JUST IN: Large Coronal Hole Develops at Sun’s Central Meridian and Far Side CME

A bright patch in the Sun’s chromosphere developed in the SE quadrant with possible spot development.

An asymmetric, partial-halo CME was observed in STEREO-A COR2 and LASCO C2 imagery at 03/1712 UTC and confirmed with visible coronal dimming from STEREO-A EUVI 195 imagery.

This CME (coronal mass ejection) event originated on the backside of the Sun and is not expected to influence the Sun-Earth line. No additional CMEs were observed in available satellite imagery.

Ushering In The Next Phase Of Exoplanet Discovery

Ever since scientists discovered the first planet outside of our solar system, 51 Pegasi b, the astronomical field of exoplanets has exploded, thanks in large part to the Kepler Space Telescope. Now, with the successful launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Professor Sara Seager sees a revolution not only in the amount of new planetary data to analyze, but also in the potential for new avenues of scientific discovery.

“TESS is going to essentially provide the catalog of all of the best planets for following up, for observing their atmospheres and learning more about them,” Seager says. “But it would be impossible to really describe all the different things that people are hoping to do with the data.”

For Seager, the goal is to sift through the plethora of incoming TESS data to identify exoplanet candidates. Ultimately, she says she wants to find the best planets to follow up with atmosphere studies for signs that the planet might be suitable for life.

“When I came to MIT 10 years ago, [MIT scientists] were starting to work on TESS, so that was the starting point,” said Seager, the Class of 1941 Professor Chair in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences with appointments in the departments of Physics and Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Seager is the deputy science director of TESS, an MIT-led NASA Explorer-class mission. Her credentials include pioneering exoplanet characterization, particularly of atmospheres, that form the foundation of the field. Seager is currently hunting for exoplanets with signs of life, and TESS is the next step on that path.

So far, scientists have confirmed 3,717 exoplanets in 2,773 systems. As an all-sky survey, TESS will build on this, observing 85 percent of the cosmos containing more than 200,000 nearby stars, and researchers expect to identify some 20,000 exoplanets.

“TESS is trying to take everything that people have already done and do it better and do it across the whole sky,” Seager says. While this mission relies on exoplanet hunting techniques developed years ago, the returns on this work should extend far into the future. “TESS is almost the culmination of a couple of decades of hard work, trying to iron out the wrinkles of how to find planets by the transiting method. So, TESS isn’t changing the way we look for planets, more like it’s riding on the wave of success of how we’ve done it already.”

The TESS science leadership team have committed to delivering at least 50 exoplanets with radii less than four times that of Earth’s along with measured masses. As part of the TESS mission, an international effort to further characterize the planet candidates and their host stars down to the list of 50 with measured masses will be ongoing, using the best ground-based telescopes available.

For the best exoplanets for follow up, Seager likens photons reaching the satellite’s cameras to money: the more photons you have, the better. Accordingly, the cameras are optimized for nearby, bright stars. Furthermore, the cameras are calibrated to favor small, red M dwarf stars, around which small planets with a rocky surface are more easily detected than around the larger, yellow sun-size stars. Additionally, researchers tuned the satellite to exoplanets with orbits of less than 13 days, so that two transits are used for discovery.

After 60 days of commissioning, TESS will begin science operations and will be transmitting images to Earth monthly, and the data mining begins. The raw data will be sent to the NASA Ames Research Center’s Science Processing Operations Center to be put through the data analysis pipeline, which was based on the Kepler data pipeline. Here, computer scientists will generate calibrated pixels, light curves, and other data products, which will be shared with MIT to evaluate whether a drop in brightness is due to a planet candidate or, as Seager says, a data artifact or binary star. The team will determine the size of these exoplanets and the period of their orbits, for distribution via the TESS object of interest (TOI) list. This information will be made public and archived at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) at the Space Telescope Science Institute. In parallel, the MIT group will analyze their data and images as they come down in what they call the “quick-look pipeline” and start flagging objects to follow up.

The TESS Follow-up Observing Program Working Group will further investigate whether the TOIs are planets, by studying the host stars using imaging from ground and space telescopes, reconnaissance spectroscopy and precise Doppler spectroscopy. For some planets, the follow-up team will ultimately be able to measure the planet’s orbital parameters and mass that, together with radius, determines the planet’s density.

Beyond the TESS follow-up program, additional observations will provide data on orbital dynamics, including planet-planet interactions, mutual inclinations, moons, and tides; atmospheric composition and structure can be inferred through the study of transmission and emission spectra, albedo, phase function measurements.

“I think right now if all goes as planned, our only challenge will be—it’s a good thing—[that] we’ll have so much data.” But, she says she is confident that “MIT can do a great job, not only in delivery in the list of final candidates, but also in groundbreaking new science.”

Breaking News : Kilauea Volcano Erupts in Hawaii, Forcing Evacuations

The eruption of lava from the Kilauea volcano forced residents in two subdivisions on the island of Hawaii to evacuate Thursday.

Lava spewed from a crack in the earth following days of small earthquakes around the volcano. Photos and drone footage showed cracks opening up across green yards and roadways and molten rock bursting out.

The area has experienced hundreds of small earthquakes in recent days. The largest, a magnitude 5.0, hit about 10:30 a.m. Thursday. It was centered on the southeastern coast of the island of Hawaii, with a depth of four miles.

Hawaii County ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Officials opened two community centers to shelter people who fled their homes.

No deaths or injuries were reported.

One resident, Ikaika Marzo, told The Honolulu Star-Advertiser that lava fountains were shooting 150 feet into the air about 5:30 p.m. and that lava had spread over a 200-yard-wide area behind a house in Leilani Estates.

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“It sounds like a jet engine. It’s going hard,” he told the newspaper.

Leilani Estates had a population of 1,560 in the 2010 census, but residents say the evacuations could affect thousands of people.

“People are scared,” said Matthew Purvis, a pastor who runs a bakery in the town of Pahoa.

“It’s not just evacuating people, it’s their things and their animals and their livelihoods,” he added.

Mr. Purvis drove a van into the threatened subdivisions to help residents flee.

“I don’t think people thought this would actually happen,” he said. “It was just a moment’s notice. It’s pretty wild.”

The Hawaii Volcano Observatory said white vapor and blue fumes began emanating from the cracked areas Thursday afternoon, followed by spatter — blobs of lava blown into the air — just before 5 p.m.

“The opening phases of fissure eruptions are dynamic,” the observatory warned. “Additional vents and new lava outbreaks may occur and at this time it is not possible to say where new vents may occur.”

An eruption from the Puu Oo’ cone of Kilauea in 1983 has continued to flow, destroying houses in the Royal Gardens subdivision. In 1990 more than 100 homes in the Kalapana community were destroyed by lava flow.

An eruption from Kilauea in 2014 flowed down the surface of the volcano and burned a house in Pahoa. Now residents worry that more structures could be threatened in the area, which is one of the fastest-growing in the state.

“Living on a volcano, everybody has got pretty thick skin. They know the risk,” said Ryan Finlay, who lives in Pahoa and runs an online trade school. “Lava for the most part has flown to the ocean the last 30 years. Everybody gets in a comfort zone. The last couple weeks, everything changed.”

India Dust Storms: More Than 125 Killed As Storms Continue

At least 125 people are now reported to have died in fierce dust storms in northern India, with officials warning of more bad weather to come.

High-speed winds and lightning devastated many villages, bringing down walls and leaving dozens injured.

An Uttar Pradesh relief commissioner’s office spokesperson told AFP news agency the death toll was the highest from such storms in at least 20 years.

Officials have said the death toll could rise as more bodies are found.

Wind speeds were around 132 km/h (82mph) accompanied by hail storms and heavy lightning, officials said.

Fear amid the ruins

Villagers in Badhera, in the worst affected district of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, say they had had absolutely no warning of the storm that devastated their homes.

This is despite senior police officials saying that an alert was issued across the northern state.

The storm killed three people in the village, while several others were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Ten-year-old Abhishek Kumar was asleep with his family when the storm struck. Their house collapsed, trapping him and his brother in the debris. Villagers dug them out but while Abhishek survived, his brother did not.

Dhambi Singh also suffered injuries but had to leave hospital to perform the last rites for his father who died when the roof of their house caved in.

Villagers are now worried as they have been warned that a similar storm could strike the region again in the next 72 hours.

“People should be alert,” the relief commissioner’s office told AFP.

In the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the storm brought down electricity, uprooted trees, destroyed houses and killed livestock.

Announcement: What are Sunspots and Where Did They Go

Note: Join me tonight on Coast to Coast AM radio. I will do a news brief on the subject of this article. I will also discuss the dynamics of cosmic rays influx during solar minimum and its influence on Earth and us.    Radio Stations: Click Here

Sunspots are relatively cool regions of hot gas on the Sun’s surface, prevented by intense magnetic fields from plunging back into the depths of the Sun for a reheat. These spots wax and wane in a cycle that averages 11 years.

During the peak of the cycle, the Sun is at its most active, generating solar flares, prominence, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and coronal hole outbursts. All of these can occur at any time during the solar cycle, but they are most frequent during its peak.

The Sun and stars are powered by fusion rather than fission. The core of the sun is dominated by hydrogen and at temperatures where hydrogen fusion is possible. Evidence for a potential long-term slowdown or even halt to sunspots for a period of time come through three sets of measurements.

Drawing on 13 years of sunspot data, National Solar Observatory researchers Matt Penn and William Livingston have documented a consistent decline in the strength of the magnetic fields associated with sunspots. If the strength of those fields drops below a certain level, the spots vanish.

If the decline in magnetic-field strength continues at its current pace, Dr. Penn says, cycle 25 may have no sunspots at all.”

Hill’s group at the National Solar Observatory used measurements of the Sun’s acoustic signals to gauge the movement of high-speed jet streams of solar material inside the Sun’s northern and southern hemisphere. These jet streams tend to form at high latitudes and migrate toward the equator over the course of a sunspot cycle. And they tend to be the spawning grounds for sunspots.

Typically, new jets, the foundations for a new sunspot maximum, form even before the existing jets reach the equator and vanish, Hill explains. The new jets should have started forming in 2008. They have yet to appear.

Old Data, New Tricks: Fresh Results From NASA’s Galileo Spacecraft 20 Years On

Far across the solar system, from where Earth appears merely as a pale blue dot, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years orbiting Jupiter. During that time, the hardy spacecraft — slightly larger than a full-grown giraffe — sent back spates of discoveries on the gas giant’s moons, including the observation of a magnetic environment around Ganymede that was distinct from Jupiter’s own magnetic field. The mission ended in 2003, but newly resurrected data from Galileo’s first flyby of Ganymede is yielding new insights about the moon’s environment — which is unlike any other in the solar system.

“We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story,” said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a recent paper about Ganymede’s magnetosphere at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

The new results showed a stormy scene: particles blasted off the moon’s icy surface as a result of incoming plasma rain, and strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to an explosive magnetic event occurring between the two bodies’ magnetic environments. Scientists think these observations could be key to unlocking the secrets of the moon, such as why Ganymede’s auroras are so bright.

In 1996, shortly after arriving at Jupiter, Galileo made a surprising discovery: Ganymede had its own magnetic field. While most planets in our solar system, including Earth, have magnetic environments — known as magnetospheres — no one expected a moon to have one.

Between 1996 and 2000, Galileo made six targeted flybys of Ganymede, with multiple instruments collecting data on the moon’s magnetosphere. These included the spacecraft’s Plasma Subsystem, or PLS, which measured the density, temperature and direction of the plasma — excited, electrically charged gas — flowing through the environment around Galileo. New results, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal interesting details about the magnetosphere’s unique structure.

We know that Earth’s magnetosphere — in addition to helping make compasses work and causing auroras — is key to in sustaining life on our planet, because it helps protect our planet from radiation coming from space. Some scientists think Earth’s magnetosphere was also essential for the initial development of life, as this harmful radiation can erode our atmosphere. Studying magnetospheres throughout the solar system not only helps scientists learn about the physical processes affecting this magnetic environment around Earth, it helps us understand the atmospheres around other potentially habitable worlds, both in our own solar system and beyond.

Ganymede’s magnetosphere offers the chance to explore a unique magnetic environment located within the much larger magnetosphere of Jupiter. Nestled there, it’s protected from the solar wind, making its shape different from other magnetospheres in the solar system. Typically, magnetospheres are shaped by the pressure of supersonic solar wind particles flowing past them. But at Ganymede, the relatively slower-moving plasma around Jupiter sculpts the moon’s magnetosphere into a long horn-like shape that stretches ahead of the moon in the direction of its orbit.

Flying past Ganymede, Galileo was continually pummeled by high-energy particles — a battering the moon is also familiar with. Plasma particles accelerated by the Jovian magnetosphere, continually rain down on Ganymede’s poles, where the magnetic field channels them toward the surface. The new analysis of Galileo PLS data showed plasma being blasted off the moon’s icy surface due to the incoming plasma rain.

“There are these particles flying out from the polar regions, and they can tell us something about Ganymede’s atmosphere, which is very thin,” said Bill Paterson, a co-author of the study at NASA Goddard, who served on the Galileo PLS team during the mission. “It can also tell us about how Ganymede’s auroras form.”

Ganymede has auroras, or northern and southern lights, just like Earth does. However, unlike our planet, the particles causing Ganymede’s auroras come from the plasma surrounding Jupiter, not the solar wind. When analyzing the data, the scientists noticed that during its first Ganymede flyby, Galileo fortuitously crossed right over Ganymede’s auroral regions, as evidenced by the ions it observed raining down onto the surface of the moon’s polar cap. By comparing the location where the falling ions were observed with data from Hubble, the scientists were able to pin down the precise location of the auroral zone, which will help them solve mysteries, such as what causes the auroras.

As it cruised around Jupiter, Galileo also happened to fly right through an explosive event caused by the tangling and snapping of magnetic field lines. This event, called magnetic reconnection, occurs in magnetospheres across our solar system. For the first time, Galileo observed strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to a magnetic reconnection event occurring between the two magnetospheres. It’s thought that this plasma pump is responsible for making Ganymede’s auroras unusually bright.

Future study of the PLS data from that encounter may yet provide new insights related to subsurface oceans previously determined to exist within the moon using data from both Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Galileo mission was funded by NASA’s Solar System Workings program and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Hubble Detects Helium In The Atmosphere Of An Exoplanet For The First Time

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have detected helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b. This is the first time this element has been detected in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar System. The discovery demonstrates the ability to use infrared spectra to study exoplanet extended atmospheres.

The international team of astronomers, led by Jessica Spake, a PhD student at the University of Exeter in the UK, used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to discover helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b This is the first detection of its kind.

Spake explains the importance of the discovery: “Helium is the second-most common element in the Universe after hydrogen. It is also one of the main constituents of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in our Solar System. However, up until now helium had not been detected on exoplanets — despite searches for it.”

The team made the detection by analysing the infrared spectrum of the atmosphere of WASP-107b. Previous detections of extended exoplanet atmospheres have been made by studying the spectrum at ultraviolet and optical wavelengths; this detection therefore demonstrates that exoplanet atmospheres can also be studied at longer wavelengths.

“The strong signal from helium we measured demonstrates a new technique to study upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a wider range of planets,” says Spake “Current methods, which use ultraviolet light, are limited to the closest exoplanets. We know there is helium in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and this new technique may help us to detect atmospheres around Earth-sized exoplanets — which is very difficult with current technology.”

WASP-107b is one of the lowest density planets known: While the planet is about the same size as Jupiter, it has only 12% of Jupiter’s mass. The exoplanet is about 200 light-years from Earth and takes less than six days to orbit its host star.

The amount of helium detected in the atmosphere of WASP-107b is so large that its upper atmosphere must extend tens of thousands of kilometres out into space. This also makes it the first time that an extended atmosphere has been discovered at infrared wavelengths.

Since its atmosphere is so extended, the planet is losing a significant amount of its atmospheric gases into space — between ~0.1-4% of its atmosphere’s total mass every billion years [2].

As far back as the year 2000, it was predicted that helium would be one of the most readily-detectable gases on giant exoplanets, but until now, searches were unsuccessful.

David Sing, co-author of the study also from the University of Exeter, concludes: “Our new method, along with future telescopes such as the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope/, will allow us to analyse atmospheres of exoplanets in far greater detail than ever before.”