#1 December 21st earth to be hit directly by intact hydrogen atom *Solar Flare*
12-18-2008, 10:05 PM
- Join Date
- Aug 2005
On Dec. 21st, another solar wind stream will arrive, only this time it will hit Earth directly. The stream is spewing from a coronal hole that straddles the sun's equator, which puts our planet squarely in the "cross hairs." The longest night of the year could be a green one; Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras
A Giant Breach in Earth's Magnetic Field
NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.
"At first I didn't believe it," says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction."
The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind. Exploring the bubble is a key goal of the THEMIS mission, launched in February 2007. The big discovery came on June 3, 2007, when the five probes serendipitously flew through the breach just as it was opening. Onboard sensors recorded a torrent of solar wind particles streaming into the magnetosphere, signaling an event of unexpected size and importance.
Right: One of the THEMIS probes exploring the space around Earth, an artist's concept. [more]
"The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself," says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data. Li's colleague Jimmy Raeder, also of New Hampshire, says "1027 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that's a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible."
The event began with little warning when a gentle gust of solar wind delivered a bundle of magnetic fields from the Sun to Earth. Like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a big clam, solar magnetic fields draped themselves around the magnetosphere and cracked it open. The cracking was accomplished by means of a process called "magnetic reconnection." High above Earth's poles, solar and terrestrial magnetic fields linked up (reconnected) to form conduits for solar wind. Conduits over the Arctic and Antarctic quickly expanded; within minutes they overlapped over Earth's equator to create the biggest magnetic breach ever recorded by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.
12-18-2008, 10:08 PM
I bet it's just a scam so people can open Xmas presents early.2009 CU Pro Football Pick'em Champ
12-18-2008, 10:09 PM
- Join Date
- Aug 2005
"Looks like algore Can Stop preaching Global Warming,it's Almost here !"
"We’ve detected a stream of perfectly intact hydrogen atoms shooting out of an X-class solar flare," says Richard Mewaldt of the California Institute of Technology. "What a surprise! If we can understand how these atoms were produced, we'll be that much closer to understanding solar flares."
The event occurred on Dec. 5, 2006. A large sunspot rounded the sun’s eastern limb and with little warning it exploded. On the "Richter scale" of flares, which ranks X1 as a big event, the blast registered X9, making it one of the strongest flares of the past 30 years.
NASA managers braced themselves. Such a ferocious blast usually produces a blizzard of high-energy particles dangerous to both satellites and astronauts. An hour later they arrived, but they were not the particles researchers expected.
NASA’s twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft made the discovery: "It was a burst of hydrogen atoms," says Mewaldt. "No other elements were present, not even helium (the sun’s second-most abundant atomic species). Pure hydrogen streamed past the spacecraft for a full 90 minutes."
Next came 30 minutes of quiet. The burst subsided and STEREO’s particle counters returned to low levels. The event seemed to be over when a second wave of particles enveloped the spacecraft. These were the "broken atoms" flares are supposed to produce—protons and heavier ions such as helium, oxygen and iron. "Better late than never," he says.
At first, this unprecedented sequence of events baffled scientists, but now Mewaldt and colleagues believe they’re getting to the bottom of the mystery.
First, how did the hydrogen atoms resist destruction?
"They didn’t," says Mewaldt. "We believe they began their journey to Earth in pieces, as protons and electrons. Before they escaped the sun’s atmosphere, however, some of the protons captured an electron, forming intact hydrogen atoms. The atoms left the sun in a fast, straight shot before they could be broken apart again." (For experts: The team believes the electrons were recaptured by some combination of radiative recombination and charge exchange.)
Second, what delayed the ions?
"Simple," says Mewaldt. "Ions are electrically charged and they feel the sun’s magnetic field. Solar magnetism deflects ions and slows their progress to Earth. Hydrogen atoms, on the other hand, are electrically neutral. They can shoot straight out of the sun without magnetic interference."
Imagine two runners dashing for the finish line. One (the ion) is forced to run in a zig-zag pattern with zigs and zags as wide as the orbit of Mars. The other (the hydrogen atom) runs in a straight line. Who’s going to win?
"The hydrogen atoms reached Earth almost two hours before the ions," says Mewaldt.
Mewaldt believes that all strong flares might emit hydrogen bursts, but they simply haven’t been noticed before. He’s looking forward to more X-flares now that the two STEREO spacecraft are widely separated on nearly opposite sides of the Sun. (In 2006 they were still together near Earth.) STEREO-A and –B may be able to triangulate future bursts and pinpoint the source of the hydrogen. This would allow the team to test their ideas about the surprising phenomenon.
"All we need now," he says, "is some solar activity."
For more information about this research, look for the article "STEREO Observations of Energetic Neutral Atoms during the 5 December 2006 Solar Flare" by R. A. Mewaldt et al., in a future issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
For more information about STEREO, please visit: http://www.nasa.gov/stereo
12-18-2008, 10:18 PM
Okay, I'm penciling that in for 2:40 p.m. MST. I could do something at 11:45 a.m. or so but it would have to be quick. We're doing an Advent Open House thingy and it's tough to keep those kids in the camel outfits.
12-19-2008, 08:30 PM
So we should go on a spending spree or what??? :DMay the FORCE be with you!
12-19-2008, 11:58 PM
- Join Date
- May 2008
- Sonora, Texas
That damned George W. Bush!
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