Sunday, May 14, 2017

Space Weather (and beyond)

I'm going to link to Mudvayne's cover of King of Pain simply because I'll forger about the little black spot on the sun today line as we get deeper and deeper into the solar minimum.
Music to read about cosmic rays by, down and dirty version:
SOLAR MINIMUM IS APPROACHING... Today marks the 5th day in a row and the 35th day in 2017 that the sun has been blank--no sunspots. This exceeds the total number of spotless days in all of 2016 (32). The accelerating pace of spotlessness is a sign that Solar Minimum is approaching. Forecasters expect the sunspot cycle, which swings like a pendulum between high and low sunspot number every ~11 years, to reach its nadir in 2019-2020. Stay tuned for more blank suns. Free: Aurora Alerts

... AND COSMIC RAYS ARE INTENSIFYING: Many people think Solar Minimum is boring. Wrong. During the nadir of the sunspot cycle, the entire heliosphere changes its personality with many consequences for the space around our planet. One of the most important changes involves cosmic rays--high-energy radiation reaching Earth from deep space. As sunspot numbers decline, cosmic rays intensify. 

Is this actually happening? The answer is "yes." and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been monitoring radiation levels in the stratosphere with frequent high-altitude balloon flights over California. Here are the latest results, current as of May 6, 2017:
The data show cosmic ray levels intensifying with an approximately 13% increase since March 2015.
Cosmic rays are high-energy photons and subatomic particles accelerated in our direction by distant supernovas and other violent events in the Milky Way. Usually, cosmic rays are held at bay by the sun's magnetic field, which envelops and protects all the planets in the Solar System. But the sun's magnetic shield is weakening in 2017 as the solar cycle shifts from Solar Maximum to Solar Minimum. More and more cosmic rays are therefore reaching our planet.
How does this affect us? Cosmic rays penetrate commercial airlines, dosing passengers and flight crews enough that pilots are classified as occupational radiation workers. Some research shows that cosmic rays can seed clouds and trigger lightning, potentially altering weather and climate. Furthermore, there are studies ( #1, #2, #3, #4) linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias in the general population....MORE, including Recent & Upcoming Earth-asteroid encounters and what the kids are up to with the balloons.
Daily Sun: 14 May 17
The sun is blank--no sunspots. 
Credit: SDO/HMI


"We still don’t know where cosmic rays are coming from"
"Alien particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronic devices"
As the sun goes into its cyclical solar minimum and the moderating effect of solar energetic particles decreases we'll probably be seeing a dramatic uptick in searches for "cosmic rays" on GoogleTrends over the next couple years, index currently at 35...
Inside The Mind of Stephen Hawking: Electro-Cosmic Dance Party