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Last Post 21 Oct 2010 06:57 AM by  Mitzi Adams
discovering the Sun - (ten questions)
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20 Oct 2010 02:43 AM
    Greetings from Romania!


    We are an enthusiastic group of students from 11th I grade in Tudor Vianu National High School of Computer Science, Bucharest, Romania. We are really delighted to take part in this outstanding project and we strongly consider that this opportunity enhanced our knowledge in science. Moreover, we have learnt many new and interesting facts about the Sun.

    We would like to ask several questions about Sun:

    1. What kind of data can be implied about the inside of the Sun by analyzing the disturbances at its surface?



    2. How can the enormous differences of temperature at the surface of the Sun be explained?





    3. What kind of protection is there required in order to safely explore and study the emissions and radiations of the Sun?



    4. How long will it take until we will be able, with the future equipment, to discover the Sun's surface in detail, having no distance restrictions?



    5. As we saw in the study about the bee's and the dog's sight, the Sun can determine various species to adapt differently to light, for instance. Besides this, are there major differences between men and animals, caused only by the Sun?



    6. Is the study of the Sun one of the most important objectives of the scientists at this moment? Why or why not?



    7. Did the interactions between solar storms and the magnetosphere influence the evolution of life on Earth? If yes, how?



    8. How can the energy from a solar storm stay intact long enough to reach Earth and beyond? (Shouldn’t the energy disperse by the time it reaches them?)



    9. How come when Saturn and Jupiter are on the same side of the Sun huge solar storms happen?



    10. How come there are no sunspots near the Sun’s poles? Does this have anything to do with magnetic effects? Is there any way current technology can help us learn more about this or other exotic sun-related phenomena?



    Thank you very much.

    Tags: Jupiter, animals, Saturn, solar storms, temperature, Space Weather, Sun, core, future, surface, radiation, emissions, poles, magnetism, safe, protection, magnetospher, space travel, technology, Climate, Mass Extinctions


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    Posts:390
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    20 Oct 2010 02:59 PM

    Greetings from Iowa!

    Wow! Your class asked a lot of very interesting questions. The Solar Week scientists all have different areas of expertise, so I will answer the questions I think I know the best. Hopefully, some of the other scientists will answer the rest of your questions.

    Is the study of the Sun one of the most important objectives of the scientists at this moment? Why or why not?

    I think that understanding our Sun is a very important goal for NASA and the European Space Agency. Solar variability may affect Earth's climate in ways we do not yet understand. Space weather, such as solar flares, solar proton events, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and geomagnetic storms can affect the technology we use every day. It is important that we learn more about how to protect communications, electrical power systems, and navigation systems from the effects of space weather.

    Did the interactions between solar storms and the magnetosphere influence the evolution of life on Earth? If yes, how?

    Scientists are still trying to understand how the Sun's variability affects life on Earth. Geological records suggest that throughout the history of our planet, there have been several mass extinction events that wiped out many different species. Perhaps the most famous mass extinction is the one that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous and beginning of the Tertiary geological ages, called the K/T boundary. The extinction of more than 70% of the species on Earth, including the dinosaurs, has been linked to a possible impact of an asteroid or comet 65 million years ago at Chicxulub, Mexico. However, there have also been other mass extinction events. Some of these other mass extinction events may have been caused by asteroid or comet impacts, just like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Others may have been associated with massive volcanic eruptions or a nearby supernova. The Sun could also have caused mass extinctions. Research on other stars similar to our Sun suggests that the Sun could produce rare "superflares" that are millions of times more intense than the largest flares in recorded history. Scientists have hypothesized that a solar event like this could destroy the ozone layer that protects us from harmful UV radiation and cause a mass extinction, but we really don't know for sure if this has ever happened. Periodic variations in the Sun could also affect our climate and life on Earth, but the link is not well understood and is a little controversal. However, we do know that a time period with very low solar activity, called the Maunder minimum, from 1645-1715, was associated with a "Little Ice Age."

    How can the energy from a solar storm stay intact long enough to reach Earth and beyond? (Shouldn’t the energy disperse by the time it reaches them?)

    The solar wind is "blowing" all the time, and it carries a tremendous amount of energy in its magnetic fields and particles. The energy transported by the solar wind and eruptions like coronal mass ejections (CMEs) does spread out over a larger volume and become weaker as the solar wind and the CMEs travel outwards from the Sun. However, the amount of energy carried by the solar wind and CMEs is so huge that it still affects a vast region of space. We call the region of space surrounding our solar system that is influenced by the Sun and the solar wind the "heliosphere." The weak remnants of CMEs have been observed as far away from the Sun as the termination shock, which is the boundary between our Sun's heliosphere and the interstellar medium, at about 90 to 100 AU away from the Sun. Earth is only 1 AU from the Sun, so we see rather strong effects from CMEs on our magnetosphere when they are directed at us. However, by the time a CME reaches Jupiter, it is a lot weaker and the CME's effects on Jupiter's magnetosphere are much less pronounced than they were at Earth. Even though CMEs have some effect on Jupiter's magnetosphere, the main process governing the aurora at Jupiter is the plasma torus produced by Jupiter's moon Io.

    Kris



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    Posts:55
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    20 Oct 2010 04:42 PM
    Hi, These are great questions! I only attempt to answer your question number 1. I believe your question is saying: what can we learn about inside the Sun by analyzing the disturbances at its surface? We can learn about the density, temperature, circulation and rotation inside the Sun. The particular research field is called Helioseismology. Recently, scientists working on Helioseismology also developed new techniques that can find out the magnetic field inside the Sun, and they can now 'see' a sunspot with strong magnetic active region inside the Sun before it emerges to the surface of the Sun, and make predictions of the new sunspot emergence, even at the far side of the Sun where we cannot directly observe using a conventional telescope, believed or not! Yan


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    Posts:151
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    20 Oct 2010 05:12 PM
    2.)The Sun's visible surface the photosphere is "only" about 5,800 K (10,000 degrees F). Just above the photosphere is a thin layer called the chromosphere which has a temperature of about 10,000 K. The name chromosphere is derived from the word chromos, the Greek word for color. It can be detected in red hydrogen-alpha light meaning that it appears bright red. Above the surface is a region of hot plasma called the corona. The corona is about 2 million K (3.6 million degrees F), much hotter than the visible surface, and it is even hotter in a flare. Why the atmosphere gets so hot has been a mystery for decades. Scientists are still working on this one;> 10.)The magnetic field at the poles is substantially different from that at the Sun's equator. At the equator, the magnetic field lines generally do not stray far from the surface. They come out from one point in the surface and go back in again not far away, forming loops. Sunspots are found at the bases of really strong loops. At the poles, however, the magnetic field lines go out to far distances away from the Sun. If they go back again at all, it's far away from where they came out. Sunspots can't form under these conditions.


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    Posts:151
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    20 Oct 2010 05:14 PM
    Somehow I lost my other response to question 10) The magnetic field at the poles is substantially different from that at the Sun's equator. At the equator, the magnetic field lines generally do not stray far from the surface. They come out from one point in the surface and go back in again not far away, forming loops. Sunspots are found at the bases of really strong loops. At the poles, however, the magnetic field lines go out to far distances away from the Sun. If they go back again at all, it's far away from where they came out. Sunspots can't form under these conditions.


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    Posts:75
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    21 Oct 2010 06:57 AM

    Greetings from Huntsville, Alabama!

    I was in your country in 1999, for a total solar eclipse. Our group went to Rimnicu Valcea. My one regret is that I did not stay longer to see more of Romania; it is a beautiful country. I will tackle a few of your questions...they are great ones, by the way.

    1. What kind of data can be implied about the inside of the Sun by analyzing the disturbances at its surface?

    There is a field of study, called helioseismology, that analyzes the oscillations of the surface to infer conditions in the interior. It essentially works in the same manner as seismology on Earth. My colleague, Dr. David Hathaway, has written a web page that you might find interesting. On this page, he includes links to movies that illustrate how one can use the surface distrbances to learn more about the Sun. He refers to the GONG network, which is the Global Oscillation Network Group. You will find a link to GONG as well.

    http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/H...logy.shtml

    2. How can the enormous differences of temperature at the surface of the Sun be explained?

    The surface of the Sun, the photosphere, is essentially at one temperature, approximately 6000 Kelvin. However, sunspots are approximately 2/3 that value and are cooler because their strong magnetic fields suppress convection from below. As one travels higher into the solar atmosphere, things get interesting. The temperature in the chromosphere actually increases, reaching a maximum of approximately 20,000 Kelvin. Then higher into the corona, the temperature reaches millions of degrees! This increase in temperature, as one moves farther away from the energy source (fusion reactions in the core of the Sun), is indeed counter-intuitive and remains an unsolved mystery. One explanation is that nano-flares or micro-flares heat the corona through magnetic reconnection, but the theorists calculate that there's not enough energy. Waves can explain some of the heating, but as of today, no one theory has been able to account for the temperature changes through the solar atmosphere.

    4. How long will it take until we will be able, with the future equipment, to discover the Sun's surface in detail, having no distance restrictions?

    Our instrumentation continues to improve, giving us better and better resolution of the Sun. For example, the solar probe Hinode has one arcsec pixels, which means that we can resolve features that are about 725 km. SOHO's MDI, an older mission, has 1.25 arcsec pixels. The next generation of instruments will attempt even better resolution. A new mission, called Solar Probe, will actually fly into the solar corona! You can find a description here: http://solarprobe.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    Another of my colleagues, Dr. Jonathan Cirtain, has recorded a bit about this mission here: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/vide...d=19197261


    You might find this interesting: http://eo.nso.edu/. Toward the bottom of the page, are links to classroom research activities.

    Cheers,

    Mitzi Adams

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