Magnetic Plasma Pulses Excited By UK-Size Swirls In The Solar Atmosphere

An international team of scientists led by the University of Sheffield have discovered previously undetected observational evidence of frequent energetic wave pulses the size of the UK, transporting energy from the solar surface to the higher solar atmosphere.

Magnetic plasma waves and pulses have been widely suggested as one of the key mechanisms which could answer the long-standing question of why the temperature of the solar atmosphere rises dramatically, from thousands to millions of degrees, as you move away from the solar surface.

There have been many theories put forward, including some developed at the University of Sheffield — for example, heating the plasma by magnetic waves or magnetic plasma — but observational validation of the ubiquity of a suitable energy transport mechanism has proved challenging until now.

By developing innovative approaches, applied mathematicians at the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre (SP2RC) in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and the University of Science and Technology of China, have discovered unique observational evidence of plentiful energetic wave pulses, named after the Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén, in the solar atmosphere.

These short-lived Alfvén pulses have been found to be generated by prevalent photospheric plasma swirls about the size of the British Isles, which are suggested to have a population of at least 150,000 in the solar photosphere at any moment of time.

Professor Robertus Erdélyi (a.k.a. von Fáy-Siebenbürgen), Head of SP2RC, said: “Swirling motions are everywhere in the universe, from sinking water in domestic taps with a size of centimeters, to tornadoes on Earth and on the Sun, solar jets and spiral galaxies with a size of up to 520,000 light years. This work has shown, for the first time, the observational evidence that ubiquitous swirls in the solar atmosphere could generate short-lived Alfvén pulses.

“The generated Alfvén pulses easily penetrate the solar atmosphere along cylinder-like magnetic flux tubes, a form of magnetism a bit like trees in a forest. The pulses could travel all the way upward and reach the top of the solar chromospheric layers, or, even beyond.”

Alfvén modes are currently very hard to observe directly, because they do not cause any local intensity concentrations or rarefactions as they make their journey through a magnetised plasma. They are hard to be observationally distinguished from some other types of magnetic plasma modes, like the well-known transversal magnetic plasma waves, often called kink modes.

“The energy flux carried by the Alfvén pulses we detected now are estimated to be more than 10 times higher than that needed for heating the local upper solar chromosphere,” said Dr Jiajia Liu, postdoctoral research associate.

“The chromosphere is a relatively thin layer between the solar surface and the extremely hot corona. The solar chromosphere appears as a red ring around the Sun during total solar eclipses.”

Professor Erdélyi added: “It has been a fascinating question for the scientific community for a long while — how the Sun and many other stars supply energy and mass to their upper atmospheres. Our results, as part of an exciting UK-China collaboration, involving our very best early-career scientists like Drs Jiajia Liu, Chris Nelson and Ben Snow, are an important step forward in addressing the supply of the needed non-thermal energy for solar and astrophysical plasma heating.

“We believe, these UK-sized photospheric magnetic plasma swirls are also very promising candidates not just for energy but also for mass transportation between the lower and upper layers of the solar atmosphere. Our future research with my colleagues at SP2RC will now focus on this new puzzle. “

Water Discovered For First Time In Recorded History Inside Halemaumau Crater

A small pond of water has been discovered inside the summit crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano for the first time in recorded history, possibly signaling a shift to a more explosive phase of future eruptions.

The U.S. Geological Survey says that after a week of questions about a green patch inside Kilauea’s Halemaumau crater, researchers were able to confirm the presence of water on Thursday.

USGS scientist Don Swanson says the pond has grown in size over the past week.

Swanson says the bottom of the crater, which once housed Kilauea’s famed lava lake, is now below the water table and researchers believe the pond is coming from that groundwater.

Lava interacting with the water table can cause explosive eruptions.

Francisco to Strike Southern Japan Monday Night; Lekima Could Be a Threat to East Asia Late This Week

Tropical Storm Francisco is closing in on landfall in southern Japan, and that could be followed by Tropical Storm Lekima taking aim at eastern Asia later this week.

Francisco to Strike Japan First

Francisco’s top sustained winds Monday local time were about 70 mph, according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).

The JTWC forecasts that Francisco will reach the southernmost of Japan’s large islands, Kyushu, Monday night into early Tuesday local time.

Francisco will then go on to make landfall in South Korea as a weakening tropical storm around Tuesday or Wednesday.

The main threat from Francisco will likely be heavy rain in parts of southern Japan, including Kyushu, Shikoku and southwestern Honshu. Flooding and landslides are possible threats, particularly in higher-terrain locations.

Heavy rain will also be a concern in eastern sections of South Korea.

Lekima a Possible Threat to Japan, Taiwan and Eastern China Later This Week

Tropical Storm Lekima has joined Francisco in the Western Pacific and could go on to impact parts of southern Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and eastern China later this week.

Lekima is currently centered several hundred miles south-southeast of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

The forecast for Lekima is still uncertain, but it’s predicted to gradually move northwestward over the next few days as it slowly intensifies. It’s possible Lekima could impact Japan’s southern Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan as a strong tropical storm late in the week ahead.

Lekima is currently forecast to make a final landfall in eastern China as tropical storm by this weekend.

Typhoons in the Northwest Pacific are equivalent to hurricanes in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific. Both names apply to tropical cyclones that have sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

Check back to weather.com in the week ahead for additional details on the forecast for Lekima.

A Quiet Typhoon Season So Far

This year has been uncommonly calm to date for typhoon activity in the Northwest Pacific, which is normally the most active region on Earth for tropical cyclones. The only typhoon recorded in 2019 so far was Wutip, the first Category 5 super typhoon on record in February. Wutip passed south of Guam and Micronesia as a Category 4 storm, producing more than $3 million in damage.

In JTWC records that go back to 1945, only one other year, 1998, has gone from the end of February to the beginning of August without any typhoons, as noted by Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University.

In a typical season (1981-2010), the Northwest Pacific sees about eight named storms and five typhoons by Aug. 2. This year has brought just five named storms and one typhoon so far.

The amount of accumulated cyclone energy in the Northwest Pacific – which is calculated based on how strong tropical cyclones get and how long they last – was only a little over half of average for the year as of Aug. 2, according to data compiled by Colorado State University.

Japan is accustomed to typhoons. In a typical year, three typhoons strike Japan, according to data from the Japan Meteorological Agency analyzed by nippon.com. Landfalls are most common in August, but the most destructive typhoons tend to be in September.

6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Struck Off The Coast Of Japan Near Fukushima

The earthquake rattled the same region of Japan where an earthquake triggered a nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

Graphic shows large earthquake logo over broken earth and Richter scale reading

A 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck offshore of Japan near Fukushima on Sunday. People reported feeling the quake in the capital, Tokyo, approximately 250 km (155 miles) away.

There were no were immediate reports of damage, and no tsunami alert was issued.

The epicenter of the earthquake, which struck at 7:23 p.m. local time, was off the coast of Fukushima prefecture and measured at a depth of 50km, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Public broadcaster NHK TV reported that utility companies were checking on the nuclear reactors in the area.

No abnormalities were found at nuclear power plants in the region, including both Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, according to their operators, the Mainichi reported.

In 2011, Fukushima was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which sparked a monster tsunami causing three nuclear meltdown, hydrogen explosions and radioactive contamination.

Drop Of Ancient Seawater Rewrites Earth’s History

The remains of a microscopic drop of ancient seawater has assisted in rewriting the history of Earth’s evolution when it was used to re-establish the time that plate tectonics started on the planet.

Plate tectonics is Earth’s vital — and unique — continuous recycling process that directly or indirectly controls almost every function of the planet, including atmospheric conditions, mountain building (forming of continents), natural hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes, formation of mineral deposits and the maintenance of our oceans. It is the process where the large continental plates of the planet continuously move, and the top layers of the Earth (crust) are recycled into the mantle and replaced by new layers through processes such as volcanic activity.

Where it was previously thought that plate tectonics started about 2.7 billion years ago, a team of international scientists used the microscopic leftovers of a drop of water that was transported into the Earth’s deep mantle — through plate tectonics — to show that this process started 600 million years before that. An article on their research that proves plate tectonics started on Earth 3.3 billion years ago was published in the high impact academic journal, Nature, on 16 July.

“Plate tectonics constantly recycles the planet’s matter, and without it the planet would look like Mars,” says Professor Allan Wilson from the Wits School of Geosciences, who was part of the research team.

“Our research showing that plate tectonics started 3.3 billion years ago now coincides with the period that life started on Earth. It tells us where the planet came from and how it evolved.”

Earth is the only planet in our solar system that is shaped by plate tectonics and without it the planet would be uninhabitable.

For their research, the team analysed a piece of rock melt, called komatiite — named after the type occurrence in the Komati river near Barberton in Mpumalanga — that are the leftovers from the hottest magma ever produced in the first quarter of Earth’s existence (the Archaean). While most of the komatiites were obscured by later alteration and exposure to the atmosphere, small droplets of the molten rock were preserved in a mineral called olivine. This allowed the team to study a perfectly preserved piece of ancient lava.

“We examined a piece of melt that was 10 microns (0.01mm) in diameter, and analysed its chemical indicators such as H2O content, chlorine and deuterium/hydrogen ratio, and found that Earth’s recycling process started about 600 million years earlier than originally thought,” says Wilson. “We found that seawater was transported deep into the mantle and then re-emerged through volcanic plumes from the core-mantle boundary.”

The research allows insight into the first stages of plate tectonics and the start of stable continental crust.

“What is exciting is that this discovery comes at the 50th anniversary of the discovery of komatiites in the Barberton Mountain Land by Wits Professors, the brothers Morris and Richard Viljoen,” says Wilson.

Hubble Uncovers A ‘Heavy Metal’ Exoplanet Shaped Like A Football

How can a planet be “hotter than hot?” The answer is when heavy metals are detected escaping from the planet’s atmosphere, instead of condensing into clouds.

Observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal magnesium and iron gas streaming from the strange world outside our solar system known as WASP-121b. The observations represent the first time that so-called “heavy metals” — elements heavier than hydrogen and helium — have been spotted escaping from a hot Jupiter, a large, gaseous exoplanet very close to its star.

Normally, hot Jupiter-sized planets are still cool enough inside to condense heavier elements such as magnesium and iron into clouds.

But that’s not the case with WASP-121b, which is orbiting so dangerously close to its star that its upper atmosphere reaches a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in WASP-121b’s upper atmosphere is about 10 times greater than that of any known planetary atmosphere. The WASP-121 system resides about 900 light-years from Earth.

“Heavy metals have been seen in other hot Jupiters before, but only in the lower atmosphere,” explained lead researcher David Sing of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “So you don’t know if they are escaping or not. With WASP-121b, we see magnesium and iron gas so far away from the planet that they’re not gravitationally bound.”

Ultraviolet light from the host star, which is brighter and hotter than the Sun, heats the upper atmosphere and helps lead to its escape. In addition, the escaping magnesium and iron gas may contribute to the temperature spike, Sing said. “These metals will make the atmosphere more opaque in the ultraviolet, which could be contributing to the heating of the upper atmosphere,” he explained.

The sizzling planet is so close to its star that it is on the cusp of being ripped apart by the star’s gravity. This hugging distance means that the planet is football shaped due to gravitational tidal forces.

“We picked this planet because it is so extreme,” Sing said. “We thought we had a chance of seeing heavier elements escaping. It’s so hot and so favorable to observe, it’s the best shot at finding the presence of heavy metals. We were mainly looking for magnesium, but there have been hints of iron in the atmospheres of other exoplanets. It was a surprise, though, to see it so clearly in the data and at such great altitudes so far away from the planet. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. This is a planet being actively stripped of its atmosphere.”

The researchers used the observatory’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to search in ultraviolet light for the spectral signatures of magnesium and iron imprinted on starlight filtering through WASP-121b’s atmosphere as the planet passed in front of, or transited, the face of its home star.

This exoplanet is also a perfect target for NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to search in infrared light for water and carbon dioxide, which can be detected at longer, redder wavelengths. The combination of Hubble and Webb observations would give astronomers a more complete inventory of the chemical elements that make up the planet’s atmosphere.

The WASP-121b study is part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanet Treasury (PanCET) survey, a Hubble program to look at 20 exoplanets, ranging in size from super-Earths (several times Earth’s mass) to Jupiters (which are over 100 times Earth’s mass), in the first large-scale ultraviolet, visible, and infrared comparative study of distant worlds.

The observations of WASP-121b add to the developing story of how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. When planets form, they gather an atmosphere containing gas from the disk in which the planet and star formed. These atmospheres consist mostly of the primordial, lighter-weight gases hydrogen and helium, the most plentiful elements in the universe. This atmosphere dissipates as a planet moves closer to its star.

“The hot Jupiters are mostly made of hydrogen, and Hubble is very sensitive to hydrogen, so we know these planets can lose the gas relatively easily,” Sing said. “But in the case of WASP-121b, the hydrogen and helium gas is outflowing, almost like a river, and is dragging these metals with them. It’s a very efficient mechanism for mass loss.”

The results will appear online today in The Astronomical Journal.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

A Derecho, a Widespread Destructive Thunderstorm Wind Event, Swept Across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

A line of severe thunderstorms known as a derecho produced damaging winds across the upper Midwest Friday and early Saturday morning, downing numerous trees, damaging some homes, and knocking out power to several hundred thousand customers.

A cluster of thunderstorms in eastern Minnesota Friday afternoon organized into a squall line that raced across northern Wisconsin Friday evening into Lower Michigan after midnight, laying down a 485-mile long trail of damaging winds over a 10-hour period.

This satisfied the criteria for a derecho as laid out by a 2005 study from Walker Ashley and Thomas Mote, a type of widespread convective windstorm typical in summer on the northern edge of a significant heat wave.

The derecho first organized in central Minnesota between the Twin Cities and Duluth, dumping hail as large as baseballs in Pine City late Friday afternoon, smashing vehicle windshields on Interstate 35. Wind-driven hail reportedly flattened crops in the area. At least three buildings were damaged in the nearby town of West Rock, Minnesota.

A trained spotter recorded a wind gust up to 84 mph and sustained winds of 73 mph for five minutes in Cushing, Wisconsin as the developing squall line crossing into northwest Wisconsin.

Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, about 55 miles northeast of St. Paul, was particularly hard hit Friday evening. A roof was ripped off one business, siding partially torn off a hotel and numerous trees were downed. Power was knocked out to many customers in Polk and Burnett counties as storms tore through.

Two barns, a garage and silo were reportedly downed and power poles were bent or snapped in Clark County, Wisconsin, and a well-constructed pole barn was destroyed in neighboring Marathon County.

Widespread tree damage has been reported across Langlade, Shawano, Portage, Outagamie, Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties in eastern Wisconsin.

If the wind wasn’t bad enough, a tornado touched down near Knowlton, Wisconsin, located roughly 50-55 miles west-northwest of Green Bay around 8:30 p.m. CDT, destroying a barn.

Trees were downed in Green Bay as the line of thunderstorms arrived late Friday evening.

The derecho then roared across Lake Michigan into Lower Michigan after midnight.

Numerous trees were downed in Lake, Mecosta, Newaygo, Montcalm County.

A wind gust of 64 mph was clocked in Muskegon, where numerous trees were downed, some on vehicles in the city just after 1 a.m. One tree was downed on a hotel in Marion, Michigan.

Winds gusted to 69 mph in Grand Rapids. A roof was blown off a home in Jenison, just west of Grand Rapids and a large tree was downed on a home in Middleville, just south of Grand Rapids.

The derecho finally lost its punch around 3 a.m. over southern Lower Michigan just after producing a 58 mph gust in Kalamazoo.

In all, over 120 reports of strong thunderstorm winds or wind damage were compiled by the National Weather Service from the derecho.

As of sunrise on July 20, just over 272,000 customers were without power in Michigan and Wisconsin from the storm, according to an estimate from poweroutage.us.

These derechos have a notorious history in the upper Midwest.

One infamous derecho on July 4, 1977, damaged or destroyed about 1 million acres of forest from northern Minnesota into northern Wisconsin.

This derecho was produced from a classic summer severe weather setup in the Midwest.

Oppressively hot, humid air was in place as far north as the upper Mississippi Valley, with temperatures reaching into the 90s and dew points, a measure of moisture, surging well into the 70s.

A record strong jet stream by mid-July standards in the Pacific Northwest punched into the northern Plains and southern Canada just north of an east-to-west oriented frontal boundary that stretched across the upper Midwest.

These ingredients combined to provide both the extreme instability (hot, humid air near the ground topped by relatively cool air several thousand feet aloft), moisture and source of lift (the frontal system) for this squall line of severe thunderstorms.

An atmospheric sounding taken at the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minnesota, Friday evening found a measure of instability known to meteorologists as surface-based CAPE was the highest on record, there.

This prompted a rare “potentially dangerous situation” severe thunderstorm watch from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, which mentioned potential peak wind gusts up to 105 mph possible.

According to Storm Prediction Center warning coordination meteorologist Patrick Marsh, the last time the SPC issued a watch with that high a potential thunderstorm wind gust was in mid-June 2009.