What Did Birds And Insects Do During The 2017 Solar Eclipse?

In August of 2017, millions peered through protective eyewear at the solar eclipse — the first total eclipse visible in the continental United States in nearly 40 years. During the event, researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the University of Oxford watched radar to observe the behavior of birds and insects. Their findings have just been published in Biology Letters.

Using data from 143 weather radar sites in the continental U.S. — 8 of which covered areas of eclipse totality — researchers were able to “see” the behavior of wildlife during the eclipse, which produced conditions similar to sunset.

“It’s not so easy to observe what wildlife are doing during an eclipse. It’s dark,” quips Cecilia Nilsson, lead author and Edward W. Rose Postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Lab. “But using radar data we could actually monitor behavior on a very large scale. Overall, we saw a decrease in normal daytime activity.”

Nilsson and her team looked at wildlife behavior in the air on radar two days before and after the eclipse and compared this activity with the behavior observed during the eclipse. They found that although typical daytime activity in the air decreased — behavior such as foraging for food — typical nighttime activity did not increase — behavior such as high-flying migration.

This result was surprising. Instead of triggering night-time behavior, the sunset-like sky produced by the eclipse stifled activity. But Nilsson noted that insect and bird behavior during the increasing darkness could have been due to a general sense of confusion.

“They might be interpreting the eclipse as a storm. That could be the closest analogy to them,” says Nilsson. “It’s getting darker, it’s getting colder, similar to a big thunderstorm on the way in.”

At the eight sites that were within the path of totality, where there was complete darkness for a few minutes, something interesting occurred. “At some of these sites we saw a sudden burst of activity during the moments of totality. This could be insects or birds flushing into the air as a reaction to the sudden darkness,” says Nilsson.

The eclipse of August 2017 provided a unique opportunity to study behavior patterns. Many bird species were in the beginning stages of their fall migration, and recent developments in computing power, big data processing, and machine learning set the stage for the completion of a much-needed continental-scale analysis.

The next solar eclipse over the continental U.S. is in the spring — April 8, 2024 — and Nilsson is looking forward to inspecting eclipse behavior among birds and insects once again.

“It could be really interesting to compare autumn activity to spring, she notes. “Hopefully we can get more information about what happens at sites in the path of totality.”

The Violent Solar Storms That Threaten Earth

A violent storm on the Sun could cripple communications on Earth and cause huge economic damage, scientists have warned. Why are solar storms such a threat?

In 1972, dozens of sea mines off the coast of Vietnam mysteriously exploded.

It was recently confirmed the cause was solar storms, which can significantly disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field.

Today, the effects of a similar event could be much more serious – disrupting the technology we rely on for everything from satellites to power grids. The cost to the UK economy alone of an unexpected event has been estimated at £16bn.

There are good reasons why we are vulnerable to events taking place millions of miles from Earth.

What causes an extreme solar event?
The Sun is a star, a seething mass of electrified hydrogen. As this fluid moves around, it builds up energy within its complex magnetic field.

This magnetic energy is released through intense flashes of light known as solar flares and through vast eruptions of material and magnetic fields known as coronal mass ejections or solar storms.

While flares can disrupt radio communication on Earth, solar storms pose the greatest threat.

Each storm contains the energy equivalent to 100,000 times the world’s entire nuclear arsenal, although this is spread throughout an enormous volume in space.

The Sun rotates like a vast spinning firework, launching eruptions into space in all directions.

If one of these heads towards our planet, with a magnetic field aligned opposite to the Earth’s, the two fields can merge together. As the solar storm washes past, some of the Earth’s magnetic field is distorted into a long tail.

And when this distorted magnetic field eventually snaps back, it accelerates electrified particles towards the Earth. Here, they strike the upper atmosphere, heating it and causing it to glow in a spectacular display known as the northern and southern lights.

But this distortion of the Earth’s magnetic field has other, more significant effects.

It is thought to have triggered the sea mines back in 1972. The mines were designed to detect small variations in the magnetic field caused by the approach of metal-hulled boats. But their engineers hadn’t anticipated that solar activity could have the same effect.

When will the next extreme weather event happen?
Scientists are looking for clues as to what triggers these vast eruptions and, once they have been launched, how to track them through interplanetary space.

Our records of the Earth’s magnetic field go back as far as the mid-19th Century. They suggest an extreme space weather event is likely to occur once every 100 years, although smaller events will happen more frequently. In 1859, the Carrington Event – most extreme solar storm recorded to date – caused telegraph systems to spark and for the northern lights to be spotted as far south as the Bahamas.

The next time it happens, the effects are likely to be far more serious.

With every solar cycle, our global community has become more reliant on technology.

In 2018, space satellites are central to global communication and navigation, while aeroplanes connect continents and extensive power grids crisscross the world.

All of these could be badly affected by the aftermath of extreme solar events.

Electronic systems on spacecraft and aeroplanes could be harmed as their miniaturised electronics are zapped by energetic particles accelerated into our atmosphere, while power networks on the ground can be overwhelmed by excess electrical currents.

Planning ahead
Enough satellites and power grids have failed during past space weather events to make it clear that the Sun must be closely monitored, to help predict when a solar storm will affect Earth.

Forecasters are working on this all over the world, from the UK’s Met Office to the Australian Met Bureau and the Noaa Space Weather Prediction Center in the US.

All being well, they can detect when a storm is heading towards Earth and predict its arrival time within six hours. That still leaves relatively little time to prepare but forecasting would cut the cost to the UK economy from £16bn to £3bn.

Space weather now appears on the UK government’s risk register, alongside other, more familiar risks such as a flu pandemic and severe flooding. It has been rated at the equivalent risk as a severe heatwave or the emergence of a new infectious disease.

Government agencies are now speaking to power companies, spacecraft and airline operators to ensure they have plans in place to limit the impact of an extreme space weather event.

It is vital, for example, to make sure enough power is available to refrigerate supplies of food and medicine as well as to make sure water and fuel can be pumped as needed.

If communication with some satellites is lost, familiar technologies such as sat-navs and satellite television could stop working.

Spacecraft engineers study extreme events so they can build resilience into spacecraft, protecting vulnerable electronics and installing backup systems.

An accurate space weather forecast would enable operators to further protect their assets by ensuring they were in a safe state as the storm passed.

Many planes fly over the north pole en route from Europe to North America. During space weather events, aircraft operators re-route aeroplanes away from the polar skies, where most of the energetic particles enter Earth’s atmosphere.

This is to limit exposure to enhanced radiation doses and ensure reliable radio communication.

We have learned much about space weather since the events of 1972 but as modern technologies evolve, we need to make sure they can withstand the worst the Sun can throw at us.

G2-Class Geomagnetic Storm Watch

NOAA has upgraded their watch for geomagnetic storms on Oct. 7-8 from G1 (minor) to G2 (moderately strong). This is in response to a stream of solar wind approaching Earth from a large hole in the Sun’s atmosphere, described below.

Arctic auroras are almost certain to appear when the gaseous material arrives, and the light show could descend to northern-tier US States such as Maine, Michigan, and Washington.

Coronal Canyon Faces Earth: A large canyon-shaped hole has opened in the Sun’s atmosphere, and it is directly facing Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this false-color ultraviolet image of the structure on Oct. 5th.

This is a coronal hole–a place in the Sun’s atmosphere where magnetic fields open up and allow solar wind to escape. Coronal holes are common, but this one is unusually large. It stretches more than 900,000 km from the Sun’s north polar crown across the equator into the Sun’s southern hemisphere. Now that’s a grand canyon.

The emerging stream of solar wind will reach Earth on Oct. 7th bringing a 75% chance of minor G1-class geomagnetic storms, possibly intensifying to G2-class on Oct. 8th according to NOAA. Such storms can affect migratory animals that use magnetic cues for navigation and spark auroras visible in the USA as far south as a line from Maine to Washington.

New Extremely Distant Solar System Object Found During Hunt For Planet X

Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard and his colleagues — Northern Arizona University’s Chad Trujillo, and the University of Hawaii’s David Tholen — are once again redefining our Solar System’s edge. They discovered a new extremely distant object far beyond Pluto with an orbit that supports the presence of an even-farther-out, Super-Earth or larger Planet X.

The newly found object, called 2015 TG387, will be announced Tuesday by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. A paper with the full details of the discovery has also been submitted to the Astronomical Journal.

2015 TG387 was discovered about 80 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, a measurement defined as the distance between Earth and the Sun. For context, Pluto is around 34 AU, so 2015 TG387 is about two and a half times further away from the Sun than Pluto is right now.

The new object is on a very elongated orbit and never comes closer to the Sun, a point called perihelion, than about 65 AU. Only 2012 VP113 and Sedna at 80 and 76 AU respectively have more-distant perihelia than 2015 TG387. Though 2015 TG387 has the third-most-distant perihelion, its orbital semi-major axis is larger than 2012 VP113 and Sedna’s, meaning it travels much farther from the Sun than they do. At its furthest point, it reaches all the way out to about 2,300 AU. 2015 TG387 is one of the few known objects that never comes close enough to the Solar System’s giant planets, like Neptune and Jupiter, to have significant gravitational interactions with them.

“These so-called Inner Oort Cloud objects like 2015 TG387, 2012 VP113, and Sedna are isolated from most of the Solar System’s known mass, which makes them immensely interesting,” Sheppard explained. “They can be used as probes to understand what is happening at the edge of our Solar System.”

The object with the most-distant orbit at perihelion, 2012 VP113, was also discovered by Sheppard and Trujillo, who announced that find in 2014. The discovery of 2012 VP113 led Sheppard and Trujillo to notice similarities of the orbits of several extremely distant Solar System objects, and they proposed the presence of an unknown planet several times larger than Earth — sometimes called Planet X or Planet 9 — orbiting the Sun well beyond Pluto at hundreds of AUs.

“We think there could be thousands of small bodies like 2015 TG387 out on the Solar System’s fringes, but their distance makes finding them very difficult,” Tholen said. “Currently we would only detect 2015 TG387 when it is near its closest approach to the Sun. For some 99 percent of its 40,000-year orbit, it would be too faint to see.”

The object was discovered as part of the team’s ongoing hunt for unknown dwarf planets and Planet X. It is the largest and deepest survey ever conducted for distant Solar System objects.

“These distant objects are like breadcrumbs leading us to Planet X. The more of them we can find, the better we can understand the outer Solar System and the possible planet that we think is shaping their orbits — a discovery that would redefine our knowledge of the Solar System’s evolution,” Sheppard added.

It took the team a few years of observations to obtain a good orbit for 2015 TG387 because it moves so slowly and has such a long orbital period. They first observed 2015 TG387 in October of 2015 at the Japanese Subaru 8-meter telescope located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Follow-up observations at the Magellan telescope at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona were obtained in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to determine 2015 TG387’s orbit.

2015 TG387 is likely on the small end of being a dwarf planet since it has a diameter near 300 kilometers. The location in the sky where 2015 TG387 reaches perihelion is similar to 2012 VP113, Sedna, and most other known extremely distant trans-Neptunian objects, suggesting that something is pushing them into similar types of orbits.

Trujillo and University of Oklahoma’s Nathan Kaib ran computer simulations for how different hypothetical Planet X orbits would affect the orbit of 2015 TG387. The simulations included a Super-Earth-mass planet at several hundred AU on an elongated orbit as proposed by Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown in 2016. Most of the simulations showed that not only was 2015 TG387’s orbit stable for the age of the Solar System, but it was actually shepherded by Planet X’s gravity, which keeps the smaller 2015 TG387 away from the massive planet. This gravitational shepherding could explain why the most-distant objects in our Solar System have similar orbits. These orbits keep them from ever approaching the proposed planet too closely, which is similar to how Pluto never gets too close to Neptune even though their orbits cross.

“What makes this result really interesting is that Planet X seems to affect 2015 TG387 the same way as all the other extremely distant Solar System objects. These simulations do not prove that there’s another massive planet in our Solar System, but they are further evidence that something big could be out there” Trujillo concludes.

This research was funded by NASA Planetary Astronomy grant NNX15AF44G.

Based on data collected at Subaru Telescope, which is operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. These results made use of the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory. Lowell is a private, non-profit institution dedicated to astrophysical research and public appreciation of astronomy and operates the DCT in partnership with Boston University, the University of Maryland, the University of Toledo, Northern Arizona University and Yale University. These results used the Large Monolithic Imager, which was built by Lowell Observatory using funds provided by the National Science Foundation (AST-1005313). This paper includes data gathered with the 6.5 meter Magellan Telescopes located at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.

This Car-Sized NASA Spacecraft Is Hurtling Closer To The Sun Than Any Mission Before

At the center of the Sun is a raging nuclear inferno that reaches temperatures well into the millions of degrees. The surface is cool by comparison, at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then up in the corona—the golden haze that can be seen around the Sun during a total eclipse—the temperature shoots into the millions again. And no one knows why.

We might be on the verge of finding out.

In little more than a month, a NASA spacecraft will come closer to the Sun than any mission before—more than three-quarters of the way there—and it is just getting started. Laden with scientific instruments, the Parker Probe will continue to circle closer and closer, finally getting within a few million miles of the Sun in 2025. If you imagine the 93 million miles from here to the Sun as a football field, the probe will make it inside the 4-yard line, the agency says. And it won’t melt—more on that below.

The goal is not just cool science. The mission is expected to reveal much about mysterious high-energy particles that periodically spew forth from the Sun at thousands of miles per second, posing a risk to satellites, the power grid, and the health of astronauts.

Among the many scientists involved in planning the mission were David J. McComas, a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, and Bill Matthaeus, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware.

The puzzle of the corona—the layer of atmosphere that begins 1,300 miles above the Sun’s surface—has long been a special focus for Matthaeus. Why would the corona’s temperature reach millions of degrees—a fact we know from using instruments called spectrometers—when the Sun’s surface below is only in the thousands?

“I like to tell people: ‘What would you do if you lit your campfire or a fire in your fireplace, and as you walked toward it, it got colder?'” Matthaeus said.

His preferred theory starts with roiling, turbulent motion that occurs in the photosphere—the gaseous layer that we perceive as the yellow “surface” of the Sun. This turbulence interacts with magnetic field lines that radiate out from the Sun, plucking them almost as if they were guitar strings, he said.

The resulting waves travel outward, then are reflected back, leading to a cascade that heats the corona to fantastic temperatures—fueling another phenomenon called solar wind, according to his explanation.

Other scientists have proposed different theories. Four suites of instruments on board the Parker Probe are expected to help answer these and other questions.

Princeton’s McComas is in charge of one group of instruments that will detect electrons, protons, and other energetic particles emitted by the Sun during chaotic events such as solar flares.

The measurements will be stored on solid-state data recorders—fancy versions of flash drives—then transmitted back to Earth by antenna when the probe’s looping path takes it away from the Sun’s intense heat.

These high-energy particles are a key element of “space weather,” with the potential to disrupt satellite communications, the power grid, and even the GPS feature in a smartphone. With enough warning of such events, technicians can place satellites into safer states, McComas said.

Like Matthaeus, the Princeton physicist is burning with curiosity about the Sun’s three big mysteries: the hot corona, the solar wind, and the energetic particles. But asked which theories might explain these phenomena, he demurred.

“I’m an experimentalist,” McComas said. “I go and observe the universe for what it is.”

So how will the sophisticated instruments survive those million-degree temperatures?

The answer has to do with the difference between temperature and heat, and the fact that the Sun’s corona, though hot, is very low density, NASA says. Temperature is a measure of how fast particles are moving, while heat refers to the amount of energy that is transferred by those particles. In the Sun’s corona, particles are traveling at high speed, but there are few of them, so relatively little heat can be transferred.

Agency scientists predict that exterior of the Parker spacecraft will be heated “only” to a temperature of about 2,500 degrees.

That is still hot enough to melt many metals. So the craft is protected by a heat shield—a carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon plates, designed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Betsy Congdon, the lead thermal engineer for the heat shield, demonstrated its effectiveness in a NASA video, heating one side with a blowtorch while a colleague calmly touched the other side with his bare hand.

With protective shield installed, the Parker Probe was launched at 3:31 a.m. on Aug. 12, carried aloft by a thundering Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

McComas and Matthaeus were among hundreds on hand for the awe-inspiring sight.

“It almost feels like an earthquake,” Matthaeus said. “The sound is just extraordinary.”

While the scientists are hopeful of getting answers to their questions, Matthaeus acknowledged that there is no certainty. Of one thing, the University of Delaware physicist has no doubt:

“We can be fairly certain that some unexpected things are going to be found out.”

New Technique To Forecast Geomagnetic Storms Developed

Here is another example of how the ‘Science Of Cycles’ is used to improve the predictability of celestial events. Earth’s magnetic field extends from pole to pole and is strongly affected by solar wind from the Sun. This “wind” is a stream of charged particles constantly ejected from the Sun’s surface. Occasional sudden flashes of brightness known as solar flares release even more particles into the wind. Sometimes, the flares are followed by coronal mass ejections that send plasma into space.

The resulting flux of charged particles travels millions of miles from the Sun to Earth. When they arrive here, the particles wreak havoc on Earth’s magnetic field. The result can be beautiful but also destructive: auroras and geomagnetic storms. The storms are serious and interfere with a number of important technologies, including GPS signaling and satellite communications. They can also cause damage to surface electrical grids. Solar activity appears random, making it difficult for us to predict these storms.

In the journal Chaos, from AIP Publishing, a group of investigators from Europe, led by Reik Donner at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, reports a new method for analyzing magnetic field data that might provide better short-term forecasting of geomagnetic storms. This new method relies on a technique developed for systems in a state far from equilibrium. Earth’s magnetic field fits this paradigm because the field is driven far away from equilibrium by the solar wind. Systems that are far from equilibrium often undergo abrupt changes, such as the sudden transition from a quiescent state to a storm.

The investigators used hourly values of the Disturbance storm-time, or Dst, index. Dst values give the average deviation of the horizontal component of Earth’s magnetic field from its normal value. This deviation occurs when a large burst of charged particles arrives from the Sun and weakens the field generated by Earth. The Dst values form a single stream of numbers known as a time series. The time series data can then be recast into a 2D or 3D image by plotting one data point against another at a fixed amount of time into the future for forecasting.

Here, the authors created a diagram known as a recurrence plot from the reconstructed data. The recurrence plot is an array of dots typically distributed non-uniformly across the graph. The authors used their data to look at a pair of geomagnetic storms that occurred in 2001 from large solar flares a couple of days prior to the storm.

They used a method known as recurrence quantification analysis to show that long diagonal lines in these recurrence plots indicate more predictable geomagnetic behavior. The method reported here is particularly well-suited to distinguish between different types of geomagnetic field fluctuations. The technique allows researchers to characterize these differences with an accuracy not previously achieved.

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JUST IN: Historic Space Weather Could Clarify What’s Next

“Historic space weather may help us understand what’s coming next, according to new research by the University of Warwick.”

Actually, those of you who have followed Earth Changes TV, Earth Changes Media, and Science Of Cycles over the years, know what is mentioned in this ‘new’ research – is anything but ‘new’. Having said this, I am grateful that so many scientists around the world have come to affirm what happens in and around our solar system, does in fact have an influence on our planet Earth and those who reside on it.

Although this research addresses space weather as it relates to the Sun-Earth connection, I can assure you space weather will encompass our solar systems connection to our galaxy Milky Way within the next few years… (wipe smirk off face) however, SOC’s published research is already there – and has been since 2012 as identified in my 2012 updated equation. (see below)

This symbiotic causation is driven by charged particles. It has now become known as “space weather.” My research spans back to 1997, when I began to interview some of the highest esteemed scientists from agencies such as NASA, NOAA, ESA, US Naval Observatory, Royal Observatory – along with several professors from highly qualified universities such as Stanford, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Caltec, and UCLA.

Perhaps the most important word in this ‘new’ research is the word “historic”. This is to say scientists have gathered enough data to observe cycles and patterns. In doing so, the day is inching its way closer to better predict and prepare for mini and mega cycle events. And of course…another way to put it is the “ScienceOfCycles.”

Professor Sandra Chapman, from Warwick’s Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics, led a project which charted the space weather in previous solar cycles across the last half century, and discovered an underlying repeatable pattern in how space weather activity changes with the solar cycle.

This exciting research shows that space weather and the activity of the Sun are not entirely random-and may constrain how likely large weather events are in future cycles. This breakthrough will allow better understanding and planning for space weather, and for any future threats it may pose to the Earth.


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