NASA News: NASA Data And New Techniques Yield Detailed Views Of Solar Storms

WASHINGTON -- NASA spacecraft observations and new data processing
techniques are giving scientists better insight into the evolution
and development of solar storms that can damage satellites, disrupt
communications and cause power grid failures on Earth.

The solar storms, called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), are being
observed from NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or
STEREO, spacecraft launched in 2006. The duo represents a key
component within a fleet of NASA spacecraft that enhance the
capability to predict solar storms.

Previous spacecraft imagery did not clearly show the structure of a
solar disturbance as it traveled toward Earth. As a result,
forecasters had to estimate when storms would arrive without knowing
the details of how they evolve and grow. New processing techniques
used on STEREO data allow scientists to see how solar eruptions
develop into space storms at the Earth.

"The clarity these new images provide will improve the observational
inputs into space weather models for better forecasting," said Lika
Guhathakurta, STEREO program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

CMEs are billion-ton clouds of solar plasma launched by the same sun
explosions that spark solar flares. When they sweep past Earth, they
can cause auroras, radiation storms that can disrupt sensitive
electronics on satellites, and in extreme cases, power outages.
Better tracking of these clouds and the ability to predict their
arrival is an important part of space weather forecasting.

Newly released images from cameras on the STEREO-A spacecraft reveal
detailed features in a large Earth-directed CME in late 2008,
connecting the original magnetized structure in the sun's corona to
the intricate anatomy of the interplanetary storm as it hit the
planet three days later. When the data were collected, the spacecraft
was more than 65 million miles away from Earth.

The spacecraft's wide-angle cameras captured the images. They detect
ordinary sunlight scattered by free-floating electrons in plasma
clouds. When these clouds in CMEs leave the sun, they are bright and
easy to see. However, visibility is quickly reduced, as the clouds
expand into the void. The clouds are about one thousand times fainter
than the Milky Way, which makes direct imaging of them difficult.
That also has limited our understanding of the connection between
solar storms and the coronal structures that cause them.

"Separating these faint signals from the star field behind them proved
especially challenging, but it paid off," said Craig DeForest,
scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. and
lead author of an Astrophysical Journal article released online
yesterday. "We have been drawing pictures of structures like these
for several decades. Now that we can see them so far from the sun, we
find there is still a lot to learn."

These observations can pinpoint not only the arrival time of the CME,
but also its mass. The brightness of the cloud enabled researchers to
calculate the cloud's gas density throughout the structure, and
compare it to direct measurements by other NASA spacecraft. When this
technique is applied to future storms, forecasters will be able to
say with confidence whether Earth is about to be hit by a small or
large cloud, and where on the sun the material originated.

STEREO's two observatories orbit the sun, one ahead of Earth and one
behind. They will continue to move apart over time. STEREO is the
third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program. The program
seeks to understand the fundamental physical processes of the space
environment from the sun to Earth and other planets.

The STEREO spacecraft were built and are operated for NASA by the
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the
mission, instruments and science center. The STEREO instruments were
designed and built by scientific institutions in the U.S., UK,
France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Switzerland.

For more information and images, visit:


For more information about the STEREO mission and instruments, visit:



NASA Media Telecon To Announce Technology Demonstration Missions

WASHINGTON -- NASA will hold a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT on
Monday, Aug. 22, to announce proposals selected in the agency's
Technology Demonstration Mission program.

These crosscutting technology demonstrations were selected because of
their potential to infuse high-impact capabilities into NASA's future
space operations missions. Flight demonstrations will advance the
technology readiness of these systems, providing tangible products
and capabilities ready for infusion into NASA missions.

Technology Demonstration Missions are a vital element in the
technology readiness pipeline, allowing NASA to advance innovations
from concept to flight across the agency's 10 space technology programs.

The participants are:
-- Michael Gazarik, NASA deputy chief technologist, Office of the
Chief Technologist, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- James Reuther, director, Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations
division, Office of the Chief Technologist
-- Bonnie James, program executive, Technology Demonstrations
Missions, Office of the Chief Technologist

To participate, reporters must contact David Steitz at
david.steitz@nasa.gov or 202-358-1730, by 10 a.m. on Aug. 22 for
dial-in instructions.
Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA's website at:


For more information about the Technology Development Missions
program, visit:


For more information about NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist, visit:



NASA Research Leads To First Complete Map Of Antarctic Ice Flow

WASHINGTON -- NASA-funded researchers have created the first complete
map of the speed and direction of ice flow in Antarctica. The map,
which shows glaciers flowing thousands of miles from the continent's
deep interior to its coast, will be critical for tracking future
sea-level increases from climate change. The team created the map
using integrated radar observations from a consortium of international satellites.

"This is like seeing a map of all the oceans' currents for the first
time. It's a game changer for glaciology," said Eric Rignot of NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of
California (UC), Irvine. Rignot is lead author of a paper about the
ice flow published online Thursday in Science Express. "We are seeing
amazing flows from the heart of the continent that had never been
described before."

Rignot and UC Irvine scientists Jeremie Mouginot and Bernd Scheuchl
used billions of data points captured by European, Japanese and
Canadian satellites to weed out cloud cover, solar glare and land
features masking the glaciers. With the aid of NASA technology, the
team painstakingly pieced together the shape and velocity of glacial
formations, including the previously uncharted East Antarctica, which
comprises 77 percent of the continent.

Like viewing a completed jigsaw puzzle, the scientists were surprised
when they stood back and took in the full picture. They discovered a
new ridge splitting the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass from east to west.

The team also found unnamed formations moving up to 800 feet annually
across immense plains sloping toward the Antarctic Ocean and in a
different manner than past models of ice migration.

"The map points out something fundamentally new: that ice moves by
slipping along the ground it rests on," said Thomas Wagner, NASA's
cryospheric program scientist in Washington. "That's critical
knowledge for predicting future sea level rise. It means that if we
lose ice at the coasts from the warming ocean, we open the tap to
massive amounts of ice in the interior."

The work was conducted in conjunction with the International Polar
Year (IPY) (2007-2008). Collaborators worked under the IPY Space Task
Group, which included NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian
Space Agency (CSA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Alaska
Satellite Facility in Fairbanks, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and
Associates of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. The map builds on
partial charts of Antarctic ice flow created by NASA, CSA and ESA
using different techniques.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time that a tightly knit
collaboration of civilian space agencies has worked together to
create such a huge dataset of this type," said Yves Crevier of CSA.
"It is a dataset of lasting scientific value in assessing the extent
and rate of change in polar regions."

For a video animation of the new Antarctic map, visit:


For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:



◄ Share this news!

Bookmark and Share


The Manhattan Reporter

Recently Added

Recently Commented