Tag Archives: Sun

A Few Reasons Why Tomorrow Might Be A Bit of a Strange Day…

Tomorrow will not be your ordinary Friday. For starters, tomorrow is the 13th, making tomorrow a Friday the 13th.

There will also be a full moon in the sky when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The last time that happened? October 13, 2000. The next time it will happen? August 13, 2049.

I’m not one for superstitions, but there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. Our sun has been shooting off powerful solar flares the last few days, including this one captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory early Tuesday morning:

Three recent solar X-flares emitted by the Sun. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NASA/SDO)

Solar flares are brief, high-radiation eruptions that happen on the surface of the Sun. The three flares emitted in the past two days (pictured above) have been X-flares, the most powerful classification of solar flare. X-flares emit radiation at virtually every wavelength, from radio waves, to the light we can see, to x-rays and gamma rays.

Because of all of the different electromagnetic waves that the flares emit, they can disrupt communications here on Earth. In fact, the flare in the video above caused a temporary radio blackout here on Earth, according to Space.com.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

Did I mention CMEs? CME stands for coronal mass ejection. This occurs when a powerful solar flare emits a plasma burst along with the radiation. A plasma burst can cause polar geomagnetic storms which are capable of severely disrupting communications and satellite systems, including GPS.

Along with having the potential to cause low levels of radiation poisoning in humans, a strong CME would also create surges in electrical wires, destroying transformers and leaving millions without power.

Despite the scary stuff, CME’s are pretty fascinating. These plasma burst clouds actually compresses Earth’s own magnetic field, which is what causes so many of the potential issues.

Artist depiction of how a CME plasma burst interacts with Earth’s magnetoshpere (Courtesy of NASA)

At first, officials at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center didn’t think that the flare in the video above had emitted a CME, only to find later that it had actually produced two of them.

They are expected to give Earth a glancing blow when they reach Earth orbit…tomorrow, Friday the 13th.

Watch A Four-Year Timelapse of A Mysterious Cosmic Explosion Captured By the Hubble Telescope (Video)

Back in January of 2002, astronomers witnessed a huge explosion from the star V838 Monocerotis, a red variable star about 20,000 light years away from our Sun.

At first, they thought it was a typical supernova (the explosion of a dying star), but after watching the explosion dim then brighten twice over a period of only a few months (supernovas will usually only dim after the initial bright explosion), astronomers really weren’t sure what they were dealing with.

Check out a time-lapse of the explosion from 2002-2006 below (full screen highly suggested).

So what exactly is going on with this explosion? Well, there are five possibilities that have been proposed so far:

  1. The explosion was a supernova, just a very unique one with a multi-outburst pattern, which would explain the multiple brightening and dimming events. Most scientists agree that the large size and young age of the stars in that region makes this explanation unlikely, however.
  2. The explosion was a thermal pulse. When moderately-sized stars run out of fuel, they explode (in a supernova), leaving behind a dense core of hydrogen and helium. Sometimes this hydrogen and helium core can be re-ignited, illuminating the layers of ejected star material from the supernova explosion. Again, however, the star’s young age makes this possibility unlikely.
  3. Another theory also proposes a helium flash, but one that occurred as a result of thermonuclear processes in a massive supergiant star. Supergiants can be large enough for an outer layer of helium to ignite and start the fusion process without the whole star being destroyed. This theory fits with the star’s age, but it doesn’t seem that V838 Monocerotis had enough mass for this process occur.
  4. Planetary capture: when a star grows to large proportions, it can start consuming nearby planets. The friction generated when a very large planet gets pulled apart by the star’s gravity can produce enough energy to spark deuterium fusion, which releases massive amounts of energy (like what we see in the time-lapse).
  5. The explosion was a result of a mergeburst. Sometimes, in clusters of younger stars (where orbits can be very unstable), two main-sequence stars can collide, creating an explosion similar to the one in the video. The relatively young age of the stars near V838 Monocerotis make this a reasonable possibility, and this hypothesis has also been supported by computer modeling.

It’s awesome to study the stars and find out exactly why they act the way they do, but sometimes explanations can be elusive. So while we search for answers, we should also make sure we take the time to simply enjoy watching this mesmerizing cosmic phenomenon.

(h/t Gizmodo)

What It Looks Like When Two Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form a Black Hole (Video)

A neutron star is what’s left behind when a massive star (typically 8-30 times the size of our Sun) explodes into a supernova. These supergiant stars get so large that they are no longer able to remain stable under their own intense gravity, collapsing in on themselves.

The gravity is so massive that it exceeds the strength of the atomic forces within particles, causing them to eject protons and electrons. The ball of neutrons they leave behind is so dense that a teaspoonful of the material would weigh as much as Mount Everest!

A neutron star (the tiny white dot in the middle) surrounded by the remnants of the supernova explosion that created it. Click to enlarge (Photo: NASA/Andrew Fruchter)

Neutrons stars have a “mass threshold”- if they take on too much mass, even the neutrons themselves will collapse. When two of these extremely dense neutron stars collide, the extra mass they add to one another causes their massive gravitational forces to tear each other apart.

They go into a blindingly-fast death spin, ejecting massive amount of material while merging into a doughnut like structure with a black hole at its center. The entire process takes just 20 milliseconds (that is 1/50th of a second, if you’re wondering).

Check out a simulation of the amazing phenomenon courtesy of NASA:

Blowing the Top Off a Mountain to Build a Telescope So Big It Can See Signs of Life On Other Planets

In a few short weeks, engineers in the Chilean Coastal Ranges of the Andes Mountains in South America will be blowing off the top of Cerro Armazones.  Standing at 10,000 feet, it’s one of the tallest peaks in the region. Here’s Gird Hudepohl, the head engineer for the project:

“We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”

Cerro Armazones, future site of the world’s largest telescope (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Coastal Ranges region is extremely arid, which increases visibility since water vapor in the air obscures a telescope’s vision (this is also why telescopes at high elevations have much better vision than those closer to sea level).

This isn’t Hudepohl’s first rodeo. He works for the European Southern Observatory and was in charge of the demolition of another nearby peak (Cerro Paranal) which is now home to one of the world’s most advanced observatories.

The observatory at Cerro Paranal is equipped with four VLTs (Very Large Telescopes), each the size of “a block of flats” and each equipped with an 8m wide primary mirror (thats more than 24 feet).

Here’s some pictures of the European Southern Observatory (click an image to enlarge):

The new telescope, however, will be bigger than all four of those VLTs combined. The E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope- they’re not very creative with the names obviously) will be equipped with a massive 39m (128ft) primary mirror made up 800 segments, each 1.4 meters in diameter but only a few centimeters thick. Each segment must be calibrated with microscopic precision for the telescope to function correctly.

When it’s finished (projected completion is 2025), the telescope will be housed in a 74m (~243ft) dome and weigh in at almost 3,000 tons. The project has a price tag of $1.34 billion.

Artist rendering of the completed E-ELT

The telescope is obviously extremely expensive, but the potential benefits it will provide are well worth it. Here’s Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore explaining why the E-ELT will be such a major breakthrough:

“[Right now] we can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”

Read the full story from The Guardian here.

So There’s This Kid Making Solar “Death Rays” And They’re Pretty Sweet (Video)

Eric Jacqmain is just a creative guy who wanted a death ray. So, he decided to cover a satellite dish with 5,800 tiny mirrors. This is from his video description:

“When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 times normal daylight. This intensity of light is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant.”

The end of the description is both ironically hilarious and moderately worrying at the same time:

“Unfortunately, the R5800 was completely destroyed in a storage shed fire on December 14, 2010, about 8 months after filming this video. It has been replaced by the R23k, which has 23,000 mirrors and a concentration power of 10,000 times daylight.”

Hey, if death rays keep him interested in science then I’m all for it.

If You Missed The Blood Moon You Can Watch The Whole Thing Here In Just 9 Seconds (Gif)

You may have heard people talking about the “blood moon” that happened last night. If you missed it, not to worry! Here’s the entire event (which took just under two and a half hours) in just 9 seconds:

Getty Images (25); Gif by Mia Tramz/TIME

To learn more about what caused the blood moon checkout our post about the event from yesterday.

Edit: Just found another cool gif of the event from another perspective-Enjoy!

 

What Is A Blood Moon and Why Is It Happening Tonight During the Total Lunar Eclipse??

At exactly 8:58 p.m. CST (central time) tonight, the moon will move into Earth’s shadow. The total lunar eclipse, where the moon is completely shaded by the Earth, will start a little more than an hour later at 10:07 p.m. CST, and will last until approximately 11:25 p.m. CST.

The basics of a lunar eclipse (Courtesy of NASA)

You may have heard the term “blood moon” before. Whenever the moon passes into Earth’s shadow, it takes on a reddish color- it can be anywhere from a bright copper to a darker hue, like the color of dried blood. But what causes this?

Well, even when the Earth is between the sun and the moon, some of the light from all of the sunsets and sunrises happening around the rim of the Earth makes it to the moon’s surface. Here’s Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope magazine:

“If you were standing on the moon during a total lunar eclipse you would see the Earth as a black disk with a brilliant orange ring around it. And this brilliant ring would be bright enough to dimly light up the lunar landscape.”

It’s this ring of light which gives the moon its blood red color.

CGI image of what Earth would look like from the moon during a lunar eclipse

Tonight’s eclipse will be the first total lunar eclipse since December of 2011. It will be visible in its entirety across almost the entire continental United States, as well as in parts of Canada and Central America.

You can use the map below to figure out how much of the eclipse will be visible from where you are. Read more from the L.A. Times here.

Click to enlarge

The Solar Flare So Intense That Telegraphs Spontaneously Caught Fire

Back in 1859, Richard Carrington, one of England’s leading astronomers at the time, witnessed one of the most intense solar flares to hit Earth in recent history. Here’s the story from NASA Science:

At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England’s foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory. Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw.

Right: Sunspots sketched by Richard Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859. Copyright: Royal Astronomical Society: more.

On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and “being somewhat flurried by the surprise,” Carrington later wrote, “I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled.” He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.

It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.

A solar flare from December 5, 2006. It was so intense it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture. (Photo: NASA)

Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

Some of the effects of solar flares on Earth (click to enlarge)
Some of the effects of solar flares on Earth (click to enlarge)

“What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun,” explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Now we know that solar flares happen frequently, especially during solar sunspot maximum. Most betray their existence by releasing X-rays (recorded by X-ray telescopes in space) and radio noise (recorded by radio telescopes in space and on Earth). In Carrington’s day, however, there were no X-ray satellites or radio telescopes. No one knew flares existed until that September morning when one super-flare produced enough light to rival the brightness of the sun itself.

“It’s rare that one can actually see the brightening of the solar surface,” says Hathaway. “It takes a lot of energy to heat up the surface of the sun!”

The feature photo is a solar flare from August 31, 2012. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

What Does The Shadow of A Solar Eclipse Look Like From Space? (gif)

This amazing gif was generated using images captured by a weather satellite owned by EUMETSAT (European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites).

Click to enlarge

The satellite is traveling in geosynchronous orbit, meaning it’s orbiting Earth at the same speed that Earth rotates on its axis. This is what allows the satellite to focus on the same region the whole time.

(Feature photo courtesy of nethskie2010)