Pictures are coming in from Solar Orbiter

One of the best things about astronomy is that it’s a never-ending supply of awesome visuals.  Almost every new mission or telescope provides new ways to see the universe, and when those are translated visually they can offer absolutely stunning images of some of the most interesting places in that universe.  Now humanity is starting to process the images from one of the newer missions to grace the heavens: the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter.  And boy are those images breathtaking.

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25 Years of Solar Cycles in One Incredible SOHO Mosaic

For a quarter of a century, the ESA-NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been essential in helping scientists understand the heart of our Solar System, the Sun. The SOHO mission launched 25 years ago this week, and to celebrate, ESA compiled a wonderful mosaic of images, and NASA put together a remarkable SOHO “greatest hits” timelapse video.

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Venus Held Onto its Water Surprisingly Well During its History

Named for the ancient goddess of fertility, the planet Venus could not be more hostile to life as we know it. Aside from being the hottest planet in the Solar System, Venus has also an atmosphere that is 92 times denser than Earth’s, and regularly experiences sulfuric acid rain. But as we’ve learned from multiple surveys, Venus was once a much milder climate and even had vast oceans on its surface.

For astronomers and geologists alike, the burning question is, how much of its water did Venus hold onto during this massive transition? According to research presented by Moa Persson of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), Venus actually retained most of its water over the past 4 billion years. Contrary to what researchers previously thought, Venus lost only a small amount of its water to a runaway Greenhouse Effect.

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Do Ripples on the Surface of the Sun tell us that a Flare is Coming?

Flares from the sun are some of the nastiest things in the solar system. When the sun flares, it belches out intense X-ray radiation (and sometimes even worse). Predicting solar flares is a tricky job, and a new research paper sheds light on a possible new technique: looking for telltale ripples in the surface of the sun minutes before the blast comes.

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A Sunspot, Revealed in Incredible Detail by Europe’s Newly Upgraded GREGOR Telescope

I wear glasses for astigmatism. But, as a stargazer with a visual impediment, turns out I’m in good company. The GREGOR telescope, a solar telescope located at the Teide Observatory in the Canary Islands also suffered from an astigmatism that was recently corrected…to very stellar results.

Opened in 2012, GREGOR is part of a new generation of solar (Sun observing) telescopes. Before 2002, solar scopes were quite small in diameter; under one metre. The Sun is close, and VERY bright, so your telescope doesn’t need to be as wide as those used for deep-space imaging. GREGOR itself is 1.5m (compare that to some of the largest telescopes imaging distant faint objects like the Keck Observatory at 10m. But without the special filters/optics used by a solar scope, a regular telescope staring at the Sun would be destroyed by the Sun’s light). A telescope’s power is often related to its ability to magnify. But just like enlarging a low-resolution photo, the more you magnify, the fuzzier the image becomes (that’s why those scenes in crime shows where they yell ‘enhance!’ and a photo grows to reveal a criminal are not realistic). Ultimately, a telescope’s diameter provides the higher resolution photo. GREGOR is designed to take those high-resolution images of our local Star. How high resolution? Imagine being able to distinguish a 50km wide feature on the Sun from 140 million km away – basically the same as being able to read the text on a coin from a kilometre away.

GREGOR Telescope and redesign components – KIS
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New Solar Model Successfully Predicted Seven of the Sun’s Last Nine Big Flares

X9.3 Flare blasts off the Sun. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

Since it launched in 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has helped scientists understand how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured, and what causes solar flares. One of the main goals of the mission was to be able to create forecasts for predicting activity on the Sun.   

Using mission data from the past 10 years, SDO scientists have now developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun’s biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine.

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They’re In! The First Images From ESA’s Solar Orbiter

While actually walking on the sun is still just a dream of Smash Mouth fans, humanity has gotten a little bit closer to our nearest solar neighbor with the recent launch of the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO).

SolO has just produced its first round of photographs of the sun in action and they are already revealing some features that have been unseen until now.  Those features might even hold the key to understanding one of the holy grails of heliophysics.

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Time-Lapse Video Reveals 10 Years of the Sun’s Life Crushed into One Stellar Hour

I forget the Sun is a star.

I think we all do sometimes. It’s easy to take for granted. The Sun is that glowing thing that rises in the morning and sets in the evening that we don’t generally pay attention to as we go about our day. However, there are these rare moments when we’re reminded that the Sun is truly a STAR – a titanic living sphere of hydrogen smashing plasma a million times the volume of Earth. One of those rare moments for me was standing in the shadow of the 2017 solar eclipse. We had driven down from Vancouver to Madras, Oregon to watch this astronomical freak of nature. A moon hundreds of times smaller than the Sun, but hundreds of times closer, covers the face of the Sun for the majesty of a STAR to be revealed; the fiery maelstrom of the Sun’s atmosphere visible to the naked eye.

Matt Eclipse 2.jpg
Sun’s corona visible to the naked eye in the shadow of the Moon during the 2017 Solar Eclipse as seen from Madras, Oregon c. Paul Muzzin / Matthew Cimone
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Solar Orbiter is Already Starting to Observe the Sun

On February 10th, 2020, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter (SolO) launched and began making its way towards our Sun. This mission will spend the next seven years investigating the Sun’s uncharted polar regions to learn more about how the Sun works. This information is expected to reveal things that will help astronomers better predict changes in solar activity and “space weather”.

Last week (on Thursday, Feb. 13th), after a challenging post-launch period, the first solar measurements obtained by the SolO mission reached its international science teams back on Earth. This receipt of this data confirmed that the orbiter’s instrument boom deployed successfully shortly after launch and that its magnetometer (a crucial instrument for this mission) is in fine working order.

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