Tag Archives: NASA’s Heliophysics Division

The Earth: A Danger Zone

New threats to our planet seem to arise more rapidly than ever before. Over the last months we have experienced several disastrous earthquakes, dangerous volcano eruptions, extremely powerful solar storms, and now NASA warns of a coming meteor shower that could destroy satellites, the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be.”

Richard Fisher

Yesterday, June 21th, as we experience the summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere – when the sun rises to its highest point in the sky, our nearby celestial fireball belted off one of the most spectacular explosions of the year, according to spaceweather.com.

I have not been able to verify this information with other sources, but this is what the article says:

Sunspot 1082. 20 June 2010.

Sunspot 1082. 20 June 2010.

“…the sunspot’s magnetic fields (the twisting, looping lines and arcs that are visible above and within a sunspot region) became unstable and erupted a massive cloud of magnetized plasma into space. The eruption cloud was so big, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory camera field of view couldn’t see it all. As you can see in the attached picture, it truly was an enormous eruption against the curvature of the sun.”

Fortunately for us, the direction of the eruption was not towards Earth. However, sunspot 1082 is growing rapidly, the Modern Survival Blog reports, and could present Earth with a different story in the days ahead.

We are currently transitioning up the parabola of the next 11 year sunspot cycle which is due to peak during 2012 – 2013.

It’s Huge

On April 19th this year, NASA’s new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was able to film a massive eruption, reported to be one of the biggest in many years.

“SDO has just observed a massive eruption on the sun—one of the biggest in years,” says Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC. “The footage is not only dramatic, but also could solve a longstanding mystery of solar physics.”

Karel Schrijver of Lockheed Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Lab is leading the analysis:

“We can see a billion tons of magnetized plasma blasting into space while debris from the explosion falls back onto the sun surface. These may be our best data yet.”

The movie, recorded on April 19th, spans four hours of actual time and more than 100,000 km of linear space.

“It’s huge,” says Schrijver. Indeed, the entire planet Earth could fit between the plasma streamers with room to spare.

Astronomers have seen eruptions like this before, but rarely so large and never in such fluid detail.

Dick Fisher, the head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington DC, has been working in solar physics for nearly forty years.

“In all that time,” he says, “I’ve never seen images like this.”

(Click here to watch the amazing video)

It’s Damaging

More sunspots, flares, and eruptions will most likely be in the news in the months and years ahead, as some of them will have the potential to deal us a fatal blow as today’s modern technologies are dangerously vulnerable to the resultant EMP-type affect of a powerful X-class solar flare.

The biggest danger lies in our electrical grid high voltage lines which crisscross the land and act as a gigantic antenna which will absorb the pulse impact and blow out the system.

Scientists at NASA have been warning for some time of the dangers of space weather affecting the earth, and particularly the danger of solar storms.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be“, Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division, told the Daily Telegraph, adding that preparations were similar to those in a hurricane season, where authorities knew a problem was imminent but did not know how serious it would be.

The match-up between the two cycles isn’t guaranteed every 22 years, because the 11-year solar cycle is only an average, and sometimes lasts 9, or sometimes lasts 13 years.

The last time it did, in 1859, it wasn’t such an issue because the earth wasn’t anywhere near as technologically developed.

This time, however, with a mobile phone in every pocket and a PC in every home, the damage could be more severe.

It’s Dangerous

But the sun isn’t the only space problem we face over the next two, three years.

Meteor Shower

Meteor Shower

Satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station are under new threat from the most powerful meteor storm in more than a decade, NASA scientists warns.

NASA says the storm, which crosses the Earth’s orbit around the sun every October, comes from a meteor shower called the Draconids.

It has been given that name because the meteors appear to stream in from the direction of the constellation of Draco the Dragon.

Astronomers believe the seven-hour bombardment from the comet debris, due later next year, could strike orbiting spacecraft and wreck their electronics.

It’s Unpredictable

But the meteor shower risk assessment is actually more art than science, and there has been some variation in the projected intensity levels of the 2011 Draconids by meteoroid forecasters.

The scientists admitted last week they were unclear how serious the storm will be, but spacecraft operators were already being notified to develop defensive mechanisms.

As a result, NASA is currently investigating reorienting the international space station and Hubble space telescope to ensure vulnerable areas are turned away from the incoming sandblast, the UK Telegraph reports.

Dr William Cooke, from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama, says contingency plans are already being developed to avoid problems when the storm is expected to hit.

His computer predictions conclude that several hundred meteors an hour could be visible from the earth on October 8 next year.

In early 2011, Cooke will be revising his Draconid prediction – also making use of data from other forecasters around the globe – which will be released to spacecraft operators.

“There’s also an awful lot of windage in there too,” Cooke adds. “We’re like the weather reporters…our forecast changes…and the general trend is always downward,” he says.

“We’re already working with (other) NASA programmes to deal with spacecraft risk. I imagine when the word gets out there will be a Draconid outburst, I’ll get the usual calls from … companies as well as government space programs.”

“If you are hit by a sporadic [meteor], it’s an act of God. If you are hit by a shower meteoroid, it’s an act of negligence,” Dr. Cooke concludes.

Still, caution is the watchword.

However, if a nightmare scenario should occur, wiredscience.com  have set up this list of preparations to help you pull through.

Related by the Econotwist:

NASA Prepares For Impact – Nasty Space Weather Ahead

When Will God Destroy Our Money?

Sun Spots To Cool Down The Markets?

Earthquake May Have Shortened Days on Earth

Mother Earth On Crack

More Mysterious “Monster Fish” Comes To Surface

Low-Oxygen Zones In Oceans Worry Scientists

Katla Could Be 100 Times – Not 10 – More Explosive Than Eyjafjallajokull

Volcano Ash Can Send The Earth Into “Deep Freeze”

The Other Debt Crisis – The Climate Debt

As Climate War Intensifies, So Does Extreme Weather

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NASA Prepares For Impact – Nasty Space Weather Ahead

On Tuesday days top scientist met with authorities in Washington to prepare for possible emergency measures due to a sharp increase in solar activity. According to NASA the sun and the earth is about to come into contact in a way that’s new to human history. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The impact could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

“I believe we’re on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather.”

Richard Fisher

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss,” the head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, Richard Fisher says on the space centers website.

On Tuesday, scientist from NASA, The National Academy of Sciences and The Space Weather Enterprise Forum met with authorities at the National Press Club in Washington for the fourth time.

Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, explains the purpose of the meetings:

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss.”

Solar storms occur when sunspots on our star erupt and spew out flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems.

The sun’s activity typically follows an 11-year cycle, and it looks to be coming out of a slump and gearing up for an active period.

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled “Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts.”

(Full 2008 report can be downloaded here for free)

It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life.

Total Knock-Out

Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity.

A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

Much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming.

Putting satellites in ‘safe mode’ and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges.

Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.

“Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we’re making rapid progress,” says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Bogdan sees the collaboration between NASA and NOAA as key.

“NASA’s fleet of heliophysics research spacecraft provides us with up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening on the sun. They are an important complement to our own GOES and POES satellites, which focus more on the near-Earth environment.”

Among dozens of NASA spacecraft, he notes three of special significance: STEREO, SDO and ACE.

STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a pair of spacecraft stationed on opposite sides of the sun with a combined view of 90% of the stellar surface.

In the past, active sunspots could hide out on the sun’s far-side, invisible from Earth, and then suddenly emerge over the limb spitting flares and CMEs. STEREO makes such surprise attacks impossible, they claim.

Click on the image to play a 39 MB movie about space weather and  NASA's heliophysics fleet.

Click on the image to play a 39 MB movie about space weather and NASA's heliophysics fleet.

SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory) is the newest addition to NASA’s fleet. Just launched in February, it is able to photograph solar active regions with unprecedented spectral, temporal and spatial resolution.

Researchers can now study eruptions in exquisite detail, raising hopes that they will learn how flares work and how to predict them.

SDO also monitors the sun’s extreme UV output, which controls the response of Earth’s atmosphere to solar variability.

Bogdan’s favorite NASA satellite, however, is an old one: the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) launched in 1997.

“Where would we be without it?” he wonders. ACE is a solar wind monitor.

It sits upstream between the sun and Earth, detecting solar wind gusts, billion-ton CMEs, and radiation storms as much as 30 minutes before they hit our planet.

“ACE is our best early warning system,” says Bogdan. “It allows us to notify utility and satellite operators when a storm is about to hit.”

NASA spacecraft were not originally intended for operational forecasting—“but it turns out that our data have practical economic and civil uses,” NASA’s Richard Fisher notes.

“This is a good example of space science supporting modern society.”

“We take this very seriously”

2010 marks the 4th year in a row that policymakers, researchers, legislators and reporters have gathered in Washington DC to share ideas about space weather.

This year, forum organizers plan to sharpen the focus on critical infrastructure protection.

The ultimate goal is to improve the nation’s ability to prepare, mitigate, and respond to potentially devastating space weather events.

“I believe we’re on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather.” Fisher concludes.

“We take this very seriously indeed.”

Space Weather Enterprise Forum – home page

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

Severe Space Weather, Social and Economic Consequences (Science@NASA)

Unknown Impact

And there is no doubt that NASA and other space scientist takes this very serious – and they have very good reason to.

The fact is that no one can predict the impact of extreme solar activity, and a really powerful solar storm.

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“A very large coronal mass ejection from the sun that could cause a super solar storm if it should hit the earth might wipe out the global money system within minutes from impact. Stock exchanges would not operate, banking systems would not function, and both credit cards and ATM machines would stop working. We could find ourselves without the use of our modern electronic forms of money for months and possibly years,” Dr. Espen Gaarder Haug writes in a research paper released April 18th this year.

“And yet, even in a catastrophic scenario where water pumps, power plants, public transportation, and other infrastructural assets that are essential to contemporary life had failed, some type of functioning money system would be required to keep the basic necessities, such as food and medical supplies flowing without too much friction,” he adds.

“I am not a doomsayer. I do not predict that a super solar storm will hit us tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or next year, or even the year after that. The probability for a severe solar storm hitting the earth the next few years based on our limited amount of historical data seems to be low. However, it is probably higher than most people would imagine.”

You’ll find the article and a copy of Dr.Haug’s research paper here.

Is Sunlight Changing?

According to Author and researcher Mitch Battros, new scientific findings about suggest a charge in the sunlight particles coming toward us from within the Milky Way galaxy.

Charged particles that we call solar flares or coronal mass ejections “have an intricate interaction with Earth” that can affect our magnetic field and weather, he says.

In this video Mr. Battros discuss a variety of Earth changes and environmental issues including the hurricane season, the BP oil spill, as well as the implications of Solar Cycle 24 and Mayan prophecy.

Related by the The Swapper:

When Will God Destroy Our Money?

Will God Destroy Our Money or Will We Do It First?

Sun Spots To Cool Down The Markets?

Earthquake May Have Shortened Days on Earth

Mother Earth On Crack

“Mini Ice Age” Underway?

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NASA Prepares For Impact – Nasty Space Weather Ahead

On Tuesday days top scientist met with authorities in Washington to prepare for possible emergency measures due to a sharp increase in solar activity. According to NASA the sun and the earth is about to come into contact in a way that’s new to human history. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The impact could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

“I believe we’re on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather.”

Richard Fisher

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss,” the head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, Richard Fisher says on the space centers website.

On Tuesday, scientist from NASA, The National Academy of Sciences and The Space Weather Enterprise Forum met with authorities at the National Press Club in Washington for the fourth time.

Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, explains the purpose of the meetings:

“The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity. At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we’re getting together to discuss.”


Solar storms occur when sunspots on our star erupt and spew out flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems.

The sun’s activity typically follows an 11-year cycle, and it looks to be coming out of a slump and gearing up for an active period.

The National Academy of Sciences framed the problem two years ago in a landmark report entitled “Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts.”

(Full 2008 report can be downloaded here for free)

It noted how people of the 21st-century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life.

Total Knock-Out

Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity.

A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

Much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming.

Putting satellites in ‘safe mode’ and disconnecting transformers can protect these assets from damaging electrical surges.

Preventative action, however, requires accurate forecasting—a job that has been assigned to NOAA.

“Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we’re making rapid progress,” says Thomas Bogdan, director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

Bogdan sees the collaboration between NASA and NOAA as key.

“NASA’s fleet of heliophysics research spacecraft provides us with up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening on the sun. They are an important complement to our own GOES and POES satellites, which focus more on the near-Earth environment.”

Among dozens of NASA spacecraft, he notes three of special significance: STEREO, SDO and ACE.

STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a pair of spacecraft stationed on opposite sides of the sun with a combined view of 90% of the stellar surface.

In the past, active sunspots could hide out on the sun’s far-side, invisible from Earth, and then suddenly emerge over the limb spitting flares and CMEs. STEREO makes such surprise attacks impossible, they claim.

Click on the image to play a 39 MB movie about space weather and NASA's heliophysics fleet.

Click on the image to play a 39 MB movie about space weather and NASA's heliophysics fleet.

SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory) is the newest addition to NASA’s fleet. Just launched in February, it is able to photograph solar active regions with unprecedented spectral, temporal and spatial resolution.

Researchers can now study eruptions in exquisite detail, raising hopes that they will learn how flares work and how to predict them.

SDO also monitors the sun’s extreme UV output, which controls the response of Earth’s atmosphere to solar variability.

Bogdan’s favorite NASA satellite, however, is an old one: the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) launched in 1997.

“Where would we be without it?” he wonders. ACE is a solar wind monitor.

It sits upstream between the sun and Earth, detecting solar wind gusts, billion-ton CMEs, and radiation storms as much as 30 minutes before they hit our planet.

“ACE is our best early warning system,” says Bogdan. “It allows us to notify utility and satellite operators when a storm is about to hit.”

NASA spacecraft were not originally intended for operational forecasting—“but it turns out that our data have practical economic and civil uses,” NASA’s Richard Fisher notes.

“This is a good example of space science supporting modern society.”

“We take this very seriously”

2010 marks the 4th year in a row that policymakers, researchers, legislators and reporters have gathered in Washington DC to share ideas about space weather.

This year, forum organizers plan to sharpen the focus on critical infrastructure protection.

The ultimate goal is to improve the nation’s ability to prepare, mitigate, and respond to potentially devastating space weather events.

“I believe we’re on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather.” Fisher concludes.

“We take this very seriously indeed.”

Space Weather Enterprise Forum – home page

NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

Severe Space Weather, Social and Economic Consequences (Science@NASA)

Unknown Impact

And there is no doubt that NASA and other space scientist takes this very serious – and they have very good reason to.

The fact is that no one can predict the impact of extreme solar activity, and a really powerful solar storm.

Espen Gaarder Haug

“A very large coronal mass ejection from the sun that could cause a super solar storm if it should hit the earth might wipe out the global money system within minutes from impact. Stock exchanges would not operate, banking systems would not function, and both credit cards and ATM machines would stop working. We could find ourselves without the use of our modern electronic forms of money for months and possibly years,” Dr. Espen Gaarder Haug writes in a research paper released April 18th this year.

“And yet, even in a catastrophic scenario where water pumps, power plants, public transportation, and other infrastructural assets that are essential to contemporary life had failed, some type of functioning money system would be required to keep the basic necessities, such as food and medical supplies flowing without too much friction,” he adds.

“I am not a doomsayer. I do not predict that a super solar storm will hit us tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or next year, or even the year after that. The probability for a severe solar storm hitting the earth the next few years based on our limited amount of historical data seems to be low. However, it is probably higher than most people would imagine.”

You’ll find the article and a copy of Dr.Haug’s research paper here.

Is Sunlight Changing?

According to Author and researcher Mitch Battros, new scientific findings about suggest a charge in the sunlight particles coming toward us from within the Milky Way galaxy.

Charged particles that we call solar flares or coronal mass ejections “have an intricate interaction with Earth” that can affect our magnetic field and weather, he says.

In this video Mr. Battros discuss a variety of Earth changes and environmental issues including the hurricane season, the BP oil spill, as well as the implications of Solar Cycle 24 and Mayan prophecy.


Related by the Economist:

When Will God Destroy Our Money?

Will God Destroy Our Money or Will We Do It First?

Sun Spots To Cool Down The Markets?

Earthquake May Have Shortened Days on Earth

Mother Earth On Crack

“Mini Ice Age” Underway?

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