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Out on the Fringe June 11, 2006

Posted by jtintle in European Space Agency, NASA, Planets, Satellite, SOHO, Space Agencies, Space Fotos, Sun.
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The Sun this week showed off a variety of small prominences, so many that they could be described as a kind of fringe. While these prominences lasted for several days, they were most prolific on May 26, 2006. On that day one could count five or six of these smaller prominences sprouting out along the edge of the Sun as seen from SOHO. These are more prominences than are usually seen around the Sun and amateur solar observers are having a field day with them.

Prominences are cooler clouds of gas suspended above the surface of the Sun. They are controlled by powerful magnetic forces and we are witnessing the force a magnetic field exerts on the plasma (that is, electrically charged material) trying to move across the field.


Coronal mass ejections sometimes reach out in the direction of Earth May 25, 2006

Posted by jtintle in European Space Agency, NASA, Planets, SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun.
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This illustration shows a CME blasting off the Sun’s surface in the direction of Earth. This left portion is composed of an EIT 304 image superimposed on a LASCO C2 coronagraph. Two to four days later, the CME cloud is shown striking and beginning to be mostly deflected around the Earth’s magnetosphere. The blue paths emanating from the Earth’s poles represent some of its magnetic field lines. The magnetic cloud of plasma can extend to 30 million miles wide by the time it reaches earth. These storms, which occur frequently, can disrupt communications and navigational equipment, damage satellites, and even cause blackouts.

The Dark Shows the Light May 9, 2006

Posted by jtintle in NASA, SOHO, Solar Flares, Space Fotos, Sun.
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A small flare and associated coronal mass ejection (CME) were observed on May 1, 2006. The still image shows the flare near its peak of activity as an intensely white area at the lower end of the active region on the right of the pair of active regions (it looks like a backwards 7). The video covers a 13-hour period and is especially good at showing the dimming of the region south of the event. This is caused by the sudden but temporary release of charged particles from that area. Brighter post coronal loops can be seen coiled over the source of the flare after the events. Flares are the most powerful events in the solar system, since power is measured by the release of energy, in this case radiative energy, per unit time. This event, however, was a rather weak, "C-class" flare.

The CME was most probably associated with this flare. A CME is a lower power event because it occurs over a much longer time period, but carries lots of mechanical (kinetic) and magnetic (potential) energy). In fact CMEs blast out over a billion of tons of particles at millions of miles per hour.

A Solar Prominence from SOHO April 18, 2006

Posted by jtintle in APoD, European Space Agency, NASA, SOHO, Solar Flares, Space Fotos.
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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download the highest resolution version available.
Credit: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

Explanation: How can gas float above the Sun? Twisted magnetic fields arching from the solar surface can trap ionized gas, suspending it in huge looping structures. These majestic plasma arches are seen as prominences above the solar limb. In September 1999, this dramatic and detailed image was recorded by the EIT experiment on board the space-based SOHO observatory in the light emitted by ionized Helium. It shows hot plasma escaping into space as a fiery prominence breaks free from magnetic confinement a hundred thousand kilometers above the Sun. These awesome events bear watching as they can affect communications and power systems over 100 million kilometers away on Planet Earth

Elongated Coronal Hole December 31, 2005

Posted by jtintle in NASA, SOHO, Solar Flares, Space Fotos, Sun, Sun Spot.
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Image Credit: SOHO

Explanation: The Earth was bathed most of this last week in a solar stream that flowed out of this long coronal hole (image from December 27, 2005). Coronal holes appear as dark area of the corona when viewed in ultraviolet light and in X-rays (seen here traversing down the upper half of the Sun in ultraviolet light). This coronal hole area is one of the largest ones seen over the past year. Since coronal holes are ‘open’ magnetically, strong solar wind gusts can escape from them and carry solar particles out to our magnetosphere and beyond. Solar wind streams take 2 – 3 days to travel from the Sun to Earth, and the coronal holes in which they originate are more likely to affect Earth after they have rotated more than halfway around the visible hemisphere of the Sun. This same hole could reappear when the Sun rotates this area around again in about two weeks.

The magnetic field lines in a coronal hole open out into the solar wind rather than connecting to a nearby part of the Sun’s surface. Coronal holes are responsible for the high-speed solar wind streams that sweep through the plane where the planets orbit — and thus have a direct affect on “space weather” near the Earth. Transequatorial holes like this one affect the earth’s magnetosphere directly. Thus, many people living at the higher latitudes probably experienced mild geo-effective storming for these few days in the form of aurora displays.


SOHO’s Uninterrupted View of the Sun December 1, 2005

Posted by jtintle in APoD, European Space Agency, NASA, SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun.
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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
Credit: SOHO Consortium, ESA, NASA
Image Montage: Steele Hill (GSFC) Explanation: Launched ten years ago this week, SOHO (the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) still enjoys an uninterrupted view of the Sun. Twelve sungazing instruments on board the spacecraft have explored the Sun’s internal structure, the extensive solar atmosphere and solar wind, and discovered over 1,000 comets from a remarkable orbit around a point about 1.5 million kilometers directly sunward of planet Earth itself. At that location, known as a Lagrange point, the gravitational influence of the Earth and Sun are equal. With scientific instrument teams distributed around the world, the SOHO operations center is located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Mission operations are planned through March of 2007 to allow the study of a complete 11-year solar cycle. Contributions from SOHO’s instruments are represented in the colorful montage image. Happy tenth anniversary SOHO!

Now There’s One November 22, 2005

Posted by jtintle in SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun, Sun Spot.
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Quicktime: Large ( 483k), Small ( 119k) The Sun had a rather blank look on its face for days and days over the past several weeks or so, just quietly rotating without much to offer in the way of interesting phenomena like solar prominences, sunspots, or storms. Then, a single, lone, and rather large active region rotated into view on 12 November 2005. In visible light it appears as a black spot, but in extreme ultraviolet light as seen above, it appears white, indicating intensity of magnetic activity. It extends nearly 140,000 km, about the diameter of Jupiter. In fact, the active region has been spouting off a series of moderate (M-class) flares. As solar rotation continues to bring it towards the center of the Sun over the next few days, it could provide the spark for some Earth-directed “space weather.” Stay tuned.

FULL SUN IMAGE November 18, 2005

Posted by jtintle in Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun.
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This image is a picture of the Sun taken by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on board the SOHO spacecraft. This particular image is of the lower corona and is produced by the emission of energetic UV light by iron particles in the solar atmosphere. Iron only emits this sort of light if it is very hot. In the case shown here we are looking at gas with a temperature of around 1.5 million degrees.

Bright regions on the main body of the Sun are called active regions. When these active regions reach the edges of the solar disk (the solar limbs) the display a number of interesting features called coronal loops. The small bright regions which are strewn across the disk of the Sun are called bright points while the large dark regions are called coronal holes.

Credit: SOHO, Yohkoh

Four Colors/Wavelengths November 17, 2005

Posted by jtintle in SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun.
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While the Sun is relatively quiet, we can take a moment and review the four wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light in which SOHO observes the Sun. The images (from left to right) observe different material above the Sun’s surface and into the corona at increasing temperatures, each of which reveal different solar features. All the colors are added so that we can tell immediately which wavelength we are looking at. Remember that these wavelengths are not visible to the human eye nor can they be viewed from Earth since they are blocked by our atmosphere.

The first reddish image (at 304 Angstroms) shows ions of helium at 60,000 degrees C., which are found in the lower corona, not terribly far above the Sun’s surface. Next, in the green wavelength (at 195 Angstroms) we see ions of iron at one million degrees C., which are higher up in the corona. The blue image (at 171 Angstroms) sees ions of iron at an even hotter temperature, 1.5 million degrees C. And lastly, we see the upper corona in ions of iron at 2.5 million degrees C.

Yes, counter to what one would expect, the corona gets hotter and hotter as you go out from the Sun. This phenomenon of solar coronal heating has puzzled scientist for years, but they are making real progress on understanding how this happens.

A Solar Prominence from SOHO November 9, 2005

Posted by jtintle in APoD, European Space Agency, NASA, SOHO, Space Fotos, Sun.
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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
Credit : SOHOEIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

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