Ponder your name on a microchip aboard a car sized solar probe traveling 692,000 Km/hour around the Sun. Imagine that probe entering the Suns’ atmosphere. How cool would it be if the first mission to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona carried your name. Would you see the Sun with fresh eyes knowing your name was part of an endeavor to explore solar wind?
The Parker Solar Probe begins a seven year, seven gravity assist Venus flyby, 93 million mile journey to the Sun in summer 2018. To commemorate humanity’s first visit to a star, NASA issued an open invitation – send your name to the Sun. Deadline, April 27, 2018. Get on board at –
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.
In 2004 science revealed 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet (planet orbiting a star outside our solar system) whose mass was primarily diamonds. http://www.space.com/18011-super-earth-planet-diamond-world.html This week, analysis of data from NASA satellite Kepler tells of HAT-P-7b, a gas giant 40% larger than Jupiter whose blustery upper atmosphere storms with ruby and sapphire wind.
Tidally locked, the same side of HAT-P-7b always faces a behemoth sun, completing an orbit every every 2.2 days with day side surface temperatures exceeding 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Analysis of extreme temperature variation between day and night sides of HAT-P-7b led to publication of the first exoplanet weather report, a forecast that includes upper atmosphere winds of ruby and sapphire.
“These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the day side,” he said. “The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up, then dying away.”
And those clouds are almost certainly unlike anything here on Earth, the researchers added: Modeling work suggests that HAT-P-7b’s clouds are composed at least partially of corundum, the mineral that forms sapphires and rubies.”
Astronomers at University of Warwick in Coventry, England have detected evidence of the weather on a giant exoplanet outside our solar system. And not just any other weather; the scientists suspect that clouds on the exoplanet are made with corundum, a rock-forming mineral that forms sapphire and ruby.
(Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Beginning September 10, 1941 astronomers noticed a particularly active cluster of sunspots. Over the next week they blossomed, reaching magnitudes visible to the naked eye. For seven days the disturbance grew, drifting with solar rotation until they faced Earth. Seventy five years ago today they erupted, resulting in a solar event known as the geomagnetic blitz of 1941.
“A magnetic observatory in Cheltenham, Md., operated by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, registered six separate occurrences of geomagnetic storms with a K index of 9 (the most intense value possible). Five of these occurred consecutively over a 24-hour period. In terms of a related global index , the level of geomagnetic activity over a 24-hour period has not since been matched.”
An artistic graphic on sunspots that accompanied an informational story in The Plain Dealer’s syndicated “Uncle Ray’s Corner” column, published in the Illinois State Journal on 21 September 1941, a few days after a geomagnetic storm produced spectacular auroral displays. Credit: Plain Dealer Archive/Advance Media and State Journal Register
Assertive auroras danced from New Mexico to Chicago, New York and Washington DC. The Chicago Tribune wrote “a cosmic brush painted the Chicago sky with light”. Auroras across Europe were described by press in context of the war – illuminated by geomagnetic light, the British Royal Air Force bombed a German supply base on the Baltic Sea, and German forces stormed besieged Leningrad. Betrayed by aurora’s light, German aircraft attacked a convoy of Allied supply ships.
“Kapitänleutnant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat of U-74 recorded the ensuing events in his war diary [Morgan and Taylor, 2011, pp. 119–123]: “September 18, 1941, visibility 4–6 nautical miles, a number of smoke plumes on the horizon, vessels seem well strung out.” Kentrat had spotted SC-44, a Canadian convoy of cargo ships. For protection, a destroyer and small antisubmarine warships known as corvettes escorted SC-44 along its journey.
At 22:30 UT, Kentrat issued a radio dispatch to headquarters and the other Brandenburg U-boats, “Alpha. Alpha. Enemy convoy in sight. Quadrant AD9761. Course NE, moderate speed. U-74.” Unsure whether his compatriots received his message, he recorded in his diary that since 04:30 UT on 18 September, “short-wave radio reception has been very poor and it gradually cuts out altogether. We try absolutely everything but without success. I hope the other Brandenburg boats can receive me.” Unbeknownst to Kentrat, his radio problems were caused by the magnetic storm and the ionospheric disturbance that followed.
As the Sun set, the sea haze lifted. Under such conditions, a wartime convoy would normally have been relatively securely hidden in the dark of night. But not this night. The sky was ablaze with the aurora borealis. Kentrat described the conditions as being “as bright as day.” Ironically, in a postwar interview [Johnston, 2008, p. 38], a crewman on board a ship in the convoy, the SC44 corvette HMCS Lévis, recalled seeing the aurora on that evening and remarking to a fellow crewman, “What a night for a torpedoing.” This bit of dark humor would turn out to be prophetic.
At 01:00 UT on 19 September, Kentrat tried several times to maneuver U-74 into attack position on the starboard side of the convoy, only to be “driven off” each time by SC-44’s defending corvettes. They didn’t pursue for long, but Kentrat became concerned that his own U-boat was too visible “in these conditions.” (In those days, submarines were only occasionally submerged.) He decided to maneuver “to the port side of the convoy, where the Northern Lights [were] less bright.”
At 03:50 UT, Kentrat radioed, “Brandenburg boats report in immediately.” (He did not know at the time that the other U-boats had been receiving his radio messages; he just hadn’t been receiving theirs.) At 05:03 UT, from the unusually long distance of 3 kilometers, Kentrat ordered four torpedoes fired in spread formation at the convoy. Afterward, U-74 quickly turned around to escape, and Kentrat ordered a fifth torpedo fired from the stern. Monitoring the results through his periscope, Kentrat reported a direct hit, “a plume” and “green light.” A torpedo had struck the stern of the Lévis, nearly cutting her in two. Afterward, Kentrat recorded detecting a desperate Morse code signal: “help.”
As I write tonight, solar winds unleashed from a wide Earth facing coronal hole are expected to reach Earth by September 20. Science predicts geomagnetic storms over the next few days. Other than brilliant high latitude auroras, it isn’t likely many will even notice. Nor is it likely a cautionary tale of the Geomagnetic Blitz of 1941 will register as anything but a page in history.
In my mind, space weather events are the least known, least taught and least acknowledged. I don’t get it. Over and over again, irrefutable accounts of solar assaults languish in obscurity.
Each of us has our “thing”, mine happens to be cosmic. Hair on the back of my neck stands at attention when I stumble upon an outstanding interpretation or presentation of the cosmos. Cosmic diversion doesn’t have to be your thing, but if you feel inclined – take a moment to ponder my thing.
Linked below, USTREAM – a live feed from the International Space Station.
SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) a joint European Space Agency and NASA project dedicated to all things space weather. A one stop wealth of information covering real time images of the sun to intricacies of space weather – a great place to learn.
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 –
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.