New Space Weather Model Helps Simulate Magnetic Structure of Solar Storms

The dynamic space environment that surrounds Earth – the space our astronauts and spacecraft travel through – can be rattled by huge solar eruptions from the Sun, which spew giant clouds of magnetic energy and plasma, a hot gas of electrically charged particles, out into space. The magnetic field of these solar eruptions are difficult to predict and can interact with Earth’s magnetic fields, causing space weather effects.

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A new tool called EEGGL – short for the Eruptive Event Generator (Gibson and Low) and pronounced “eagle” – helps map out the paths of these magnetically structured clouds, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, before they reach Earth. EEGGL is part of a much larger new model of the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, and interplanetary space, developed by a team at the University of Michigan. Built to simulate solar storms, EEGGL helps NASA study how a CME might travel through space to Earth and what magnetic configuration it will have when it arrives. The model is hosted by the Community Coordinated Modeling Center, or CCMC, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The new model is known as a “first principles” model because its calculations are based on the fundamental physics theory that describes the event – in this case, the plasma properties and magnetic free energy, or electromagnetics, guiding a CME’s movement through space.

Such computer models can help researchers better understand how the Sun will affect near-Earth space, and potentially improve our ability to predict space weather, as is done by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Taking into account the magnetic structure of a CME from its initiation at the Sun could mark a big step in CME modeling; various other models initiate CMEs solely based on the kinematic properties, that is, the mass and initial velocity inferred from spacecraft observations. Incorporating the magnetic properties at CME initiation may give scientists a better idea of a CME’s magnetic structure and ultimately, how this structure influences the CME’s path through space and interaction with Earth’s magnetic fields – an important piece to the puzzle of the Sun’s dynamic behavior.

The model begins with real spacecraft observations of a CME, including the eruption’s initial speed and location on the Sun, and then projects how the CME could travel based on the fundamental laws of electromagnetics. Ultimately, it returns a series of synthetic images, which look similar to those produced of actual observations from NASA and ESA’s SOHO or NASA’s STEREO, simulating the CME’s propagation through space.

A team led by Tamas Gombosi at the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering developed the model as part of its Space Weather Modeling Framework, which is also hosted at the CCMC. All of the CCMC’s space weather models are available for use and study by researchers and the public through runs on request. In addition, EEGGL, and the model it supports, is the first “first principles” model to simulate CMEs including their magnetic structure open to the public.

BREAKING NEWS: New Discovery of Ancient Tree Rings Indicate Stable Predictable Sunspot Cycle Over 300 Million Years Period

I know your first instinct is to say something like “duh”. I would certainly support you in this analysis. However, setting this obvious notion aside, this new finding does attribute a great amount of credibility to the scientific discipline of cycles; furthermore, it provides a greater comprehension in regards to ‘time-linked’ measurements such as short-term, medium-term  and long-term cycles. Examples would be the 11 year sunspot cycle, the 26,000 year precession cycle, and the Milankovitch or Eccentricity cycle with a 100,000 and 410,000 cycle.

In a new study published in the scientific journal Geology, researchers Ludwig Luthardt, professor at the Natural History Museum in Chemnitz, and Ronald Rößler, professor at Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, describe how they found evidence in ancient tree rings, identifying a solar sunspot cycle that occurred millions of years ago and compared it to recent cycles . “The median tree-ring curve of that period revealed a 10.62 year cycle, the duration of which is almost identical to the modern 11 year solar cycle we see today,” said Luthardt.

Sunspot activity swings between a period known as ‘solar maximum’, at which time an enormous amount of radiation is released through the development of powerful streams of charged particles which is released in various forms such as solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes, and purging filaments.

When a percentage of these particles penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field and continue into the upper and lower atmosphere, the measured effects are captured in assorted forms of Flora such as tree-rings, lake bottom sediment, and deep ice cores. Such high-resolution records are commonly used for reconstructing climatic variations in the younger geological history.

The team discovered large wooded tree trunks from the early Permian Fossil Forest of Chemnitz, southeast Germany. This region had been covered by lava during a volcanic eruption during the Permian period, offering a historical record of Sun activity. “For the first time we applied dendrochronological methods (tree-ring dating) – to Paleozoic trees in order to recognize annual variations; says Rößler.

The team found that sunspot activity recorded 300 million years ago as reflected in tree ring archived analysis, matches almost identically with today’s caused fluctuations of cosmic radiation input to the atmosphere.

 

NASA Study Finds Solar Storms Could Spark Soils at Moon’s Poles

Powerful solar storms can charge up the soil in frigid, permanently shadowed regions near the lunar poles, and may possibly produce “sparks” that could vaporize and melt the soil, perhaps as much as meteoroid impacts, according to NASA-funded research. This alteration may become evident when analyzing future samples from these regions that could hold the key to understanding the history of the moon and solar system.

The moon has almost no atmosphere, so its surface is exposed to the harsh space environment. Impacts from small meteoroids constantly churn or “garden” the top layer of the dust and rock, called regolith, on the moon. “About 10 percent of this gardened layer has been melted or vaporized by meteoroid impacts,” said Andrew Jordan of the University of New Hampshire, Durham. “We found that in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions, sparks from solar storms could melt or vaporize a similar percentage.” Jordan is lead author of a paper on this research published online in Icarus August 31, 2016.

Explosive solar activity, like flares and coronal mass ejections, blasts highly energetic, electrically charged particles into space. Earth’s atmosphere shields us from most of this radiation, but on the moon, these particles—ions and electrons—slam directly into the surface. They accumulate in two layers beneath the surface; the bulky ions can’t penetrate deeply because they are more likely to hit atoms in the regolith, so they form a layer closer to the surface while the tiny electrons slip through and form a deeper layer. The ions have positive charge while the electrons carry negative charge. Since opposite charges attract, normally these charges flow towards each other and balance out.

In August 2014, however, Jordan’s team published simulation results predicting that strong solar storms would cause the regolith in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) to accumulate charge in these two layers until explosively released, like a miniature lightning strike. The PSRs are so frigid that regolith becomes an extremely poor conductor of electricity. Therefore, during intense solar storms, the regolith is expected to dissipate the build-up of charge too slowly to avoid the destructive effects of a sudden electric discharge, called dielectric breakdown. The research estimates the extent that this process can alter the regolith.

“This process isn’t completely new to space science electrostatic discharges can occur in any poorly conducting (dielectric) material exposed to intense space radiation, and is actually the leading cause of spacecraft anomalies,” said Timothy Stubbs of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a co-author of the paper. The team’s analysis was based on this experience. From spacecraft studies and analysis of samples from NASA’s Apollo lunar missions, the researchers knew how often large solar storms occur. From previous lunar research, they estimated that the top millimeter of regolith would be buried by meteoroid impacts after about a million years, so it would be too deep to be subject to electric charging during solar storms. Then they estimated the energy that would be deposited over a million years by both meteoroid impacts and dielectric breakdown driven by solar storms, and found that each process releases enough energy to alter the regolith by a similar amount.

“Lab experiments show that dielectric breakdown is an explosive process on a tiny scale,” said Jordan. “During breakdown, channels could be melted and vaporized through the grains of soil. Some of the grains may even be blown apart by the tiny explosion. The PSRs are important locations on the moon, because they contain clues to the moon’s history, such as the role that easily vaporized material like water has played. But to decipher that history, we need to know in what ways PSRs are not pristine; that is, how they have been weathered by the space environment, including solar storms and meteoroid impacts.”

The next step is to search for evidence of dielectric breakdown in PSRs and determine if it could happen in other areas on the moon. Observations from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft indicate that the soil in PSRs is more porous or “fluffy” than other areas, which might be expected if breakdown was blasting apart some of the soil grains there. However, experiments, some already underway, are needed to confirm that breakdown is responsible for this. Also, the lunar night is long—about two weeks—so it can become cold enough for breakdown to occur in other areas on the moon, according to the team. There may even be “sparked” material in the Apollo samples, but the difficulty would be determining if this material was altered by breakdown or a meteoroid impact. The team is working with scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on experiments to see how breakdown affects the regolith and to look for any tell-tale signatures that could distinguish it from the effects of meteoroid impacts.

UPDATE: New Study Suggest Cosmic Ray Origin Now Include ‘Dark Matter’

Observing the constant rain of cosmic rays hitting Earth can provide information on the “magnetic weather” in other parts of the Galaxy. A new high-precision measurement of two cosmic-ray elements, boron and carbon, supports a specific model of the magnetic turbulence that deflects cosmic rays on their journey through the Galaxy.

dark-matter3-science-of-cycles

The data, which come from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) aboard the International Space Station, appear to rule out alternative models for cosmic-ray propagation. By ruling out these models, the AMS results support the alternative explanation – a new primary cosmic ray source that emits positrons. Candidates include pulsars and dark matter, but a lot of mystery still surrounds the unexplained positron data.

The majority of cosmic rays are particles or nuclei produced in supernovae or other astrophysical sources. However, as these so-called primary cosmic rays travel through the Galaxy to Earth, they collide with gas atoms in the interstellar medium. The collisions produce a secondary class of cosmic rays with masses and energies that differ from primary cosmic rays.

interstellar-collision-science_of_cycles

To investigate the relationship of the two classes, astrophysicists often look at the ratio of the number of detection’s of two nuclei, such as boron and carbon. For the most part, carbon cosmic rays have a primary origin, whereas boron is almost exclusively created in secondary processes. A relatively high boron-to-carbon (B/C) ratio in a certain energy range implies that the relevant cosmic rays are traversing a lot of gas before reaching us. “The B/C ratio tells you how cosmic rays propagate through space,” says AMS principal investigator Samuel Ting of MIT.

Previous measurements of the B/C ratio have had large errors of 15% or more, especially at high energy, mainly because of the brief data collection time available for balloon-based detectors. But the AMS has been operating on the Space Station for five years, and over this time it has collected more than 80 billion cosmic rays. The AMS detectors measure the charges of these cosmic rays, allowing the elements to be identified. The collaboration has detected over ten million carbon and boron nuclei, with energies per nucleon ranging from a few hundred MeV up to a few TeV.

The B/C ratio decreases with energy because higher-energy cosmic rays tend to take a more direct path to us (and therefore experience fewer collisions producing boron). By contrast, lower-energy cosmic rays are diverted more strongly by magnetic fields, so they bounce around like pinballs among magnetic turbulence regions in the Galaxy. Several theories have been proposed to describe the size and spacing of these turbulent regions, and these theories lead to predictions for the energy dependence of the B/C ratio. However, previous B/C observations have not been precise enough to favor one theory over another. The AMS data show very clearly that the B/C ratio is proportional to the energy raised to the -1/3 power. This result matches a prediction based on a theory of magnetohydrodynamics developed in 1941 by the Russian mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov.

These results conflict with models that predict that the B/C ratio should exhibit some more complex energy dependence, such as kinks in the B/C spectrum at specific energies. Theorists proposed these models to explain anomalous observations – by AMS and other experiments – that showed an increase in the number of positrons (anti-electrons) reaching Earth relative to electrons at high energy. The idea was that these “excess” positrons are – like boron – produced in collisions between cosmic rays and interstellar gas. But such a scenario would require that cosmic rays encounter additional scattering sites, not just magnetically turbulent regions. By ruling out these models, the AMS results support the alternative explanation – a new primary cosmic ray source that emits positrons. Candidates include pulsars and dark matter, but a lot of mystery still surrounds the unexplained positron data.

Igor Moskalenko from Stanford University is very surprised at the close match between the data and the Kolmogorov model. He expected that the ratio would deviate from a single power law in a way that might provide clues to the origin of the excess positrons. “This is a dramatic result that should lead to much better understanding of interstellar magnetohydrodynamic turbulence and propagation of cosmic rays,” he says. “On the other hand, it is very much unexpected in that it makes recent discoveries in astrophysics of cosmic rays even more puzzling.”

More Hints of Exotic Cosmic-Ray Origin

Observing the constant rain of cosmic rays hitting Earth can provide information on the “magnetic weather” in other parts of the Galaxy. A new high-precision measurement of two cosmic-ray elements, boron and carbon, supports a specific model of the magnetic turbulence that deflects cosmic rays on their journey through the Galaxy.

dark-matter3-science-of-cycles

The data, which come from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) aboard the International Space Station, appear to rule out alternative models for cosmic-ray propagation. By ruling out these models, the AMS results support the alternative explanation – a new primary cosmic ray source that emits positrons. Candidates include pulsars and dark matter, but a lot of mystery still surrounds the unexplained positron data.

The majority of cosmic rays are particles or nuclei produced in supernovae or other astrophysical sources. However, as these so-called primary cosmic rays travel through the Galaxy to Earth, they collide with gas atoms in the interstellar medium. The collisions produce a secondary class of cosmic rays with masses and energies that differ from primary cosmic rays.

interstellar-collision-science_of_cycles

To investigate the relationship of the two classes, astrophysicists often look at the ratio of the number of detection’s of two nuclei, such as boron and carbon. For the most part, carbon cosmic rays have a primary origin, whereas boron is almost exclusively created in secondary processes. A relatively high boron-to-carbon (B/C) ratio in a certain energy range implies that the relevant cosmic rays are traversing a lot of gas before reaching us. “The B/C ratio tells you how cosmic rays propagate through space,” says AMS principal investigator Samuel Ting of MIT.

Previous measurements of the B/C ratio have had large errors of 15% or more, especially at high energy, mainly because of the brief data collection time available for balloon-based detectors. But the AMS has been operating on the Space Station for five years, and over this time it has collected more than 80 billion cosmic rays. The AMS detectors measure the charges of these cosmic rays, allowing the elements to be identified. The collaboration has detected over ten million carbon and boron nuclei, with energies per nucleon ranging from a few hundred MeV up to a few TeV.

The B/C ratio decreases with energy because higher-energy cosmic rays tend to take a more direct path to us (and therefore experience fewer collisions producing boron). By contrast, lower-energy cosmic rays are diverted more strongly by magnetic fields, so they bounce around like pinballs among magnetic turbulence regions in the Galaxy. Several theories have been proposed to describe the size and spacing of these turbulent regions, and these theories lead to predictions for the energy dependence of the B/C ratio. However, previous B/C observations have not been precise enough to favor one theory over another. The AMS data show very clearly that the B/C ratio is proportional to the energy raised to the -1/3 power. This result matches a prediction based on a theory of magnetohydrodynamics developed in 1941 by the Russian mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov.

These results conflict with models that predict that the B/C ratio should exhibit some more complex energy dependence, such as kinks in the B/C spectrum at specific energies. Theorists proposed these models to explain anomalous observations – by AMS and other experiments – that showed an increase in the number of positrons (anti-electrons) reaching Earth relative to electrons at high energy. The idea was that these “excess” positrons are – like boron – produced in collisions between cosmic rays and interstellar gas. But such a scenario would require that cosmic rays encounter additional scattering sites, not just magnetically turbulent regions. By ruling out these models, the AMS results support the alternative explanation – a new primary cosmic ray source that emits positrons. Candidates include pulsars and dark matter, but a lot of mystery still surrounds the unexplained positron data.

Igor Moskalenko from Stanford University is very surprised at the close match between the data and the Kolmogorov model. He expected that the ratio would deviate from a single power law in a way that might provide clues to the origin of the excess positrons. “This is a dramatic result that should lead to much better understanding of interstellar magnetohydrodynamic turbulence and propagation of cosmic rays,” he says. “On the other hand, it is very much unexpected in that it makes recent discoveries in astrophysics of cosmic rays even more puzzling.”

Powerful Punch of Gamma Rays Found in Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

Penn State University astronomers have discovered that the mysterious “cosmic whistles” known as fast radio bursts can pack a serious punch, in some cases releasing a billion times more energy in gamma-rays than they do in radio waves and rivaling the stellar cataclysms known as supernovae in their explosive power. The discovery, the first-ever finding of non-radio emission from any fast radio burst, drastically raises the stakes for models of fast radio bursts and is expected to further energize efforts by astronomers to chase down and identify long-lived counterparts to fast radio bursts using X-ray, optical, and radio telescopes.

fast-radio-burst-csiro-parkes-telescope

Fast radio bursts, which astronomers refer to as FRBs, were first discovered in 2007, and in the years since radio astronomers have detected a few dozen of these events. Although they last mere milliseconds at any single frequency, their great distances from Earth — and large quantities of intervening plasma — delay their arrival at lower frequencies, spreading the signal out over a second or more and yielding a distinctive downward-swooping “whistle” across the typical radio receiver band.

“This discovery revolutionizes our picture of FRBs, some of which apparently manifest as both a whistle and a bang,” said coauthor Derek Fox, a Penn State professor of astronomy and astrophysics. The radio whistle can be detected by ground-based radio telescopes, while the gamma-ray bang can be picked up by high-energy satellites like NASA’s Swift mission. “Rate and distance estimates for FRBs suggest that, whatever they are, they are a relatively common phenomenon, occurring somewhere in the universe more than 2,000 times a day.”

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Efforts to identify FRB counterparts began soon after their discovery but have all come up empty until now. In a paper recently published in Astrophysical Journal Letters the Penn State team, led by physics graduate student James DeLaunay, reports bright gamma-ray emission from the fast radio burst FRB 131104, named after the date it occurred, 4 November 2013. “I started this search for FRB counterparts without expecting to find anything,” said DeLaunay. “This burst was the first that even had useful data to analyse. When I saw that it showed a possible gamma-ray counterpart, I couldn’t believe my luck!”

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Discovery of the gamma-ray “bang” from FRB 131104, the first non-radio counterpart to any FRB, was made possible by NASA’s Earth-orbiting Swift satellite, which was observing the exact part of the sky where FRB 131104 occurred as the burst was detected by the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in Parkes, Australia. “Swift is always watching the sky for bursts of X-rays and gamma-rays,” said Neil Gehrels, the mission’s principal investigator and chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “What a delight it was to catch this flash from one of the mysterious fast radio bursts.”

“Although theorists had anticipated that FRBs might be accompanied by gamma rays, the gamma-ray emission we see from FRB 131104 is surprisingly long-lasting and bright,” Fox said. The duration of the gamma-ray emission, at two to six minutes, is many times the millisecond duration of the radio emission. And the gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 outshines its radio emissions by more than a billion times, dramatically raising estimates of the burst’s energy requirements and suggesting severe consequences for the burst’s surroundings and host galaxy.

Two common models for gamma-ray emission from FRBs exist: one invoking magnetic flare events from magnetars — highly magnetized neutron stars that are the dense remnants of collapsed stars — and another invoking the catastrophic merger of two neutron stars, colliding to form a black hole. According to coauthor Kohta Murase, a Penn State professor and theorist, “The energy release we see is challenging for the magnetar model unless the burst is relatively nearby. The long timescale of the gamma-ray emission, while unexpected in both models, might be possible in a merger event if we observe the merger from the side, in an off-axis scenario.”

“In fact, the energy and timescale of the gamma-ray emission is a better match to some types of supernovae, or to some of the supermassive black hole accretion events that Swift has seen,” Fox said. “The problem is that no existing models predict that we would see an FRB in these cases.”

The bright gamma-ray emission from FRB 131104 suggests that the burst, and others like it, might be accompanied by long-lived X-ray, optical, or radio emissions. Such counterparts are dependably seen in the wake of comparably energetic cosmic explosions, including both stellar-scale cataclysms — supernovae, magnetar flares, and gamma-ray bursts — and episodic or continuous accretion activity of the supermassive black holes that commonly lurk in the centers of galaxies.

In fact, Swift X-ray and optical observations were carried out two days after FRB 131104, thanks to prompt analysis by radio astronomers (who were not aware of the gamma-ray counterpart) and a nimble response from the Swift mission operations team, headquartered at Penn State. In spite of this relatively well-coordinated response, no long-lived X-ray, ultraviolet, or optical counterpart was seen.

The authors hope to participate in future campaigns aimed at discovering more FRB counterparts, and in this way, finally revealing the sources responsible for these ubiquitous and mysterious events. “Ideally, these campaigns would begin soon after the burst and would continue for several weeks afterward to make sure nothing gets missed. Maybe we’ll get even luckier next time,” DeLaunay said.