The Sun is currently in the peak of Sunspot Cycle 24. There are occasional news stories about solar storm and sunspot activity and their effects on the Earth. Some of you are fortunate to live in areas where aurora have been visible caused by these solar events. Fortunately, this cycle has been less active than normal.
NASA has released a set of videos and other materials to bring the story of these effects into one web site. The content is geared for the general public and is done in the usual high quality expected of NASA productions. If you are interested in some solid and understandable lessons on solar activity, this set of videos is an excellent way to gain that.
The NASA five video series is called “Mysteries of the Sun”. The videos describe the science of the sun and its effects on the solar system and Earth. These movies cover the breadth of solar, heliospheric, and geospace science, a field known as heliophysics.
With beautiful graphics and well-explained narration, the series has won the 2011 Platinum 3rd Annual Pixie Award in the category of Motion Graphics, receiving compliments from the judges such as “breath-taking animation” and “Some of the best in the competition.”
The five movies, available online and on DVD, cover five areas of heliophysics: Space Weather, Solar Variability, the Heliosphere, Earth’s magnetosphere, and Earth’s upper atmosphere. There is also a guidebook with images, diagrams, and charts to make heliophysics more understandable. The topics covered include the Sun’s anatomy, the solar cycle, solar storms, and solar variability. The Sun’s effects on space weather and the Earth’s magnetosphere and upper atmosphere are also covered.
Visit the website of Mysteries of the Sun. Or, watch the segments from here. Each image below is linked to the NASA page with the video player. The videos are 4 to 6 minutes in length.
This video describes the direct and dramatic effects that eruptions on the sun can cause at Earth. Earth’s magnetic fields change shape and strength in response to an eruption on the sun, and these changes in turn can damage space born technology and disrupt communications traveling through space. They also cause aurora.
Rotations of the material deep inside the sun cause constantly shifting magnetic field lines. This variability drives the solar cycle, during which the north and south magnetic poles reverse position approximately every 11 years.
The solar wind streams out from the sun until it collides with material from the rest of space. This entire bubble defined by the solar wind is called the heliosphere and scientists study the very boundaries to better understand our place in space.
Earth is enveloped in a protective magnetic envelope called the magnetosphere. This can change shape in response to the sun’s effects, causing various types of space weather at Earth.
Earth’s Upper Atmosphere
Certain layers, high up in the atmosphere also respond to incoming energy from the sun. These layers contain charged particles and so naturally respond to an influx of magnetic energy. Understanding such variability is crucial since it can, in turn, degrade radio communication as well as satellite orbits.