Categories
ScienceDaily

Solar storm forecasts for Earth improved with help from the public

Solar storm analysis carried out by an army of citizen scientists has helped researchers devise a new and more accurate way of forecasting when Earth will be hit by harmful space weather. Scientists at the University of Reading added analysis carried out by members of the public to computer models designed to predict when coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — huge solar eruptions that are harmful to satellites and astronauts — will arrive at Earth.

The team found forecasts were 20% more accurate, and uncertainty was reduced by 15%, when incorporating information about the size and shape of the CMEs in the volunteer analysis. The data was captured by thousands of members of the public during the latest activity in the Solar Stormwatch citizen science project, which was devised by Reading researchers and has been running since 2010.

The findings support the inclusion of wide-field CME imaging cameras on board space weather monitoring missions currently being planned by agencies like NASA and ESA.

Dr Luke Barnard, space weather researcher at the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology, who led the study, said: “CMEs are sausage-shaped blobs made up of billions of tonnes of magnetised plasma that erupt from the Sun’s atmosphere at a million miles an hour. They are capable of damaging satellites, overloading power grids and exposing astronauts to harmful radiation.

“Predicting when they are on a collision course with Earth is therefore extremely important, but is made difficult by the fact the speed and direction of CMEs vary wildly and are affected by solar wind, and they constantly change shape as they travel through space.

“Solar storm forecasts are currently based on observations of CMEs as soon as they leave the Sun’s surface, meaning they come with a large degree of uncertainty. The volunteer data offered a second stage of observations at a point when the CME was more established, which gave a better idea of its shape and trajectory.

“The value of additional CME observations demonstrates how useful it would be to include cameras on board spacecraft in future space weather monitoring missions. More accurate predictions could help prevent catastrophic damage to our infrastructure and could even save lives.”

In the study, published in AGU Advances, the scientists used a brand new solar wind model, developed by Reading co-author Professor Mathew Owens, for the first time to create CME forecasts.

The simplified model is able to run up to 200 simulations — compared to around 20 currently used by more complex models — to provide improved estimates of the solar wind speed and its impact on the movement of CMEs, the most harmful of which can reach Earth in 15-18 hours.

Adding the public CME observations to the model’s predictions helped provide a clearer picture of the likely path the CME would take through space, reducing the uncertainty in the forecast. The new method could also be applied to other solar wind models.

The Solar Stormwatch project was led by Reading co-author Professor Chris Scott. It asked volunteers to trace the outline of thousands of past CMEs captured by Heliospheric Imagers — specialist, wide-angle cameras — on board two NASA STEREO spacecraft, which orbit the Sun and monitor the space between it and Earth.

The scientists retrospectively applied their new forecasting method to the same CMEs the volunteers had analysed to test how much more accurate their forecasts were with the additional observations.

Using the new method for future solar storm forecasts would require swift real-time analysis of the images captured by the spacecraft camera, which would provide warning of a CME being on course for Earth several hours or even days in advance of its arrival.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Reading. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Modern theory from ancient impacts

Around 4 billion years ago, the solar system was far less hospitable than we find it now. Many of the large bodies we know and love were present, but probably looked considerably different, especially the Earth. We know from a range of sources, including ancient meteorites and planetary geology, that around this time there were vastly more collisions between, and impacts from, asteroids originating in the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt.

Knowledge of these events is especially important to us, as the time period in question is not only when the surface of our planet was taking on a more recognizable form, but was also when life was just getting started. With more accurate details of Earth’s rocky history, it could help researchers answer some long-standing questions concerning the mechanisms responsible for life, as well as provide information for other areas of life science.

“Meteorites provide us with the earliest history of ourselves,” said Professor Yuji Sano from the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. “This is what fascinated me about them. By studying properties, such as radioactive decay products, of meteorites that fell to Earth, we can deduce when they came and where they came from. For this study we examined meteorites that came from Vesta, the second-largest asteroid after the dwarf planet Ceres.”

Sano and his team found evidence that Vesta was hit by multiple impacting bodies around 4.4 billion to 4.15 billion years ago. This is earlier than 3.9 billion years ago, which is when the late heavy bombardment (LHB) is thought to have occurred. Current evidence for the LHB comes from lunar rocks collected during the Apollo moon missions of the 1970s, as well as other sources. But these new studies are improving upon previous models and will pave the way for an up-to-date database of early solar impact records.

“That Vesta-origin meteorites clearly show us impacts earlier than the LHB raises the question, ‘Did the late heavy bombardment truly occur?'” said Sano. “It seems to us that early solar system impacts peaked sooner than the LHB and reduced smoothly with time. It may not have been the cataclysmic period of chaos that current models describe.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Tokyo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Theoretically, two layers are better than one for solar-cell efficiency

Solar cells have come a long way, but inexpensive, thin film solar cells are still far behind more expensive, crystalline solar cells in efficiency. Now, a team of researchers suggests that using two thin films of different materials may be the way to go to create affordable, thin film cells with about 34% efficiency.

“Ten years ago I knew very little about solar cells, but it became clear to me they were very important,” said Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Evan Pugh University Professor and Charles Godfrey Binder Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Penn State.

Investigating the field, he found that researchers approached solar cells from two sides, the optical side — looking on how the sun’s light is collected — and the electrical side — looking at how the collected sunlight is converted into electricity. Optical researchers strive to optimize light capture, while electrical researchers strive to optimize conversion to electricity, both sides simplifying the other.

“I decided to create a model in which both electrical and optical aspects will be treated equally,” said Lakhtakia. “We needed to increase actual efficiency, because if the efficiency of a cell is less than 30% it isn’t going to make a difference.” The researchers report their results in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters.

Lakhtakia is a theoretician. He does not make thin films in a laboratory, but creates mathematical models to test the possibilities of configurations and materials so that others can test the results. The problem, he said, was that the mathematical structure of optimizing the optical and the electrical are very different.

Solar cells appear to be simple devices, he explained. A clear top layer allows sunlight to fall on an energy conversion layer. The material chosen to convert the energy, absorbs the light and produces streams of negatively charged electrons and positively charged holes moving in opposite directions. The differently charged particles get transferred to a top contact layer and a bottom contact layer that channel the electricity out of the cell for use. The amount of energy a cell can produce depends on the amount of sunlight collected and the ability of the conversion layer. Different materials react to and convert different wavelengths of light.

“I realized that to increase efficiency we had to absorb more light,” said Lakhtakia. “To do that we had to make the absorbent layer nonhomogeneous in a special way.”

That special way was to use two different absorbent materials in two different thin films. The researchers chose commercially available CIGS — copper indium gallium diselenide — and CZTSSe — copper zinc tin sulfur selenide — for the layers. By itself, CIGS’s efficiency is about 20% and CZTSSe’s is about 11%.

These two materials work in a solar cell because the structure of both materials is the same. They have roughly the same lattice structure, so they can be grown one on top of the other, and they absorb different frequencies of the spectrum so they should increase efficiency, according to Lakhtakia.

“It was amazing,” said Lakhtakia. “Together they produced a solar cell with 34% efficiency. This creates a new solar cell architecture — layer upon layer. Others who can actually make solar cells can find other formulations of layers and perhaps do better.”

According to the researchers, the next step is to create these experimentally and see what the options are to get the final, best answers.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Penn State. Original written by A’ndrea Elyse Messer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Explosive nuclear astrophysics

Analysis of meteorite content has been crucial in advancing our knowledge of the origin and evolution of our solar system. Some meteorites also contain grains of stardust. These grains predate the formation of our solar system and are now providing important insights into how the elements in the universe formed.

Working in collaboration with an international team, nuclear physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory have made a key discovery related to the analysis of “presolar grains” found in some meteorites. This discovery has shed light on the nature of stellar explosions and the origin of chemical elements. It has also provided a new method for astronomical research.

“Tiny presolar grains, about one micron in size, are the residue from stellar explosions in the distant past, long before our solar system existed,” said Dariusz Seweryniak, experimental nuclear physicist in Argonne’s Physics division. The stellar debris from the explosions eventually became wedged into meteorites that crashed into the Earth.

The major stellar explosions are of two types. One called a “nova” involves a binary star system, where a main star is orbiting a white dwarf star, an extremely dense star that can be the size of Earth but have the mass of our sun. Matter from the main star is continually being pulled away by the white dwarf because of its intense gravitational field. This deposited material initiates a thermonuclear explosion every 1,000 to 100,000 years, and the white dwarf ejects the equivalent of the mass of more than thirty Earths into interstellar space. In a “supernova,” a single collapsing star explodes and ejects most of its mass.

Nova and supernova are the sources of the most frequent and violent stellar eruptions in our Galaxy, and for that reason, they have been the subject of intense astronomical investigations for decades. Much has been learned from them, for example, about the origin of the heavier elements.

“A new way of studying these phenomena is analyzing the chemical and isotopic composition of the presolar grains in meteorites,” explained Seweryniak. “Of particular importance to our research is a specific nuclear reaction that occurs in nova and supernova — proton capture on an isotope of chlorine — which we can only indirectly study in the lab.”

In conducting their research, the team pioneered a new approach for astrophysics research. It entails use of the Gamma-Ray Energy Tracking In-beam Array (GRETINA) coupled to the Fragment Mass Analyzer at the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLAS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility for nuclear physics. GRETINA is a state-of-the-art detection system able to trace the path of gamma rays emitted from nuclear reactions. It is one of only two such systems in the world.

Using GRETINA, the team completed the first detailed gamma-ray spectroscopy study of an astronomically important nucleus of an isotope, argon-34. From the data, they calculated the nuclear reaction rate involving proton capture on a chlorine isotope (chlorine-33).

“In turn, we were able to calculate the ratios of various sulfur isotopes produced in stellar explosions, which will allow astrophysicists to determine whether a particular presolar grain is of nova or supernova origin,” said Seweryniak. The team also applied their acquired data to gain deeper understanding of the synthesis of elements in stellar explosions.

The team is planning to continue their research with GRETINA as part of a worldwide effort to reach a comprehensive understanding of nucleosynthesis of the elements in stellar explosions.

Story Source:

Materials provided by DOE/Argonne National Laboratory. Original written by Joseph E. Harmon. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

The quiet Sun is much more active than we thought

Solar activity varies in 11-year cycles. As the activity cycle switches to a new one, the Sun is usually very calm for several years.

For a long time, researchers have believed that there is not much of interest going on in the Sun during the passive period, therefore not worth studying. Now this assumption is showed to be false by Juha Kallunki, Merja Tornikoski and Irene Björklund, researchers at Metsähovi Radio Observatory, in their peer-reviewed research article published in Solar Physics. This is the first time that astronomers are systematically studying the phenomena of the solar minimum.

Not all phenomena could be explained — yet

The researchers reached their conclusion by examining the solar radio maps detected by the Metsähovi Radio Observatory and comparing them with the data collected by a satellite observing the Sun in the ultraviolet range. The solar maps showed active areas, or radio brightenings, which can be observed on the maps as hotter areas than the rest of the solar surface. According to researchers, there are three explanations for radio brightenings.

First, some brightenings were observed in the polar areas on the solar maps that could be identified as coronal holes. Particle flows, or solar winds, ejected by coronal holes can cause auroras when they reach the Earth’s atmosphere. The corona is the outer atmosphere of the Sun.

Second, the researchers observed brightenings from which, based on other observations, ejections of hot material from the surface of the sun could be detected.

Third, radio brightenings were found in areas where, based on satellite observations, strong magnetic fields were detected.

Researchers also found radio brightenings in some areas where no explanatory factor was found on the basis of satellite observations.

‘The other sources used did not explain the cause of the brightening. We don’t know what causes those phenomena. We must continue our research’, Kallunki says.

Additional observations and research are also needed to predict whether the phenomena of the solar minimum indicate something about the next active period, about its onset and intensity, for example. Each one of the last four cycles has been weaker than the previous one. Researchers do not know why the activity curves do not rise as high as during the previous cycles.

‘Solar activity cycles do not always last exactly 11 years, either’, explains Docent Merja Tornikoski.

‘A new activity period will not be identified until it is already ongoing. In any case, these observations of the quiet phase we are now analysing are clearly during a period when activity is at its lowest. Now we are waiting for a new rise in activity.’

Solar storms can cause danger

On the Earth, solar activity can be seen as auroras, for example. Solar activity can even cause major damage, as solar storms caused by solar flares can damage satellites, electricity networks and radio frequency communications. Research helps to prepare for such damage.

‘In solar storms, it takes 2 to 3 days before the particles hit the Earth. They reach satellites higher up in orbit much faster, which would leave us even less time to prepare for damage’, Kallunki points out.

Located in Kirkkonummi, Aalto University Metsähovi is the only astronomical radio observatory and continuously operational astronomical observation station in Finland. Metsähovi is internationally known for its unique, continuous datasets, including a solar monitoring programme spanning over 40 years that has collected data from scientifically very interesting high radio frequencies. This is possible thanks to the exceptionally precise mirror surface of the Metsähovi radio telescope.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Aalto University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

For solar boom, scrap silicon for this promising mineral

When it comes to the future of solar energy cells, say farewell to silicon and hello to calcium titanium oxide — the compound mineral better known as perovskite.

Cornell University engineers have found that photovoltaic wafers in solar panels with all-perovskite structures outperform photovoltaic cells made from state-of-the-art crystalline silicon, as well as perovskite-silicon tandem cells, which are stacked pancake-style cells that absorb light better.

In addition to offering a faster return on the initial energy investment than silicon-based solar panels, all-perovskite solar cells mitigate climate change because they consume less energy in the manufacturing process, according to Cornell research published in Science Advances.

“Layered tandem cells for solar panels offer more efficiency, so this is a promising route to widespread deployment of photovoltaics,” said Fengqi You, Professor in Energy Systems Engineering at Cornell.

The paper, “Life Cycle Energy Use and Environmental Implications of High-Performance Perovskite Tandem Solar Cells,” compares energy and life-cycle environmental impacts of modern tandem solar cells made of silicon and perovskites.

Perovskite needs less processing, and much less of the heat or pressure, during the fabrication of solar panels, You said.

Silicon photovoltaics require an expensive initial energy outlay, and the best ones take about 18 months to get a return on that investment. A solar cell wafer with an all-perovskite tandem configuration, according to the researchers, offers an energy payback on the investment in just four months. “That’s a reduction by a factor of 4.5, and that’s very substantial,” You said.

But solar panels don’t last forever. After decades of service, silicon solar panels become less efficient and must be retired. And as in the manufacturing phase, breaking down silicon panels for recycling is energy intensive. Perovskite cells can be recycled more easily.

“When silicon-based solar panels have reached the end of their efficiency lifecycle, the panels must be replaced,” You said. “For silicon, it’s like replacing the entire automobile at the end of its useful life,” while replacing perovskite solar panels is akin to installing a new battery.

Adopting materials and processing steps to make perovskite solar cell manufacturing scalable is also critical to developing sustainable tandem solar cells, You said.

“Perovskite cells are promising, with a great potential to become cheaper, more energy-efficient, scalable and longer lasting,” You said. “Solar energy’s future needs to be sustainable.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Cornell University. Original written by Blaine Friedlander. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

NASA sun data helps new model predict big solar flares

Using data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, scientists have developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun’s biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine. With more development, the model could be used to one day inform forecasts of these intense bursts of solar radiation.

As it progresses through its natural 11-year cycle, the Sun transitions from periods of high to low activity, and back to high again. The scientists focused on X-class flares, the most powerful kind of these solar fireworks. Compared to smaller flares, big flares like these are relatively infrequent; in the last solar cycle, there were around 50. But they can have big impacts, from disrupting radio communications and power grid operations, to — at their most severe — endangering astronauts in the path of harsh solar radiation. Scientists who work on modeling flares hope that one day their efforts can help mitigate these effects.

Led by Kanya Kusano, the director of the Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research at Japan’s Nagoya University, a team of scientists built their model on a kind of magnetic map: SDO’s observations of magnetic fields on the Sun’s surface. Their results were published in Science on July 30, 2020.

It’s well-understood that flares erupt from hot spots of magnetic activity on the solar surface, called active regions. (In visible light, they appear as sunspots, dark blotches that freckle the Sun.) The new model works by identifying key characteristics in an active region, characteristics the scientists theorized are necessary to setting off a massive flare.

The first is the initial trigger. Solar flares, especially X-class ones, unleash huge amounts of energy. Before an eruption, that energy is contained in twisting magnetic field lines that form unstable arches over the active region. According to the scientists, highly twisted rope-like lines are a precursor for the Sun’s biggest flares. With enough twisting, two neighboring arches can combine into one big, double-humped arch. This is an example of what’s known as magnetic reconnection, and the result is an unstable magnetic structure — a bit like a rounded “M” — that can trigger the release of a flood of energy, in the form of a flare.

Where the magnetic reconnection happens is important too, and one of the details the scientists built their model to calculate. Within an active region, there are boundaries where the magnetic field is positive on one side and negative on the other, just like a regular refrigerator magnet.

“It’s similar to an avalanche,” Kusano said. “Avalanches start with a small crack. If the crack is up high on a steep slope, a bigger crash is possible.” In this case, the crack that starts the cascade is magnetic reconnection. When reconnection happens near the boundary, there’s potential for a big flare. Far from the boundary, there’s less available energy, and a budding flare can fizzle out — although, Kusano pointed out, the Sun could still unleash a swift cloud of solar material, called a coronal mass ejection.

Kusano and his team looked at the seven active regions from the last solar cycle that produced the strongest flares on the Earth-facing side of the Sun (they also focused on flares from part of the Sun that is closest to Earth, where magnetic field observations are best). SDO’s observations of the active regions helped them locate the right magnetic boundaries, and calculate instabilities in the hot spots. In the end, their model predicted seven out of nine total flares, with three false positives. The two that the model didn’t account for, Kusano explained, were exceptions to the rest: Unlike the others, the active region they exploded from were much larger, and didn’t produce a coronal mass ejection along with the flare.

“Predictions are a main goal of NASA’s Living with a Star program and missions,” said Dean Pesnell, the SDO principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who did not participate in the study. SDO was the first Living with a Star program mission. “Accurate precursors such as this that can anticipate significant solar flares show the progress we have made towards predicting these solar storms that can affect everyone.”

While it takes a lot more work and validation to get models to the point where they can make forecasts that spacecraft or power grid operators can act upon, the scientists have identified conditions they think are necessary for a major flare. Kusano said he is excited to have a promising first result.

“I am glad our new model can contribute to the effort,” he said.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Surprising number of exoplanets could host life

Our solar system has one habitable planet — Earth. A new study shows other stars could have as many as seven Earth-like planets in the absence of a gas giant like Jupiter.

This is the conclusion of a study led by UC Riverside astrobiologist Stephen Kane published this week in the Astronomical Journal.

The search for life in outer space is typically focused on what scientists call the “habitable zone,” which is the area around a star in which an orbiting planet could have liquid water oceans — a condition for life as we know it.

Kane had been studying a nearby solar system called Trappist-1, which has three Earth-like planets in its habitable zone.

“This made me wonder about the maximum number of habitable planets it’s possible for a star to have, and why our star only has one,” Kane said. “It didn’t seem fair!”

His team created a model system in which they simulated planets of various sizes orbiting their stars. An algorithm accounted for gravitational forces and helped test how the planets interacted with each other over millions of years.

They found it is possible for some stars to support as many as seven, and that a star like our sun could potentially support six planets with liquid water.

“More than seven, and the planets become too close to each other and destabilize each other’s orbits,” Kane said.

Why then does our solar system only have one habitable planet if it is capable of supporting six? It helps if the planets’ movement is circular rather than oval or irregular, minimizing any close contact and maintain stable orbits.

Kane also suspects Jupiter, which has a mass two-and-a-half times that of all the other planets in the solar system combined, limited our system’s habitability.

“It has a big effect on the habitability of our solar system because it’s massive and disturbs other orbits,” Kane said.

Only a handful of stars are known to have multiple planets in their habitable zones. Moving forward, Kane plans to search for additional stars surrounded entirely by smaller planets. These stars will be prime targets for direct imaging with NASA telescopes like the one at Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Habitable Exoplanet Observatory.

Kane’s study identified one such star, Beta CVn, which is relatively close by at 27 light years away. Because it doesn’t have a Jupiter-like planet, it will be included as one of the stars checked for multiple habitable zone planets.

Future studies will also involve the creation of new models that examine the atmospheric chemistry of habitable zone planets in other star systems.

Projects like these offer more than new avenues in the search for life in outer space. They also offer scientists insight into forces that might change life on our own planet one day.

“Although we know Earth has been habitable for most of its history, many questions remain regarding how these favorable conditions evolved with time, and the specific drivers behind those changes,” Kane said. “By measuring the properties of exoplanets whose evolutionary pathways may be similar to our own, we gain a preview into the past and future of this planet — and what we must do to main its habitability.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – Riverside. Original written by Jules Bernstein. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

How stony-iron meteorites form

Meteorites give us insight into the early development of the solar system. Using the SAPHiR instrument at the Research Neutron Source Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), a scientific team has for the first time simulated the formation of a class of stony-iron meteorites, so-called pallasites, on a purely experimental basis.

“Pallasites are the optically most beautiful and unusual meteorites,” says Dr. Nicolas Walte, the first author of the study, in an enthusiastic voice. They belong to the group of stony-iron meteorites and comprise green olivine crystals embedded in nickel and iron. Despite decades of research, their exact origins remained shrouded in mystery.

To solve this puzzle, Dr. Nicolas Walte, an instrument scientist at the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum (MLZ) in Garching, together with colleagues from the Bavarian Geoinstitute at the University of Bayreuth and the Royal Holloway University of London, investigated the pallasite formation process. In a first, they succeeded in experimentally reproducing the structures of all types of pallasites.

Deployment of the SAPHiR instrument

For its experiments, the team used the SAPHiR multi-anvil press which was set up under the lead of Prof. Hans Keppler of the Bavarian Geoinstitute at the MLZ and the similar MAVO press in Bayreuth. Although neutrons from the FRM II have not yet been fed into SAPHiR, experiments under high pressures and at high temperatures can already be performed.

“With a press force of 2400 tons, SAPHiR can exert a pressure of 15 gigapascals (GPa) on samples at over 2000 °C,” explains Walte. “That is double the pressures needed to convert graphite into diamond.” To simulate the collision of two celestial bodies, the research team required a pressure of merely 1 GPa at 1300 °C.

How are pallasites formed?

Until recently, pallasites were believed to form at the boundary between the metallic core and the rocky mantle of asteroids. According to an alternative scenario, pallasites form closer to the surface after the collision with another celestial body. During the impact molten iron from the core of the impactor mingles with the olivine-rich mantle of the parent body.

The experiments carried out have now confirmed this impact hypothesis. Another prerequisite for the formation of pallasites is that the iron core and rocky mantle of the asteroid have partially separated beforehand.

All this happened shortly after their formation about 4.5 billion years ago. During this phase, the asteroids heated up until the denser metallic components melted and sank to the center of the celestial bodies.

The key finding of the study is that both processes — the partial separation of core and mantle, and the subsequent impact of another celestial body — are required for pallasites to form.

Insights into the origins of the solar system

“Generally, meteorites are the oldest directly accessible constituents of our solar system. The age of the solar system and its early history are inferred primarily from the investigation of meteorites,” explains Walte.

“Like many asteroids, the Earth and moon are stratified into multiple layers, consisting of core, mantle and crust,” says Nicolas Walte. “In this way, complex worlds were created through the agglomeration of cosmic debris. In the case of the Earth, this ultimately laid the foundations for the emergence of life.”

The high-pressure experiments and the comparison with pallasites highlight significant processes that occurred in the early solar system. The team’s experiments provide new insights into the collision and material mixing of two celestial bodies and the subsequent rapid cooling down together. This will be investigated in more detail in future studies.

Go to Source
Author:

Categories
ScienceDaily

Solar Orbiter’s first images reveal ‘campfires’ on the Sun

The first images from Solar Orbiter, a new Sun-observing mission by ESA and NASA, have revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed ‘campfires’, near the surface of our closest star.

According to the scientists behind the mission, seeing phenomena that were not observable in detail before hints at the enormous potential of Solar Orbiter, which has only just finished its early phase of technical verification known as commissioning.

“These are only the first images and we can already see interesting new phenomena,” says Daniel Müller, ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist. “We didn’t really expect such great results right from the start. We can also see how our ten scientific instruments complement each other, providing a holistic picture of the Sun and the surrounding environment.”

Solar Orbiter, launched on 10 February 2020, carries six remote-sensing instruments, or telescopes, that image the Sun and its surroundings, and fourin situinstruments that monitor the environment around the spacecraft. By comparing the data from both sets of instruments, scientists will get insights into the generation of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles from the Sun that influences the entire Solar System.

The unique aspect of the Solar Orbiter mission is that no other spacecraft has been able to take images of the Sun’s surface from a closer distance.

Closest images of the Sun reveal new phenomena

The campfires shown in the first image set were captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) from Solar Orbiter’s first perihelion, the point in its elliptical orbit closest to the Sun. At that time, the spacecraft was only 77 million km away from the Sun, about half the distance between Earth and the star.

“The campfires are little relatives of the solar flares that we can observe from Earth, million or billion times smaller,” says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB), Principal Investigator of the EUI instrument, which takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the solar corona. “The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look.”

The scientists do not know yet whether the campfires are just tiny versions of big flares, or whether they are driven by different mechanisms. There are, however, already theories that these miniature flares could be contributing to one of the most mysterious phenomena on the Sun, the coronal heating.

Unravelling the Sun’s mysteries

“These campfires are totally insignificant each by themselves, but summing up their effect all over the Sun, they might be the dominant contribution to the heating of the solar corona,” says Frédéric Auchère, of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS), France, Co-Principal Investigator of EUI.

The solar corona is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere that extends millions of kilometres into outer space. Its temperature is more than a million degrees Celsius, which is orders of magnitude hotter than the surface of the Sun, a ‘cool’ 5500 °C. After many decades of studies, the physical mechanisms that heat the corona are still not fully understood, but identifying them is considered the ‘holy grail’ of solar physics.

“It’s obviously way too early to tell but we hope that by connecting these observations with measurements from our other instruments that ‘feel’ the solar wind as it passes the spacecraft, we will eventually be able to answer some of these mysteries,” says Yannis Zouganelis, Solar Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist at ESA.

Seeing the far side of the Sun

The Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI) is another cutting-edge instrument aboard Solar Orbiter. It makes high-resolution measurements of the magnetic field lines on the surface of the Sun. It is designed to monitor active regions on the Sun, areas with especially strong magnetic fields, which can give birth to solar flares.

During solar flares, the Sun releases bursts of energetic particles that enhance the solar wind that constantly emanates from the star into the surrounding space. When these particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, they can cause magnetic storms that can disrupt telecommunication networks and power grids on the ground.

“Right now, we are in the part of the 11-year solar cycle when the Sun is very quiet,” says Sami Solanki, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, and PHI Principal Investigator. “But because Solar Orbiter is at a different angle to the Sun than Earth, we could actually see one active region that wasn’t observable from Earth. That is a first. We have never been able to measure the magnetic field at the back of the Sun.”

The magnetograms, showing how the strength of the solar magnetic field varies across the Sun’s surface, could be then compared with the measurements from thein situinstruments.

“The PHI instrument is measuring the magnetic field on the surface, we see structures in the Sun’s corona with EUI, but we also try to infer the magnetic field lines going out into the interplanetary medium, where Solar Orbiter is,” says Jose Carlos del Toro Iniesta, PHI Co-Principal Investigator, of Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain.

Catching the solar wind

The four in situ instruments on Solar Orbiter then characterise the magnetic field lines and solar wind as it passes the spacecraft.

Christopher Owen, of University College London Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Principal Investigator of thein situSolar Wind Analyser, adds, “Using this information, we can estimate where on the Sun that particular part of the solar wind was emitted, and then use the full instrument set of the mission to reveal and understand the physical processes operating in the different regions on the Sun which lead to solar wind formation.”

“We are all really excited about these first images — but this is just the beginning,” adds Daniel. “Solar Orbiter has started a grand tour of the inner Solar System, and will get much closer to the Sun within less than two years. Ultimately, it will get as close as 42 million km, which is almost a quarter of the distance from Sun to Earth.”

“The first data are already demonstrating the power behind a successful collaboration between space agencies and the usefulness of a diverse set of images in unravelling some of the Sun’s mysteries,” comments Holly Gilbert, Director of the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Solar Orbiter Project Scientist at NASA.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Nineteen ESA Member States (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), as well as NASA, contributed to the science payload and/or the spacecraft. The satellite was built by prime contractor Airbus Defence and Space in the UK.

Go to Source
Author: