Monthly Archives: June 2010

Huge Swirls of Hot Gas Found Above Earth

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
posted: 12 August 2004
06:56 am ET

Pockets of superheated gas several times the size of Earth have been discovered swirling like bathtub drains high above the planet.

The vortices seem to suck high-energy particles from the Sun into Earth’s otherwise protective magnetic shield. The finding should help solve a longstanding mystery.

The Sun spits out a constant stream of charged particles known as the solar wind. It travels at nearly 1 million mph and sometimes much faster. Earth’s magnetic field blocks most of these particles, which slip past the planet around a teardrop-shaped magnetosphere.

When Earth’s magnetic field is aligned opposite to that of the solar wind, gaping holes can allow the energized particles to pour in and collect in an outer region of the magnetosphere called the boundary layer. Scientists already knew this, and during solar storms the gaps can force a rain of particles at lower altitudes, generating tremendous displays of sky lights called auroras while threatening satellites and terrestrial power grids.

But since 1987, scientists have also known that when the magnetic fields are aligned, and the magnetosphere ought to be impenetrable, the boundary layer is actually fuller.

New observations by the European Space Agency’s Cluster mission of satellites found the likely cause.

Like wind over water, the hot solar wind, called plasma, rubs against plasma at the magnetopause — the outer limit of Earth’s magnetosphere, explains Hiroshi Hasegawa of Dartmouth College. “At the magnetopause, the interaction of fast streaming solar wind plasma and stagnant plasma in the magnetosphere creates the vortices,” Hasegawa said in an e-mail interview.

The swirls of electrified gas are nearly 24,850 miles (40,000 kilometers) in diameter.

Theory predicted the vortices, but they hadn’t been seen until now. Theory also predicts the vortices might pull charged particles into the magnetosphere, but scientists aren’t sure how.

“We don’t know yet exactly how the vortices bring the solar wind into the boundary layer,” Hasegawa said. “But this would be similar to what happens when cresting waves on the surface of the ocean crash: Large quantities of air are engulfed into the seawater.”

Hasegawa said it takes roughly 10 minutes for a vortex to form and collapse, and he suspects they are created continuously when conditions are favorable. Other unknown mechanisms might also contribute to filling the boundary layer, he said, adding that current space-based observatories won’t answer all the questions.

The results are detailed in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Nature.

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Why Science is Fucked

EOPLATONISM IN SCIENCE
PAST AND FUTURE
BRUCE MACLENNAN
Associate Professor 
Dept. of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science 
University of Tennessee


I. Introduction
In this article I argue that modern Neoplatonism can contribute
to a revitalization of science and an improved human relationship to nature.
I begin by considering the role of Neoplatonism in the history of
science, considering both ideas that have contributed to the constitution
of contemporary science, and those that have been abandoned by it.
Then I mention two especially Pythagorean developments in contemporary
science. Finally, I turn to the future, to the contributions that I believe
Neoplatonic ideas can make toward the future of science.

II. The Past
Recall the alternative views of nature and science that competed
in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.1 We may take as our starting
point the Aristotelian-Thomistic cosmology, which resulted from
Aquinas’ rehabilitation and Christianization of Aristotelian cosmology
and Ptolemaic astronomy, and which dominated European thinking
from the thirteenth century. A value system was implicit in this cosmology,
which placed a stationary Earth at the center of the universe, in the
center of which was Hell and the Devil (Easlea 1980, pp. 43, 57–8). In
polar opposition was God in His heaven, the active force outside the
circumference of the Primum Mobile.
…………..
As the weaknesses of the Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophy became
apparent, two philosophical orientations presented themselves as
the chief contenders for a new philosophy of nature (Easlea 1980, pp.
89–90). On one hand was the mechanical philosophy, as developed especially
by Gassendi and Descartes, and on the other was the (socalled)
magical philosophy, which was advocated in one form or another
by Neoplatonists, alchemists, Hermeticists, adherents of the supposed
prisca theologia, and so forth. A principal difference between the
two was their view of nature.
…………….
One consequence of these differences
was that mechanical philosophers were stronger advocates of using
mechanistic principles to appropriate and exploit non-human nature for
human benefit, a foundation of the industrial revolution (Easlea 1980,
ch. 5). The magical philosophy, however, entailed a degree of reverence
for Nature and implied circumspection in possessing and exploiting
“her” (Easlea 1980, pp. 102–4, 111–12, 139).
…………….
Aside from its scientific impact, the eventual shift to a heliocentric
cosmology was a development of enormous symbolic significance.
The astronomical reasons for this change are familiar, but it is important
not to forget the philosophical background. The Central Fire—often
misinterpreted as the Central Sun—was an idea inherited from ancient
Pythagoreanism, and Copernicus called his heliocentric model
“the Pythagorean theory” and quoted the Hermetica in its defense (De
revol. orb. cael., Thorn ed., 1873, p. 30; Yates 1964, p. 154). Heliocentrism
was motivated as much by religious and philosophical considerations
as by astronomical ones, for Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and related
philosophies considered the Sun to be “the visible god,” associated
with the Demiurge, and a potent symbol for the One and its power,
irradiating the material world and bringing it life (Yates 1964, pp. 153–
4). From this perspective, the Sun belonged in the center of the universe,
which thereby became the fountainhead of the Good rather than
the central abyss. Giordano Bruno, in his defense of Copernicanism, referred
back to the solar magic of Ficino’s book De vita coelitus comparanda,
his most overtly magical work.
………………
It was a tenet of the magical philosophy, which we find for example in
Cornelius Agrippa (1651/1993, II.56), that the stars and planets are
sources of vitality and motion, and therefore that they have souls and
are alive themselves (Yates 1964, p. 243). Similarly Kepler, who was
influenced by Agrippa, the Paracelsans, Proclus, and other Neoplatonists,
said the earth is a living being with an anima terrae structured likethe anima hominis (Pauli 1955, pp. 156–77).
……………………….
There is a direct line of descent from the ideas of Leibniz and
his contemporaries for formal knowledge-representation languages and
mechanized reasoning, through the development of symbolic logic and
formalized mathematics, to the computational models of knowledge
and cognition used in artificial intelligence and cognitive science, but
that is outside the scope of this paper. It suffices here to observe that the
Lullian vision affected the pursuit of method, which occupied many
seventeenth-century philosophers, including Descartes, Bacon, and
Leibniz, for this pursuit was redirected toward a methodology of abstract
relationships among monadic ideas (Ong 1958; Yates 1966, ch.
17; Rossi 2000, ch. 5). Although this drive reached its apex in the logical
positivist philosophy of the early twentieth century, it still survives
in the preference for mathematical abstraction in all scientific theories.
………………………
Already in the Pythagorean revival of late antiquity memory
was connected with spiritual practices, and biographers attributed a
prodigious memory to such figures as Pythagoras and Apollonius of
Tyana (Yates 1966, p. 56). Also beginning in antiquity was the use of
cosmologically significant structures, such as the zodiac, decans, and
planetary spheres, to organize ideas and their images (Yates 1966, p.
54). In this way the art of memory allowed the macrocosm to be reflected
in the microcosm of the individual mind.
………………………
In summary we may say that the new science took up the more formal,
logical, and abstract aspects of Neoplatonism, but left the more concrete,
imaginative, and symbolic aspects to the magi and their successors.
………………………..
Thus the reality
we ordinarily experience is not the true, or most fundamental reality;
it is rather an image, shadow, or reflection, in fact, an illusion. True
reality is an immaterial abstract structure, imperceptible to our senses,
accessible only through reason and indirect experimentation.
This reductionist perspective is already apparent in Newton’s
explanation of color as wavelength. His division, on the basis of wavelength,
of the continuous spectrum into seven colors, explicitly analogized
with the seven tones of the diatonic scale, is just one example of
Newton’s intentionally Pythagorean approach, in which the hidden
quantities are real, and the manifest qualities, illusions (Bortoft 1996,
pp. 38–40, 192–212; Gage 1993, ch. 13, esp. p. 232). Indeed, the reduction
of experiential qualities to imperceptible quantities has been typical
in physics ever since the development of atomic theory. However,
modern science understands the hidden causes to be abstract and mathematical,
whereas Neoplatonism and the magical philosophy understood
them to be living, psychical, and divine actions of the World Soul (a contrast already apparent in the Kepler-Fludd controversy; see Yates 1964, pp. 440–4; Pauli 1955).
The Renaissance magi understood that different material objects
might be irradiated by the same archetypal idea, and that this hidden
connection was the cause of sympathies and antipathies between material
objects (Easlea 1980, pp. 92–4).
……………………..
Although the notion that there might be occult affinities between
objects was anathema to the mechanical philosophers, it was essential
to the theory of gravity. Newton protested hypotheses non fingo,
but his acceptance of occult forces no doubt facilitated his mathematical
description of gravitational force in the absence of mechanical interactions
(Easlea 1980, pp. 90, 111, 164–83); in fact, he thought Pythagoras
had already discovered the inverse-square law by means of his harmonic
theory (White 1997, pp. 348–9). As a closet alchemist and Hermetic
philosopher, Newton believed that universal gravity demonstrated
the active presence of God in the world, whereas the mechanical
philosophers generally believed that God had left the physical world
alone since the end of the Age of Miracles (Easlea 1980, pp. 22, 182).
However, due to the hidden nature of the causes, these sympathetic
relations were difficult to determine by reason alone (Easlea
1980, p. 93). Therefore, practicing magi, such as Paracelsus, that is,
those who, among other things, were actually trying to cure the physical
and mental ills of humankind, were forced to resort to experiment to
discover the occult sympathies in the material world (Easlea 1980, pp.
100–3; see also Webster, 1982). As the limitations of a purely rationalistic
approach to the mechanical philosophy became apparent, some
philosophers, such as Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle, began to adopt
these empirical methods (Easlea 1980, pp. 90, 126–9, 194–5, 202).
Boyle, of course, had been an alchemist and Hermetic philosopher with
Rosicrucian sympathies (Easlea 1980, pp. 136–9). However, he abandoned,
along with his Hermetic ideas, the notion that the natural world
is divine, saying (Inq. Vulg. Rec. Notion Nature), “the veneration,
wherewith men are imbued for what they call Nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures
of God” (Easlea 1980, p. 139). Thus he enunciated an attitude that has
contributed to our environmental crisis.

Similarly Bacon, with metaphors that would have warmed the
cockles of Freud’s heart, enthused that the experimental method would
allow men to “penetrate further,” through “the outer courts of nature,”
to “find a way at length into her inner chamber,” in order to find the
“secrets still locked in Nature’s bosom” (Easlea 1980, p. 129). By the
“trials and vexations” of experiment, Nature would be put on the rack
and compelled to answer (Easlea 1980, p. 128). Nature and all her children
would be men’s slaves, Bacon promised (Easlea 1980, p. 129).
Nor was he alone. Many of the adherents of the new “Masculine Philosophy”
(as they called it) saw Dame Nature as a subject of torture,
domination, and exploitation (Easlea 1980, pp. 128–9, 213–14, 236,
241–52). Surely it is not coincidental that these remarks were made
during the culmination of the witchcraze (see also Merchant 1980).
Of course, like the mechanical philosophers, the magical
philosophers were also interested in practical results, but their understanding
of nature as having a soul and being divine led them to take a
more cooperative and less dominating stance toward her (Easlea 1980,
pp. 94, 103, 112). Also, the magical philosophers understood themselves
to be a part of this same nature, a unified emanation of the One,
whereas Descartes had taught the mechanical philosophers that human
souls were essentially separate from a soulless nonhuman world. So
also, the magical philosophers understood themselves as participants in
nature (Yates 1964, pp. 31–2), whereas the mechanical philosophers
took the stance of observers separate from the object of their observation,
a view that has interfered with scientific understanding in areas as
disparate as quantum mechanics, ecology, psychology, and sociology.
…………………….
Against the development of modern science, I must mention a
notable dissenting voice.6 Goethe’s well-known campaign against Newtonian
science (Sepper 1988) was rooted in a different conception of the proper role of science in human life (Heisenberg 1974b). His view
has much in common with Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy,
which is not unexpected since he was influenced by Neoplatonic ideas,
by alchemy, by Boehmist mysticism, and so forth (Gray 1952, Pt. I;
Raphael 1965, Pt. I).7 Whereas modern science can be characterized as
analytic, observational, and reductive, Goethe’s approach is empathetic,
participatory, and holistic (Barnes 2000; Bortoft 1996, pp. 3–26,
49–76, 321–30; Goethe 1995, pp. 12, 22, 28, 41, 48; Pauli 1955, pp.
205–6). In essence it recognizes our kinship with the rest of the natural
world, and accesses the universal archetypes within our minds to facilitate
our assimilation to, and our empathetic understanding of, nature
(Bortoft 1996; Goethe 1995, pp. 22–4, 103–109). In more Platonic
terms, “like knows like” and intuitive understanding comes with participation
in the energeia of the archetypal forms.
……………………
Another example of Pythagoreanism in contemporary science is
complex systems theory, which attempts to find mathematical laws of
emergence and self-organization throughout nature (e.g., Solé & Goodwin
2000).9 The same laws are found to operate at many different levels,
from atoms, to neurons, to embryological development, to social
behavior and communication, to evolution, both cosmic and terrestrial.
To put it differently, we find the same archetypal forms actualized in
many different natural systems, and these archetypes govern the formation
and transformation of these systems in space and time. These are
laws dealing with the dynamics of opposites: expansion and contraction,
cooperation and competition, uniformity and diversity, randomness
and order, definiteness and indefiniteness, discreteness and continuity,
and so forth. That is, Pythagorean ideas of unity, duality, conjunction
and mediation, balance and equilibrium, and so forth, are
found to be the fundamental principles at all levels of the cosmos, and
so the structure of these Pythagorean archetypes is the structure of the
universe, at least insofar as we can understand it.
…………………
Since contemporary science is essentially mathematical, such an
enriched understanding of mathematics can help us to understand the
unconscious cognitive-emotional structures that condition all of our scientific
enterprises (Pauli 1955, pp. 208–9). It may help us to understand
criteria of symmetry, beauty, and elegance by which mathematical and
scientific theories are judged, which contribute to their acceptance, and
which motivate the search for confirming evidence (Curtin 1982;
Heisenberg 1974c). It may help explain the, essentially non-scientific,
sources of scientific hypotheses and models, especially when they are
mathematical in form. Thus, in a previously unpublished paper, Pauli argues for “a future description of nature that uniformly comprises physis
and psyche,” and that to achieve such “it appears to be essential to
have recourse to the archetypal background of scientific terms and concepts”
(Meier 2001, p. 180). At a more fundamental level, this unified
description may deepen our understanding of the psychological components
of scientists’ preference for quantification, clear and distinct
mathematical structures, definite standards of proof, abstraction and
formalism, and other features of contemporary scientific practice that
are familiar but not inevitable. Therefore Pauli (1955, p. 208) argues
that henceforth the only acceptable scientific view will be “the one that
recognizes both sides of reality—the quantitative and the qualitative,
the physical and the psychical—as compatible with each other, and can
embrace them simultaneously.”12
…………………………
V. Conclusions
As modern science emerged in the seventeenth century and displaced
the magical philosophy, it incorporated a number of ideas from
the Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean tradition, including the notion
that there is a hidden structure of abstract, and especially mathematical,
ideas underlying reality and giving rise to visible phenomena. However,
these notions were imported into a dualist framework in which an
inanimate, or soulless, mechanical world is opposed to man—and I use
the gendered term intentionally—as observer and exploiter. Over the
past four hundred years, the self-reinforcing processes of science and
society have widened this gap, and an increasingly remote and abstract
relation to physical reality has led scientists, technologists, and consumers
to withdraw from empathetic participation in living nature. Further,
with the advance of materialist, quantitative science the human
soul has, of course, been pushed further and further into the margins,
alienating many people from science.
I think that some of these disharmonies among ourselves, and
between humans and the rest of nature, may be eliminated by returning
to the Neoplatonic well, which has already nourished science, and by
drinking deeply from it again. For Neoplatonism can unite with evolutionary Jungian psychology to reveal the objective archetypal Ideas,
which inform our relations to each other, to the natural world, and to
the spiritual realm, but which also underlie our scientific concepts and
our most abstract theories. In particular, by acknowledging the psychological
and phenomenological reality of our experience of these
archetypal Ideas, we transcend the Cartesian gap, not by reducing all
phenomena to inert matter, but by recognizing the equally objective
psychical and physical aspects of a unitary reality.
For these archetypal Ideas are not abstract, inert quantities, but
qualities full of the richness of human experience, living and dynamic,
brimming with symbolic meaning, emotional and spiritual as well as intellectual.
From this perspective, even the most materialist of issues are
understood to have an equally valid and objective spiritual aspect, accessible
to empirical investigation, in the broad sense. Materialist values
are not complete in themselves, but must be complemented by nonmaterialist,
but nevertheless objective, values.
Certainly, the goal of such a Neoplatonic renewal of science and
technology is not to replace current approaches to science, but to expand
the human relation to nature in ways that will enrich our understanding,
and to lay a foundation for an environmentally sensitive technology.
As a consequence we may also anticipate the continued evolution
of Neoplatonism as a living philosophy.


Faster-than-Light (Superluminal) Electric Currents could explain Pulsars

Device to generate superluminal polarization currentsClaiming that something can move faster than light is a good conversation-stopper in physics. People edge away from you in cocktail parties; friends never return phone calls. You just don’t mess with Albert Einstein. So when I saw a press conference at the American Astronomical meeting this past January on faster-than-light phenomena in the cosmos, my first reaction was to say, Terribly sorry, but I really have to go now. Astrophysicists have been speaking of FTL motion for years, but it was always just a trick of the light that lent the impression of warp speed, a technicality of wave motion, or an exotic consequence of the expansion of the universe. These researchers were claiming a very different sort of trick. Dubious though I was, I put their press release in my “needs more thought” folder and today finally got around to taking a closer look. And what I’ve found is utterly fascinating.
The researchers, John Singleton and Andrea Schmidt of Los Alamos and their colleagues, have built a sort of wire in which an electric pulse can outpace light. They get away with it because the pulse is not a causal process. It does not ripple down the line because charged particles are bumping into each other, a process that is subject to Einstein’s speed limit. Instead, an external controller drives the particles and can synchronize them to make a pulse pass through the wire at whatever speed you want. The particles are like dominos in a row. A causal process is the usual domino effect in which each domino knocks down the next; the dominos move at their own speed, determined by their size and spacing. An acausal process is if you knocked down all the dominos with your hand; the dominos move however fast you can make them. The photo above shows an early version of the contraption; the wire is the white arc on the right, and the controllers are the circuit boards on the left.
This method of breaching the speed barrier might seem like cheating — after all, no material object is breaching the light barrier. But electromagnetically it doesn’t matter. Whatever the origin of the pulse in a wire, it involves the motion of electric charge and emits electromagnetic radiation. The radiation propagates outward at the speed of light, but is forever shaped by the speed of whatever generated it. When Singleton, Schmidt, and the rest of their team generate slower-than-light pulses using their technique, the resulting radiation looks just like the radiation created by ordinary causal pulses. For faster-than-light pulses, the radiation looks just like the radiation that would be created if charged particles really could exceed the speed of light. In other words, it looks pretty weird.
Not only is the radiation tightly focused in space, it is tightly focused in time — a pulse that originally takes, say, 10 seconds to generate might be squeezed into 1 millisecond as all the electromagnetic wavefronts get jammed together. The temporal focusing causes the radiation to spread out over a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition, the focusing provides a degree of amplification, causing the intensity of the radiation to diminish not with the inverse square of the distance but with the inverse distance.
This focusing could be very useful for transmitting radio waves with a minimum of power, but Singleton and Schmidt’s main interest is applying the idea to astrophysics — in particular, to pulsars. Astrophysicists think these objects are hyperdense neutron stars that generate radio pulses as they spin, much like a lighthouse. But they have struggled to explain why the radio pulses are so sharp and why they appear over such a broad range of the spectrum. Singleton and Schmidt, building on work in the 1980s by Houshang Ardavan of Cambridge University, argue that these properties are natural consequences of FTL electric currents driven by the neutron star’s magnetic field. For simple geometric reasons, beyond a certain distance from the star, the magnetic field sweeps through the atmosphere at faster than light.
The researchers are now applying their model to another mystery of astrophysics, gamma-ray bursts. Astrophysicists typically estimate the intrinsic power generation of these bursts by assuming the inverse-square law, and the values they get are off the charts. But if FTL effects are involved, the inverse-square law might be overestimating the power and astronomers should really be using a simple inverse law.
Singleton says the basic principle of FTL currents goes back to work by English physicist Oliver Heaviside and German physicist Arnold Sommerfeldt in the 1890s, but was forgotten because Einstein’s theories dissuaded physicists from thinking about FTL phenomena, even those that evaded the theories’ strictures. I’ve only just touched on this engrossing physics and I recommend you read the team’s papers, beginning with this one. “People just don’t think about things moving faster than the speed of light,” Singleton says. “This is a completely wide open and unexplored field.”

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Nasa’s 2013 solar flare warning: how much do we need to worry?

So, do we really need to worry about a huge solar storm burning out the electrical systems of half the world in 2013? Masochists that we are here at the Telegraph, we love to shoot down our own stories, and I was cracking my knuckles for this one. It’s got all the ingredients – white-coated authority, grave warnings of impending doom, exciting sciencey nuclear nemesis in space. NASA! Solar flares! Planes falling out of the sky! Etc.

But I read the piece, and spoke to the reporter, and – while always remembering that I am no more an astrophysicist than I am a black belt in tae kwon do – it sounded pretty solid. Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division, is very clear in the quotes, and our reporter, Andrew Hough, was very careful to check his facts with Dr Fisher before publishing. It sounds like a lot of serious people think that this is a real danger.

Apparently the concern is in 2013, the sun will reach a stage of its cycle when these large events are more likely. This might strike you as a bit strange, as you’ve probably heard (as have I) that the sun has been especially active for the last half-century or so and is expected to die down in the next couple of years – I spoke to Marcus Chown, the physicist and author of We Need to Talk about Kelvin, who said “Solar activity has been abnormally high for the past 50 years, but the extremely feeble start to the latest 11-year cycle suggests this activity is coming to an end and things are going to be quiet on the Sun for quite a few years.” Dr Ruth Bamford, a plasma physicist at the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory, agrees: “The sun has been particularly quiet for the last few years in a protracted solar minimum. It has just woken up, as it were, and started its usual 11-year cycle a bit later than most.”

So what’s going on? Well, something similar has happened before. In 1859 a huge solar storm burned out telegraph wires across Europe and the United States. Dr Stuart Clark has written a book, The Sun Kings, about when that happened. He says that the “Carrington flare”, as it was known, “smothered two-thirds of the Earth’s skies in a blood-red aurora a night later, and crippled all of global navigation and global communication, such as it was at that time. Compasses span uselessly and the telegraph network went down as phantom electricity surged through the wire.”

The sun had indeed been running at a record high for the latter half of the 20th century, and has now died down to its lowest level for a century. But Dr Clark warns that “average levels of solar activity has fallen does not mean that the Sun is immune from large flares or even giant ones. Low average levels of activity may even promote the giant flares.

“Perhaps like earthquakes, when there are constant flares/tremors the energy is dissipated evenly over long periods of time. But in periods of quiet, that energy can build up and then suddenly be released in a giant event. This remains speculation, however.”

2013 is when the next peak in the sun’s cycle of activity is expected, and while we cannot predict individual flares, Dr Clark says that the largest flares are often shortly after the peak.

Of course, if a proper “Carrington event” happens again, it has the potential to be far more problematic now than in 1859 when electric communication was barely in its infancy. Dr Clark says “There is absolutely no reason to believe that we are heading for solar armageddon in 2013, but sooner or later we should expect there to be another Carrington event and that is what these scientists [at NASA] are trying to prevent. Legislation in the US has just passed Congress to help harden the grid against solar flares.”

So – it’s a real thing, and we should be concerned. But preventive measures can be taken – satellites can be sent offline during big flares, power grids and communication networks can be shielded against electromagnetic radiation and so on. As Dr Bamford says: “The extreme events like the 1859 Carrington Event are 1-in-100-year probabilities, about the same probability as a storm of the level of Katrina hitting New Orleans – and New Orleans did not build their defences to withstand the extreme-but-unlikely magnitude. 100 years isn’t that long.

“But the end of the world it is not. Maybe as disruptive as an ash cloud, but not as protracted I’m sure.” She gives examples of precautions, like a GPS backup system called eLoran, or active mini-magnetosphere shielding for astronauts and satellites that her team have designed.

Of course, if those precautions are taken, and actually work, and no damage is done, then everyone will cry that it was all a big fuss over nothing, like they always do. So the scientists can’t win, really. But that’s just how it is.


Looming Solar Storm Set To Cause Tech Chaos Say Scientists

By Computer Daily News
Friday
18/06/2010

Brace yourself, a massive solar storm is set to hit earth, threatening communications, computer services, air travel and many electronic devices, according to scientists.

Hundreds of scientists gathered last week at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum 2010, to discuss how to prepare for the expected massive solar storms which are expected to hit earth in 2013.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” said Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division. “It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.”

According to a 2008 report from the US National Academies of Sciences’ Space Studies Board the economic cost could far outweigh events like Hurricane Katrina, with costs running as high as US$2 trillion in the first year. Full recovery could take four to 10 years, it warned.

Fisher said precautions could include creating power-grid backup systems so that if transformers or giant load-balancing capacitors are fried by a solar outburst, other systems could go into effect. “If you know that a hazard is coming … and you have time enough to prepare and take precautions, then you can avoid trouble,” he said.


Powerful Solar Storm Could Shut Down U.S. for Months

A new study from the National Academy of Sciences outlines grim possibilities on Earth for a worst-case scenario solar storm.

Damage to power grids and other communications systems could be catastrophic, the scientists conclude, with effects leading to a potential loss of governmental control of the situation.

The prediction is based in part on a major solar storm in 1859 that caused telegraph wires to short out in the United States and Europe, igniting widespread fires.

It was perhaps the worst in the past 200 years, according to the new study, and with the advent of modern power grids and satellites, much more is at risk.

“A contemporary repetition of the [1859] event would cause significantly more extensive (and possibly catastrophic) social and economic disruptions,” the researchers conclude.

‘Command and control might be lost’

When the sun is in the active phase of its 11-year cycle, it can unleash powerful magnetic storms that disable satellites, threaten astronaut safety, and even disrupt communication systems on Earth.

The worst storms can knock out power grids by inducing currents that melt transformers.

Modern power grids are so interconnected that a big space storm — the type expected to occur about once a century — could cause a cascade of failures that would sweep across the United States, cutting power to 130 million people or more in this country alone, the new report concludes.

Such widespread power outages, though expected to be a rare possibility, would affect other vital systems.

“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply and so on,” the report states.

Outages could take months to fix, the researchers say. Banks might close, and trade with other countries might halt.

“Emergency services would be strained, and command and control might be lost,” write the researchers, led by Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“Whether it is terrestrial catastrophes or extreme space weather incidents, the results can be devastating to modern societies that depend in a myriad of ways on advanced technological systems,” Baker said in a statement released with the report.

Stormy past

Solar storms have had significant effects in modern time:

— In 1989, the sun unleashed a tempest that knocked out power to all of Quebec, Canada.

— A remarkable 2003 rampage included 10 major solar flares over a two-week period, knocking out two Earth-orbiting satellites and crippling an instrument aboard a Mars orbiter.

“Obviously, the sun is Earth’s life blood,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics division at NASA. “To mitigate possible public safety issues, it is vital that we better understand extreme space weather events caused by the sun’s activity.”

“Space weather can produce solar storm electromagnetic fields that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet,” the report states. “Severe space weather also produces solar energetic particles and the dislocation of the Earth’s radiation belts, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting.”

Rush to prepare

The race is on for better forecasting abilities, as the next peak in solar activity is expected to come around 2012.

While the sun is in a lull now, activity can flare up at any moment, and severe space weather — how severe, nobody knows — will ramp up a year or two before the peak.

Some scientists expect the next peak to bring more severe events than other recent peaks.

“A catastrophic failure of commercial and government infrastructure in space and on the ground can be mitigated through raising public awareness, improving vulnerable infrastructure and developing advanced forecasting capabilities,” the report states. “Without preventive actions or plans, the trend of increased dependency on modern space-weather sensitive assets could make society more vulnerable in the future.”

The report was commissioned and funded by NASA. Experts from around the world in industry, government and academia participated. It was released this week.


Solar storms ‘could ruin coverage of the 2012 Olympics’

Solar storms could ruin coverage of the 2012 Olympics, scientists have warned.
By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent
Published: 7:30AM GMT 03 Feb 2010

Communication systems could be damaged by magnetic storms and solar flares, massive explosions in the sun’s atmosphere.

They are predicted to reach an 11-year peak at the same time as the London Olympics.

The warning came as astronomers prepare for the launch of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which will carry British instruments as part of a project to study the sun.

It is due to launch from the American space agency’s base at Cape Canaveral in Florida next week.

The probe will take pictures of the sun in high definition and send back large amounts of data to earth every day – the equivalent of downloading around half a million songs from iTunes.

Prof Richard Holdaway, from the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory (RAL), near Oxford and one of the British scientists involved in the project, said: “The Olympics could be bang in the middle of a solar maximum.”

Until now scientists have had no way to predict these storms, which can be powerful enough to affect satellite transmissions, but they hope that the new observatory will change that.

Prof Richard Harrison, also from RAL, added: “The sun’s activity has a strong influence on the Earth.

“By studying solar activity, we hope to improve the prediction of solar storms and find new ways to protect technological systems here on Earth.”

Damage could be reduced by turning off some electronic system before a storm.

“If we have advance warning, we’ll be able to mitigate damage,” said Prof Holdaway.

“What you don’t want is things switching off for a week with no idea what’s caused the problem.”

After its launch the Nasa probe will spend the next five years in orbit about the Earth.

Violent weather can originate in the sun’s atmosphere and affect satellites and even power grids on Earth.

Solar storms usually take between one and two days to affect earth.


Space storms could knock out National Grid and Sat Navs

Space storms caused by the Sun could knock out power supplies and satellite navigation systems in Britain, claim scientists.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 7:01AM BST 14 Apr 2010

The solar flares and sunspots throw massive clouds of electrically charged gas at the Earth which cause power surges and throw compasses into disarray.

The weather in space has been through an unprecedented calm period in the last century but the researchers believe we could be entering a more volatile period.

When their sat-navs die, my friends will offer me lifts againThe reason is that the Sun has dimmed to its lowest activity level in nearly 150 years – a phenomenon that usually precedes huge space storms.

The last really big solar “super flare” – in 1859 – knocked out telegrams and ship’s compasses and covered two-thirds of the Earth in a blood red aurora.

Now a team of British scientists at Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh have developed a new model that shows the widespread impact inclement space weather could have on the UK.

Dr Alan Thomson, the leader of the team, who will present their findings at the National Astronomy Meeting in Glasgow, said: “A major objective is to shed light on the impact of both everyday and extreme space weather on our technologies and therefore to be better aware of the risk.”

The model developed by the British team, the most sophisticated yet developed, takes magnetic field measurements from all over the UK and sees how they affect the National Grid.

The US National Academies estimate the cost of a future severe space storm hitting the USA to be up to £1.5 trillion in the first year.

They believe that full recovery could then take 4-10 years.


Nasa solar flare space storm warning: a British scientist writes

Senior Nasa scientists have warned of the problems that a once-in-a-generation “space storm” could pose to Britain. Here a British space scientist, Dr Chris Davis, explains why this has occurred and what is being done about it. 
By Dr Chris Davis, Space scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Published: 9:00AM BST 18 Jun 2010

“Look at images of the Sun taken from space and you will see that it is not the plain yellow disk that we see shining through the clouds on Earth.

Spacecraft images reveal the Sun as a rotating, seething fiery ball of electrically charged fluid. Magnetic fields generated by this constant churning drive the activity cycle of the Sun.

Nasa’s warning over pending ‘solar storm’

Space storms could knock out National Grid and Sat Navs

Solar storms ‘could ruin coverage of the 2012 Olympics’

Meteor storm ‘could damage Hubble and space station’

Nasa breakthroughs: the space agency’s most thrilling discoveries and pictures

Sun reveals its turbulent magnetic charms
Complex tangles of high-intensity magnetic field are created from which violent eruptions of material can occur. Each one of these solar storms is a magnetic bubble containing around a billion tonnes of material from the hot solar atmosphere travelling at a million miles an hour.

The more tangled the Sun’s magnetic field, the more frequent these eruptions become, with the number of outbursts reaching a crescendo every eleven years or so.

When a solar storm is launched into space, the material accelerated with it represents a hazard to space-borne electronics and astronauts.

Sitting on a ball of rock some 93 million miles from this cosmic popcorn machine, we have an interest in knowing when such a storm is heading towards us and what the consequences will be when one arrives.

The most beautiful manifestation is the aurora (the northern and southern lights), created when hot solar particles enter the Earth’s protective magnetic bubble and energise the atmosphere high above the north and south poles.

As these charged particles flow through the Earth’s ionosphere (an electrified layer in the Earth’s upper atmosphere), they can induce surges within the world’s power grids that can damage vital transformers.

As we head towards the next peak in solar activity in 2013, researchers at Lancaster University are developing computer models to investigate the effects of such currents on our national grid system.

The energy dumped into the upper atmosphere during such a storm can also temporarily distort and weaken the earth’s ionosphere, disrupting radio communications and reducing the accuracy of civilian GPS navigation systems.

The speed, intensity and frequency of these solar storms is very variable and predicting their occurrence is the holy grail of solar science. Missions such as the two Nasa STEREO spacecraft are doing much to advance our understanding.

Viewing the Sun from positions either side of the Earth, these spacecraft have made the first 3D images of the Sun, allowing complex changes in the Sun’s magnetic field to be studied in great detail prior to the eruption of a solar storm.

The STEREO mission also carries two UK-built cameras that image the space between the Sun and the Earth so that Earth-directed storms can be tracked all the way to our planet.

At the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, researchers are working with government forecasters in the USA to improve predictions of a storm’s arrival at Earth.

Given enough warning, satellite operators can hibernate sensitive electronics, power companies can prepare for surges and astronauts reschedule spacewalks.

With over 100,000 images collected from the UK cameras so far, keeping up with the Sun’s tantrums is a full-time job.

As a result, the UK STEREO team have joined forces with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and the Galaxy Zoo team to create “solar stormwatch” where member of the public can assist this pioneering research by identifying and tracking storms in STEREO images.

Some may even help predict the arrival of the next solar storm at Earth.

The Sun produces a “perfect storm” at Earth once per century.

An event in 1859 caused major disruptions to the US telegraph system. In 1989 a solar storm caused the power-grid in Quebec to fail.

As we become dependent on satellite technology we will need a reliable space weather forecast.”


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