An annular eclipse flares briefly above Kenya’s Lake Turkana last Sunday (Nov. 13, 2013). The solar eclipse was viewable from almost all of Africa, but only a narrow swath of the continent saw a total eclipse of the sun during the event.
Lake Turkana was one of those places that briefly saw the total eclipse. It also afforded views of an annular eclipse, which occurs when the moon almost but not quite covers the solar disc. That allows the sun’s corona to brightly rim the edges of the moon, as seen in this picture.
Solar flares release strong radiation outbursts, ones sometimes strong enough to interfere with radio signals on Earth. This October 23 outburst clocked in near the top of the “medium” class of such flares, making it an M9.4-class solar flare.
Such flares have become more common with the sun now near the peak of its regular sunspot activity cycle.
SDO watches for such outbursts in the infrared spectrum, as seen here, to see details of flares washed out or unseen in visible-light images.
A canyon of fire remains behind as an arc of solar material blasts off from the sun’s surface and punches through the solar atmosphere.The 200,000-mi-long (321,000-km-long) string of charged particles was fired from the sun by a clash of powerful magnetic field loops. As the loops pulled apart, they lofted the filament through the solar atmosphere, where temperatures reach 1.8 million°F (1 million°C). (Learn about the sun’s magnetic field.)The eruption’s buildup took place over two days from October 29 to October 30, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Laboratory.
The Sun emitted a significant solar flare – its fourth X-class flare since Oct. 23, 2013 — peaking at 5:54 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2013.
This flare is classified as an X2.3 class flare. “X-class” denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.
Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum conditions. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the Sun’s peak activity.
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.
A new study calculates Earth could continue to host life for at least another 1.75 billion years, as long as nuclear holocaust, an errant asteroid or some other disaster doesn’t intervene. Somewhere between 1.75 billion and 3.25 billion years from now, Earth will travel out of the solar system’s habitable zone and into the “hot zone,” new research indicates…
A giant explosion of magnetic energy from the Sun, called a coronal mass ejection, slams into and is deflected completely by the Earth’s powerful magnetic field. The Sun also continually sends out streams of light and radiation energy. Earth’s atmosphere acts like a radiation shield, blocking quite a bit of this energy.
Much of the radiation energy that makes it through is reflected back into space by clouds, ice and snow and the energy that remains helps to drive the Earth system, powering a remarkable planetary engine – the climate. It becomes the energy that feeds swirling wind and ocean currents as cold air and surface waters move toward the equator and warm air and water moves toward the poles – all in an attempt to equalize temperatures around the world.
The solar system moves through a local galactic cloud at a speed of 50,000 miles per hour
… creating an interstellar wind of particles, some of which can travel all the way toward Earth to provide information about our neighborhood.
Like the wind adjusting course in the middle of a storm, scientists have discovered that the particles streaming into the solar system from interstellar space have most likely changed direction over the last 40 years. Such information can help us map out our place within the galaxy surrounding us, and help us understand our place in space. The results, based on data spanning four decades from 11 different spacecraft, were published in Science on Sept. 5, 2013.
Vestiges of the interstellar wind flowing into what’s called the heliosphere — the vast bubble filled by the sun’s own constant flow of particles, the solar wind – is one of the ways scientists can observe what lies just outside of our own home, in the galactic cloud through which the solar system travels. The heliosphere is situated near the inside edge of an interstellar cloud and the two move past each other at a velocity of 50,000 miles per hour. This motion creates a wind of neutral interstellar atoms blowing past Earth, of which helium is the easiest to measure…
An overlap of data from two NASA spacecraft confirm a sighting of magnetic reconnection on the Sun, a process of realigning magnetic fields that lies at the heart of space weather. The teal image, from SDO, shows the shape of magnetic field lines in the sun’s atmosphere. The RHESSI data, in orange.
Two NASA spacecraft have provided the most comprehensive movie ever of a mysterious process at the heart of all explosions on the Sun: magnetic reconnection.
Magnetic reconnection happens when magnetic field lines come together, break apart and then exchange partners, snapping into new positions and releasing a jolt of magnetic energy. This process lies at the heart of giant explosions on the sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can fling radiation and particles across the solar system.
Scientists want to better understand this process so they can provide advance warning of such space weather, which can affect satellites near Earth and interfere with radio communications. One reason why it’s so hard to study is that magnetic reconnection can’t be witnessed directly, because magnetic fields are invisible. Instead, scientists use a combination of computer modeling and a scant sampling of observations around magnetic reconnection events to attempt to understand what’s going on.
An unusual type of solar eclipse occurred last year (2012). Usually it is the Earth’s Moon that eclipses the Sun. Last June, most unusually, the planet Venus took a turn. Like a solar eclipse by the Moon, the phase of Venus became a continually thinner crescent as Venus became increasingly better aligned with the Sun.
Eventually the alignment became perfect and the phase of Venus dropped to zero. The dark spot of Venus crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Venusian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire.
Pictured above during the occultation, the Sun was imaged in three colors of ultraviolet light by the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, with the dark region toward the right corresponding to a coronal hole. Hours later, as Venus continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Venusian solar eclipse will occur in 2117.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO & the AIA, EVE, and HMI teams; Digital Composition: Peter L. Dove
NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft has stared back “downwind” to look at the sun’s own tail. Much as the sun’s solar wind blows out the tails of comets, the vanishingly thin stuff between the stars blows the charged particles and magnetic fields of the solar wind back into a tail. The effect is much the same as when the sun’s “wind” of charged particles and magnetic fields blows a comet’s gas and dust into a tail.
Most stars have such tails, as here imaged by telescopes. IBEX rendered the sun’s “heliotail” by recording uncharged atomic particles streaming toward it from the direction of the tail. Contrary to predictions, the sun’s tail is slightly twisted by the interstellar magnetic field and reflects the varying intensity of solar wind emissions back on the sun. As best as IBEX researchers can tell, the heliotail disperses some 1000 times farther from the sun than is Earth.
This photograph shows our sun on June 7, 2011, at the time of an eruption. The source of the eruption glows brightly at lower right. Material blasted outward only to fall back onto the sun’s surface. By studying this process, astronomers gained new insights into how young stars grow via stellar accretion. This photo was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Red shows light at a wavelength of 304 Angstroms, green is 171 Angstroms, and blue is 335 Angstroms.
An extensive coronal hole rotated towards Earth over several days last week (May 28-31, 2013). The massive coronal area is one of the largest we have seen in a year or more. Coronal holes are the source of strong solar wind gusts that carry solar particles out to our magnetosphere and beyond.
They appear darker in extreme ultraviolet light images (here, a combination of three wavelengths of UV light) because there is just less matter at the temperatures we are observing in. Solar wind streams take 2-3 days to travel from the Sun to Earth, and the coronal holes in which they originate are more likely to affect Earth after they have rotated more than halfway around the visible hemisphere of the Sun, which is the case here. They may generate some aurora here on Earth.
An amateur astronomer’s photographs of the sun from his backyard observatory in Buffalo, NY:
“Using a small telescope and narrow band filters I can capture details in high-resolution and record movements in the solar atmosphere that change over hours and sometimes minutes. The raw material for my work is black and white and often blurry. As I prepare the pictures, color is applied and tonality is adjusted to better render the features. To record my images, I use a filter that passes only a narrow slice of the deep red end of the visible spectrum. Called a Hydrogen Alpha filter, it is attached to the front end of a small (3.75″ aperture) telescope. Think of it as a 450mm f5 telephoto lens. The camera used is an industrial webcam. It can stream images at a speed of 15 to 120 frames a second. Our atmosphere is a formidable obstacle to capturing sharp photos of a distant object. Streaming many frames in a short period of time allows me to temper the blurring effects of air turbulence. Each photo is made from many thousands of frames. Most frames are unusable, distorted by the heat currents rising from rooftops and asphalt driveways. But a few will be sharp. I review the video frame by frame for these moments of “good seeing”. The high quality frames are selected and then averaged to form the raw material for my photographs.”
A picture of the 2012 transit of Venus by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, from 36,000 km (22,000 mi) above the Earth. A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. It is one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomenon and happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit before 2012 was in 2004, and the next pair of transits will occur in 2117 and 2125.
In June of 2009, a rare total solar eclipse blanketed certain portions of the planet in total darkness. Czech photographer Miloslav Druckmüller traveled to the middle of the Pacific ocean to the Marshall Islands to capture the incredible event.
To create the photos above, he compiled over 40 images shot from two different cameras.