Yesterday, the vernal equinox, the sun returned to the Northern Hemisphere at last. Nothing here or anywhere else in our corner of the galaxy would exist without the sun, yet a surprising number of solar mysteries persist. Much of heliophysics is focused on “space weather,” predicting what the sun will do. That’s because solar flares and coronal mass ejections spew charged particles and radiation into space, occasionally toward Earth. These seething bursts of energy can jeopardize telecommunications on the ground and in space, not to mention the lives of astronauts.
Last night, NASA’s Messenger probe fired its thrusters and became the first man-made satellite ever to orbit Mercury. It’s a major achievement for NASA and planetary researchers who hope to learn more about the formation and evolution of Earth-like rocky worlds, in this solar system and beyond.
We may spend out days basking it its life-enabling glow, but there’s a lot we don’t know about our sun and how it impacts our planet. So NASA’s Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) was launched to shed some light on the sun, and Sunday it beamed back its “first light” images—that is, the STEREO released its first 3-D images of the sun. Sort of.
In a mission to learn more about the sun’s inner workings, NASA is planning to launch a specially shielded spacecraft in 2018 that will plunge into the solar atmosphere. The car-sized Solar Probe Plus will explore an area just 4 million miles from the star’s surface, the last region of the solar system to be explored by humans.
By Suzanne LaBarrePosted 08.31.2010 at 11:07 am 9 Comments
Solar panels are a common sight on rooftops but rare on vertical walls, which, being more or less parallel to the noonday sun, get less solar energy. Hoping to take advantage of this unused space, design start-up SMIT looked at how ivy plants nonetheless thrive on the sides of buildings. The company’s upcoming solar-energy system takes inspiration from the way a vine’s many leaves individually maximize their sun exposure.
How's this for spooky action at a distance? The sun, at 93 million miles away, appears to be influencing the decay of radioactive elements inside the Earth, researchers say.
Given what we know about radioactivity and solar neutrinos, this should not happen. It's so bizarre that a couple scientists at Stanford and Purdue universities believe there's a chance that a previously unknown solar particle is behind it all.
On Sunday, sunspot number 1092 emitted a C-class solar flare--not a large one, by solar flare standards. But NASA scientists were intrigued by what accompanied it--an unusually fast corona mass ejection that sent a large cloud of charged plasma toward Earth. There will be no adverse effects here on Earth--other than increased aurora activity.
By Alessandra CalderinPosted 07.19.2010 at 10:11 am 16 Comments
Of all the bodies in our solar system, the sun is probably the one we want to give the widest berth. It gushes radiation, and even though its surface is the coolest part of the star, it burns at about 9,940°F, hot enough to incinerate just about any material. As such, there are no plans to send a manned mission in its direction anytime soon (Mars is much more interesting, anyway), but it can't hurt to figure out at what distance a person would want to turn back. You can get surprisingly close.
More than three months after being hurled into orbit, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is snapping some breathtaking images of the Sun, the first of which NASA released this afternoon. The mission designers have to be happy with them: the pics capture huge looping prominences lashing out from the surface and the kinds of massive explosions one might expect from a giant, churning ball of cosmic gas.