Astronomers See Flashes on the Sun That Could be a Sign of an Upcoming Flare

A moderate solar flare erupts on the sun July 8, 2014 in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA/SDO

Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, scientists have discovered new clues that could help predict when and where the next solar flare might blast from the Sun.

Researchers were able to identify small flashes in the upper layers of the corona – the Sun’s atmosphere – found above regions that would later flare in energetic bursts of light and particles released from the Sun. The scientists compared the flashes to small sparklers before the big fireworks.

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How Crazy Magnetic Fields Drive the Sun Mad

Solar coronal jets are fast moving plumes of plasma that erupt suddenly from the polar regions of the Sun. Astronomers believe that these help heat up the solar corona, but the physics behind the formation of these jets is poorly understood. Recently a team of astronomers have used observations with the Solar Dynamic Observatory and the Solar Orbiter to discover that multiple intertwining magnetic fields that connect and reconnect can power these fast moving jets.

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133 Days of the Sun’s Glory

NASA has created a video based on 133 days of observations by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The hour-long video is a captivating look at four months of the Sun's approximately 10 billion year lifetime. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has released an hour-long time-lapse video that shows 133 days of the Sun’s life. The video shows the Sun’s chaotic surface, where great loops of plasma arch above the star along magnetic field lines. Sometimes the looping plasma reconnects to the star, and other times it’s ejected into space, creating hazardous space weather.

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How Many Stars Formed Together With the Sun in Our Stellar Nebula?

This is a two-panel mosaic of part of the Taurus Giant Molecular Cloud, the nearest active star-forming region to Earth. The darkest regions are where stars are being born. Image Credit: Adam Block /Steward Observatory/University of Arizona

Even though our Sun is now a solitary star, it still has siblings somewhere in the Milky Way. Stars form in massive clouds of gas called Molecular Clouds. When the Sun formed about five billion years ago, other stars would’ve formed from the same cloud, creating a star cluster.

How many other stars formed in the cluster?

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Aztecs Used an Extremely Accurate Solar Observatory to Manage Their Farming

Stone causeway atop Mount Tlaloc, Mexico. Credit: Ben Messiner/UCR

Pre-Columbian Mexico (or Mesoamerica) hosted one of the largest civilizations and populations in the world. The most well-known and dominant of these civilizations (prior to the arrival of the Conquistadors) were the Aztecs (or Mexica). Their empire, known as the Triple Alliance, was centered around Lake Texcoco and consisted of the major cities Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. In addition to engineering massive temples, aqueducts, canal systems, and estuaries, the Aztecs are renowned for being accomplished astronomers and agronomists.

At the height of their power, the Aztec Empire supported a population of up to 3 million in the Valley of Mexico, and many of their largest cities had populations exceeding 100,000. This was not easy, given that the region is characterized by arid springs followed by winter monsoons. According to recent research by the University of California Riverside (UCR), the Aztecs used mountain alignments as a solar observatory to create an accurate agricultural calendar. This allowed their farmers to produce enough food to feed one of the most densely-populated regions on Earth.

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NASA Tests a Solar Sail Segment of its Enormous Solar Cruiser Mission

Artist's concept of the Solar Cruiser mission. Credit: NASA

A team led by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) was recently selected to develop a solar sail spacecraft that would launch sometime in 2025. Known as the Solar Cruiser, this mission of opportunity measures 1653 m2 (~17790 ft2) in area and is about the same thickness as a human hair. Sponsored by the Science Mission Directorate’s (SMD) Heliophysics Division, this technology demonstrator will integrate several new solar sail technologies developed by various organizations to mature solar sail technology for future missions.

In a recent video released by NASA, we see engineers and industry partners at the MSFC in Huntsville, Alabama, unfurling a segment of the prototype solar sail. The video, taken on October 13th, shows how the teams used two 30.5 m (100-foot) lightweight composite booms to unfurl a 400 m2 (4,300 ft2) quadrant of the solar sail prototype for the first time. Once realized, the Solar Cruiser demonstrator will validate technologies that enable future missions to study the Sun, its interaction with Earth, and its extended atmosphere (aka. heliosphere).

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The Sun Could Hurl Powerful Storms at Earth From its Goofy Smile

NASA recently photographed the Sun "smiling" (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Our Sun is the very reason we’re alive. It provides warmth and the energy our planet needs to keep going. Now you can add photogenic to its illustrious résumé, as NASA recently photographed our giant ball of nuclear fusion doing something quite peculiar.

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Meet The Solar Ring: A Proposed Spacecraft That Will Have a Panoramic View of the Sun

solar magnetic
Coronal loops in the Sun's atmosphere as viewed in ultraviolet "light." Courtesy UCAR.

The Sun is active, dynamic, and occasionally violent. Unfortunately our view of the Sun is limited to a small handful of orbiting satellites and ground-based observatories. The Solar Ring is new proposal that hopes to radically change that picture by launching a trio of satellites around the Sun to give continuous, 360° panoramic images in real time. The observatory could revolutionize our understanding of our parent star.

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The Most Devastating Solar Storms in History are Scoured Into Tree Rings

Scientists study tree rings because they retain a record of climatic events and changes. They also record the Sun's activity. Image Credit: Rbreidbrown/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Trees are like sentinels that preserve a record of shifting climates. Their growth rings hold that history and dendrochronology studies those rings. Scientists can determine the exact ages of trees and correlate their growth with climatic and environmental changes.

But they also record the effects of more distant changes, including the Sun’s activity.

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The History of the Sun is Written on the Moon

A 300 megapixel photo of our Sun, taken by using a specially modified telescope, compiling over 150,000 individual images. Credit and copyright: Andrew McCarthy.

If you want to learn about the history of the Sun, then look no further than the Moon. That’s the recommendation of a team of scientists who hope to harness future Artemis lunar missions to help understand the life history of our home star.

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