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Category Archives: sun

Answers to 8 Questions About the August 2017 Solar Eclipse

It’s August and one of the most highly-anticipated astronomical events of the 21st century is nearly upon us: the August 21 solar eclipse, which will be visible as a total eclipse literally across the entire United States…but that doesn’t mean everywhere in the United States. Totality will pass across the U.S. in a narrow band about 60 miles wide starting along the northern coast of Oregon at 10:18 a.m. local time (PDT) and ending along the coast of South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. But that’s just totality—the full eclipse event will actually begin much earlier than that and end later, and its visibility won’t be limited to only that path. And while it’ll be happening overhead in the daytime sky you’ll need the right equipment to view it safely, whether you’re in totality or not.

Wait, you say, what’s the difference between totality and…not totality? And how is it caused? And why is this a big deal at all? If you’re wondering those things (and perhaps others) then this post is just for you. Below are answers to some common—and certainly not dumb—questions about the solar eclipse, brought to you by yours truly (with a little help from NASA and other eclipse specialists.)

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No, the Solar System (Still) Isn’t a Vortex

Animation of a “vortex” Solar System. (Credit: DjSadhu)

Like a bad penny (or a grossly inaccurate science meme) this tends to rear its shiny animated head online at least a couple of times a year, and it seems this year will be no exception. It’s a GIF showing the motions of the Sun and planets through space, trailing glowing lines (which they don’t but that’s just an illustration) in order to “prove” that the Solar System is really a vortex and vortices are cosmically significant and life is magic and ehrmagerd your mind should = blown. Or something like that.

Except, other than being a pretty animation, it’s simply not the case. The creator, DjSadhu, is much more metaphysicist than astrophysicist (really he’s a music and video producer) and ultimately what he was supporting is a reconstruction of the heliocentric model and an alternate path of the Sun around the galaxy itself, which is simply just wrong. Luckily an astrophysicist and an astronomer—Rhys Taylor and Phil Plait, respectively—were more than willing to offer their professional opinions on the matter when this all first appeared, the former writing a blog post in response to the latter’s. I was able to convince Rhys to let me share his post on Universe Today, and it offers a lot of entertaining insight as to why that little animation is not only misleading but the herald of a slew of inaccuracies.

Read the full debunking on Universe Today: Is the Solar System Really a Vortex?

Note: A year after the original article(s) were published Rhys shared another in which he commends Sadhu for openly communicating about the physics involved and actually creating a more accurate version of the animation—and without the unscientific woo. You can (and I suggest you do) read that post here. Unfortunately on the internet nothing ever really goes away, so the first GIF inevitably shows up every now and then. Remember all this the next time it does.

NOAA and NASA Open a New Set of Eyes on the Sun

These images of the sun were captured at the same time on January 29, 2017 by the six channels on the SUVI instrument on board GOES-16 (Credit: NOAA)

These images of the sun were captured on January 29, 2017 by the six channels on the SUVI instrument on board GOES-16. (Credit: NOAA)

Look out SDO—there’s another set of eyes watching the Sun in a wide swath of wavelengths! The images above are the first from the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) instrument aboard NOAA’s new GOES-16 satellite, positioned in a geostationary orbit about 22,200 miles from Earth. These are SUVI’s first successful test images, captured on Jan. 29, 2017; once fully operational SUVI will monitor the Sun round the clock in six different UV and X-ray wavelengths, providing up-to-date data on the behavior of our home star.

Watch the first video of the Sun from GOES-16 data below:

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ESO Turns its ALMA Eyes on the Sun

ALMA image of the Sun captured in 1.25 millimeters. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

The European Southern Observatory has begun imaging the Sun for the first  time, using its Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)—a suite of large dish-type telescopes located on a plateau 16,000 feet above sea level in the arid Chilean Andes. ALMA’s capabilities to observe in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths allow imaging of the Sun’s dynamic chromosphere and the features within it, such as the center of a sunspot (above) that’s easily twice the size of Earth.

Read more here from ESO: ALMA Starts Observing the Sun

Solar Photographer Spots Mercury On Its Trip Across the Sun

The May 9, 2016 transit of Mercury captured on camera by Alan Friedman.

The May 9, 2016 transit of Mercury captured on camera by Alan Friedman.

On May 9, 2016, over the course of seven and a half hours beginning at 7:12 a.m. EDT (11:12 UTC) Mercury passed across the disk of the Sun, appearing to observers on Earth as a small dark dot in front of the massive brilliance of our home star. While the event wasn’t visible to the naked eye (the Sun is just too bright and Mercury just too small) those with filtered telescopes and solar projection devices (like what I had set up) were able to see Mercury silhouetted against the Sun, and that most certainly included solar photography master Alan Friedman who captured the amazing image above from his home in Buffalo, NY.

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