Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

More on the Solar Storm

September 29, 2011

There are some pictures of the active region at as well as some information here and here.

I hope they don’t mind if I use this picture, but I thought it was interesting.

See how small the Earth is compared to a sunspot.

Here is a picture of the whole region.

And a warning.

That region is pretty feisty, and the odds of us getting more flares from those spots are pretty good. The Sun’s rotation is currently taking them toward the center of the disk, where a good sized explosion is then directed toward us, and particle waves from the blast can then interact more efficiently with our magnetic field. We may be getting aurorae from them, and if things go well that’s all we’ll get! A big blast can damage satellites, and even put astronauts on the ISS at risk. We on the ground are pretty safe, since the Earth’s air absorbs the radiation — that’s why we have to launch satellites like SDO into space, so they can detect that energy in the first place!

However, a big blast can shake the Earth’s magnetic field, inducing a current in the ground that can actually overload power lines. We can get blackouts from such things, and it’s happened before. This is a real problem that can do millions or even billions of dollars of infrastructure damage (including money in the economy lost during the blackout). I know a lot of solar physicists are concerned about this eventuality, and are trying to get both the power companies and the government to take it seriously. I hope they do. We’re still approaching the peak of the solar cycle sometime in mid-2013 or so, and flares like the one Saturday will most likely be more common.

Although, I am actually glad the Sun is getting more active. There were practically no sunspots during the period known as the Maunder Minimum, from 1645-1715, which coincided with the Little Ice Age. This last solar cycle, the Sun seemed to be a little too quiet and there was some speculation that we might be entering into another minimum.

Here is a chart of sunspot activity over the last few centuries. It is probably a better indicator of global climate changes than human carbon emissions, but don’t tell Al Gore that.



Diamond Planet

August 25, 2011
A model of a neutron star's internal structure

Image via Wikipedia

This is really cool. Astronomers have discovered a planet made largely of carbon that happens to be fairly dense. What form of carbon is fairly dense, diamonds. So, evidently this is a planet with a crystalline structure.

The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon — i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun,” said Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne

A neutron star is a stellar remnant that is very massive but very small so it is very, very dense. A star twice as massive as our sun compressed down to about the size of a city.

Pulsars are tiny, dead neutron stars that are only around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in diameter and spin hundreds of times a second, emitting beams of radiation.

In the case of pulsar J1719-1438, the beams regularly sweep the Earth and have been monitored by telescopes in Australia, Britain and Hawaii, allowing astronomers to detect modulations due to the gravitational pull of its unseen companion planet.

The measurements suggest the planet, which orbits its star every two hours and 10 minutes, has slightly more mass than Jupiter but is 20 times as dense, Bailes and colleagues reported in the journal Science on Thursday.

It would be wonderful to send a probe to this planet to get some pictures but it is too far away, about 8000 light-years away. Too bad.


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