One Million Miles Away


On February 11, 2015  NOAA launched DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) at Cape Canaveral, Florida courtesy a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. Never destined for glories of Hubble, Rosetta or the Mars Orbiter,  DSCOVR’s  launch was a victory in itself. Conceived in 1998 by NASA under then Vice President Al Gore, DSCOVR was born Triana for Rodrigo de Triana, first of Columbus’s men to spot land in the Americas.

NASA development of Triana began with Al Gore’s vision of live Earth views available 24/7 via the internet. Pre “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore wanted to raise global awareness of Earth, update Apollo 17’s iconic “Blue Marble” image of our planet, and establish irrefutable scientific markers of global warming. In orbit a million miles away – able to capture a full Earth image every two hours, a sentry to monitor solar wind, coronal mass ejections, changes in ozone levels, concentrations of atmospheric dust and volcanic ash, cloud height and vegetation fluctuations.

Triana never left the launch pad. In 1999 NASA Inspector General (to be clear – NASA Office of Inspector General is a product of the Inspector General Act of 1978 – one of many independent investigative/audit units created to police 63 Federal agencies ) reported that “the basic concept of the Triana mission was not peer reviewed”, and “Triana’s added science may not represent the best expenditure of NASA’s limited science funding. Triana went down in flames with the election of George W. Bush. I suspect he took pleasure in silencing Gore’s pet project. Bush placed it on “hold”, stubbornly unmoved by a Congress funded report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 stating the mission was “strong and scientifically vital”. Triana gathered dust until 2008 heralded the end of Bush rule.

Final chapter of the Bush era led to push and shove from Al Gore. NASA renamed the project DSCOVR, and in 2011 Obama pitched funding of the mission as a replacement for antiquated solar observatory Advanced Composition Explorer, launched in 1997. In 2013 NASA was given the green light to proceed toward a launch date in 2015. On June 8, 2015 DSCOVR started broadcasting on the DSCOVR EPIC website, linked below –

http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/

http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/DSCOVR/

Pondering why humanity chooses to stifle exploration of the cosmos hurts my head. War mongering, religious oppression, systematic denial of science, opportunistic corporate meddling – no excuse excuses the absurdity of blind eyes to the universe. Our world is not a product of politics or religion, we owe it to ourselves to understand what makes it tick.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Climate_Observatory

Space Weather Ponder


Years ago my understanding of space weather was limited to – What? Space has weather? Reading about the Carrington Event changed everything. In 1859,  Richard Carrington recorded a massive solar storm – the following day auroras were witnessed in Cuba, telegraph stations sparked and caught fire. Witnesses spoke of night skies bright enough to read newspapers by. Today, a solar storm of this magnitude would obliterate power grids –  days, weeks, possibly months before power was restored. Space weather had my full attention.

Bookmarking http://spaceweather.com/ was the easy part. Over the next few years terminology became vocabulary. Obsessive compulsive monitoring of solar wind speed, sunspot activity and aurora oval drove a need to understand. Patient family endured  months of exuberant outbursts. Sentences peppered with solar sector boundary crossing, geomagnetic flux, interplanetary magnetic field and probability of earth directed impact. Unfazed by rolled eyes or perceptible sighs of “here we go again” – I’ll never forget the day my husband called from work ( after a particularly boisterous declaration of earth directed solar activity ) saying a colleague couldn’t reach his daughter in Seattle because solar activity temporarily knocked out cell phone service. Powerless to squelch an “I told you so”, it was a good thing he didn’t witness my happy dance.

Saying – foundations crucial to dynamics of our universe lurk in rudimentary understanding of solar and planetary interactions – isn’t likely to ignite passion in those not inclined. While powerless to imprint enthusiasm, I promise you this – space weather will blow your mind.

Spaceweather.com is a reasonable site, but for outstanding access to terminology and explanation – click on the NOAA link below.

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

Solar Dynamics Observatory Stunner


On February 11, 2015, NOAA and NASA successfully launched DSCOVR  ( Deep Space Climate Observatory) – a watchdog, intended to replace ACE (launched in 1997) as a early warning system monitoring solar activity and incoming storms. In addition to incoming trouble, DSCOVR will keep one eye Earthbound – EPIC ( Enhanced Polychromatic Imaging Camera) looks back at Earth, with 10 filters able to image ozone and aerosols, cloud height, vegetation properties, and ultraviolet reflectivity.

DSCOVR isn’t this week’s only NASA stunner. On February 13, they released a video marking 5 years of SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Watch, wonder and smile.

35,000 Walruses


The average male Walrus is something to behold – up to 11 feet long, 3700 pounds, punctuated with three foot tusks. Ponder 35,000 Walruses along a few thousand feet of Alaskan shoreline.

On September 27, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) captured the first image above during their annual aerial arctic marine mammal survey. Entwined along a one Kilometer beach near Point Lay Alaska, clustered Walruses represent a phenomenon known as “haul out”.
Hauling out – forced to rest on land rather than sea ice – hit scientific radar in 2007. Since then, diminished sea ice accounts for hauled out behemoths as the norm, rather than occasional exception.  In a perfect world Walrus spend 80% of their time at sea. Summer found females and calves along the continental shelf, feeding in shallow waters of the Chukchi Sea between Russia and Alaska. Over the last decade, escalating sea ice melt – an irrefutable consequence of warmer arctic climate – has radically altered Walrus behavior.
Pondering hauled out Walrus populations might not present itself as earth shattering news. Considering this trend in perspective of climate change is. Debating the cause of global warming is best left for another day – understanding the reality, regardless of whether your tent is pitched in the natural cycle or carbon emissions camp, is what matters. Global warming is real – a reality with tangible implications.
Before I continue – a link to earthsky explaining arctic and antarctic ice…
Climate change eclipsed science a long time ago – it resides in the arena of political buzz words, special interest propaganda, and conspiracy alarmists. Amidst all the hullabaloo, we seem to have forgotten our faithful barometer – nature. Free of ulterior motives, financial gain, political posturing or plain old denial – nature speaks unbiased truth to the state of our affairs.

Deep Space Climate Observatory


Stating I was passionate about space weather would be a gross understatement. Saying I’m at a loss to comprehend why a majority of the population hasn’t the foggiest notion how space weather impacts earth, would be a completely accurate statement. Pleading the case to Canadian radio and television stations hasn’t garnered so much as a polite “thanks, but no thanks”. Long ago giving up on “educating” people I know – tired of eyes glazing over just before they roll, accompanied by a polite “that’s interesting” – my head screams ARGH as I change the subject.

Yesterday I received news prompting a happy jig in front of my computer screen. Within minutes I was on the phone to my like minded brother – excitedly asking “have you heard the news?” NOAA plans to launch DSCOVR – the Deep Space Climate Observatory in 2015.

Proposed in 1998 by then Vice President Al Gore, and known as Triana or GoreSat, it was intended to give a continuous view of the sun and sunlit side of the earth. Gore saw it as a chance not only to raise awareness through a continuous internet feed, but as a tool to measure UV light making its way through the ozone layer – hence tracking global warming, cloud patterns, weather systems and early warning for approaching solar storms. It was put on the back burner by George W. Bush shortly after taking office.

In November of 2008 the Obama administration dusted off the $100 million dollar satellite; by 2011 actively  securing funds for a proposed launch – the project was renamed DSCOVR.

When John Zande – http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/ messaged me yesterday with news of the proposed 2015 launch – I practically swooned. Trust me; this is BIG news. I’ll spare all you glazed over eye rollers another account of the Carrington or Bastille Day events. Anyone left standing with the slightest interest – I applaud your pondering mind; fingers crossed you’ll “think about, talk about, learn more about” the importance of space weather.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Climate_Observatory

http://spaceweather.com/

Massive AR 1785


Massive sunspot AR 1785 – eleven times the diameter of earth – now faces our planet with potential for some nasty flares. Space weather forecasters at NOAA predict a 55% chance of M-class and 10% X-class for today.

Luckily earth has the magnetosphere which deflects solar wind and concentrates solar energy at the magnetic pole. Scientists have known for a long time the magnetosphere wasn’t perfect; just as the ozone layer develops “holes”, our magnetic shield is prone to “cracks”. Anyone lucky enough to see an aurora has witnessed the power of electrically charged solar winds.

In 1961 scientist Jim Dungey theorized these cracks occurred when the solar energy arrived packing a magnetic field that travelled in the opposite direction from our magnetic field. We now know these cracks can remain open for hours, allowing billions of electrically charged particles to light up the sky. Severe solar storms can wipe out satellites, communication, and power.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/03dec_magneticcracks/

AR 1785 will most likely blast tons of plasma into space before fading away. Geomagnetic storms will rage –  airplanes might change course to avoid radiation, auroras will dazzle, and few will be the wiser. I don’t lose sleep over space weather, I just wish more people understood the implications of a direct hit through an unlucky crack that could plunge us into darkness for months.

Photo by Taichi Nakamura of Dunedin New Zealand – southern hemisphere auroras when earth passed through a region of southward magnetic field, opening a crack in the magnetosphere on July 6.