So as you all know, I find the sun to be very awesome. Here’s a video of a guy demonstrating that despite the fact that the sun seems so huge in our sky a lot of the time, that hugeness is an illusion! The sun is, in fact, only about half a degree in size in our sky.
According to research at the University of Warwick, the sun may have the potential to superflare. What’s a superflare? It’s supercool. Superflares are like solar flares, only thousands of times more powerful. According to the lead researcher at Warwick, Chloe Pugh, if the sun were to superflare, pretty much all of earth’s communications and energy systems could fail. Radio signals disabled, huge blackouts, all that fun stuff. But according to Pugh, the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the sun.
But how did they actually figure out that it is possible for the sun to superflare? Using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, the researchers found a binary star, KIC9655129, which has been shown to superflare. The researchers suggest that due to the similarities between the sun’s solar flares and the superflares of KIC9655129, the underlying physics of both phenomena may be the same.
The sun is amazing. This is amazing.
From the description: “NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) keeps an eye on our nearest star 24/7. SDO captures images of the Sun in 10 different wavelengths, each of which helps highlight a different temperature of solar material. In this video we experience images of the Sun in unprecedented detail captured by SDO. Presented in ultra-high definition video (4K) the video presents the nuclear fire of our life-giving star in intimate detail, offering new perspective into our own relationships with grand forces of the solar system.”
I’ve never watched a full episode of Rick and Morty, but this particular scene may change that.
(Random Metalocalypse quote just because.)
A while ago I promised you pictures of my sun-faded walking clothes, so here they are.
I’ve had these as my walking clothes for at least 2.5 years now, so they’ve been out over 3,500 miles. The back of my shirt is getting really worn through, too, ‘cause I always have some sort of backpack on when I walk and it rubs against the shirt the whole time.
I’d like to think that if I ever decided to start completely over with this schooling business*, I’d like to work to become a heliophysicist or a helioseismologist, because the sun is a freaking amazing thing. Want some evidence? Check it:
Our star is a badass.
*Something I wouldn’t ever rule out, knowing me.
The solar magnetic field flip, of course!
I blogged about this awhile ago, back when NASA stated that the flip would complete within three to four months. Now they’re saying that they can predict it will occur within a few weeks.
Apparently the most noticeable affect of this on earth will be an increase in the aurora australis and aurora borealis, but there also might be some interference with satellites and some radio blackouts.
At least those giant solar storms they were predicting haven’t happened…yet.
Okay, how beautiful IS this?
It’s a visible-light image of the sun—specifically, a sunspot. This and the other images found here (which is also the source for the image above) were captured by the New Solar Telescope. The New Jersey Institute of Technology built the NST to specifically study the activity of the sun.
Check out the other pics on the site!
(Sorry my blogs are so short; I’m already busy.)
Are you ready to GET YO’ MIND BLOWN?
Okayokayokayokay. So you know how the earth’s magnetic field switches poles every so often? So does the sun’s!
The sun is currently at the peak of its 11 year solar cycle and is about to swap its north magnetic pole for its south and vice versa. According to Stanford University solar physicist Todd Hoeksema, the swapitself isn’t more than 3 to 4 months out. The north pole has actually already flipped; we’re just waiting on the south one to get its butt in gear and head to the opposite side.
So what does this mean for our solar system? What solar physicists focus on during this time is something called the “current sheet.” This is a surface that juts outward from the sun’s equator along which runs an electric current produced by the sun’s magnetic field. The current itself is small but the sheet is freaking huge, and it’s the thing that pretty much keeps the heliosphere (the sun’s magnetic influence) in check.
According to Phil Scherrer, another Stanford solar physicist, the sheet becomes really wavy and warped during a pole swap. So for us here on earth, as we zoom around in our orbit of the sun, we pass in and out of the sheet itself. This can cause disruptive “cosmic weather,” but the warped sheet actually offers the solar system better protection against cosmic rays.
Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory has observed three such polar swaps since 1976. This will be the fourth.
HOW. COOL. IS. THAT. I freaking love the sun.
Holy solar-driven demise, Batman. Look at those enormous sunspots.
1785 and 1787—the names for these two groups of spots—are pretty much staring earth in the face right now.
Sun spots are dark areas of intense magnetic activity that, when the activity gets super-intense, spit out energy in the form of solar flares or coronal mass ejections. The flares/ejections fire out clouds of magnetic energy and solar material into space.
And what happens when these things hit earth? Normally, we end up with more extreme aurora that are able to be seen at lower latitudes. But if the storm of magnetism is really strong, satellites can short out and power lines are disabled.
Considering we’re supposed to be at the peak of the current 11-year solar cycle, scientists are watching the spots carefully to see what, if any, flares and ejections they will emit
and how screwed all of us electricity-dependent people will be.
We are so damn screwed when the sun decides to solar storm us to death.
In fueling my paranoia about our nearest star, I came across the Wiki article for the Carrington Event. The Carrington Event was a massive solar storm documented in 1859. In late August/early September of that year, the sun produced a bunch of sunspots, solar flares, and a giant coronal mass ejection that motored its way to earth in just 17 hours (normal travel time = 2 to 3 days). It blasted our magnetosphere and atmosphere with enough force that auroras were seen all over the globe (including in the freaking Caribbean. Can you imagine?). This was the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded.
Telegraphs all over the world failed, with some acting very strangely—sending and receiving messages even after they’d been disconnected from their power sources.
I did some more research and, as I’ve mentioned in my science blogs before, a lot of astronomers say that we’re overdue for another mega solar storm. Some are predicting what’s being called a “Solar Katrina”—a catastrophically huge solar storm that would, if it hit earth, knock out the entire planet’s electricity for weeks, possibly even months.
Can you imagine humanity suddenly reverting to pre-electricity conditions? I can’t even comprehend the chaos/panic/death that would cause. Holy freaking sunspots.
That would make good material for NaNoWriMo though…
The authors of the Ask a Mathematician/Ask a Physicist blog received and answered this question not too long ago: If you could hear through space as though it were filled with air, what would you hear?
The answer is as follows: the sun.
Yes, our big showy center of the universe is also the loudest thing around, at least to us. The Physicist explains: both the loudness and brightness of an object is exactly proportional to how big it is. The sun’s brightness, therefore, is a function of its temperature and size. If a small ball of the same temperature as the sun were to be held up so that it appeared to be the same size as the sun, it would feel exactly as warm and seem exactly as bright as the sun.
Taking this comparison of a small bright ball = distant, huge sun with respect to the amount of heat omitted, The Physicist states that the sun, if we could hear it, “would be exactly as loud as any other large-marble-sized nuclear explosion held at arm’s length.”
So we’d pretty much be deaf. Or dead.
Insanity! Article here.
30-Day Meme – Day 19: A talent of yours.
Rewriting song lyrics. I swear this is my single talent in life. Like I said in my “100 Things” list, I credit my mom playing a lot of Weird Al when I was a kid. It comes very naturally to me. Here are a few examples:
OH SHIT SOLAR FLARE TIME GUYS.
(Edit: The article posted in here was published tomorrow; I just included it because apparently a lot of people are a day behind on this)
Yesterday the sun decided to wish the universe a belated “happy Valentine’s Day!” by throwing out one of the largest solar flares since 2006 (the year I graduated high school!).
I think our awesome star is starting to rev up for its solar symphony that’s coming up in the next two years. Better make good use of that Blackberry/iPhone/3G network while it’s still in operation; even this single flare is expected to cause minor issues over the next few days.
More stuff related to the sun!
So it turns out, in a rare twist of events that doesn’t involve lasers, that scientists have determined that the weak nuclear force isn’t as weak as was previously thought. How did they figure this out? By determining to a more precise degree the lifespan of the muon, a subatomic particle similar to the electron.
[insert twenty minutes of me dinking around on Wikipedia reading about subatomic particles]
Apparently the muon lives for only 2 millionths of a second—or, more exactly, about 2.1969803 microseconds. This precise number was determined by scientists using a proton beam and graphite to create muons and by subsequently measuring the muons’ deaths with some sort of special detector thingy (technical, eh?). Over 2 trillion muons provided the data that led to the average lifespan of a little less than 2.2 microseconds.
So why do this? Because a more precise estimation of muon lifespan can be used to determine the intrinsic strength of the weak nuclear force. And why worry about the strength of the weak nuclear force? Because it is at least in part responsible for protons turning into neutrons inside the sun, which is pretty much a step before these particles are turned into heavier elements (like helium!) and…well, you know the rest.
The Fermi constant, a number used to capture the strength of the weak nuclear force, has been upgraded by about 0.00075 percent due to the muon experiment. Professor Michael Ramsey-Musolf, an expert on the weak nuclear force at the University of Wisconsin, says that “this implies that the sun does indeed burn more brightly and that the decay of nuclei is somewhat faster.”
And that’s pretty cool.
I apologize profusely for the title.
“Helioseismology is the study of the interior of the Sun from observations of the vibrations of its surface.”
Acoustic energy is used to “see into” the sun in a way similar to using ultrasound to see into the human body. The sun’s oscillations, first captured in the 1960s, have been used to try and understand the composition and dynamics of our star. According to here (which is an excellent cite full of info regarding this), “helioseismology is rather like trying to understand how a piano is built from the sounds that it makes when you drop it down a flight of stairs.”
Gotta love science.
And Berkeley’s Statistics program.
Today’s song: Prisencolinensinainciusol by Adriano Celentano
More news pertaining to our star for this week’s science blog: apparently scientists from Perdue and Stanford have found that the decay of radioactive isotopes fluctuates with the rotation of the sun’s core.
The fluctuations are small (and most likely won’t radically alter any anthropological findings), but they may lend a hand in predicting future solar flares as well as have an impact on medical radiation treatments. The scientists have been collecting data for nearly four years and have determined (at least in the cases of silicon-32 and chlorine-36) that decay rates follow a 33-day pattern.
So how the hell can the sun affect decay rates? The scientists believe it’s due to solar neutrinos, near weightless particles produced by nuclear reactions in the sun’s core. However, these neutrinos have never been known to actually interact with anything before, so one of the scientists summed things up in the rather humorous sentence, “So, what we’re suggesting is that something that can’t interact with anything is changing something that can’t be changed.”
Today’s song: Robot Rock by Daft Punk
I remember the “lenses” part of my high school physics class being one of the things I was really interested in in that class (the Rube Goldberg project was a sore spot for me, and the cardboard chair project was designed so that only about 1/3 of the class was able to get enough cardboard from the recycling center).
The “Will It Lens?” blog obviously shows the dark side of the Google guys. They have our internet, and now they’re harnessing our sun. Scary, huh? One guy’s blog elaborates on their burning projects, which is pretty interesting.
Fresnel lenses are probably something with which everyone who reads my blogs is familiar, but I still think they’re cool. Common uses include headlights, lighthouses, and tools for sun-loving pyromaniacs.
More. Another guy makes a huge focus dish out of an old satellite dish. Ah, the wonders of Craigslist…
Fun trivia fact: Baruch Spinoza (one of the three main Continental Rationalists along with Descartes and Leibniz) died as a direct result from being a lens grinder in his early life.
Today’s song: Take it Home by The White Tie Affair
The size of us here on earth in relation to the size of the overall universe: this kind of stuff boggles the mind. I love trying to comprehend it. I’ve searched around in various places to try to find stuff that would create a more comprehensive visual demonstration of size and perspective. So here come the YouTube videos.
First this: powers of ten, zooming from wide perspective to narrow perspective.
Then this little factoid, which I’ve mentioned on here before but I think it’s very relevant to get a good idea of the sheer size of the sun: The sun loses 7 million tons of material every second, but all the material lost so far amounts to less than 0.01% of its total mass since it started shining.
Here is a model of just the solar system to scale. Now look at the sun, how big it is.
Now this: another video I’ve linked to on here before (and on Facebook) but only because it’s ridiculous to think about things that size.
With this one you can compare them all more side by side.
Finally this one. It helps with the distance and the freaking huge expanse of the universe. Despite the implication near the end that a supreme being was responsible for all this, I think it’s a good demonstration. Keep in mind, this is traveling at the speed of light, taking us to the edge of the universe and then back in for perspective.
I love this stuff. Hope it was informative to you all.