4. Sun-Earth Connection


Interplanetary CME Shocks

Interplanetary CME Shocks

. As it moves away from the Sun (top left) a fast coronal mass ejection (CME, top right) pushes an interplanetary shock wave before it, amplifying the solar wind speed, V, and magnetic field strength, B (bottom). The CME produces a speed increase all the way to the shock front, where the wind’s motion then slows down precipitously to its steady, unperturbed speed. Compression, resulting from the relative motion between the fast CME and its surroundings, produces strong magnetic fields in a broad region extending sunward from the shock. The strong magnetic fields and high flow speeds commonly associated with interplanetary disturbances driven by fast CMEs are what make such events effective in stimulating geomagnetic activity.


Co-rotating Interaction Regions

Co-rotating Interaction Regions

. When fast solar-wind streams, emanating from coronal holes, interact with slow streams, they can produce Co-rotating Interaction Regions in interplanetary space. The magnetic fields of the slow streams in the solar wind are more curved due to the lower speeds, and the fields of the fast streams are more radial because of their higher speeds. Intense magnetic fields can be produced at the interface (IF) between the fast and slow streams in the solar wind. The Co-rotating Interaction Regions are bounded by a forward shock (FS) and a reverse shock (RS).


The Auroral Oval

The Auroral Oval

. POLAR looks down on an aurora from high above the Earth's north polar region on 22 October 1999, showing the northern lights in their entirety. The glowing oval, imaged in ultra violet light, is 4.5 million meters across. The most intense aurora activity appears in bright red or yellow. It is typically produced by magnetic reconnection events in Earth's magnetotail, on the night side of the Earth. (Courtesy of the Visible Imaging System, University of Iowa and NASA.)


Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

. Spectacular colored curtains light up the northern sky, like a cosmic neon sign. This photograph of the fluorescent Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, was taken in December 1989 at Arctic Valley, Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo © 1989 Cary Anderson.)


Man in Space

Man in Space

. Astronaut Donald Peterson, on a 50-foot tether line during his 4-hour, 3-orbit space walk, moving toward the tail of the Space Shuttle Challenger as it glides around the Earth. Hundreds of miles above the Earth, there is no air and an astronaut must wear a space-suit. It supplies the oxygen he needs and insulates his body from extreme heat or cold. However, a space-suit cannot protect an astronaut from energetic particles hurled out from explosions on the Sun. He or she must then be within the protective shielding of a spacecraft or other shelter to avoid the danger. (Courtesy of NASA.).


Unprotected From Space Weather

Unprotected From Space Weather

. The first untethered walk in space, on 7 February 1984, where there is no place to hide from inclement Sun-driven storms. Bruce McCandless II, a mission specialist, wears a 300-pound Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) with 24 nitrogen gas thrusters and a 35 mm camera. The MMU permits motion in space where the sensation of gravity has vanished, but it does not protect the astronaut from solar flares or coronal mass ejections. High-energy particles resulting from these explosions on the Sun could kill the astronaut. (Courtesy of NASA.)


Warning Times

Warning Times

. Intense radiation, or photons, generated during solar flares passes right through the interplanetary magnetic field and arrives at the Earth just 8 minutes after being emitted from the Sun. In contrast, solar flares beam energetic charged particles across a narrow trajectory that follows the interplanetary magnetic spiral, and the time for the particles to reach Earth depends on their energy and velocity, taking roughly an hour for a particle energy of about 10 MeV. A coronal mass ejection, or CME, with an average speed of 450 thousand meters per second takes about 4 days to travel from the Sun to Earth’s orbit. The CME can energize particles across a wide swath in interplanetary space. The heliospheric current sheet separates magnetic fields of opposite polarities, or directions, denoted by the arrows on the spiral lines. (Courtesy of Frances Bagenal.)


Power Lines In Danger

Power Lines In Danger

. When a coronal mass ejection hits the Earth, electrons in the Earth’s magnetosphere cascade into the polar regions, creating a current that flows along the auroral oval at an altitude of about 100 thousand meters. The magnetic field from this current induces a voltage potential on the surface of the Earth of up to 6 volts per kilometer. A strong pulse of direct current enters long conductors like power lines through their ground connection. This can throw circuit breakers, destroy transformers, and shut down power grid systems, sometimes turning off the lights in entire cities.


Powerful X-Ray Flares

Powerful X-Ray Flares

. The X-ray activity of the Sun is monitored by the Geostationary Operations Environmental Satellites, or GOES. The GOES data shown here includes three exceptionally intense, X-class flares emitted from the same active region on 6 and 7 June 2000. The first two flares were also associated with a powerful coronal mass ejection observed with an instrument aboard the SOHO spacecraft (Fig. 8.15). The GOES data are collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Environment Center and distributed to all interested persons though its space weather forecasts.


Threatening Coronal Mass Ejection

Threatening Coronal Mass Ejection

. A coronal mass ejection is observed billowing out from the Sun on 6 June 2000, using the Large Angle Spectrometric COronagraph, or LASCO, on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO. A central occulting disk blocks out the Sun’s intense light to reveal the faint corona, along with background stars and planets. The white circle in the disk denotes the outer edge of the Sun’s photosphere. Venus is next to the disk on the right side, while Mars is located at the far left center of the image. This event was a halo mass ejection that grew larger as it expanded, forming a halo around our star, indicating that it was headed toward the Earth. The velocity of the ejected material was at least 900 thousand meters per second. Although coronal mass ejections can occur without a solar flare, this one was accompanied by two intense solar flares (Fig. 8.14). (Courtesy of the SOHO LASCO consortium. SOHO is a project of international collaboration between ESA and NASA.)


From Sun To Earth

From Sun To Earth

. Satellites monitor a solar storm from its beginning on the Sun to its interaction with the Earth. The Yohkoh satellite observes the X-ray emission from tightly coiled magnetic loops, that release their pent-up energy as a coronal mass ejection, detected by SOHO’s LASCO. Other satellites track the bubble of magnetized gas on its way to Earth, and then record the collision with our magnetosphere. For instance, a radio experiment on board the WIND spacecraft can track the shocks driven by the mass ejection through the interplanetary medium, and the GEOTAIL satellite can observe the magnetic connections when the solar ejection collides with the terrestrial field. The resultant auroras are seen in images obtained with the POLAR or IMAGE satellites.


Variations In The Solar Constant

Variations In The Solar Constant

. Observations with very stable and precise detectors on several Earth-orbiting satellites show that the Sun’s total radiative input to the Earth, termed the solar irradiance, is not a constant, but instead varies over time scales of days and years. Measurements from five independent space-based radiometers since 1978 (top) have been combined to produce the composite solar irradiance (bottom) over two decades. They show that the Sun’s output fluctuates during each 11-year sunspot cycle, changing by about 0.1 percent between maximums (1980 and 1990) and minimums (1987 and 1997) in magnetic activity. Temporary dips of up to 0.3 percent and a few days’ duration are due to the presence of large sunspots on the visible hemisphere. The larger number of sunspots near the peak in the 11-year cycle is accompanied by a rise in magnetic activity that creates an increase in luminous output that exceeds the cooling effects of sunspots. Here the total irradiance just outside our atmosphere, called the solar constant, is given in units of watts per square meter, where one watt is equivalent to one joule per second. The capital letters are acronyms for the different radiometers, and offsets among the various data sets are the direct result of uncertainties in their scales. Despite these offsets, each data set clearly shows varying radiation levels that track the overall 11-year solar activity cycle. (Courtesy of Claus Fröhlich.)


Sun-Layered Atmosphere

Sun-Layered Atmosphere

. The pressure of our atmosphere (right scale) decreases with altitude (left scale). This is because fewer particles are able to overcome the Earth’s gravitational pull and reach higher altitudes. The temperature (bottom scale) also decreases steadily with height in the ground-hugging troposphere, but the temperature increases in two higher regions that are heated by the Sun. They are the stratosphere, with its critical ozone layer, and the ionosphere. The stratosphere is mainly heated by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, and the ionosphere is created and modulated by the Sun’s X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation.


Hole in the Sky

Hole in the Sky

. A satellite map showing an exceptionally low concentration of ozone, called the ozone hole, that forms above the South Pole in the local spring. In October 1990 it had an area larger than the Antarctic continent, shown in outline below the hole. Eventually spring warming breaks up the polar vortex and disperses the ozone-poor air over the rest of the planet. (Courtesy of NASA.)


Varying Solar Heating of the Upper Atmosphere

Varying Solar Heating of the Upper Atmosphere

. During the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle, the upper-atmosphere temperatures fluctuate by factors of two, and neutral and electron densities by factors of ten. Enhanced magnetic activity on the Sun produces increased ultraviolet and X-ray radiation that heats the Earth’s upper atmosphere and causes it to expand, resulting in higher temperatures and greater densities at a given altitude in our atmosphere. (Courtesy of Judith Lean.)


Global Surface Temperatures and Sunspot Cycle Length

Global Surface Temperatures and Sunspot Cycle Length

. Variations in the air temperature over land in the Northern Hemisphere (solid line) closely fit changes in the length of the sunspot cycle (dashed line). Shorter sunspot cycles are associated with increased temperatures and more intense solar activity. This suggests that solar activity is at least partly responsible for the rise in global temperatures over the last century, and that the Sun can substantially moderate or enhance global warming brought about by human increases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Global Temperature Changes in the Twentieth Century

Global Temperature Changes in the Twentieth Century

. The annual global-mean temperature near the Earth’s surface is plotted as a temperature difference from the long-term mean value. At more than 0.5 degrees Celsius above the mean, recent global temperatures maintain a warming trend for the past two decades. Natural temperature fluctuations prohibit a clear detection of human-induced warming in the early part of the twentieth century, but human increases of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may be noticeably contributing to the recent rise in temperatures. The global mean temperature for the period 1880 to 1997 is 13.8 degrees Celsius (56.9 degrees Fahrenheit). [Courtesy of Michael Changery, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAO).]


Sources Of Global Temperature Variations

Sources Of Global Temperature Variations

. A reconstruction of the Sun’s brightness over the past 400 years indicates that the global temperature fluctuations from 1600 to 1800 were mainly due to variations in solar activity. Cooling by haze from volcanoes played a role during the next 100 years. The global temperature increases after the mid-1970’s, are mainly caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by industrial economies. Here the decadally averaged values of Northern Hemisphere summer surface temperatures (scale at left) are compared with the reconstructed solar total irradiance (symbols, scale at right). The dark solid line is paleoclimate temperature data, primarily tree rings, and the gray dashed line is instrumental temperature data. (Courtesy of Judith Lean.)


Unusual Heat

Unusual Heat

. This reconstruction of the hemisphere temperature record suggests that the Northern Hemisphere has been warmer in the 20th century than in any other century of the last thousand years. The sharp upward jump in the temperature during the last 100 years was recorded by thermometers at and near the Earth’s surface. Earlier fluctuations were reconstructed from “proxy” evidence of climatic change contained in tree rings, lake and ocean sediments, and ancient ice and coral reefs. The farther back in time the reconstruction is carried, the larger the range of possible error, denoted by the light shaded regions. (Courtesy of Michael E. Mann.)


Long Periods Of Solar Inactivity

Long Periods Of Solar Inactivity

. Three independent indices demonstrate the existence of long decreases in the level of solar activity, such as the Maunder and Spörer Minimum. The observed annual mean sunspot numbers (scale at right) also follows the 11-year solar activity cycle after 1700. The curve extending from 1000 to 1900 is a proxy sunspot number index derived from measurements of carbon-14 in tree rings. Increased carbon-14 is plotted downward (scale at left-inside), so increased solar activity and larger proxy sunspot numbers correspond to reduced amounts of radiocarbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. Open circles are an index of the occurrence of auroras in the Northern Hemisphere (scale at left-outside). (Courtesy of John A. Eddy.)


Hunters in the Snow

Hunters in the Snow

. This section of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicts a time when the average temperatures in Northern Europe were much colder than they are today. Severe cold occurred during the Maunder minimum, from 1645 to 1715, when there was a conspicuous absence of sunspots and other signs of solar activity. This picture was painted in 1565, near the end of another dearth of sunspots, called the Spörer minimum. (Courtesy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.)


Astronomical Cycles Cause The Ice Ages

Astronomical Cycles Cause The Ice Ages

. The advance and retreat of glaciers are controlled by changes in the Earth’s orbital shape or eccentricity, and variations in its axial tilt and wobble. They alter the angles and distances from which solar radiation reaches Earth, and therefore change the amount and distribution of sunlight on our planet. The global ebb and flow of ice is inferred from the presence of lighter and heavier forms of oxygen, called isotopes, in the fossilized shells of tiny marine animals found in deep-sea sediments. During glaciations, the shells are enriched with oxygen-18 because oxygen-16, a lighter form, is trapped in glacial ice. The relative abundance of oxygen 18 and oxygen 16 (top) is compared with periodic 41,000-year variations in the tilt of the Earth’s axis (middle) and in the shape, or eccentricity – longer 100,000-year variation, and wobble, or precession, of the Earth’s orbit – shorter 23,000-year variation (bottom).


Ice Age Temperatures and Greenhouse Gases

Ice Age Temperatures and Greenhouse Gases

. Ice core data indicate that changes in the atmospheric temperature over Antarctica closely parallel variations in the atmospheric concentrations of two greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, for the past 160,000 years. When the temperature rises, so does the amount of these two greenhouse gases, and vice versa. This strong correlation has been extended by a deeper Vostok ice core, to 3,623 meters in depth and the past 420,000 years. The carbon dioxide and methane increases may have contributed to the glacial-interglacial changes by amplifying orbital forcing of climate change. The ice core data does not include the past 200 years, shown as a dashed lines at the right. The present-day levels of carbon dioxide and methane are unprecedented during the past four 100,000-year glacial-interglacial cycles.