Solar Storms Building Toward Peak in 2013, NASA Predicts

by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Assistant Managing Editor
Date: 09 August 2011 Time: 05:06 PM ET

This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the X6.9 solar flare of Aug. 9, 2011 near the western limb (right edge) of the sun. CREDIT: NASA/SDO/Weather.com

Solar flares like the huge one that erupted on the sun early today (Aug. 9) will only become more common as our sun nears its maximum level of activity in 2013, scientists say.

Tuesday’s flare was the most powerful sun storm since 2006, and was rated an X6.9 on the three-class scale for solar storms (X-Class is strongest, with M-Class in the middle and C-Class being the weakest).

Flares such as this one could become the norm soon, though, as our sun’s 11-year cycle of magnetic activity ramps up, scientists explained. The sun is just coming out of a lull, and scientists expect the next peak of activity in 2013. The current cycle, called Solar Cycle 24, began in 2008.

“We still are on the upswing with this recent burst of activity,” said Phil Chamberlin, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is a deputy project scientist for the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a sun-studying satellite that launched in February 2010. “We could definitely in the next year or two see more events like this; there’s a potential to see larger events as well.”

A more active sun

Earth got lucky with the most recent flare, which wasn’t pointed directly at Earth; therefore, it didn’t send the brunt of its charged particles toward us, but out into space. However, we may not be so fortunate in the future, experts warned.

“We’re in the new cycle, it is building and we’ll see events like this one,” said Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center. “They’ll be much more commonplace and we’ll get more used to them.”

Spacecraft such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which recorded amazing videos of the Aug. 9 solar flare, and other observatories will be vital in monitoring the sun during its active phase, researchers said.

How sun storms form

Storms brew on the sun when pent-up energy from tangled magnetic field lines is released in the form of light, heat and charged particles. This can create a brightening on the sun called a flare, and is also often accompanied by the release of a cloud of plasma called a coronal mass ejection (CME).

These ejections are the part we Earthlings have to worry about.

As the CME careens through space, it can send a horde of charged particles toward our planet that can damage satellites, endanger astronauts in orbit, and interfere with power systems, communications and other infrastructure on the ground.

“We’re well aware of the difficulties and challenges,” Kunches told SPACE.com. “We know more about the sun than we ever have.”

Can we predict solar storms?

When a big storm occurs, the Space Weather Prediction Center releases a warning to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, emergency managers and agencies responsible for protecting power grids. Then power grids can distribute power and reduce their loads to protect themselves.

Satellite and power companies are also trying to design technology that can better withstand the higher radiation loads unleashed by solar storms.

Still, scientists would like to offer more advanced warnings when big storms are headed our way.

“We’re being reactive, we’re not being proactive,” Chamberlin said. “We don’t know how to predict these things, which would be nice.”

Chamberlin said solar science has come a long way in recent years, though, and the goal of SDO and other NASA projects is to improve our understanding of the sun and our ability to forecast space weather.

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Solar Storms Building Toward Peak in 2013, NASA Predicts | Solar Flares & Storms | Space & Solar Weather | Space.com.

Sky Lights Up Red And Green As Reports Of Fireball Entering Atmosphere Conflict With CME, Northern Lights Report

The Intel Hub
October 24, 2011

Note: During The Bob Tuskin Radio Show Tonight we received a report live from New York. You can listen to the live report here (about an hour and 20 mins in)

Geomagnetic Storm / Incoming CME Impact Throughout Canada And United States

Reports of some sort of meteor event in North and South Carolina as well as Georgia are lighting up the internet as large parts of central and eastern United States witnessed red and green lights across the sky from what was an apparent CME hit.

According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, a moderate Geomagnetic Storm Monday evening caused the Northern Lights to visible throughout much of the country.

SpaceWeather.com relayed a report from the Goddard Space Weather Lab saying, “the impact [of the CME] caused a strong compression of Earth’s magnetic field, allowing solar wind to penetrate all the way down to geosynchronous orbit for a brief period.”

At the same time widespread reports have came in that indicate a large fireball/meteor was seen in both South and North Carolina as well as Georgia.

Source: Lunarmeteoritehunters:

Columbia, South Carolina FIREBALL IN SKY 19:15 Eastern 24OCT2011
Hey I am located in Northeast columbia/ Pontiac area in what is call The Summit, around 19:15 tonight what looked to be a fireball entered the sky to the southwest and burned out to the northeast and lasted about 4 to 5 seconds, It was fiery red in color and got the brightest 2 seconds in, I wish I could have got a picture or video but i have never seen anything like this and was awestruck let me know if you need any more info and keep me updated. -Adam Gilliland

Thank you Adam!

*****

Tonight, around 7:20 PM, as we were leaving the Dairy Queen in Watkinsville, Georgia, we saw a bright object falling slowly from the northeast to the east. It lasted about 3 to 4 seconds. It was white for the most part, with a faint orange/red around the edges. It then started to go green as it fell behind the trees. It was gone by the time we cleared the trees on Highway 53. We were in an SUV so if it made any sound, I didn’t hear it. It was as bright as maybe negative 2 magnitude or so. This is the second one I have spotted this year. I also saw the one back on May 29th of this year. -Ira Thank you Ira!
Read More Reports – http://lunarmeteoritehunters.blogspot.com/2011/10/mbiq-indicates-south-carolina-meteor.html

From Facebook:

I swear on my life i was sitting on my front porch and i saw a bright light and i got up and looked at the sky and there was something shooting across the sky and pieces of it where flying off and were on fire it went down and looked like it landed at most 15 miles from my house out in the woods.

Whats going on in the sky ????? Earlier what appeared to be a meteor went speeding through the sky like a fire ball from West to East now the Northern sky appears Blood Red …. there doesn’t appear to be any clouds in the sky but I cant seem to find the Moon

Its a big part of the Northern sky … I live in Ellenboro NC and the sky looks Blood Red and the Moon is nowhere to be found and there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky all the stars and constellations are shining brightly

From Portland Universe Blogs:

Breaking Story – MBIQ (Meteor Bot Internet Query) Bot Indicates Large South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia Fireball Meteor Event 24OCT2011

We need YOUR witness reports to post details; thank you:

Columbia, South Carolina FIREBALL IN SKY 19:15 Eastern 24OCT2011
Hey I am located in Northeast columbia/ Pontiac area in what is call The Summit, around 19:15 tonight what looked to be a fireball

Stay tuned this story will be updated shortly.

Mainstream news reports:

Fox19

Just what are those red lights in the sky?

On a dark clear night, When our viewers see lights in the sky it is one of two phenomena. First and most often, it could be very high, thin clouds reflecting sunlight. Even though the sun set an hour or more earlier high in the atmosphere the sun is still above the horizon. The light in this case is usually pale white but it can be pale red if there is dust in the atmosphere to the west.

Occasionally we see the northern lights here in Cincinnati. Scientists call this phenomenon the aurora borealis and when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field a variety of colors and shapes can result.

Red usually signifies oxygen atoms in the very highest part of the atmosphere, above 120 miles up, interacting with the charged particles of the solar wind. Green (sometimes yellowish-green) too is oxygen and blue is nitrogen but at a lower elevation between 60 and 120 miles up. The blue nitrogen glow is hard to see against the black sky so it is rarely reported. A bit lower still, below 60 miles up, nitrogen glows deep red/crimson color.

*****

nbc4i.com

Central Ohio Has Rare Sighting of Northern Lights

CENTRAL OHIO — If you saw it, you’re lucky. It doesn’t happen this far south very often. Those red and pink streaks in the sky were, indeed, the Northern Lights (the Aurora Borealis). According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, we had a moderate Geomagnetic Storm Monday evening.

The sun spit out a sizable Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) around 2pm EDT Monday. It only takes the light from the sun about eight minutes to get to the earth but it takes several hours for us to feel the effects of a CME.

SpaceWeather.com relayed a report from the Goddard Space Weather Lab saying, “the impact [of the CME] caused a strong compression of Earth’s magnetic field, allowing solar wind to penetrate all the way down to geosynchronous orbit for a brief period.”

Northern Lights Reach into the South

Northern Lights spotted Monday night

Northern Lights spotted in West Michigan, beyond

WEST MICHIGAN — A trip into the more rural parts of West Michigan might be in order tonight if you’re longing to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

A giant burst of solar wind slammed into Earth’s magnetic field earlier today, along with it an increased possibility of catching a glimpse of the lights, according to SpaceWeather.com.

The website reported the lights also have been spotted in states including Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.

Rare Northern Lights Sightings Across Midwest

via Sky Lights Up Red And Green As Reports Of Fireball Entering Atmosphere Conflict With CME, Northern Lights Report :.

Magnetic mysteries of Earth’s Core

30 August 2011 | Last updated at 20:45 ET
By Gaby Hornsby, BBC Horizon

The magnetic field emanating from Earth’s core helps create the Northern Lights

Earthquakes, explosions and observations of Earth’s ever-changing magnetic field are helping scientists open up a new window on the heart of our planet.

When Jules Verne wrote A Journey to the Centre of the Earth over 100 years ago, he imagined a place of glowing crystals and a turbulent sea, complete with prehistoric animals and giant mushrooms.

What was actually beneath our feet was a complete enigma. Even to this day scientists astonishingly know more about the rings of Saturn than they do about the core of our own planet.

But that is beginning to change. “We’re at a golden age in terms of the real discovery of the bulk of the deep Earth,” says seismologist Professor Rick Aster.

And remarkably, not everything Verne imagined was wrong.

Wanting to discover the truth about the centre of our world is as basic a human urge as wondering what is on the Moon, although the latter has proved far easier to explore.

But scientists are also fascinated by the Earth’s core because it is responsible for creating our planet’s magnetic field which is vital to life.

As a tool for navigation, it helps honey bees find their hive, while sea turtles, birds and butterflies use it to migrate over long distances.

The magnetic field also acts as a protective barrier between us and some of the dangers of space, shielding us from radiation in the solar wind.

Physically travelling to the core has proved a non-starter though, because of the rapidly increasing pressures and temperatures.

Even with remote drilling, the deepest we have managed to penetrate is 12km at the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia – a measly 0.2% of the way to the centre of the Earth.

Molten metal

But seismology has allowed scientists to sense right into the core of the planet. The seismic waves generated during major earthquakes travel from one side of the Earth to the other, allowing scientists to build up a picture of the interior.

Seismology is “the killer application”, says Aster, showing us the Earth has a molten outer-core, “an enormous ocean of white hot molten metal that’s almost as runny as water”.

This core is as large as Mars. But – like a planetary Russian doll – another core was found within this one. An inner-core – a solid metal ball almost the size of the Moon.

Scientists believe the solid inner core is made of an iron-nickel alloy.

To understand what form it might take under the extreme conditions at the centre of the Earth, Professor Kei Hirose set himself a seemingly impossible challenge: recreate the conditions of the core in his lab at the SPring-8 synchrotron near Osaka, Japan. After 10 years of trying, he has finally succeeded.

Crystal forest


Extreme conditions found at the Earth’s core have been recreated in the laboratory

He has created an incredibly powerful vice using the tips of two diamonds. Between them he has pressurised a sample of iron-nickel to three million times atmospheric pressure and heated the sample to about 4,500C.

Under these extraordinary conditions, the crystal structure of iron-nickel alloy changed and the crystals rapidly grew in size. “We may have very big crystals at the centre of the Earth, maybe up to 10km,” says Hirose.

These crystals would all align “like a forest”, says Hirose, pointing at the poles.

The bulk of the Earth’s magnetic field is generated not in the inner-core but in the molten metal of the outer-core. This acts as a massive electromagnetic dynamo powered by the Earth’s rotation and the long-term cooling of the planet.

But although the basic principle is understood, the details of how the molten metal moves are a mystery. As Earth rotates and loses heat from the centre, complex patterns of flow are created within this vast ocean.

“You might think of the core like the atmosphere of the Earth, being a very restless place with storms and fronts and bad weather,” says geophysicist Professor Dan Lathrop from the University of Maryland. He has built himself a massive model of the core to help explain something strange about the field – it is never fixed but constantly fluctuating.

The Earth’s magnetic field has been steadily weakening over the past 180 years. And there is one patch that is weakening faster than any other. It is an area scientists have dubbed the “South Atlantic Anomaly”, which sits over the South Atlantic and the centre of South America.

It is a known hazard for spacecraft because it creates a dip in the field, allowing charged particles into the orbit of satellites and upsetting their electronics and instrumentation.

Magnetic flip

But what some scientists suspect is that it could be much more than an inconvenience to satellite operators – it could be the first indication of a profound change in Earth’s magnetic field.

When scientists mapped the Earth’s magnetic field down to the level of the outer-core, they discovered that under the South Atlantic Anomaly the simple north-south divide we know at the surface had broken down. There are patches where the field has actually flipped and points north instead of south.

Using his weather analogy, Lathrop believes “a particularly violent or unusual patch of weather” in the molten metal of the outer-core is responsible for reversing the field.

If these patches continue to deepen and spread, the entire Earth’s magnetic field could reach a tipping point and flip, he believes.

It is not something that would happen overnight – it could take thousands of years, during which period the field would be pretty confused.

The magnetic poles could wander to the equator for example, and take with them the spectacular Northern Lights. It would not be out of character – the shifting flows of the core have reversed Earth’s field hundreds of times before.

“It’s not a question of if the Earth is going to reverse the magnetic field, but when,” says Lathrop.

Exactly when this might be remains one of the core’s many mysteries. But after centuries of speculation, scientists are finally beginning to understand this great wonder lying 6,000km beneath our feet.

via BBC News – Magnetic mysteries of Earth’s Core.