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Click to enlarge. Trust me- you want to do this!

Before the newsy stuff I had to give you that eye-gasm of a photo of our nearest star a.k.a. the Sun, blowing off millions of tons of hot gas into space a couple weeks ago. This image combines two spectrums of light that we can’t see with our eyes, both of which are in the ultraviolet range and show the magnetic activity better. Both were taken with NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO). We should be glad this enormous eruption wasn’t aimed directly at Earth, else we could have had serious satellite and power disruptions.

Now for the headlines:

  • The teams of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have officially published their findings on the Higgs boson in a legit, peer-reviewed journal- Physics Letters B. This is the same journal in which Peter Higgs first published his revolutionary paper that began the hunt for the boson to begin with. Once a discovery passes this level of scrutiny, it’s DONE. That means we did it! Scientists have been a little hesitant to actually call this discovered particle the Higgs boson, however, since all the properties and attributes of the particle are yet to be nailed down. Over the next few years we’ll start to get a better picture of just what this particle looks and feels like, so to speak, and I’m sure there will be many more questions raised than answered. (Via NewScientist)
  • Star Trek is starting to look a bit more like reality than science fiction thanks to new research being done into anitmatter and fusion propulsion. That’s right- antimatter, as in the stuff they used to run the Enterprise‘s Warp Drive. NASA teamed up with consulting firm the Tauri Group for a presentation that included a prediction that human technology will have advanced to the point that antimatter and fusion propulsion will be possible for spaceships by around 2060. The technology will not, however be capable of faster-than-light travel. According to the 2010 report the presentation was based upon, it would take about 4 months to get a ship to Jupiter with this technology. That’s significantly faster than current technology, but still a very VERY far cry from Warp speed. (Via Space.com)
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On March 7 at just after midnight UTC, the Sun released a massive solar flare and coronal mass ejection towards earth. The CME hit us a few hours ago and from what I can tell the aurorae are ongoing from it. You can keep up with the progress at Spaceweather.com. I’m sure there will be some awesome photos from it in the coming days. This one was powerful enough to disrupt satellite communications, but nothing major has happened so far, that I know of. The main reason for this post, though, was to share this space porn HD video of the actual flare. Just wait till they show the zoomed-in shot. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Oh, and be sure you set it to full HD!

Credit: NASA

As I’ve mentioned before, our Sun is steadily heading toward the peak of its next 11-year sunspot cycle. The peak is expected in 2013. That means we can expect a steady increase in aurorae as well, because sunspots lead to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and when those happen to be aimed at earth, we get dazzling displays near the north and south poles. Sometimes those displays can even be seen as far south as Tennessee. Over the weekend there was a massive solar flare and CME, one that released the same amount of energy as millions of nuclear bombs, and it headed straight for earth. The blast of particles reached earth last night/this morning and created an astonishing auroral display, which was captured by many photographers at various locations. Here are a few blog posts and other links I’ve come across today showing some of those photos as well as explaining the physics of what actually causes the upper atmosphere to glow when bombarded by these particles.

Spectacular Aurorae Erupt Over Norway (Discovery News) Absolutely breathtaking photos by Bjørn Jørgensen.

Huge Solar Flare Seen By Solar Dynamics Observatory (Space.com)

The Sun Aims a Storm Right at Earth! (Bad Astronomy) Good explanation of the science behind the aurorae.

Can Solar Flares Hurt Astronauts? (Universe Today) Good explanation of why the flare/CME poses little risk to astronauts onboard the ISS.

The above image was taken just as our Sun belched a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) in our direction on sunday night. This blob of charged particles are already beginning to interact with the earth’s magentosphere, and will likely result in some spectacular aurorae for the northern latitudes as the brunt of it arrives tonight and tomorrow morning. This is the first large scale activity the Sun has seen in several years, as it has been at the low-point of its 11-year cycle of sunspot activity. Events like this will slowly become more common over the next 3 or 4 years as the sun reaches its next peak in activity around 2012-2013. This is NOT any kind of major disaster, though it may cause a few glitches with satellites, as any CME event is prone to do. Unfortunately TN is way too far south to see any of the auroral activity, but if you’re in the northern US you might be able to see it. It is possible for aurorae to be seen this far south, but it’s very rare and requires a very powerful solar storm, such as the one from April 2001 (the last solar maximum) which made aurorae visible as far south as Texas. Such an event is possible as we head toward this next solar maximum, but I wouldn’t count on it. This upcoming maximum is expected to be about half as intense as the last one. (Via Space.com and Universe Today.

Here’s a video of the current CME when it first erupted sunday night.

The Nashville Scene/Cream is sponsoring all the 8 off 8th Mondays during July, and each week the 8 bands will all perform covers from a specific decade- the 60’s through the 90’s. Tonight is 60’s night and the bands are:

Matt Friction and the Cheap Shots
Roman Candle
Eureka Gold
The Clutters
Kindergarten Circus
Ole Mossy Face
Jacob Jones
Millionaire Magicians

Tigers Con Queso will be on the lineup for 90’s night on July 27th. More info at Nashville Cream. I’ll be there tonight taking pics, so come on out. It’ll be fun.

Hipster Runoff posted the new single Got Nuffin from Spoon today. It’s a good song, so go grab it.

I’ve got a lot of science to dump on you today, so here we go…

Astronomers have been a little puzzled by our Sun recently because it’s been unusually quiet. We reached solar minimum, the lowest part of the 11-year cycle of sunspot activity, in 2008. Normally we’d be seeing some sunspots appearing, marking the beginning of the next cycle, but for some reason the Sun has been strangely quiet this year, and no one really understands why. This weekend marked the first real appearance of sunspots for the new cycle, breaking the stretch of puzzling silence. Space.com has more.

I’ve always loved the large-scale, long-term predictions and statements that Dr. Stephen Hawking is known for. One of his latest predictions/statements is truly fascinating. He proposes that we take a much broader view of the term “evolution” and include not only genetic information (internal), but also external information. Because we now have the ability to communicate external information we are now in a different stage of evolution. Just like so many of his broad ideas, this one really makes you think almost on a totally different level. Read more at the Daily Galaxy article.

Even though communication with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander ceased last fall, scientists are still evaluating the data collected while it was in operation. The scientists used a specialized instrument on the lander to detect water ice clouds and even snow falling to the martian ground. Yes, I said snow. On Mars. How effin’ cool is that? Learn more about this phenomenon by reading the Universe Today article.

Also from Universe Today- a more substantiated version of the blurb I posted a couple weeks ago regarding the possible back-up to NASA’s new Constellation program. A video clip from the presentation made to an external review committee by shuttle program manager John Shannon has been posted on YouTube. Apparently NASA is taking this proposal pretty seriously and everyone there is waiting on the final word by an executive session as to whether they’ll keep charging ahead with the current plans for the Ares rockets or try this new plan to retrofit the existing external fuel tank/solid rocket booster system to work with the new Orion Crew Vehicle. Watch the video below. As Universe Today points out, this system would be MUCH cheaper and faster to implement. Honestly, I think there’s a decent possibility that they’ll end up going for this and scrapping the Ares rockets. Only time will tell. Full article here.

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