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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Planetary Interiors in TRAPPIST-1 System Could be Affected by Stellar Flares

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, an international team of researchers led by the University of Cologne in Germany examined how stellar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) erupted by the TRAPPIST-1 star could affect the interior heating of its orbiting exoplanets. This study holds the potential to help us better understand how solar flares affect planetary evolution. The TRAPPIST-1 system is an exolanetary system located approximately 39 light-years from Earth with at least seven potentially rocky exoplanets in orbit around a star that has 12 times less mass than our own Sun. Since the parent star is much smaller than our own Sun, then the the planetary orbits within the TRAPPIST-1 system are much smaller than our own solar system, as well. So, how can this study help us better understand the potential habitability of planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system?

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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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Solar Orbiter Records a Stunning Timelapse of Solar Activity as it Completes its Latest Flyby

The darker area on this image of the Sun's surface is the southern extension of the northern hemisphere polar corona. The coronal hole is a source of fast-moving streams of particles from the Sun, which can cause auroras here on Earth. Image: NASA/SDO

The sun is currently sleeping. Its surface and corona are relatively quiet as it prepares to ramp up for an expected phase of high activity in 2025. This past October, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter was able to sneak in a close-up peak at the Sun as it slumbers.

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Not Just a Planet Hunter. TESS Found Over 25,000 Flaring Stars

One of the beauties of modern-day space telescopes is that the data they produce, which is eventually wholly released to the public, contains useful information about much more than their primary mission objective. Other astronomers can then sift through the data using their own ideas, and in many cases, their own algorithms. Recently, a team from Poland turned a flare-searching algorithm on TESS’s planet-hunting data, and found an astonishing 25,229 stars with solar flares in the data set.

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During a Solar Flare, Dark Voids Move Down Towards the Sun. Now We Know Why

Solar flares are complex phenomena. They involve plasma, electromagnetic radiation across all wavelengths, activity in the Sun’s atmosphere layers, and particles travelling at near light speed. Spacecraft like NASA’s Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO) and the Parker Solar Probe shed new light on the Sun’s solar flares.

But it was a Japanese-led mission called Yohkoh that spotted an unusual solar flare in 1999. This flare displayed a downward flowing motion toward the Sun along with the normal outward flow. What caused it?

A team of researchers think they’ve figured it out.

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Good News! Red Dwarfs Blast Their Superflares out the Poles, Sparing Their Planets From Destruction

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The only known life in the universe lives on a mid-size rocky planet that orbits a mid-size yellow star. That makes our planet a bit unusual. While small rocky planets are common in the galaxy, yellow stars are not. Small red dwarf stars are much more typical, making up about 75% of the stars in the Milky Way. This is why most of the potentially habitable exoplanets we’ve discovered orbit red dwarfs.

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The Sun is Mellow Yellow Today. Billions of Years Ago? Not So Much

Planetary formation theory has been undergoing a lot of changes recently, with an ever expanding litany of events that can potentially impact it.  Everything from gravity to magnetic fields seems to impact this complex process.  Now scientists want to add another confounding factor – massive solar flares thousands of times more powerful than the most powerful we have ever observed from the Sun.

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A Recent Megaflare Shows that Proxima Centauri is not a Nice Place to Live

Artist's conception of a violent stellar flare erupting on neighboring star, Proxima Centauri. The flare is the most powerful ever recorded from the star, and is giving scientists insight into the hunt for life in M dwarf star systems, many of which have unusually lively stars. Credit: NRAO/S. Dagnello.

Proxima b, the closest exoplanet to our Solar System, has been a focal point of scientific study since it was first confirmed (in 2016). This terrestrial planet (aka. rocky) orbits Proxima Centauri, an M-type (red dwarf) star located 4.2 light-years beyond our Solar System – and is a part of the Alpha Centauri system. In addition to its proximity and rocky composition, it is also located within its parent star’s habitable zone (HZ).

Until a mission can be sent to this planet (such as Breakthrough Starshot), astrobiologists are forced to postulate about the possibility that life could exist there. Unfortunately, an international campaign that monitored Proxima Centauri for months using nine space- and ground-based telescopes recently spotted an extreme flare coming from the star, one which would have rendered Proxima b uninhabitable.

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Researchers Discover the Source of the Sun’s Most Dangerous High-Energy Particles

Sometimes the sun spits out high-energy particles which slam into the Earth, potentially disrupting our sensitive electronics. New research has found that these particles originate in the plasma of the sun itself, and are trapped there by strong magnetic fields. When those fields weaken, the particles blast out.

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