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Posts Tagged ‘solar storm

Camilla – the rubber chicken – flies to edge of Earth’s atmosphere

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A group of students from Bishop, California, have sent a rubber chicken to an altitude of 120,000ft as part of a project.

The journey, which involved attaching the fowl known as Camilla to a helium balloon, was undertaken to test the levels of radiation exposed to the chicken during a solar storm, last month.

Camilla is already well known among space enthusiasts as a mascot of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, and has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

On the outside of her knitted space suit, she wore a pair of badges to register radiation levels.

She flew twice – once on 3 March before the radiation storm and again on 10 March while the storm was in full swing – to give the students a basis for comparison.

The students now hope to repeat the mission with a species of microbes to find out if they can live at the edge of space.

Bravo, Camilla. Kudos to the kids in Bishop, California.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

Auroras lighting-up on Uranus photographed for the first time

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For the first time, astronomers have snapped photos of auroras lighting up Uranus’s icy atmosphere.

Two fleeting, Earth-size auroral storms were imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope as they flared up on the dayside of the gas giant in November 2011.

“The last time we had any definite signals of auroral activity on Uranus was when NASA’s Voyager 2 probe swung by in 1986,” said study leader Laurent Lamy, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in Meudon, France.

“But this is the first time we can actually see these emissions light up with an Earth-based telescope.”

Auroras are light displays often seen at the highest latitudes of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn—all of which all have magnetospheres that act as shields against incoming solar storms…

The team timed their Hubble observations specifically to coincide with the solar storm, and about six weeks later, Hubble spotted the auroras flaring up in Uranus’s upper atmosphere…

The auroras’ unusual appearance might have something to do with the planet’s oddball orientation.

Unlike the other seven planets, Uranus’s magnetic axis is 60 degrees off from its spin axis. In addition, spin axis itself has a bizarre 98-degree tilt relative to the solar system’s orbital plane. In other words, the planet seems to roll around on its side as it orbits the sun.

Uranus’s auroras are very short-lived, and Lamy speculates that’s because of the difference between the orientation of the incoming solar particles and the planet’s unusual magnetic field.

Delightful stuff. We’re fortunate that [so far] the rising tide of anti-scientific drivel that consumes nutballs — and politicians seeking the nutball vote — hasn’t affected astronomy.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some Tea Party hack ask that the Hubble conduct a search for angels.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 14, 2012 at 6:00 am

Watch aurora borealis displays sparked up north by solar storm

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Picture: Jonina Oskardottir/AP

The northern lights are seen in the skies near Faskusfjordur on the east coast of Iceland.

Click on the photo for a few more lovely views.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Solar storm hits Earth with increased aurora activity

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After a weekend filled with great auroral activity in Northern Canada and Scandinavia thanks to a strong gust of solar wind coming off the Sun January 19th, the Earth is about to get hit again – by the biggest blast of solar radiation in 7 years. Talk about a one-two punch on the cosmic scale!

Late last night…a giant, long lasting, solar flare erupted off the face of the Sun, sending a giant Coronal Mass Ejection – cloud of plasma and charged particles – squarely towards the Earth. Detected by NASA’s sun-monitoring satellites SOHO and STEREO, the solar blast was determined to be an M9 on the Richter scale of solar flares – just shy of an X- class flare which is ranked as the most powerful. Space weather forecasters at NOAA – who keep watch for any hazardous, incoming solar storms – are expecting the brunt of the CME to slam into Earth’s magnetic field Jan.24 around 9 am EST (2 pm UT) +/- 7 hours…

Already the front of the storm is now being felt as space radiation (energized protons) speeds by Earth, states the Spaceweather.com website. The high influx of charged particles hitting the magnetic field poses a hazard to everything from GPS signals, polar radio communications, power grids and circuit boards on orbiting satellites.

What does this mean for chances of seeing Northern Lights? If the geomagnetic storm becomes moderate to strong then auroras may creep down to southern latitudes like Texas and Georgia – but that’s pretty rare. Exactly how intense and widespread the sky show will be depends on how our planet’s magnetic field is oriented at the time when the storm arrives.

Best time to go outside will be between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows to start near the horizon. Catching auroras with your camera is not hard. All you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a timer.

You don’t even need it to be a DSLR – just a decent camera that can handle a 20 second exposure. My “big” camera has a wireless remote that will let me open and then close the shutter for any time period I feel like counting off.

But, I don’t expect to see any aurora at this latitude. Yes – I will go outside and look, though.

Written by Ed Campbell

January 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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