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Friday 13 July 2012

A quick note on a huge solar storm....

How's my blogging? Don't reply to that today, I'm hungover, I don't need to hear all about my spelling mistakes and dodgy grasp of science as well....

I went to my graduation ceremony yesterday. And then to a bar to celebrate, and then to a couple of pubs. And then I vaguely remember trying warm Sake. To cut a long story short, most of which I don't remember, I'm still hungover, so normal service will have to resume tomorrow.

But there were just a couple of things I couldn't go without mentioning:

Image above: Sunspot group AR 1520.It's huge, it's throwing out flares and ionised gas, and it's pointed at you! Image courtesy of Meadow Creek Park Observatory.

The Sun isn't done with its antics! The immense AR1520 sunspot cluster - roughly wide across as the distance from the Earth to the Moon - has belched out a huge X 1.4* solar flare [1]. This flare has set off a coronal mass ejection, a huge bubble of ionised gas tearing through space, which is expected to reach Earth on Sunday morning.

Video above: The huge sunspot cluster throws out a whopping great flare, picked up by the Solar Dynamics Observatory [2]. And two thumbs up for the music.Video courtesy of NASA.

Such a big solar storm has the potential to disrupt radio communication, damage satellites, and cause surges in national power grids. But Earth is used to things like this, we've got lots of warning, so don't panic, don't run out your front door screaming, don't wear a tinfoil hat and gibber about aliens stealing your thoughts. If anyone is already doing all those things; don't come over to my house, I scare easily.....

Instead, stay tuned for massive aurora, and of course, lots of cool pictures.....

The Chandra X-ray space telescope [3] has picked a whopping burst of X-rays from as black hole in the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy.......

Image above: Umm... I'm not totally sure. It's taken in X-ray light, and is of a huge outburst of X-rays from a black hole millions of light-years away. Which means the outburst happened millions of years ago. But I'm not sure which bit of the picture that is. It's very pretty though. My two year old daughter does pictures like this on the kitchen floor, if I don't grab the paint off her in time...Image courtesy of NASA
To be honest I don't understand that image, but it looks amazing and I don't even like pink. Maybe just a little.

Nothing wrong with pink. Ahem...

Anyway, the enormous burst of X-rays is probably caused by the black hole guzzling down something big... but what?

Much closer to home: The Sun and the Earth have more connection than we realised: The magnetic fields of the Earth and Sun can temporarily join [4], allowing particles to flow straight into Earths magnetosphere [5]. This adds to our growing picture of the magnetosphere being a constantly changing, almost choppy, thing.....

Video above: A NASA Science Cast about the 'gateways' that open between the magnetic fields of the earth and the Sun.... video courtesy of NASA.

 That may sound a bit irrelevant, but one of the reasons [6] our planet is the lush place it is, is the magnetosphere bubble the planet blows about itself. Missions like THEMIS [7] and CLUSTER [8] are already studying the magnetosphere as a whole. The study of these turbulent re-connections, between Earth and Sun, has already got its own space mission in the works [9], to study these events, up close....

* A really, really, big one. Just a hair short of huge.

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