Posts Tagged ‘electromagnetic’

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Extra Energy Can Have a Big Effect on Earth – Secret Lives of Solar Flares

19/09/2011

Sept. 19, 2011 via NASAScience: One hundred and fifty two years ago, a man in England named Richard Carrington discovered solar flares.

Secret Lives (sunspots, 200px)

Sunspots sketched by
R. Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859.
© R. Astronomical Society.

[more]

It happened at 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1st, 1859. Just as usual on every sunny day, the 33-year-old solar astronomer was busy in his private observatory, projecting an image of the sun onto a screen and sketching what he saw. On that particular morning, he traced the outlines of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of white light appeared over the sunspots; they were so bright he could barely stand to look at the screen.

Carrington cried out, but by the time a witness arrived minutes later, the first solar flare anyone had ever seen was fading away.

It would not be the last. Since then, astronomers have recorded thousands of strong flares using instruments ranging from the simplest telescopes in backyard observatories to the most complex spectrometers on advanced spacecraft.  Possibly no other phenomenon in astronomy has been studied as much.

After all that scrutiny, you might suppose that everything about solar flares would be known.  Far from it.  Researchers recently announced that solar flares have been keeping a secret.

“We’ve just learned that some flares are many times stronger than previously thought,” says University of Colorado physicist Tom Woods who led the research team. “Solar flares were already the biggest explosions in the solar system—and this discovery makes them even bigger.”

Secret Lives (splash, 558px)

Click to view a ScienceCast video about the late phase of solar flares. [Youtube]

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February 2010, made the finding:  About 1 in 7 flares experience an “aftershock.”  About ninety minutes after the flare dies down, it springs to life again, producing an extra surge of extreme ultraviolet radiation.

“We call it the ‘late phase flare,’” says Woods.   “The energy in the late phase can exceed the energy of the primary flare by as much as a factor of four.”

What causes the late phase? Solar flares happen when the magnetic fields of sunspots erupt—a process called “magnetic reconnection.”  The late phase is thought to result when some of the sunspot’s magnetic loops re-form.  A diagram prepared by team member Rachel Hock of the University of Colorado shows how it works.

The extra energy from the late phase can have a big effect on Earth.  Extreme ultraviolet wavelengths are particularly good at heating and ionizing Earth’s upper atmosphere.  When our planet’s atmosphere is heated by extreme UV radiation, it puffs up, accelerating the decay of low-orbiting satellites.  Furthermore, the ionizing action of extreme UV can bend radio signals and disrupt the normal operation of GPS.

SDO was able to make the discovery because of its unique ability to monitor the sun’s extreme UV output in high resolution nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  With that kind of scrutiny, it’s tough to keep a secret–even one as old as this.

The original research of Woods et al may be found in the Oct. 1, 2011, issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

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Could The Sun Set Off The Next Big Natural Disaster? | Smithsonian News

16/09/2011

The article posted below, published a couple of days ago, is from Smithsonian Magazine, and offers another perspective for the reasons why Earth is going through some highly undeniable shake ups, hurricanes, volcanic activity, floods, droughts and more.

Irregardless of anyone’s arguments, climate change, not climate change, man-made or some cosmic outside influence, the facts remain clear.  The great machine known as Earth is doing something. And we are all guessing at what.

It is here I would like to make it clear that its not just one thing or another really.  It’s a whole collective combination of many things which can be compared to how things come to be.  It’s like, without the right amount of chemicals here, applied under the right atmospheric & all conceivable scientific forces, we would not exist. And the Earth changes, the increase in seismic, volcanic etc. events in the world are a result of many things.

The sun’s forces, other external forces & a whole wack of polluting money hungry corporations.  A cocktail for global disaster.

Pack up the survival gear.  It’s gonna get bumpy.

But what do I know?

Original article:

Could The Sun Set Off The Next Big Natural Disaster?

It can take a long time to clean up from natural disasters. New Orleans still had remnants of Katrina damage years after the storm barreled through. Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless in Haiti, more than a year and a half after its earthquake. Areas of Japan may be off limits for years due to the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

But as bad as these events might be, they are at least limited geographically. But that probably won’t be true when it comes to a severe solar storm, say scientists in a new study in Space Weather. Before I go into that, though, let’s first review what I mean by solar storms. These are explosions on the Sun that send energized particles out into space. If Earth is in the way of a mild outburst, we get pretty auroras at the poles. But more violent events can have bigger impacts, as Robert Irion noted earlier this year in his Smithsonian story “Something New Under the Sun“:

The most intense solar storm ever recorded struck in the summer of 1859. British astronomer Richard Carrington observed a giant network of sunspots on September 1, followed by the most intense flare ever reported. Within 18 hours, Earth was under magnetic siege. Dazzling northern lights glowed as far south as the Caribbean Sea and Mexico, and sparking wires shut down telegraph networks—the Internet of the day—across Europe and North America.

A magnetic storm in 1921 knocked out the signaling system for New York City’s rail lines. A solar storm in March 1989 crippled the power grid in Quebec, depriving millions of customers of electricity for nine hours. And in 2003, a series of storms caused blackouts in Sweden, destroyed a $640 million Japanese science satellite and forced airlines to divert flights away from the North Pole at a cost of $10,000 to $100,000 each.

Our modern, globally connected electronic society is now so reliant on far-flung transformers and swarms of satellites that a major blast from the Sun could bring much of it down. According to a 2008 report from the National Research Council, a solar storm the size of the 1859 or 1921 events could zap satellites, disable communication networks and GPS systems and fry power grids at a cost of $1 trillion or more.

These storms are getting more attention in recent months because the Sun has left its solar minimum—its time of least activity—and there are still three to five years until it reaches solar maximum. And although a host of satellites are now watching the Sun, leading to new insight into its activity and, eventually, better warnings of devastating storms, our technological society is still disturbingly vulnerable.

Back to the Space Weather study: Researchers from UCLA and elsewhere used simulations of solar storms to examine what would happen to the Earth’s inner radiation belt, a region of charged particles that surrounds the planet and acts as a buffer against radiation. They found that a storm the intensity of the 2003 event would halve the thickness of the radiation belt and one the size of the 1859 event would nearly wipe it out. And that would just be the beginning of the problem, New Scientist explains:

In the absence of the cloud, electromagnetic waves [would accelerate] large numbers of electrons to high speed in Earth’s inner radiation belt, causing a huge increase in radiation there. The inner radiation belt is densest at about 3000 kilometres above Earth’s equator, which is higher than low-Earth orbit. But the belt hugs Earth more tightly above high latitude regions, overlapping with satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Speeding electrons [would] cause electric charge to accumulate on satellite electronics, prompting sparks and damage. Increasing the number of speeding electrons would drastically shorten the lifetime of a typical satellite, the team calculates.

The satellite-damaging radiation could hang around for a decade, the scientists say. In addition, the radiation could also be hazardous for astronauts and equipment on the International Space Station.

source: smithsonianmag

Could The Sun Set Off The Next Big Natural Disaster? | Surprising Science.

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