2011 SUMMER SOLSTICE June 21, 2011Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: seasons, Solar, solstice, stonehenge
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Today, June 21, 2001, at 17:16 UTC (12:16 p.m. Central US time), the Earth’s axis will point toward the center of the Sun. Or from an Earth-boundpoint of view old Sol will reach its peak in its northward travels this year. This moment is the summer solstice. Known as “Midsummer” the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter in the Southern hemisphere. The origin from the Latin for sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The Sun reaches its most Northerly point, or it is the highest in the sky from the northern hemisphere, creating around this date the longest day and shortest night. Momentarily standing still before starting its journey South until it reaches its most Southerly point “Winter Solstice”, before repeating the cycle. This is basically how we get our seasons.
Solar eruption aimed at Earth February 17, 2011Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Solar and Space weather, stars.
Tags: Solar, solar flare, sunspot 1158, Sunspots
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We are coming off the bottom of the 11 year sunspot cycle, so the sun is getting more active. As the internal magnetic field of the sun winds up, the field bursts out of the surface in regions known as sunspots. Sunspots are cooler regions, hence they look darker, on the solar surface that have large magnetic fields. They can form in groups, and as part of their dynamics, they can release solar flares . Sunspot 1158 is a group of 4 sunspots that just had such a flare. The eruption can be seen in the video above taken by the SDO satillite and the optical image is below.
Two forms of radiation come from an eruption, the electromagnetic radiation arrives first, just 500 seconds after the eruption. Then come the particles (mostly protons, with some Helium nuclei ) called the solar mass ejection. Since the particles travel much slower it can take up to several days to get to the Earth …and that is only if the spots are aimed at us.
The Chinese have reported some disruption in shortwave radio traffic. Very intense flares can cause damage to some satellites and power grids. This one however should just produce a light show, the aurora for people in more northern latitudes.
The NOAA space weather prediction site has aurora maps to check if you can see the Northern lights.
Sunspot Group 1123 Erupts November 13, 2010Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: SOHO, Solar, sunspot 1123
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Coronagraph images on the morning of November 12 from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft show a weak mass ejection emerging from the sunspots 1123 heading off in a direction just south of the sun-Earth line. The coronal mass ejection is expected to graze the Earth’s magnetic field sometime on Nov. 14th or 15th. High altitude observers may expect a nice aurora show those days.
As the solar cycle matures, we may expect an increase of this type of activity over the next few years
First Sunspot Photo! March 16, 2010Posted by jcconwell in Observatory, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: EIU, Observatory, Solar, sunspot
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It’s spring break at EIU and today I finally installed the full aperture solar filter, which cuts down the light by a factor of 100,000 on the 16″ telescope. Until 2010 there were no sunspots to see; then there were no clear skies, and no time with the semester beginning. But with spring break I had some fun. Good news… I get to do this at noon, NOT at 3:00 in the morning. Bad news… focusing can take a while since I did not have some nice bright pinpoint stars. You have to use a blue filter and .12 second exposure (the fastest the ST-8 camera will do), or else you overexpose the picture. Picture taken at F-10 (4000mm focal length)
NASA Launches Solar Dynamics Observatory February 11, 2010Posted by jcconwell in satellites, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: SDO, Solar, Solar Dynamics Observatory
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NASA has launched the most advanced solar observatory ever built.
An unmanned rocket lifted off Thursday with the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The mission goal is to shed light on Earth’s star. Scientists want to better understand the violent solar activity that influences life on Earth. This space weather can disrupt communications, knock out power and disable satellites.
The Atlas V rocket carrying the Solar Dynamics Observatory lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:23 a.m. ET Thursday. NASA had delayed the launch three times Wednesday because of windy conditions.
SDO: The Solar Dynamics Observatory is the first mission to be launched for NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) Program, a program designed to understand the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. SDO is designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth and Near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.
SDO’s goal is to understand, in order to predict, the solar variations that influence life and technological systems (like satellites and power grids)on Earth. Measurements hope to determine:
- how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured
- how this stored magnetic energy is converted and released into the heliosphere and geospace in the form of solar wind, energetic particles, and variations in the solar irradiance.
Sunspots at last & Astronomy Club tonight! September 23, 2009Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, IYA 2009, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: EIU, International Year of Astronomy, IYA 2009, Solar, Sunspots
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After many months of a dry season the first major group of sunspots for this solar cycle 24 have appeared around the bend. Now we can try our new solar filter for the 16 ” telescope….if only it would stop raining. To see more live pictures go to SOHO’s web site.
Also telescope training tonight at teh Astronomy club. Room 2153 physical science building at 8:00 PM.
New Year, Solar Filter and a New Room! August 23, 2009Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Observatory, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: EIU, Observatory, Solar, telescope
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Welcome back, or if your new, welcome. Classes begin on Monday. If you come around to the second floor of the Physical Science building, you’ll see a few changes. We now have the Astro-murals mounted on some nice new boards. You will notice we now have a corner room, where computational physics was, for astrophysics research. The computation physics moved to a bigger room downstairs across from the machine shop. We’ll soon be putting in some computers to be used for both image reduction and running code using programs like Mathematica and Mathlab. We will also use the room to do instrumentation work, maintenance, and repair for the observatory.
Bad news, we are in the midst of the lowest solar minimum in several generations. So it’s BORING to look at. No sun spots or solar flares!
But if you want to keep track of the sun, or look at it when it was a little more interesting, go to the website for the orbiting solar observatory SOHO. Look at the BLOG tomorrow for details about the picnic this week, and the new podcast and open house.
Solar Flares – What, effects, and the end of the world…? July 14, 2009Posted by dgsphysics in Astronomy, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: Solar, stars
Steve Zownorega has his blog at: http://dgsphysics.wordpress.com/
What They Are:
Solar flares are an amazing phenomenon in astronomy. Originating from a star, the solar flare has some interesting properties that can make a strong connection to physics as well as make you wonder if we will survive the year of 2012.
A solar flare occurring on the sun. Notice the magnetic field lines that are emerging from the surface.
A solar flare originates within the sun, and is caused by a build up of magnetic energy. When this magnetic energy (stored in a magnetic field) is released, a large amount of plasma is fired from the surface, usually directly over a sun spot. This magnetic field energy is transferred into many different types of energy, one of which is stored in waves (Gamma rays, x-rays, AKA Solar radiation). The amount of this energy that is in a typical solar flare is equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs going off at the same time. Hard to wrap your head around that? That is about 10^20 joules per second. Still wondering what that is? It would be like having 1,600,000,000,000,000,000 (1.6 quintillion) light bulbs all on at the same time. It seems like a lot of energy, but this solar flare has less energy than the actual amount of energy that the sun creates during its fusion reaction. Just think of a solar flare as a ‘burst’ of this energy.
So with all of this energy being released, why doesn’t it effect us on earth? Well thanks to the earths atmosphere, we never get hit directly with this solar radiation. The atmosphere will deflects most of the electromagnetic radiation. However, NASA has major concerns with these solar flares due to the fact that anything outside of the atmosphere such as satellites, space crafts, and even astronauts can be effected by this mass amount of energy.
Satellites and space crafts do have to be worried about a solar flare. These electromagnetic waves (gamma/x-rays) can burn out circuitry causing many systematic failures. This is a very similar situation to an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that is used in destroying all electronic devices. With that, any electronic device sent out into space has a fail safe system which can be controlled to protect circuitry and draw large currents away from the main components in the device.
On that note, solar flares have a capability of effecting human beings. NASA is currently running a test on an artificial human being with an artificial solar flare. The reason for this test is to understand what type of safety systems we might have to give astronauts if we travel to the Moon or Mars. In this test, they will emulate what a solar flare would do to a person by having short exposures of radiation strikes to a plastic torso. This torso will have all the elements of a human by scientists placing blood in tubes and within organs through out the body. They also want to run a test where they expose this torso to 18 months (about as long as a mars mission might last) of normal radiation from the sun. Results are still pending, keep a watch on this website:
End of the World….?
You might ask yourself after reading this: When am I ever going to be effected by a solar flare? Well it may soon come. Records have indicated that in 1859 a large amount of solar radiation rained down on the earth. Richard Carrington, an English astronomer at this time, was observing sun spots when all of a sudden a bright white flash appeared on a piece of the sun for about 5 minutes. The northern lights, a common solar event that resembles this solar radiation coming down to earth, was the brightest ever recorded during this time in 1859. In 1859 journal entries through out the US (commonly seen only by the north pole) as well as many captains logs across many different oceans have indicated seeing a green glow so luminous that they could read the newspaper at 1:00AM. This is one of the largest northern light activity ever shown, and it was due to this large eruption in the sun.
A image of the northern lights
During this beauty came many other effects. One that came with the 1859 solar activity was technological problems. The telegraph system, the communication device at that time, went out of service for about 14 hours. Also, many measurement devices were also effected by having readings that were off the charts. This is due to the major effect that electromagnetic waves can have on electronic devices, which you can get more information here.
So you might be asking yourself why this concerns you? We live under the umbrella of technology. Power grids, information, communication, and basically any other part of technology could be effected by an event of this magnitude. Satellites alone in space might be greatly damaged, if not destroyed, by the solar energy.We have invested upwards to 60 billion dollars in these satellites – and these are the exact ones that help us communicate, receive and send information, and go about our daily life.
Your next question might be when will this happen again? It is estimated that something of this magnitude happens once every 500 years. An event of half of this magnitude happens once every 50 years. And the last one recorded was in 1960 – so one is on deck to happen within the next few years.
On that note, we can investigate one of the more interesting ideas that has been proposed. The Mayan’s predicted that the world is to end in 2012. One of the predictions is that it would be done by a large amount of solar activity. Now, solar flares are known to originate from sun spots, and currently there are no sun spots. Sun spot activity follows a cycle of 11 years, and we are about to enter the new cycle of sun spots. This may describe why we get these major events as described in 1859, however, I do want to remind everyone that the magnetic field (our atmosphere) of the earth is what protects us from this solar radiation. So to make a claim that we would die from solar radiation would be false.
So to give you a little recap:
I would like to leave you with a thought. Y2K was thought of as being the end of man kind, and this was due to technology. Many people were frightened due to…..yes, if you remember, it was due to a date change. Comparing Y2K to a solar flare, I just want to say that a solar flare (not properly prepared for) can do a lot more damage than a single date change.
New Podcast at 365 days of Astronomy June 18, 2009Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Podcast, Solar and Space weather.
Tags: EIU, International Year of Astronomy, Podcast, Solar
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THEMIS which stands for “Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms” is a constellation of 5 satellites and 30 ground-based observatories studying Earth’s magnetosphere and aurora. The main aim of these satellites was to answer fundamental questions concerning nature of an abrupt and explosive release of solar wind energy stored within the Earth’s magnetotail, known as a substorm. Having achieved most of its primary objectives of establishing when and where the substorms begin, the satellite mission will split up in July to become two missions. The first, THEMIS-Low, consisting of the three inner probes will continue to study the Earth’s space environment. The outer probes will explore the space environment of the Moon and renamed ARTEMIS: “Acceleration Reconnection Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of Moon Interaction with the Sun.” NASA has extended the THEMIS/ARTEMIS mission to the year 2012.
In this podcast we talk to Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos, UC Berkeley, the PI of the mission, Dr. Manfred Bester, the THEMIS Mission Operations Manager and Dr. Laura Peticolas, the lead Education and Public Outreach scientist for this mission. We learn about the discoveries and insights learned from THEMIS, what we hope to learn from ARTEMIS and how these discoveries can be shared with the public.