A Sun-Like Star Just Blasted out a Flare That Would be Devastating if it Happened Here

In the search for “potentially-habitable” extrasolar planets, one of the main things scientists look at is stellar activity. Whereas stars like our own, a G-type (G2V) yellow dwarf, are considered stable over time, other classes are variable and prone to flare-ups – particularly M-type red dwarf stars. Even if a star has multiple planets orbiting within its habitable zone (HZ), the tendency to periodically flare could render these planets completely uninhabitable.

According to a new study, stars like our own may not be as stable as previously thought. While observing EK Draconis, a G1.5V yellow dwarf located 110.71 light-years away, an international team of astronomers witnessed a massive coronal mass ejection that dwarfed anything we’ve ever seen in our Solar System. These observations suggest that these ejections can worsen over time, which could be a dire warning for life here on Earth.

Continue reading “A Sun-Like Star Just Blasted out a Flare That Would be Devastating if it Happened Here”

Researchers Use Ancient Literature to Track 3,000 Years of Auroras

Auroral activity on Earth varies over time. As the magnetic poles drift, auroras can appear at different latitudes around the globe. Solar activity also affects them, with powerful solar storms pushing the auroras further into mid-latitudes.

In an effort to better understand how auroras move around, how they’ll move in the future, and when powerful solar storms might pose a threat, a team of researchers have tracked auroral activity for the last 3,000 years.

Continue reading “Researchers Use Ancient Literature to Track 3,000 Years of Auroras”

Scientists Have a new way to Predict the Most Damaging Solar Storms

Space is full of hazards.  The Earth, and it’s atmosphere, does a great job of shielding us from most of them.  But sometimes those hazards are more powerful than even those protections can withstand, and potentially catastrophic events can result.  Some of the most commonly known potential catastrophic events are solar flares.  While normal solar activity can be deflected by the planet’s magnetic field, resulting in sometimes spectacular auroras, larger solar flares are a danger to look out for.  So it’s worth celebrating a team of researchers from the International Space Science Institute which found a way to better track these potentially dangerous natural events.

Continue reading “Scientists Have a new way to Predict the Most Damaging Solar Storms”

A Very Powerful Solar Storm Hit the Earth Back in 1582

“A great fire appeared in the sky to the North, and lasted three nights,” wrote a Portuguese scribe in early March, 1582. Across the globe in feudal Japan, observers in Kyoto noted the same fiery red display in their skies too. Similar accounts of strange nighttime lights were recorded in Leipzig, Germany; Yecheon, South Korea; and a dozen other cities across Europe and East Asia.

It was a stunning event. While people living at high latitudes were well aware of auroras in 1582, most people living closer to the equator were not. The solar storm that year was unlike anything in living memory, and it was so strong it brought the aurora to latitudes as low as 28 degrees (in line with Florida, Egypt, and southern Japan). People this close to the equator had no frame of reference for such dazzling nighttime displays, and many took it as a religious portent.

Continue reading “A Very Powerful Solar Storm Hit the Earth Back in 1582”

Scientists in Japan Have Found a Detailed Record of the Earth’s Last Magnetic Reversal, 773,000 Years Ago

Every 200,000 to 300,000 years Earth’s magnetic poles reverse. What was once the north pole becomes the south, and vice versa. It’s a time of invisible upheaval.

The last reversal was unusual because it was so long ago. For some reason, the poles have remained oriented the way they are now for about three-quarters of a million years. A new study has revealed some of the detail of that reversal.

Continue reading “Scientists in Japan Have Found a Detailed Record of the Earth’s Last Magnetic Reversal, 773,000 Years Ago”

Solar Storms Might Confuse Whale Navigation, and Make Them More Likely to Strand Themselves

The Gray Whale is the 10th largest creature alive today, and the 9 creatures larger than it are all whales, too. Gray Whales are known for their epic migration routes, sometimes covering more than 16,000 km (10,000 miles) on their two-way trips between their feeding grounds and their breeding grounds. Researchers don’t have a complete understanding of how whales navigate these great distances, but some evidence suggests that Earth’s magnetism has something to do with it.

Continue reading “Solar Storms Might Confuse Whale Navigation, and Make Them More Likely to Strand Themselves”

ESA is Considering a Mission to Give Advanced Warnings of Solar Storms

The Sun is not exactly placid, though it appears pretty peaceful in the quick glances we can steal with our naked eyes. In reality though, the Sun is a dynamic, chaotic body, spraying out solar wind and radiation and erupting in great sheets of plasma. Living in a technological society next to all that is a challenge.

Continue reading “ESA is Considering a Mission to Give Advanced Warnings of Solar Storms”

The ESA’s Solar Orbiter, a Mission That Will Chart the Unexplored Polar Regions of the Sun, Just Launched!

In the coming years, a number of will be sent to space for the purpose of answering some of the enduring questions about the cosmos. One of the most pressing is the effect that solar activity and “space weather” events have on planet Earth. By being able to better-predict these, scientists will be able to create better early-warning systems that could prevent damage to Earth’s electrical infrastructure.

This is the purpose of the Solar Orbiter (SolO), an ESA-led mission with strong participation by NASA that launched this morning (Monday, Feb. 10th) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is the first “medium-class” mission implemented as part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-25 program and will spend the next five years investigating the Sun’s uncharted polar regions to learn more about how the Sun works.

Continue reading “The ESA’s Solar Orbiter, a Mission That Will Chart the Unexplored Polar Regions of the Sun, Just Launched!”