Courtesy NASAThis is a perfect Buzz Burst post because it is about a big burst of solar activity that took place on our Sun just yesterday. Two giant coronal mass ejections (CME) occurred on our local star on March 6. The initial burst is heading our way at a speed of 1300 miles per second, and is expected to reach Earth sometime early tomorrow around 1:25 AM EST. This is the kind of high-energy solar activity that can mess up our communications, electrical fields, and spacecraft. The second CME of the solar cycle, shown in this amazing NASA video recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), is shooting towards us at 1100 miles per second. Look for the spectacular images of the second flare's humongous shockwave moving across the entire face of the Sun at about a million miles per hour(!).
Courtesy NASA/SDO/AIAToday's image of the day from NASA is super sweet, I wanted to share it.
From the Image of the Day site:
On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.
This multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun's northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures. Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from the solar flare impact on August 3, 2010, which sparked aurorae as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second solar flare is following behind the first flare and could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.
Courtesy Myriam ThyesA… hoy.
This heat. Am I right? Am I right? Here on the HMS Puddleduck, triviaship, we haven’t been spared from the heat you feel on land. If anything, it’s worse out here at sea.
The heat has made Captain JGordon listless. In my weakened state, I don’t feel fit to hold a pen or operate the keyboard of a computer. Therefore, I am dictating this entry from the Puddleduck’s crow’s-nest. My crew, having been born and raised in such sweaty, squalid conditions as I now find myself in are more accustomed to this heat, and I have ordered them to paint my words in meter-wide letters on the deck of the ship. This way, the answers to today’s random questions can be easily read from my perch, and transferred to the Internet at a later time. The crew will scrub the deck clean again tomorrow afternoon.
On with it, then. These questions were obtained from the galleries of the science museum, but the answers were divined by yours truly from the movements of the stars.
Question: How come you can see reflections in mirages if they aren’t really there?
Answer: How timely. The questioner is wise to bring up mirages—please, Buzzketeers, be certain of the veracity of all bodies of water might find in front of you on hot days like today before you go chasing after them.
Mirages, it should be noted, are “really there.” They aren’t figments of your imagination, they’re real natural phenomena. And it’s not exactly a reflection that you see—it’s a refraction. In reflections, light bounces off of something to go in a new direction. In a refraction, light bends passing through something. This happens because light travels at slightly different speeds when traveling through different materials. Light that passes from air to water, for example, has to slow down when it moves into the water. If the light enters the water at a non-perpendicular angle, the direction of the light usually changes.
When you see a mirage, you’re seeing a refraction light of the sky (which looks watery), or of an object on the other side of the mirage (like when you see “reflections” of other cars in mirages on the road). The light is refracting because it’s passing through a couple different “mediums.” Instead of air and water, in this case, the light is passing though cooler air and warmer air. When the ground or pavement is very hot, the air immediately above it is going to be hotter too. Because hot air is less dense than cool air, light travels at a different speed through it. So… light moves from cooler air a little ways above the ground to hotter air immediately above the ground, and it gets refracted—it sort of bends away from the ground without ever actually touching it. And that light zooms up to your eyeballs, and it looks kind of like a reflection. Ta-da.
Question: Why does my butt hurt?
Answer: You know, this question comes in kind of a lot. Seriously. Almost as often as “I like cheese,” and “I like pie,” which aren’t really questions. Go figure. Usually I pass it over, but I think you deserve a real answer this time.
Anyway, a common cause of butt-hurt is hemorrhoids. I’m afraid I can’t link to that, because the picture is icky. But I’m guessing you have hemorrhoids. What’s happening to you is the veins in your anus are becoming swollen and inflamed. (And very sore, I’m sure!) This is probably happening because the stress and strain on those blood vessels has recently increased. Have you been suffering from diarrhea or constipation recently? Because that can to it. Don’t worry, though—usually hemorrhoids go away in a few days, and your butt should stop hurting at that point.
Question: What in the brain triggers kids/people to not be considerate & waste paper that is actually set out for writing questions instead of “Hello” “Hi” “Stupid” and more?
Question: Could the storm on the sun destroy Earth?
Answer: Huh. Probably not?
For clarity, Junior Buzzketeers, the sun doesn’t have storms like Earth. But from time to time, things up there do get a little dicey now and again. There are occasional events called “solar flares” in the sun’s atmosphere, where a huge amount of energy from deeper in the sun very suddenly explodes into space, and similar events called “coronal mass ejections,” where a bunch of energy and matter are shot out of the sun. I suppose these things are sort of like storms, in that they’re sort of violent events in the outer layers of the sun, but they’re not like Earth storms, seeing as how nearby space rarely has to worry about being pelted by rain and lighting during one of our thunderstoms.
As for danger… hmm. If you spend a lot of time out in space, or on another planet with a less robust atmosphere and magnetosphere than Earth (like Mars, or the moon), one of these solar events might cause you a lot of trouble. See they release a tremendous amount of energy. What reaches other planets isn’t the sort of energy that blows you up or fries you like an egg, though. It’s the sort of energy that passes through your body and gives you radiation poisoning, or cancer. If an astronaut didn’t have sufficient shielding during a big solar flare, the dose of radiation could be fatal. It’s something to consider if you’re planning a trip to the moon or mars (which we are).
Earth’s magnetic field, however, does a pretty good job of protecting all of us from these solar blasts. They can interfere with radio transmissions, but generally they don’t cause much trouble. But really big events, like interplanetary coronal mass ejections, can be followed by a shock wave of solar wind (again, not like wind here—solar wind is mostly protons and electrons flying through space) which can temporarily disrupt the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, and affect the ionosphere (the topmost level of our atmosphere). Still, the biological affects on the residents of Earth aren’t much to speak of. The danger lies more in the affect these storms can have on our infrastructure. When crazy electrical fields are created around power lines, they can do crazy things to the whole electrical system; components can break, protective devices trip, and power gets disrupted. Events this severe are very rare though.
I seem to recall reading an article recently that discussed the cyclical nature of powerful solar events, and the author was of the opinion that we are coming up on a particularly active period for the sun, and if we don’t prepare our electrical and communications systems, we are going to be in serious trouble. He also mentioned that it was going to coincide with the 2012 apocalypse, however, at which point I sort of tuned out.
But, in answer to your question, no, storms on the sun won’t destroy the Earth. But there’s a chance that they could make modern life here a lot more difficult.
Question: What’s the most valuable rock?
Answer: Weeellll… this sort of depends on who you ask and what you want if for. Generally, though, you can’t go wrong with higher quality Led Zeppelin.
Now I must return to my air-conditioned cabin. It seems cruel to have the men cranking on that generator if I’m not even going to be in there.
Courtesy Mark RyanMany years ago, three friends and I were heading home from a road trip to western Canada. It was about 2:30 in the morning, and I was driving while everyone else was sleeping. I was probably half-asleep myself. But as we chugged along Highway 2 near the outskirts of Bemidji, Minnesota, something in the upper corner of the windshield caught my eye. When I looked up, the sight was so spectacular I immediately pulled over and woke everyone up to see it. My friends were none too happy as I coaxed them out of the van into the cold northern Minnesota night.
Above us, the night sky was alive with the most incredible display of the Northern Lights I have ever witnessed. Bright, vibrant fingers of yellow, blue, red, and green light spread out from a point overhead, like a brilliant hand reaching down from the black sky. I’ve never seen colors like that since. The display was something I’ll never forget and it’s hard to convey how beautiful it actually was, but let me just say my friends soon discarded any thoughts of pummeling me with their fists.
Now, scientists have figured out the mystery behind the phenomenon. According to a new study published in the journal Science, the catalyst of the aurora borealis (and their southern counterpart aurora australis) takes place way out in space about 80,000 miles from Earth during an event called magnetic reconnection.
"Our data show clearly and for the first time that magnetic reconnection is the trigger," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, the project’s principal investigator. "Reconnection results in a slingshot acceleration of waves and plasma along magnetic field lines, lighting up the aurora underneath even before the near-Earth space has had a chance to respond."
The data was gathered by five strategically positioned satellites (a NASA mission known as THEMIS) and compared with that from ground-based detectors.
The process actually begins on the Sun. Turbulent activity on its surface sends out massive energy bursts via the solar wind that interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields and cause all sorts of havoc with our power grids and communication networks. They also create wonderful auroras. But these massive solar outbursts are only occasional, occurring maybe 10 times a year. More frequently – about every three or four hours - the geomagnetic fields are bombarded by substorms; smaller energy bursts that also create auroras. But don’t let the diminutive name deceive you. The energy generated by each substorm is huge, anywhere between one million to two million amps over one or two hours. The THEMIS project determined that, during substorms, the Earth’s magnetic field lines are stretched out like rubber bands building up tremendous amounts of energy before suddenly snapping and flinging charged particles back toward the Earth’s poles. The results are the dancing auroras seen in the northern and southern regions.
Magnetic reconnection is common throughout the known Universe and has been suspected by many as the trigger of auroras. For three decades, though, a competing theory argued the auroras were triggered much closer to Earth, by the disruption (or short-circuit) of charged ions interacting with the magnetic field.
But the new data seems to show otherwise. During a substorm studied in February, the satellites’ data showed the magnetic reconnection occurred first, followed soon after by an aurora display. Only after the display was the short-circuit observed.
Looks like the 30-year debate may be over.
Courtesy NASACheck out the first footage of a gigantic “tsunami” captured plowing through our Sun’s atmosphere. The event was triggered by some sort of explosion on the Sun such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME). The outward-spreading wave spanned the nearly one million kilometers (600,000 miles) of the solar disk in just half an hour. But it’s the amount of energy released that is truly mind-boggling. According to one of the researchers, these explosions release “about two billion times the annual world energy consumption in just a fraction of a second.”
If you study the graph of sunpot activity you will note they spike every 11 years.(learn more in this previous post) The last real bad one was July 14, 2000. It was rated about X6. The next peak will be around 2011. Even though 2006 is supposed to be the low point between peaks, we just got clobbered by an X9 burst of x-rays. I think it knocked out one of the sun monitoring satellites.
NOTE: The Solar X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite is experiencing an anomaly possibly related to the X9-flare of Dec. 5th. NOAA and NASA staff are investigating. Meanwhile, coronal hole updates are suspended.
You can see a live update on proton radiation intensity here. The Dec 5 blast was not pointed toward Earth but the sunspot is swinging our way and the forcast for another X-class blast of x-rays is 50% for the next 48 hours.
Look for more news at Spaceweather.com.
Update: Here is a photo of the Dec 5 X9 class solar flare.
GOODBYE... and thanks for the X-flares. Sunspot 930 announced itself on Dec. 5th with one of the strongest flares in years--an X9, followed by an X6 on Dec. 6th, an X3 on Dec. 13th and an X1 on Dec. 14th. Not bad for solar minimum! SpaceWeather.com
This leads me to believe the sun rotates on its axis about every 25 days. Since we are also going around the sun, exact figuring gets complicated, Read more about solar rotation here.
A coronal mass ejection (CME, movie) is heading toward Earth and could spark a geomagnetic storm when it arrives on August 18th or 19th. The cloud was hurled into space yesterday by a C3-class explosion in the magnetic field of sunspot 904. Sky watchers, prepare for auroras.
Watch for Northern Lights Friday and Saturday night.