NASA Creates A Minute of Dynamic Perfection. Enjoy.


Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The Goddard Space Flight Center presents this video accompanied by the perfect symphonic background. Relax and Enjoy a break from life.

On April 2, 2014, the sun emitted an M6.5 mid-level solar flare, peaking at 10:05 a.m. EDT, and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured imagery of the event.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

This video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the flare in a blend of two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light: 304 Angstroms and 171 Angstroms, colorized in yellow and red, respectively.

THEMIS Discovers New Process that Protects Earth from Space Weather

A thin layer of cold, dense material called the plasmasphere surrounds Earth. Researchers have found that material in the plasmasphere can help prevent particles from the sun crossing into near Earth space. Image Credit: NASA

In the giant system that connects Earth to the sun, one key event happens over and over: solar material streams toward Earth and the giant magnetic bubble around Earth, the magnetosphere helps keep it at bay. The parameters, however, change: The particles streaming in could be from the constant solar wind, or perhaps from a giant cloud erupting off the sun called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. Sometimes the configuration is such that the magnetosphere blocks almost all the material, other times the connection is long and strong, allowing much material in. Understanding just what circumstances lead to what results is a key part of protecting our orbiting spacecraft from the effects of such space weather.

Now, for the first time, a study shows that in certain circumstances a pool of dense particles normally circling Earth, deep inside the magnetosphere, can extend a long arm out to meet – and help block – incoming solar material.

NASA's THEMIS mission observed how dense particles normally near Earth in a layer of the uppermost atmosphere called the plasmasphere can send a plume up through space to help protect against incoming solar particles during certain space weather events. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

“It’s like what you might do if a monster tried to break into your house. You’d stack furniture up against the front door, and that’s close to what the Earth is doing here,” said Brian Walsh, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The material that is usually much nearer Earth stacks up against the outer boundary of the magnetosphere, throttling the interaction there and stopping solar material from entering.”

In the March 6, 2014, issue of Science Express, Walsh and his colleagues compared observations from the ground and in space during a solar storm on Jan. 17, 2013. This was a fairly moderate solar storm caused by a CME impacting Earth’s magnetosphere for several hours. As the CME encountered the boundary of the magnetosphere, its magnetic fields and those around Earth realigned in a process called magnetic reconnection, which allowed energy and solar material to cross the boundary into the magnetosphere. NASA’s three THEMIS – for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms – spacecraft were in the right place at the right time, flying through the magnetosphere’s boundary approximately 45 minutes apart, and caught this interaction.

Closer to Earth, scientists could also study the sphere of cold dense gas at the very top of our atmosphere. This region is called the plasmasphere and it’s made of what’s known as plasma, a gas made of charged particles. GPS signals travel through the plasmasphere and they travel at different speeds depending on how thick or thin the plasmasphere is along the journey. Tracking the GPS radio signals, therefore, can help researchers map out the properties of the plasmasphere.

“A colleague who works with these kind of observations said I had to see some interesting data showing a plume from the ground,” said Walsh. “And I typed in the dates and saw that it was a date when THEMIS was in the right position. So, for the first time, we could make a comparison.”

Artist's rendition of the THEMIS spacecraft in orbit in Earth's magnetosphere. Image Credit: NASA

THEMIS showed that the tongue of this cold, dense plasmasphere material stretched all the way up to the magnetic reconnection point where the CME had made contact with the magnetopause. The three sets of THEMIS observations demonstrated that the plume had a dramatic impact on the characteristics of the magnetic reconnection region.

“It wouldn’t work if the magnetic reconnection happened for only a few minutes,” said David Sibeck the project scientist for THEMIS at NASA Goddard. “But if it lasts long enough, the whole magnetosphere gets involved. This tongue of the plasmasphere surges out, adding another layer of protection, curbing the magnetic reconnection.”

As scientists try to better understand the space weather system around Earth, they rely on multipoint observations such as this to connect what’s seen on the ground to what’s seen in space. In this case THEMIS data connected to GPS data, but such combinations are increasingly being used to watch how Earth is affected by its closest star. Eventually such observations could lead to improvements in space weather predictions, which would be as useful for spacecraft operators as terrestrial weather forecasts are for us here on Earth.

 

Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The Sun Unleashes a Huge Blast.

X-Class Solar Flare resulting in this huge CME early this morning. Image Credit: SOHO

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SOHO) captured this dynamic image of a huge CME coming off the surface of our Sun early this morning.

On a scale of X1 thru X9, this massive eruption was rated as an X4.9. Although not directly aimed at the Earth, this CME may give us a glancing blow.  Traveling at over 4 million miles per hour, a direct hit from a flare of this magnitude could create severe geomagnetic storms around the Earth resulting in power blackouts and high radiation levels.  It appears we have gotten lucky once again.

The sunspot that caused this flare is on its third pass around the Sun, which is unusual.  Known as AR 1967 during this latest event, it will now be called AR 1990 as it makes its way around to the Earth facing side.

Look for more activity from this this sunspot in the days to come.

In the image below, the white specks seen in the foreground indicate a proton event from the CME is being imaged by SOHO.  The chart below that confirms the image.

 

 

 

Sun Unleashes X-Class CME Directly Toward Earth.

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2014-01-08 12:30 UTC  G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storming Expected

SWPC Forecasters are anticipating G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm conditions to occur on January 9 and 10.  The source of this disturbance is a fairly fast Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) launched from centrally-located Region 1944 at 1832 UTC (1:32 p.m. EST) on January 7.  Full evaluation and modeling of this event has refined the forecast and indicates a fairly direct interaction with Earth, with the WSA-Enlil model putting arrival mid-morning UTC on January 9 (very early morning EST).  In addition, the S2 (Moderate) Solar Radiation Storm associated with this event is currently near, but below, the S3 (Strong) threshold, with values leveling off at this time.  At the Sun, Region 1944 remains well-placed and energetic.  Updates here as this event progresses.

What does this mean to us?

Using the map below, find where you live which will be along or in between the lines showing the KP Index.  In a G3 or strong geomagnetic storm the KP Index = 7.  If you reside on or above this line, the chance of seeing an Aurora is increased when the storm arrives.

Note:  Unless you are flying at high altitudes during an S2 or S3 Radiation Storm, there is no cause for worry as the Earth is protected at lower altitudes from this radiation.

Updates will follow as I receive them.  Or visit the following sites:

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/k-index.html

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/archive/current_month.html

Latest Update:  2014-01-10 12:02 UTC  Space Weather Update

The coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the R3 (Strong) Solar Flare Radio Blackout event from January 7th appears to have only had minor effects on Earth.  Initial indications of a weak structure held true for the remainder of the period and the anticipated geomagnetic storming never materialized.  While increased activity is still possible, it now appears improbable. The ongoing Solar Radiation Storm remains near the S2 (Moderate) threshold, but continues its trend towards background levels.  Region 1944 had no significant flaring and continues to exhibit signs of decay.  Updates here as conditions warrant.

Previous Update:  2014-01-10 01:15 UTC  Modest Start to Geomagnetic Storm

The coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with the R3 (Strong) Solar Flare Radio Blackout event from January 7th is now affecting Earth but the resulting geomagnetic storm is off to a modest start, with no substantial storming occurring thus far.  The initial structure of this CME has been relatively weak in strength, but that said, it generally takes on the order of 24 hours or more for the full event to transpire and stronger storming is certainly still possible.  The ongoing Solar Radiation Storm, still just above the S2 (Moderate) threshold, continues it slow decay toward background levels.  Additionally, Region 1944 is showing some signs of decay and no significant flaring has been observed in the last 48 hours.  Stay tuned for updates.

Previous Update:  2014-01-09 20:02 UTC  CME Has Arrived

The coronal mass ejection (CME), originally expected to arrive around 0800 UTC (3:00 a.m. EST) today, January 9, was observed at the ACE spacecraft just upstream of Earth at 1932 UTC (2:32 p.m. EST).  It’s too early to see much with respect to the magnetic structure of this CME, but short-term, high-confidence warnings will be issued as this event plays out.  The original forecast continues to be for G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm activity on January 9 and 10.  Aurora watchers may be in luck for tonight.  The ongoing Solar Radiation Storm, currently at S2 (Moderate) levels, is seeing a modest enhancement with this shock passage but remains below S3 (Strong) threshold at this time.  Updates here as this event unfolds.

Previous Update:  2014-01-09 12:36 UTC  Awaiting CME Arrival

The ongoing Solar Radiation Storm peaked briefly just above the S3 (Strong) threshold but is now in decay and currently at S2 (Moderate) levels.  Enhancement back across the S3 level is possible with the anticipated coronal mass ejection (CME) arrival. The CME, originally expected to arrive around 0800 UTC (3:00 a.m. EST) today, January 9, is now slightly overdue.  However, pre-arrival signatures from EPAM data on the ACE spacecraft still show this transient en route. G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm activity is still expected on January 9 and 10.  Updates here as this event unfolds.

Update:  2014-01-09 00:03 UTC  S3 (Strong) Solar Radiation Storm In Progress

The ongoing S2 (Moderate) Solar Radiation Storm has intensified to an S3 (Strong) event as of 2320 UTC (6:20 p.m. EST) today, January 8. Protons should stay at this same approximate level for the next few hours, then likely take another jump with the passage of the shock ahead of the CME, expected to occur around 0900 UTC (4:00 a.m. EST) tomorrow, January 9. However, this increase is not expected to exceed the S3 level. The CME is forecast to set off G3 (Strong) Geomagnetic Storm activity through January 9 and 10. Aurora watchers should be ready; updates here as things unfold.

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Plasma streaming toward Earth early this morning as viewed from the SOHO Space Observatory.

TCTE Satellite Closely Watching Our Sun

Total solar irradiance (shown in color) over the past three solar cycles since 1978 adjusted to a ground-based cryogenic instrument funded by NASA in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Image Credit: Greg Kopp, LASP, University of Colorado / NASA

Maintaining a record of solar measurements is important in understanding the sun’s effect on Earth and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), Total solar irradiance Calibration Transfer Experiment, or TCTE, is now providing that information.

Many natural conditions on Earth such as the surface temperature or air temperature depend on energy that comes from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation. A solar cycle lasts about 11 years and typically has modest changes in solar radiation. There are also dramatic solar events that eject solar material, but the energy variation caused by these particle emissions, when averaged over a year or longer, is small compared to variations in the sun’s electromagnetic radiation.

Scientists have noted these changes in the sun’s energy by observing from Earth’s surface for more than a hundred years, but were only able to begin to determine their magnitude and impact on Earth’s climate with more accurate measurements from space, starting in 1978 with measurements of the “total solar irradiance,” or TSI, made by NASA’s Nimbus 7 satellite.

Total Irradiance Monitor used to measure solar irradiance on the TCTE and SORCE missions. Image Credit: LASP, University of Colorado

It is important to continue this TSI measurement record without a break in the data. The TCTE is designed to prevent such a break by continuing measurements from space to determine how solar changes are influencing Earth’s climate.

 

TCTE Satellite Launch from Wallops Island

A NOAA, Joint Polar Satellite System-sponsored mission, TCTE launched aboard U.S. Air Force Space TestProgram Satellite-3, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Since launch, TCTE successfully turned on and is transmitting information.

Solar irradiance is currently measured by the Total Irradiance Monitor or TIM deployed in 2003 on NASA’s Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment or SORCE mission. The TIM on TCTE is one of three nearly identical instruments built as part of NASA’s investment in the Total Irradiance Monitor deployed in 2003 on the SORCE mission.

While SORCE was designed to last for five years, it is still recording data more than 10 years later, but the aging satellite is nearing the end of its battery life. It is critical for the continuity of the data stream to have both instruments overlap to allow for syncing the measurements, allowing the new more accurate TCTE calibration to be transferred to SORCE TIM, and then to earlier overlapping measurements, so greatly increasing the accuracy and value of the overall TSI record.

Mission scientists hope for an overlap period of about ten days for the two instruments in space. After that period, because there are other instruments on the Air Force satellite, TCTE will be turned on once a week for a few orbits of the Earth, typically lasting about an hour-and-a-half, with a view of the sun for about 45 minutes during each orbit.

“The basic input to the climate system is the sun. We need that basic measurement before we can do other science,” said Jeffrey Privette, chief of Climate Services and Monitoring Division for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. “The important thing is to not lose this record. I’m very optimistic about the quality of the data and the ability to use it,” he said.

The SORCE satellite prior to its launch in January 2003. The satellite has three instruments designed to measure solar irradiance and the solar spectrum to better understand the sun's role in climate change and another instrument to measure high-energy radiation from the sun. Image Credit: NASA

The solar irradiance measurements achieved by the TIM deployed in 2003, and its near clone as part of TCTE, are significantly more accurate than their previous space-based predecessors, said Robert Cahalan, project scientist for SORCE and TCTE at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Prior to SORCE, the space-based solar irradiance measurements located their precision apertures, that control exposure to the sun’s light, inside the instrument, requiring the light to travel past baffles and other instrument surfaces before reaching that aperture, allowing some unknown amount of sunlight to be reflected from those surfaces, and then to enter the aperture, resulting in lost precision. “The big innovation with the SORCE TIM is that the precision aperture is right out in front, so the exposure is known very precisely,” said Cahalan.

Even though the TIM on TCTE was built at the same time as the TIM currently flying on SORCE, scientists now have had the advantage with the current TIM of calibrating it with a ground-based cryogenic system operating at very cold temperatures to establish a more accurate measurement. This cryogenic system did not exist when the instrument on SORCE was launched.

This innovation will benefit the previous space-based solar data recorded since 1978. “Because we have a calibrated instrument, we will transfer that information to the data from SORCE, allowing us to correct the last 11 years of TIM data. And all the earlier instruments can potentially be corrected by their instrument teams and principal investigators,” Cahalan said.

Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Scientists acknowledge that there is evidence that Earth’s relationship to the sun, including changes in Earth’s orbit, is a cause of some changes to the climate.. Yet over the last few decades, there has been no significant trend in the sun’s energy output, its TSI, and over a 1,000 year timescale, Earth’s orbit is remains essentially fixed and unchanged. Known orbital changes require more than 10,000 years to occur.

Surface melt water rushes along the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet through a supra-glacial stream channel, southwest of Ilulissat, Greenland. Photo Credit: Ian Joughin/AP/File

“In recent decades Earth has experienced a dramatic rise in temperature over the planet as a whole, and as the temperature has risen, ice has melted and the ocean has acidified (become less basic). These changes are traceable to the same cause, namely the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted from fossil fuel use, trapping heat near Earth’s surface, and being absorbed in the oceans,” Cahalan said.

“During these decades, the sun’s brightness (energy) has undergone several up-and-down cycles, in sync with the sunspot cycle, but with no overall trend that could explain Earth’s temperature trend,” Cahalan said. “That doesn’t mean we should stop measuring the sun. Just because the sun hasn’t significantly brightened or dimmed since 1978, doesn’t mean it won’t brighten or dim between now and 2050. Even a very small trend in the sun would either enhance the warming, if the sun were brightening, or partially offset it, if the sun were dimming.”

Related Links:

For more information about JPSS and its precursor, Suomi NPP, please visit: http://www.jpss.noaa.gov/ andhttp://www.nasa.gov/npp

For more information about TCTE please visit: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-tcte/

For more information on the Total Irradiance Monitor please visit: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/sorce/instruments/tim/

For more information on SORCE, please visit: http://science1.nasa.gov/missions/sorce/ andhttp://lasp.colorado.edu/home/sorce/

 

NASA Goddard: Audrey Haar
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
240-684-0808
audrey.j.haar@nasa.gov

NOAA: John Leslie
NOAA Office of Communications and External Affairs
301-713-0214
john.leslie@noaa.gov

 

The Power Of Our Star

Image Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

The power of the sun is displayed in this image taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) on November 2, 2013.

Fortunately, this huge CME was facing away from Earth at the time. 

The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path.

SOHO is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA.

Large Coronal Hole Near the Sun’s North Pole

The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO

 

The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun’s north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Coronal holes are dark, low density regions of the sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona. They contain little solar material, have lower temperatures, and therefore, appear much darker than their surroundings.

Coronal holes are a typical feature on the sun, though they appear at different places and with more frequency at different times of the sun’s activity cycle. The activity cycle is currently ramping up toward what is known as solar maximum, currently predicted for late 2013. During this portion of the cycle, the number of coronal holes decreases. During solar max, the magnetic fields on the sun reverse and new coronal holes appear near the poles with the opposite magnetic alignment. The coronal holes then increase in size and number, extending further from the poles as the sun moves toward solar minimum again.  At such times, coronal holes have appeared that are even larger than this one.

The holes are important to our understanding of space weather, as they are the source of a high-speed wind of solar particles that streams off the sun some three times faster than the slower wind elsewhere. While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere.

Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.