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NJIT is at the Forefront of Solar Storm Research

11/15/2013 04:00PM

NJIT is at the Forefront of Solar Storm Research

The devastation of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina were very painful reminders of our vulnerability to violent terrestrial weather. According to Dean L. Maskevich of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), we are equally at risk, perhaps even more so, from another type of natural threat whose source is some 93 million miles away -- the Sun. While the star closest to Earth sustains all life on our planet, it also generates roiling interplanetary weather that can endanger and overwhelm our vital infrastructure. For more than a decade, NJIT has considerably expanded a range of unique solar research initiatives at its Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research, Big Bear Solar Observatory in California, and, in conjunction with California Institute of Technology (CalTech), the Owens Valley Solar Array.


Comments:

  • pmlevine [Philip Levine]
  • 11/16/2013 07:21AM
Hi Guy,<br>Your excellent article regarding solar storm research is "stellar". I can't think of another area of astronomy where scientific research is more important, both from a practical solar storm early warning system, to basic physics particle research. As many others have expressed, the Sun can truly be an astronomy "Rosetta Stone".<br>A most enjoyable read, thanks.<br>Philip Levine
Philip:<br><br>Thanks for the kind words.<br><br>I completely agree with your assessment of the importance of solar storm research and I am glad to see that NJIT and other universities worldwide are working on trying to better understand the subject.<br><br>Reading about the solar storm event of 1859 makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up... Literally. <br><br>If that 1859 event occurred today, billions of delicate semiconductor devices worldwide that we rely on everyday would get fried.<br><br>We only know about this particular 1859 solar storm because of the effect it had on the primitive electrical devices of the time (telegraph wires, for example). Who knows how many hundreds of times these types of powerful solar events occurred before the 1800s? Our ancestors before the 1800s would have been completely oblivious to them and there would be no historical record of the frequency of these events since electricity and electrical devices only started being used in the mid-1800s.<br><br>The point I want to make is that we have no idea how often these powerful solar storms occur. As far as we know, they could happen once every 100 to 200 years -- We just don't know. The scary thing is that we have no way of predicting them and we have no way of protecting our delicate electronics. If a solar storm can start a fire in a telegraph office in 1859, imagine what it could do to the electronics that control a nuclear reactor today? Or the electronics that control the engines in a jet airliner in flight? Or the computers at the Federal Reserve and the NYSE?<br><br>Everyone is concerned about the long term effects of global warming (which I agree needs to be better understood). But how about making a more concerted effort in trying to better understand this type of possible solar catastrophe that could knock out civilization as we know it in a day? <br><br>Kind of scary. And yet not much is being done about it.<br><br>BTW - If you are interested, for more info on the 1859 solar storm, see my news item from a couple of years ago:<br><br>http://www.astromart.com/news/news.asp?news_id=1194<br><br>Here's an excerpt: "An 1859 solar storm known as the "Carrington Event" was named after astronomer Richard Carrington, who observed the solar flare that caused a great deal of the havoc. The solar flare electrified transmission cables, set fires in telegraph offices, and produced Northern Lights so bright that people could read newspapers by their red and green glow."<br><br>Thanks,<br><br>Guy Pirro<br><br><br><blockquote class="blockquote"><div class="italic"><i>Philip Levine said:</i><br><br>Hi Guy,<br>Your excellent article regarding solar storm research is "stellar". I can't think of another area of astronomy where scientific research is more important, both from a practical solar storm early warning system, to basic physics particle research. As many others have expressed, the Sun can truly be an astronomy "Rosetta Stone".<br>A most enjoyable read, thanks.<br>Philip Levine</div></blockquote>


At 6758+ feet the elevation of the observatory is closer to 7000 feet than it is to 6000 feet. Also the jetty on which the observatory sits extends only about 700+ feet South from the North shore, so it's not "in the middle" of the lake either, though it may feel like it is when you're there.

Thanks Guy for promoting space weather awareness!! I have been involved with space weather outreach for two years, and I work with the NASA THEMIS-ARTEMIS mission at UCLA. I'm proud to say we are part of a comprehensive multinational effort to not only track and predict the impacts of these storms, but to continue elucidating the mechanisms of the sun-Earth connection. And yes, we do collaborate with NJIT! <img class='' src='http://new.astromart.com/astromart/javascripts/sceditor/emoticons/wink.png' alt='wink' title='wink'/> <br><br>Just wanted to share, I wrote the press release of our latest finding, published in 9/27 journal Science, which shows for the first time two immense waves of electromagnetic energy moving through Earth's magnetic field. <br><br>http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/lunar-orbiters-discover-source-247774.aspx<br><br>This energy comes from the solar wind which is periodically trapped and released in giant bursts within our magnetosphere. Until our dual lunar orbiter mission ARTEMIS, no one had enough satellites to see the big picture of this massive energy release that powers the aurora and fills our radiation belts. The amount of energy in this frequent yet transient event is mind-boggling, it is fortunate only a minute amount of this ever gets close to us (in the auroras) but our astronauts and space infrastructure are not nearly so lucky... <br><br>The critical part to understand is that all of this potentially hazardous near-Earth energy conversion is invisible to us humans (save for our fleet of heliophysics satellites), and so I try to clarify to the public that the Sun's role is important but that solar storms are only half of the story. To fully understand the impact of the solar wind on humanity, and how it's electric and magnetic field components interact with the magnetosphere, radiation belts and the aurora, we must rely on near-earth resources (including worldwide ground magnetometers and all-sky cameras used by the THEMIS mission and collaborators). Our department also studies solar wind impacts at magnetospheres around Jupiter and Saturn, which inform our understanding of Earth and even sun-planet interactions in distant solar systems, amazing stuff!<br><br>For more info on our missions you can visit our sites: themis.igpp.ucla.edu, and artemis.igpp.ucla.edu.<br><br>I also have some really cool space weather outreach videos on our group page at esp.igpp.ucla.edu/outreach.html, and I also frequently check spaceweather.com for the latest findings and amazing photographs. <br><br>Cheers and hope this dud of a solar maximum doesn't turn out to be a lull before the megastorm...<br><br>Best,<br><br>-Emmanuel<br>
<br>Emmanuel:<br><br>Thank you for your post on the wonderful work you and your colleagues are doing at UCLA and the heads-up to your recent Press Release.<br><br>It looks like I have a great news item to add to AstroMart News next week.<br><br>Thanks,<br><br>Guy<br><br><br><br><blockquote class="blockquote"><div class="italic"><i>Emmanuel Masongsong said:</i><br><br>Thanks Guy for promoting space weather awareness!! I have been involved with space weather outreach for two years, and I work with the NASA THEMIS-ARTEMIS mission at UCLA. I'm proud to say we are part of a comprehensive multinational effort to not only track and predict the impacts of these storms, but to continue elucidating the mechanisms of the sun-Earth connection. And yes, we do collaborate with NJIT! <img class='' src='http://new.astromart.com/astromart/javascripts/sceditor/emoticons/wink.png' alt='wink' title='wink'/> <br><br>Just wanted to share, I wrote the press release of our latest finding, published in 9/27 journal Science, which shows for the first time two immense waves of electromagnetic energy moving through Earth's magnetic field. <br><br>http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/lunar-orbiters-discover-source-247774.aspx<br><br>This energy comes from the solar wind which is periodically trapped and released in giant bursts within our magnetosphere. Until our dual lunar orbiter mission ARTEMIS, no one had enough satellites to see the big picture of this massive energy release that powers the aurora and fills our radiation belts. The amount of energy in this frequent yet transient event is mind-boggling, it is fortunate only a minute amount of this ever gets close to us (in the auroras) but our astronauts and space infrastructure are not nearly so lucky... <br><br>The critical part to understand is that all of this potentially hazardous near-Earth energy conversion is invisible to us humans (save for our fleet of heliophysics satellites), and so I try to clarify to the public that the Sun's role is important but that solar storms are only half of the story. To fully understand the impact of the solar wind on humanity, and how it's electric and magnetic field components interact with the magnetosphere, radiation belts and the aurora, we must rely on near-earth resources (including worldwide ground magnetometers and all-sky cameras used by the THEMIS mission and collaborators). Our department also studies solar wind impacts at magnetospheres around Jupiter and Saturn, which inform our understanding of Earth and even sun-planet interactions in distant solar systems, amazing stuff!<br><br>For more info on our missions you can visit our sites: themis.igpp.ucla.edu, and artemis.igpp.ucla.edu.<br><br>I also have some really cool space weather outreach videos on our group page at esp.igpp.ucla.edu/outreach.html, and I also frequently check spaceweather.com for the latest findings and amazing photographs. <br><br>Cheers and hope this dud of a solar maximum doesn't turn out to be a lull before the megastorm...<br><br>Best,<br><br>-Emmanuel<br></div></blockquote>