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Today’s post concerns various contemporary news items regarding outer space. At first this list may seem like a bit of a mash-up, but it all comes together as a very specific polemical point.
This year has already featured a lot of space news, but, sadly, most of it seems like it could have come from the 1950s. Iran launched a monkey to the edge of outer space. South Korea placed its first satellite in orbit (which seems like a response to North Korea doing the same thing last year).
In US space news, the 27th anniversary of the Challenger disaster came and went (that was an epically bad day in 6th grade–which was hardly a picnic anyway). Additionally, America announced that its biggest space plans for the near future include landing a redundant lander on Mars which was not exactly what NASA wanted but it fit the budget and was politically expedient. Our not-very-exciting work on our not-very-exciting next generation rockets continues slowly.
Finally, in other space-related news, paleontologists discovered that a massive space event apparently bombarded the Earth with Gamma rays in the 8th century. Astronomers speculate that two neutron stars might have collided! Also on February 15th a 50 meter asteroid will narrowly miss the Earth (flying by closer than many of our communication satellites).
All of this paints a rather alarming picture of a turbulent and dangerous universe where catastrophic events can occur with little notice. Meanwhile on Earth dangerous rogue nations (not you, South Korea, we like your style) are venturing into strategically important low Earth orbit. NASA’s current large-scale projects are lackluster (although its robotic exploration of the solar system continues to be exemplary). Are we discarding our leadership position in space because of debt, political paralysis, and complacency? It certainly seems like it…
A day ago an international team of stellar physicists announced that the sun’s surface is covered with thousands of searing hot plasma super tornadoes each of which is the size of a large continent on Earth. Using a combination of a space telescope and a ground telescope, researchers discovered that each of these plasma vortexes spins at velocities up to 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles) an hour.
The mystery of why the corona of the sun is 300 times hotter than the star’s surface has long vexed scientists. The surface of the sun is a balmy 5,526 degrees Celsius (9,980 Fahrenheit), while temperatures in the corona peaks 2 million degrees Celsius (3.5 million Fahrenheit). The discovery of these giant fast-moving storms provides a new mechanism by which heat is transferred through the sun’s atmosphere and ejected into the corona. Energy locked in the powerful magnetic vortexes is effectively self-insulated and does not heat the solar photosphere and chromosphere as much as the corona (where the storms widen and dissipate).
Sven Wedemeyer-Böhm, a Norwegian scientist working on the team was quick to stress that the tornadoes are likely one of several complicated energy transfer mechanisms by which heat reaches the solar corona. However it seems that there are more than 11,000 of these huge plasma tornadoes on the solar surface at any given time.