Archive for Solar Activity

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission: Studying magnetic fields around the Earth

By looking close to home, NASA’s newest mission with provide a window to the universe.

  • The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission was created to study how magnetic fields around Earth interact with activity from the sun.
  • The Earth has a magnetic field like a bar magnetic that is generated by its spinning liquid metal core.
  • The magnetic field forms an invisible bubble around the Earth.
  • Explosive activity on the sun hurls its own magnetic field and plasma into space. When that stuff is thrown our way it interacts with
    Earth’s magnetic fields releasing energy. This is what leads to aurora.

What Is Magnetic Reconnection?

Like stretched rubber bands, magnetic fields store energy that is released when the fields lines realign – explosively accelerating particles to nearly the speed of light.

This process of energy release from magnetic fields is called magnetic reconnection. Studying and understanding this fundamental process is the main purpose of MMS. This process creates interesting phenomena both near and far on objects with magnetic fields. It causes eruptions on the sun, it releases energy from matter disks around black holes and neutron stars into space, it even happens at the boundaries of the giant bubble surrounding the solar system, letting in charged particles from the rest of the galaxy.

How would you like to understand a fundamental process happening throughout the universe? You can – MMS will unlock the answers on a small-scale using Earth as a laboratory. Scientists will share these discovers with us then we too will understand the process that happens on small and big scales, happening from close to home to the farthest reaches of the universe.

MMS LAUNCHES March 12, 2015

The MMS mission uses four identical spacecraft to provide the first ever three-dimensional view of gigantic explosions in space that release energy and fast-moving particles, the process called magnetic reconnection.

MMS in 30 Seconds

The Amazing and Beautiful Results of Magnetic Reconnection

 

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A Solar Flare

 

Magnetic reconnection catalyzes aurora at Earth and solar flares and CMEs on the sun.

Magnetic Reconnection and Space Weather

Magnetic reconnection is also one of the most important drivers of space weather events, which can affect:
• communications networks
• GPS navigation
• electrical power grids
• satellite computers in space
• astronaut health

Magnetic reconnection is fundamentally the source of all space weather near Earth. It initiates solar flares and coronal mass ejections on the sun and is the process that allows energy from those explosions to cross the boundaries of the protective bubble around Earth – the magnetosphere — into near Earth space. Space weather can disrupt electronics on board spacecraft, affect GPS signals and lead to communications blackouts on Earth. Understanding space weather and what initiates it will also be crucial for protecting the health of astronauts journeying to Mars.

Magnetic Reconnection Near Earth

MMS will travel through two known areas of reconnection near Earth: on the dayside where magnetic fields from the sun connect to Earth’s fields and on the night side where Earth’s own fields can reconnect with each other.

Why Four Spacecraft?

There are four spacecraft in order to get three-dimensional science information. Four spacecraft also give MMS the necessary observational perspectives to determine whether reconnection events occur in an isolated locale, everywhere within a larger region at once, or traveling across space.
Each spacecraft can be thought of as the point of a triangular pyramid, or tetrahedron. As the tetrahedron flies through space, it can measure the three-dimensional properties of magnetic reconnection regions. The separation distances will vary depending on the orbit and can be changed as the mission progresses. The inter-spacecraft distance can be made to be as large as 250 miles (400 km) to as small as 6 miles (10 km).

The MMS flight configuration. credit: NASA

The MMS flight configuration. credit: NASA

Building Four Spacecraft Isn’t Easy

Major Engineering Feat

The four MMS spacecraft were built simultaneously at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center over the course of five years – a feat that required extraordinary coordination.
Over 1000 people have worked on it. The MMS spacecraft will fly through reconnection regions in well under a second, so key sensors were built to take measurements 100 times faster than any previous mission.
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11 Scientific Experiments

The instruments measure energies of charged particles, the movement of plasma, and electric and magnetic fields. Each MMS observatory carries 11 scientific experiments, made up of 25 separate sensors. The instruments will measure energies of charged particles, the movement of plasma, and electric and magnetic fields, with unprecedentedly high – on the order of milliseconds — time resolution and accuracy. An early engineering feat was simply determining how to place all 25 sensors so they wouldn’t interfere with each other or block each other’s view.

MMS Science Instrument Locations, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mms/spacecraft/mms-instruments.html

MMS Science Instrument Locations, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mms/spacecraft/mms-instruments.html

The numerous MMS instruments are divided into three investigations or groups:

In addition, an Instrument Control group contains the spacecraft instrument electronics.

Details can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mms/spacecraft/instruments.html.

Unprecedented Speed

Imagine flying by the Grand Canyon in 0.03 seconds – less time than it takes to blink an eye – and having to record what you see.
That’s what MMS must do. It flies through reconnection regions just a mile across at speeds of 30-60 miles a second. Many of the instruments aboard MMS have unprecedentedly high – on the order of milliseconds — time resolution and accuracy.

Imagine a structure that is the size of the Grand Canyon moving past you in the blink of an eye. You would need instruments that could capture that data in less than  0.03 seconds and in 3D. credit: LANDSAT/NASA

Imagine a structure that is the size of the Grand Canyon moving past you in the blink of an eye. You would need instruments that could capture that data in less than 0.03 seconds and in 3D. credit: LANDSAT/NASA

Getting to Space

• Launch scheduled for March 12, 2015
• Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
• Launch vehicle: ATLAS V 421

NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are processed for launch in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that will provide the first three-dimensional views of a process known as magnetic reconnection. Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are processed for launch in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that will provide the first three-dimensional views of a process known as magnetic reconnection.
Image Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (AFPN) -- An Atlas V rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 41 here Jan 19 on a nine-year mission to explore the planet Pluto and the edge of the solar system. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (AFPN) — An Atlas V rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 41 here Jan 19 on a nine-year mission to explore the planet Pluto and the edge of the solar system. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Launch and Deploy

MMS in Space

The spacecraft orbits will be controlled with an onboard propulsion system that uses 12 thrusters to adjust the orbit of each spacecraft. The spacecraft are tracked and commanded from a control center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

One way that NASA will track the MMS fleet is through highly accurate and sensitive GPS receivers. They must be incredibly sensitive because the MMS orbit places it above the GPS constellation at times, so the MMS GPS receiver must lock onto GPS signals that arrive from the other side of Earth.

Artist conception of the four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft investigating magnetic reconnection within Earth's magnetic field (magnetosphere). Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Artist conception of the four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft investigating magnetic reconnection within Earth’s magnetic field (magnetosphere). Credit: Southwest Research Institute

STAY TUNED: More to come after MMS launch on March 12, 2015

For in-depth prelaunch, countdown and launch day coverage of the liftoff of MMS, visit:

http://go.nasa.gov/1AB6JUb

For NASA TV schedules and video streaming information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

For more information about the MMS mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mms

 

A Big Spot Coming into View

The active region on the southeast limb has now been designated as AR12192. This region has already produced several M and many C-class flares. Philippe Tosi of Nîmes, France, took this photograph of AR12192 on Oct. 18, 2014.

Philippe Tosi of Nîmes, France, took this photograph of AR12192 on Oct. 18, 2014 credit: Philippe Tosi shared at spaceweather.com

Philippe Tosi of Nîmes, France, took this photograph of AR12192 on Oct. 18, 2014 credit: Philippe Tosi shared at spaceweather.com

The animated gif below shows the region rotating onto the disk as observed by NASA’s SDO spacecraft. The image at the center is a visible light image from the HMI instrument. The images are overtop of the AIA 171 angstrom wavelength channel. This makes a halo around the HMI images. The AIA images show 600,000 Kelvin plasma which traces out magnetic loops.

2014-10-18 18_12_04

The image below is also from SDO/HMI. The 3 active regions, including AR12192, are labeled. The leading 1 is left off of the numbers. Circles at the bottom right show the relative sizes of Earth and Jupiter for a better sense of scale.

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credit: NASA/SDO/Philippe Tosi/spaceweather.com

Current Solar Rumblings and Valentine’s Day Aurora

A whole lot of spots going on!

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We no longer have the rumbling region AR11967 but the solar disk is covered with smaller regions and AR11974 is sitting at disk center popping of lots of small and medium-sized flares. It produced 4 M-flares in the last 24 hours. The flares are M1.7 (03:22 UT) and M1.8 (16:34 UT) on Feb. 11 and M3.7 (03:52 UT) and M2.3 (06:54 UT) on Feb. 12.

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The region is 10+ Earths across as shown in this SDO/HMI visible light image.

2014_02_12_05_15_26_HMI_Int__HMI_Mag

Looking at the same area with the SDO/HMI magnetogram data, the region shows some magnetic complexity and should continue to give us moderate activity with the potential for M5 or greater flaring.

Enhanced aurora at high latitudes on February 14 and 15?

Multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs) were observed over the past day. Two CMEs on Feb. 11 from an M1 flare and filament eruption have a potential arrival at Earth mid to late day on 14 Feb. An initial analysis of a halo CME associated with the M3.7 flare gave an estimated speed of ~740 km/s with an approximate arrival time at Earth early on February 15. Only minor geomagnetic activity with a G1 storm at most is expected but that could give high latitude aurora watchers a treat over the weekend.

credit: NASA/SDO/helioviewer/NOAA/solarmonitor.org

AR11967 Still Remains Moderately Active

Karzaman-Ahmad-2014-02-03_03-25-35_Final1_1391404488

AR11967 taken by Karzaman Ahmad on February 3, 2014 at Langkawi National Observatory, Malaysia

The level of solar activity is moderate. NOAA region 11967 continues to be the largest and most complex active region on disk. This region would engulf Jupiter and several Earths all at once. This region has maintained spot area and decreased marginally in number of spots over the past 24 hours. The region was the source of the largest flare in the past 24 hours, an M1.3 on 5-Feb-2014 at 16:11 UT. Further M-class activity is possible, with a good chance for another flare above the M5 level.

This GOES X-ray flux plot contains 5 minute averages of solar X-ray output over the last 3 days.

Xray (1)

GOES X-ray flux in 5 minute averages.

credit: NOAA/GOES/spaceweather.com/Karzaman Ahmad/Max Millennium Chief Observer

Solar Eruption from AR11893 (Updated)

Peak of solar flare in the SDO/AIA 171, 193 and 131 angstrom channels

Peak of solar flare in the SDO/AIA 171, 193 and 131 angstrom channels

11 UT (11/19/2013) – Sunspot group AR11893 erupted producing a X1 solar flare peaking at 10:26 UT, Nov. 19, 2013.

X1 solar flare from AR11893 peaking at 10:26 UT, Nov. 19, 2013 (GOES 1 minute data)

X1 solar flare from AR11893 peaking at 10:26 UT, Nov. 19, 2013 (GOES 1 minute data)

X1 solar flare from AR11893 peaking at 10:26 UT, Nov. 19, 2013 (GOES 5 minute data)

X1 solar flare from AR11893 peaking at 10:26 UT, Nov. 19, 2013 (GOES 5 minute data)

A 10 cm radio burst associated with the solar flare was observed at 10:20 UT. This radio noise is generally short-lived but can cause interference for sensitive receivers including radar, GPS, and satellite communications.

A potential impact of the solar flare is a wide area blackout of HF (high frequency) radio communication for about an hour on large portions of the sunlit side of Earth, strongest at the sub-solar point. A radio blackout alert, scale: R3 – Strong, was issued by NOAA.

A Type II radio burst was also observed starting at 10:24 UT. Type II emissions occur in association with eruptions on the sun and typically indicate a coronal mass ejection is associated with a flare event. The estimated speed is 1049 km/s UT.

credit: NASA/SDO/helioviewer/NOAA

Aurora Ahead? – Filament Eruption with an Earth-directed CME

There may be a geomagnetic storm in store for Earth. Lookout aurora watchers!

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A filament ~50 Earths in length (~400,000 miles) erupted from the Sun’s southern hemisphere in the southwest direction around 7:24 UT (4:24 am EDT).

The eruption produced a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME,  traveling ~915 km/s or ~2 million mph. Here is a look at the CME in the SOHO/LASCO C2 instrument with Earth for scale. The sun is shown with a composite image of SDO 304 and 193 angstrom wavelength cameras.

2013_08_20_12_18_43_AIA_304__AIA_193__LASCO_C2

The next two images show snapshots of the CME in composite images with SDO and SOHO/LASCO C2/C3. The first frame is at 8:48 UT and the second one is at ~13:30 UT both on 8/20/2013. The bright object on the right in C3 (blue image) is Mercury and Regulus on the left.

2013_08_20_11_03_05_AIA_304__AIA_193__LASCO_C3__LASCO_C2

2013_08_20_11_18_05_AIA_304__AIA_193__LASCO_C3__LASCO_C2

NASA SWRC simulations indicate the CME leading edge will reach Earth on 8/22/2013 around 23:11 UT (7:11 pm EDT) +-7 hours. It could produce a minor geomagnetic storm along with aurora visible at higher latitudes.

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credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO/SDO and helioviewer

Filament Eruption Sends CME Headed Towards STEREO Ahead and Mars

A filament erupted on the backside of the sun and was observed by the EUVI instrument on the STEREO Ahead spacecraft.

STEREO Ahead observes an erupting filament with the EUVI 195 angstrom camera.

STEREO Ahead observes an erupting filament with the EUVI 195 angstrom camera.

The eruption produced a CME detected by STEREO-A COR2, STEREO-B COR2 and SOHO LASCO C3 around 19:24 UT, May 26, 2013. NASA GSFC Space Weather Research Center estimated the speed at ~879 km/s.

These three images show a coronal mass ejection, or CME, erupting into space on May 26, 2013. The pictures were captured by the ESA/NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory with its coronagraph, which blocks out the bright light of the sun to better see its dimmer atmosphere, the corona. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO

These three images show a coronal mass ejection, or CME, erupting into space on May 26, 2013. The pictures were captured by the ESA/NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory with its coronagraph, which blocks out the bright light of the sun to better see its dimmer atmosphere, the corona. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News052613-cme.html)

Based on computer modeling by the NASA GSFC Space Weather Research Center, it is estimated that the CME may impact Mars and STEREO A. Simulations indicate that the leading edge of the CME will reach Mars at 16:27 UT (+- 7 hours) on May 30, 2013 and STEREO A at 11:08 UT (+- 7 hours) on May 29, 2013. Spacecraft operators are aware of the event.

 

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credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO, NASA/STEREO and NASA/SWRC

A Little Flare and some geomagnetic activity April 23, 2012

At 17:40 UT, the Sun produced a C2 solar flare with a radio burst and a SCORE-C CMENASA Goddard Space Weather Center predicts it will reach Earth 4/27/2012 at 5:49 UT with only minor impact. Currently, there is a small geomagnetic storm underway so those at high latitudes have a chance for Aurorae.

It Just Won’t Quit! More from AR11429!

 

Sunspot group or active region AR11429 has almost rotated out of view but it still had enough energy to release an M7.9 X-ray solar flare, a fast coronal mass ejection (CME) and a solar energetic particle event (SEP). A geomagnetic storm due to a glancing blow from the CME is expected early March 15, 2012.

Sunspot group AR11429 has been busy on its ~2 week journey across the Sun. It has produced many solar flares (including 1 of the biggest of the current solar cycle), coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar energetic particles (SEPs). As of March 14, 2012, it has almost rotated out of the view of Earth but on March 13, 2012 the region erupted producing a flare, CME and SEP. The flare, an M7.9 X-ray event, peaked at 17:41 UT.

The resulting CME was first observed in the SOHO/LASCO C2 coronagraph at 17:36 UT, the STEREO Behind Cor2 coronagraph at 17:55 UT and the SOHO/LASCO C3 coronagraph at 17:56 UT.

The first observations of the CME in LASCO C2, Cor2B and LASCO C3. 

 

An increase in energetic protons, indicating the start of a SEP event, was recorded by the GOES particle monitors at 18:10 UT.

The CME had an initial estimated speed of 2250 km/s. Forecasters at the NASA Space Weather Center ran computer a computer model indicating that the flank of the CME will reach Earth at about 6:20 UT (2:20 AM EDT), March 15, 2012 (plus minus 7 hours).

This might result in a minor/moderate geomagnetic storm. The estimated maximum Kp index is 4-6. High latitude aurora watchers should keep a look out for a light show.

The eruption also produced solar radio bursts caused by the flare and the CME.

More Geomagnetic Storms Predicted for March 11, 2012

 

 

CMEs are on their way to us! Estimated impact is March 11, 2012 around 2-3 PM EDT. High latitude aurora watchers keep lookout the night of March 11, 2012.

On March 10, 2012, the sun produced 1 C-class flare and 2 M-class flares along with 2 Earth directed coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The first flare was a C8 long-duration X-ray blast that peaked at 15:52 UTC (10:52 AM EST) from sunspot group AR11430. This active region is just West (to the right) of the recently busy sunspot group AR11429. AR11429 then produced 2 M-class X-ray flares. An M5.4 and an M8.4 peaking at 17:27 UT (12:27 PM EST)  and 17:44 UT (12:44 PM EST) respectively.

Figure 1: The 3 flares (C8, M5.4 and M8.4) are seen on the solar disk by SDO with arrows pointing to the corresponding peaks in the X-ray seen by the GOES X-ray monitor.

Figure 1 shows a trace of the X-ray flares recorded by the GOES X-ray monitor. Images above that plot show the flares labeled in the 131 Angstrom wavelength camera from the SDO spacecraft with arrows from the flare on the Sun to the corresponding peak in the GOES trace. The times on the SDO images do not correspond exactly to the GOES plots because the peak emission in the 131 Angstrom wavelength (extreme ultraviolet) is usually slightly after the peak emission in X-rays.

Radio bursts were observed during the M8.4 flare. The amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft in New Mexico recorded a series of radio bursts from the flare in the 21 and 28 MHz radio bands. Figure 2 shows a dynamic spectrum plot (a range of radio frequencies over time) from the flare. You can listen to an audio recording of the radio burst from the audio player below the image of the dynamic spectrum.

Figure 2: Dynamic spectrum courtesy Wes Greenman, Alachua County, Florida and spaceweather.com (Click the player below to play the audio file)


The radio burst, called a type IV radio sweep,  was caused by solar flare accelerated electrons moving around magnetic field in AR11429. Ashcraft noted, “There is incredible complexity in the waveforms. This is a recording of one of the most turbulent events in all of Nature!”

Along with the C8 flare, AR11430 produced a slow Earthward directed CME, first seen in LASCO C2 at 16:24 UT, traveling around 600 km/s. A faster CME traveling at 1400 km/s was observed in LASCO C2 at 18:09 UT and was associated with the M flares from AR11429.

 

Figure 3: The 2 CMEs from the March 10, 2012 eruptions seen by the SOHO LASCO/C2 coronagraph. The first panel shows the slower CME form AR11430 and the second panel shows the faster CME from AR11429 coming up behind the slower CME from earlier. Both CMEs are slightly off to the right (West) of center but they are at least partially Earth directed.

The NASA Space Weather Center produced a computer model showing the CMEs traveling basically as magnetized cloud towards Earth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf9TF-uoi1M

The 2 CMEs will reach Earth at about 2012-03-12 18:03 UT (2:03 PM EDT) (plus minus 7 hours) which might result in a moderate/strong geomagnetic storm. The estimated maximum Kp index is 5-7 (please note this is a rough estimate).

Our own Dr. Ryan Milligan of Queen’s Univerisity Belfast and the Max Millennium Observing group is reporting that the complexity and size of sunspot group AR11429 remains largely unchanged indicating that the likelihood of more M-class flares is high.

Figure 4: Sunspot group NOAA AR11429 has remained largely unchanged over the past day indicating potential for continued M-class flare activity.