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3D Model of Solar Flares Help Predict Space Weather

Scientists have for the first time witnessed the mechanism behind explosive energy releases in the Sun’s atmosphere, confirming new theories about how solar flares are created. The discoveries of a gigantic energy build-up bring us a step closer to predicting when and where large flares will occur, which is crucial in protecting the Earth from potentially devastating space weather.

3dmodel solarflare 

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Comet Lovejoy Helps Improve Solar Magnetic Field Models

A team of researchers recently published a paper in the journal Science showing how the Sun-grazing comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) has helped them improve the models of solar coronal magnetism. The comet passed deep within the hot solar atmosphere revealing the characteristics of the embedded magnetic fields, as the ions that make up the comet's tail interacted with magnetism from the corona. This provided substantial insight into this very dynamic region that could never be probed before. The improved models may one day help better and more timely space weather forecasting.


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Six Years in Space for THEMIS: Understanding the Magnetosphere Better Than Ever

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Earth is surrounded by a giant magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere. Over six years in space, five spacecraft from the THEMIS mission have helped map out this area and improve our ability to predict dynamic space weather events – events that at their worst can impact satellites in space.

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Credit: NASA

The Compact Relativistic Electron and Proton Telescope (CREPT) will Study the Earth’s Radiation Belts


CREPT, a small solid-state telescope, will fly aboard an upcoming NASA-sponsored Cubesat mission under NASA’s Low-Cost Access to Space (LCAS) program. It will measure energetic electrons and protons in Earth’s Van Allen Belts, giving scientists a better understanding of the physics of how the radiation belts lose electrons by a process known as electron microbursts.

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NASA Balloons to Study the Radiation Belts


Twenty balloons are launched above the Antarctic as part of NASA’s missionBARREL (Balloon Array for Radiation belt Relativistic Electron Losses). BARREL works in conjunction with NASA’s Van Allen Probes, two spacecraft currently orbiting around Earth to study theVan Allen Radiation Belts. The Van Allen Probes are observing how the particles behave in the radiation belts themselves, while BARREL can watch to see how and when the particles course down magnetic fields toward the South Pole. Working together, the two missions will track how the particles move.

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Swirly Solar Wind



Using ESA’s Cluster quartet of satellites as a space plasma microscope, scientists have zoomed in on the solar wind to reveal the finest detail yet, finding tiny turbulent swirls that could play a key role in maintaining its heat as it streams away and races across the solar system. Two of the four Cluster satellites have made extremely detailed observations of plasma turbulence in the solar wind and confirmed the existence of sheets of electric current just 20 km across, on the borders of turbulent swirls. Cluster previously detected current sheets on much larger scales of 100 km in the magnetosheath.

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Space Radiation Risks

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A new Canadian experiment is set to track space radiation and its risks. To prepare for future missions that may last for months or years, the Canadian Space Agency along with other space agencies around the world will install a new set of instruments at the International Space Station to measure the radiation caused by high-energy neutron particles and monitor the dose an astronaut absorbs during space flight. 

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NASA’s Van Allen Probes Reveal New Dynamics of Earth’s Radiation Belts

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Just 96 days since their launch, NASA’s twin Van Allen Probes have already provided new insights into the structure and behavior of the radiation belts that surround Earth, giving scientists a clearer understanding about the fundamental physical properties of these regions more than half a century after their discovery.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the American Geophysical Union’s 2012 Fall Meeting inSan Francisco, members of the Van Allen Probes science team discussed current findings made in unlocking the mysteries of the radiation belts. These two donut-shaped regions of high-energy and hazardous particles – named for their discoverer and the mission’s namesake, American physicist James Van Allen of theUniversityofIowa– are created by our planet’s magnetosphere, and can harm space technologies such as satellites, as well as affect human space travel.

Throughout the brief early life of the two-year mission, energetic events and ejections of plasma from the sun caused dramatic changes in the radiation belts that, for the first time, were observed by twin spacecraft within the belts. “The sun has been a driver of these systems more than we had any right to expect,” says Daniel Baker, Principal Investigator, Van Allen Probes Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT, which is part of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma Suite, or ECT), from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “We’re seeing brand new features we hadn’t expected.”

The twin probes, built and managed for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) inLaurel,Md., contain identical sets of five instrument suites. These suites have confirmed previous hypotheses about the belts’ behavior, while also revealing that the belts are a far more dynamic and changing environment than previously thought. “We expected to see a fairly placid radiation belt system,” Baker says. “Instead, we see that the belts have been extraordinarily active and dynamic during the first few weeks. We’re looking in the right places at the right times.”

Our planet’s magnetosphere captures particles from the billions of tons of plasma ejected by the sun and from other sources; fields and waves of electricity and magnetism control and guide the charged particles within the belts, with the particles “surfing” on the waves, losing or gaining large amounts of energy along the way as they enter and leave the region. Measurements made by instruments like the Electric Fields and Waves Suite (EFW) and the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) are helping scientists understand how those fields and waves affect the particles. “The electric field and magnetic field measurements on the Van Allen Probes are the best ever made in the radiation belts,” says theUniversityofIowa’s Craig Kletzing, Principal Investigator for EMFISIS. “For the first time, we’ve been able to see how long intense low frequency electric fields and waves at the edge of the radiation belts can last – sometimes for over five hours during geomagnetic storms. Before, it was like we could see a car zoom past, but not see anything about the details. Now, we can see what color the upholstery is.”

The inner belt, where many satellites must operate, is home to the most hazardous and energized particles, mostly protons. “A staggering number of the spacecraft we rely upon daily have to spend a part of their orbit in the harshest area of Earth’s radiation environment,” says Joseph Mazur of the Aerospace Corporation, Principal Investigator of the probes’ Relativistic Proton Spectrometer (RPS). The Van Allen Probes are providing researchers with detailed views of how the populations of those particles vary with altitude, which should help engineers more effectively protect satellites. “This is the first time we’ve been able to measure the high energy particles in the heart of the radiation belts,” Mazur said. “We’re able to measure at the one billion electron volt level; particles at that energy are virtually impossible to shield against. They will easily penetrate half-inch thick aluminum plate.” Particles at that energy level are known to cause a range of damages to spacecraft, from physical degradation to instrument malfunctions and false readings.

“NASA built these spacecraft to be super tough, and thank goodness we did,” says APL’s Nicky Fox, Van Allen Probes deputy project scientist. “The instruments are seeing the exact sorts of damaging effects we designed the spacecraft to survive.”


To view the presentations, including video and audio files, please click here.


Credits: JHU/APL

Sounds of 'Alien Birds' in Space Recorded by NASA Spacecraft


A NASA spacecraft has made the clearest record yet of choruses of noise in the Earth's magnetosphere. The chirps and whoops were captured by one of NASA's two recently launched Radiation Belt Storm Probes spacecraft, whose mission is to understand more about space weather.

(Image credit: NASA)

In the Loop: The Sounds of Space: New “Chorus” Recording By RBSP’s EMFISIS Instrument

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Solar Storms Dangerous Even at Mid-Latitudes

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A recent published study suggests that space weather related phenomena may be as hazardous to middle latitude power networks as they are to higherlatitudes and thus highlights the importance of operating procedures for large space weather events, even at middle latitude locations.

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Magnificent Solar Eruption

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On August 31st, a magnetic filament on the sun erupted in spectacular fashion, producing a long-duration solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME) and one of the most beautiful movies of an explosion ever recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

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NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes Launched Successfully

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NASA launched two heavily-shielded spacecraft directly into the Van Allen radiation belts that encircle the Earth. The sun influences the behavior of the radiation belts, which in turn can impact life on Earth and endanger astronauts and spacecraft in orbit.The identical twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes will fly in separate orbits throughout the inner and outer radiation belts, on a two-year mission, to unravel the mystery of their unpredictability.

(Image Credit & Copyright: Mike Killian.

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The Highest-Energy Light From a Solar Flare Detected



NASA announced that its Fermi Gamma-ray Space telescope detected the highest-energy light ever associated with an eruption on the Sun. It was a powerful solar flare that occurred on March 7, blasting light and charged particles, and a flux of high-energy gamma rays 1,000 times greater than the Sun’s steady output. Thus, shortly, the sun became the brightest object in the gamma-ray sky. The March flare’s gamma-ray emission was also very persistent, its high-energy gamma rays could be detected for about 20 hours, which is 2.5 times longer than any event on record.

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First observations of the process linked to northern lights



Astronomers at the University of Iowa were able to observe the magnetic reconnection site in space by using data from NASA’s Polar spacecraft and its Hydra, MFE and EFI experiments. This is the first experimentally resolved and unequivocal site of collision, in which magnetic field energy is converted into energetic particles. The process observed is active not just in creating the northern lights, but many other astronomical phenomena as well.

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50 Micro-satellites will be launched to forecast space weather


Satellites are vulnerable to enhanced solar activity and so are astronauts, aircrafts, and telecommunications on Earth. In order to make predictions about space weather, when violent solar winds hit the Earth, scientists need more information and data.In 2013 several universities around the world will work together to launch 50 small satellites into a polar orbit at an altitude of 320 km above the Earth This will provide the researchers with an opportunity to study all layers of the ionosphere.


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Solar eruption on May 2012


A powerful solar flare erupted from the Sun on May 17. The scientists link it to a massive sun spot.


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Is there a boundary at the edge of our solar system?


NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) didn't find any! For the last few decades, space scientists have generally accepted that the bubble of gas and magnetic fields generated by the sun – known as the heliosphere – moves through space, creating three distinct boundary layers that culminate in an outermost bow shock. A collection of new data from IBEX, however, now indicate that the sun does not have a bow shock.


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The Climate Change on the SUN will affect space weather on earth


Recent research shows that the space age has coincided with a period of unusually high solar activity, called a grand maximum. This will decline in the future, causing a reduction in sunspot numbers and explosive solar events, but those events that do take place could be more damaging.


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Solar Eruptions Cause Sunquakes


A study led by UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory has shown for the first time that sunquakes can be produced during eruptions of magnetic field and charged particles, as the immense magnetic structure blasts off into the Solar System.


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Impact of Solar Storm Observed by Two NASA's Spacecrafts

The solar storm of April 5, 2010 has released a two million-mile-per-hour stream of charged particles that interacted with the Earth's magnetosphere. For the first time two spacecrafts, TWINS and IBEX, observed the impact of this solar storm from inside and outside the magnetosphere, respectively.


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Lightning Sprites Are Out-of-This-World


Only a few decades ago, scientists discovered the existence of "sprites" 30 to 55 miles above the surface of the Earth.


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Geomagnetic Data Reveal Unusual Nature of Recent Solar Minimum

During the most recent solar minimum, which took place from 2006 to 2010, several researcher groups noticed 6.7-day and 9-day recurrent changes in geomagnetic activity, and similar patterns in the interplanetary magnetic field, and the solar wind. Using modern data covering the previous two solar minima, these higher-frequency occurrences were judged to be unusual and actually unique in the past 140 years. The scientists suggest that these are due to an unusual transient asymmetry in the solar dynamo, the turbulent, rotating plasma deep within the Sun which generates the magnetic field.


Source: Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL050702, 2012

Sun Delivered Curveball Of Powerful Radiation At Earth

A potent follow-up solar flare, which occurred Friday (Jan. 27, 2012), just days after the Sun launched the biggest coronal mass ejection (CME) seen in nearly a decade, delivered a powerful radiation punch to Earth’s magnetic field despite the fact that it was aimed away from our planet.


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Earth’s Magnetic Field Provides Vital Protection


A chance alignment of planets during a passing gust of the solar wind has allowed scientists to compare the protective effects of Earth's magnetic field with that of Mars' naked atmosphere.



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NASA Solar Study Mission Moves To Next Design Stage

Two-thousand-degree temperatures, supersonic solar particles, intense radiation – all of this awaits NASA's Solar Probe Plus during an unprecedented close-up study of the sun.


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Large solar flares generate geomagnetic storm

A pair of unusually large solar flares early yesterday generated a Coronal Mass Ejection that will reach Earth around mid-day today. It will likely cause at least a strong geomagnetic storm that could affect satellites in space and trigger auroral displays.


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