Learn More About Space Weather
Below are some educational tools and multimedia web resources that explain space weather and basic magnetospheric physics, including the aurora and radiation belts. Our team would love to give interactive presentations at your school or educational event, please contact us!
UCLA Planeterrella Aurora Simulator: Space Weather in the Classroom
The Planeterrella is a new public outreach tool that models the Sun-Earth connection in miniature, demonstrating the amazing auroral lights up close. Two magnetized spheres in a vacuum chamber represent the Sun and Earth, and a high voltage power supply simulates electricity flowing in the solar wind. In reality, the solar wind and Earth's magnetic field are invisible and can only be observed with specially equipped spacecraft, like THEMIS/ARTEMIS, that measure electrical and magnetic fields. Fortunately, the rarefied gas (plasma) in our model glows pink/purple so we can see how it is influenced by the magnetic fields in each sphere, much like the solar wind connecting the Sun and Earth.
The charged gas forms a ring around the north pole of the larger sphere, similar to the "auroral ring" that forms around the magnetic poles of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn. The small sphere can also be modeled as Earth, with a "donut" of charged particles trapped around the equator, similar to the Van Allen Radiation Belts. These and other effects of the solar wind on Earth's magnetic shield, or magnetosphere, are collectively known as "space weather," which is important to study since powerful solar storms can damage critical satellites and even disrupt the global power grid.
We can demonstrate the Planeterrella and the basic electric/magnetic principles of space weather for your class or education event! Please contact us by email or call 310-206-6627.
Space Weather Documentaries
Space weather is the concept of changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space or the space from the Sun's atmosphere to the Earth's atmosphere. It is distinct from the concept of weather within the Earth's planetary atmosphere (troposphere and stratosphere). Space weather is the description of changes in the ambient plasma, magnetic fields, radiation and other matter in space. Much of space weather is driven by energy carried through interplanetary space by the solar wind from regions near the surface of the Sun and the Sun's atmosphere.
Here Comes Solar Maximum: Solar Activity, Sunspots and CME
Solar storms and Northern Lights are in the offing as the sun approaches Solar Max, expected in mid-to-late 2013. Recently, Earth's defenses were tested by a volley of strong eruptions. Find out what happened in this week's explosive ScienceCast.
Electric Earth (SpaceRip)
A high quality production by the SpaceRip Youtube channel featuring NASA and ESA content formatted in easy to digest segments, with stunning aurora footage from space and impressive animations of the Earth's magnetosphere. This insightful video explains how our planet is electromagnetic in nature, from the core to the upper atmosphere to the nearby space environment, where electric currents and magnetic fields interact with the solar wind.
Magnetic Storm: Earth's Invisible Shield (NOVA)
Like the plot of a sci-fi B movie, something weird is happening deep underground where the constant spin of Earth's liquid metallic core generates an invisible magnetic force field that shields our planet from harmful radiation in space. Gradually, the field is growing weaker. Could we be heading for a demagnetized doomsday that will leave us defenseless against the lethal effects of solar wind and cosmic rays? "Magnetic Storm" looks into our potentially unsettling magnetic future.
Attack of the Sun
We are getting better at reading the sun's flareups, waves, and spots that emerge on its surface, but our technological society has exposed us as never before to the sun's angry moods. In 2003 we received a wakeup call around Halloween, a truly scary chain of events took over our solar system. 93 million miles away, the sun began to vent its rage. On Earth, the Halloween storms produced some of the most spectacular auroras ever seen at the north and south poles. They also brought jolts of electricity that caused power outages and affected electrical grids across the globe, disrupted airline navigation, and damaged 28 communication satellites.
The Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Radiation Belts
THEMIS: Magnetic Reconnection
What causes the shimmering, ethereal Northern Lights to suddenly brighten and dance in a spectacular burst of colorful light and rapid movement? To find out, NASA launched a fleet of five satellites called THEMIS, the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms. Researchers have discovered that an explosion of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon powers substorms, sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the aurora borealis, called the Northern Lights. The culprit turns out to be magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly "snap" to a new shape, like a rubber band that's been stretched too far.
Official sites: NASA ~ UCLA ~ Center for Science Education THEMIS Public Outreach Website
ARTEMIS: Journey to the Moon
As the Moon orbits the Earth, it passes in and out of the Earth's magnetic field and the million-mile per hour stream of particles emitted by the Sun known as the solar wind. While in these regions, the two ARTEMIS spacecraft will seek evidence for turbulence, particle acceleration, and magnetic reconnection, three fundamental phenomena that control the nature of the solar wind's interaction with the Earth's magnetosphere. Employing their full complement of instruments and unique two-point vantage points, the spacecraft will study the vacuum the Moon carves out in the solar wind, and the processes that eventually fill this lunar wake. Nearer the Moon, they will observe the effects of surface electric fields, ions sputtered off the lunar surface, and determine the internal structure of the Moon from transient variations in its magnetic field induced by external changes.
Official sites: NASA ~ UCLA ~ Center for Science Education ARTEMIS Public Outreach Website
Aurora: The Sun-Earth Connection
Future Mission Collaborations
Hidden Magnetic Portals: NASA MMS Mission
A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal"--an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed... It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them. "We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away." Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. Official site: http://mms.gsfc.nasa.gov/
The Van Allen Probes (formerly RBSP)
Most spacecraft try to avoid the Van Allen Belts, two doughnut-shaped regions around Earth filled with "killer electrons." This morning NASA launched two heavily-shielded spacecraft directly into the belts. The Radiation Belt Storm Probes are on a two-year mission to study the Van Allen Belts and to unravel the mystery of their unpredictability. RBSP will coordinate measurements with THEMIS/ARTEMIS and CLUSTER satellite constellations as part of the Great Heliophysics Observatory.
ADDITIONAL WEB RESOURCES
Up-to-date news and information about the Sun-Earth environment, including the latest solar activity, real-time solar wind parameters, aurora alerts, satellite tracking, and aurora/solar/astrophotography from all over the world.
The Aurora Page:
The Aurora Page was created by Michael Dolan at Michigan Tech and celebrates the meteorological phenomenon commonly known as the Northern Lights. For those who may not be familiar with this phenomenon, it is a natural light display that tends to happen in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the thermosphere. On the site's homepage, visitors can view a nice collection of aurora-related links culled from organizations such as NOAA, Johns Hopkins University, and NASA. Moving on, the Images area contains hundreds of high-quality photographs taken all over the world. Also, visitors who are interested in building their own automated aurora detection system will appreciate the link that provides detailed instructions for completing such a project. The site is rounded out by a collection of websites related to space exploration and astronomy.
Physics of the Aurora In-Depth Tutorial (UCAR, COMET)
This is a comprehensive overview of the physical principles of space weather, specifically the behavior of the solar wind and charged particles in Earth's magnetic field, or magnetosphere. Helpful animations and step-by-step calculations explain the behavior of vast electrical flows surrounding our planet, where invisible electromagnetic forces create the Van Allen radiation belts and the dazzling auroral lights. For grades 9-12+.
SEDS is an independent, student-based organization which promotes the exploration and development of space. SEDS believes in a space-faring civilization and that focusing the enthusiasm of young people is the key to our future in space.