All posts by Tom

The Big Question

It looks like question mark on the Sun; almost if asking will SpaceX launch Zuma in the next few days.

Update: It appears that the launch will be on Sunday 07 January between 20:00 and 22:00 EST / Monday 08 January between 00:00 and 02:00 UTC.

A launch in the next few days is the rumor. Reports have it that Space X did some testing on the pad, the sort of routine pre-launch testing the precedes every SpaceX launch.

These sorts of launches are usually live on-line but with very short notice, so we will wait and see.

My guess is Saturday afternoon/night, but it could be tonight too.  What’s really going on with the image of the Sun? Glad you asked:

Original caption:  Oddly enough, an elongated coronal hole (the darker area near the center) seems to shape itself into a single, recognizable question mark over the period of one day (Dec. 21-22, 2017). Coronal holes are areas of open magnetic field that appear darker in extreme ultraviolet light, as is seen here. These holes are the source of streaming plasma that we call solar wind. While this exercise is akin to seeing shapes in clouds, it is fun to consider what the sun might be asking? Perhaps what the new year will bring? Guess what I am going to do next?

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

MMS and Magnetic Reconnection

Here’s a glimpse into the realm of the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission.

The topics of magnetic reconnection and the magnetosphere get a fair amount of attention on the internet. The interest is with good reason, the more we become dependent on electronic devices and the benefits derived from them like say, the internet and access to it the more we need to learn what is really going on up there. Funny thing is, much of the interest is from the doom-mongers and conspiracy theorists playing on the risk.

So with thanks to NASA (and Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Tom Bridgman) here is a little bit on what we are learning:

First a short (12 sec) animation of just one electron in the magnetic reconnection region.

NASA — The space high above Earth may seem empty, but it’s a carnival packed with magnetic field lines and high-energy particles. This region is known as the magnetosphere and, every day, charged particles put on a show as they dart and dive through it. Like tiny tightrope walkers, the high-energy electrons follow the magnetic field lines. Sometimes, such as during an event called magnetic reconnection where the lines explosively collide, the particles are shot off their trajectories, as if they were fired from a cannon.

Since these acts can’t be seen by the naked eye, NASA uses specially designed instruments to capture the show. The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, is one such looking glass through which scientists can observe the invisible magnetic forces and pirouetting particles that can impact our technology on Earth. New research uses MMS data to improve understanding of how electrons move through this complex region — information that will help untangle how such particle acrobatics affect Earth.

Scientists with MMS have been watching the complex shows electrons put on around Earth and have noticed that electrons at the edge of the magnetosphere often move in rocking motions as they are accelerated. Finding these regions where electrons are accelerated is key to understanding one of the mysteries of the magnetosphere: How does the magnetic energy seething through the area get converted to kinetic energy — that is, the energy of particle motion. Such information is important to protect technology on Earth, since particles that have been accelerated to high energies can at their worst cause power grid outages and GPS communications dropouts.

New research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, found a novel way to help locate regions where electrons are accelerated. Until now, scientists looked at low-energy electrons to find these accelerations zones, but a group of scientists lead by Matthew Argall of the University of New Hampshire in Durham has shown it’s possible, and in fact easier, to identify these regions by watching high-energy electrons.

This research is only possible with the unique design of MMS, which uses four spacecraft flying in a tight tetrahedral formation to give high temporal and spatial resolution measurements of the magnetic reconnection region.

“We’re able to probe very small scales and this helps us to really pinpoint how energy is being converted through magnetic reconnection,” Argall said.

The results will make it easier for scientists to identify and study these regions, helping them explore the microphysics of magnetic reconnection and better understand electrons’ effects on Earth.

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

Hey if you can and the skies are good check out the Quadrantid meteor shower.

Look towards the Northeast and you should be able to see some activity. The Moon will probably obscure the shower by a large degree, so try early.

Dwarf Galaxy KISO 5639

A nice way to start the new year!

In this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, a firestorm of star birth is lighting up one end of the dwarf galaxy Kiso 5639.

Kiso 5639 is shaped like a pancake but, because it is tilted edge-on, it resembles a skyrocket, with a brilliant blazing head and a long, star-studded tail. Its appearance earns it a place in the “tadpole” class of galaxies.

The bright pink head is from the glow of hydrogen, lit up by the burst of new stars. The mass of these young stars equals about a million Suns. The stars are grouped into large clusters that formed less than a million years ago.

Stars consist mainly of hydrogen and helium, but cook up heavier elements such as oxygen and carbon. When the stars die, they release their heavy elements and enrich the surrounding gas. In Kiso 5639, the bright gas in the galaxy’s head is more deficient in heavy elements than the rest of the galaxy. Astronomers think that the latest star-formation event was triggered when the galaxy accreted primordial gas from its surroundings, since intergalactic space contains more pristine, hydrogen-rich gas.

Cavities in the gas are due to numerous supernova detonations – like bursts of fireworks in the sky – carving out holes of superheated gas.

The elongated tail, seen stretching away from the galaxy’s head and scattered with bright blue stars, contains at least four distinct star-forming regions. These stars appear to be older than those in the star-forming head.

Wispy filaments, comprising gas and some stars, extend from the main body of the cosmic tadpole.

The observations were taken in February 2015 and July 2015 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Kiso 5639 is 82 million light-years from us and its head is some 2700 light-years across.

Copyright NASA, ESA, D. Elmegreen (Vassar College), B. Elmegreen (IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center), J. Sánchez Almeida, C. Munoz-Tunon & M. Filho (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias), J. Mendez-Abreu (University of St Andrews), J. Gallagher (University of Wisconsin-Madison), M. Rafelski (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) & D. Ceverino (Center for Astronomy at Heidelberg University)

Landsat Look at B-44

You may remember the news of the huge ice berg that calved a few months ago in Antarctica called B-44. Now thanks to the southern sun and the Landsat 8 satellite we get a look at the area.

The polyna, although not the same reminded me of a phenomenon sometimes seen in larger freshwater lakes which is an internal seiche. A friend of mine ran a fish factory and had to deal with a seiche. Unlike what you may think of as a fish farm or fish hatchery you may visit and enjoy, this place was and is exactly like an industrial factory and is an all around horrible place. My friend only could take working there a short time and has moved on, but I do remember the headaches that seiche would cause.

Anyway, back to the topic, another fun fact about the image is that it was taken under the midnight sun. Here’s the original caption from NASA:
In September 2017, a new iceberg calved from Pine Island Glacier—one of the main outlets where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet flows into the ocean. Just weeks later, the berg named B-44 shattered into more than 20 fragments. On December 15, 2017, the Landsat 8 Earth-orbitng satellite took this image of the broken berg. An area of relatively warm water, known as a polyna, has kept the water ice free between the iceberg chunks and the glacier front. The polynya’s warm water could have caused the rapid breakup of B-44.

This image was acquired near midnight local time. Based on parameters including the azimuth of the Sun and its elevation above the horizon, as well as the length of the shadows, it is estimated that the iceberg rises about 49 meters above the water line. That would put the total thickness of the berg—above and below the water surface—at about 315 meters.

Image Credit: NASA

Moon Phases in 2018

A very interesting look at what the the moon phases in 2018 will look like in the northern hemisphere.

MORE IMPORTANTLY!!!! I want EVERYONE to be around to see every one of these moon phases. So, enjoy the celebrations to ring in the new year but PLEASE be safe out there!