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  • Our Explosive Sun

    Posted on June 28th, 2013 Lynn Powers No comments

    The American Astronomical Society – Solar Physics Division will be holding its annual meeting in Bozeman the second week  in July.   There will be a public lecture on Monday July 8, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. at the Emerson Cultural Center.  This is a free event and open to the public.

    Our Explosive Sun: Understanding the origins and potential impacts of “space weather”

    Dr. Thomas Berger

    National Solar Observatory

    Project Scientist, Advanced Technology Solar Telescope

    In 1859 a huge cloud of magnetized plasma erupted from the Sun and directly impacted the Earth causing the largest magnetic storm in recorded history. The telegraph system – the internet of the day – experienced such large induced currents in the wires that fires broke out in some offices. The Aurora Borealis extended south as far as Central America and was so bright that campers in the Rockies woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was dawn. This was the “Carrington Event”, named after the astronomer who made the connection between the storm and a large flare he observed on the surface of the Sun. If the Carrington Event were to recur today the impact on our technologically dependent society would be catastrophic, with damage to the GPS satellite system, long term black-out of large portions of the power grid, and potentially lethal radiation doses to astronauts in space among the likely consequences. We now know that the Sun is nearly constantly erupting, launching magnetic clouds of plasma into interplanetary space in all directions. Some of these eruptions have been estimated to be as large or larger than the Carrington Event, but none has yet had the impact on Earth of that eruption. Understanding these magnetic storms from the Sun, the hurricanes of “space weather”, and whether, or how, they will impact the Earth is a major goal of solar astronomical research today. We will review the current state of the art in space weather observations and examine these magnetic explosions as they originate at the Sun and propagate through interplanetary space towards Earth. Looking forward, we will anticipate the capabilities of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, the largest solar telescope in history currently being built in Hawaii with the purpose of studying the details of the Sun’s magnetic field as it builds up energy toward eventual eruption into space.

    Dr. Thomas Berger is the Project Scientist for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, currently under construction on the island of Maui, Hawaii. He works for the National Solar Observatory at the Sacramento Peak observatory in New Mexico. His research focuses on the observation and analysis of dynamic flows in the solar atmosphere, particularly those associated with large-scale non-potential magnetic structures in the Sun’s outer atmosphere. He was previously a Senior Staff Physicist at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California and a Co-Investigator on the Japanese/US/UK Hinode solar satellite mission. Dr. Berger was born in Berkeley, California and educated at the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, receiving the Ph.D. degree in Applied Physics from Stanford in 1997.

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