Tag Archives: space weather

Magnetic field science satellites launched

An Atlas 5 rocket successfully launched four NASA research satellites Thursday night designed to study the behavior of the Earth and Sun’s magnetic fields at high resolution.

The quartet of observatories is being placed into an oblong orbit stretching tens of thousands of miles into the magnetosphere — nearly halfway to the moon at one point. They will fly in pyramid formation, between 6 miles and 250 miles apart, to provide 3-D views of magnetic reconnection on the smallest of scales.

Magnetic reconnection is what happens when magnetic fields like those around Earth and the sun come together, break apart, then come together again, releasing vast energy. This repeated process drives the aurora, as well as solar storms that can disrupt communications and power on Earth. Data from this two-year mission should help scientists better understand so-called space weather.

Weather 90% go for Falcon 9 launch today

The weather looks almost perfect for tonight’s Falcon 9 launch.

The Falcon 9 will put a solar observation satellite into orbit. While many left wing media outlets will wax poetic about this is Al Gore’s satellite, it is hardly that. It might have been built initially under his misguided idea of creating a propaganda satellite to take daily images of the Earth (images that are essentially of little use for climate studies), DSCOVR has been very carefully redesigned to give it a real purpose, monitoring the solar activity of the Sun and providing a replacement/back-up for ACE, which is now more than a decade overdue for replacement.

The Falcon 9 launch will also attempt again to land intact its first stage on a floating barge. If this attempt succeeds the entire future of space travel will be reshaped.

Close-minded politicians everywhere!

Despite the repeated news in recent weeks that the evidence for global warming is slim, or at least confused, today we have two elected officials and one appointed official screaming that the sky will fall if we don’t do something, including spending billions of dollars of other people’s money.

First we have our friend Al Gore, who was in Washington, DC to speak at an environmental event put on by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). Whitehouse you might remember was the senator who, even before the injured and dead had been counted from the terrible Moore, Oklahoma tornado, started blaming Republicans for the tornado because they weren’t doing more to stop global warming.
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Sunjammer, NASA’s next solar sail experiment.

Sunjammer, NASA’s next solar sail experiment.

Though the article headline focuses on the addition of space weather instruments to this solar sail, the article says very little about those instruments. One, Swan, is described as a “wind instrument”, which probably means it would study the solar wind. The other instrument would study the Earth’s magnetic field. Both instruments are needed to track the effect of the Sun on local space weather, since the one satellite we have to do this, Ace, is now more than a decade past its expiration date.

Ethane lakes in a red haze: Titan’s uncanny moonscape

Titan’s ethane lakes in a red haze.

So far, there are no recognisable signs of organic life. That’s not surprising: by terrestrial standards, Titan is a deep freeze with surface temperatures at a chilly -180°C. Yet Titan is very much alive in the sense that its atmosphere and surface are changing before our eyes. Clouds drift through the haze and rain falls from them to erode stream-like channels draining into shallow lakes. Vast dune fields that look as if they were lifted from the Sahara sprawl along Titan’s equator, yet the dark grains resemble ground asphalt rather than sand. It is a bizarrely different world that looks eerily like home. Or as planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz puts it: “our prototype weird-world exoplanet”.

Sunspots and the danger of crying wolf

It’s that time of year again, buckos. Every June, like clockwork, stories and op-eds like these start to flood the media:

Not surprisingly, these stories always happen about the same time our federal bureaucracy puts together a one day June propaganda event called the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, designed to sell to journalists the idea that we are all gonna die if we don’t spend gazillions of dollars building satellites for tracking the sun’s behavior. Along with this conference come numerous press releases, written by the conference’s backers. Here for example is a quote from a press release emailed to me and many journalists:

Recent activity on the Sun, captured in stunning imagery from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and the resulting threat of significant radiation storms and radio blackouts here on Earth are vivid reminders of our need to better understand the science, improve our forecasts and warnings, and better prepare ourselves for severe space weather storms as the next solar maximum approaches.

The problem for these fear-mongers, however, is that shortly before their forum the scientists who actually study the sun held another press conference, where they laid out in exquisite detail the sun’s astonishing recent decline in activity, and how the next solar maximum will likely be the weakest in centuries and might very well be the last maximum we will see for decades to come.

In other words, the annual effort by government bureaucrats to drum up funding for more space weather facilities has collided head on with the facts.

That there are science journalists from so many major news organization so easily conned into buying this fear-mongering is pitiful enough. More significant, however, is the fact that this annual effort at crying wolf has not been very successful. For years Congress has not funded any new space weather satellites, and doesn’t appear ready to do so in the future, especially with the present budget crisis.
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