Thursday, September 29, 2016

Solar, Space, and Geomag Weather parts VI and VII and other things

by Stephanie Osborn

Okay, I'm a little bit behind on mirroring the posts here, guys; forgive me. I've been very busy with a new book release, which I'll talk about below.

But so here are parts VI and VII of the series, as found on Sarah Hoyt's blog, According to Hoyt:

part VI:

part VII:

Feel free to post comments or questions there or here.


In addition, and despite the fearmongering of certain nigh-tabloid excuses for newspapers, we are currently experiencing MODERATE (not severe) geomagnetic storming as a result of the high-speed solar wind stream from a coronal hole.

A coronal hole is never going to generate a geomagnetic superstorm, folks, I don't care what the reporters are saying. It requires a superflare producing a mammoth CME to generate such a superstorm. And yes, we are indeed currently experiencing moderate geomagnetic storming. The K index is at about 6. A superstorm would produce a K index of 9 (maxxed out).  Residents of New England, the Great Lakes states, the northern Midwest, the extreme northern Pacific Northwest, Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, the Nordic countries, northern Russia/Siberia, northern China, the northern Kamchatka peninsula, Tasmania, the southern island of New Zealand, and of course Antarctica, should all be on the lookout for aurorae tonight and possibly tomorrow night.


For those interested in a smidge more information, may I recommend The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means for the Earth and You, available for Kindle.

In addition, I have a new novel release. Fear in the French Quarter is the sixth book in the Displaced Detective series, and is available in print, Kindle, and Nook.

If you are in the New Orleans area this weekend, come by the CONtraflow science fiction convention at the Airport Hilton! I'll be throwing a release party on Saturday night!

Book 1 of the series, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, is currently on sale in ebook
formats for $0.99.
Books 2-4 of the series are also discounted.

My very first novel, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, which eerily predicted the Columbia disaster (being written, though not published, before that disaster), is also on sale in ebook formats for $0.99.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Solar, Space & Geomag Weather Part V and other things

by Stephanie Osborn

My days of the week are in order this week, and so I have been proactive in responding to comments at According to Hoyt, where Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part V went up:

Feel free to pop over there and leave a comment; I'll be checking and responding for a couple days yet. Or leave your comments here. I'll answer those too.

Other stuff:

1) Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and extreme parts of eastern South America are watching a penumbral lunar eclipse of the harvest moon even as I type this. However, observers in North America will be unable to see it. However, "penumbral" means that the Moon is only passing through the outer edge of the Earth's shadow, so it won't look especially dark, just dimmer.

Slooh is covering it, and should have a video after the fact, for late viewers.

2) The Sun is still cranking along; little has changed. However, on Sep 15, sunspot 2589 rotated around to the far side of the Sun. Another spot formed as it was rotating to the near side and has been numbered 2592. These may be the only two spot groups on the solar surface, though according to STEREO imagery, there may be one more small group on the far side. So things are moving toward spotless again. Whether it gets there or not this time remains to be seen.

There are a few coronal holes, but nothing that is yet in a very geoeffective position. And there have been no strong flares, and no Earth-directed CMEs produced. Consequently the geomagnetic field is quiescent.

Book recommendations:

A bit more information, all in one place, on solar/space/geomagnetic weather, can be found in my book, The Weather Out There Is Frightful, available for Kindle.

"Our Sun is an active star. It may even be a variable star. Sunspots, flares, coronal mass ejections, all are signs of its activity. What kind of effect does it have on Earth? Other than the occasional sunburn, could it be dangerous? Has it been dangerous in the past? What can we expect in the near future?"

For those who like hard science fiction, perhaps combined with a hint of mystery, check out the first book in the Displaced Detective series, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, available in print and ebook. (Yes, it is available for Nook.)

"The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is a SF mystery in which brilliant hyperspatial physicist, Dr. Skye Chadwick, discovers there are alternate realities, often populated by those we consider only literary characters. Her pet research, Project: Tesseract, hidden deep under Schriever AFB, finds Continuum 114, where Sherlock Holmes was to have died along with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. In a Knee-jerk reaction, Skye rescues Holmes, who inadvertently flies through the wormhole to our universe, while his enemy plunges to his death. Unable to go back without causing devastating continuum collapse, Holmes must stay in our world and adapt. Meanwhile, the Schriever AFB Dept of Security discovers a spy ring working to dig out the details of - and possibly sabotage - Project: Tesseract. Can Chadwick help Holmes come up to speed in modern investigative techniques in time to stop the spies? Will Holmes be able to thrive in our modern world? Is Chadwick now Holmes' new 'Watson' - or more? And what happens next?"

This is an ongoing series; the first four books are collected in an ebook omnibus, The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. The series has been described as, "Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files." In addition to the mystery aspects of each story, I make use of extrapolations of cutting-edge scientific theory, such as M theory, cosmic strings, nanocarbon chemistry, room-temperature superconductors, and more.

Book 6 of the series, Fear in the French Quarter, is available for pre-release now. The official release date is October 5. More books are planned in the series.

"Fear in the French Quarter revolves around a jaunt by no less than Sherlock Holmes himself -- brought to the modern day from an alternate universe's Victorian era by his continuum parallel, who is now his wife, Dr. Skye Chadwick- Holmes -- to famed New Orleans for both business and pleasure. There, the detective couple investigates ghostly apparitions, strange disappearances, mystic phenomena, and challenge threats to the very universe they call home.

"It was supposed to be a working holiday for Skye and Sherlock, along with their friend, the modern day version of Doctor Watson -- some federal training that also gave them the chance to explore New Orleans, as the ghosts of the French Quarter become exponentially more active. When the couple uncovers an imminently catastrophic cause, whose epicenter lies squarely in the middle of Le Vieux Carre, they must race against time to stop it before the whole thing breaks wide open -- and more than one universe is destroyed."

Have a look at some of my books, enjoy the science, maybe learn a few things...and above all, enjoy.

-Stephanie Osborn

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Solar, Space, & Geomag Weather part IV and Other Stuff

by Stephanie Osborn

As I sit and sip my cafe au lait made from Cafe du Monde's signature chicory blend, I must note that I've been recalcitrant in posting lately. Sorry about that; I can only plead that I have been in the depths of a writing jag, and turning out word counts that are both consistent and high. I also totally hosed my reckoning of days of the week for this past week, thanks to the fact that Monday was a holiday.

So I am very late on this post. Please forgive me.

The latest installment of the Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather series went up on Sarah Hoyt's blog, According to Hoyt, on schedule on Thursday. It's here:

An announcement of my title, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse, having won the Silver Falchion Award went up on Wednesday's Mad Genius Club, here:

To purchase a copy in print or ebook, go here:

I'm still answering comments on both blogs, so feel free to pop over to either of those, or both, or leave comments here.

In addition, solar activity has been fairly quiet, this week-and-a-half into September that we are. Sunspots have been seen throughout, but they are somewhat sporadic and all clustered in the equatorial regions (as would be expected at this point in the solar cycle). There have been a few flares, but nothing of great significance, and no coronal mass ejections have been produced, though there was a "prominence eruption" on the 6th. A few coronal holes have generated enhanced solar wind streams that have produced minor to moderate geogmagnetic storming, and some high-latitude auroras.

And that's it. There really hasn't been any solar/space weather news of significance so far this month. Things remain quiet, but not unusually so, in the solar mechanisms.

Other items:

Happy 50th birthday to Star Trek!

Condolences to SpaceX on the loss of their craft on the 1st.

We finally found the remains of the Philae comet lander:

And that's about all I know, folks.

-Stephanie Osborn

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part III, plus News

by Stephanie Osborn

Okay, first off, the third installment of my solar and space weather series has gone up over at Sarah Hoyt's blog, According to Hoyt.

And  an interesting tidbit of information: Several sources are indicating that the cosmic ray influx is increasing. (E.g. see for Sep 1, 2016:  Cosmic Rays in the Atmosphere.)

Now, cosmic rays come in from outside our solar system. Mostly they are particulates, very high-energy charged particles produced in the various high-energy astronomical objects out there. They are very penetrating, and potentially dangerous to life, at least in large quantities. (Not that we are likely to get those large quantities; my point is simply that they ain’t good for ya.)
Normally the solar wind, coupled with the enhanced wind streams from coronas, and CMEs, create enough of a “resisting” effect to keep the cosmic ray flux at Earth fairly low. That said, this means that there is a variation in cosmic ray flux from solar max to solar min.
But 1) we’re only about 2 years out from solar max. We should be 4-5 years away from solar min. 2) If we are indeed going into an extended minimum, then chances are the cosmic ray flux will be higher than at a “simple” solar min.
Just something to keep an eye on.
Additional news:
  • Africa saw an annular solar eclipse today. Nearly 97% of the Sun was covered by the Moon for observers in 50 African nations. has a nice gallery of eclipse photography here.
Photo from
Annular solar eclipse seen from Reunion

  • We are experiencing a G1 (minor) geomagnetic storm due to the enhanced wind stream from a coronal hole. High-latitude observers should keep a lookout for aurorae and other effects.

  • SpaceX's Falcon-9 blew up on the pad at Canaveral today; the rocket and its payload, a satellite owned by Facebook and intended to provide satellite internet capability, were total losses. CEO Elon Musk indicated that the problem "originated around the upper stage oxygen tank," during a static test on the pad. The launch had been planned for Saturday.

Business Insider:

 ~Stephanie Osborn

Friday, August 26, 2016

Solar. Space & Geomagnetic Weather, part II

by Stephanie Osborn

And part II of the Solar, Space & Geomagnetic Weather series has gone up on Sarah Hoyt's According to Hoyt blog, right here:

Feel free to leave comments here or there.


The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means to the Earth and You

Our Sun is an active star. It may even be a variable star. Sunspots, flares, coronal mass ejections, all are signs of its activity. What kind of effect does it have on Earth? Other than the occasional sunburn, could it be dangerous? Has it been dangerous in the past? What can we expect in the near future?

Click here to purchase.

Silver Falchion Award Winner:
Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse

Holmes and Watson. Two names forever linked by mystery and danger from the beginning. Within the first year of their friendship and while both are young men, Holmes and Watson are still finding their way in the world, with all the troubles that such young men usually have: Financial straits, troubles of the female persuasion, hazings, misunderstandings between friends, and more. Watson’s Afghan wounds are still tender, his health not yet fully recovered, and there can be no consideration of his beginning a new practice as yet. Holmes, in his turn, is still struggling to found the new profession of consulting detective. Not yet truly established in London, let alone with the reputations they will one day possess, they are between cases and at loose ends when Holmes' old professor of archaeology contacts him. Professor Willingham Whitesell makes an appeal to Holmes’ unusual skill set and a request. Holmes is to bring Watson to serve as the dig team’s physician and come to Egypt at once to translate hieroglyphics for his prestigious archaeological dig. There in the wilds of the Egyptian desert, plagued by heat, dust, drought and cobras, the team hopes to find the very first Pharaoh. Instead, they find something very different... 

Noted Author Stephanie Osborn (Creator of the Displaced Detective series) presents the first book in her Sherlock Holmes, Gentleman Aegis series – Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse, the debut volume of Pro Se Productions’ Holmes Apocrypha imprint.

Click here to purchase.

~Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


by Stephanie Osborn

I am thrilled to announce that the first book of the Gentleman Aegis series, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy's Curse, has WON the 2016 Silver Falchion Award for Best "Nonfiction" (read: historical fiction) YA Book!

The award is sponsored by the Killer Nashville mystery convention!


~Stephanie Osborn

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

AURORA ALERT 23/24 August 2016

by Stephanie Osborn

According to the various solar/geomagnetic data (collected in one convenient place by; I actively support them with contributions), we are currently experiencing minor geomagnetic storming. This is likely being caused by a combination of a favorably-oriented local interplanetary magnetic field, as well as an enhanced wind stream from a coronal hole.

This is a Solar Dynamics Observatory image 
from 23 August 2016. It depicts the coronal holes 
on that date (yesterday). Holes were numbered by 
SolarHam. Coronal Hole #07 likely produced the
solar wind stream creating the current geomag storming.

The planetary K-index is a NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) product created using magnetometers around the world. According to the SWPC, "The K-index quantifies disturbances in the horizontal component of earth's magnetic field with an integer in the range 0-9 with 1 being calm and 5 or more indicating a geomagnetic storm. It is derived from the maximum fluctuations of horizontal components observed on a magnetometer during a three-hour interval. The planetary 3-hour-range index Kp is the mean standardized K-index from 13 geomagnetic observatories between 44 degrees and 60 degrees northern or southern geomagnetic latitude. The label 'K' comes from the German word 'Kennziffer' meaning 'characteristic digit.' The K-index was introduced by Julius Bartels in 1938. SWPC has used the K-index since the forecast center began operations." 

Any time the K-index reaches 5, geomagnetic storming is occurring. We have been experiencing K=5 for at least 9 hours at the time of this writing.

K-index graph captured as of approximately 10:25pm CDT, 23 Aug 2016.

The higher the K-index, the farther away from the geomagnetic poles the aurora can be seen, and the more effects can be seen. Generally coronal hole wind streams produce only minor storming; it takes a moderate to strong coronal mass ejection (CME) impact to reach the upper levels of the K-index.

The NOAA SWPC Geomagnetic Storm Scale.

We are currently experiecing a G1 Minor geomagnetic storm.

It takes something around an X-class flare producing a large, strong CME to hit an 8-9 on the K-index scale, and that's up around Carrington-event class. So we aren't going to have anything like that, but higher latitudes might have a nice aurora tonight or the next few nights.

Here are maps (posted to SolarHam, but obtained from NOAA SWPC) that will show you where aurorae are possible. Find the line marked Kp=5 for our current condition, then look from that line poleward. If you are in that region, keep a watch out for aurorae. If you are near but outside the region, keep an eye peeled poleward, just in case.

K-index map of North America.
K-index map of South America/Antarctica.
K-index map of Eurasia.
K-index map of Australia/extreme South Pacific.

Good viewing!

~Stephanie Osborn

Monday, August 22, 2016

Some Solar Updates

by Stephanie Osborn

Just a few tidbits today, guys.

FYI we had another spotless couple days. Scarcely two, but there was nothing yesterday and today there is a spot rotating around from the far side. According to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center there is one already on the near side continuing to decay — yet it doesn't show up — and the one rotating to the near side is one that rotated completely around. Judging by the STEREO imagery, however, there isn't another spot on the entire solar surface.

That said, there are some interesting magnetic field patterns in the inner corona in the Solar Dynamics Observatory's 211b channel, and that might indicate where the mysterious unseen spot group is supposed to be. Have a look at this image and look just over coronal hole 07, and you'll see it:

Said SDO channel image also shows the coronal holes, but they're moderate currently. We had a passage through an enhanced solar wind stream from one over the weekend, but it wasn't impressive and only mildly unsettled the geomagnetic field.

This magnetogram (also from SDO) shows that, plus the group rotating around, plus ANOTHER that also isn't showing up.

So yes, there's some activity, but it isn't a lot.

The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means for the Earth and You

Our Sun is an active star. It may even be a variable star. Sunspots, flares, coronal mass ejections, all are signs of its activity. What kind of effect does it have on Earth? Other than the occasional sunburn, could it be dangerous? Has it been dangerous in the past? What can we expect in the near future?

With any luck, while it isn't about solar/space weather, I should have some exciting news for my fans sometime this week!

~Stephanie Osborn

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Link to Guest Blog Series

by Stephanie Osborn

Just a quick note: Upon request (both from readers and Sarah), I have begun a series on solar, space, and geomagnetic weather on According to Hoyt. The first installment posted today. Future installments should post every Thursday for the next couple of months. I'll try to ensure that a new post goes up here to link my blog readers to it, also.

Here's the link:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Op-Ed Guest Post

Today, please welcome my old NASA colleague, Larry Bauer. Currently retired, he and I worked numerous Shuttle missions together as payload flight controllers.
~Stephanie Osborn

* * *

A Few Observations on Reusable Space Hardware,
or Why the Space Shuttle was an engineering masterpiece and a logistical nightmare.
by Larry Bauer

The National Space Transportation System, or what people commonly refer to as the Space Shuttle, was composed of four parts: the Shuttle itself, the three Shuttle main engines, the External Tank, and two Solid Rocket Boosters. In theory everything but the tank and its fuel were recoverable.

I was reminded of this when I saw an article noting the sixth successful landing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after the successful launch of the JCSAT-16 commercial communications satellite.

From a purely economical aspect it all comes down to what is the cheapest means to launch a payload into a desired orbit. On the face of it reusing hardware only makes sense. However there are a good many factors that mitigate against such as assumption.

With NSTS we salvaged everything except the ET. The Shuttle and engines landed and the SRB shells parachuted back into the sea for recovery. In theory maximum reuse of critical hardware. But let's look first at those boosters. They were made in sections far from the launch site, built and filled in sections so they could be transported by barge to Kennedy Space Center. From a logistics standpoint it would have made much more sense to build them as a single tube and fill them with solid propellant right there at the launch site. However that was not an option. The state of Florida would allow launches from KSC, but they refused permission to build the SRBs there. The solid propellant is nasty stuff and the process of filling the boosters violated too many state pollution restrictions. So the SRBs were built and filled originally by Thiokol of Brigham City, Utah, later bought out by ATK.

I will note that the recovery and remanufacture of the boosters was very cost- and labor-intensive, and there was always a debate over whether a cheaper throw-away design might have been more cost effective. I will also point out that a design incorporating a single continuous tube would have made the failure that caused the Challenger disaster impossible. Which does not mean something equally tragic might not have happened, but you cannot have a joint failure if there are no joints.

The high-performance Space Shuttle Main Engines, known as SSMEs or the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25, are an example where reuse of hardware only makes good sense. These are the pinnacle of the state of the art for liquid fuel rocket engines. With the help of the solid boosters, these engines, sucking immense quantities of liquid hydrogen and oxygen from the External Tank, could lift a combined vehicle and payload weight of roughly 2060 tons. Bringing these highly intricate and fine-tuned engines back for reuse only made sense.

And that does lead me to the subject of a rather controversial opinion of mine. As magnificent an engineering achievement as the NSTS was — and I spent the majority of my career at NASA doing ground support to on-orbit experiment operations so I have a great fondness for the beastie — the reason why it was a huge logistics failure rests in the numbers. The shuttle itself weighed in at 2030 tons. Its payload was 30 tons. The NSTS was a true heavy lift rocket, but most of what should have been useful payload mass to orbit was spent instead on creating the ability to land sort of like an airplane. A requirement imposed, by the way, by the Air Force — who withdrew from the project between the time the design was firmed up and the first launch. I will also observe that every astronaut pilot I've ever spoken with all described the shuttle as “that flying brick.” [I can confirm that astronaut description. —Steph]

And all of the above is explanation as to why we don't see any shuttle-like designs these days. It is ever so much more efficient to make as much of the upmass be useful payload as possible, with the crew compartment just sufficiently robust to carry the astronauts up and get them back to Earth safely.

* * *

Thanks much for that information, Larry! It squares pretty nicely with what I know of the various programs, as well.


A New American Space Plan, by Travis S. Taylor with Stephanie Osborn, available in print and ebook, discusses the history of space exploration, where we are, how we got there, and where we ought to be and be going. You can find a lot more detail on the Space Shuttle, how it worked, the main engines and how the whole system was designed, right in this book. There's also a good bit about the recent efforts to develop commercial space launch systems and why the epithet "commercial" is often a misnomer.

~Stephanie Osborn

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Couple Quick Updates

by Stephanie Osborn

The Sun has definitely awakened for the time. (Finally.) There are currently half a dozen spot groups on the solar near side; 2571 is about to rotate to the far side, but there are also 2573-7 as well, which range from a simple single spot to a multi-spot complex.

Solar Dynamics Observatory imagery
Labeling by
Note how the spots tend to cluster around the equatorial region. This is pretty typical for late in a solar cycle. Sunspots tend to start out at higher latitudes, closer to the poles, then drift equatorward.

Very minor C-class flares are occurring, but there is little chance for anything stronger. A filament did lift, and this may produce a small coronal mass ejection, or CME. We're waiting on LASCO (Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph, an instrument on SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) imagery to determine if it made a CME or not. Such CMEs tend not to be as strong as those associated with large flares, so even if it is Earth-directed, expect pretty aurorae and a few high-latitude effects, but nothing of significance.

There are some coronal holes, but they aren't "geoeffective" (aimed at Earth). Geomagnetic activity is quiet.

Solar Dynamics Observatory imagery
Labeling by

More data as it comes in.

* * *

Well, the night of August 11/12 was the absolute peak of the Perseids. I've just come in from spending about 20 minutes outside, having a look. (It's currently 4am local time.)

I have to say that I was underwhelmed, especially given the hype given to the predictions of "up to 200 meteors/hour." That comes out to be over 3 meteors per minute, or about one meteor every 15-20 seconds. So in 20 minutes, I should have seen around 66 meteors.

I saw about 1/10 that.

Now, granted, I'm in a subdivision and my skies are not the darkest. And we had some light patchy clouds moving through. But  I waited until after the moon had set before I went out, to have the darkest possible skies for my location. And I picked the clearest patches of sky to observe, and ensured I blocked any light sources. Keep in mind that I've observed this shower from this location numerous times before, as well, so I know what I'm looking for. And I've seen the Perseids storm, the year after the parent comet, Swift-Tuttle, came through -- both from a rural dark-sky site, and my yard, where I was tonight.

Bill Cooke, NASA Meteoroid Environment Office,
Huntsville, AL
August 10, 2009

I undoubtedly would have seen more meteors had I been in a dark-sky site. But ten times more? Really?

It's possible, also, that I simply picked a time when, coincidentally, we were going through a sparse patch -- I was busy writing, and lost track of time, or I'd have been out there earlier, for longer. I'll be interested to see what other observers have to say.

As for me -- I love the Perseids; they're gorgeous, bright fireball meteors. But this didn't come anywhere close to the spectacle I remember right after Swift-Tuttle came through. That was one I'll always remember. Tonight, not so much.

If you were out observing the Perseids, I'd love to hear your observations in the comments.

* * *


For more information on solar activity, check out my ebook, The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means for the Earth and You.

Just a quick promo for me and my fellow scientists, for those of you who are interested in such things: A new anthology will be released in September (we hope!) called Science Fiction By Scientists. Every short story in it is "hard SF" written by an actual scientist, along with a quick primer at the end of each story on the science involved. It's available for preorder now!

~Stephanie Osborn

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Perseid Meteor Shower and Other Stuff

by Stephanie Osborn

FYI, there's a lot of hullaballoo about the Perseid meteor shower this year. Here's a little tidbit to explain why.

Meteor showers are actually the debris left behind by comets. The tails blown off by the Sun form tiny particles in the swath of the parent comet's orbit, and when the Earth passes through it, the debris we run into flashes through the atmosphere and burns up, producing meteors. Most of these bits are the size of dust and sand; occasionally one is pebble-sized, which will be very bright.

This is why meteor showers are so predictable: we encounter the same orbital path each year, and go through the thickest part on the same day. If the parent comet has been through recently, there is a fresh, dense deposit of debris, and the shower will be especially good.

The radiant of this shower is the constellation Perseus; that is to say, all the meteors of the shower appear to be emerging from Perseus, radiating out and away from it. But the meteors have nothing to do with Perseus. Instead, we are seeing a kind of optical illusion. Imagine that you are in a car at night, headlights on, driving through a snowstorm. As the snowflakes enter the headlights and you move through them, they appear to radiate from a point in front of the car, seeming to move out from that point and around the car. This is the same effect; it is produced by the Earth moving through the meteoric debris.

So it will be easier to see the meteors if we are metaphorically on the hood of our planet-car than on the trunk! So it is better to observe meteor showers after midnight, because we are now on the forward-facing side in our orbit. The best observing times are from around 2 or 3am until near dawn.

Facing the radiant is not the best way to see lots of meteors, because the trails will be short: the meteors are moving right at you, and the trails will be short and quick. If you look away from it, the meteors are passing by you, and they will have long trails and last longer. So the best way to look is to turn, so your shoulder is pointing at the radiant, or even put your back to it and watch one large region of sky. Then you will see meteors entering the atmosphere at shallower angles, and they will have longer tracks, with more chance to spot them.

FWIW, meteor showers are not hard-edged things. Yes, the shower will have already started, but it is early stages yet, and they won't be very frequent. Your best bet for seeing meteors is a few days either side of the peak, which will occur the night of August 11/12. Also you want to go out AFTER MIDNIGHT. This is because you will now be on the forward-facing hemisphere relative to our orbit.

Wear comfortable clothes, and even in summertime, make sure you have a jacket; it can get rather cool in the wee small hours of the night. You'll be there for a while, so think about a chair, a blanket on the ground, or the like. My preference is for a chaise lounge, because it holds me in a comfortable position for watching the sky. A lap throw or similar blanket might be nice, too, depending on the weather where you are. (If you're in the Southern Hemisphere, it'll be de rigueur. It IS winter down there, after all, Summer Olympics in Rio notwithstanding.)

DO NOT FACE the radiant; this almost guarantees you'll see little to nothing. That's because you're looking right into the direction we're going, so meteor tracks will appear short and swift.

On the night of the peak (and for several days fore and aft), Perseus will be in the northeast. Turn so that your shoulder, or even your back, faces northeast, and survey a large area of the sky looking any direction BUT northeast, and give yourself at least an hour to observe. You should see some nice meteors in that time, especially this year.

Now, according to predictions, the Perseids MAY double their normal rate. But I never say an astronomical event like this ABSOLUTELY WILL do a thing. Because there are no guarantees. Yes, Jupiter may tweak the orbit of the debris so we do plow through the center of it -- but the part we plow through might just be unusually sparse, so it makes no difference.

FYI, I have never heard of the meteors from showers making impact. This is because they are the debris left behind from comets, "dirty snowballs" whose ice has sublimated via solar radiation. All that's left is particulates ranging largely from dust up to grains of sand. Rarely you get something pebble-sized. It all burns up in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and nothing much gets lower than around 60mi. (Regular meteors can get as low as 50mi. Some get as low as 40. It depends on the speed of the meteor. Perseids usually are gone by a 60mi. altitude.)

SOLAR UPDATE: Sometime between Thursday and Friday, a couple of new sunspot groups formed on the solar near side, 2571 and 2572. They began rather unimpressively, but are now rather reasonable sunspot groups. However, the more active of the two groups, 2572, will be rotating off the west edge to the far side in the next couple of days.

It's a little hard to determine what's going on with the solar far side right now; one of the twin STEREO spacecraft, STEREO Behind, has experienced a "transient hit" -- meaning that the electronics likely took a charged particle hit. Instrument recovery is in work now. The STEREO Ahead craft appears to indicate 2-3 large spot groups may be about to rotate to the near side.

The outflow from a large, oblong coronal hole has enhanced the solar wind in the last few days, resulting in an unsettled geomagnetic field. Another one will swing around into a 'geoeffective' (Earth-directed) position in a few more days, possibly producing more minor geomag storming. I'll post if it does.

Just a quick promo for me and my fellow scientists, for those of you who are interested in such things: A new anthology will be released in September (we hope!) called Science Fiction By Scientists. Every short story in it is "hard SF" written by an actual scientist, along with a quick primer at the end of each story on the science involved. It's available for preorder now!

~Stephanie Osborn

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Throw-Back Thursday: Some Quick Look-Backs and Current Updates

by Stephanie Osborn

Okay, folks, just a quick look into the past for those of you interested; this whole concept started off when a fellow author named Sarah Hoyt asked me to guest-blog for her about solar activity. Since then, she asked me back, so I have two posts on her blog about solar activity, one of which is only a few weeks old. Rather than re-post the whole thing here, I am simply going to link to her blog, to the particular articles in question.

So here's the first one, with lots of background info. It was first posted in May of 2015.

And here is the second one, which was posted in early July 2016.

I still get notifications on these from Sarah's blog, and will answer if you have questions, so feel free to post questions or comments, here or there, or in the Osborn Cosmic Weather Report group on Facebook.

For those who want even more information, I strongly recommend picking up my ebook, The Weather Out There Is Frightful: Solar/Space Weather and What It Means for the Earth and You. It's written by a professional astronomer (me) trained in spotted variable star science, for lay people with little to no science background.

CURRENT SOLAR UPDATE: As of this writing (early 4 Aug) we are currently in our fourth consecutive day of no visible sunspots on the near side. This is the fourth group of spotless days since June 1st. The total number of spotless days since that date currently totals 24 out of 64, or 37.5%. If we add in the days with only a tiny, short-lived spot group in that same time frame, we add in 9 more days, or 33 out of 64, at 51.6%.

A visible-light image of the Sun, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 2, 2016, depicting a lack of sunspots on the solar near side.

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: Oh, by the way, abusive comments and/or argumentative comments will be moderated on the Comet Tales blog and in the Facebook group. And I reserve the right not to answer such posts on Sarah's blog. I don't put up with trolling. I have better things to do with my time.

~Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Solar/Geomagnetic Activity!

by Stephanie Osborn


Earth is currently experiencing a GEOMAGNETIC STORM! These occur when a sudden influx of plasma (a gas cloud of charged particles) enters Earth's magnetic field from outside, most often from solar activity (a coronal mass ejection aka CME, or an enhanced wind stream from a coronal hole). They can be mild, strong, or severe, depending upon how dense the plasma cloud is.

Okay, for those of you just tuning in, let's work on explaining some terms.

      We are also sitting inside the atmosphere of the Sun, which is called the corona. Yes, we are, even at 93 million miles distant. It generates a wind, usually coming out from the Sun and spiraling away – yeah, the “solar wind.” Granted, the corona isn't very dense, but it's dense enough to create some effects, and we're working on using it to our benefit, like in solar sails and such, which can use the solar wind as much as light pressure (different topic) to maneuver around the Solar System like the spaceborne clipper ships of old. 
      But when the Sun gets... agitated, we'll say... the solar wind can get a lot denser. Coronal holes tend to move gradually from the poles down to lower latitudes, and the Sun's face develops an astronomical case of acne. This usually occurs around the time of solar maximum.
~The Weather Out There Is Frightful, Stephanie Osborn, ©2011

Now, a coronal hole is just a place in the magnetic field where the field lines stretch out to infinity, rather than looping back around, like the poles of a bar magnet. That means that the plasma can channel outward along those field lines, deep into the solar system.
This is an image of the inner corona of the Sun, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 2, 2016, at a wavelength of 211 Angstroms. The dark regions are the coronal holes, which show up nicely at this spectral region.

If Earth happens to run into one of these "enhanced solar wind streams," as they're called, if it's strong enough, it slams into our magnetic field like a bow wave from a ship. This compressed the magnetic field on the sunward side, and stretches out the "tail" on the anti-sunward side. If the tail is stretched enough, it can snap off, and "magnetic reconnection" occurs, when the field lines reattach closer in. But magnetic reattachment itself generates a HUGE surge of energy, which is fed back into Earth along our own poles.
      So what are the effects of coronal hole winds and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)? 
      They can actually raise the temperature of the outer layers of the Earth's atmosphere (the thermosphere, aptly named) sufficient to cause it to expand. This affects us, because that increases drag on satellites and spacecraft, and can cause the orbits of satellites to decay and re-enter well before they were intended... 
     Disruption of the Earth's magnetic field can be a problem. It can disrupt radio communication (including cell phones) rather severely. It can damage satellites that remain in orbit. It can generate “induced current” in any lengthy conductor...And it causes the aurorae. Most of you reading this have heard of the Northern Lights, properly termed the Aurora Borealis, but there are also the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis. These are actually ovals that circle the magnetic poles of Earth (and most other planets with magnetic fields, by the way. They've been photographed on Jupiter.) They are where the charged particles that have been caught up from the solar wind or CME into the geomagnetic field follow the field lines down into the atmosphere. The gas molecules become excited into a higher energy state, then discharge that extra energy as light. This is very similar–in fact, essentially the same–as a fluorescent light bulb, only natural and not contained. The colors are determined mostly by the main gas that is fluorescing. Carbon dioxide produces white light; nitrogen, pink or red; oxygen, green or blue. (It can also generate ozone.)
~The Weather Out There Is Frightful, Stephanie Osborn, ©2011


So what we've got, space fans, is a big ol' coronal hole generating an enhanced solar wind stream, and the Earth ran smack into it. Currently the planetary K-index (a rough measure of the strength of the disturbance in the planetary mag field) is oscillating between 5 and 4, and at 5, we start geomagnetic storming. It's minor, so far, but it's there. So we are under an official NOAA GEOMAGNETIC STORM ALERT for MINOR GEOMAGNETIC STORMING.

This in turn means that there will be some heating of the upper atmosphere, and it can induce some currents in conductive materials near the poles. Communications may be affected in high latitudes, and migratory animals may briefly become confused.

But what it ALSO means is that we have an AURORA ALERT for high latitudes! Now, NOAA doesn't put out aurora alerts. But I do! My followers on Facebook know that whenever conditions are right, I issue an aurora alert, and give a heads-up to the regions who can reasonably expect to see one. This is not a guarantee that you WILL, only that the probability is GOOD. Therefore --

Residents of Canada, Greenland, extreme northern Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, possibly extreme northern Scotland, Antarctica and the islands in the Antarctic oceans, Australia's state of Tasmania, the southern tip of New Zealand's south island, and the northern regions of the following USA states: Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, parts of North Dakota, and essentially all of Alaska --

Keep an eye to the skies tonight! You just might see an aurora!

~Stephanie Osborn