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Mysteries of the Sun

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This eerie colored orb is nothing less than the life-giver of the Solar System. It is the Sun, the prodigious nuclear reactor that sits at the heart of our planetary system and supplies our world with all the light and heat needed for us to exist.

To the human eye, the Sun is a burning light in the sky. It is dangerous to look at it directly unless some special filtering is used to cut out most of the light pouring from its incandescent surface.

However, to the electronic eyes of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the Sun appears a place of delicate beauty and detail.

SOHO's extreme-UV telescope was used to take these images. This telescope is sensitive to 4 wavelengths of extreme-UV light, and the 3 shortest were used to build this image. Each wavelength has been color-coded to highlight the different temperatures of gas in the Sun.

The gas temperature is traced by iron atoms, where rising temperature strips increasing numbers of electrons from around the nucleus.

An iron atom usually contains 26 electrons. In this image, blue shows iron at a temperature of 1 million degrees Celsius, having lost 8 or 9 electrons. Yellow shows iron at 1.5 million degrees (11 lost electrons) and red shows iron at 2.5 million degrees (14 lost electrons).

These atoms all exist in the outer part of the Sun's atmosphere known as the corona. How the corona is heated to millions of degrees remains the subject of scientific debate.

The constant monitoring of the Sun's atmosphere with SOHO, and with other Sun-staring spacecraft like the Solar Dynamics Observatory and Proba-2, is allowing solar physicists to build up a detailed picture of the way the corona behaves. This gives them insight into the physical processes that give rise to the corona and its behavior.

 
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A long coronal hole has rotated so that was temporarily facing right towards Earth. These holes are magnetically open areas from which high-speed solar wind streams into space. This solar wind can cause aurora when it reaches Earth several days from now. So, those in higher latitudes might want to keep an eye out for some beautiful displays.


 
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NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this imagery of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash – around 8:30 p.m. EDT on April 17, 2016. A loop of solar material can also be seen rising up off the right limb of the Sun.



This flare is classified as an M6.7 class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.





This flare came from an area of complex magnetic activity on the Sun.
 
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On 9 May, at 11:10 GMT, Mercury will begin making its way across the face of the Sun – an astronomical event known as a transit. During the transit, which will last for several hours and be at least partially visible across most of the world, the planet will be seen as a small black dot silhouetted against our star.

To mark the event, this week's Space Science Image of the Week allows Mercury to take centre stage. Mercury is a remarkable planet: it's the smallest and innermost planet in the Solar System, with an orbit that is both the fastest and the most eccentric. It boasts fascinating surface geology, including countless craters, ridges, highlands, plains, mountains and valleys.

This image offers an intriguing view of Mercury's Kertész crater, as viewed by NASA's Messenger orbiter. Reminiscent of a 'Magic Eye' optical illusion, the image may show one of two things: either a mound bulging out of the planetary surface, looming towards the camera like a dome, or – correctly – a crater that dips into Mercury's crust.






*****

An elongated, streaming arch of solar material rose up at the Sun's edge before breaking apart in this animation of imagery captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on April 28, 2016. While some of the solar material fell back into the sun, the disintegration of this magnetic arch also sent some particles streaming into space. These details were captured in a type of light that's invisible to human eyes, called extreme ultraviolet. The images were colorized in gold for easy viewing.

 
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For a split second during Mercury's 7-hour transit, the ISS raced across the face of the Sun over Philadelphia


NASA's SDO Captures Mercury Transit Time-lapse
 
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Sun today



On July 6, 2016, engineers instructed NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory to roll 360 degrees on one axis. SDO dutifully performed the 7-hour maneuver, while producing some dizzying data: For this period of time, SDO images – taken every 12 seconds – appeared to show the Sun spinning, as if stuck on a pinwheel.

This video was taken in extreme UV wavelengths that are typically invisible to our eyes, but was colorized here in gold for easy viewing.
 
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Two old videos:

THEMIS Discovers Biggest Breach of Earth's Magnetosphere (2008)


What are Solar Flares? - Dr. James Webb - FIU (2012)


But knowledge is knowledge, better late than never lol

Here's a new one:

The sun emitted 3 mid-level solar flares on July 22 and 23, 2016

 
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So what effect will these solar winds have on us?
Will I have to don my tin foil hat to stop the radiation? :D
 

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It affects it by the intense clouds of high energy particles that it often contains which are produced by solar storms. When these clouds, called coronal mass ejections, make their way to the Earth in 3-4 days, they collide with the magnetic field of the Earth and cause it to change its shape. The particles then leak through the magnetic field of the Earth, particularly near the north and south poles, and cause still more changes to the magnetic field of the Earth, this time at even lower altitudes closer to the ground. These changes can produce many problems with electrical equipment. The way on which solar wind 'plasma' invades the Earth's magnetic field and seeps into the inner regions where the van Allen radiation belts are located, is not very well known. Also, in the direction opposite the Sun, the Earth's magnetic field is pulled way out into interplanetary space making it look like a comet. In this 'geotail' region many different electrical disturbances take place that can accelerate particles to very high speeds and energies. All of this is made much more violent by the solar wind, especially the storm clouds that the Sun launches our way from time to time!



The most serious effects on human activity occur during major geomagnetic storms. It is now understood that the major geomagnetic storms are induced by coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Coronal mass ejections are usually associated with flares, but sometimes no flare is observed when they occur. Like flares, CMEs are more frequent during the active phase of the Sun's approximately 11 year cycle. The last maximum in solar activity, the maximum of the current solar cycle, was in April, 2014.

Coronal mass ejections are more likely to have a significant effect on our activities than flares because they carry more material into a larger volume of interplanetary space, increasing the likelihood that they will interact with the Earth. While a flare alone produces high-energy particles near the Sun, some of which escape into interplanetary space, a CME drives a shock wave which can continuously produce energetic particles as it propagates through interplanetary space. When a CME reaches the Earth, its impact disturbs the Earth's magnetosphere, setting off a geomagnetic storm. A CME typically takes 3 to 5 days to reach the Earth after it leaves the Sun. Observing the ejection of CMEs from the Sun provides an early warning of geomagnetic storms. Only recently, with SOHO, has it been possible to continuously observe the emission of CMEs from the Sun and determine if they are aimed at the Earth.

One serious problem that can occur during a geomagnetic storm is damage to Earth-orbiting satellites, especially those in high, geosynchronous orbits. Communications satellites are generally in these high orbits. Either the satellite becomes highly charged during the storm and a component is damaged by the high current that discharges into the satellite, or a component is damaged by high-energy particles that penetrate the satellite. We are not able to predict when and where a satellite in a high orbit may be damaged during a geomagnetic storm.

Astronauts on the Space Station are not in immediate danger because of the relatively low orbit of this manned mission. They do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks. The energetic particles from a flare or CME would be dangerous to an astronaut on a mission to the Moon or Mars, however.

Another major problem that has occurred during geomagnetic storms has been the temporary loss of electrical power over a large region. The best known case of this occurred in 1989 in Quebec. High currents in the magnetosphere induce high currents in power lines, blowing out electric transformers and power stations. This is most likely to happen at high latitudes, where the induced currents are greatest, and in regions having long power lines and where the ground is poorly conducting.

 
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Using NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), scientists have for the first time imaged the edge of the Sun and described that transition, where the solar wind starts. Defining the details of this boundary helps us learn more about our solar neighborhood, which is bathed throughout by solar material – a space environment that we must understand to safely explore beyond our planet.


 
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