Category Archives: Sun
Solar Storm Dumps Gigawatts into Earth’s Upper Atmosphere
March 22, 2012:� A recent flurry of eruptions on the sun did more than spark pretty auroras around the poles.� NASA-funded researchers say the solar storms of March 8th through 10th dumped enough energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere to power every residence in New York City for two years.
“This was the biggest dose of heat we’ve received from a solar storm since 2005,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA Langley Research Center.� “It was a big event, and shows how solar activity can directly affect our planet.”
Earth’s atmosphere lights up at infrared wavelengths during the solar storms of March 8-10, 2012. A ScienceCast video explains the physics of this phenomenon. Play it!
Mlynczak is the associate principal investigator for the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite.� SABER monitors infrared emissions from Earth’s upper atmosphere, in particular from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air hundreds of km above our planet’s surface.
“Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are natural thermostats,” explains James Russell of Hampton University, SABER’s principal investigator.� “When the upper atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) heats up, these molecules try as hard as they can to shed that heat back into space.”
That’s what happened on March 8th when a coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled in our direction by an X5-class solar flare hit Earth’s magnetic field. �(On the “Richter Scale of Solar Flares,” X-class flares are the most powerful kind.) �Energetic particles rained down on the upper atmosphere, depositing their energy where they hit.� The action produced spectacular auroras around the poles and significant1 upper atmospheric heating all around the globe.
“The thermosphere lit up like a Christmas tree,” says Russell.� “It began to glow intensely at infrared wavelengths as the thermostat effect kicked in.”
For the three day period, March 8th through 10th, the thermosphere absorbed 26 billion kWh of energy.� Infrared radiation from CO2 and NO, the two most efficient coolants in the thermosphere, re-radiated 95% of that total back into space.
A surge of infrared radiation from nitric oxide molecules on March 8-10, 2012, signals the biggest upper-atmospheric heating event in seven years. Credit: SABER/TIMED. See also the CO2 data.
In human terms, this is a lot of energy.� According to the New York City mayor’s office, an average NY household consumes just under 4700 kWh annually. This means the geomagnetic storm dumped enough energy into the atmosphere to power every home in the Big Apple for two years.
“Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to harness this kind of energy,” says Mlynczak.� “It’s so diffuse and out of reach high above Earth’s surface.� Plus, the majority of it has been sent back into space by the action of CO2 and NO.”
During the heating impulse, the thermosphere puffed up like a marshmallow held over a campfire, temporarily increasing the drag on low-orbiting satellites.� This is both good and bad.� On the one hand, extra drag helps clear space junk out of Earth orbit.� On the other hand, it decreases the lifetime of useful satellites by bringing them closer to the day of re-entry.
The storm is over now, but Russell and Mlynczak expect more to come.
“We’re just emerging from a deep solar minimum,” says Russell.� “The solar cycle is gaining strength with a maximum expected in 2013.”
More sunspots flinging more CMEs toward Earth adds up to more opportunities for SABER to study the heating effect of solar storms.
“This is a new frontier in the sun-Earth connection,” says Mlynczak, “and the data we’re collecting are unprecedented.”
Stay tuned to Science@NASA for updates from the top of the atmosphere.
Author:Dr. Tony Phillips| Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
We humans are not used to seeing plasma forms, until VERY recently in our development.
I think we will begin to see very strange stuff like this occur more and more, as our technologies improve on seeing things that previously, were ‘un-seeable’. I think things like this recent occurrence on the sun is a fine example.
Now, to my important point. Plasma behaves like a living thing. Is it a living thing? I guess it depends on what you view as living. Also, can ‘offworld sentient beings’ utilize plasma and magnetism, etc., as a means o transportation, or some type of ‘tool’? Just doing a little thinking outside the box.
Plasma is the fourth state of matter. It differs from solids, liquids and gases in so far as it’s atoms are divided into free-floating ‘negative’ electrons and ‘positive’ ions (an atom which has lost its electron/s). It is sometimes referred to as an ionized gas.
Students are generally taught about only three states of matter, and when Plasma does get a mention, little importance is assigned. Not only should plasma be added to the list, but the order should be reversed to put it in first place. The reasons for this will become clear.
The term Plasma was borrowed from blood plasma in order to describe its almost life-like and self-organising properties.
Plasma sometimes emits light when under the excitation of electrical and magnetic fields. Polar auroras bear witness to this fact.
[link to www.plasmacosmology.net
Plasma is an excellent conductor of electricity. Because of its free-flowing electrons its conductive properties far surpass those of copper and gold.
Due to its interaction with electromagnetism, plasmas display a complexity in structure far exceeding that of matter in gaseous, liquid, or solid states. It has a tendency to form into cellular and filamentary structures.
These structures derive from the fact that a charged particle flow (or current) produces a ring of magnetic fields around itself, ‘pinching’ plasma into multi-filamentary strands, as can be seen on both cosmic and more localised scales. Pictured right is a novelty plasma-lamp typical of those available on the high street.
[link to www.plasmacosmology.net]
…lightning discharge in a thundercloud can temporarily change the electric field above the cloud where charged ice crystals were reflecting sunlight. The new electric field quickly re-orients the geometric crystals to a new orientation that reflects sunlight differently. In other words, a lightning discharge can cause a sundog to jump.