Come on Down to the Carnival of Space
Every week, the work of a hardy band of science writers, specializing mostly in space and astronomy topics, is featured in a roving blog entry called “The Carnival of Space.” We all take turns hosting it, highlighting the writings of 16 of us spacey scriveners. This week, the Carnival is playing out over at The Next Big Future blog. Check it out! You never know what you’re going to learn as you surf the cosmic midway at the Carnival!
On the mountain where I live, we’ve been getting blasted with snow off and on the past week or so. It’s the last gasp of winter, even as we’re truly into spring. While the snow is much-needed (it’s very dry here and the specter of forest fires is looming already this year), it means that we don’t get to see much of the Sun, so I turn to my online solar sources for some virtual sunlight.
Two sites I visit pretty regularly are the STEREO mission Web pages and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) web pages. These two space-borne missions are studying our star and sending back some really spectacular images of its busy surface and atmosphere.
The next couple of years should be exciting times for solar observers, as the Sun moves into its period of maximum activity. We’ve already seen some pretty spectacular outbursts, and there’s more to come.
Even though we evolved in the light of the Sun, and despite the fact most life on Earth thrives on heat and warmth from this nearby star — and despite the great knowledge we have about the Sun — there’s still much to be explained about its behavior, its evolution, and its eventual demise.
Yet, that demise is billions of years in the future — what concerns many of us is the Sun of today.
Missions like STEREO and SDO tell us a great deal about the Sun’s activities, and help us understand its influence on our part of the solar system. The Sun and Earth are linked together not just as star and planet, but as members of a coupled geomagnetic system. The solar wind (that stream of charged particles that continually blows from the Sun), tangles with the magnetic field of our planet. The stronger the solar wind, the stronger our magnetic field reacts.
The local effects are sometimes no more than a beautiful display of northern or southern lights. But sometimes, the Sun’s belches affect technology on Earth.
Understanding the Sun is important in the grand scheme of human concerns. It warms us, but it can also take away our telecommunications and electricity.
So, marvel in the Sun. Enjoy its light. Revel in the fact that it keeps life going even as it poses a threat to our planet with its fiery outbursts.
And, remember that we’re still learning many new things about our nearest star every day.