Sun Celebrates Solstice With Flare (and a CME)

The Halo coronal mass ejection (CME) as viewed by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory coronograph on June 21, 2011. Credit: NASA/SOHO

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Late in the evening on June 20, 2011 the Sun emitted a long lasting C7.7 class flare (a relatively small flare) that peaked around 11:25p.m. EDT. The flare was associated with a coronal mass ejection that bloomed off the sun at 11:09p.m. EDT (0412 UT).

Spaceweather.com reports that according to analysts at the Goddard Space Flight Center Space Weather Lab, the CME left the sun traveling 800 km/s and it will reach Earth on June 23rd at 23:22 UT (plus or minus 7 hours). A very cool 3D heliospheric model (below) shows the cloud sweeping past our planet. The impact is expected to trigger a G2-class geomagnetic storm.

High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on June 23rd and 24. The season favors southern hemisphere observers, where skies are darker for longer due to the winter solstice.

These 3D Heliospheric animated models, developed by the Community Coordinated Modeling Center based at the Goddard Space Flight Center, show how the CME cloud might appear as it sweeps past Earth. Credit: NASA/CCMC

Update: SDO posted this video of the event:

Sources: NASA, Spaceweather.com

Monster Prominence Erupts from Sun

A huge and spectacular prominence eruption on the Sun, June 7, 2011. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Early this morning (June 7, 2011) an amazingly massive and spectacular event took place on the Sun; a huge prominence eruption, marked by a solar flare and release of energetic particles. Daniel Pendick from the Geeked on Goddard blog described it as a “fountain of plasma that blasts out of the solar surface, spreads outward, and collapses to splat back down.”

“I’ve never seen material released like this before, such a huge amount that falls back down in such a spectacular way,” says Dr. C. Alex Young in the video. “It looks like someone just kicked a giant clod of dirt into the air and it fell back down.” Young added that this event will probably not cause any problems as far as space weather affecting Earth.

This video is courtesy NASA Goddard’sHelioviewer.org with narration by folks from The Sun Today.

Below are some still images of the event from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and (just added at 1755 UTC) a video from SDO showing the event in several different wavelengths.

These images were posted by the Camilla_SDO Twitpic feed.

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This is the peak of the M2.5 class solar flare, which propelled the plasma into space today. Credit: NASA/ Solar Dynamics Observatory, via CamillaSDO on Twitter.

The SDO science teams says: “The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare with a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7 that is visually spectacular. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface.”

“SDO observed the flare’s peak at 1:41 AM EST. SDO recorded these images in extreme ultraviolet light and they show a very large explosion of cool gas. It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material — at temperatures less than 80,000K.”

Update: The US National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction center has now warned that the solar flare, one of the largest to occur since December 2006, will likely lead to gemagnetic storm activity tomorrow, Wednesday.

The NWS stated: “A dramatic eruption from an otherwise unimpressive NOAA Region 1226 earlier today is expected to cause G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate) levels of geomagnetic storm activity tomorrow, June 8, beginning around 1800 UTC with the passage of a fast CME. A prompt Solar Radiation Storm reached the S1 (minor) level soon after the impulsive R1 (minor) Radio Blackout at 0641 UTC. The Solar Radiation Storm includes a significant contribution of high energy (>100 MeV) protons, the first such occurrence of an event of that type since December 2006.”

You can find updates from the Space Weather Prediction Center at this link.

Earths Entire Star for the First Time on Super SUNday

Latest image of the far side of the Sun based on high resolution STEREO data, taken on February 3, 2011 at 23:56 UT when there was still a small gap between the STEREO Ahead and Behind data. This gap will start to close on February 6, 2011, when the spacecraft achieve 180 degree separation, and will completely close over the next several days. Credit: NASA. Note this STEREO image was taken Feb 3. NASA today released an image taken on Feb 2. New images are taken every day

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Super Bowl SUNday XLV marks a watershed moment in observing our Sun. Today, February 6, 2011, NASA’s twin STEREO solar observatories will reach locations on exact opposite sides of the Sun, called opposition, and they are beaming back uninterrupted images from both the entire front and rear side hemispheres of Earths star in three dimensions and 360 degrees for the first time.

“For the first time in history we can see the entire Sun at one time – both the far side and the near side,” said Joe Gurman, in an interview for Universe Today. Gurman is the Project Scientist for NASA’s STEREO mission at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD. This will significant aid space weather forecasting.

To mark this historic milestone, NASA today released images captured by STEREO on Feb. 2 – slightly prior to opposition – which gives humankind our first ever global look at the whole sphere of our Suns surface and atmosphere in extreme ultraviolet light (EUV). The probes were over 179 degrees apart. See location maps and images below

This article features even newer EUV images – compared to NASA’s press release – that were taken even closer to opposition by STEREO on Feb. 3 and today on Feb. 6 and which I downloaded from the STEREO website. The newer EUV images show an ever so slightly more complete solar view as the probes orbit reaches further to the suns far side.

Coincidentally, the STEREO duo may reach opposition – exactly 180 degrees apart – while the Super Bowl XLV half time show is ongoing, at roughly 7:30 p.m. EST in the evening of Sunday, Feb. 6.

The Sun from STEREO A and B on Feb. 3, 2011.
Images taken by the SECCHI Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI) at the 304 Angstrom bandpass which is sensitive to the He II singly ionized state of helium, at a characteristic temperature of about 80 thousand degrees Kelvin. These are the most current images used to create the spherical solar view on Feb 3, 2011. Credit: NASA

There is a tiny sliver of unseen solar surface on the far side of the sun at the extreme fringes of the far side EUV images that will fill in over the new few days to give an even better view. As of today that wedge is less than 1 degree. See the solar image collections above and below.

“The currently unseen far side wedge will disappear around February 12,” Gurman told me. “There might still be some small areas at high latitudes we won’t be able to see, but the view from the ecliptic is always limited. It takes about 3 days to get back the high resolution data.”

“On either side of the wedge, the features are smeared out because they’re from the “limbs” (edges) of the Sun as seen from each STEREO spacecraft.”

“The far side resolution will increase as the STEREO twins proceed around the sun.”

“On the near side, we can substitute the much higher resolution SDO AIA image data along the nearside “seam”, said Gurman.

SDO is in Earth orbit on the earth-facing side of the sun and will fill in the gap.

“For the next 8 years we will have a 360 degree view of the Sun by combining STEREO and SDO data,” said Gurman. “We will have that whole sun view until the STEREO spacecraft swing back to the earth side of the Sun.”

The Sun from STEREO A and B on Feb. 6, 2011 on SuperSUNday.
The probes were nearly at opposition 180 degrees apart. These images provide the first 360 degree global view of Earths Star. Images taken by the SECCHI Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI) at the 195 Angstrom bandpass is sensitive to the Fe XII ionization state of iron, at a characteristic temperature of about 1.4 million degrees Kelvin. Credit: NASA

Why is it important to image the far side of the sun?

Because scientists can now immediately detect active regions on the far side of the sun which were hidden from our view up until now.

“No active region can hide from us anymore because we will now have this 360 degree view.”

The new far side data will allow much faster detection of solar storms which in turn will enable faster predictions of space weather which potentially can severely impact sensitive technological infrastructure on Earth and throughout the solar system.


Until now, we had to wait about two weeks until the rear side active regions of the sun rotated into our view on the front side. But no longer. On average the sun rotates in about 27 days – faster at the equator and slower at the poles.

“We will now be able to detect the coronal mass ejections, or CMEs as they happen on the far side instead of waiting until they rotate around with no forewarning. The magnetic storms with energetic particles blast out at varying speeds of about 700 to 1000 km/sec and can reach Earth in one to three days,” said Gurman.

These magnetic storms are a threat to air traffic control of airliners, can disrupt the power grip, damage communications systems, space satellites in Earth orbit and around the solar system, effect other sensitive electronics systems and also harm astronauts working aboard the International Space Station.

An artist's concept shows both STEREO surrounding the sun on opposite sides. Credit: NASA

STEREO is comprised of two nearly identical STEREO spacecraft – dubbed STEREO Ahead and STEREO Behind –orbiting around our Sun. One probe – B – trails Earth around the sun and moves a bit slower; the other one – A – leads the Earth traveling slightly faster.

Each probe images half of the suns sphere and broadcasts the data back to Earth continuously, 24 hours each day. STEREO’s solar telescopes are tuned to four different wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet radiation (171, 195, 284, 304 Å) selected to trace key aspects of solar activity such as flares, tsunamis and magnetic filaments.

“The images are converted into a spherical projection by researchers on the science teams,” said Gurman. An international group of scientific institutions and governments from the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland designed and built STEREO’s science imaging and particle detecting instruments.

The two probes have been slowly separating in opposite directions at about 45 degrees per year ever since they were launched together aboard a Delta II rocket on October 25, 2006 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

After hurtling past the moon, the solar powered spacecraft – weighing some 600 kg – were flung into solar orbit on opposite sides of the Earth and have been moving away from Earth and apart from each other. In this way the wedge of unseen solar territory has been diminishing as the probes gain more complete coverage of the sun, thus enabling us to formulate a more complete understanding of the solar environment.

STEREO stands for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory. Their mission is to provide the very first, 3-D “stereo” images of the sun to study the nature of coronal mass ejections.

The STEREO mission is currently funded until 2013.

“The probes have enough fuel to last 100 years,” said Gurman. “The lifetime limiting factor is the spacecraft electronics and funding. The solar arrays will only gradually degrade over decades.”

NASA/STEREO Reveals the Entire Sun

Launched in October 2006, STEREO traces the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. It also provides unique and revolutionary views of the sun-Earth system. STEREO, when paired with SDO, can now give us the first complete view of the sun’s entire surface and atmosphere

On Super Bowl SUNday - Feb 6, 2011;
The two NASA STEREO spacecraft will see the entire Sun ! Super Bowl SUNday will truly mark a milestone for solar observations. On February 6, the two STEREO spacecrafts will be 180 degrees apart and for the next 8 years the STEREO spacecrafts and SDO will be able to observe the entire 360 degrees of the Sun. Credit: NASA
Positions of STEREO A and B for 6-Feb-2011 17:00 UT. This figure plots the current positions of the STEREO Ahead (red) and Behind (blue) spacecraft relative to the Sun (yellow) and Earth (green). The dotted lines show the angular displacement from the Sun. Units are in A.U.

NASA Robot and First Whole Sun Picture .. Coming on Super Bowl SUNday

The Sun from STEREO and Robonaut 2 holds a football at the Kennedy Space Center. On Super SUNday Feb. 6, 2011, NASA will release humankinds first ever view of the entire Sun and NASA’s Robonaut 2 will make a first ever guest appearance on the NFL’s Super Bowl Pre game show for Super Bowl XLV. Left: The Sun from STEREO taken by the SECCHI Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUVI) at the 304 Angstrom bandpass which is sensitive to the He II singly ionized state of helium, at a characteristic temperature of about 80 thousand degrees Kelvin. Credit: NASA. Right: Robonaut 2 practicing football for the NFL Super Bowl XLV at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in front of the world famous Countdown Clock. Credit & Mosaic: Ken Kremer

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What do NASA, Robots, the Sun and the NFL have in common ?

Well … its Super SUNday … for Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011

The unlikely pairing of Football and Science face off head to head on Super Bowl SUNday. Millions of television viewers will see NASA’s Robonaut 2, or R2, share the the limelight with the Steelers and the Packers of the NFL. The twin brother of R2 is destined for the International Space Station (ISS) and will become the first humanoid robot in space. It will work side by side as an astronaut’s assistant aboard the space station.

The fearsome looking R2 is set to make a first ever special guest appearance during the FOX Networks Super Bowl pre-game show with FOX sports analyst Howie Long. The pre-game show will air starting at 2 p.m. EST on Feb. 6.

And there’s more.

The Sun from Stereo B. Credit: NASA
On Super SUNday Feb. 6, NASA will publish Humankinds first ever image of the ‘Entire Sun’ courtesy of NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. And given the stunningly cold and snowy weather in Dallas, the arrival of our Sun can’t come soon enough for the ice covered stadium and football fans. See photos above and below.

The two STEREO spacecraft will reach positions on opposite sides of the Sun on Sunday, Feb. 6 at about 7:30 p.m. in the evening, possibly coinciding with the Super Bowl half time show.

At opposition, the STEREO duo will observe the entire 360 degrees sphere of the Sun’s surface and atmosphere for the first time in the history of humankind.

The nearly identical twin brother of R2 is packed aboard Space Shuttle Discovery and awaiting an out of this world adventure from Launch Pad 39 A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Blast off of the first humanoid robot is currently slated for Feb. 24.

R2 is the most dextrously advanced humanoid robot in the world and the culmination of five decades of wide-ranging robotics research at NASA and General Motors (GM).

This newest generation of Robonauts are an engineering marvel and can accomplish real work with exceptionally dexterous hands and an opposable thumb. R2 will contribute to the assembly, maintenance and scientific output of the ISS

“R2 is the most sophisticated robot in the world,” says Rob Ambrose, Chief of NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) Robotics Division.

“We hope R2 should help to motivate kids to study science and space,” Ron Diftler told me in an interview at KSC. Diftler is NASA’s R2 project manager at JSC.

Fearsome Robonaut 2 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center prepares to meet the NFL’s best players at Super Bowl XLV on Feb 6, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer

The amazingly dexterity of the jointed arms and hands enables R2 to use exactly the same tools as the astronauts and thereby eliminates the need for constructing specialized tools for the robots –saving valuable time, money and weight.

The robot is loaded with advanced technology including an optimized overlapping dual arm dexterous workspace, series elastic joint technology, extended finger and thumb travel, miniaturized 6-axis load cells, redundant force sensing, ultra-high speed joint controllers, extreme neck travel, and high resolution camera and IR systems.

R2 weighs some 300 pounds and was manufactured from nickel-plated carbon fiber and aluminum. It is equipped with two human like arms and two hands as well as four visible light cameras that provide stereo vision with twice the resolution of high definition TV.

“With R2 we will demonstrate ground breaking and innovative robotics technology which is beyond anything else out there and that will also have real world applications as GM works to build better, smarter and safer cars,” according to Susan Smyth, GM Director of Research and Development.

“Crash avoidance technology with advanced sensors is a prime example of robonaut technology that will be integrated into GM vehicles and manufacturing processes.”

A team of engineers and scientists from NASA and GM pooled resources in a joint endeavor to create Robonaut 2, the most dexterously advanced robot in history. The NASA/GM team is pictured here at the Kennedy Space Center. R2 will fly aboard Space Shuttle Discovery with the STS-133 crew of humans and become the first humanoid robot in space.
R2 will become an official ISS crew member. Credit: Ken Kremer

Robonaut 2 flight unit poses with the NASA/GM development team inside the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC in this 360 degree panorama from nasatech.net

I was fortunate to meet R2 and the Robonaut team at KSC. R2 is incredibly life like and imposing and I’ll never forget the chance to shake hands. Although its motions, sounds, illuminated hands and muscular chest gives the unmistakable impression of standing next to a lively and powerful 300 pound gorilla, it firmly but gently grasped my hand in friendship – unlike a Terminator.

So its going to make for a mighty match up some day between the fearsome looking R2 and the NFL players.

Well apparently, R2 and Howie will be making some predictions on which player will win the MVP award and a GM Chevrolet. Stay tuned.

So come back on SUNday Feb. 6 for NASA’s release of the first ever images of our entire Sun from the STEREO twins.

Clash of the Titans - R2 and NASA robotics engineer at football practice at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Discovery awaits launch from Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Robonaut 2 is loaded inside the Leonardo storage module which will be permanently attached to the ISS by the STS-133 crew. Credit: Ken Kremer
On Super Bowl SUNday - Feb 6, 2011 - the two NASA STEREO spacecraft
will see the entire Sun for the first time! Credit: NASA.

First Ever Whole Sun View .. Coming Soon from STEREO

On Super Bowl SUNday - Feb 6, 2011; the two NASA STEREO spacecraft willl see the entire Sun ! Superbowl SUNday will truly mark a milestone for solar observations. On Ferbruary 6, the two STEREO spacecrafts will be 180 degrees apart and for the next 8 years the STEREO spacecrafts and SDO will be able to observe the entire 360 degrees of the Sun. Credit: NASA. Watch the cool STEREO Whole Sun Preview Video below. Plus Launch Video and more photos below.

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“For the first time in the history of humankind we will be able to see the front and the far side of the Sun … Simultaneously,” Madhulika Guhathakurta told Universe Today. Guhathakurta is the STEREO Program Scientist at NASA HQ.

Courtesy of NASA’s solar duo of STEREO spacecraft.

And the noteworthy event is timed to coincide just perfectly with ‘Super Bowl SUNday’ – Exactly one week from today on Feb. 6 during Super Bowl XLV !

“This will be the first time we can see the entire Sun at one time,” said Dean Pesnell, NASA Solar Astrophysicist in an interview for Universe Today. Pesnell is the Project Scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

This remarkable milestone will be achieved when NASA’s two STEREO spacecraft reach position 180 degrees separate on opposite sides of the Sun on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011 and can observe the entire 360 degrees of the Sun.

“We are going to celebrate by having a football game that night!” Pesnell added in jest.

The nearly identical STEREO spacecraft – dubbed STEREO Ahead and STEREO Behind – are orbiting the sun and providing a more complete picture of the Suns environment with each passing day. One probe follows Earth around the sun; the other one leads the Earth.

STEREO is the acronym for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory. Their mission is to provide the very first, 3-D “stereo” images of the sun to study the nature of coronal mass ejections.

Today, (Jan 30) the twin STEREO spacecraft are 179.1 degrees apart and about 90 degrees from Earth, and thus virtually at the midpoint to the back of the sun. See the orbital location graphics above and below.

Both probes were flung into space some four years ago and have been hurtling towards this history making date and location ever since. The wedge of unseen solar territory has been declining.

As the STEREO probes continue flying around to the back side of the sun, the wedge of unseen solar territory on the near side will be increasing and the SDO solar probe will play a vital gap filling role.

“SDO provides the front side view of the sun with exquisite details and very fast time resolution,” Gutharka told me. For the next 8 years, when combined with SDO data, the full solar sphere will still be visible.

The Whole Sun will be simultaneously Imaged for the First tIme ever on Super Bowl SUNday Feb. 6.
For the past 4 years, the two STEREO spacecraft have been moving away from the Earth and gaining a more complete picture of the sun. On February 9, 2011, NASA will hold a press conference to reveal the first ever images of the entire sun and discuss the importance of seeing all of our dynamic star.
Credit: NASA

The solar probes were launched together aboard a Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida on October 25, 2006. See Launch Video and Photos below.

Whole Solar Sphere A Goldmine for Science

I asked Pesnell and Guhathakurta to explain why this first ever whole Sun view is a significant scientific milestone.

“Until now there has always been an unseen part of the Sun,” Pesnell explained. “Although that unseen part has always rotated into view within a week or two, a global model must include all of the Sun to understand where the magnetic field goes through the surface.”

“Also, from the Earth we can see only one pole of the Sun at a time, while with STEREO we can see both poles at the same time.

“The next few years of overlapping coronal images will be a goldmine of information for predicting space weather at the Earth and understanding of how the Sun works. It is like getting the GOES images of the Earth for the first time. We haven’t missed a hurricane since, and now we won’t miss an active region on the Sun,” said Pesnell.

How will the science data collected be used to understand the sun and its magnetic field?

“Coronal loops trace out the magnetic field in the corona,” Pesnell elaborated. “Understanding how that magnetic field changes requires seeing where on the surface each loop starts and stops.”

Why is it important to image the entire Sun ?

“Once images of the entire Sun are available we can model the entire magnetic field of the Sun. This has become quite important as we are using STEREO and SDO to study how the entire magnetic field of the Sun reacts to the explosions of even small flares.”

“By seeing both poles we should be able to understand why the polar magnetic field is a good predictor of solar activity,” said Pesnell.

“Seeing both sides will help scientists make more accurate maps of global coronal magnetic field and topology as well as better forecasting of active regions – areas that produce solar storms – as they rotate on to the front side. Simultaneous observations with STEREO and SDO will help us study the sun as a complete whole and greatly help in studying the magnetic connectivity on the sun and sympathetic flares, ” Guhathakurta amplified.

Latest EUVI Images from STEREO. These Extreme Ultra Violet Images from STEREO Ahead and Behind were taken on Jan. 30, 2011. Credit: NASA

Watch a solar rotation animation here combining EUVI and SDO/AIA:

What is the role and contribution of NASA’s SDO mission and how will SDO observations be coordinated with STEREO?

“As the STEREO spacecraft drift around the Sun, SDO will fill in the gap on the near of the Sun,” explained Pesnell. “For the next 4 or more years we will watch the increase in sunspots we call Solar Cycle 24 from all sides of the Sun. SDO has made sure we are not doing calibration maneuvers for a few days around February 6.”

“On Feb 6th we will view 100% of the sun,” said Guhathakurta.

At a press conference on Feb. 9, 2011, NASA scientists will reveal something that no one has even seen – The first ever images of ‘The Entire Sun’. All 360 degrees

Watch the briefing on NASA TV at 2 PM EST

More about the SDO mission and SDO science
and Coronal holes from STEREO and SDO here

STEREO Website

“3D Sun”
A STEREO Movie in Digital and IMAX was released in 2007
Watch the way cool 3D IMAX trailer below

STEREO spacecraft location map

Caption: Positions of STEREO A and B for 31-Jan-2011 05:00 UT. The STEREO spacecraft are 179.2 degrees apart and about 90 degrees from Earth on Jan. 31, 2011. This figure plots the current positions of the STEREO Ahead (red) and Behind (blue) spacecraft relative to the Sun (yellow) and Earth (green). The dotted lines show the angular displacement from the Sun. Units are in A.U. (Astronomical Units). Credit: NASA

STEREO Launch Video

Launch Video Caption: The Delta II rocket lights the evening sky as STEREO heads into space on October 25, 2006 at 8:52 p.m. The Delta II rocket lights the evening sky as STEREO heads into space. STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a multi-year mission using two nearly identical observatories, one ahead of Earth in its orbit and the other trailing behind. The duo will provide 3-D measurements of the sun and its flow of energy, enabling scientists to study the nature of coronal mass ejections and why they happen.

Fully fueled, technicians prepare the STEREO spacecraft for spin testing in the cleanroom in Titusville, Fl, while being prepared for launch. Credit: nasatech.net

Delta Launch Complex 17 comprises two launch pads and towers, 17 A & 17 B, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer
View of Delta II Launch Complex 17 by Ken Kremer

Fully clear of the smoke, STEREO streaks skyward during launch on October 25, 2006 from Pad 17B at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: nasatech.net

More STEREO Cleanroom and Launch photos from nasatech.net here

More about the SDO mission and SDO science
and Coronal holes from STEREO and SDO here

STEREO Website

“3D Sun”
A STEREO Movie in Digital and IMAX was released in 2007

Watch the way cool 3D trailer here – Trailer narrated by NASA’s Madhulika Guhathakurta
— be sure to grab hold of your Red-Cyan Glasses

Holes in the Sun’s Corona in 2 D, 3 D and Video

Developing coronal holes. Two coronal holes that develop over several days stand out in this image taken of the Sun from SDO's AIA instrument on Jan. 12, 2010. Coronal holes are areas of the Sun's surface that are the source of open magnetic field lines that head way out into space. Credit: NASA

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A pair of coronal holes on the Sun newly imaged by NASA’s flagship solar probe, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) may cause auroral activity here on Earth soon.

The pair of holes were captured in images taken from Jan 9-12, 2011 by SDO’s AIA instrument in the extreme untraviolet (UV). The images – shown above and below – were also made into a cool timelapse video (shown below) of the rotating sun and were released by NASA as “SDO Pick of the Week” for Jan. 14, 2011.

SDO research results on the solar corona are featured as the cover photo and story for the current issue of Science magazine on Jan. 7, 2011. Updated

Science magazine Jan. 7 2011, COVER.
Multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. Colors represent different gas temperatures: ~800,000 kelvin (K) (blue), ~1.3 million K (green), and ~2 million K (red). New observations reveal a link between hot plasma and jets propelled upward from the region immediately above the Sun's surface and help explain why the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is much hotter than its surface. Image: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA)
Click to enlarge all images

Coronal holes on the sun’s surface are the source of open magnetic field lines and are areas from which high-speed solar wind particles stream out into space. The fast solar wind travels at approximately 800 km/s (about 1.8 million mph). After traveling through space for a few days the particles will impact the Earth and may spark the formation of some auroral activity for lucky spectators.

The two holes developed over several days. In a video here, one hole is above the suns equator and the other is below. According to a NASA press release, the coronal holes appear dark at the extreme UV wavelength of 193 Angstroms because there is just less of the material – ionized iron- that is being imaged.

2 D Video: A Hole in the Sun’s Corona

Caption: This timelapse video shows a coronal hole, as captured in ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory around Jan. 10, 2011. Coronal holes are areas of the sun’s surface that are the source of open magnetic field lines that head way out into space. They are also the source regions of the fast solar wind, which “blows” at a relatively steady clip of 1.8 million mph. (No audio). Credit: NASA

3 D Video: Coronal holes from STEREO

Check out this 3 D movie of a coronal hole snapped by NASA’s twin STEREO solar probes orbiting the sun. You’ll need to pull out your red-cyan 3 D anaglyph glasses. First, watch the short movie with you 3 D glasses. Then, I suggest to pause the movie at several intervals for a longer look. Remember – its red on the left eye.

View more 3 D from SDO below. And enjoy more 3 D space imagery here – at a big Martian crater through the eyes of the Opportunity rover.

Caption: This STEREO image features an active region and a coronal hole. The hole is the large dark spot in the middle of the sun. Coronal holes are the source of solar wind and a generator for space weather activity. Credit: NASA

More at this NASA press release

SDO roared to space on February 11, 2010 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch photo below.

The billion dollar probe is the “crown jewel” in NASA’s solar fleet and will soon celebrate its first anniversary in space. SDO’s mission is to explore the Sun and its complex interior mechanisms in unprecedented detail. It is equipped with three science instruments (HMI, AIA, and EVE)

This Solar Dynamics Observatory image of the Sun taken on January 10, 2011 in extreme ultraviolet light captures a dark coronal hole just about at sun center. Coronal holes are areas of the Sun's surface that are the source of open magnetic field lines that head way out into space. Credit: NASA
SDO blast off on Feb. 11, 2010 atop Atlas V rocket from Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral as viewed from the KSC press site. Credit: Ken Kremer
Solar 3 D in Extreme UV - from SDO.
This 3 D image was created by combined two images that were taken in one extreme UV wavelength about 8 hours apart on June 25, 2010. The Sun's rotation created enough of a perspective change for this to work. Although the SDO mission cannot produce true 3D images of the Sun like STEREO, 3D solar images can still be made from SDO images. Credit: NASA/SDO

Previously Unseen Super-Hot Plasma Jets Heat the Sun’s Corona

Multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. Colours represent different gas temperatures: ~800,000 Kelvin (blue), ~1.3 million K (green), and ~2 million K (red). New observations reveal jets of hot plasma propelled upwards from the region immediately above the Sun's surface. Image: Bart De Pontieu)

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The mystery of the Sun’s corona may finally be solved. For years researchers have known – and wondered why – the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is considerably hotter than its surface. But now, using the combined visual powers of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and Japan’s Hinode satellite, scientists have made direct observations of jets of plasma shooting off the Sun’s surface, heating the corona to millions of degrees. The existence of these small, narrow jets of plasma, called spicules has long been known, but they had never been directly studied before and were thought to be too cool to have any appreciable heating effect. But a good look with new “eyes” reveals a new kind of spicule that moves energy from the Sun’s interior to create its hot outer atmosphere.

“Heating of spicules to millions of degrees has never been directly observed, so their role in coronal heating had been dismissed as unlikely,” says Bart De Pontieu, the lead author and a solar physicist at LMSAL.


Solar physicst and former Universe Today writer Ian O’Neill (and current Discovery Space producer, and of Astroengine fame) compared the anomaly of the Sun’s atmosphere being hotter than the surface to if the air surrounding a light bulb was a couple of magnitudes hotter than the bulb’s surface. And, he said, you’d want to know why it appears the solar atmosphere is breaking all kinds of thermodynamic laws.

Over the years, experts have proposed a variety of theories, and as De Pontieu said, the spicule theory had been dismissed when it was found spicule plasma did not reach coronal temperatures.

Solar spicules as imaged by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

But In 2007, De Pontieu and a group of researchers identified a new class of spicules that moved much faster and were shorter lived than the traditional spicules. These “Type II” spicules shoot upward at high speeds, often in excess of 60 miles per second (100 kilometers per second), before disappearing. The rapid disappearance of these jets suggested that the plasma they carried might get very hot, but direct observational evidence of this process was missing.

Enter SDO and its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument which launched in February 2010, along with NASA’s Focal Plane Package for the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) on the Japanese Hinode satellite.

“The high spatial and temporal resolution of the newer instruments was crucial in revealing this previously hidden coronal mass supply,” said Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory. “Our observations reveal, for the first time, the one-to-one connection between plasma that is heated to millions of degrees kelvin and the spicules that insert this plasma into the corona.”

The spicules are accelerated upward into the solar corona in fountain-like jets at speeds of approximately 31 to 62 miles per second (50 to 100 kilometers per second). The research team says that the majority of the plasma is heated to temperatures between 0.02 and 0.1 million Kelvin, while a small fraction is heated to temperatures above one million Kelvin.

A key step in learning more about the Sun, according to De Pontieu, will be to better understand the interface region between the Sun’s visible surface, or photosphere, and its corona. Another NASA mission, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), is scheduled for launch in 2012. IRIS will provide high-fidelity data on the complex processes and enormous contrasts of density, temperature, and magnetic field between the photosphere and corona. Researchers hope this will reveal more about the spicule heating and launch mechanisms.
This research appears in the 07 January issue of Science.

Sources: Science, Astroengine

Spectacular Photos from the Jan. 4 Partial Solar Eclipse

Amazing Swedish view of Jan 4, 2011 partial solar eclipse, which reached its maximum – about 85%- in this stunner from Stockholm, Sweden. Poor weather and obscuring clouds momentarily relented at just the perfect time. Credit: Peter Rosen

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Millions across Earth enjoyed one of nature’s most awesomely spectacular events during today’s (Jan. 4) partial solar eclipse – the first of four set to occur in 2011. And there was nothing partial about it, for those lucky eyewitnesses where it was visible in parts of Europe, Africa and Central Asia. The eclipse reached its maximum, about 85%, in Sweden. See the maximum stunner above – taken despite pessimistic weather forecasts -by Peter Rosen in Stockholm, Sweden, with more photos from the sequence here at spaceweather.com

Probably the most technically amazing feat is the double solar eclipse captured in one image by renowned astrophotographer Theirry Legault – see below – boasting both the ISS and the Moon on the eclipsed sun’s face. Legault had traveled to the deserts of the Sultanate of Oman, near to the capital of Muscat, for this rare spectacle of nature. The ISS was calculated to be visible in a thin strip barely 11 kilometers wide, according to Astronomie Info news. The ISS transit lasted just about 1 second, speeding by at 28,000 km/sec.

See a global compilation of gorgeous eclipse photos here and comment or send us more.
Update 1/6/11: this is a work in progress so please check back again.
New readers photos and eyewitness accounts added below today; as received

Click to enlarge all photos
First up: Double Solar Eclipse by renowned astrophotographer Theirry Legault in Oman

Amazing Double Solar Eclipse with the ISS and the Moon captured in one image in the deserts of the Sultanate of Oman. Credit: Theirry Legault

Check out this exciting gallery of images contributed by eclipse watchers from multiple locations around the world, on Flickr

Composition of 8 different exposures between 8.10 and 9.18 (local) recorded with solar filter and added to a unfiltered picture at the beginning of sequence. Taken with a Sony DSCW-1 with 35mm equivalent focal length. Credit: Marco Di Lorenzo, Pescara, Italy

Here is a collection of images and an eyewitness report sent to me by Marco Di Lorenzo, in Pescara, Italy

Filtered and unfiltered views at 9.11 local time. Credit: Marco Di Lorenzo

Marco writes; Pescara is located at 42.467°N and 14.225°E, about in the center of Italy on the Adriatic sea. I chose my location at the new pedestrian bridge because it is a modern structure which offers a nice foreground and also an open, elevated viewpoint. I used a couple of cameras plus a digital video camera. All the cameras were mounted on a tripod.

The weather was cold and the situation didn’t improve in the mid morning. Illumination was comparable to a slightly foggy day. The frigid temperature didn’t encourage people to go out and check. However some people did venture out. Someone asked me some info on eclipses and how to take pictures of it – very hard indeed, especially if you use a cellular phone !

Combo of 2 pictures taken few seconds apart using solar filter and different exposure; local time was 9.11 AM, near maximum. Marco Di Lorenzo

Urijian Poernick sent these photos and description:
“Colorful Solar Eclipse” at Halley Astronomical Observatory, Heesch, The Netherlands

Partial Solar eclipse and flock of birds from Heesch, The Netherlands. Credit: Urijian Poernick

The weather forecast predicted overcast skies with only a few small bright intervals in all parts of The Netherlands. Nevertheless, dozens of members of Halley Astronomical Society and visitors, including many children, challenged the cold winter weather and came together on the flat roof of Halley Astronomical Observatory in The Netherlands.

Partial Solar eclipse from Heesch, The Netherlands. Credit: Urijian Poernick
After sunrise at 7:44 UT (8:44 local time) they all looked at a narrow opening in the cloud deck near the eastern horizon. At 8:00 UT the sun showed itself: first we saw the left horn of the eclipse and a few moments later the right one.

Due to the clouds and veils it was a very colorful eclipse, with all tints of red and yellow. After twenty minutes the sun and the moon disappeared behind the overcast skies again and they didn’t come back before the end of the eclipse (9:39 UT).
During this short period everyone could watch the eclipse through the telescope and we were all enthusiastic. It was a beautiful spectacle! www.sterrenwachthalley.nl

Gianluca Masi is the National Coordinator of Astronomers Without Borders in Italy and captured this pair of photos from partially overcast Rome, Italy. The clouds contributed to make for a delightfully smoky eclipsed sun

Smoky eclipsed sun from Rome, Italy. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Credit: Gianluca Masi

Edwin van Schijndel sent me this report from the Netherlands:

I made some pictures in the southwest of the Netherlands. The weather conditions were not so good in the early morning, most places were covered by clouds so we decided to move about 70 miles to the southwest from our hometown. Finally we stopped not far from the city of Bergen op Zoom and were able to see sunrise while most of the sun was covered. It was splendid!

Eclipsed sunrise from Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands. Credit: Edwin van Schijndel

Unfortunately there came more clouds so the rising sun disappeared and we drove 20 miles to the north just before Rotterdam and the sky was more clear at this place. Again we took some pictures but the maximum covering of the sun had been a few minutes before. After all this wasn’t really a pity, we were very lucky to have seen the rising of the sun and be able to make some nice pictures of the partial eclipse. Many people in the Netherlands saw less or even nothing.

Credit: Edwin van Schijndel

Credit: Edwin van Schijndel

Send us or comment more solar eclipse photos to post here. ken : [kremerken at yahoo.com]

Look here for some photos from the recent total lunar eclipse on Dec. 21, 2010

Read a great preview about the eclipse by Tammy Plotner

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More Readers Photos and Eyewitness Accounts. Beautiful, Thanks ! ken

Story and Photos sent me by Stefano De Rosa. Turin, Italy

Early in the morning, I moved to a site close to Turin (Italy) where the forecast was not so bad as in my city to try to observe and photograph the partial solar eclipse. Unfortunately, when I arrived it was cloudy and foggy and so decided to go back home. Technical details: Canon Eos 1000d, F/22; 150-500mm lens @ 500mm; ISO. 1/1600 sec

Turin, Italy. Credit: Stefano De Rosa

Suddenly, as I was sadly driving on the motorway, close to the city of Alessandria, noticed a little break on the clouds from my rearview mirror: I stopped the car and, after a quick set up, managed to capture the crescent Sun!
http://ofpink.wordpress.com
Well, I hope you carefully looked back before hitting the brakes ! – ken
Turin, Italy. Credit: Stefano De Rosa

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Story and Photos sent me by Roy Keeris, Zeist, The Netherlands

Middelkerke, The Netherlands. Credit: Roy Keeris

Me and a friend (Casper ter Kuile) wanted to see the eclipse from The Netherlands. If clouds should intervene, we planned to drive a little (max. a couple of hours) to a place with a better chance for a clear sky. During the night we checked weather forecasts and satellite images. We were pretty unsure if we would succeed in seeing the eclipse, because it was pretty cloudy, and especially the low clouds tend to be quite unpredictable. In the end we chose to drive to Middelkerke (near Oostende) in Belgium because of a clear spot approaching from the North Sea.

Middelkerke, The Netherlands. Credit: Roy Keeris

We arrived at the Belgian coast just in time before sunrise. There we witnessed the eclipse from the top of a dune. About 25 minutes after sunrise the sun appeared from behind the lower clouds, just when the eclipse was at its maximum. It was magical!
First we saw the right ‘horn’ and then the left one appeared. From then on we watched the rest of the eclipse and took many pictures. [no pics from Casper ??]

Later we heard that despite the clouds, many people in The Netherlands were able to see the eclipse. There was a long stretch with a clear zone in the clouds- near the border of Germany.

Middelkerke, The Netherlands. Credit: Roy Keeris

If they had a clear horizon, people could look underneath the clouds and were just able to see the sunrise. I could even have seen it at home from my apartment on the 13th floor! But the trip was fun. It’s always nice to hunt for the right place to be at these events.

Here are some pictures I took from Middelkerke. They were shot with a Canon 400D in combination with a Meade ETS-70 telescope and a Tamron 20-200mm lens.

Thanks – Yes the hunt is half the fun. ken

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Story and Photos sent me by Igal Pat-El, Director, Givatayim Observatory, Tel Aviv, Israel

We took some images of the Jan. 4 Solar Eclipse from the Givatayim Observatory, just near Tel-Aviv, Israel. We were pleased to have Prof. Jay Passachoff as a guest during the eclipse. We had a live broadcast in plan but we had to cancel it due to heavy rain from the first contact, therefore we closed the dome’s shutter and went to the balcony trying to take some quick photos of the eclipse.

Tel Aviv, Israel. All Photos Credit: Igal Pat-El, Givatayim Observatory.
Collage assembled by Ken Kremer

We had the portable PST Coronado CaK telescope with a Ca filter On a Alt-Az mount (we could not do any alignment due to the rain). We took about 5 images against all odds in this very dim filter, using the Orion SS II Planetary imager, all of them through the haze and clouds.

Thanks, Igal. Another good lesson learned. Take a chance. You never know what you’ll get till you try !
I’ve combined Igal’s photos into a collage for an enhanced view. ken

See more photos and a video in comments section below

Breaking News: The Sun Worked 175 Years Ago!

The sunspot butterfly diagram. This modern version is constructed (and regularly updated) by the solar group at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
The sunspot butterfly diagram. This modern version is constructed (and regularly updated) by the solar group at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

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You’ll have to forgive my title. After writing so many articles as moderately as I could, I couldn’t help but engage in a bit of sensationalism of my own, especially in the interest of sarcasm. Although it’s not especially exciting that the sun has indeed been working for nearly two centuries (indeed, much longer than that), what is interesting is how using historical data, scientists have confirmed that process we see today have been relatively consistent since 1825.


The observations revolve around a familiar diagram known as the Butterfly diagram (pictured above). This diagram depicts the position of sunspots at various latitudes on the sun’s surface as time progresses. At the beginning of a cycle, sunspots start of at high latitudes and as the cycle progresses, appear at lower and lower latitudes until they disappear and the cycle repeats. The pattern formed resembles the wings of a butterfly, thereby giving the diagram its name.

Although sunspots have been observed as far back as 364 BC by Chinese astronomers, telescopic observations of them did not start until the early 1600’s. Continuous observation of the sun and its spots started in 1876 at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. There Edward Maunder recognized the pattern of sunspots and published them in the format that is the now famous Butterfly diagram in 1904. The diagram, as its usually shown only comprises data starting from around 1876 and continuing until present day. But the use of new records have extended the diagram back an additional 51 years, covering four new solar cycles. Although many observations exist with total sunspot counts, this new set of data includes detailed documentation of the position of the spots on the solar disc.

The observations were created by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe. Originally an apothecary, he won a telescope in a lottery in 1825 and was fascinated, selling his family business four years later. Schwabe observed the Sun compulsively attempting to discover a new planet with an orbit interior to Mercury by witnessing it transiting the Sun. Although this effort was doomed to failure, Schwabe maintained detailed records of the sunspots. He even recognized the pattern of spots occurred in an 11 year cycle and published the discovery in 1843. It was met with little attention for several years until it was included in Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos. Due to this discovery, the 11 year solar cycle is also referred to as the Schwabe cycle.

From 1825 until 1867, Schwabe compiled at least 8468 observations of the Sun’s disc, drawn on 5cm circles. On his death, these documents, as well as the rest of his scientific works, were donated to the Royal Astronomical Society of London, and in 2009, were provided to a team of researchers for digitization. From the 8468 drawings, 7299 “have a coordinate system which is found to be aligned with the celestial equator” making them suitable for translation into scientific data.

Thus far, the team has converted 11% of the images into usable data and already, it has created a detailed butterfly diagram preceding those produced elsewhere. From it, the astronomers undertaking the conversion have made some interesting observations. The cycle beginning around 1834 was weaker than others around that time. The following one, starting around 1845, displayed a notable asymmetry where sunspots in the southern hemisphere were conspicuously lacking for the first 1-2 years of the cycle, whereas most cycles are fairly well mirrored. Although unusual, such phase shifts are not unprecedented. In fact, another study using historical records has demonstrated that, for the last 300 years, one hemisphere has always led (although not usually so greatly) for several cycles before trading off.

As with the recently discussed historical project on weather trends this reanalysis of historical data is one of many such projects giving us a broader picture of the trends we see today and how they have changed over time. While undoubtedly, many will be demonstrated to be mundane and familiar, undeserving of the exaggerated significance of my title, this is how science works: by expanding our knowledge to test our expectations.

NOTE: I’d Emailed the team asking for permission to show their image of the historical butterfly diagram, but since I haven’t gotten permission, I didn’t reproduce it here. But you can still view it in the paper. Go do so. It’s awesomely familiar.