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  • richardmitnick 11:55 am on August 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , EISCAT [European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association], Space Weather,   

    From STFC: “UK supporting Arctic project to build the most advanced space weather radar in the world” 


    23 August 2017
    STFC Media Manager
    Jake Gilmore
    +44 (0)7970 99 4586

    An artist’s impression of what EISCAT_3D’s central radar site will look like. (Credit: NIPR)

    The most advanced space weather radar in the world is to be built in the Arctic by an international partnership including the UK, thanks to new investment from NERC [Science of the Environment], with scientific collaboration from STFC.

    The EISCAT [European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association]_3D radar will provide UK scientists with a cutting-edge tool to probe the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space, helping them understand the effects of space weather storms on technology, society and the environment.

    The UK government has placed space weather on the National Risk Register, in recognition of the potential damage it can do to satellites, communications and power grids. Solar storms drive space weather, but one of the biggest challenges in space weather science is improving our understanding of how the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere responds to this. EISCAT_3D will give scientists the means to understand these connections.

    Dr. Ian McCrea, from STFC RAL Space and the NERC Centre for Atmospheric Science, said:

    “This announcement represents the culmination of 15 years effort to secure UK involvement in a facility which will be the most sophisticated of its kind in the world. With advanced capabilities based on state-of-the-art radar technology, this new radar will significantly expand the opportunities for our scientists to study the outermost regions of the Earth’s atmosphere and their interaction with the space environment.”

    EISCAT_3D will provide us with a new way of spatially imaging the structure and dynamics of this important region, enabling us to contribute more effectively to growing international efforts to observe and forecast the effects of space weather, monitor the risks posed by space debris and probe the complex structure of the aurora.”

    A key capability of the radar will be to measure an entire 3D volume of the upper atmosphere in unprecedented detail. This is necessary to understand how energetic particles and electrical currents from space affect both the upper and the lower atmosphere. Scientists will be able to take measurements across scales from hundreds of metres to hundreds of kilometres, providing exceptional detail and vast quantities of data, and opening the scope of research that can be carried out.

    STFC’s RAL Space Director, Dr Chris Mutlow said:

    “I’m delighted that we’re able to bring our heritage in studying space weather to this fantastic new radar with our international partners. The level of detail it will provide represents a significant leap in our ability to understand the effects of space weather on our atmosphere and monitor space debris. This is critical to our national infrastructure as well as scientific advancement.”

    The northern hemisphere already hosts several EISCAT radars, situated in the so-called auroral oval – where you can see the northern lights or aurora borealis.

    EISCAT Svalbard, Norway Radar

    EISCAT radar dish in Kiruna, Sweden

    EISCAT Ramfjordmoen facility (near Tromsø, Norway) in winter

    EISCAT Sodankylä radar in Finland

    They take measurements in a region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere called the ionosphere – from about 70 to 1000 km altitude. They sample the electron concentration and temperature, and the ion temperature and velocity at a range of altitudes along the radar beam direction. But the current EISCAT radars provide a single pencil beam, so researchers can only look at one small portion of the sky at a given time.

    Dr Andrew Kavanagh, UK EISCAT Science Support, based at the British Antarctic Survey, said:

    “The new EISCAT_3D radar will measure the ionosphere in lots of different directions simultaneously. It will be like having hundreds of radar dishes all operating together. This means we can easily see changes in the ionosphere and not miss important data: when our measurements change we will be able to say whether something had just appeared or faded or if something was moving through the beams. This is really important as it gives us information about how space weather effects evolve.”

    Costing a total of £63m, the facility will be distributed across three sites in northern Scandinavia – in Skibotn, Norway, near Kiruna in Sweden, and near Kaaresuvanto in Finland. The project will start in September 2017 with site preparations beginning in summer 2018. The radar is expected to be operational in 2021.

    The site in Skibotn, Norway will have a transmitter and receiver array, while the two other sites will have receiver arrays. These will generate beams that will ‘look into’ the transmitted beam and give researchers many intersection heights.

    EISCAT Director, Dr Craig Heinselman, said:

    “Building on over three and a half decades of scientific observations with the legacy EISCAT radars, this new multi-site phased-array radar will allow our international user community to investigate important questions about the physics of the near-Earth space environment. The radar will make measurements at least ten times faster and with ten times finer resolution than current systems.”

    See the full article here .

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    STFC Hartree Centre

    Helping build a globally competitive, knowledge-based UK economy

    We are a world-leading multi-disciplinary science organisation, and our goal is to deliver economic, societal, scientific and international benefits to the UK and its people – and more broadly to the world. Our strength comes from our distinct but interrelated functions:

    Universities: we support university-based research, innovation and skills development in astronomy, particle physics, nuclear physics, and space science
    Scientific Facilities: we provide access to world-leading, large-scale facilities across a range of physical and life sciences, enabling research, innovation and skills training in these areas
    National Campuses: we work with partners to build National Science and Innovation Campuses based around our National Laboratories to promote academic and industrial collaboration and translation of our research to market through direct interaction with industry
    Inspiring and Involving: we help ensure a future pipeline of skilled and enthusiastic young people by using the excitement of our sciences to encourage wider take-up of STEM subjects in school and future life (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

    We support an academic community of around 1,700 in particle physics, nuclear physics, and astronomy including space science, who work at more than 50 universities and research institutes in the UK, Europe, Japan and the United States, including a rolling cohort of more than 900 PhD students.

    STFC-funded universities produce physics postgraduates with outstanding high-end scientific, analytic and technical skills who on graduation enjoy almost full employment. Roughly half of our PhD students continue in research, sustaining national capability and creating the bedrock of the UK’s scientific excellence. The remainder – much valued for their numerical, problem solving and project management skills – choose equally important industrial, commercial or government careers.

    Our large-scale scientific facilities in the UK and Europe are used by more than 3,500 users each year, carrying out more than 2,000 experiments and generating around 900 publications. The facilities provide a range of research techniques using neutrons, muons, lasers and x-rays, and high performance computing and complex analysis of large data sets.

    They are used by scientists across a huge variety of science disciplines ranging from the physical and heritage sciences to medicine, biosciences, the environment, energy, and more. These facilities provide a massive productivity boost for UK science, as well as unique capabilities for UK industry.

    Our two Campuses are based around our Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire, and our Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire – each of which offers a different cluster of technological expertise that underpins and ties together diverse research fields.

    The combination of access to world-class research facilities and scientists, office and laboratory space, business support, and an environment which encourages innovation has proven a compelling combination, attracting start-ups, SMEs and large blue chips such as IBM and Unilever.

    We think our science is awesome – and we know students, teachers and parents think so too. That’s why we run an extensive Public Engagement and science communication programme, ranging from loans to schools of Moon Rocks, funding support for academics to inspire more young people, embedding public engagement in our funded grant programme, and running a series of lectures, travelling exhibitions and visits to our sites across the year.

    Ninety per cent of physics undergraduates say that they were attracted to the course by our sciences, and applications for physics courses are up – despite an overall decline in university enrolment.

  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on May 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 1 millionº and breezy: Your solar forecast, , , , , Space Weather,   

    From Science Node: “1 millionº and breezy: Your solar forecast” 

    Science Node bloc
    Science Node

    24 May, 2017
    Alisa Alering

    Space is a big place, so modeling activities out there calls for supercomputers that match. PRACE provided scientists the resources to run the Vlasiator code and simulate the solar wind around the earth.

    Courtesy Minna Palmroth; Finnish Meteorological Institute.

    Outer space is a tough place to be a lonely blue planet.

    With only a thin atmosphere standing between a punishing solar wind and the 1.5 million species living on its surface, any indication of the solar mood is appreciated.

    The sun emits a continuous flow of plasma traveling at speeds up to 900 km/s and temperatures as high as 1 millionº Celsius. The earth’s magnetosphere blocks this wind and allows it to flow harmlessly around the planet like water around a stone in the middle of a stream.

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

    But under the force of the solar bombardment, the earth’s magnetic field responds dramatically, changing size and shape. The highly dynamic conditions this creates in near-Earth space is known as space weather.

    Vlasiator, a new simulation developed by Minna Palmroth, professor in computational space physics at the University of Helsinki, models the entire magnetosphere. It helps scientists to better understand interesting and hard-to-predict phenomena that occur in near-Earth space weather.

    Unlike previous models that could only simulate a small segment of the magnetosphere, Vlasiator allows scientists to study causal relationships between plasma phenomena for the first time and to consider smaller scale phenomena in a larger context.

    “With Vlasiator, we are simulating near-Earth space with better accuracy than has even been possible before,” says Palmroth.

    Navigating near-Earth

    Over 1,000 satellites and other near-Earth spacecraft are currently in operation around the earth, including the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.

    Nearly all communications on Earth — including television and radio, telephone, internet, and military — rely on links to these spacecraft.

    Still other satellites support navigation and global positioning and meteorological observation.

    New spacecraft are launched every day, and the future promises even greater dependence on their signals. But we are launching these craft into a sea of plasma that we barely understand.

    “Consider a shipping company that would send its vessel into an ocean without knowing what the environment was,” says Palmroth. “That wouldn’t be very smart.”

    Space weather has an enormous impact on spacecraft, capable of deteriorating signals to the navigation map on your phone and disrupting aviation. Solar storms even have the potential to overwhelm transformers and black out the power grid.

    Through better comprehension and prediction of space weather, Vlasiator’s comprehensive model will help scientists protect vital communications and other satellite functions.

    Three-level parallelization

    The Vlasiator’s simulations are so detailed that it can model the most important physical phenomena in the near-Earth space at the ion-kinetic scale. This amounts to a volume of 1 million km3 — a massive computational challenge that has not previously been possible.

    After being awarded several highly competitive grants from the European Research Council, Palmroth secured computation time on HPC resources managed by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE).

    Hazel Hen

    She began with the Hornet supercomputer and then its successor Hazel Hen, both at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart. Most recently she has been using the Marconi supercomputer at CINECA in Italy.

    Marconi supercomputer at CINECA in Italy

    Palmroth’s success is due to three-level parallelization of the simulation code. Her team uses domain decomposition to split the near-Earth space into grid cells within each area they wish to simulate.

    They use load-balancing to divide the simulations and then parallelize using OpenMP. Finally, they vectorize the code to parallelize through the supercomputer’s cores.

    Even so, simulation datasets range from 1 to 100 terabytes, depending on how often they save the simulations, and require anywhere between 500 – 100,000 cores, possibly beyond, on Hazel Hen.

    “We are continuously making algorithmic improvements in the code, making new optimizations, and utilizing the latest advances in HPC to improve the efficiency of the calculations all the time,” says Palmroth.

    Taking off into the future

    In addition to advancing our knowledge of space weather, Vlasiator also helps scientists to better understand plasma physics. Until now, most fundamental plasma physical phenomena have been discovered from space because it’s the best available laboratory.

    But the universe is comprised of 99.9 percent plasma, the fourth state of matter. In order to understand the universe, you need to understand plasma physics. For scientists undertaking any kind of matter research, Vlasiator’s capacity to simulate the near-Earth space is significant.

    “As a scientist, I’m curious about what happens in the world,” says Palmroth. “I can’t really draw a line beyond which I don’t want to know what happens.”

    Significantly, Vlasiator has recently helped to explain some features of ultra-low frequency waves in the earth’s foreshock that have perplexed scientists for decades.

    A collaboration with NASA in the US helped validate those results with the THEMIS spacecraft, a constellation of five identical probes designed to gather information about large-scale space physics.

    Exchanging information with her colleagues at NASA allows Palmroth to get input from THEMIS’s direct observation of space phenomena and to exchange modeling results with the observational community.

    “The work we are doing now is important for the next generation,” says Palmroth. “We’re learning all the time. If future generations build upon our advances, their understanding of the universe will be on much more certain ground.”

    See the full article here .

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    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read Science Node via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Can our grid withstand a solar storm?, Geomagnetic storms, HuffPost, , Space Weather   

    From LANL via HuffPost: “Can our grid withstand a solar storm?” 

    LANL bloc

    Los Alamos National Laboratory


    Jesse Woodroffe
    Michael Rivera

    NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center). Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense.
    A composite image of North and South America at night assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.

    When the last really big solar storm hit Earth in 1921, the Sun ejected a burst of plasma and magnetic structures like Zeus hurling a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus. Earth’s magnetic field funneled a wave of electrically charged particles toward the ground, where they induced a current along telegraph lines and railroad tracks that set fire to telegraph offices and burned down train stations. As ghostly curtains of Northern Lights danced far south over the eastern United States, the fledgling electric grid flickered and went dark.

    Almost a century later, today’s grid is bigger, more interconnected, and even more susceptible to a solar storm disaster. No one knows exactly how susceptible, but one recent peer-reviewed study found that an epic solar, or geomagnetic, storm could cost the United States more than $40 billion in damages and lost productivity.

    Most geomagnetic storms are harmless. They regularly lash across Earth after a coronal mass ejection sprays electrons, protons, and other charged particles from the Sun. If they’re aimed just right, a few days later Earth’s magnetic field snares them. They accelerate and light up in another brilliant—and harmless—display of Northern Lights (or Southern Lights below the equator).

    But the less frequent, more severe kind of space weather—call it a 100-year storm—can fry technology and cripple the energy infrastructure. In 1921, it was lights-out across town. Today, heavy dependence on electric-powered technology makes society more vulnerable. In a scant few minutes, a major storm could blow out key components in the electric grid across wide swathes of the United States. Cascading failures could wreak havoc on the water supply, life-saving medical activities, communications, the internet, air travel, and any other grid-dependent sector.

    Mindful of the danger, the nation has developed a plan to support electric utilities in defending against these storms. As part of that plan, we’re researching the credible scenarios that could lead to large impacts. Los Alamos National Laboratory has been studying space weather for more than 50 years as part of our national security mission to monitor nuclear testing around the globe, and part of that work includes studying how the radiation-saturated environment of near space can affect technology and people.

    Now Los Alamos is mining decades’ worth of data from a global network of ground-based geomagnetic sensors, running statistical analyses, and generating computer simulations that model the magnitude, electrical and magnetic characteristics, and location of geomagnetic storms. Just like thunderstorms, solar storms vary, from the orientation of their traveling magnetic field to the kind of particles hurtling our way. The data shows that weaker storms tend to flare up closer to the planet’s poles. In the Northern Hemisphere, stronger storms dip farther south, so they’re more likely to threaten population centers, such as New York City or Chicago. But our models predict that the biggest solar storms don’t necessarily cause the greatest damage—location can trump storm intensity.

    Knowing what might happen, and where, is crucial for government and industry to assess the threats and weigh the risks. Then they can establish the procedures, practices, and regulations needed to withstand the worst solar storms. To support that work, Los Alamos will incorporate its space weather research into new software tools for suggesting industry investments in greater grid resilience and informing government requirements for utilities, such as where to site stations and what kind of transformers to install.

    Space weather scientists have a saying: When you’ve seen one solar storm, you’ve seen one solar storm. The key to grid resilience is knowing something about all possible storms. Armed with scientific analysis from Los Alamos about how frequently a major geomagnetic storm might strike, which regions of the country are most vulnerable, and how bad it might be, electric utility companies and government regulators can take the necessary steps to spare us all from the nightmare of days, weeks, or even months without power. That way, we can all keep the lights on the next time the Sun decides to toss an extra few billion trillion trillion charged particles our way.

    Access mp4 video here .

    See the full article here .

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    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.

    LANL campus
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

    Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

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  • richardmitnick 3:57 pm on August 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Weather   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Catch Rare Glimpse of Supercharged Radiation Belt” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Aug. 15, 2016
    Lina Tran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Our planet is nestled in the center of two immense, concentric doughnuts of powerful radiation: the Van Allen radiation belts, which harbor swarms of charged particles that are trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. On March 17, 2015, an interplanetary shock – a shockwave created by the driving force of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun – struck Earth’s magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, triggering the greatest geomagnetic storm of the preceding decade.

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

    And NASA’s Van Allen Probes were there to watch the effects on the radiation belts.

    Artist concept of accelerated electrons circulating in Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Tom Bridgman, animator

    NASA Van Allen Probes

    On March 17, 2015, an interplanetary shock – a shockwave created by the driving force of a coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun – struck the outermost radiation belt, triggering the greatest geomagnetic storm of the preceding decade. NASA’s Van Allen Probes were there to watch it. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Genna Duberstein, producer

    One of the most common forms of space weather, a geomagnetic storm describes any event in which the magnetosphere is suddenly, temporarily disturbed. Such an event can also lead to change in the radiation belts surrounding Earth, but researchers have seldom been able to observe what happens. But on the day of the March 2015 geomagnetic storm, one of the Van Allen Probes was orbiting right through the belts, providing unprecedentedly high-resolution data from a rarely witnessed phenomenon. A paper on these observations was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research on Aug. 15, 2016.

    Researchers want to study the complex space environment around Earth because the radiation and energy there can impact our satellites in a wide variety of ways – from interrupting onboard electronics to increasing frictional drag to disrupting communications and navigation signals.

    “We study radiation belts because they pose a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts,” said David Sibeck, the Van Allen Probes mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved with the paper. “If you knew how bad the radiation could get, you would build a better spacecraft to accommodate that.”

    Studying the radiation belts is one part of our efforts to monitor, study and understand space weather. NASA launched the twin Van Allen Probes in 2012 to understand the fundamental physical processes that create this harsh environment so that scientists can develop better models of the radiation belts. These spacecraft were specifically designed to withstand the constant bombardment of radiation in this area and to continue to collect data even under the most intense conditions. A set of observations on how the radiation belts respond to a significant space weather storm, from this harsh space environment, is a goldmine.

    The recent research describes what happened: The March 2015 storm was initiated by an interplanetary shock hurtling toward Earth – a giant shockwave in space set off by a CME, much like a tsunami is triggered by an earthquake.

    Swelling and shrinking in response to such events and solar radiation, the Van Allen belts are highly dynamic structures within our planet’s magnetosphere. Sometimes, changing conditions in near-Earth space can energize electrons in these ever-changing regions. Scientists don’t yet know whether energization events driven by interplanetary shocks are common. Regardless, the effects of interplanetary shocks are highly localized events – meaning if a spacecraft is not precisely in the right place when a shock hits, it won’t register the event at all. In this case, only one of the Van Allen Probes was in the proper position, deep within the magnetosphere – but it was able to send back key information.

    The spacecraft measured a sudden pulse of electrons energized to extreme speeds – nearly as fast as the speed of light – as the shock slammed the outer radiation belt. This population of electrons was short-lived, and their energy dissipated within minutes. But five days later, long after other processes from the storm had died down, the Van Allen Probes detected an increased number of even higher energy electrons. Such an increase so much later is a testament to the unique energization processes following the storm.

    “The shock injected – meaning it pushed – electrons from outer regions of the magnetosphere deep inside the belt, and in that process, the electrons gained energy,” said Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at Goddard and the leading author of a paper on these results.

    Researchers can now incorporate this example into what they already know about how electrons behave in the belts, in order to try to understand what happened in this case – and better map out the space weather processes there. There are multiple ways electrons in the radiation belts can be energized or accelerated: radially, locally or by way of a shock. In radial acceleration, electrons are carried by low-frequency waves towards Earth. Local acceleration describes the process of electrons gaining energy from relatively higher frequency waves as the electrons orbit Earth. And finally, during shock acceleration, a strong interplanetary shock compresses the magnetosphere suddenly, creating large electric fields that rapidly energize electrons.

    Scientists study the different processes to understand what role each process plays in energizing particles in the magnetosphere. Perhaps these mechanisms occur in combination, or maybe just one at a time. Answering this question remains a major goal in the study of radiation belts – a difficult task considering the serendipitous nature of the data collection, particularly in regard to shock acceleration.

    Additionally, the degree of electron energization depends on the process that energizes them. One can liken the process of shock acceleration, as observed by the Van Allen Probe, to pushing a swing.

    “Think of ‘pushing’ as the phenomenon that’s increasing the energy,” Kanekal said. “The more you push a swing, the higher it goes.” And the faster electrons will move after a shock.

    In this case, those extra pushes likely led to the second peak in high-energy electrons. While electromagnetic waves from the shock lingered in the magnetosphere, they continued to raise the electrons’ energy. The stronger the storm, the longer such waves persist. Following the March 2015 storm, resulting electromagnetic waves lasted several days. The result: a peak in electron energy measured by the Van Allen Probe five days later.

    This March 2015 geomagnetic storm was one of the strongest yet of the decade, but it pales in comparison to some earlier storms. A storm during March 1991 was so strong that it produced long-lived, energized electrons that remained within the radiation belts for multiple years. With luck, the Van Allen Probes may be in the right position in their orbit to observe the radiation belt response to more geomagnetic storms in the future. As scientists gather data from different events, they can compare and contrast them, ultimately helping to create robust models of the little-understood processes occurring in these giant belts.

    The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the Van Allen Probes for NASA’s Heliophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate. The Van Allen Probes are the second mission in NASA’s Living With a Star program, an initiative managed by Goddard and focused on aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect human lives and society.

    Related Links

    Van Allen Probes Mission Overview
    NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space
    NASA’s Van Allen Probes Revolutionize View of Radiation Belts

    See the full article here.

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

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

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    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on August 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Weather   

    From Eos: “Predicting Space Weather, Protecting Satellites” 

    Eos news bloc


    Leah Crane

    Blue and red dots denote the geographic locations of selected satellites above Earth in a geosynchronous orbit. Charged particles in Earth’s magnetosphere can affect the operations of these spacecraft, especially when they arrive without warning. Credit: Denton et al. [2016]

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

    The Earth is surrounded by a collection of communications, scientific, and military satellites, many in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), meaning they remain at the same geographic spot above Earth as they orbit and the planet rotates. As they whizz around the planet’s satellite superhighway, they are bombarded with charged particles. Because the onslaught of electrons and ions in orbit can damage or even disable satellites over time, understanding the conditions at GEO can give spacecraft designers and operators information that could be used to mitigate negative effects on satellites.

    A new study by Denton et al. presents a new model capable of predicting electron and ion fluxes at GEO with an hour of lead time, allowing satellite operators to take advanced action to protect satellites. The model is based on electron and ion flux observations made between 1989 and 2007 by Magnetospheric Plasma Analyzer (MPA) instruments from the Los Alamos National Laboratory aboard several geostationary spacecraft. Those instruments provide a set of three-dimensional data cubes, including electron energy, local time, and properties of the solar wind (the product of its speed and magnetic field). Using those three values, the model provided by the researchers returns a prediction of the electron and ion flux at GEO.

    Previous models used the planetary Kp index, which measures disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field in real time, rather than measurements of the solar wind. The Kp index has drawbacks, however: It is updated every 3 hours, for example, but electron and ion fluxes at GEO often fluctuate much more rapidly. Although the model presented here yielded results equivalent to models that use the Kp index, future versions will include even more data, such as past conditions in the magnetosphere and the time it takes for the solar wind to reach locations in GEO. For scientists who use fluxes at GEO to define boundary conditions for models of the inner magnetosphere, future capabilities for more precise measurements could improve modeling capabilities.

    Also, measurements of the Kp index reflect the current conditions, making it impossible for satellite operators to take action to protect their instrumentation ahead of time. The solar wind, on the other hand, can be measured by satellites an hour “upstream” of the Earth. In providing robust electron flux and ion flux results that are comparable in accuracy to previous models but with an hour of lead time, the authors take a step toward both better models of Earth’s magnetosphere and better protection for satellites. The model is freely available for download.

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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 11:03 am on August 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CASSIOPE, CSA, , Space Weather   

    From Eos: “Tracking Ions at the Edge of the Atmosphere” 

    Eos news bloc


    2 August 2016
    Leah Crane

    The research satellite CASSIOPE on a test platform at the Canadian Space Agency’s David Florida Laboratory. CASSIOPE hosts the GPS Attitude, Positioning, and Profiling instrument designed by GGE researchers. The four white antennas on the left-facing side of the spacecraft will be used to determine the position, velocity, and attitude of the spacecraft while the antenna on the upper side will be used to profile the ionosphere’s electron density. (Photograph courtesy of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.)

    The border between Earth and space is a turbulent one: Ions from the solar wind and other forms of space weather batter Earth’s atmosphere, which is constantly churning and slowly leaking away into space. Solar storms in particular whip the upper atmosphere into a frenzy, with potentially devastating effects on space-based technologies like GPS navigation and radio communication.

    To better understand how space weather and solar storms interact with Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Canadian Space Agency launched the Cascade, Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite in 2013. The Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP), one of two payloads aboard CASSIOPE, holds a suite of eight scientific instruments, all studying different aspects of near-Earth space. Here Yau and Howarth present the first scientific results from one of those instruments, the imaging and rapid-scanning ion mass spectrometer (IRM).

    The IRM takes samples of ions from Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere and identifies the energy-to-charge ratio (E/q) and mass-to-charge ratio (M/q) of each ion, as well as the angle from which it approached the satellite. As ions approach the IRM, a time-of-flight gate opens and closes rapidly to control the flow of ions entering the apparatus, selecting for specific M/q values. Then, a hemispherical electrostatic analyzer uses an electric field to disperse the ions onto an array of 64 detector pixels according to their E/q and angle of approach.

    Using data collected by the IRM, the researchers were able to determine what sorts of ions were observed and the energies of those ions. There was some uncertainty because of overlaps in the possible values for various types of ions: singly charged cations of nitrogen (N+) and oxygen (O+), for example, have very similar atomic masses, which makes them difficult to separate when both land on the same detector pixel.

    Despite that uncertainty, the authors found high densities of heavy “minor” doubly charged oxygen cations (O2+), N+, and molecular ions at the upper edge of Earth’s ionosphere. These heavy ions, particularly N+, play an important role in atmospheric escape over long time scales. Therefore, not only will e-POP’s study of space weather provide insight into the types of ions energized by solar storms, but it could also help researchers understand the long-term evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, doi:10.1002/2016JA022699, 2016)

    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 4:06 pm on February 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array, , Space Weather   

    From Caltech: “Chasing Extrasolar Space Weather” 

    Caltech Logo

    Lori Dajose

    Earth’s magnetic field acts like a giant shield, protecting the planet from bursts of harmful charged solar particles that could strip away the atmosphere.

    Magnetosphere of Earth
    Earth’s magnetosphere

    Gregg Hallinan, an assistant professor of astronomy, aims to detect this kind of space weather on other stars to determine whether planets around these stars are also protected by their own magnetic fields and how that impacts planetary habitability.

    On Wednesday, February 10, at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium, Hallinan will discuss his group’s efforts to detect intense radio emissions from stars and their effects on any nearby planets. Admission is free.

    What do you do?
    I am an astronomer. My primary focus is the study of the magnetic fields of stars, planets, and brown dwarfs—which are kind of an intermediate object between a planet and a star.

    Brown dwarf
    Brown dwarf

    Stars and their planets have intertwined relationships. Our sun, for example, produces coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which are bubbles of hot plasma explosively ejected from the sun out into the solar system.

    Solar eruption 2012 by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory SDO

    Radiation and particles from these solar events bombard the earth and interact with the atmosphere, dominating the local “space weather” in the environment of Earth. Happily, our planet’s magnetic field shields and redirects CMEs toward the polar regions. This causes auroras—the colorful light in the sky commonly known as the Northern or Southern Lights.

    Auroras from around the world
    Auroras from around the world

    Our new telescope, the Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array, images the entire sky instantaneously and allows us to monitor extrasolar space weather on thousands of nearby stellar systems.

    Caltech Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array
    Caltech Owens Valley Long Wavelength Array

    When a star produces a CME, it also emits a bright burst of radio waves with a specific signature. If a planet has a magnetic field and it is hit by one of these CMEs, it will also become brighter in radio waves. Those radio signatures are very specific and allow you to measure very precisely the strength of the planet’s magnetic field. I am interested in detecting radio waves from exoplanets—planets outside of our solar system—in order to learn more about what governs whether or not a planet has a magnetic field.

    Why is this important?

    The presence of a magnetic field on a planet can tell us a lot. Like on our own planet, magnetic fields are an important line of defense against the solar wind, particularly explosive CMEs, which can strip a planet of its atmosphere. Mars is a good example of this. Because it didn’t have a magnetic field shielding it from the sun’s solar wind, it was stripped of its atmosphere long ago. So, determining whether a planet has a magnetic field is important in order to determine which planets could possibly have atmospheres and thus could possibly host life.

    How did you get into this line of work?

    From a young age, I was obsessed with astronomy—it’s all I cared for. My parents got me a telescope when I was 7 or 8, and from then on, that was it.

    As a grad student, I was looking at magnetic fields of cool—meaning low-temperature—objects. When I was looking at brown dwarfs, I found that they behave like planets in that they also have auroras. I had the idea that auroras could be the avenue to examine the magnetic fields of other planets. So brown dwarfs were my gateway into exoplanets.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
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  • richardmitnick 12:12 pm on September 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Space Weather   

    From LANL: “Model predicts space weather and protects satellite hardware” 

    LANL bloc

    Los Alamos National Laboratory

    September 28, 2015
    Communications Office
    (505) 667-7000

    Approximate location of geosynchronous orbit spacecraft — projected to the Earth’s equator.

    Researchers used 82 satellite-years of observations from the Magnetospheric Plasma Analyzer instruments aboard Los Alamos National Laboratory satellites at geosynchronous orbit to create a comprehensive model of how plasma behaves in this region of Earth’s magnetosphere — the most heavily populated orbit for spacecraft traffic. The journal Space Weather published the work, and the American Geophysical Union newsmagazine Eos highlighted it as a Research Spotlight. Knowledge and prediction of the environment at geosynchronous orbit is crucial for spacecraft designers and operators because changes in the plasma environment, caused by the Sun and its solar wind, can interfere with satellite functioning and even lead to satellite failure.

    Significance of the research

    Geosynchronous orbit — roughly 36,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface — is one of the most popular locations for military, scientific, and communications satellites. The 24-hour orbital period at geosynchronous orbit ensures that satellites maintain a fixed location in Earth’s sky. This area marks the approximate boundary between Earth’s inner and outer magnetosphere, where electromagnetic forces from the two regions control electrically charged particles (electrons and ions) known as plasma.

    Current models of this environment focus on predicting how fluxes of energetic ions and electrons, which can cause a buildup of charge on spacecraft materials, will affect satellite systems. The new research provides a more comprehensive picture by examining how factors such as solar wind and geomagnetic activity can influence these fluxes in plasma.

    The researchers created a model that can predict the plasma flux environment at geosynchronous orbit in response to rapid changes in geomagnetic and solar activity. The model predicts the fluxes that can cause a buildup of charge on spacecraft materials over a range of energies and time. The new model provides scientific and operational users with prediction of fluxes over a wider range of conditions than is generally the case with current models. As the model matures, the researchers plan to extend the analysis to predict hazardous fluxes as a function of solar wind speed and magnetic field orientation. These are critical factors that control plasma fluxes at geosynchronous orbit. The model will be useful for satellite operators because more than 400 satellites currently reside in geosynchronous orbit.
    Research achievements

    The team analyzed the largest existing dataset of electron and ion fluxes. The Magnetospheric Plasma Analyzer instruments on board Los Alamos National Laboratory satellites collected the data over 17 years and one and a half solar cycles. The researchers combined the data sets from seven satellites (a total of 82 satellite-years of data) with observations on solar and geomagnetic activity. They developed a comprehensive model of the flux of electrons and ions at geosynchronous orbit as a function of local time, energy, geomagnetic activity, and solar activity for energies between approximately 1 eV and approximately 40 keV. This energy range encompasses the plasmasphere, the electron plasma sheet, the ion plasma sheet and the substorm-injected suprathermal tails of both the electron and ion plasma sheets. Satellites on station at geosynchronous orbit encounter each of these populations regularly.

    The team validated the model by comparing its predictions with spacecraft data that another set of satellites collected during a five-day period of both calm and active space weather. As the model matures, the researchers plan to extend the analysis to predict hazardous fluxes as a function of solar wind speed and magnetic field orientation. These are critical factors that control plasma fluxes at geosynchronous orbit. The team has made a beta version of the model freely available.
    The research team

    The researchers include M. H. Denton of LANL’s Space Science Institute, M. F. Thomsen, V. K. Jordanova, M. G. Henderson and J. E. Borovsky of LANL’s Space Science and Applications group; J. S. Denton of Sellafield Ltd. (now of Nuclear and Radiochemistry, C-NR); D. Pitchford of SES Engineering; and D. P. Hartley of Lancaster University.

    The Los Alamos Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program funded the research through the SHIELDS project, which aims to understand, model, and predict Space Hazards Induced near Earth by Large, Dynamic Storms (SHIELDS). This work supports the Lab’s Global Security mission area for space situational awareness and the Science of Signatures science pillar.

    See the full article here .

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    Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission is to solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.

    LANL campus
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

    Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

    Operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s NNSA

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  • richardmitnick 8:47 am on September 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: BALLOON Project, , Space Weather   

    From The Conversation: “Scientists at work: space balloons and charged particles above the Arctic Circle” 

    The Conversation

    September 18, 2015
    Alexa Halford

    Launching a space balloon in Sweden. Alexa Halford, CC BY-ND

    I research space weather. That’s how physicists describe how storms on the sun end up affecting us here on Earth. Most days I sit at a computer coding, attending telephone conference meetings with collaborators across the country and meeting with fellow space physicists. But sprinkled throughout the year I get to do exciting fieldwork in remote locations. We launch high-tech space balloons in an effort to help untangle what happens when charged particles from solar storms hit the Earth’s magnetic field, called its magnetosphere.

    Events on the sun can change conditions in near-Earth space. NASA, CC BY

    I primarily work with the Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL) mission, led by Robyn Millan here at Dartmouth College. We’re investigating the electrons and protons that travel all the way from the sun and then get trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. Often they stick around, just bouncing and drifting along in our planet’s so-called radiation belts – these are donut-shaped regions rich in charged particles, held in place around Earth by its magnetic field.

    It’s a team effort to unravel how space weather works – and affects us.
    Download the mp4 video here.

    But during a geomagnetic storm, changes in the Earth’s magnetic field can accelerate and transport these electrons and protons. They can wind up getting “lost”: shot out of the radiation belts back into space or down into our atmosphere. If they start colliding with neutral, uncharged particles in the atmosphere, that can affect upper atmospheric chemistry – and be bad news for our technology down here on Earth. For example, geomagnetic storms can cause blackouts, increased corrosion in pipelines, destruction of satellites and a resulting loss of communication connections.

    My colleagues and I focus on the radiation belt electrons that get lost to the Earth’s atmosphere. If we can unravel more about what’s happening with them, the hope is we can figure out how to better predict space weather – and its effects on terrestrial weather. Ultimately, with better understanding of what’s going on, we can work on protecting our technology from these geomagnetic squalls.

    What is a magnetic field?
    Download the mp4 video here.

    Magnets all around us

    You can think of the Earth as a big bar magnet, like the kind you might have had in your elementary school classroom. You’re probably familiar with magnets’ attractive and repulsive properties. Around a bar magnet, iron shavings trace out what we can think of as lines of magnetic field.

    Protons and electrons trapped in Earth’s magnetosphere follow these same kinds of lines, converging at the poles. Typically the particles just gyrate and bounce along these lines, happily drifting around the Earth in those radiation belts.

    Since space is so big, and the density of particles is so small, they can usually travel without bumping into each other. But during geomagnetic activity – like a storm in space – the particles can get pushed farther down the field line, closer to the Earth. In a process similar to what creates the auroras, they start colliding with the denser atmosphere. And this is when some of the charged particles wind up “lost” from the radiation belts.

    What happens to the “lost” particles that seem to disappear in the atmosphere, and why? To answer these questions, we travel to the polar regions to collect data.

    Launch of BARREL payload 3B from the SSC’s ESRANGE. Alexa Halford

    Polar hunt for solar particles

    This year we headed 90 miles above the Arctic Circle to the Swedish Space Corporation’s ESRANGE to launch our space balloons. Our goal is to send the balloons up as far as 22 miles (35 km) into the stratosphere to measure X-rays during a geomagnetic storm; since X-rays are created when electrons from the radiation belts interact with uncharged particles in the atmosphere, we can use them to infer when electrons are lost.

    BARREL payload. Alexa

    Each balloon carries a payload of scientific equipment. A scintillator counts X-rays. A magnetometer measures the magnetic field of the Earth. Each payload and balloon has its own GPS tracker.

    During our last campaigns in Antarctica, we were flying during a period of circumpolar winds that blow long and hard in a circle around the poles. This allowed our 300,000-cubic-foot balloons to stay up, on average, for 12 days. This year in Sweden, though, we flew during a period called “turnaround,” when the stratospheric winds are changing direction, and our flights were lucky to last even four hours.

    BARREL balloons fly in Antarctica.
    Download the mp4 video here.

    When the balloon either starts falling below an altitude of 13.6 miles (22 km), or starts moving toward too densely populated regions, we have to terminate – that is, pop – the balloon. The balloon and the payload then separately fall back to Earth.

    Retrieval of the balloon from the launch of BARREL payload 3C. It was a short 500 meters from the road and less than an hour drive from ESRANGE. Alexa Halford

    When our BARREL balloons flew in Antarctica, we weren’t able to recover most of them because the terrain was so difficult to cross. This year in Sweden we were able to recover all the payloads. When they came down close to the launch base, we drove out and hiked through bogs and woods to retrieve payloads and balloons.

    We spotted the payload and its orange parachute via helicopter before finding and retrieving it and its balloon. Alexa Halford

    When they flew a bit farther away (like into Norway or Finland), we had to rent a helicopter to travel out and pick them up.

    During the campaign, when we’re launching the balloons, we’re in constant contact with the instrument teams on NASA’s Van Allen Probes as well as other satellite missions. We work together, trying to predict when satellites will be lined up along the same magnetic field lines with the balloons. That way we can look at high-resolution data the satellites are collecting in space on the same magnetic field lines at the same time our balloons are flying. We want to make links between space conditions and our X-ray readings, which stand in for how many electrons are being lost to the atmosphere.

    Conjunctions between the BARREL balloons and satellites. The green lines marked ‘B-field’ show magnetic field lines. Alexa Halford

    Using our data to fill in what we know

    There’s still a lot to do once we wrap up the campaign and head home with our new data – the measurements taken in the magnetosphere during what are essentially space hurricanes. It takes plenty of ingenuity to translate the raw data into scientific understanding, and we have to do a lot of processing and analyzing.

    Our “lost” electrons interact with neutral particles in the atmosphere, producing the X-rays our balloons measure. The X-rays let us infer the energy of electrons we’re interested in. We combine our BARREL observations with those of satellites and other ground-based instruments to sort out how much energy the “lost” electrons had before they were lost. No single data set gives us the full picture, so we have to collaborate, fitting each piece of the puzzle together.

    The size and number of particles in the radiation belts can change drastically over short periods of time.
    Download the mp4 video here.

    Knowing how much energy the electron had before it got lost to the atmosphere, how large a region this phenomenon occurs over and how frequently this occurs gives us a better understanding of how the radiation belts work.

    Sometimes science is done at a coffee shop, where you can find me writing up the next set of papers from our last campaign. Alexa Halford

    This fall, we’re starting to write up papers and put together presentations about our research to share with colleagues. We were incredibly lucky with this campaign. Every balloon that we sent up got some amazing data! Here’s hoping we’re one step closer to understanding the dynamics of the Earth’s radiation belts.

    See the full article here .

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    The Conversation US launched as a pilot project in October 2014. It is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.
    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

  • richardmitnick 9:24 am on March 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Space Weather   

    From NASA Goddard: “MMS: Studying Magnetic Reconnection Near Earth” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 10, 2015

    The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission is scheduled to launch into space on March 12, 2015. The mission consists of four spacecraft to observe a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection — which doesn’t happen naturally on Earth all that often, but is a regular occurrence in space. At the heart of magnetic reconnection is a fundamental physics process in which magnetic field lines come together and explosively realign, often sending the particles in the area flying off near the speed of light.

    MMS spacecraft stacked with fairing open.

    The process may sound a bit abstract, but it is at the heart of some very concrete events in space. Take, for example, a giant explosion on the sun that occurred on July 12, 2012, causing colorful aurora and space weather near Earth a few days later. Magnetic reconnection catalyzed numerous events along the way.

    It all began at 12:11 p.m. EDT on July 12, 2012, when magnetic reconnection in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, led to a solar flare. Scientists don’t yet know exactly what sets off one of these gigantic explosions of light and x-rays, but they know that magnetic reconnection – initiated in areas of complex and intense magnetic fields on the sun — is ultimately responsible.

    Solar flares – such as this one captured by NASA’s SDO on July 12, 2012, are initiated by a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

    NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

    Solar eruptions such as flares often occur in conjunction with a different kind of explosion that is also a consequence of reconnection called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. CMEs are giant clouds of solar material that erupt upward fast enough to achieve escape velocity and zoom out into space.

    Solar eruptive events caused by magnetic reconnection on the sun can lead to giant ejections of solar material, called coronal mass ejections. This one, as observed by the joint ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, traveled through space toward Earth in July 2012. Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO


    On July 12, that CME sped out from the sun with an initial velocity of 850 miles per second and headed straight toward Earth, as can be seen in this simulation of the CME created with a model, called an Enlil model, via the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    A graph of data from NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer shows how magnetic fields are aligned just outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, the magnetosphere. When below zero, as it was July 15-16, 2012, the graph indicates potential for magnetic reconnection and increased space weather.
    Image Credit: NASA/ACE

    The material in a CME is made of very hot, charged particles, also known as plasma. This plasma carries embedded magnetic fields along for the ride. On July 14, 2012 at around 2 p.m. EDT, after traveling for two days, those magnetic field lines collided with the magnetic field that naturally surrounds Earth, a giant bubble called the magnetosphere where it soon experienced another bout of magnetic reconnection.

    The magnetosphere’s field lines naturally point from Earth’s south magnetic pole to its north pole. Sometimes, the magnetic field lines inside a CME are pointed in the same direction and the collision is a reasonably gentle one: Solar material from the CME is rebuffed, and the magnetosphere itself doesn’t feel much effect.

    But this was not the case for this CME. The magnetic field lines in the plasma were pointed in the opposite direction of the field’s lines around Earth – as can be seen in this graph from NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, or ACE, which sits 1 million miles closer to the sun than Earth, just outside our magnetosphere. This type of graph from ACE shows just how much of a north/south magnetic field component is present at any given time. Above the midline, the graph shows magnetic fields that point north like Earth’s do; below the midline indicates magnetic fields that point south. Note, in this case, the extended period of strong southward magnetic field on July 15 and 16. Over and over during this time period, whenever the CME’s oppositely directed magnetic fields collided with Earth’s magnetospheric lines, magnetic reconnection occurred right at the boundary of the magnetosphere.

    NASA ACE Advanced Composition Explorer

    Viewed as if looking down from the top of the sun, this model – called an Enlil model – shows how a coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled from the sun toward Earth July 12-15, 2012. Magnetic reconnection events occurring as the CME arrived at Earth set up space weather in near-Earth space.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/CCMC/Bridgman

    During this period of repeated magnetic reconnection, surges of solar material breached the magnetosphere, zooming into near-Earth space. In this visualization of the magnetosphere, you can see how the magnetic fields lines at the front of the magnetosphere realign, peeling back like layers of an onion. As more lines are peeled back, more energy is dumped in the tail end of the magnetosphere, the magnetotail, giving rise to what’s called a geomagnetic storm.

    A visualization of Earth’s magnetosphere on July 15-16, 2012, shows how constant magnetic reconnection caused by an arriving coronal mass ejection, or CME, from the sun disrupted the magnetosphere, causing a geomagnetic storm.
    Image Credit: NASA/CCMC/Bridgman

    This visualization shows how excited the magnetosphere became after the CME passed by. Such space weather events can compress the front of the magnetosphere so satellites are left exposed to the more harsh radiation outside the magnetosphere. The magnetic variation can also initiate electric currents flowing through grid lines on Earth, with the potential to damage transformers and disrupt utility power grids.

    In the visualization, you can also see field lines connecting and realigning on the right side of Earth, in the magnetotail. As the magnetotail gets increasingly unstable, we see additional examples of magnetic reconnection. The reconnection events sent particles shooting off down the tail, and also toward Earth, where they collided with particles in the atmosphere to create aurora. This image shows the red purple aurora that occurred in Missouri on July 15, 2012.

    An aurora in the early hours of July 15, 2012, seen in Albany, Missouri shows a colorful result of magnetic reconnection.
    Image Credit: Courtesy of Dan Bush

    The orbit for MMS will carry it through the magnetic reconnection at the nose of the magnetosphere for over a year, and then switch to flying through areas of magnetic reconnection in the magnetotail. MMS will offer us our first ever three-dimensional view of this process as it is happening, which will provide unprecedented amounts of information to help scientists better understand what sets it off and what effects it causes near Earth. Groups like NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center can then take that information to improve models such as those seen here, which can be used by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center — the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings – uses to forecast space weather.

    MMS is the fourth NASA Solar Terrestrial Probes Program mission. NASA Goddard built, integrated, and tested the four MMS spacecraft and is responsible for overall mission management and mission operations. The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, leads the Instrument Suite Science Team. Science operations planning and instrument command sequence development will be performed at the MMS Science Operations Center at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. 

    See the full article here.

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

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

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus

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