Tuesday November 12, 2019

Britain may face the loss of the Magic and Beauty of Northern Lights by 2050: Study

Solar wind is made up of electrically charged particles from the Sun, and travels at around a million miles per hour

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Northern Lights, Wikimedia

London, Feb 2, 2017: Britain may face the loss of the magic and beauty of the Northern Lights by the middle of the century due to major shifts in solar activity, scientists have discovered.

Space scientists at University of Reading in the UK have concluded that plummeting solar activity will shrink the overall size of the Sun’s atmosphere by a third and weaken its protective influence and nurture on the Earth in a recent study.

There is a possibility that this could make the Earth more vulnerable to technology-destroying solar blasts and cancer-causing cosmic radiation. It can also make the aurora less common away from the north and south polar regions for 50 years or more.

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According to Matthew Owen, the leader of the Research program from Reading’s Meteorology department, “The magnetic activity of the sun ebbs and flows in predictable cycles, but there is also evidence that it is due to plummet, possibly by the largest amount for 300 years.”

“If so, the Northern Lights phenomenon would become a natural show exclusive to the polar regions, due to a lack of solar wind forces that often make it visible at lower latitudes,” Owens added.

Owens also mentioned, “As the Sun becomes less active, sunspots and coronal ejections will become less frequent. However, if a mass ejection did hit the Earth, it could be even more damaging to the electronic devices on which society is now so dependent.”

The study has shown how sunspot records can be utilised to reconstruct what happened the last time the Earth went through such a dramatic dip in solar activity nearly three centuries ago.

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With the help of updated models and contemporary reports, the researchers were able to predict what could possibly happen during another similar event which is likely to occur in the next few decades.

According to the scientists associated with the program, the coming grand minimum could be similar to the Maunder Minimum of the 17th century, when sun spot activity almost stopped; another symptom of a less active Sun.

Solar wind is made up of electrically charged particles from the Sun, and travels at around a million miles per hour.

A reduction in solar wind would see the heliosphere, the bubble-like configuration around the solar system maintained by particles emitted by the Sun, shrink significantly. This protective bubble helps in shielding and protecting the Earth from harmful radiation from outer space, but it has weakened since the 1950s.

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The prediction of the scientists mentions a rapid reduction in the size of the bubble by around the middle of the 21st century. The own magnetic field of the earth deflects some of this radiation, but areas close to the north and the pole regions are more vulnerable where the Earth’s magnetic field is weakest.

“If the decline in sunspots continues at this rate, and data from the past suggests that it will, we could see these changes occurring as early as the next few decades,” Professor Mike Lockwood from University of Reading informed.

This study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

-PTI

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

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NASA Probe Provides Insight on Solar System’s Distinct Boundary

Several research papers published Monday provided scientific details of that crossing

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NASA, Solar System, Boundary
Data from the NASA spacecraft Voyager 2 has helped further characterize the structure of the heliosphere — the wind sock-shaped region created by the sun's wind as it extends to the boundary of the solar system, as depicted in this image released by NASA. VOA

The journey of NASA’s dauntless Voyager 2 spacecraft through our solar system’s farthest reaches has given scientists new insight into a poorly understood distant frontier: the unexpectedly distinct boundary marking where the sun’s energetic influence ends and interstellar space begins.

The U.S. space agency previously announced that Voyager 2, the second human-made object ever to depart the solar system following its twin Voyager 1, had zipped into interstellar space on Nov. 5, 2018, at a point more than 11 billion miles (17.7 billion km) from the sun. Several research papers published Monday provided scientific details of that crossing.

Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched in 1977, designed for five-year missions. Voyager 1 left the solar system at a different location in 2012. Both are now traversing the Milky Way galaxy’s interstellar medium, a chillier region filling the vast expanses between the galaxy’s stars and planetary systems.

The solar wind — the unending flow of charged particles emanating from the outer atmosphere of the sun — creates an immense protective bubble called the heliosphere that envelopes the solar system. The boundary of the solar system — the place where the solar wind ends and interstellar space begins — is called the heliopause.

NASA, Solar System, Boundary
FILE – NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in space is shown in this artist’s rendering obtained from NASA in Washington, Dec. 10, 2018. VOA

‘Exciting time’

Voyager 2’s scientific instruments detected abrupt differences in plasma density and magnetic particles upon crossing the heliopause, the researchers said. The researchers said the heliopause appeared to be much thinner than expected.

Plasma — the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases — exists in the solar system as a soup of the charged particles beaming continuously outward from the sun and clashing with interstellar plasma that darts inward from other cosmic events like stellar explosions.

“This is a very exciting time for us,” California Institute of Technology physicist Edward Stone, project manager of the Voyager program, told reporters. “We will see a transition from the magnetic field inside to a different magnetic field outside, and we continue to have surprises compared to what we had expected.”

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The electromagnetic junction just outside the heliosphere was thought to be a deeper transitional place of intermingling cosmic weather, but Voyager 2’s plasma wave instrument — built by University of Iowa researchers — detected sharp jumps in plasma density, much like two different fluids coming into contact with one another.

“Think of a cold front that forms when a very cold air mass comes down to the U.S. from Canada,” said Don Gurnett, professor of physics at the University of Iowa. “Here we find a very hot plasma mass coming outward from the sun that encounters the cold plasma in the interstellar medium. It does not surprise me that a sharp boundary forms.”

Scientists are still trying to understand the nature of interstellar space wind and how much of it can seep through the heliopause to reach planets in our solar system.

“We also have galactic cosmic rays, which are out in the interstellar space trying to flow in,” Stone said, referring to the fast-moving, high-energy atomic particles whizzing around the universe. “And some of them, only about 30 percent of what’s outside, can actually reach Earth.”

NASA, Solar System, Boundary
The U.S. space agency previously announced that Voyager 2, the second human-made object ever to depart the solar system following its twin Voyager 1, had zipped into interstellar space. Pixabay

Voyager 2 entered the interstellar medium far beyond the orbit of Pluto at a spot about 120 times further from the sun than Earth’s orbit.

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The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy. (VOA)