other active areas on the Sun’s surface.

    The Sun produced five strong solar flares from 4 to 7 September, including the X9.3 event that generated the large CME near time mark “2017/09/06 14:00.” CMEs are best observed when the bright disk of the Sun is blocked by a coronagraph, as seen in this sequence of images taken by the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) instrument on the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Credit: SOHO/LASCO/National Research Laboratory team

    “It’s the active region that keeps on giving!” tweeted Sophie Murray, a space weather scientist at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

    NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center also reported a strong (R3) radio blackout on Wednesday at 9:10 a.m. UTC due to both flares that day.

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 11:24 am on August 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Solar Events   

    From Ethan Siegel: “NASA’s Revived STEREO-B Could Save Us From A Trillion Dollar Disaster” 

    From Ethan Siegel

    Aug 26, 2016

    An X-class solar flare erupted from the Sun’s surface in 2012. At the time, it was the largest flare in five years. Image credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) via Getty Images.

    Solar flares are spectacular sights from space, where giant streams of plasma are ejected from the Sun’s interior at incredibly high energies and speeds. They stream through the Solar System, usually traveling the Sun-Earth distance in three days or fewer. While this intense, ionized radiation would be dangerous to an astronaut in the depths of space, for the most part our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere shields our bodies from any harm. The magnetic field funnels the radiation away from Earth, only enabling it to strike in a region around the poles, while the atmosphere ensures that the charged particles themselves don’t make it down to the surface. But their changing magnetic fields do, and that’s enough to induce currents in electrical wires, circuits and loops. Thankfully, now that NASA’s STEREO-A and STEREO-B spacecraft are both alive simultaneously, we’ll get the earliest warnings possible if a potential catastrophe is headed our way.

    NASA/STEREO spacecraft
    NASA/STEREO spacecraft

    You might think this is a rare event, but it’s not at all rare like a meteor striking Earth is rare. It’s not even “rare” in the sense that seeing a supernova from Earth is rare; an ultra-high-energy solar flare directed right at Earth is a question of when, not if. Imagine a beautiful, clear day. The Sun is shining, the skies are clear, and you couldn’t ask for a nicer day. All of a sudden, the Sun itself appears to brighten, just for a brief amount of time, like it released an extra burst of energy. That night, some 17 hours later, the most spectacular auroral display ever brightens the night in a way you never imagined.

    Sunspots are often, but not always, portents of where a solar flare is most likely to occur. Image credit: Shahrin Ahmad (ShahGazer), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    Workers across the United States awaken at 1 a.m., because the sky is as bright as the dawn. Aurorae illuminate the skies as far south as the Caribbean, beneath the Tropic of Cancer. And long, electricity-carrying wires spark, start fires and even operate and send signals when there’s no electricity! This even includes, believe it or not, when they aren’t plugged in. This isn’t a science-fiction scenario; this is history. This is what a catastrophic Solar Storm looks like, and this actually occurred exactly as described in 1859.

    A significant coronal mass ejection from the Sun that (thankfully) was not directed at Earth. Image credit: NASA / GSFC / SDO.


    The way this actually happens is that the Sun, rather than being this constant ball of nuclear fire in the sky, has an active surface, complete with an intricate magnetic structure, temperature variations, sunspots, and occasional flares and mass ejections. For reasons we don’t completely understand, the Sun’s activity levels ebb and peak on an 11-year timescale known as the Solar Cycle, and the transition between 2013/2014 was anticipated to have been the peak of our current cycle. We’re more likely to see larger numbers of flares, as well as stronger-than-average flares, during the peak years, but in reality they can occur at any time.

    Typically (but not always), these flares pose no danger to anything here on Earth, for a variety of reasons.

    1.) Most solar flares are not directed anywhere near the Earth. Space is a big place, and even at our relatively close distance of 93 million miles (or 150 million km) from the Sun, that’s a long way away. Even though most sunspots occur near the solar equator, more than 95% of flares and ejections, when they occur, never impact our planet at all. But there is that pesky few percent that does impact us.

    A representation of how most ionized particles are diverted away from Earth by our magnetic field. Image credit: NASA.

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

    2.) Most flares are too small, too slow and sub-optimally aligned to get past the Earth’s magnetic field. Our magnetic field is awesome! Sure, it might be less than 1 G (gauss) at the surface (or 0.0001 T — for Tesla — for you mks sticklers out there), barely enough to deflect your compass needles towards the magnetic poles. But the field extends far into space, and the matter ejected in a solar flare are almost exclusively charged particles, which typically move at speeds of only a million miles an hour.

    These particles are bent by our magnetic field (as are all charged particles moving through a magnetic field) and will mostly be deflected away from the Earth. The ones that are bent into the Earth will crash into our upper atmosphere; this is the cause of nearly all auroral events.

    The atmospheric effects of the aurorae, as seen from space. Image credit: NASA / ISS expedition crew 23.

    3.) Our atmosphere is sufficiently thick to prevent these charged particles from irradiating us. Even if the flare moves quickly (or at about five million miles-per-hour), is huge (containing billions of tons of matter), and is aimed directly at us, the charged particles will never make it through our atmosphere, down to the surface. In fact, they peter out to practically nothing nearly 50 km above the Earth’s surface, far higher than any mountains or even that the heights airliners reach. Unless you’re in space (for some reason) at the time, you won’t receive any more radiation than you normally would, and there is no biological risk.

    But there is one real risk, and it’s a consequence of our physical laws of electromagnetism.

    The anatomy of the dangers of a solar flare. Image credit: NASA.

    A charged particle is bent as it moves through a magnetic field because of the connection between electricity and magnetism. But that same connection means that a change in electric currents — which are made by the motion of charged particles — create changing magnetic fields. And if you have a changing magnetic field either around a wire or through a loop or coil of wire, you will generate electric currents!

    So while there may not be a danger to you, there is a huge danger to electronics, ranging from automobiles to transformers to — most frighteningly of all — the entire power grid! That’s the real danger of a solar storm: an event similar to the 1859 Carrington event could cause anywhere between an estimated $1-to-$2 trillion of property damage, mostly due to electrical fires and damage to our infrastructure.

    Depiction of 1859 Carrington event.Politesseo

    A number of NASA satellites throughout the solar system. Image credit: NASA.

    With the space weather satellites we had up just a few years ago, we would have about a half-day’s warning to shut down our power stations and voluntarily shut off the grid in the event of such a flare. With STEREO-A and STEREO-B operating simultaneously, however, we can know as soon as the flare occurs, giving us up to three days of lead time. These events cannot be predicted in advance, and neither can their interaction with the interplanetary-and-Earth’s magnetic field, so you must never listen to fear-mongers who tell you a catastrophic solar flare is imminent; we can only be prepared to react when one is detected.

    The combination of NASA’s STEREO-A (ahead) and STEREO-B (behind), combined with the solar dynamics observatory (SDO) near Earth gives us a full view of the entire photosphere of the Sun at once. Image credit: NASA.

    Ideally, we’d be able to either upgrade the grid or to simply install a sufficient amount of electrical grounding, but practically, the first option is a long-term project that no one is working on, and the second one is continuously thwarted by thievery of copper wire. Power stations and substations simply do not maintain enough grounding due to this thievery, and there’s no known antidote to that, since if death-by-electrocution isn’t enough of a deterrent, what will be?

    There’s no need to be afraid of these things, but you do need to be prepared. If an ultra-massive, fast-moving coronal mass ejection ever heads directly towards Earth, you are literally taking your life into your hands if you do not shut down and unplug all of your electronic devices — and your power companies deliberately black out your neighborhood — until the storm passes. Long-distance wires, power stations and substations and the major components of the electrical grid itself will be at the greatest risk, as they will have huge direct currents (in systems designed only to carry AC) induced in them. The smartest move for those components, quite honestly, might be to sever the wires. That’s the only surefire way we have of personally safely dealing with things now.

    But you should also keep in mind that there’s only about a 1% chance we’ll get a large, powerful Earth-directed flare in any given year, and only about a 0.2% of getting an event like we did in 1859. So be aware, be informed and know how to deal with it if it happens, but don’t lose any sleep over it! Instead, your best bet is — when applicable — to go outside and enjoy the auroral show!

    This article is dedicated to Jake Morgan, whose fascination with solar storms led him to write his first book: Sunburned. Jake recently suffered a catastrophic accident and is undergoing significant time in the ICU; you can help support his GoFundMe here.

    See the full article here .

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    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

  • richardmitnick 12:09 pm on May 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Solar Events   

    From AAS NOVA: ” Predicting Major Solar Eruptions” 


    Amercan Astronomical Society

    6 May 2016
    Susanna Kohler

    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO
    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO


    Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares are two examples of major explosions from the surface of the Sun — but they’re not the same thing, and they don’t have to happen at the same time. A recent study examines whether we can predict which solar flares will be closely followed by larger-scale CMEs.

    Flares as a Precursor?

    A solar flare is a localized burst of energy and X-rays, whereas a CME is an enormous cloud of magnetic flux and plasma released from the Sun. We know that some magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun triggers both a flare and a CME, whereas other activity only triggers a confined flare with no CME.

    But what makes the difference? Understanding this can help us learn about the underlying physical drivers of flares and CMEs. It also might help us to better predict when a CME — which can pose a risk to astronauts, disrupt radio transmissions, and cause damage to satellites — might occur.

    In a recent study, Monica Bobra and Stathis Ilonidis (Stanford University) attempt to improve our ability to make these predictions by using a machine-learning algorithm.

    Classification by Computer

    Using a combination of 6 or more features results in a much better predictive success (measured by the True Skill Statistic; higher positive value = better prediction) for whether a flare will be accompanied by a CME. [Bobra & Ilonidis 2016]

    Bobra and Ilonidis used magnetic-field data from an instrument on the Solar Dynamics Observatory to build a catalog of solar flares, 56 of which were accompanied by a CME and 364 of which were not. The catalog includes information about 18 different features associated with the photospheric magnetic field of each flaring active region (for example, the mean gradient of the horizontal magnetic field).

    The authors apply a machine-learning algorithm known as a binary classifier to this catalog. This algorithm tries to predict, given a set of features, whether an active region that produces a flare will also produce a CME. Bobra and Ilonidis then use a feature-selection algorithm to try to understand which features distinguish between flaring regions that don’t produce a CME and those that do.

    Predictors of CMEs

    The authors reach several interesting conclusions:

    Under the right conditions, their algorithm is able to predict whether an active region with a given set of features will produce a CME as well as a flare with a fairly high rate of success.
    None of the 18 features they tested are good predictors in isolation: it’s necessary to look at a combination of at least 6 features to have success predicting whether a flare will be accompanied by a CME.
    The features that are the best predictors are all intensive features — ones that stay the same independent of the active region’s size. Extensive features — ones that change as the active region grows or shrinks — are less successful predictors.

    Only the magnetic field properties of the photosphere were considered, so a logical next step is to extend this study to consider properties of the solar corona above active regions as well. In the meantime, these are interesting first results that may well help us better predict these major solar eruptions.

    Check out this video for a great description from NASA of the difference between solar flares and CMEs (as well as some awesome observations of both).

    Access mp4 video here .


    M. G. Bobra and S. Ilonidis 2016 ApJ 821 127. doi:10.3847/0004-637X/821/2/127*

    *Science paper:

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:13 pm on April 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Solar Events   

    From NASA SDO: “NASA’s SDO Captures Images of a Mid-Level Solar Flare” 

    NASA image


    April 18, 2016
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:29 pm EDT on April 17, 2016. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this imagery of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash – around 8:30 p.m. EDT on April 17, 2016. A loop of solar material can also be seen rising up off the right limb of the sun. Credits: NASA/SDO/Goddard

    NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center states that “moderate radio blackouts were observed” during the peak of the flare. Such radio blackouts are only ongoing during the course of a flare, and so they have since subsided. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings and alerts.

    This flare is classified as an M6.7 class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.

    This flare came from an area of complex magnetic activity on the sun – known as an active region, and in this case labeled Active Region 2529 – which has sported a large dark spot, called a sunspot, over the past several days. This sunspot has changed shape and size as it slowly made its way across the sun’s face over the past week and half. For much of that time, it was big enough to be visible from the ground without magnification and is currently large enough that almost five Earths could fit inside. This sunspot will rotate out of our view over the right side of the sun by April 20, 2016. Scientists study such sunspots in order to better understand what causes them to sometimes erupt with solar flares.

    What is a solar flare?

    A black spot on the sun is visible in the upper right of this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Such spots are evidence that this is an area of complex magnetic activity on the sun, which can sometimes lead to solar eruptions sending light and radiation out into space. This region produced a solar flare at 8:29 p.m. EDT on April 17, 2016.
    Credits: NASA/SDO/Goddard

    For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Space weather Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Related Link:

    View Past Solar Activity

    See the full article here .

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

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

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

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

  • richardmitnick 5:18 am on April 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From GIZMODO: “Stunning Solar Eclipse Image Looks Like the Eye of our Solar System” 

    GIZMODO bloc


    Attila Nagy

    The March 9th total solar eclipse looked stunning at the time. But now a team of researchers has put together an even more impressive image of the solar corona, that makes the event look like something from Lord of the Rings.

    The picture actually combines two images of the solar corona: The red section was viewed from space, acquired by the Sun-orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, while the blue part was viewed from the ground. The overall effect resembles the Eye of Mordor—or should that be the Eye of the Solar System?

    Here’s the uncropped image in its full glory:

    Image Credits: J. Vilinga (Angola, IAP), LASCO, NRL, SOHO, ESA, NASA; Processing: R. Wittich; Composition & Copyright: S. Koutchmy (IAP, CNRS)


    See the full article here .

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    “We come from the future.”

    GIZMOGO pictorial

  • richardmitnick 12:55 pm on February 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Eos: “Space Weather Gains National and International Attention” 

    Eos news bloc


    Shannon Kelleher

    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO
    An ejection of charged particles from the Sun emits clouds of plasma that can interact with and disturb Earth’s magnetic field, potentially creating electrical currents that can disrupt or damage the electrical power grid and other infrastructure systems. Credit: NASA/GFSC/SDO

    Space weather originates far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but its effects can be felt much closer to home. Eruptions on the surface of the Sun can be accompanied by the ejection of an enormous cloud of charged particles with a magnetic field. If the cloud interacts with Earth’s (geo)magnetic field, which functions like a protective bubble against harmful radiation, it can cause a disturbance. A geomagnetic disturbance can manifest as induced electrical currents in Earth’s crust. These geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) can disrupt or damage the electrical power grid and other infrastructure systems.

    The most powerful geomagnetic disturbance on record was the Carrington event of 1859, named for one of the amateur astronomers who first observed it. Since then, many less intense geomagnetic disturbances have been observed. The potential threat from an extreme geomagnetic disturbance has increased with the widespread reliance on modern technology.

    A geomagnetic disturbance in March 1989 caused a significant power outage in Canada and damage to electrical power grid components in Canada and the United States. This event marked a new interest in GIC research by both the U.S. federal government and private industry. The prominent insurance market Lloyd’s produced a 2013 report that estimates a modern space weather event as powerful as the Carrington event could cause trillions of dollars in damages in North America and leave 20–40 million people without power for up to 2 years.

    According to a new analysis of space weather policy in the United States by Jonas and McCarron, this risk has led to a number of policy activities. The House of Representatives has passed space weather legislation every year since 2009, and in 2010 Congress recognized space weather as a significant threat in the NASA Authorization Act. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security released the Strategic National Risk Assessment, which designates space weather as a threat to homeland security. Recognition of space weather’s effects resulted in a shift toward action in 2014, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission adopted a standard requiring electrical power grid owners and operators to address geomagnetic disturbances. On the global stage, intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are coordinating efforts to address space weather.

    In the coming years, the federal government plans to bolster its preparations for space weather events. In 2014 the White House developed the Space Weather Operations and Research Mitigation Task Force, which, in October 2015, released the National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan. The strategy and action plan set goals and specify activities that include establishing benchmarks for space weather events and enhancing response and recovery capabilities.

    Finally, the fiscal year 2017 Science and Technology Budget Priorities for the U.S. executive branch emphasize the importance of space weather research, further underscoring the need to harden electronic-dependent societies against space weather hazards. The authors emphasize the value of this increased awareness and interest on the part of political leaders—responsible policy will help to protect lives and livelihoods. (Space Weather, doi:10.1002/2015SW001310, 2015)

    Citation: Kelleher, S. (2016), Space weather gains national and international attention, Eos, 97,doi:10.1029/2016EO045115. Published on 8 February 2016.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:35 pm on December 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From SPACE.com: “Giant ‘Hole’ in Sun Is 50 Earths Wide” 

    space-dot-com logo


    October 15, 2015 [This was put up today 12.13.15]
    Sarah Lewin

    A photo of the sun from NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory reveals an enormous coronal hole — a gap in the sun’s outer layer and magnetic field the size of 50 Earths. The image was captured Oct. Credit: NASA/SDO


    The sun has sprung a leak: A hole in the topmost layer of the sun and its magnetic field, the size of 50 Earths, is letting loose an ultrafast solar wind that has kicked off several nights of auroras down on Earth.

    A new image, from NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, reveals the enormous hole as it was Oct. 10, taken at an ultraviolet wavelength unseen by the human eye. To an ordinary observer, the gaping hole would be invisible, though you should NEVER stare at the sun because serious eye damage can result.

    The gap in the sun’s magnetic field lets out a stream of particles traveling at up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) per second, kindling a days-long geomagnetic storm upon hitting Earth.

    Coronal holes, like the one that materialized last week, normally form over the sun’s poles and lower latitudes, more often when the sun is at a less active point in its 11-year cycle. They are areas within the sun’s outermost layer, called its corona, which are lower-density and cooler — that, plus the weakened magnetic field, lets the plasma and charged particles that make up the corona stream out more easily in a solar wind. If aimed toward Earth, that spells the makings of a geomagnetic storm: a phenomenon that can affect power and navigation for satellites orbiting the Earth as well as radio communication.

    Temp 1
    A Solar Dynamics Observatory image published by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reveals the huge coronal hole as it was yesterday [10.14.15]. Continuing its march solar west (to the right), the hole is still releasing an extra-fast solar wind in Earth’s direction. Credit: NASA/SDO

    Another side effect of a geomagnetic storm is enhanced northern lights: the glowing auroras that often form in the night sky over the northernmost reaches of the planet grow much brighter and can even extend much farther south than usual. (Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s [NOAA] Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, initially predicted auroras to be visible as far down as Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oregon, although they didn’t ultimately appear quite so low.) Geomagnetic storms and auroras can also be caused by other sun phenomena, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which both blast the corona’s material outward because of increased magnetic activity.

    As the coronal hole continues its slow march westward on the sun’s surface (to the right, from Earth’s perspective), solar winds will stay strong, NOAA officials said in a statement, which may lead to additional minor geomagnetic storming. Thus, bright auroras will likely continue — at least around the Arctic Circle.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:48 pm on December 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NJIT: “NJIT Scientists Shed Light on How Solar Flares Accelerate Particles to Nearly the Speed of Light” 

    NJIT Bloc

    New Jersey Institute of Technology

    Dec 3 2015
    Tracey Regan

    Image shows the speed of fast plasma outflows produced by the flare. The termination shock is shown as a transition layer where the colors change abruptly from red/yellow to blue/green. At bottom is the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, which captured the termination shock in action using radio observations. Image credits: SDO/AIA data is from NASA. VLA image courtesy of NRAO/AUI. Image prepared by Chen, Jibben, and Samra.

    For scientists studying the impacts of space weather, one of the central mysteries of solar flares – the colossal release of magnetic energy in the Sun’s atmosphere that erupts with the force of millions of hydrogen bombs – is the means by which these explosions produce radiation and accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light within seconds. The most powerful blasts dispatch energized particles that can penetrate Earth’s atmosphere within an hour, disrupting orbiting satellites and electronic communications on the ground.

    In an article published in Science magazine this week, Particle acceleration by a solar flare termination shock, solar scientists at several institutions, including NJIT, have shed light on an elusive structure known as a termination shock that is believed to play a key role in converting released magnetic energy from flares into kinetic energy in accelerated particles. Through a recent set of observations captured by a large radio telescope, the Jansky Very Large Array [VLA], they have imaged a shock and its time evolution during a long-lasting solar flare and demonstrated its role in accelerating particles.


    “Although predicted by theoretical models, this is the first time we have had direct images and movies showing the repeated formation, disruption, and reformation of a termination shock, enabling us to link it directly to particle acceleration,” said Dale Gary, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and one of the authors of the article. Bin Chen, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who will join NJIT next January, is the article’s lead author.

    The powerful shocks occur when high-speed jets expelled from the explosive energy-release site of a solar flare collide with stationary plasma below. One surprising result is that, occasionally, some jets can disrupt the shock, after which the shock takes time to reform. During the disruptions, radio and X-ray emission due to accelerated particles is observed to decrease not just at the shock, but throughout the emitting region, showing that the shock is at least partly responsible for accelerating those particles.

    The observations were made possible by the ability of the newly enhanced Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico to acquire the more than 40,000 individual images per second of observation needed to resolve the rapidly varying emission features produced by the termination shock. This level of resolved detail allowed the firm identification of the radio source as a shock and revealed its dynamic evolution. Chen, who took part in significant upgrades of the VLA which made these observations possible, developed the technique to visualize the shock dynamics from the millions of images taken during the event.

    “We have been studying the Sun for many years using observations of its light in a broad range of wavelengths, but we have been unable to observe some of its activities in detail, including those related to particle acceleration,” Chen said. “Radio telescopes, which are now able to capture tens of thousands of images per second through various frequencies, are giving us much more information on what was previously hidden.”

    Solar flares erupt when stored magnetic energy is suddenly released and converted to other forms, such as high-energy particles, hot plasma at millions of degrees, intense electromagnetic radiation and plasma eruptions called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Solar radiation from the primary flare and that generated secondarily from CMEs can affect Earth in many ways. The high-energy particles can destroy the electronic systems in satellites used in telecommunications, weather forecasting and navigation systems, among other services. The electromagnetic radiation can interfere directly with communication and navigation signals, ionize the atmosphere, and cause short-wave radio black-outs. Associated magnetic disturbances can also affect devices on the ground such as power transformers.

    The study of flares began in 1859 following what is known as the Carrington Event, a solar flare and associated geomagnetic storm so powerful that it electrified telegraph wires, causing spark discharges that caught paper on fire, caused world-wide magnetic disturbances, and was visible across the globe in the form of auroras. That storm was by some estimates four orders of magnitude stronger than the flare described in the Science article.

    “A flare the size of the Carrington event would pose real danger today because of our increasing reliance on susceptible technology,” Gary said. “Big events are difficult to predict, however. We have ways of measuring energy build-up, but sometimes when we think a large flare will occur, the energy dissipates quietly or in a series of smaller events instead. Studies like ours provide better understanding of the fundamental processes occurring in flares, and may one day lead to better predictions.”

    NJIT is expanding its own, solar-dedicated radio telescope, the Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array [EOVSA}, to observe the Sun every day with many of the same observational capabilities.

    NJIT Owens Valley Solar Array

    Multi-frequency imaging with high frequency and time resolution will become a standard method of studying solar flares in the near future.

    “The VLA observes all sorts of astronomical targets and so the amount of time allotted to focus on the Sun amounts to less than a week per year. Owens Valley observes the Sun 24 hours a day,” said Chen, who called the star – “reasonably close” at 93 million miles away – “the best laboratory for studying a broad range of physical processes that occur across the Universe.”

    See the full article here .

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    NJIT campus

    Welcome to the New Jersey Institute of Technology. We’re proud of our 130 years of history, but that’s only the beginning of our story – we’ve doubled the size of our campus in the last decade, pouring millions into major new research facilities to give our students the edge they need in today’s demanding high-tech marketplace.

    NJIT offers 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in six specialized schools instructed by expert faculty, 98 percent of whom hold the highest degree in their field.

    Our academic programs are fully accredited by the appropriate accrediting boards, commissions and associations such as Middle States, ABET, and NAAB.

  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on November 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Solar Events   

    From Queens University Belfast (QUB): “Queen’s University Belfast lead research milestone in helping predict solar flares” 

    QUB bloc

    Queens University Belfast (QUB)

    A solar flare erupts from the right side of the Sun in this image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.Credit: NASA/SDO


    An international team of researchers, led by Queen’s University, has devised a high-precision method of examining magnetic fields in the Sun’s atmosphere, representing a significant leap forward in the investigation of solar flares and potentially catastrophic space weather.

    Solar flares are massive explosions of energy in the Sun’s atmosphere. Experts have warned that even a single ‘monster’ solar flare could cause up to $2 trillion worth of damage on Earth, including the loss of satellites and electricity grids, as well the potential knock-on dangers to human life and health. A key goal of the $300 million Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which will be the largest solar telescope in the world when construction is finished in 2019 on the Pacific island of Maui, is the measurement of magnetic fields in the outer regions of the Sun’s atmosphere.

    DKIST telescope

    The technique pioneered by the Queen’s-led team, published today in the journal Nature Physics, will feed into the DKIST project, as well as allowing greater advance warning of potentially devastating space storms. The new technique allows changes in the Sun’s magnetic fields, which drive the initiation of solar flares, to be monitored up to ten times faster than previous methods.

    The Queen’s-led team, which spans academics from universities in Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the USA, harnessed data from both NASA’s premier space-based telescope (the Solar Dynamics Observatory), and the ROSA multi-camera system, which was designed at Queen’s University Belfast, using detectors made by Northern Ireland company Andor Technology.

    QUB ROSA camera system
    ROSA multi-camera system

    Lead researcher Dr David Jess from Queen’s Astrophysics Research Centre said: “Continual outbursts from our Sun, in the form of solar flares and associated space weather, represent the potentially destructive nature of our nearest star. Our new techniques demonstrate a novel way of probing the Sun’s outermost magnetic fields, providing scientists worldwide with a new approach to examine, and ultimately understand, the precursors responsible for destructive space weather.

    “Queen’s is increasingly becoming a major player on the astrophysics global stage. This work highlights the strong international links we have with other leading academic institutes from around the world, and provides yet another example of how Queen’s research is at the forefront of scientific discovery.”

    The paper, entitled Solar Coronal Magnetic Fields Derived Using Seismology Techniques Applied to Omnipresent Sunspot Waves, can be read at: http://www.nature.com/doifinder/10.1038/nphys3544

    Specific research results include:

    (1) The datasets used provided unprecedented images of all layers of the Sun’s tenuous atmosphere, allowing the team to piece the jigsaw puzzle together of how magnetic fields permeate the dynamic atmosphere. Images captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO spacecrafts provided million-degree vantage points of how these magnetic fields stretch far out into the Sun’s corona (the region of the Sun’s atmosphere visible during total solar eclipses).

    NASA STEREO spacecraft

    (2) Waves propagated along magnetic fields, similar to how sound waves travel through the air on Earth. The speed at which these waves can travel is governed by the characteristics of the Sun’s atmosphere, including its temperature and the strength of its magnetic field. The waves were found to propagate with speeds approaching half a million (500,000) mph, and when coupled with temperatures of around 1,000,000 degrees in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the researchers were able to determine the magnetic field strengths to a high degree of precision

    (3) The strength of the magnetic fields decreases by a factor of 100 as they travel from the surface of the Sun out into the tenuous, hot corona. While the magnetic fields have decreased in strength, they still possess immense energy that can twist and shear, ultimately releasing huge blasts towards Earth in the form of solar flares. The team’s methods provide a much faster way of examining magnetic field changes in the lead up to solar flares, which can ultimately be used to provide advanced warning against such violent space weather.

    The Sun emitted a significant solar flare, thankfully not in Earth’s direction, on October 19, 2014. Its image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory.

    See the full article here .

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    QUB campus

    An international institution

    Queen’s is in the top one per cent of global universities.

    With more than 23,000 students and 3,700 staff, it is a dynamic and diverse institution, a magnet for inward investment, a major employer and investor, a patron of the arts and a global player in areas ranging from cancer studies to sustainability, and from pharmaceuticals to creative writing.
    World-leading research

    Queen’s is a member of the Russell Group of 24 leading UK research-intensive universities, alongside Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London.

    In the UK top ten for research intensity

    The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 results placed Queen’s joint 8th in the UK for research intensity, with over 75 per cent of Queen’s researchers undertaking world-class or internationally leading research.

    The University also has 14 subject areas ranked within the UK’s top 20 and 76 per cent of its research classified in the top two categories of world leading and internationally excellent.

    This validates Queen’s as a University with world-class researchers carrying out world-class or internationally leading research.

    Globally recognised education

    The University has won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education on five occasions – for Northern Ireland’s Comprehensive Cancer Services programme and for world-class achievement in green chemistry, environmental research, palaeoecology and law.

  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on November 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Solar Events   

    From phys.org: “Irregular heartbeat of the Sun driven by double dynamo” 


    July 9, 2015
    Dr Robert Massey

    Montage of images of solar activity between August 1991 and September 2001 taken by the Yohkoh Soft X-ray Telecope, showing variation in solar activity during a sunspot cycle. Credit: Yohkoh/ISAS/Lockheed-Martin/NAOJ/U. Tokyo/NASA

    A new model of the Sun’s solar cycle is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun’s 11-year heartbeat. The model draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone. Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645. Results will be presented today by Prof Valentina Zharkova at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno.

    It is 172 years since a scientist first spotted that the Sun’s activity varies over a cycle lasting around 10 to 12 years. But every cycle is a little different and none of the models of causes to date have fully explained fluctuations. Many solar physicists have put the cause of the solar cycle down to a dynamo caused by convecting fluid deep within the Sun. Now, Zharkova and her colleagues have found that adding a second dynamo, close to the surface, completes the picture with surprising accuracy.

    “We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun’s interior. They both have a frequency of approximately 11 years, although this frequency is slightly different, and they are offset in time. Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97%,” said Zharkova.

    Zharkova and her colleagues derived their model using a technique called principal component analysis of the magnetic field observations from the Wilcox Solar Observatory in California.

    Stanford Wilcox Solar Observatory
    Wilcox Solar Observatory

    They examined three solar cycles-worth of magnetic field activity, covering the period from 1976-2008. In addition, they compared their predictions to average sunspot numbers, another strong marker of solar activity. All the predictions and observations were closely matched.

    Looking ahead to the next solar cycles, the model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity.

    Comparison of three images over four years apart illustrates how the level of solar activity has risen from near minimum to near maximum in the Sun’s 11-years solar cycle. Credit: SOHO/ESA/NASA

    “In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other – peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder minimum’,” said Zharkova. “Effectively, when the waves are approximately in phase, they can show strong interaction, or resonance, and we have strong solar activity. When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums. When there is full phase separation, we have the conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago.”

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

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