Crazy Friday Science: Earth’s Magnetosphere

Direct from NASA — meet our Magnetosphere!

Ever see that movie with Nick Cage called Knowing?  Earth’s magnetosphere is the main premise of that movie, and its failure is the cause of the world’s destruction.  It’s not really that good when you realize that the aliens came to save the planet, which really turns the movie from a disaster movie (that I love) to something that has aliens saving us from ourselves.  Come on, aliens.  You really want Mitt Romney and John Boehner in your civilization?

Ha haa, I kid.  Nobody wants Mitt Romney and John Boehner in their civilizations…

From the video site:

Watch as this NASA animation shows the sun blasting out a giant explosion of magnetic energy called a coronal mass ejection and the Earth being shielded from this by its powerful magnetic field. The sun also continuously showers the Earth with light and radiation energy. Much of this solar energy is deflected by the Earth’s atmosphere or reflected back into space by clouds, ice and snow. What gets through becomes the energy that drives the Earth system, powering a remarkable planetary engine — the climate.

The unevenness of this solar heating, the cycles of day and night, and our seasons are part of what cause wind currents to circulate around the word. These winds drive surface ocean currents and in this animation you can view these currents flowing off the coast of Florida.

This animation connects for the first time a series of computer models. The view of the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field comes from the Luhmann-Friesen magnetic field model and two models that incorporated data from a real coronal mass ejection from the sun on December 2006.

NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) at Goddard Space Flight Center, a multi-agency partnership that provides information on space weather to the international research community, generated these two models. The ENLIL model is a time-dependent 3-D magnetohydrodynamic model of the heliosphere and shows changes in the particles flows and magnetic fields.
The BATS-R-US model is also a magnetohydrodynamic model of plasma from solar wind moving through the Earth’s magnetic dipole field. It uses measurements of solar wind density, velocity, temperature and magnetic field by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, which launched in August of 1997 and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), two satellites that view the structure and evolution of solar storms.

I hope this finds you well, world!  Happy Friday!

Remember That Huge Solar Storm We Just Had?

At the beginning of March 2012, we had a few days’ worth of pretty major solar activity — does anyone remember this?

This storm produced some pretty incredible Auroras Borealis and Australis for days before and after the big CME from the Sun.  CME means coronal mass ejection, which is a huge burst of solar wind that is powerful enough to push the bits of solar wind our direction.  Solar wind is a big gust of protons and electrons with very, very strong electrical charges.  Solar wind and coronal mass ejections are the things that the news and scientists talk about that might disrupt our power grids and kill our electronics.  All of these phenomena are called space weather — which tickles me silly and makes me giggle:

These massive bursts (CMEs) of charged particles plays hell on the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is a protective magnetic field that basically wind blocks the Earth from solar wind.  When the CMEs are very, very strong, the magnetosphere just gets sort of magnetically bent out of the way, causing havoc at the planet’s surface.  In the scary event of something like a nuclear war, a similar tactic is utilized to disable an enemy’s defenses and communication electronics — a nuclear weapon is detonated above the target country somewhere in the upper atmosphere, and the huge electromagnetic pulse fries anything that has a circuit board.  After that, the bombardment begins pretty much whenever chosen; the enemy can no longer see, hear, or talk electronically.

This is an excellent GIF of this phenomenon taken using the LASCO telescope — watch the bottom right quadrant of the image:

There are so many theories on why we’re seeing this activity in such magnitudes.  *deep breath* Could it be a coincidence of some kind of Mayan calendar thing, where the dark rift of the Milky Way is going to unleash a solar storm of magnitudes only seen by Nicolas Cage in Knowing?!  Who knows, probably not.  But I was so disappointed in that movie about this very same thing when the damned aliens showed up to “save the planet’s children.”  COME ON.  ALIENS?!  COME ON, NICK!

This is a video of the big X5.4 class solar flare that happened on March 7, 2012:

The beautiful thing is that if I’m wrong, who gives a poo, we’re all completely dead and vaporized from this world anyway, and probably with a quickness.  Really, is there anything to be afraid of?  it’s not like we’re going to know once it happens!  There are lots of websites out there that talk about all of our electrical grid being knocked out; now granted if that were to happen, we’re in quite a lot of trouble fo sho, but anything along the line of a super-mega-ultra-duper X-class flare that brought the heat and torched up our planet would just make us go away.  Solar wind travels somewhere in the neighborhood of hundreds of billions of miles per hour.  Do you think there’s anything that man can make that can protect us from something of that scale?

There is a theory about this thing called the Milky Way dark rift, too — the dark rift is the middle bit of the Milky Way that the earth passes through once every “age,” as it’s known to those who take stock in the study of Astrology.  Not tied to Astrology is what the dark rift actually is, which is a dense mass of charged particles and clouds that are very thick and full of stellar stuffs.  if you were to do some google searching on this phenomenon, you would come across some very end of the world websites and some “nah, calm the eff down” websites.  Really, everything we can track is speculation at this point, regardless of the fact that some of the smartest brains on Earth are studying this very phenomenon and that we have some very high tech but relatively primitive looking glasses in the skies above Earth.

From NASA on the subject of the Dark Rift, 2012 Alignment and Doomsday predictions:

One of the most bizarre theories about 2012 has built up with very little attention to facts. This idea holds that a cosmic alignment of the sun, Earth, the center of our galaxy — or perhaps the galaxy’s thick dust clouds — on the winter solstice could for some unknown reason lead to destruction. Such alignments can occur but these are a regular occurrence and can cause no harm (and, indeed, will not even be at its closest alignment during the 2012 solstice.)

The details are as follows: Viewed far from city lights, a glowing path called the Milky Way can be seen arching across the starry sky. This path is formed from the light of millions of stars we cannot see individually. It coincides with the mid plane of our galaxy, which is why our galaxy is also named the Milky Way.

Thick dust clouds also populate the galaxy. And while infrared telescopes can see them clearly, our eyes detect these dark clouds only as irregular patches where they dim or block the Milky Way’s faint glow. The most prominent dark lane stretches from the constellations Cygnus to Sagittarius and is often called the Great Rift, sometimes the Dark Rift.

Another impressive feature of our galaxy lies unseen in Sagittarius: the galactic center, about 28,000 light-years away, which hosts a black hole weighing some four million times the sun’s mass.

The claim for 2012 links these two pieces of astronomical fact with a third — the position of the sun near the galactic center on Dec. 21, the winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere — to produce something that makes no astronomical sense at all.

On the bright side (get it?), the images and video that have been captured from places like the International Space Station and in extreme latitudes of the Aurora Borealis (northern) and Aurora Australis (southern) have been absolutely unbelievable.  Seeing them on video just blows my mind, I cannot imagine how I’d feel if I could see one in real time!  Check some of these out, this stuff is absolutely amazing:

Aurora Borealis:

Aurora Australis:

Seriously, it is almost unexplainably beautiful:

Photo credit Giles Boutin

Photo credit Yuichi Takasawa

So who’s right and who’s wrong, here?  Who cares?!  This stuff is amazing and beautiful!

Thanks to HD Wallpapers, Wikipedia, Policy Mic, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, and Nicolas Cage, even though the end of Knowing sucked (but I still love you, Nick!)