SDO, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory left for work on February 11, 2010. Seven years later and counting, SDO faithfully watches the Sun in different wavelengths. Different wavelengths reveal temperature variances in vivid colour, mesmerizing real time images unlocking mysteries of our sun.
SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) changed how we ponder our Sun. Launched on February 11, 2010, SDO became NASA’s first solar observatory. No larger than a minivan, purposeful and dedicated, SDO’s singular objective is to understand how solar activity impacts Earth. Instruments measure the Sun’s interior, magnetic field and plasma of the solar corona simultaneously – one mission, to understand space weather in relation to Earth and near-Earth space.
Space weather refers to the effects of solar wind on Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere. Conditions attributed to constant flows, punctuated by violent eruptions of solar plasma – charged particles, flung outwards from the Sun at speeds up to 1 million mph. Auroras, mesmerizing spectacles driven by clashes with solar plasma appear innocent enough – space weather has far greater ramifications.
Solar wind driven plasma is responsible for bending or obliterating radio waves, disrupting navigation systems, forcing airplanes to change course, decayed orbits of satellites, temporarily knocking out cell phone service and complete failure of power grids.During an intense geomagnetic storm in October of 2003, 46 0f 70 spacecraft failures were attributed to space weather. In March 1989, 3 minutes after impact of a severe solar storm, Quebec’s power grid was annihilated for 9 hours.
Over the next few weeks I’ll dissect space weather into digestible bites. Meanwhile, take a moment to witness one of SDO’s greatest gifts –
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.
This is what happens when a solar eruption hurls energy our way at 11 million mph. Sunspot AR2017 erupted on March 29 with a healthy X-1 class flare – UV radiation ionized our upper atmosphere, resulting in a “ripple” in Earth’s magnetosphere. Known as a “magnetic crochet”, the disturbance occurred as AR2017 strutted her stuff – geo-magnetic hiccups usually come knocking a few days after a flare – simultaneous “events” are rare.
For a short time radio signals were lost as static assaulted short wave operators.
Courtesy NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory – a video of AR2017 in action….
AR2017 appears to have gotten it off her chest – simmering down with only a 55% chance of M and 20% chance of powerful X class activity in the next 24 hours. Dodging yet another cosmic EMP unscathed.
Scientists at Berkley have just released findings of a global “near miss” on July 23, 2012. A series of immense solar flares unleashed enough energy to rival the Carrington Event of 1859. Had the storm erupted 9 days earlier, our planet would have been in the cross hairs – global power grid failures, trillions of dollars in economic repercussions with an estimate of 4 – 10 years to recover.
Comet ISON isn’t going down without a fight. Early reports had scientists preparing for her funeral; now the word seems to be – not so fast!
Watch ISON’s trajectory; something clearly survived the sun’s atmosphere. Not fully intact; fingers are crossed at least some of the nucleus escaped. ISON is like the little engine that could – this evening it is reported to be getting brighter. Hidden for the moment by the sun’t glare, it will be a few days before SOHO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) sorts it all out.
Had ISON managed to escape our sun unscathed, it could have reached a magnitude of brightness high enough to be seen in broad daylight with the naked eye. While hopes of that phenomenon may have been dashed; optimism gives ISON a fairly good chance of being visible away from city lights in early December.
Our sun has been busy, purging plasma with the vengeance of Thor. A X-1 flare from sunspot AR1875 on Oct. 28 is the third X-class flare since Oct. 25. This follows three M-class flares since Oct. 20. None of the recent flares are likely to give any direct hits to our magnetic field; instead “glancing blows” are likely to stir up geo-magnetic storms, resulting in spectacular auroras.
For the next 24 hours, Solar Dynamics Observatory predicts a 75% chance of M-class and 30% chance of more X-class flares. My secret wish is for solar hiccups to last long enough for my trip next week to the Canadian prairies; the home of endless, dark, crystal clear skies. A place to take in the majesty of Northern Lights.
I’ve been a space weather nerd for a while and have never seen an 80% chance of M-class and 40% chance of X-class flares in the next 24 hours. Our sun is flexing muscle with the most intense solar activity this year. Sunspot AR 1748 let loose significant X class eruptions of 1.7, 2.8, and 3.2 in the last 24 hours. Take it from me – this is crazy. The good news is none were “earth directed”, no incoming CME (coronal mass ejection) is anticipated for now. The bad news – while researching when 1748 will face earth I stumbled upon a wordpress blog proclaiming it the beginning of the “rapture”. My decision to retreat, despite every fibre in my being screaming “post a comment” – left me shaking, incensed, reaching for a cocktail, and ultimately validated in my AR1748 raised eyebrow. When all is said and done – not only have I never seen such crazy solar activity in a short period of time, I’ve never seen it attributed to the rapture. All the affirmation I need to know I’m not pondering fairy dust. FYI -AR1748 will be earth directed in a few days.
Bookmark this link to spaceweather, start paying attention to solar reports, and send your tin foil hats to those anticipating the “rapture”, just be sure to tuck a little tin foil into that emergency kit at the top of your “to do” list.
I talk about sunspots and solar activity a lot. If I had my way space weather would be included in the nightly weather reports. We prepare for hurricanes and massive snow storms, yet few people understand the implications of a healthy earth directed solar storm. A strong M-class or more powerful X-class solar storm could wipe out the power grid, plunging unsuspecting citizens into darkness.
A direct hit similar to the “Carrington event” of 1859 would be disastrous. Estimates range from weeks to months without electricity. Following a large earth directed CME (coronal mass ejection) we have 24 – 36 hours before repercussions are realized. Most often it passes without consequence. Airplanes change course to avoid high latitude radiation, auroras are incredible, and nobody even notices the disruption in high level radio waves.
That said; sunspot AR 1654 is kicking up a fuss. Solar wind is steady at around 400 Km/second, current estimates are a 60% chance of M-class and 5% of X-class in the next 24 hours. This sunspot is gaining strength and will soon be facing earth.
I’m not saying earth is on the brink of disaster, at least not from a sunspot. What I’m saying is we all need to think about implications of space weather. It’s only a matter of time before a really large solar flare causes serious problems. Spend a few minutes pondering what you would do; set aside emergency supplies, cash, and a positive attitude.
For those lucky enough to live in the northern hemisphere – be on the look out for some fantastic auroras.