This infographic shows you the insane scale of our solar system
by Ria Misra
You may have seen graphics comparing the objects in our solar system by size, but this visualization offers a slightly different spin on the theme, by comparing objects by their total mass. Plus, it also features 460 tiny versions of former planet Pluto bouncing off of Earth like a game of interstellar marbles.
The visualization is the work of astronomer Rhys Taylor, who also previously made a similar visualization comparing the size of the gas giants in our solar system by mass.
Sun Unleashes Monster Solar Flare, Biggest of 2014
by Miriam Kramer
The sun fired off a major solar flare late Monday (Feb. 24), making it the most powerful sun eruption of the year so far and one of the strongest in recent years.
The massive X4.9-class solar flare erupted from an active sunspot, called AR1990, at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 Feb. 25 GMT). NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured high-definition video of the monster solar flare. The spaceecraft recording amazing views the solar flare erupting with a giant burst of plasma, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME.
Sunspot AR1990 (previously named AR1967) is located on the southeastern limb of the sun, pointed away from Earth. This is the third time this sunspot has rotated onto the Earth-facing side of the sun…
A look at today’s Sun in this three-wavelength image (094, 335 and 193 angstroms). Each highlights a different part of the corona. The bright area to the right is Active Region 1974, which has been crackling with M-class solar flares the past few hours.
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.