Dec. 21, 2006: Evidence is mounting: the next solar cycle is going to be a big one.
see captionSolar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 "looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago," says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center. He and colleague Robert Wilson presented this conclusion last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Their forecast is based on historical records of geomagnetic storms.
Hathaway explains: "When a gust of solar wind hits Earth's magnetic field, the impact causes the magnetic field to shake. If it shakes hard enough, we call it a geomagnetic storm." In the extreme, these storms cause power outages and make compass needles swing in the wrong direction. Auroras are a beautiful side-effect.
Hathaway and Wilson looked at records of geomagnetic activity stretching back almost 150 years and noticed something useful:. "The amount of geomagnetic activity now tells us what the solar cycle is going to be like 6 to 8 years in the future," says Hathaway. A picture is worth a thousand words:
The next 11-year cycle of solar storms will most likely start next March and peak in late 2011 or mid-2012 – up to a year later than expected – according to a forecast issued today by NOAA’s Space Environment Center in coordination with an international panel of solar experts.
Expected to start last fall, the delayed onset of Solar Cycle 24 stymied the panel and left them evenly split on whether a weak or strong period of solar storms lies ahead, but neither group predicts a record-breaker. The Space Environment Center led the prediction panel and issued the forecast at its annual Space Weather Workshop in Boulder. NASA sponsored the panel.
“The Space Environment Center’s space weather alerts, warnings, and forecasts are a critical component of NOAA’s seamless stewardship of the Earth’s total environment, from the Sun to the sea,” said retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
During an active solar period, violent eruptions occur more often on the Sun. Solar flares and vast explosions, known as coronal mass ejections, shoot energetic photons and highly charged matter toward Earth, jolting the planet’s ionosphere and geomagnetic field, potentially affecting power grids, critical military and airline communications, satellites, Global Positioning System signals, and even threatening astronauts with harmful radiation. These same storms illuminate night skies with brilliant sheets of red and green known as auroras, or the northern or southern lights.
Solar cycle intensity is measured in maximum number of sunspots – dark blotches on the Sun that mark areas of heightened magnetic activity. The more sunspots there are, the more likely it is that major solar storms will occur.
In the cycle forecast issued today, half of the panel predicts a moderately strong cycle of 140 sunspots, plus or minus 20, expected to peak in October of 2011. The other half predicts a moderately weak cycle of 90 sunspots, plus or minus 10, peaking in August of 2012. An average solar cycle ranges from 75 to 155 sunspots. The late decline of Cycle 23 has helped shift the panel away from its earlier leaning toward a strong Cycle 24. Now the group is evenly split between strong and weak. http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/...ssRelease.html http://www.solarcycle24.com/
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thay đổi nội dung bởi: vladimir, 04-02-2008 lúc 4:07 am.
The magnetosphere of Earth is a region in space whose shape is determined by the extent of Earth's internal magnetic field, the solar wind plasma, and the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). In the magnetosphere, a mix of free ions and electrons from both the solar wind and the Earth's ionosphere is confined by magnetic and electric forces that are much stronger than gravity and collisions. In spite of its name, the magnetosphere is distinctly non-spherical. On the side facing the Sun, the distance to its boundary (which varies with solar wind intensity) is about 70,000 km (10-12 Earth radii or RE, where 1 RE=6371 km; unless otherwise noted, all distances here are from the Earth's center). The boundary of the magnetosphere ("magnetopause") is roughly bullet shaped, about 15 RE abreast of Earth and on the night side (in the "magnetotail" or "geotail") approaching a cylinder with a radius 20-25 RE. The tail region stretches well past 200 RE, and the way it ends is not well-known.
The outer neutral gas envelope of Earth, or geocorona, consists mostly of the lightest atoms, hydrogen and helium, and continues beyond 4-5 RE, with diminishing density. The hot plasma ions of the magnetosphere acquire electrons during collisions with these atoms and create an escaping "glow" of fast atoms that have been used to image the hot plasma clouds by the IMAGE mission. The upward extension of the ionosphere, known as the plasmasphere, also extends beyond 4-5 RE with diminishing density, beyond which it becomes a flow of light ions called the polar wind that escapes out of the magnetosphere into the solar wind. Energy deposited in the ionosphere by auroras strongly heats the heavier atmospheric components such as oxygen and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen, which would not otherwise escape from Earth's gravity. Owing to this highly variable heating, however, a heavy atmospheric or ionospheric outflow of plasma flows during disturbed periods from the auroral zones into the magnetosphere, extending the region dominated by terrestrial material, known as the fourth or plasma geosphere, at times out to the magnetopause.
What follows is a condensed overview of the Earth's magnetosphere only. To avoid an overlong presentation, this section gives a general introduction. The
1. motion of particles trapped in the magnetosphere (MOT),
2. physics of magnetic storms and plasma flows (MSPF), and
3. history of magnetospheric research (HIST)
will be covered separately. This is a nontechnical overview and more technical discussions are cited at the end.
 General properties
Two factors determine the structure and behavior of the magnetosphere: (1) The internal field of the Earth, and (2) The solar wind.
1. The internal field of the Earth (its "main field") appears to be generated in the Earth's core by a dynamo process, associated with the circulation of liquid metal in the core, driven by internal heat sources. Its major part resembles the field of a bar magnet ("dipole field") inclined by about 10° to the rotation axis of Earth, but more complex parts ("higher harmonics") also exist, as first shown by Carl Friedrich Gauss. The dipole field has an intensity of about 30,000-60,000 nanoteslas (nT) at the Earth's surface, and its intensity diminishes like the inverse of the cube of the distance, i.e. at a distance of R Earth radii it only amounts to 1/R³ of the surface field in the same direction. Higher harmonics diminish faster, like higher powers of 1/R, making the dipole field the only important internal source in most of the magnetosphere.
2. The solar wind is a fast outflow of hot plasma from the sun in all directions. Above the sun's equator it typically attains 400 km/s; above the sun's poles, up to twice as much. The flow is powered by the million-degree temperature of the sun's corona, for which no generally accepted explanation exists as yet. Its composition resembles that of the Sun—about 95% of the ions are protons, about 4% helium nuclei, with 1% of heavier matter (C, N, O, Ne, Si, Mg... up to Fe) and enough electrons to keep charge neutrality. At Earth's orbit its typical density is 6 ions/cm3 (variable, as is the velocity), and it contains a variable interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) of (typically) 2–5 nT. The IMF is produced by stretched-out magnetic field lines originating on the Sun, a process described in the section on magnetic storms and plasma flows, referred to in what follows as simply MSPF.
Physical reasons (MSPF) make it difficult for solar wind plasma with its embedded IMF to mix with terrestrial plasma whose magnetic field has a different source. The two plasmas end up separated by a boundary, the magnetopause, and the Earth's plasma is confined to a cavity inside the flowing solar wind, the magnetosphere. The isolation is not complete, thanks to secondary processes such as magnetic reconnection (MSPF)—otherwise it would be hard for the solar wind to transmit much energy to the magnetosphere—but it still determines the overall configuration.
An additional feature is a collision-free bow shock which forms in the solar wind ahead of Earth, typically at 13.5 RE on the sunward side. It forms because the solar velocity of the wind exceeds (typically 2–3 times) that of Alfvén waves, a family of characteristic waves with which disturbances propagate in a magnetized fluid. In the region behind the shock ("magnetosheath") the velocity drops briefly to the Alfvén velocity (and the temperature rises, absorbing lost kinetic energy), but the velocity soon rises back as plasma is dragged forward by the surrounding solar wind flow.
To understand the magnetosphere, one needs to visualize its magnetic field lines, that everywhere point in the direction of the magnetic field—e.g., diverging out near the magnetic north pole (or geographic southpole), and converging again around the magnetic south pole (or the geographic northpole), where they enter the Earth. They are discussed in MSPF, but for now they can be visualized like wires which tie the magnetosphere together—wires that also guide the motions of trapped particles, which slide along them like beads (though other motions may also occur). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetosphere
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