SpaceJibe

July 14, 2014

New Yorkers lined up for rare phenomenon this weekend

Filed under: Cool, The Sun — bferrari @ 1:52 pm

Excited New Yorkers were treated to Manhattanhenge this past Friday, July 11, and Saturday, July 12, when the sun aligned perfectly with the grid of city streets.

ALSO: Photos of this weekend’s spectacular ‘super moon’

The circumstance occurs twice a year, during which the setting sun perfectly aligns with the east–west streets of Manhattan’s main street grid.

 

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February 13, 2014

National Ignition Facility announces promising results for nuclear fusion

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Gadgets, The Sun — bferrari @ 8:44 am
A deuterium and tritium capsule, sphere in window at center, inside a cylindrical hohlraum container about 0.4 inches tall. In research reported Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 by the journal Nature, scientists say they've taken a key step toward harnessing nuclear fusion as a new way to generate power. (AP PHOTO/LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY, EDDIE DEWALD)

A deuterium and tritium capsule, sphere in window at center, inside a cylindrical hohlraum container about 0.4 inches tall. In research reported Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 by the journal Nature, scientists say they’ve taken a key step toward harnessing nuclear fusion as a new way to generate power. (AP PHOTO/LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY, EDDIE DEWALD)

NEW YORK – Scientists say they’ve taken a key step toward harnessing nuclear fusion as a new way to generate power, an idea that has been pursued for decades.

They are still a long way from that goal. The amount of energy they got out of their experimental apparatus was minuscule compared to what they put into it.

Still, the new work reached some significant milestones along the path to a cleaner and cheaper source of electricity, the researchers and experts said.

Fusion is the merging of hydrogen atoms, the process that powers the sun. That’s different from nuclear fission, which is the breaking apart of atoms that lies at the heart of today’s nuclear power plants.

Both processes release energy, but scientists have been pursuing fusion power because of several advantages. The supply of hydrogen for fuel is virtually unlimited, available from seawater, for example, in contrast to the uranium used in nuclear power plants. Fusion power would avoid the need for long-term storage of radioactive waste. And unlike fossil fuels like coal, it would not produce greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

In the new work, reported online Wednesday by the journal Nature, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, report results from two experiments done at the lab’s National Ignition Facility

In each trial, 192 laser beams briefly fired into a half-inch-long gold cylinder. The cylinder held a tiny ball that contained the fuel, which was a mix of two kinds of hydrogen, called deuterium and tritium. The energy from the lasers kicked off a process that compressed the ball by an amount akin to squeezing a basketball down to the size of a pea, said Debbie Callahan, an author of the paper.

A cylindrical hohlraum container about 0.4 inches tall containing a deuterium and tritium capsule, held by cryogenically-cooled positioning arms. In research reported Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 by the journal Nature, scientists say they've taken a key step toward harnessing nuclear fusion as a new way to generate power. (AP PHOTO/LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY, EDDIE DEWALD)

A cylindrical hohlraum container about 0.4 inches tall containing a deuterium and tritium capsule, held by cryogenically-cooled positioning arms. In research reported Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 by the journal Nature, scientists say they’ve taken a key step toward harnessing nuclear fusion as a new way to generate power. (AP PHOTO/LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY, EDDIE DEWALD)

That created the extremely high pressure and temperatures needed to get the hydrogen atoms to fuse. It was all over in the blink of an eye, with the reaction confined to a space smaller than the width of a human hair.

Nuclear fusion would be worthwhile only if it produces more energy than it uses, and the results were far from that. The hydrogen fuel did emit more energy than it absorbed from the lasers, an experimental goal. But the fuel took in only about 1 percent of all the energy produced by the lasers. So the apparatus is still far short of producing more energy than it requires to operate.

Another key finding was evidence that energy created by the fusion reaction was going back into the remaining fuel, a “bootstrapping” process that is key to boosting the energy output.

“Seeing that kick in is quite exciting, and it does show that there is promise” for increasing the energy output, said Omar Hurricane, lead author on the Nature paper. It’s not clear when researchers will be able to get more energy out of the reaction than the lasers pour into it, he said, but “we are working like mad … in that direction.”

The sign of bootstrapping is “really a wonderful result,” said fusion expert Robert McCrory of the University of Rochester, who was not involved in the research. “There’s a lot more that needs to be done” to reach the point where the reaction produces more energy than the lasers deliver, but “this was absolutely necessary.”

Scientists elsewhere are working on a different approach to fusion power, one that uses magnetic fields to contain super-heated hydrogen fuel. Several nations are cooperating to build a huge experimental device to explore that approach in France.

Source

November 12, 2013

Sun’s magnetic field will flip soon

Filed under: Cool, Global Warming, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 4:58 pm
The sun's magnetic field is gearing up to shift, a once in 11 year event, according to NASA officials. (NASA)

The sun’s magnetic field is gearing up to shift, a once in 11 year event, according to NASA officials. (NASA)

The sun’s polarity is getting closer to flipping. The star’s northern hemisphere’s polarity has already reversed, and the southern hemisphere should follow suit soon, scientists say.

Every 11 years or so, the two hemispheres of the sun reverse their polarity, creating a ripple effect that can be felt throughout the far reaches of the solar system. The sun is currently going through one of those flips in its cycle, scientists working at Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, which has monitored the sun’s magnetic field since 1975, said.

“The sun’s poles are reversing, and this is a large-scale process that takes place over a few months, but it happens once every 11 years,” Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist at Stanford said in a video about the polarity reversal. “What we’re looking at is really a reversal of the whole heliosphere, everything from the sun out past the planets.”

The polarity reversal builds up over time. A sunspot spreads out, causing the sun’s magnetic field to migrate from the equator of the star to one of the sun’s poles. As this change occurs, the sun’s magnetic field reduces to zero and then comes back with the opposite polarity, Hoeksema said in a statement. [Solar Max: Photos of the Active Sun in 2013]

“When that reverses it effects us here on Earth because not only do we see more cosmic rays, but there’s also more activity on the sun,” Hoeksema said. “That activity comes in and it affects the Earth’s magnetic field.”

The planet’s magnetic field affects technology on Earth like GPS systems and power grids, Hoeksema said. The uptick in solar activity can also create brilliant auroras on Earth and on certain planets of the solar system.

“We also see the effects of this on other planets,” Hoeksema said in a statement. “Jupiter has storms, Saturn has auroras, and this is all driven by activity of the sun.”

This part of the sun’s cycle is known as the “solar maximum.” The solar max marks the peak in the star’s activity. Usually, the sun’s polarity reversal happens during this period of the solar cycle, however, the reversal isn’t responsible for the increased number of solar flares and eruptions known as coronal mass ejections usually observed around solar max.

The increased activity acts as an indicator that the polarity reversal will occur, but it doesn’t cause the sun to become more active, Hoeksema said in an earlier interview with SPACE.com.

The polarity reversal probably won’t harmfully impact Earth, in fact, it could even protect the planet in some ways, scientists have said.

The sun’s huge “current sheet” — a surface extending out from the sun’s equator — becomes wavier as the poles reverse. The sheet’s crinkles can create a better barrier against the cosmic rays that can damage satellites, other spacecraft and people in orbit, scientists said.

Source

September 7, 2012

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun

Filed under: Cool, Global Warming, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 6:05 pm
(NASA/GSFC/SDO)

(NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Click here to view an image showing the size of this CME compared to the size of Earth: bit.ly/RkYr7z

On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth’s magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.

Pictured here is a lighten blended version of the 304 and 171 angstrom wavelengths. Cropped

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.
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June 16, 2012

Massive solar flare in March broke sun storm records

Filed under: Cool, The Sun — bferrari @ 9:13 am
NASA's SDO spacecraft caught this image of an X-class solar flare on March 7, 2012. (NASA/SDO)

NASA’s SDO spacecraft caught this image of an X-class solar flare on March 7, 2012. (NASA/SDO)

A massive flare that exploded from the solar surface in March unleashed the highest-energy light ever seen during a sun eruption, scientists say.

On March 7, the sun let loose a massive X5.4 solar flare during its biggest outburst in five years. NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope saw an unusually long-lasting pulse of gamma rays — a form of light with even greater energies than X-rays — produced by the flare.

At the flare’s peak, the gamma rays that were emitted from the sun were 2 billion times more energetic than visible light, making it a record-setting detection during or immediately after any previously seen solar flare, researchers said. In fact, as the flare erupted, the sun briefly became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky.

“The sun is [usually] not a very bright source in gamma rays,” said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University in California. “We don’t detect the sun on a daily basis. On the other hand, on March 7, the sky looked completely different, as the sun became an intense, bright source of high-energy gamma rays.” [The Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]

Omodei presented the findings Monday (June 11) here at the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Long and intense eruption
In addition to the intensity of the gamma-ray emissions, astronomers were surprised by the outburst’s length. Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) observed high-energy gamma rays for approximately 20 hours, which is 2 1/2 times longer than any event ever recorded, Omodei said.

‘Some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as three seconds.’
– University of Alabama scientist Michael Briggs

Fermi’s observations also enabled astronomers to pinpoint the source of the gamma rays on the sun’s disk, making it the first time that such a feat has been accomplished for a gamma-ray source with energies beyond 100 million electron volts (MeV), researchers said.
“Thanks to the LAT’s improved angular resolution, [we’re] able to localize the region of the high-energy gamma ray emission,” Omodei said. “The location of the high-energy gamma rays is consistent with the region of the X-ray flare.”

Solar flares and other emissions from the sun produce gamma rays by accelerating charged particles, which then collide and interact with matter in the sun’s atmosphere and visible surface.

Learning about solar flares
Fermi’s LAT combs the sky for highly energetic gamma rays every three hours. This instrument, along with Fermi’s Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), detected a strong but less powerful solar flare on June 12, 2010, scientists said.

“Seeing the rise and fall of this brief flare in both instruments allowed us to determine that some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as three seconds,” Michael Briggs, a member of the GBM team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said in a statement.

The sun’s activity waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle. Currently, the sun is ramping up in its current Solar Cycle 24 toward an expected activity maximum in mid-2013.
“As the solar cycle progresses toward maximum, new Fermi observations of solar flares will help us in understanding how flares accelerate particles and where gamma rays are produced,” Omodei said.

The highly sensitive LAT, with its wide field of view, makes Fermi a valuable tool for observing the sun, researchers said, and could revolutionize the field of solar physics.
“Merged with available theoretical models, Fermi observations will give us the ability to reconstruct the energies and types of particles that interact with the sun during flares, an understanding that will open up whole new avenues in solar research,” Gerald Share, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park, said in a statement.

Source

June 9, 2011

Gargantuan Sun Explosion Rocks Astronomers

Filed under: Cool, Cosmology, Inner Solar System, Life, The Sun — bferrari @ 8:14 pm
A satellite view of the solar storm that erupted on the sun June 7. (NASA/GSFC, LMSAL and SDO/AIA)

A satellite view of the solar storm that erupted on the sun June 7. (NASA/GSFC, LMSAL and SDO/AIA)

A huge storm on the sun this week unleashed what some have called the most massive eruption of solar plasma ever seen. While that’s up for review, the solar storm has revealed a tantalizing glimpse at the inner workings of our nearest star, scientists say.

NASA astronomers said the huge June 7 solar eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, probably wasn’t the biggest ever, but it is notable both for its size and its perplexing behavior. Huge waves of plasma roared off the sun only to rain back down on the solar surface.

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before,” said Phillip Chamberlin, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a deputy project scientist on the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite. “It’s a really exciting event. There are a lot of exceptions to it.”

[Video: Sun’s June 7 flare and eruption]

The solar storm occurred on Tuesday (June 7), and lasted about three hours. It produced a sudden brightening of the sun called a solar flare that was only a moderate, or Class M, event. However, it also let loose the coronal mass ejection, which is a cloud of charged particles that erupted into space from the surface of the sun.

Garganutuan Coronal Mass Ejection

Garganutuan Coronal Mass Ejection

Sun shower of plasma rain

Usually, coronal mass ejection material flies off into space, sometimes hurling toward Earth. But this time, a large majority of it fell back down to the solar surface. [Amazing New Sun Photos from Space]

“The particles that were shot off expanded to a very large volume, sort of a mushroom cloud, and then a lot fell back down to the sun,” Chamberlin said.

However, enough material was sent Earthward that skywatchers are expecting some extra-bright displays of the Northern Lights, or auroras, this week.

Why it happened this way, instead of the usual process of ejecting out into space, is still a mystery.

“We’re still trying to figure that one out,” Chamberlin told SPACE.com. “That’s science. I don’t know. We’re stumped.”

Sun secrets revealed?

But the scientists are eagerly studying the event to attempt to understand the event. They are aided by video footage of the event from SDO, as well as NASA’s twin Stereo spacecraft orbiting the sun from points ahead of and behind Earth, providing multiple angles on the solar activity.

“We should get a good stereoscopic view and try to model this and understand what’s going on, why is there so much plasma raining down,” Chamberlin said.

Another mystery researchers are hoping to solve is why this super-powerful coronal mass ejection was paired with just a moderate solar flare. Experts aren’t sure about the connection between the two events, which usually seem to roughly correlate both in timing and strength.

“One of the big questions in solar science is the relationship between solar flares and coronal mass ejections,” Chamberlin said. “Can you have one without the other or are they really intimately tied? There are people in the field that will argue both ways.”

Watershed sun storm

Having such a unique event to investigate is sure to provide some new insights into the riddle, Chamberlin said.

In fact, he estimated that tens to hundreds of research papers would likely come out of just this one event, and a number of graduate students will likely do their entire Ph.D. research on this particular solar storm.

“The scientists are really excited, to the point where it’s kind of like a watercooler,” Chamberlin said. “Everybody here at Goddard is all talking with each other. We have a video wall and we’re just standing around looking at it, picking out new things.”

And it truly is a good time to be a solar scientist, because this event is just the beginning. The sun is waking up from a slump in its normal 11-year cycle of activity. A period of solar minimum, with few storms or flares, occurred a few years ago, and the sun is expected to reach maximum activity at the end of 2013.

“We’re going to get a lot more of these events coming up in the next couple years, probably bigger events as well,” Chamberlin said.

Source

May 13, 2011

Stunning Video: Comet Collides With the Sun

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, Oort Cloud, Outer Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 4:40 pm
NASA captured a stunning video showing this fairly bright white comet as it dove towards the Sun -- and was never heard from again.

NASA captured a stunning video showing this fairly bright white comet as it dove towards the Sun -- and was never heard from again.

Now THAT’s a close encounter.

NASA’s solar observatory captured a stunning video of a comet streaking towards the sun between Tuesday and Wednesday — and the aftermath when it collided with the tremendous ball of plasma.

The video, captured by NASA’s Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), appears to show a fireball jet out following the collision. That’s not quite what happened, NASA explained. Instead, a coronal mass ejection coincidentally blasted out to the right just as the comet approaches and is vaporized by the sun.

The comet is probably part of the Kreutz family — remnants of a single giant comet that broke up many centuries ago, and crash against its surface from time to time. It was discovered by amateur astronomer Sergey Shurpakov, the space agency said.

In this coronagraph, an opaque disk blocks the glare of the sun like an artificial eclipse, revealing faint objects that no Earth-bound telescope could possibly see. It’s intended to allow scientists to view the faint structures in the sun’s corona — but it also reveals sungrazing comets like this one.

NASA has discovered hundreds of such comets over the years — but none that have ended their existence in such an eye-opening fashion. In late December, 2010, the sun dealt with an entire storm of icy comets that dove into its heart and died a similar, fiery death.

“The storm began on Dec 13th and ended on the 22nd,” said Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. “During that time, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) detected 25 comets diving into the sun. It was crazy!”

Scientists have yet to find a convincing physical connection between sun-grazing comets and coronal mass ejections, according to NASA.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5715631317/in/photostream

Source

April 2, 2011

Sun Fades Away in Spectacular Eclipse Photo

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 9:17 am
Incredible Sun

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory snapped this view of the sun fading into shadow as it slips behind the Earth from the spacecraft's vantage point on March 29, 2011. The image was taken during SDO's so-called eclipse season, when it flies behind Earth for up to 72 minutes of each day. (NASA/GSFC/SDO)

A powerful NASA solar observatory has snapped an amazing view of the sun, a photo that shows the star partially obscured by the Earth.

The photo, obtained Tuesday (March 29) by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, was taken during the spacecraft’s so-called eclipse season – a period of the year when the satellite slips behind Earth for up to 72 minutes of every day. [See the stunning sun photo]

Sometimes, as the spacecraft swings behind the Earth, the probe is able to catch views of the planet as it blocks the sun. The result is an eerie view in which the sun’s bright disk gradually fades from view.

The image is a striking departure from other SDO photos that show the moon eclipsing the sun, known as lunar transits, which cut a crisp shadowy bite out of the star. [Amazing New Sun Photos From Space]

“Earth’s shadow has a variegated edge due to its atmosphere, which blocks the sun light to different degrees depending on its density,” NASA scientists explained in a photo description. “Also, light from brighter spots on the sun may make it through, which is why some solar features extend low into Earth’s shadow.”

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory experiences two eclipses seasons every year. The observatory was launched last year and is equipped with several high-definition cameras to beam back stunning views of the sun in different wavelengths.

The $850 million solar observatory is expected to last five years.

Source

March 3, 2011

Gargantuan Solar Prominence Captured on Film. Larger than 30 Earths.

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 5:44 pm

Watch the Amazing Short Movie!:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5483193591/

NASA image captured Feb. 24, 2011

To see an image showing the size of the prominence in comparison to the size of the Earth.

Gargantuan Solar flare, vs tiny size of the Earth

Gargantuan Solar flare, vs tiny size of the Earth

To view a high res still from this event go here: www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5483196119/

When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.

February 6, 2011

NASA Releases First 360-Degree View of Entire Sun

Filed under: Cool, Inner Solar System, The Sun — bferrari @ 9:27 pm
NASA/Space.com

NASA/Space.com

NASA has released the first 360-degree view of the entire sun today, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

The photo comes courtesy of NASA’s twin STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) spacecraft, which aligned exactly opposite each other on opposite sides of the sun to capture the image.

The ability to see the whole sun, front to back, will allow scientists to better understand complicated solar weather patterns and plan for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system, researchers said.

“The sun is a truly complex object which influences many aspects of our lives,” Richard Harrison, principal investigator for the U.K. instruments on STEREO, said in a statement. “In the same way that you would not expect to understand the workings of the brain by studying just a small part of it, a global investigation into the nature of our star as a complete object is essential to understanding how it works.”

Harrison is also co-investigator of NASA’s SDO mission (Solar Dynamics Observatory), which contributed to the new 360-degree view with high-resolution sun photos taken from orbit.

Scientists particularly want to better predict space weather and the violent eruptions that can spout from the sun’s surface. These eruptions can damage satellites, disrupt communications and disable power systems on Earth.

NASA’s STEREo spacecraft artist’s illustration.

“Solar missions such as STEREO and SDO not only give us more information about star formation and evolution throughout our universe, but are of vital importance in our quest to further understand the sun’s processes and the effect they can have on our planet and way of life,” said David Parker, director of space science and exploration for the U.K. Space Agency. “This spectacular 360-degree view is another triumph for the STEREO mission, which continues to obtain some of the best images yet of the sun.”

The two identical spacecraft of the NASA STEREO mission were launched in October 2006. They are offset from one another, one flying ahead of the Earth and the other behind.

SDO is the first mission in NASA’s Living with a Star program and was launched in February 2010. SDO’s unique orbit allows high-resolution images of the sun to be recorded every three-quarters of a second.

*Gallery: Amazing Sun Photos From Space

* Huge Solar Flare Creates Gorgeous Filament

* NASA Robot Will Help Kick Off Super Bowl Sunday

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