The cradle of life #solarflares #faintyoungsun

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The faint young Sun paradox was originally posed by Carl Sagan. Primitive life existed on Earth 4 billion years ago. But back then the Sun was much fainter, so too cold to supply the heat for life on Earth. So we need a big greenhouse effect to warm things up. The trouble with that solution is that it requires 300 time more carbon dioxide than we have today, which would make the Earth to acidic to allow life to happen. This new research poses a new answer – large frequent solar flares from an angry young Sun result in Nitrous Oxide in the Earth’s early atmosphere. This gas is a much more efficient greenhouse gas, so it only requires a small amount to supply the extra heat. As a bonus, this process that creates the Nitrous Oxide also creates abundant hydrocarbons required to cook up life.

This raises the possibility of life being much more abundant in the Universe than we had thought previously. If young stars can produce flares like our Sun, then the habitable zone (the not-too-far, yet not-to-close distance from the star) is much, much larger and exists for a much, much longer time than anyone has considered.



The smoking gun of #SolarFlares @ProfMcAteer

How do you observe something so fast, so hot, so dense?

“You have to be watching at the right time, at the right angle, with the right instruments to see a current sheet,” said @ProfMcAteer. “It’s hard to get all those ducks in a row.”


Your space flight is cancelled

You’ve been there before. Ready to get on a plane and it gets cancelled due to bad weather. The polar vortex cancelled hundreds of flights. The same thing has now happened to space flights.

A strong solar storm has resulted in canceling the latest supply run to the International Space Station. An unmanned rocket, the Antares, was set to blast off from Wallops Island, Virginia, with a capsule full of supplies and science experiments, including ants for an educational project. But several hours before Wednesday afternoon’s planned flight, company officials took the unusual step of postponing the launch for fear solar radiation could doom the rocket.

Although the solar storm barely rated moderate, some passenger jets were being diverted from the poles to avoid potential communication and health issues. GPS devices also were at risk.
But the six men aboard the space station were safe from the solar fallout

On the bright side, the orbiting lab has won a four-year extension, And the solar storm will also push the colorful northern lights further south than usual to the northern US. A nice respite from the polar vortex.

Spooky Sun


We usually think of our Sun as being one of the more boring stars in the neighborhood. Pretty average mass, pretty stable, a constant feature of our lives. But, with Halloween approaching the Sun is getting on the scary act. Our local star was active all weekend long, producing three of the most intense solar flares possible in two days.

The sun is currently at the peak of its natural 11-year solar cycle, where it oscillates through periods of low activity — characterized by few sunspots and intense flares — and much higher activity. This particular solar cycle has been one of the quietest on record, with the sun occasionally even going completely silent just as its activity should be highest. This weekend’s flares are a return to the normally scheduled intense outbursts from the solar surface that typically characterize solar maximum.

The first flare, which occurred on Oct. 25, was classified as an X1.7 class flare. An X-class flare is the strongest category of solar flare, where massive amounts of radiation spew from the sun’s surface. If this radiation is directed at Earth, it can mess with satellite communication, create radio blackouts, and generate beautiful auroras. An even more intense flare, an X2.1 flare, burst from the sun seven hours after the first on Oct. 25. An X2-class flare is twice as intense as an X1. A third flare X1-class occurred on Oct. 27 and at least 15 additional lower M-class flares happened between Oct. 23 and Oct. 28. Check out the video above for the latest ‘space’ weather forecast.

Here comes the Sun


The sun has unleashed three strong solar flares since Sunday evening, punctuating a short period of increased solar restlessness that comes as scientists are keeping an eye out for this cycle’s solar maximum. All were X-flares, classified in the category of most intense solar activity. None was pointed at the Earth, though several spacecraft, including the Spitzer space telescope in particular, are in their path.

Each was the most energetic solar flare of 2013 — until the next one came along. The first, an X1.7, occurred around 10 p.m. U.S. Eastern time, on May 12. Then, an X2.8 erupted at 12:05 p.m. on May 13. And the last one, an X3.2, peaked at 9:11 p.m. on May 13. X3.2 is the third-largest flare of this solar cycle, with the largest being an X6.9 in 2011.

“Current estimates are for a 40 percent probability of another X flare during the next 24 hours,” said Alex Young, a heliophysicist and associate director for science in NASA’s heliophysics division. He calculated that each of the flares produced around 100 sextillion (that’s 10 followed by 23 zeros) Joules of energy – the equivalent of 100 million hydrogen bombs – and spat several billion tons of solar material into space. The sunspotted region producing the flares is just rotating into view. Within a week, they’ll be pointed squarely at us – and scientists will be able to get a good look at the turbulent spots, which Young estimates are several Earths across. “We’ll watch it to see if it’s continuing to grow in size, or if it’s starting to get smaller,” he said.

Flares of X-magnitude are multi-stage events, produced by sunspotted regions where magnetic fields are twisted and tangled, knotted and strained like rubber bands wound too tightly. Eventually, strain building up causes the magnetic field lines to snap, releasing a flare. “If you look on the sun, you’ll see some very symmetric-looking, simple sunspots. These are the ones that don’t really do anything, even if they’re really big,” Young said. “But if you look at sunspots like the one that’s been so active, it’s very complicated and very twisted. You would probably see rotation and a lot of jumbled mess. That’s a really strong indication that it’s got a lot of energy built up in it.”

This period of unrest comes as scientists are keeping an eye out for the solar maximum, a period of peak activity that occurs at the height of the 11-year solar cycle. Forecast to be a relatively quiet maximum, the peak should be occurring just about now, though it’s hard to define a peak until it’s passed. An earlier period of peak activity occurred in 2011, but Young suggests that asynchronous activity in the sun’s northern and southern hemispheres can produce twin-peaked maxima. “That’s something we’ve seen in the past, with many different solar cycles,” he said.

Here comes the Sun


A solar belch erupted from the sun early Saturday (Feb. 9), triggering an intense sun eruption aimed squarely at Earth. The solar storm, however, should not endanger satellites or astronauts in space, but could amplify auroras on Earth. The solar eruption —called a coronal mass ejection —occurred at 2:30 a.m. EST (0730 GMT) on Saturday during a minor, but long-duration, flare. It hurled a wave of charged particles at Earth at speeds of about 1.8 million miles per hour (nearly 2.9 million km/h).

The sun has an 11 year cycle, at the peak of which it tends to produce far more solar flares than at at the end of the cycles. This year we are hitting the peak and so we expect a few of these to be Earth directed over the coming months. When aimed at Earth, they can reach the planet between one and three days later, and cause geomagnetic storms when they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. They can also amplify the northern and southern lights displays over the Earth’s poles.

They sun has been doing this for hundreds of millions of years and we’ve know about it since the the time of Galileo so why are we only just now getting concerned? Well. The biggest changers humanity has happened in the last 50 years. We are utterly dependent on telecommunications, the power grid, and oil. A big solar flare could stop any or all of these temporarily, and we can only imagine the problems that would bring.

8th century radiation blast.


A real mystery is developing. In 2012 researchers found evidence that our planet had been struck by a blast of radiation during the Middle Ages, but there was debate over what kind of cosmic event could have caused this. Either a rare solar flare or an even bigger explosion, a gamma-ray burst seems to be the culprit. Last year, a team of researchers found that some ancient cedar trees in Japan had an unusual level of a radioactive type of carbon known as carbon-14. In Antarctica, too, there was a spike in levels of a form of beryllium – beryllium-10 – in the ice. These isotopes are created when intense radiation hits the atoms in the upper atmosphere, suggesting that a blast of energy had once hit our planet from space. Using tree rings and ice-core data, researchers were able to pinpoint that this would have occurred between the years AD 774 and AD 775, but the cause of the event was a puzzle.

Observations of deep space suggest that gamma ray-bursts are rare. They are thought to happen at the most every 10,000 years per galaxy, and at the least every million years per galaxy. If a cosmic explosion happened at the same distance as the 8th Century event, it could knock out our satellites. But if it occurred even closer – just a few hundred light-years away – it would destroy our ozone layer, with devastating effects for life on Earth.

Two teams of scientists, two different conclusions! That’s the way science works. Either more data, or a better developed theory will show which one is right. Until then, may the debate continue.

The Sun and Global Warming

The Sun and Global Warming

Sun Earth

Sun Earth

So is the Sun’s cycle linked to global warming? The key line is this entire article is that “Milligan, like most scientists, enters many caveats and warns that specific weather predictions are very difficult to make and that this form of study is in its relative infancy”. We may have a tentative correlation, but what does a correlation tell us? It is well-known that the global temperature is inversely correlated to the number of pirates in the Sea (*) . But one does not cause the other, i.e, causality is missing. Causality differs from correlation in a key manner in that causality does not only say A is linked by B, by it predicts how much A will change if B changes. In this case we can model global temperature changes from the burning of fossil fuels and predict how much this temperature change will be. But when we try to model the link to solar changes it turns out to be very small, if it exists at all. Correlation without causality will disappear when faced with lots of data.

(*) In this case, the causality is the rise of the global population and technology. As our society is now larger and more advanced than the 19th century, we no longer do everything by sea and so the number of pirates has plummeted. As our society is now larger and more advanced than the 19th century, we burn more fossil fuels and hence global temperatures has risen. Hence the correlation occurs through a common causal mechanism.

The Big Data Problem

Out latest spacecraft which observes the Sun has give us a new headache.

This video by Dean Pesnell explains the problem pretty well

At 2 Tb per day we’re constantly trying to sift through these data to do science that we expect to do and, perhaps more importantly, science we may not have expected. It’s pretty easy to come up with a program to sift through data and detect features or events that you expect to see. But how do you go about detecting the unexpected? A quick look at the eye and brain may tell us the answer. How does our brain tell us that something unexpected or new is happening? The brain is very good at taking data from the eye and ignoring most of it. But if something unusual appears it tells us immediately.