Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part II – By Stephanie Osborn

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part II

By Stephanie Osborn

“Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Rocket Scientist and Novelist


Last time, we talked about the corona, the solar wind, the solar magnetic field, coronal holes, and solar cycles. But wait! There’s more!

At Solar Max, there’s a lot of activity. Lots of sunspots, lots of flares and other kinds of eruptions. The coronal holes move away from the Sun’s poles and group in with the sunspots, spewing high-speed solar particles out into the plane of the solar system.

At the end of every 11-year cycle, the magnetic orientation of the spots…flips. Yeah, you heard right — this is one of the few times when the old trope about “reversing the polarity” is actually the correct answer. The end that was North becomes South, and the end that was South becomes North. MORE, the ENTIRE solar magnetic field ALSO flips! (This got very complex this last time; it wasn’t as fast and simple. It took nearly six months, and for a time our Sun had something like FOUR South poles, and NO North poles. Yeah, stellar magnetics gets crazy.) It takes a whole ‘nother cycle to get back to the way it started out. So that’s a second solar cycle, the 22-year cycle.

As the solar cycle winds down from Max to Min, the process starts all over. New magnetic snarls form deep in the Sun near the new poles, and gradually move to the surface and drift toward the equator. But while this is occurring, the photosphere tends to get quiet.



As the sunspots start to reach the photosphere again, the Sun starts ramping back up from Solar Minimum to Solar Maximum, and another active period accompanying a pole flip. Over and over and over, every eleven years on average.

In addition there are longer cycles that we are still working on figuring out, because they’re tens to hundreds of years long, and it’s hard to get data that goes far enough back to chart those. However, a recent development called the double-dynamo model (we’ll talk more about it later) is helping to explain those.

Now, sunspots look dark not because they’re cold, but because they’re just a bit cooler than the surrounding plasma of the photosphere (which is the visible “surface” of the Sun). If the photosphere is about 5,800°K (~10,500°F), then the sunspots are about 3,000-4,500°K (4,900-7,600°F). Still plenty hot enough to fry your bacon, but still several thousand degrees cooler than their surroundings. They can be teeny-tiny (relatively speaking, of course) or they can be huge things (80,000km/50,000mi — not too shabby when you consider the Earth is about 13,000km/8,000mi diameter), big enough to be seen by the naked eye. (But don’t do that — we like having eyesight. If you really want to observe the Sun, the best way is to get a telescope, aim it at the Sun, and hold a sheet of white cardboard behind the eyepiece. Adjust the distance until you get an image of the Sun projected on the cardboard. This is a cool way to watch solar eclipses, too. If you don’t have a telescope, grab a shoebox, punch a small hole in one end, turn it upside down and point the hole at the Sun, then tilt the thing around until you get a small image inside the opposite end of the box.) Sunspots aren’t really dark at all; they just APPEAR dark because of the contrast with the surrounding hotter, brighter photosphere.

So you might reasonably expect that during a solar max the Sun would be cooler, and send less energy out into space, right? Well, at first glance you might think so, but that isn’t really how it works.

Remember, a sunspot is a big magnetic snarl. And the plasma around it follows the lines in that snarl. So we get all those great big loops — prominences and flares and things like that.



Occasionally, like a snarl in your hair, the lines break — but unlike your hair, they reattach, producing really spectacular flares. The bright blue-white spot in this next solar image is a flare.


Up close, it can look something like the next image. (Also let me take this opportunity to point out that the images I’m using are taken in various spectral regions, but almost none of them are taken in visible light, and all of them use “false-color” schemes to enhance detail. Remember what I said about finding the right ways to see the details of what’s happening? Different spectral regions — certain parts of the visible, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, and more — are ways to do that, because the particular frequency emitted is determined by the element — or the energy/temperature — of the particle emitting the photon.)

mass ejections


And then there are the CMEs. Coronal Mass Ejections. In the image above, the white light is the flare, and the orange and red “flame” coming off it is a prominence becoming a CME. Below is a video of a “filament” aka prominence lifting off to become a CME.


I’m never quite sure how to best anthropomorphize a CME. Are they solar belches, or sneezes? Suffice it to say that all of that magnetic field mess around the sunspot group causes some sort of explosion. (No, we don’t know exactly why. We do know it’s really, really complicated, and involves something called magnetic reattachment — where those mag field lines break and then reattach to another one closer by.) And it is like a giant nuclear bomb, blowing a big bubble of plasma away from the Sun at high speeds. If the flare is the bomb’s explosion, the CME is the mushroom cloud.

See the big blue blob above the Sun in this image? That’s a CME screaming off the Sun.



So between the coronal holes increasing both the speed and density of the solar wind, and these CMEs exploding into the solar system, the most active time for the Sun is in fact Solar Max, and that is when it’s pumping more energy into the solar system, not less.


~Stephanie Osborn

Comet Tales blog/Osborn Cosmic Weather Report:


185 responses to “Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part II – By Stephanie Osborn

  1. This is fascinating.

  2. What is the sense of ‘speed’ between solar wind, flares and CMEs? Light is 8 1/3 minutes, and CMEs being a plasma are certainly slower. Are flares speed of light?

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      And is the mass lost to escape velocity over the life of the star a lot or a little?

    • We get the effects of flares in the x-rays, so yes, flares are speed of light. So we have:
      flares — ~300,000,000m/s or 1,080,000,000km/hr or 671,000,000mph
      solar wind — 450,000-700,000m/s or 1,620,000-2,520,000km/hr or 1,010,000-1,566,000mph
      CME — ~20,000-3,200,000m/s or 20-3,200km/s or 45,000-7,200,000mph

      The wide range with the CME is due to the fact that, if another CME passed through recently, it will have cleared the interplanetary medium such that it’s closer to a vacuum, so the next CME will be able to move faster, with much less resistance.

    • What the heck?! I answered your question in a long response, Donald, and now it seems to have gone away. Along with all the calculations I made to do it…

    • Solar flares pretty much effect us via x-rays, so yes, speed of light.

      Which puts speeds at:

      Solar flares: 300,000,000m/s (300,000km/s) (671,000,000mph)
      Solar wind: 400,000-750,000m/s (400-750km/s) (895,000-1,680,000mph)
      CMEs: 20,000-3,200,000m/s (20-3,200km/s) (45,000-7,158,000mph)

      The reason for the huge variation on CME speeds is because, if a CME has been through very recently, it will have cleared out the interplanetary medium, resulting in highly-decreased resistance, and the subsequent CME will not be slowed down. (Think of it as interplanetary terminal velocity. If the “atmosphere” isn’t there because it’s been swept aside, the falling object will go much faster.) This is, in fact, what happened during the Carrington event: two very large CMEs were emitted within a couple days of each other, and the second one blasted through and slammed into Earth before the effects of the first even had time to completely die down.

    • Solar flares pretty much effect us via x-rays, so yes, speed of light.

      Which puts speeds at:

      Solar flares: 300,000,000m/s
      Solar wind: 400,000-750,000m/s
      CMEs: 20,000-3,200,000m/s

      The reason for the huge variation on CME speeds is because, if a CME has been through very recently, it will have cleared out the interplanetary medium, resulting in highly-decreased resistance, and the subsequent CME will not be slowed down. (Think of it as interplanetary terminal velocity. If the “atmosphere” isn’t there because it’s been swept aside, the falling object will go much faster.) This is, in fact, what happened during the Carrington event: two very large CMEs were emitted within a couple days of each other, and the second one blasted through and slammed into Earth before the effects of the first even had time to completely die down.

    • Solar flares pretty much effect us via x-rays, so yes, speed of light.

      Which puts speeds at:

      Solar flares: three hundred million m/s
      Solar wind: four hundred thousand to seven hundred fifty thousand m/s
      CMEs: twenty thousand to three million two hundred thousand m/s

      The reason for the huge variation on CME speeds is because, if a CME has been through very recently, it will have cleared out the interplanetary medium, resulting in highly-decreased resistance, and the subsequent CME will not be slowed down. (Think of it as interplanetary terminal velocity. If the “atmosphere” isn’t there because it’s been swept aside, the falling object will go much faster.) This is, in fact, what happened during the Carrington event: two very large CMEs were emitted within a couple days of each other, and the second one blasted through and slammed into Earth before the effects of the first even had time to completely die down.

    • Okay, full answer — WITH NUMBERS — is over on my blog in the comments, here:

      • Thanks heaps. I found your site with numbers, commas, and 0s to be a little easier to compare than the text numbers. Very sorry you had to post it 3 times, that was a lot of text to be retyping.
        Aarrgg! This is the same Donald that normally appears with the Chilean Navy hat and the Antarctic peninsula in the background, but apparently my facebook account is hosed. And I can’t even change the green blobby avatar!!!

  3. OK so if the CMEs happen when the magnetic lines break and reattach, is the mass ejection plasma that was trapped in that magnetic field loop similar to the magnetic bottles we use in our test fusion reactors?

    • What, the fusion reactors whose “sustained fusion” is always “only 20 years away”?

      Actually we’ve never been able to create efficient magnetic bottles. Most of the current efforts of which I’m aware use the inertial confinement concept, like the Shiva laser.

      But no, it isn’t trapped in the magnetic loop. In fact, it’s accelerated away from the Sun because of the magnetic field, much like a particle accelerator — a cyclotron or synchrotron.

      What remains in the close-to-the-Sun part, after reattachment, usually cools and falls back into the Sun, following the field lines as it does so.

      • I thought 20-30 years ago it was a mere ’10 years away’, and for the last 10-15 a mere ‘5 years away’.
        If you keep moving the goal posts, we should to be able to trim another 2 to 3 years.

        • I suspect you’re making the common error of thinking that ’10 years away’ refers to the next ten years. This is quite understandable but wrong.

          Such developments do not occur as a steady progress except in their final phases, especially when you factor in the vagaries of government funding and grad student distraction.

          So yes, ’10 years away’ but that is ignoring the interim years persuading thesis committees your work is significant (much more difficult in STEM), shaking grants out of the the government orchard (remember — the moon was ’10 years away’ only once the Federal Gummint made a priority of it, and once they lost focus the fallback was the Space Shuttle, the minivan of recreational vehicles.

  4. And more sunspot activity creates a more dense ionosphere, improving shortwave communications.

  5. But none of this affects temperatures on Earth, right? ‘Cause Climate Change is, like, totally man-made and groddy.

    Less speciously, just how much mass (in Earth-masses or Luna-masses, whichever scales best) are we talking about with an average CME?

    • Of course not. The science of Climate Change is ‘settled’. Amazing claim when Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and Evolution are still considered Theories.

      • Its theories all the way down.

        • No, it’s computer models all the way down.

          • And the more you know about computer modeling, the scarier that statement is.

          • Those would be the same computer models that when fed historic data will reliably fail to mirror actual reality? Those computer models?
            When I was with the gubmint I was on a team for a while that did evaluation of contractor performance reviews. When I started I was warned to always look for the “N” factor. Named after a contractor who’s data always looked perfect, too perfect if you get my drift. When the right people looked at the algorithms that crunched the final reports they kept running into an N variable in the coding. When asked, in a remarkable display of honesty, one of the developers of the algorithms admitted that N was the number they had to input so that their answers would come out the way they wanted them to look.

          • Sorry, I was referring to science generally as theories all the way down. Climate change “science,” OTOH…. ugh.

            • That’s what I took your statement as meaning. While few practitioners of the Dark Art under discussion are willing to admit it (these days), the fundamental axiom of Science is that the Creator of the Universe (and all its contents) is not insane.

            • Then you need to understand a bit about the scientific method. An unproven concept is a hypothesis. You formulate a hypothesis, preferably in such a way that it’s testable. You then construct an experiment to test the hypothesis. If it fails the test, you go back to square one. If it succeeds, and continues to succeed, it becomes a theory — a proven concept. Thus, the Theory of Special Relativity has never failed a test at macro scales, and there is evidence that it applies in quantum scales as well. If, however, at some point the theory DOES fail, and cannot be adjusted in any fashion to make it work (e.g. the Theory of General Relativity tends to need modification at quantum scales), then it will be discarded. An example of such a discarded theory is the Steady-State Universe.

              A scientific law is usually derived, at least initially, from observations of the universe, and formulated into an always-applicable, cause-and-effect statement, as for example the Law of Universal Gravitation, wherein the gravitational force is directly proportional to the mass(es) of the object(s) and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

              So for the most part, what you are always going to see being experimented-upon are hypotheses and theories, either of which may be modified until they fit the conditions or until it is demonstrated that they cannot be made to fit the conditions, at which time they are thrown out.

              However, at a certain point, a theory can become so very well supported that it is unlikely it will ever be thrown out. At this point it is only one step removed from being a law, and most scientists will treat it as such.

              Which is why, when I saw an article recently wherein the scientist started out with something along the lines of, “First, I had to assume that the laws of thermodynamics were wrong,” my response was, approximately, “Yeah, right, I got THAT one. No need to read further.” I did, however, and pretty much found that my expectations, generated from that “initial condition,” were fulfilled. Felt like I’d wasted my time, too.

            • Real theories offer ‘predictions’ and methods of falsification. Likewise, congruence to older theories in limiting conditions is a good feature. For instance Newton’s “Laws” of motion are still very accurate for reasonable sized objects traveling at low (compared to c) velocities. Maxwell’s equations offered some symmetries to gravitation (especially the inverse R^2 force).

              Then there is the religion of climate change. CO2 is a less intense greenhouse gas than water vapor, but it doesn’t matter because CO2 ‘drives’ water vapor in a subtle fashion. Now solar radiation and cosmic rays drive water vapor as well, but we have to discount them, because we can’t blame humans for it.

              • Anthroprogenic Climate Change offers predictions: “We’re Doomed, Doomed, Doomed I tell you” is a prediction.

                Their methods of falsification are too numerous to discuss, from massaging the data to “computer models” to Mann’s “Hackey Sack.”

                • RES, totally different definition of ‘falsification.’ In your example, you mean to falsify data, as in either making stuff up or ‘adjusting’ the statistics until it says what you want. Donald and I are talking about the ability to demonstrate that a given hypothesis (or theory) is false.

                  I don’t much care for the terminology, but it’s the accepted usage.

                • Actually, they’ve long made predictions, and not just Mann’s off-the-cuff street in Manhattan underwater remark. I don’t have an URL, but someone has done a paper examining the accuracy of the predictions. The conclusion is that it’s less than a random-walk. In other words, the predictions would have been more accurate if they had just guessed.

                  That you can’t run the predictions backwards accurately pretty much tells us the state of AGW models.

              • And for those unfamiliar with the usage, in this case ‘falisification’ simply means that you can set up a definitive experiment which will show if the first cut is true or false — if false, then the hypothesis or theory fails and you start that whole “can we modify it reasonably so that it works, or do we need to scrap it?” discussion.

                • Pfui – you had to spoil my joke in the time spent composing it, didn’t you?

                  Dear Lord, I hope nobody reading here doesn’t know what falsification of a hypothesis entails.

                  • You never know. I find that it is always useful to define terms. I have had non-scientists misconstrue stuff before, so explanations do help.

                    • “I have had non-scientists misconstrue stuff before”
                      Sounds like a perfect definition of ‘climate scientists’.

                    • Proponents of AGW are often recognized experts in their fields, which for some odd reason never have any association to meteorology or climate science. Or you find that the true correlation involved is between a belief in AGW and their grant funding.

              • Also you need to realize that Newton’s Laws of Motion still apply — they have simply been expanded by the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, both of which simplify to Newtonian laws in macro-scale, and at non-relativistic speeds.

                • are there theories that aren’t testable? I was thinking about things like weak force, nature of gravity etc.

                  • You kind of have to skirt around the definition of “theory” there. Almost by definition, if it qualifies as a theory, it has conditions that can be tested.

                    On the other hand, there are theories which we don’t yet have the means to test. However, they do imply tests that could be made, if we were able to meet the conditions.

                    • Also, I’ve been watching “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel tonight. (It gives me GREAT ideas for SF stories; I just have to keep throwables out of arm’s reach, lest I destroy the lovely flat-screen TV Darrell got us last Christmas.) And I found it amusing, because their catchphrase is, “What if XXX? Ancient astronaut theorists say yes.”

                      Well, they say yes to everything. But I note that they don’t call themselves “ancient astronaut SCIENTISTS,” and the “theorist” part doesn’t apply either, because nothing about what they propose is remotely reproducible. You can’t design an experiment to determine if it’s true or false, therefore by definition it isn’t a theory.

                      So it even fails Wayne’s less-stringent “if we had the tech, we could test it” restriction.

                    • we;ll, technically, i have tests, just no one gets past step one…

                      1: build a fleet of interstellar ships
                      2: explore the universe
                      3: look for signs of ancient aliens

                    • that’s what I had in mind. We know gravity’s effects. Do we know what causes it? Do we know how it is caused?

                    • The thing you need to remember is that gravity is NOT a theory. Gravity is a LAW. This is because, no matter where we look in the universe, we see its effects and can calculate them accurately.

                      As to what causes it, it seems to be a function of mass. General relativity models it via spacetime curvature, meaning wherever there is a concentration of mass, there will be a gravity well. Quantum mechanics models it somewhat differently, and yet the same: The much-ballyhooed Higgs boson is believed to be the particle which carries mass, and therefore which would determine the localized gravity field.

                      Now, I find that interesting, because most bosons can also function as fields. So that gets me started thinking about how to generate Higgs bosons and form a Higgs field…because if we could do that, and manipulate the distribution of the field…

                      Well, do terms like “artificial gravity,” “anti-gravity,” “deflector shields,” “tractor beams,” or “pressor beams” mean anything to you?

                      It hasn’t been demonstrated for fact yet. But it does leave me speculating and seriously wondering. Not to mention giving me fodder for more books.

                    • So that gets me started thinking about how to generate Higgs bosons and form a Higgs field…because if we could do that, and manipulate the distribution of the field…

                      I guess the first step is developing tabletop multi-TeV particle accelerators… 🙂

                    • On “Ancient Astronauts:”
                      Call them philosophers? The Church of Van Daniken?

                    • Van Daniken? You mean the guy whose books I took to my 8th grade weekly Bible class (Presbytrian private school, Montgomery AL) to debate with the teachers? 😎

                      Why, yes, I did stack extensive effort on top of my natural talent for misanthropy. What was your first clue?

                    • Just wordsmithing, I know, but I would say rather than gravity is a PROPERTY of matter that we have found to be a constant in the observable universe. The LAW of gravity simply means that every time you plug certain parameters into the mathematical model that describes gravitational force you will get a consistent answer.
                      One reason why as soon as we learned they were fudging their input data we knew that the AGW “scientists” were talking through their hats.

                    • Well, it seems to be a property of MASS-ENERGY. Under certain circumstances, light can effectively function thus, and is certainly affected by the gravity well. But your definition of the law is correct. Strictly speaking the Law of Gravitation is the equation,
                      F = GMm/r^2
                      but in practice it is the effects upon what we see.

                      And “hats” is not the object I’d have used…

                    • The idea of creating and manipulating Higgs Bosons seems like the first means of describing artificial gravity (not using centripetal force) that isn’t 100% pure hand-wavium.

      • It’s a semantic problem. They clearly mean that Climate Change is “settled science” in so far as it is a concept that has precipitated out of the solution that is active science as a sludge at the bottom of the container. It is inactive and can no longer participate in reactions with real science.

    • There is no such thing as an “average” CME, really. But the estimated lower limit on “average” mass is ~1.6×1012 kg (3.5×1012 lb).

      • The Earth is about 5.972 × 10^24kg.

        So a CME is about 2.68×10^-13 Earth masses. That’s 0.00000000000268 Earth masses.

      • So basically any CME mass that gets velocitized outwards at below solar system escape velocity can’t fall back in because of solar wind pressure? Does that mean there’s a CME-ejected-particle equilibrium radius somewhere at the balance of solar gravitational attraction and solar wind pressure where that stuff would pile up?

  6. Fascinating again. Thanks again!

  7. Still plenty hot enough to fry your bacon…

    I think that’s too hot for my bacon. I like my bacon limp, not extra crispy. (RUNS)

    • I was thinking more in terms of vaporized, but okay…

    • Yeah! Another floppy bacon fan.

      • I find the floppiness or crispness oof the bacon is best determined by its intended application. Bacon served in a BLT or Club Sandwich requires different texture from that wrapped about a hotdog, crumbled on a salad or in an omelet or eaten straight.

      • The Cherokee have a delish breakfast dish — don’t remember the name of the stuff — but you take grits, crispy bacon, and maple syrup. Crumble the bacon into the grits, pour the syrup over all, stir together, snorfle yourself to death eating it.

        • Sonds like something that’d be very messy to eat.

          • sounds

          • No more so than eating regular grits. And it’s really really good. The smoky salty bacon, the sweet syrup, and the creamy grits (especially if you also put butter on ’em) makes for a pleasing taste and texture.

            • I seldom buy grits. Instead, I just take ordinary corn meal and make mush (or polenta, if you’re a yankee), and this sounds like something that I’ve actually done with mush. And yeah, it was good.

              • Almost the same difference. The only difference being, for grits the corn was made hominy before being dried and ground. Changes the flavor a little bit.

                To me, hot grits with salt and butter tastes like you made hot cereal from popcorn.

              • Hominy grits has the benefit of having vitamins “unlocked” in the process of soaking in lye (alternate process – I think – with lime). In regular corn meal, the nutrients are unabsorbed, and you wind up with things like pellagra.

                There’s a product found in the Mexican cuisine aisle called Masa, which is a type of corn meal made from ground hominy. It may also be finer ground – has seen one of my aunts use it in place of regular corn meal, but that’s all.

                And now I have a hankering for hominy, which, unfortunately, the rest of the family doesn’t like.

                • Yes, masa is essentially the same stuff, but finer ground. I will occasionally get masa to make a quick batch of corn pudding. It’s also good sliced, pan-fried and drizzled with honey or maple syrup.

                • Masa is generally used in the making of tamales. There’s always a run on it around here in the Mexican oriented grocery stores come Advent/Christmas.

              • It’s only polenta if you’re city folk. My dad grew up PA Dutch in central PA and ate corn meal mush for breakfast all during his youth (which is why he refuses to touch the stuff today).

                • I was under the impression that the Pennsylvania Dutch preferred to combine their corn meal mush with sausage makings before cooking to produce Scrapple, thus making corn meal and pork both inedible.

                • Well, we do that too. But inedible? Hardly. Of course, I have a theory that every subculture on the planet has at least one dish that people outside that subculture look at and say, “Nope, that’s not food.” Maybe for you English scrapple is that dish. 🙂

                  • Oh, it’s a lot of people outside of PA who think it’s either inedible or, “Nope, not gonna even touch that”. Largely because of the belief that scrapple is made from the scraps that are already inedible, and just given a different appearance.

                    My personal opinion after trying it is “meh”, but it might be more interesting with different spices.

                    • That’s a mistake on their part then. The scraps (not exactly inedible, but let’s not quibble) are made into souse. Souse can be either OK or horrid, depending on who’s making it. 🙂

                  • I think that, for the English, Haggis already filled that niche.

                    As you might surmise from my formulation, I am not of the English; my ancestry is derived from Lithuanian, Latvian and Russian Baltic regions. Our ancestral dishes are chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young and egg rolls.

                    • To the PA Dutch, anyone who isn’t PA Dutch is “English.” Heck, for the Amish other PA Dutch folks are “English.”

                    • I be’s Scots in addition to some Cherokee. (And Irish, English, Welsh, French, Spanish, Italian, Norse, and a few other things in there. Mom’s into genealogy.) And I happen to love me some good haggis. I’ve had black pudding too, and it’s okay but nothing special.

                  • I shocked some folks in Germany by ordering “Himmel und Eh’e” (regional contraction for Himmel und Erde) which is a type of black sausage-n-apples-n-stuff. Lower Rhine hash, strongly associated with the area around Cologne. I love it. The people I was with had some very definite reservations about it, in part because it is about two shades darker than overcooked liver. The waiter decided at that moment that I was a long-lost native and we got fantastic service for the rest of the evening.

                    • Memories…decades ago, I was posted to Neu Ulm, on the border between Bayern (Bavaria) and Baden-Wuerttenberg. The dishes I would consistently order at gasthaeuser were spaetzle and Russiche Eier.

            • The key to really creamy grits is to throw away the instant ones and ignore the instructions about using water – make old style (slow) in a double boiler with milk.

              • I don’t use double boilers — heard of too many accidents with the things when I was a kid and all my relations were into canning the garden/farm produce — and yes I helped but was not allowed even close to a double boiler in use — but making the slow grits with milk, oh yes.

                • Are you sure you’re thinking of the same thing? I’ve never heard of an accident with a double boiler. Are you perhaps thinking of a pressure cooker? Or is there some danger in a double boiler that I am not seeing?

              • I just closely follow the directions on the bag (that predates the Saturday morning where I gave up cooking breakfast after a chorus of “Mama doesn’t do it that way”). That gives good results. I’ve also had good results microwaving instant grits.

                I actually prefer grits slightly on the stiff side – and consider cold, congealed, grits something of a treat.

        • Hunh. My Mom used to chow down on that. It probably got passed down the family tree.

          Come to think about it, it’s probably the only thing she didn’t season with bacon grease.

          The major joy of moving out on my own was that I never had to eat her cooking ever again.

      • I loved floppy bacon as a kid! 😀

  8. On topic, though, this is the first time I remember hearing about Solar magnetic pole reversals.

  9. I would have to think that the mass the sun is losing through ejecta is somewhat compensated by the space material that falls into the sun’s gravity field. I don’t know that there is any way to track and record that though.

    • Yeah, I don’t know either, offhand. Our ability to even observe such is only decades old, so…

      • Thought as much. CME are pretty obvious while an impact, even a big one, fades into background noise, and if it’s on the back side not even that.

        • Bingo. Once in a great while, we see a comet plunge into the Sun, but even then, about half the time they’re on the far side, and we just see it disappear behind the Sun and not come out again.

  10. I’m never quite sure how to best anthropomorphize a CME. Are they solar belches, or sneezes?

    You sound suspiciously like a Solar Flatulence Denier.

  11. Okay, I’m going to try to answer one of the first questions by making it its own post, here. WordPress is flatly refusing to allow me to post the speeds of the solar wind, flares, and CMEs, for reasons I do not know.

    Solar flares pretty much effect us via x-rays, so yes, speed of light.

    Which puts speeds at:

    Solar flares — 300,000,000m/s (300000km/s or 671,000,000mph)
    Solar wind — 400,000-750,000m/s (400-750km/s or 895,000-1,680,000mph)
    CMEs — 20,000-3,200,000m/s (20-3200km/s or 45,000-7,158,000mph)

    The reason for the huge variation on CME speeds is because, if a CME has been through very recently, it will have cleared out the interplanetary medium, resulting in highly-decreased resistance, and the subsequent CME will not be slowed down. (Think of it as interplanetary terminal velocity. If the “atmosphere” isn’t there because it’s been swept aside, the falling object will go much faster.) This is, in fact, what happened during the Carrington event: two very large CMEs were emitted within a couple days of each other, and the second one blasted through and slammed into Earth before the effects of the first even had time to completely die down.

  12. This is probably a question that is more involved then I want to go. But. Except for things involving magnetic monopoles, which as far as I know have never been detected, how did the sun have four south magnetic poles and no north magnetic poles?

    • The north poles were all bashful?
      Remember that the sun is a plasma all the way down, and as such it is masses of positive or negative ions, running around in circles, and a current flow results in a magnetic field. Somewhere in the bowels of the sun, there was indeed a return for the magnetic flux lines, but it may be very diffuse compared to a ‘pole’.
      I am reluctant to mention this planet, but when Voyager passed Uranus, they observed a quadrupole field almost as strong as the dipole field.

      • *dingdingding* Give the man a kewpie doll!

        Yes, Donald, very well noted.

        And as I’m not an expert in magnetohydrodynamics, if you need a more detailed explanation, I can contact my particle physicist friend. Just yell and I’ll ask him.

        • That said, the thing to remember, as Donald said, is that these are NOT solid, rigid objects. We’ll get into this a little more in future installments, but there is orbital motion, rotational motion, convection, and general random quantum motion, as well as all kinds of other stuff, going on in there. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that things can get…complex…magnetically. Heck, even the sunspot groups can have quadrupoles and more.

  13. An alternative to the telescope w/a sheet of white cardboard behind it or a box w/a hole punched in it is a mirror covered except for a small hole. That way you can project the image onto a wall and vary (somewhat) the size.

  14. Stephanie for observing sunspots the projection trick where you project to a card or other surface may be safe for your eyes but is not safe for the telescope other than a few older refractors. In general most modern amateur telescopes are reflectors (mostly newtonian) or variants of them with corrective lenses (schmidt cassegrain or maksutov cassegrain). In these scopes the light is collected by a large mirror (the primary) and then redirected to the eyepiece by a smaller mirror (the secondary). In direct solar observation the light concentrated on the secondary can cause it to reach several hundred degrees farenheit. This can be enough to warp or crack the secondary mirror, or melt glues used to attach it to corrector plates or mounts ruining a telescope. Even refractors (telescopes using only lenses) are not truly safe. Modern ones use complex sets of lenses to correct color issues inherent in a single lens system. These lens stacks are also prone to heat damage. Similarly modern eyepieces are built of complex lens stacks to get a variety of features and are very damage prone being at the receiving end of the suns concentrated light.

    There are excellent filters (e.g. here which cover the aperture of the telescope and reduce the light entering by 5-6 orders of magnitude. These are relatively inexpensive ($50–250) and
    provide excellent viewing of sunspots.

    Coronal ejections or the grain of the sun require an H-Alpha filter. This tunes only a VERY narrow bandwidth of light emitted by excited Hydrogen.
    These filters are VERY expensive ($1500-3000) and suited for use only on small high end refractors which are themselves rather dear. A couple of
    the local members of the astronomy club have more money than restraint
    and I have gotten to look through them. When there’s something to see they’re quite intriguing, otherwise they’re awfully finicky and expensive for my tastes.

    • During Eclipse ’79 I got a couple of pretty good pictures with a cheap camera, a cheaper pair of binoculars, and a sheet of very black xray film. I felt like I’d fallen into the 1600s.

    • Back when I was in grad school we created our own objective filters with multiple layers of mylar taped over a circle cut out of cardboard. As long as you’re not looking into it, it’d be safe.

      My old refractor — long since dead and buried, requiescat in pace — had a projection screen attachment and saw the observation of sunspots daily for many many years without a problem.

      We also used to do such observing at the Vandy observatories with no problems.

      What this tells me is that the makes have gotten cheaper, actually.

  15. I was reading this page from 2008.

    I’m not a scientist, and I thought the magnetic reconnection look like the formation of a water droplet or the collapse of a soap bubble tube. Are the actual physics of the different situations analogous in any substantive way? My guess is “no”, or else the analogy would already be used in popular explanations.

  16. Here’s another good video… what’s really disturbing is how the sun’s surface visibly…heaves. Also makes obvious how strong are both the forces causing this, and the sun’s gravity. Fascinating stuff.

    • It is a bit strange to consider that of the recognized four fundamental forces of the universe — gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear — gravitational is the weakest. It is simply that a) it is cumulative and b) there is just so bloody much of it accumulated in a site like Sol that it seems significant.

      • It’s also much, much longer range than any of the others.

        • (Pedant’s note: Not fundamentally, of course: it’s the same r⁻² proportionality as the electric force. It’s just that the universe has particles of opposite electric charge all around which will effectively attenuate the electric field, while there seem to be fundamental reasons why there are no particles with negative gravitational charge.)

    • I’m not sure what you’re seeing as the ‘visible heaving’ of the photosphere. I don’t see any of that in that image. I see a loop prominence, coronal ‘rain,’ a couple flares, and some very low prominences off to the right.

  17. This is mildly off-topic, but I thought folks here would find it interesting:

    “A new ‘Einstein’ equation suggests wormholes hold key to quantum gravity”

  18. So I go out of town for just a short mini-vacation and I come back to all this. From cosmic to comic. Really people can’t you ever stick to a subject, or shall we be forever chasing down rabbit trails?

    Ooooh! pretty pictures. Don’t we live near a beautiful star? That third picture — who knew the sun could go so elegant Goth?

    To Stephanie Osborn: Thank you so very much for sharing a bit of what you know in such an understandable manner.

    To our esteemed hostess: Thank you for bring us this guest series.

    • You are very welcome, dear.

      And allow us our foibles and our humor. I have found that teaching experiences go down easier, and are retained longer, for a bit of humor leavening the lesson.

  19. c4c

  20. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you!