Press Release: THE ANGRY SUN: STEREO AND HINODE WATCH EXPLOSIONS IN THE SOLAR CORONA - ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE
EMBARGOED FOR 00:01 BST, TUESDAY 17 APRIL 2007
Ref.: PN 07/10 (NAM 06)
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Although the Sun is a benevolent provider of warmth and comfort, it also has a very angry side. Solar outbursts cause inclement space weather that sometimes wrecks havoc on technological systems on which our society is progressively more dependent. In a plenary talk on Tuesday 17 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston, Dr James Klimchuk of the Naval Research Laboratory in the USA will present the latest results from the STEREO and Hinode spacecraft, two missions that have been studying the Sun for the last few months.
STEREO is a NASA-led mission with substantial participation by scientists from the UK and other European countries. It consists of two spacecraft watching the Sun from different vantage points, that will eventually allow astronomers look at the whole of the region between the Sun and the Earth for the first time and eventually allow them to construct 3D images of the Sun. Hinode is a Japanese mission with collaboration from scientists in the US and UK. It orbits the Earth in a path that gives the probe a continuous view of the Sun.
One of the key objectives of the two missions is to study solar outbursts. These involve the sudden release of energy stored in the magnetic fields of the corona, the hot material that makes up the outer atmosphere of the Sun. The smallest events or nanoflares heat the corona to a temperature of millions of degrees and cause the emission of X-ray and ultra-violet radiation that changes the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The largest Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are spectacular and can cause storms in the Earth's magnetic field.
Together, STEREO and Hinode give astronomers the ability to watch CMEs all the way from the Sun to the Earth. Scientists can watch their evolution as they interact with the outflow of particles from the Sun (the solar wind) en-route to our planet. CMEs are the most dramatic 'space weather' events and can cause damage to technological systems such as power grids and communication and navigation networks. The severity of the impact of a CME depends on how it changes as it makes the journey across the inner Solar system and the new missions allow astronomers to better understand how these outbursts evolve.
Dr James Klimchuk
Space Science Division
Naval Research Laboratory
From 16 to 18 April, Dr Klimchuk can be contacted via the NAM press office (see above).
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The 2007 RAS National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the University of Central Lancashire. It is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.
This year the NAM is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings. 2007 is International Heliophysical Year.
Images will be posted on the NAM website at www.nam2007.uclan.ac.uk/press.php
Figure 1 (http://www.nam2007.uclan.ac.uk/press/images/klimchuk_1.png
The eruption of a coronal mass ejection (CME) - a billion tons of magnetized plasma traveling through space at a million kilometers per hour - seen from one of the coronograph instruments on the STEREO mission, launched 25 October 2006. An occulting disk (black) blocks out the intense solar surface (indicated by the white circle), much like the Moon does during a total solar eclipse.
Figure 2 (http://www.nam2007.uclan.ac.uk/press/images/klimchuk_2.png
A coronal mass ejection (CME) reaching halfway from the Sun to the Earth, shown in a composite image from the 5 different telescopes of the SECCHI instrument package on the STEREO mission. Previous CME observations were limited to the vicinity of the Sun (square section at left), but we can now track CMEs all the way to the Earth, where they cause damaging space weather. The picture is grainy because CMEs are extremely faint far from the Sun - a million billion times fainter than the solar surface (a one followed by 15 zeros)! This is darker than the darkest night sky. Mercury and Venus can be seen at the bottom left of the image.
RAS-NAM 2007 "...the UK's premier meeting for the astronomy, solar system and space science
Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, RAS President, October 2006
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