Solar Eclipse Offers Millions A Chance At Citizen Science

Millions of people, from students to rocket scientists, are poised to contribute to a massive scientific effort to study the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the United States August 21.

The entire country will fall into shadow as the “Great American Eclipse” passes, though the darkest path, or “totality,” will be contained in a 70-mile (113-kilometer) ribbon that moves from Oregon to South Carolina.

And with technology everywhere, from smartphones to satellites, the eclipse will be captured as never before, and will offer scientists a wealth of new insights on how the Sun works.

“There has never been an event like this in human history where so many people could participate with such unique technology,” Carrie Black, an associate program director at the National Science Foundation, told reporters Friday.

“We are expecting millions of people to participate in this event, and images and data from this will be collected and analyzed by scientists for years to come.”

Amateur snaps

One of the most popular projects is called Eclipse MegaMovie, a partnership between Google and University of California, Berkeley.

Its goal is to assemble images snapped by students and other amateur observers along the eclipse path, in order to create educational materials depicting the 93-minute eclipse across the country.

Another project, called the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse (CATE) Experiment by the National Solar Observatory and the University of Arizona, will engage in a kind of relay race.

Volunteers from universities, high schools and national labs will be spaced out along the path of the eclipse, using identical telescopes and digital camera systems to capture high-quality images for a comprehensive dataset of the event.

“This event will rival the moon landing of 1969 as a landmark event for a new generation,” said Madhulika Guhathakurta, NASA lead scientist for the 2017 eclipse.
The eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Earth and Sun, blocking the light.

This perfect-circle blackout of the bright center of the Sun allows scientists to capture in great detail the elusive outer atmosphere of the Sun, or solar corona.

NASA is reminding people to take eye safety precautions because it is never safe to look at the Sun during an eclipse.

“Only with special-purpose solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer, you can safely look directly at the Sun,” the agency said.

Wearing ordinary sunglasses, even dark ones, will not do, NASA said.

What to learn

Of course, amateurs are not the only ones involved. Experts from a host of US agencies and universities are leading the research.

Government aircraft will be dispatched to follow the eclipse and take infrared measurements to determine the solar corona’s magnetism and thermal structure.

NASA plans to use a camera aboard its Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite that sits in a distant orbit about 900,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers away), to capture the view of light leaving the Earth.

US President Donald Trump said earlier this year he wanted to shut down that camera, along with cutting three other earth science missions run by NASA.

Two other satellite tools aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, “will provide observations of atmospheric and surface conditions at times before and after the eclipse,” said NASA.

This data should help scientists better calculate how much solar energy hits the top of our atmosphere, how much is reflected back to space and how much thermal energy Earth sends off into space.

This flurry of scientific study could also be a chance to practice for the next big one, about which even more might be learned.

Another US eclipse is set to pass over the American East Coast in 2024.

“Once you see an eclipse it is kind of a like a drug,” said Scott McIntosh, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory.
“After you see one, you want to see another one.”

The Moon Is Front And Center During A Total Solar Eclipse

In the lead-up to a total solar eclipse, most of the attention is on the Sun, but Earth’s moon also has a starring role.

“A total eclipse is a dance with three partners: the moon, the Sun and Earth,” said Richard Vondrak, a lunar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It can only happen when there is an exquisite alignment of the moon and the sun in our sky.”

During this type of eclipse, the moon completely hides the face of the sun for a few minutes, offering a rare opportunity to glimpse the pearly white halo of the solar corona, or faint outer atmosphere. This requires nearly perfect alignment of the moon and the sun, and the apparent size of the moon in the sky must match the apparent size of the Sun.

On average, a total solar eclipse occurs about every 18 months somewhere on Earth, although at any particular location, it happens much less often.

The total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, will be visible within a 70-mile-wide path that will cross 14 states in the continental U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. Along this path of totality, the umbra, or dark inner shadow, of the moon will travel at speeds of almost 3,000 miles per hour in western Oregon to 1,500 miles per hour in South Carolina.

In eclipse maps, the umbra is often depicted as a dark circle or oval racing across the landscape. But a detailed visualization created for this year’s eclipse reveals that the shape is more like an irregular polygon with slightly curved edges, and it changes as the shadow moves along the path of totality.

“With this new visualization, we can represent the umbral shadow with more accuracy by accounting for the influence of elevation at different points on Earth, as well as the way light rays stream through lunar valleys along the moon’s ragged edge,” said NASA visualizer Ernie Wright at Goddard.

This unprecedented level of detail was achieved by coupling 3-D mapping of the moon’s surface, done by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, with Earth elevation information from several datasets.

LRO’s mapping of the lunar terrain also makes it possible to predict very accurately when and where the brilliant flashes of light called Baily’s Beads or the diamond-ring effect will occur. These intense spots appear along the edge of the darkened disk just before totality, and again just afterward, produced by sunlight peeking through valleys along the uneven rim of the moon.

In the very distant future, the spectacular shows put on by total solar eclipses will cease. That’s because the moon is, on average, slowly receding from Earth at a rate of about 1-1/2 inches, or 4 centimeters, per year. Once the moon moves far enough away, its apparent size in the sky will be too small to cover the sun completely.

“Over time, the number and frequency of total solar eclipses will decrease,” said Vondrak. “About 600 million years from now, Earth will experience the beauty and drama of a total solar eclipse for the last time.”

July 14 Solar Flare And A Coronal Mass Ejection

A medium-sized (M2) solar flare and a coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the same, large active region of the sun on July 14, 2017. The flare lasted almost two hours, quite a long duration. The coils arcing over this active region are particles spiraling along magnetic field lines, which were reorganizing themselves after the magnetic field was disrupted by the blast. Images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light.

Solar flares are giant explosions on the sun that send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). While these are the most common solar events, the sun can also emit streams of very fast protons – known as solar energetic particle (SEP) events – and disturbances in the solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs).

The Solar Dynamics Observatory is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Its Atmosphere Imaging Assembly was built by the Lockheed Martin Solar Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL), Palo Alto, California.

February 11th 2017 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

An eclipse of the moon can only happen at full moon, when the Sun, Earth and moon line up, with Earth in the middle. There are three kinds of lunar eclipses: Total, Partial and Penumbral – At such times, Earth’s shadow falls on the moon creating a lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipse(s) develop at a minimum of two times – to a maximum of five times per year.

In a total eclipse of the moon, the inner part of Earth’s shadow, called the umbra, falls on the moon’s face. At mid-eclipse, the entire moon is in shadow, which mostly appear as shades of gray, and on occasion will appear as shades of reddish/gray.

In a partial lunar eclipse, the umbra appears to take a swath out of a circumference of the moon. The darken shadow grows larger, and then recedes, never reaching the total phase.

In a penumbral lunar eclipse, the diminished outer shadow of Earth falls on the moon’s face. This third kind of eclipse is more subtle and difficult to observe. It is absent of the darker shadow as in a partial eclipse. This eclipse stops short of presenting the dramatic minutes of totality. For those using simple field binoculars or moderate telescopes will be able to witness the transition. If there are clear skies and at the right geographical locations, you will be able to see the event with the naked eye.

NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, tells us about 35% of all eclipses are penumbral. Another 30% are partial eclipses, where it appears as if a darkened scoop has been taken out of the moon. And the final 35% go all the way to becoming total eclipses of the moon, a glorious event.

BREAKING NEWS: New Findings Illustrate Secondary Extended Solar Cycles Far Greater Danger than Previously Known

Based on a new study, space scientists at the University of Reading are predicting we are witness to the beginning of a longer-term solar cycle, which will exceed the better-known 11 year and 22 year cycles. Each cycle consist of a ‘solar minimum’ and ‘solar maximum’ measured by the number of sunspots during these periods – and the waxing and waning of charged particles produced by solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes, and charged filaments.

This research is produced by Dr Mathew Owens, from the University of Reading’s Meteorology department, and Co-author Professor Mike Lockwood FRS, University of Reading. Their paper was published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’. “The magnetic activity of the Sun ebbs and flows in predictable cycles, but there is also evidence that it is due to plummet, possibly by the largest amount for 300 years”; said Owens.

As the Sun becomes less active, sunspots and coronal ejections will become less frequent. As this trend continues over time, the escalating reduction in solar wind has a direct causal effect on the layers of the Sun’s atmosphere. The most significant effect will be on the ‘heliosphere’ – which like Earth’s magnetic field, shields the Earth dangerous charged particles and radiation.

**I am working on the completion of this study – hope to have it published tomorrow. STAY TUNED…..

Moon Periodically Showered with Oxygen Ions from Earth

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in Japan, examining data from that country’s moon-orbiting Kaguya spacecraft, has found evidence of oxygen from Earth’s atmosphere making its way to the surface of the moon for a few days every month. In their paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the researchers describe what data from the spacecraft revealed.

Scientists have known for some time that the moon is constantly bombarded with particles from the solar wind and have also known that once a month, as the Earth is positioned between the Sun and moon, the moon is protected from the solar wind. In this new effort, the researchers describe evidence of oxygen ion transport from Earth’s outer atmosphere to the lunar surface during this short periodic time- period.

Prior research has shown that oxygen atoms become ionized in Earth’s upper atmosphere when they are struck by ultraviolet light. Sometimes, this causes them to speed up to the point that they break away from the atmosphere and move into what is known as the magnetosphere, a cocoon that surrounds our planet that is stretched like a flag away from the direction of the Sun due to the solar wind—so far, in fact, that it covers the moon for five days each lunar cycle, causing the moon to be bombarded with a variety of ions. Data from Kaguya now suggests that some of those ions are oxygen. The researchers found that approximately 26,000 oxygen ions per second hit every square centimeter of the moon’s surface during the deluge.

Because the moon is protected from the solar wind by the Earth when the increase in oxygen ions was recorded, the researchers are confident they come from the Earth. Adding even more credence is that the ions were found to be moving slower than those that normally arrive via the solar wind. Also, they note, prior research has found lunar soil samples containing some degree of oxygen-17 and oxygen-18 isotopes, which are not typically found in space, but are found in the ozone layer covering Earth.

Fermi Sees Gamma Rays from ‘Hidden’ Solar Flares

An international science team says NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has observed high-energy light from solar eruptions located on the far side of the Sun, which should block direct light from these events. This apparent paradox is providing solar scientists with a unique tool for exploring how charged particles are accelerated to nearly the speed of light and move across the Sun during solar flares.

“Fermi is seeing gamma rays from the side of the Sun we’re facing, but the emission is produced by streams of particles blasted out of solar flares on the far side of the Sun,” said Nicola Omodei, a researcher at Stanford University in California. “These particles must travel some 300,000 miles within about five minutes of the eruption to produce this light.”

Omodei presented the findings on Monday, Jan. 30, at the American Physical Society meeting in Washington, and a paper describing the results will be published online in The Astrophysical Journal on Jan. 31.

Fermi has doubled the number of these rare events, called behind-the-limb flares, since it began scanning the sky in 2008. Its Large Area Telescope (LAT) has captured gamma rays with energies reaching 3 billion electron volts, some 30 times greater than the most energetic light previously associated with these “hidden” flares.

Thanks to NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft, which were monitoring the solar far side when the eruptions occurred, the Fermi events mark the first time scientists have direct imaging of beyond-the-limb solar flares associated with high-energy gamma rays.

“Observations by Fermi’s LAT continue to have a significant impact on the solar physics community in their own right, but the addition of STEREO observations provides extremely valuable information of how they mesh with the big picture of solar activity,” said Melissa Pesce-Rollins, a researcher at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Pisa, Italy, and a co-author of the paper.

The hidden flares occurred Oct. 11, 2013, and Jan. 6 and Sept. 1, 2014. All three events were associated with fast coronal mass ejections (CMEs), where billion-ton clouds of solar plasma were launched into space. The CME from the most recent event was moving at nearly 5 million miles an hour as it left the Sun. Researchers suspect particles accelerated at the leading edge of the CMEs were responsible for the gamma-ray emission.

Large magnetic field structures can connect the acceleration site with distant part of the solar surface. Because charged particles must remain attached to magnetic field lines, the research team thinks particles accelerated at the CME traveled to the Sun’s visible side along magnetic field lines connecting both locations. As the particles impacted the surface, they generated gamma-ray emission through a variety of processes. One prominent mechanism is thought to be proton collisions that result in a particle called a pion, which quickly decays into gamma rays.

In its first eight years, Fermi has detected high-energy emission from more than 40 solar flares. More than half of these are ranked as moderate, or M class, events. In 2012, Fermi caught the highest-energy emission ever detected from the Sun during a powerful X-class flare, from which the LAT detected high­energy gamma rays for more than 20 record-setting hours.