UPDATE : The Sun Is Spitting Out ‘Lava Lamp Blobs’ 500 Times the Size of Earth

The Sun’s corona constantly breathes wispy strings of hot, charged particles into space — a phenomenon we call the solar wind. Every now and then, however, those breaths become full-blown burps.

Perhaps as often as once every hour or two, according to a study in the February issue of the journal JGR: Space Physics, the plasma underlying the solar wind grows significantly hotter, becomes noticeably denser, and it pops out of the Sun in rapid-fire orbs of goo capable of engulfing entire planets for minutes or hours at a time. Officially, these solar burps are called periodic density structures, but astronomers have nicknamed them “the blobs.” Take a look at images of them streaming off of the Sun’s atmosphere, and you’ll see why. [The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

“They look like the blobs in a lava lamp,” Nicholeen Viall, a research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and co-author of the recent study, told Live Science. “Only they are hundreds of times larger than the Earth.”

While astronomers have known about the blobs for nearly two decades, the origin and impact of these regular solar weather events remain largely mysterious. Until recently, the only observations of the blobs have come from Earth-bound satellites, which can detect when a train of blobs bears down on Earth’s magnetic field; however, these satellites can’t account for the myriad ways the blobs have changed during their 4-day, 93-million-mile (150 million kilometers) journey from the Sun.

Now, for the first time, Viall and her colleagues have observed the blobs as they appear in their own neighborhood. In their new study, the astronomers found evidence of the blobs in 40-year-old data. Those observations confirmed that the blobs are incredibly hot when they leave the Sun — sometimes twice as hot as the average solar wind around them — and might bubble out of the corona every 90 minutes or less.
“Even when it’s a quiet space weather day, in terms of explosive solar storms, there’s this base level of weather always happening on the Sun,” Viall said. “And those little dynamics are driving dynamics on Earth, too.”

The blobs that swallow the world
Since the solar blobs were first studied in the early 2000s, scientists have known that they are big — initially measuring between 50 and 500 times the size of Earth, and growing ever larger as they propagate into space, Viall said — and they are dense, potentially packed with twice as many charged particles as ordinary solar wind.

Magnetic field readings show that when these gargantuan blobs of plasma ooze over Earth, they can actually compress the planet’s magnetic field and interfere with communication signals for minutes or hours at a time. Still, those readings leave a lot of open questions, Viall said, because the blobs almost certainly evolve and cool as they wobble through space for the 4 days it takes solar wind to reach Earth. So, Viall and her colleagues decided to study the blobs much closer to their source.

In the new study, the researchers took a fresh look at historical data from Helios 1 and Helios 2, a pair of solar probes launched by NASA and the German Aerospace Center in 1974 and 1976, respectively. The twin probes orbited the Sun for nearly a decade, making a closest approach of 27 million miles, or 43 million km (closer than the orbit of Mercury) while studying the temperature and magnetism of the solar wind that gushed past.

If either of the probes had been engulfed by a train of gargantuan lava-lamp blobs, the encounter should be reflected in these readings, Viall said. The researchers looked for one data pattern in particular — sudden bursts of hot, dense plasma punctuated by periods of cooler, flimsier wind — and found five instances that fit the bill.

The data from these events showed that the blobs bubbled out of the Sun every 90 minutes or so, supporting visible light observations of the blobs made decades later. The results also provided the first real, space-based evidence that the blobs are indeed much hotter and denser than normal solar wind, Viall said.

Burning questions
As to why the blobs form in the first place, the jury is still out. But, based on magnetic field readings taken near Earth, it’s likely that the blobs form in the same sort of explosions that create solar storms — massive blasts of plasma that launch forth when the Sun’s magnetic field lines tangle, break and recombine.

“We think a similar process is creating the blobs on a much smaller scale — ambient little bursts as opposed to giant explosions,” Viall said.

Results from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in August 2018 and is now about 15 million miles from the Sun (24 million km), could soon confirm these suspicions. In addition to the 40-odd years of technological advancement that Parker has over the Helios probes, the Parker mission also ranges far closer to the Sun — coming within just 4 million miles (6.4 million km) of our local star at its closest approach. From this sizzling vantage point, the probe should be able to observe the blobs “right after they’re born,” Viall said.

The Thermosphere Responds To A Weaker Than Normal Solar Cycle

The Sun undergoes a magnetic metamorphosis every 11 years, when the celestial body flips its magnetic poles: North becomes south, and south becomes north. The Sun is currently in solar cycle (SC) 24, which began in June 2009. No cycle is the same: The length can vary from 9 to nearly 14 years, and the degree of solar activity fluctuates as well. Within each solar cycle, the frequency of sunspots and flares ebbs and flows in response to the changing magnetic field around the star.

The thermosphere, one of the outer layers of Earth’s atmosphere, is particularly sensitive to variation in solar activity. The thermosphere forms about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above our heads and extends for several hundred kilometers above that. It absorbs much of the X-ray and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. During periods of high solar activity, the X-ray and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun increase, and the thermosphere swells as it sops up this increase in energy from the Sun. As the Sun approaches solar minimum, the thermosphere cools and shrinks as the intensity of the X-ray and ultraviolet radiation decreases. Since the International Space Station and many satellites orbit through this layer, changes in thermospheric boundaries and densities can affect their operation and the maintenance of their orbits.

The cooling near solar minimum is natural and specific to the thermosphere. The cooling thermosphere does not affect the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere closest to Earth’s surface where people live. The temperatures we experience on the ground do not get colder because of this solar cycle. NASA and other climate researchers continue to see a warming trend in the troposphere. These two effects are ongoing but unrelated.

Nitric oxide and carbon dioxide play important roles in cooling the thermosphere. These molecules are able to radiate energy at infrared wavelengths and thus moderate the effects of energy inputs to the thermosphere. In particular, nitric oxide acts as a thermostat and, in concert with carbon dioxide, can significantly influence the temperature of the atmosphere, especially during periods when the thermosphere is disturbed during geomagnetic storms. The Sounding of the Atmosphere using Broadband Emission Radiometry (SABER) instrument on NASA’s Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) satellite launched in 2002 and has been observing the infrared radiation from these molecules ever since.

Here Mlynczak et al. looked at the past 16 years of SABER data to quantify how much energy nitric oxide and carbon dioxide discharged from the thermosphere over the past two solar cycles. The period covers most of SC 23 and all of SC 24 to date.

The authors found that the infrared power emitted by the two molecules during SC 24 is substantially lower than the emissions during SC 23. In fact, the radiated energy from nitric oxide and carbon dioxide are only 50% and 73%, respectively, of the average emission of the five prior cycles dating back to 1954. The low rates of radiation are likely tied to the relative weakness of SC 24. To equal the average infrared radiation released from within the thermosphere over the past five cycles, the current solar cycle would need to span an additional 1,690 days. At that projected length, it would make the current cycle a full year longer than its predecessor and one of the longest in the historical record.

The study offers insightful information on the thermal state of Earth’s high atmosphere above 100 kilometers. The Sun’s influence on the thermosphere is a growing topic of research, and this study provides crucial quantitative context for future work.

Nepalese Team To Measure Mount Everest Amid Concerns It Has Shrunk Following Earthquake

Nepal is sending a group of expert climbers to remeasure the height of Mount Everest today amid concerns that the devastating 2015 earthquake in the country caused the peak to shrink.

It is the first time the country has sent its own government-appointed team to conduct a survey of the world’s highest mountain.

Officially, Everest stands at 29,029ft – but this figure was calculated by an Indian team back in 1954. Since then its actual height has been widely debated.

China believes the mountain could be over ten feet shorter than the 1954 measurement while the US National Geographic Society believes it is actually over five foot higher.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015 cast further doubt on the Indian reading.

The severity of the quake – which left 3.5 million people homeless – is believed to have altered the height of some areas of Nepal by up to 30 feet, thanks to shifting tectonic plates.

The four Nepalis chosen to climb Everest have spent the past two years training for the climb.

Chief Survey Officer Khim Lal Gautam and Survey Officer Rabin Karki will ascend Everest, assisted by a group of Sherpas.

Once they successfully reach the summit they will use a new Global Navigation Satellite System that can send readings about its height to their two colleagues who will remain at base camp.

They believe the device will allow them to accurately measure the height of Everest to the centimetre, putting any uncertainty firmly to rest.

“It will not be easy to work in that terrain, but we are confident our mission will be successful,” said expedition leader Mr Gautam, who previously ascended the treacherous peak in 2011.

More than 5,000 people have scaled Everest since it was first climbed by the Kiwi mountaineer Edmund Hillary and his Indian-Nepali Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

However, the mountain is notoriously dangerous to climb and the last year without any fatalities was back in 1977.

Avalanches, falls and frostbite brought on by temperatures as low as -60C have all previously claimed the lives of experienced mountaineers.

My Two Girls Are Growing Up

Hi Folks, I know some of you like to keep up with my family, especially my two girls. Well, they are growing up faster than I would like or really prepared for – which is probably echoed by parents around the world. Sophia is now 7 yrs old and her hair is about as long as she is. Alexa just turned 11yrs and her pre-teen changes are both exciting and terrifying.

I am having to dig into the books (actually online) to understand the hormonal changes, which of course goes along with her physical changes. She is a beauty (of course every dad would say this) but she really really is…and her smarts are as sharp as her looks. (well, I guess every dad says this too). Uhh, I thought going through a Peer Review was herculean challenge.

I know some of you like to share gifts for them, so I will put a link below if you wish to. Sophia’s birthday was just a month ago, and Alexa’s is this week. If you have a specific gift you wish to present for either of them, just write it down in an email and I will make sure we get it for them.

Lots of news coming out related to charged particles and their influence on our solar system and of course our home Earth. As research commonly ensues, most of the current published papers reflect data collected over the past year, or at times few years, but then there are some new revelations which have occurred in the last few days and weeks.

Stay tuned for a few surprises and some that affirm our research….
Cheers, Mitch

 

My Schools Apex Fun Run is Back

Hi Everybody, It’s Alexa Battros and my little sister Sophia. Most of you know my dad Mitch Battros from his Science Of Cycles research. I’m his oldest daughter and I will be 11 yrs old next month. My sister turned 6 last month.

I’m participating in my school Hidden Forest Fun Run and I would love your support. My run event was canceled due to rain and is rescheduled for tomorrow Feb. 25th – so I’m hoping you can help right away.

I have a request… would you please pledge me a dollar amount per Lap? I will complete between 26 and 36 Laps, with 36 being the most. You can pledge $1, $3, $5 per Lap, or any other flat donation amount.

To make a pledge, just click here: Hidden Forest Fun Run . Donations will be used for my school’s Laptop Carts & Technology Improvements.

Thank you again for helping my cause!

Sincerely,
Alexa and Sophia Battros

A Thousand New Objects And Phenomena In Night Sky

Casual stargazers may look at the black area among stars and think that there’s nothing there except empty space. But the night sky hides many secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Less than a year into its mission, a sky-survey camera in Southern California shows just how full the sky is. The Zwicky Transient Facility, based at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, has identified over a thousand new objects and phenomena in the night sky, including more than 1,100 new supernovae and 50 near-Earth asteroids, as well as binary star systems and black holes. Operated by Caltech, the ZTF is a public-private partnership between the National Science Foundation and a consortium of nine other institutions around the globe, including the University of Washington. The ZTF collaboration’s six latest papers, which describe these discoveries as well as the ZTF’s data mining, sorting and alert systems, have been accepted for publication in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Eric Bellm, the ZTF survey scientist and a research assistant professor of astronomy at UW, is lead author on a paper describing the ZTF’s technical systems and major findings since the survey began on March 20, 2018. Maria Patterson, a data scientist formerly with the UW Department of Astronomy’s DIRAC Institute, is lead author on another paper describing the ZTF’s alert system for notifying science teams of possible new objects in the sky or significant changes to existing objects.

“The ZTF mission is to identify changes in the night sky and alert the astronomical field of these discoveries as quickly as possible,” said Bellm, who is also a fellow with the DIRAC Institute. “The results and specifications reported in these six papers demonstrate that the ZTF has in place a pipeline to identify new objects, as well as analyze and disseminate information about them quickly to the astronomy community.”

Science teams need quick alerts so that they could, if needed, arrange for follow-up observations of individual objects by other observatories, Bellm added.

The ZTF accomplishes its survey goals through a digital camera, consisting of 16 charge-coupled devices, mounted to the 48-inch-aperture Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar. A single image from the camera covers an area about 240 times the size of the moon; in just one night, the ZTF could image the entire night sky visible from the Northern Hemisphere. So far, the ZTF camera has imaged more than 1 billion stars in our galaxy alone. By comparing new images to old, the ZTF can identify objects that are new, such as a supernova lighting up for the first time, or changes to existing objects, such as a star brightening in luminosity.

The ZTF undertakes surveys for public agencies such as the National Science Foundation, as well as private entities. The sheer volume of data generated by the ZTF necessitated a new approach to data analysis and alerts, according to Bellm.

“Every image that the ZTF takes contributes to at least one survey,” said Bellm. “We needed to put an automated alert system in place that would inform the relevant survey teams — in near-real time — of every potential change or new object that the ZTF would uncover, which could be more than a million in a single night.” Patterson, Bellm and other UW scientists — including Mario Juric, associate professor of astronomy and senior data fellow with the eScience Institute — led the effort within the ZTF to craft the automated alert system. They utilized two open-source technologies: Kafka, a real-time data-streaming platform, and Avro, a framework to serialize data for transmission and storage. The completed alert system, which was first deployed in June 2018, has successfully generated and distributed up to 1.2 million ZTF alerts each night — with each alert going out to survey teams approximately 10 seconds after it was automatically generated.

“Through these alert systems, the ZTF is sharing every change it finds with our survey partners,” said Bellm. “They are receiving every bit of data.”

Survey partners, in turn, are experimenting with machine-learning classification systems and other analysis tools to sort through the alerts. The ZTF’s alert system is a proving ground for future “automated, time-domain astronomy” missions such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, said Bellm. The LSST, which is expected to begin its sky surveys in 2022, should generate about 10 million alerts per night, which is about 10 times the maximum alert volume of the ZTF. But the ZTF alert system could form the basis of a scaled-up alert pipeline for the LSST, according to Bellm.

“We are very pleased with the opportunities that the ZTF mission has provided us,” said Bellm. “It is reassuring to know that we have the tools at hand today that are useful not only for ongoing surveys at the ZTF, but also future missions like the LSST.”

Scientists Find Increase In Asteroid Impacts On Ancient Earth By Studying The Moon

An international team of scientists is challenging our understanding of a part of Earth’s history by looking at the Moon, the most complete and accessible chronicle of the asteroid collisions that carved our solar system.

In a study published today in Science, the team shows the number of asteroid impacts on the Moon and Earth increased by two to three times starting around 290 million years ago.

“Our research provides evidence for a dramatic change in the rate of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon that occurred around the end of the Paleozoic era,” said lead author Sara Mazrouei, who recently earned her PhD in the Department of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto (U of T). “The implication is that since that time we have been in a period of relatively high rate of asteroid impacts that is 2.6 times higher than it was prior to 290 million years ago.”

It had been previously assumed that most of Earth’s older craters produced by asteroid impacts have been erased by erosion and other geologic processes. But the new research shows otherwise.

“The relative rarity of large craters on Earth older than 290 million years and younger than 650 million years is not because we lost the craters, but because the impact rate during that time was lower than it is now,” said Rebecca Ghent, an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Earth Sciences and one of the paper’s co-authors. “We expect this to be of interest to anyone interested in the impact history of both Earth and the Moon, and the role that it might have played in the history of life on Earth.”

Scientists have for decades tried to understand the rate that asteroids hit Earth by using radiometric dating of the rocks around them to determine their ages. But because it was believed erosion caused some craters to disappear, it was difficult to find an accurate impact rate and determine whether it had changed over time.

A way to sidestep this problem is to examine the Moon, which is hit by asteroids in the same proportions over time as Earth. But there was no way to determine the ages of lunar craters until NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) started circling the Moon a decade ago and studying its surface.

“The LRO’s instruments have allowed scientists to peer back in time at the forces that shaped the Moon,” said Noah Petro, an LRO project scientist based at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Using LRO data, the team was able to assemble a list of ages of all lunar craters younger than about a billion years. They did this by using data from LRO’s Diviner instrument, a radiometer that measures the heat radiating from the Moon’s surface, to monitor the rate of degradation of young craters.

During the lunar night, rocks radiate much more heat than fine-grained soil called regolith. This allows scientists to distinguish rocks from fine particles in thermal images. Ghent had previously used this information to calculate the rate at which large rocks around the Moon’s young craters — ejected onto the surface during asteroid impact — break down into soil as a result of a constant rain of tiny meteorites over tens of millions of years. By applying this idea, the team was able to calculate ages for previously un-dated lunar craters.

When compared to a similar timeline of Earth’s craters, they found the two bodies had recorded the same history of asteroid bombardment.

“It became clear that the reason why Earth has fewer older craters on its most stable regions is because the impact rate was lower up until about 290 million years ago,” said William Bottke, an asteroid expert at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado and another of the paper’s coauthors. “The answer to Earth’s impact rate was staring everyone right in the face.”

The reason for the jump in the impact rate is unknown, though the researchers speculate it might be related to large collisions taking place more than 300 million years ago in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Such events can create debris that can reach the inner solar system.

Ghent and her colleagues found strong supporting evidence for their findings through a collaboration with Thomas Gernon, an Earth scientist based at the University of Southampton in England who works on a terrestrial feature called kimberlite pipes. These underground pipes are long-extinct volcanoes that stretch, in a carrot shape, a couple of kilometers below the surface, and are found on some of the least eroded regions of Earth in the same places preserved impact craters are found.

“The Canadian shield hosts some of the best-preserved and best-studied of this terrain — and also some of the best-studied large impact craters,” said Mazrouei.

Gernon showed that kimberlite pipes formed since about 650 million years ago had not experienced much erosion, indicating that the large impact craters younger than this on stable terrains must also be intact.

“This is how we know those craters represent a near-complete record,” Ghent said.

While the researchers weren’t the first to propose that the rate of asteroid strikes to Earth has fluctuated over the past billion years, they are the first to show it statistically and to quantify the rate.

“The findings may also have implications for the history of life on Earth, which is punctuated by extinction events and rapid evolution of new species,” said Ghent. “Though the forces driving these events are complicated and may include other geologic causes, such as large volcanic eruptions, combined with biological factors, asteroid impacts have surely played a role in this ongoing saga.

“The question is whether the predicted change in asteroid impacts can be directly linked to events that occurred long ago on Earth.”

The findings are described in the study “Earth and Moon impact flux increased at the end of the Paleozoic,” published in Science. Support for the research was provided by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, and the Natural Environment Research Council of the United Kingdom.