Every March, aurora spring taunts science. Persistent cheekiness flies in the face of conventional wisdom – inexplicably, sudden auroras erupt with alarming intensity. “Auroral substorms” herald the return of northern hemisphere Spring. In 2007 NASA launched the THEMIS mission (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), five identical satellites lined up to detect streams of plasma and cosmic particles.
“The satellites have detected magnetic ‘ropes’ connecting Earth’s upper atmosphere directly to the Sun,” says Dave Sibeck, project scientist for the mission at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “We believe that solar wind particles flow in along these ropes, providing energy for geomagnetic storms and auroras.”
Leaving science to hunt substorm’s elusive key – treat yourself to four and a half minutes of the “world’s first real time northern lights”. Unadulterated, void of timelapse pageantry – a catch your breath audience with aurora spring.
A study by NASA researchers suggests life on earth may have received a cosmic kick start. Vitamin B3 or Niacin has been found in meteorite samples, a discovery that may help in understanding the intricate balance of circumstance responsible for life.
B3 fuels metabolism – without it, life would not exist. Karen Smith of Pennsylvania State University co-authored a paper with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and published her theory in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. Smith believes some B3 may have existed as part of Earth’s ancient beginnings, but it was meteoric injections at just the right time that started life. B3 molecules are compromised by prolonged exposure to water – she believes we needed an extra little push from the cosmos to get things going.
Smith doesn’t think space vitamins support a connection to extraterrestrial life – not a dismissal of possibility, rather a scientific observation of how B3 molecules attached their atoms to other molecules.
At this point, all we can do is ponder a theory. I’ll take that with a smile – another step closer to science proving the origin of life.
AR1748 is one pesky sunspot; still beating its chest, and threatening to show us who’s boss. With odds of eruptions now up to 80% for M-class and 60% for X in the next 24 hours – 1748 unleashed another X class flare today – in case the three X flares of 1.7, 2.8, and 3.2 the previous day hadn’t made us stand up and take notice. As AR1748 turns towards earth, today’s X-1 is expected to deliver a little slap – most likely in the form of geo-magnetic disturbances responsible for crazy beautiful auroras. Ar1748 has produced more X-class flares in the last few days than all other sunspots this year combined.
NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory – photo of AR 1748 taken on May 16
Growing up the prospect of a solar eclipse was big news. Granted the sixties and seventies were different times. I grew up in an age when we all gazed skyward. An era of lunar landings, rockets, and space probes. We sat glued to our B&W televisions as mission control made their final count down. Popular Mechanics magazine was popular and Captain Kirk warped his way across the universe. Quantum physics, string theory, and dark matter were unheard of. Food was cooked on a stove not zapped, telephones were wired to the wall, and nothing short of joy describes packing away the eight track tape in favour of the cassette.
I realize my ponder is lost on anyone under 40 but there is a relevant point.
The future I used to read about has arrived. It’s not the past that makes me nostalgic, nothing makes me happier than sitting at my computer. What worries me is the disconnect from our world. We all move so fast. The world passes by as the “road trip” is replaced with “all inclusive” vacations. Terror describes the reaction to losing a cell phone, the one device many are incapable of putting aside for even the briefest of moments. Texting not talking has become the preferred means of communication, often the only assurance we have of reaching someone. Coffee shops; once the place to meet and exchange ideas,silent but for the faint tap of keys on Mac Books. We have “friends” we’ve never met, debates with strangers, and fail to recognise the irony when shelling out for the latest self help e-book.
It would be unreasonable to expect the realm of possibility to ever include setting aside our modern tools. There will always be a future, technology is unstoppable. What’s sad is how runaway advances have taken away our ability to dream and imagine.
I can’t think of a better way to charge your spirit or feel restored than to gaze at the sky. The Taurids peaked last night so chances of an earth bound fireball are slim. My suggestion is a good old fashioned eclipse. Unless you live in Australia the next total eclipse of the sun on Nov. 14 isn’t much good. Don’t despair there will be plenty more. Given fair warning you can arrange an “event” to watch it with all your facebook “friends” The only catch – you have to actually go outside and see it for yourself.