What is Solar Wind?
Nola Taylor Redd, SPACE.com Contributor | August 01, 2013 07:12pm ET
The solar wind streams plasma and particles from the sun out into space. Though the wind is constant, its properties aren’t. What causes this stream, and how does it affect the Earth?This is an artist’s concept of the Earth’s global magnetic field, with the bow shock. Earth is in the middle of the image, surrounded by its magnetic field, represented by purple lines. The bow shock is the blue crescent on the right. Many energetic particles in the solar wind, represented in gold, are deflected by Earth’s magnetic “shield".
Credit: Walt Feimer (HTSI)/NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
The corona, the sun’s outer layer, reaches temperatures of up to 2 million degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 million Celsius). At this level, the sun’s gravity can’t hold on to the rapidly moving particles, and it streams away from the star.
The sun’s activity shifts over the course of its 11-year cycle, with sun spot numbers, radiation levels, and ejected material changing over time. These alterations affect the properties of the solar wind, including its magnetic field properties, velocity, temperature and density. The wind also differs based on where on the sun it comes from and how quickly that portion is rotating.
The velocity of the solar wind is higher over coronal holes, reaching speeds of up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) per second. The temperature and density over coronal holes are low, and the magnetic field is weak, so the field lines are open to space. These holes occur at the poles and low latitudes, and reach their largest when activity on the sun is at its minimum. Temperatures in the fast wind can reach up to 1 million degrees F (800,000 C).
At the coronal streamer belt around the equator, the solar wind travels more slowly, at around 200 miles (300 km) per second. Temperatures in the slow wind reach up to 2.9 million F (1.6 million C).
As the wind travels off the sun, it carries charged particles and magnetic clouds. Emitted in all directions, some of the solar wind is constantly buffeting our planet, with interesting effects.
If the material carried by the solar wind reached a planet’s surface, its radiation would do severe damage to any life that might exist. Earth’s magnetic field serves as a shield, redirecting the material around the planet so that it streams beyond it. The force of the wind stretches out the magnetic field so that it is smooshed inward on the sun-side and stretched out on the night side.
Sometimes the sun spits out large bursts of plasma known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or solar storms. More common during the active period of the cycle known as the solar maximum, CMEs have a stronger effect than the standard solar wind. [Photos: Stunning Photos of Solar Flares & Solar Storms]
When the solar wind carries CMEs and other powerful bursts of radiation into a planet’s magnetic field, it can cause the magnetic field on the back side to press together, a process known as magnetic reconnection. Charged particles then stream back toward the planet’s magnetic poles, causing beautiful displays known as the aurora borealis in the upper atmosphere. [Photos: Amazing Auroras of 2012]
Though some bodies are shielded by a magnetic field, others lack their protection. Earth’s moon has nothing to protect it, so takes the full brunt. Mercury, the closest planet, has a magnetic field that shields it from the regular standard wind, but it takes the full force of more powerful outbursts such as CMEs.
When the high- and low-speed streams interact with one another, they create dense regions known as co-rotating interaction regions (CIRs) that trigger geomagnetic storms when they interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Studying the solar wind
NASA’s Ulysses mission launched on Oct. 6, 1990, and studied the sun at various latitudes. It measured the various properties of the solar wind over the course of more than a dozen years.
The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite orbits at one of the special points between Earth and the sun known as the Lagrange point. In this area, gravity from the sun and the planet pull equally, keeping the satellite in a stable orbit. Launched in 1997, ACE measures the solar wind and provides real-time measurements of the constant flow of particles.
Massive Hole in Sun Captured on Video by NASA Spacecraft [VIDEO]
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By Reissa Su | July 30, 2013 9:35 AM EST
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A NASA spacecraft, Karen Fox, captured on video various images of a massive hole in the sun’s atmosphere. The solar anomaly known as a coronal hole was estimated to be almost a quarter of the sun’s size and reported to be emitting solar gas and other material into space.
The hole in the sun was first spotted between July 13 and 18 by the Solar and Heliosphere Observatory (SOHO). The SOHO satellite was first launched in 1995 with NASA and the European Space Agency in-charge of operations and the monitoring of solar activity.
The coronal hole is defined by scientists as a cooler and darker area of the sun’s atmosphere. The hole in the sun’s atmosphere has little solar material which allows the magnetic field lines to whip out into the solar wind. In other regions of the sun, the magnetic field lines may be seen as a loop that juts out then comes back to the surface of the sun.
The video captured by NASA’s Karen Fox spacecraft was released and the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center explained the anomaly.
NASA officials said it was still unclear how coronal holes or holes in the sun are formed and what causes them. Coronal holes are linked to regions of the sun where magnetic fields fly up and away. These magnetic fields fail to fall back down on the sun’s surface.
NASA explained coronal holes are not rare. Their frequency of occurring will depend on the cycle of the sun’s activity. According to NASA, the sun is beginning to reach its eleventh year in peak activity which means the sun will be having more powerful solar storms.
The peak in solar activity also means the sun’s poles will reverse their magnetism. NASA said the number of holes on the sun will diminish as the poles switch. New coronal holes may appear near the poles. As the sun approaches its solar minimum, the holes near the poles will move to the sun’s equator.
Holes on the sun’s atmosphere can affect the weather in space like coronal mass ejections since they give off solar particles from the surface of the sun three times faster as the wind blowing in other regions.
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Studying The Sun’s Dramatic Temperature Variations
Posted by Sean Meade 7:18 AM on Jul 08, 2013
This story by Michael Mecham and Frank Morring, Jr. ran in the July 8 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
Spaceborne study of the Sun has produced spectacular images like these over the years, but still leaves much about our nearest star cloaked in mystery. Now an ultraviolet (UV) telescope with unusually high spectral bandwidth will try to solve one of the most puzzling—why temperatures vary so dramatically between the Sun’s surface and the upper limits of its turbulent atmosphere.
IRIS will focus on the interface region in the Sun’s atmosphere , shown in this image collected by Japan’s Hinode spacecraft, in the hope it will reveal why the corona above it gets so much hotter. Credit: JAXA/Hinode
NASA ‘s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission received “a great insertion orbit” from its three-stage Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL air-launched booster June 27, hitting a 400-mi.-high Sun-synchronous orbit that should carry it well beyond its nominal two-year operational life.
NASA ‘s IRIS spacecraft will image about 1% of the Sun with each shot of its ultraviolet telescope , resolving images as small as 150-mi. across. Credit: Lockheed Martin
The $170 million mission fields a 20-cm (8-in.) UV telescope and spectrograph designed to record the ultraviolet light emitted in the transitional region that stretches from the Sun’s surface —where temperatures are a mere 10,000F—to its corona, or upper atmosphere, where they reach several million degrees. The mission will study solar and plasma physics, space weather and astrophysics to gain a better understanding of how the Sun’s internal convective flows power its atmospheric activity. Spikes in that activity can interrupt electrical grids and disrupt communications satellites.
Astronomers combined images taken with Europe’s Proba-2 spacecraft and from the ground at Atoll Hao in French Polynesia during a total solar eclipse in July 2010 to produce this illustration of the extended corona . Credit: ESA/Proba-2 consortium/SWAP team/Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris (CNRS & UPMC), S. Koutchmy/J. Mouette
With a liftoff weight of 140 kg (300 lb.), IRIS has a power rating of 200 watts. Its most prominent feature is its 3-meter (9.8-ft.)-long UV telescope built by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
A massive coronal hole in blue shows a 400,000-mi.-wide opening in the Sun’s magnetic field that lets the solar wind spew out at 400-500 mi./sec., twice its normal speed. Credit: NASA /SDO
The spacecraft’s multi-channel imaging spectrograph , built by Lockheed Martin Sensing and Exploration Systems from a design collaboration with Montana State University, will observe in the extreme ultraviolet wavelengths between 1,200-3,000 angstroms, far higher than previous missions.
Solar particles from an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME) March 15 show up clearly in these occluded images from the Solar Heliospheric Observatory. Credit: ESA/NSA/SOHO
The instrument’s mirrors, polished by L-3 Communications SSG-Tinsley Inc. in Richmond, Calif., have a quality better than the Hubble Space Telescope’s, says Principal Investigator Alan Title, a senior fellow at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif.
The CME above produced this aurora over Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, two days later, reflecting a geomagnetic storm rated G2 fading to G1 on a five-point scale. Storms that are more severe can damage satellites and disrupt power grids.
“IRIS will show the solar chromosphere in more detail than has ever been observed before,” says Adrian Daw, deputy project scientist. “My opinion is that we are bound to see something we didn’t expect to see.”
Tags: os99July 29, 2013 Spacecraft Finds Massive Hole In The Sun Hole In The Sun SOHO A spacecraft recently spotted a massive hole in the sun’s atmosphere. The anomaly, called a coronal hole, covers almost a quarter of our star and spews solar material and gas into space. The hole was spotted by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) between July 13 and 18. The anomaly is a darker, cooler region of the sun’s atmosphere. The region contains little solar material, allowing magnetic field lines to whip out into the solar wind, reports Yahoo! News. In other areas, the magnetic field lines appear as a loop that juts out, then returns to the sun’s surface. NASA released a video of the hole in the sun as seen by the spacecraft. Karen Fox, with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, explained: “While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere.” While the coronal holes are not rare, their frequency can change depending on the solar activity cycle, notes The Huffington Post. The sun is reaching its 11 year peak in activity, releasing more solar storms that are much more powerful than it will release during its more dormant time. The solar maximum also involves the sun’s poles reversing their magnetism. The number of coronal holes on the sun’s surface usually decrease leading up to the switch. Then, new coronal holes will appear near the poles. NASA notes that the holes move from the poles to the equator as the sun reaches its solar minimum. The Solar Killshot – The Facts !! NASA Confirms Massive Hole In The Sun 2013 1080p Available Hole in Sun, Bank Fraud, Armmagedon (made with Spreaker) Coronal hole, The Truth !! GIANT WINGED UFO Around The Sun, SOHO NASA, July 13, 2013 HD 1080p The SOHO satellite that captured the hole in the sun was launched in 1995. It is operated by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to monitor solar activity.Coronal holes, like coronal mass ejections, can affect space weather, because they send solar particles streaming from the sun’s surface three times as fast as the slower wind unleashed in other areas. [Image by ESA/NASA]
Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/875486/spacecraft-finds-massive-hole-in-the-sun/#uzwkD7k34IAka6BS.99
DHS taking national security to new lows
Woolsey: ‘Not a single thought is being given to security’ of electrical grid
Published: 4 days ago
WASHINGTON – Just as concern is peaking over the prospect of a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, event from either natural or man-made causes that could cripple the U.S. national electric grid, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to cut back on training for electric utilities to harden their facilities to protect them.
DHS is charged with protecting the country’ critical infrastructures, including the national electric grid system, which would be dramatically and possibility irreversibly affected by a major EMP event.
DHS officials, who are aware of EMP and its potentially catastrophic effects on the nation’s critical infrastructure, still does not regard EMP as one of the 15 National Planning Scenarios which outline implementation instructions for national calamities, including flooding and acts of terrorism.
These and other concerns about the potential for an EMP and its effect were brought out in a conference near Capitol Hill by a newly formed EMP Coalition, which was created to ensure the resiliency of the U.S. electrical grid system and the critical national security and civilian infrastructures that depend on it.
The coalition is co-chaired by former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey.
At the conference, Woolsey was joined by former Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the office of the Strategic Defense Initiative and currently chairman of High Frontier; and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, former CIA analyst who was staff director of the congressionally mandated EMP commission and is now executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board.
In a recent discussion he had with a “high-level” DHS official, Cooper said that the official whom he wouldn’t name said that “no one at DHS pays any attention to those planning scenarios.”
In a separate interview with WND, however, Pry added that the lack of a DHS planning scenario has a direct impact on state and local governments that look to Washington for guidance on handling catastrophic events such as an EMP.
Without that guidance, Pry said state and local governments aren’t preparing for an EMP, even though its effects directly would impact people at the state and local levels.
Woolsey said that the national grid, which underlies the nation’s critical infrastructures, has little or no protection.
The former CIA director said that the U.S. in all has 18 critical infrastructures, 17 of which depend on one key infrastructure, the electric grid system.
He said that while the national grid underlies those critical infrastructures that include food and water delivery, transportation, financial services, telecommunications and emergency services, there is little or no protection of the grid.
“Not a single thought is being given to security of the grid,” Woolsey said. “The country is not well-served by the way in which the grid is protected and who protects it.”
He said that security of the grid primarily is in the hands of trade organizations represented by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC.
“We are at war with those who want to bring down the grid,” Woolsey said. “Yet, there are 3,500 generals – the local electric utilities – who are in charge of security.”
Because the public utility companies don’t want an increase in price, Woolsey said they spend little on grid security.
“No one is in charge of security for the grid,” he said.
The most vulnerable portions of the grid, Woolsey said, are the large transformers which are no longer made in the United States and take extended time to replace even under normal conditions.
In all, he said, there are some 3,000 such large transformers, but the U.S. has in reserve only five percent of the total should replacements be required.
Woolsey underscored the vulnerability of these large transformers by citing a recent case in San Jose, Calif., in which “professionals” sought to disable one of the large transformers by shooting AK-47 rounds into it.
He said that just shooting into the transformers could destroy it, since numerous bullet holes would cause coolants to seep out, causing the transformers to overheat and fry their internal electronics.
An EMP event over the Boston-to-Washington corridor – one of the most populated portions of the U.S. – would cost upwards of $1 trillion and take years to recover, affecting all the people living in that area. Among the impacts expected would be starvation and death.
Both Woolsey and Pry underscored the fact that the loss of the grid would trigger cascading failures of all the critical infrastructures on which society depends, even if a portion were knocked out.
Wolsey pointed out that the NERC has opposed any federal efforts to strengthen the grid or provide additional security beyond enclosing utilities in storm fences, primarily due to cost. They also oppose federal efforts, such as the recently introduced SHIELD Act by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., which would give the federal government authority to order and ensure that hardware in the local utilities are capable of withstanding a direct EMP attack, whether natural or man-made.
The SHIELD Act was introduced in the previous two Congresses, but only passed the House, with no action in the Senate.
Pry said the cost to harden the grid and the nation’s critical infrastructures would amount to no more than $2 billion and even that cost, he added, has gone down to technology advancements.
Woolsey said that the most immediate concern is the EMP effects from the increasing solar storms which are erupting on the surface of the sun, since it is reaching what is termed as a solar storm maximum in its 11-year cycle.
Cooper said that solar storm maximum is reaching its most intense period this year and next. The potential impact from solar flares was underscored over the past weekend after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said its space telescope aimed at the sun spotted a gigantic hole in the solar atmosphere.
The dark spot, some of which can have a diameter as large as seven earths placed together, spews solar materials in all directions into space.
This material, known as solar flares, can be more than 20 times the size of the Earth. These flares send out electromagnetic energy in all directions and, if positioned facing Earth, can interfere with the Earth’s magnetic poles.
A direct hit could either damage or fry vulnerable electronics, including the unprotected electric grid and electronic components, as well as automated control systems that operate critical infrastructures including telecommunications, food and water delivery, automated financial systems, transportation and emergency services.
The latest dark spot, known also as a coronal hole, appeared over the sun’s north pole now that it is entering into its most intense 11-year cycle.
Pry and Cooper, however, warned of the effects of a man-made EMP attack, too.
Pry pointed to the recent discovery of components for Cuban SA-2s – surface-to-air missiles – on a North Korean freighter in the Panama Canal.
This nuclear-capable missile, he warned, could cause the total collapse of the Eastern grid if exploded at a high altitude off the Eastern seaboard, including the Gulf of Mexico.
Detonation of one “super-EMP” nuclear warhead on one of the SA-2s would effectively knock out the Eastern grid which services 70 percent of the U.S. population, he said.
A “super-EMP” nuclear bomb, he said, is lighter than the regular nuclear weapons and is designed to emit greater amounts of gamma rays – a form of electromagnetic energy – that is the most destructive of the types of EMP events which include lightning and solar flares.
Pry also warned about a type of EMP device – radio frequency weapons – which easily can be made by terrorists, criminals or “madmen” by going to the Internet and obtaining the needed low-level technology to make it.
He said that such individuals, even acting alone, could place such an RF weapon near industrial facilities, including large transformers and, as with rifle shots, could totally disable a transformer’s vulnerable electronics.
Like Woolsey, Pry underscored the lack of security of the nation’s electric grid system:
“No one is in charge of security to protect the grid.”