Tag Archives: astrophysics

A Few Reasons Why Tomorrow Might Be A Bit of a Strange Day…

Tomorrow will not be your ordinary Friday. For starters, tomorrow is the 13th, making tomorrow a Friday the 13th.

There will also be a full moon in the sky when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The last time that happened? October 13, 2000. The next time it will happen? August 13, 2049.

I’m not one for superstitions, but there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. Our sun has been shooting off powerful solar flares the last few days, including this one captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory early Tuesday morning:

Three recent solar X-flares emitted by the Sun. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NASA/SDO)

Solar flares are brief, high-radiation eruptions that happen on the surface of the Sun. The three flares emitted in the past two days (pictured above) have been X-flares, the most powerful classification of solar flare. X-flares emit radiation at virtually every wavelength, from radio waves, to the light we can see, to x-rays and gamma rays.

Because of all of the different electromagnetic waves that the flares emit, they can disrupt communications here on Earth. In fact, the flare in the video above caused a temporary radio blackout here on Earth, according to Space.com.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

Did I mention CMEs? CME stands for coronal mass ejection. This occurs when a powerful solar flare emits a plasma burst along with the radiation. A plasma burst can cause polar geomagnetic storms which are capable of severely disrupting communications and satellite systems, including GPS.

Along with having the potential to cause low levels of radiation poisoning in humans, a strong CME would also create surges in electrical wires, destroying transformers and leaving millions without power.

Despite the scary stuff, CME’s are pretty fascinating. These plasma burst clouds actually compresses Earth’s own magnetic field, which is what causes so many of the potential issues.

Artist depiction of how a CME plasma burst interacts with Earth’s magnetoshpere (Courtesy of NASA)

At first, officials at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center didn’t think that the flare in the video above had emitted a CME, only to find later that it had actually produced two of them.

They are expected to give Earth a glancing blow when they reach Earth orbit…tomorrow, Friday the 13th.


Mind-Blowing Video: What Don’t You See When You Look at the Sun?

The Sun is composed of a number of different compounds and elements which exist at different temperatures and therefore emit radiation with different wavelengths (this is explained in more depth below the video).

All of the light we see with our eyes is electromagnetic radiation that falls within the “visible spectrum”, meaning that the photons, or light particles, have a wavelength between 400 and 700 nanometers (a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter).

The range of wavelengths within the sun in 250-2500 nanometers. This video shows you all of the the other forms of radiation that our eyes can’t see.

Since all photons travel at the speed of light (roughly 30million m/s or 670,616,629mph), a photon with a longer wavelength must have a shorter frequency (how many waves pass a point in a given time).

For example, imagine you have two waves traveling past a line you have drawn: one wave that has a wavelength of one meter and another that has a wavelength of two meters. If they travel at the same speed, two of the one-meter waves will pass your line in the time it takes one full two-meter wave to pass it, so we say the shorter one has twice the frequency. In fact, multiplying the wavelength and frequency of any photon will give you the speed of light.

Frequency and temperature are directly proportional so different materials release photons with different frequencies, depending on how hot the material is. Here’s a great chart that shows the relationships between wavelength, frequency and temperature. Click to see full size.

For more information, visit the project’s page on NASA’s website by clicking the image below.