Secrets of the Sun is one “hot” episode of NOVA

Courtesy: PBS

Earth dodged a bullet last year when a rather large solar flare passed by the planet.  That solar flare could have done some major damage to the planet’s telecommunications systems, electrical grids and potentially even more.  Thankfully that didn’t happen. The problem that Earth has is that there’s no way to tell when the next big solar flare or solar storm could impact the Earth.  Now, in one of its latest episodes, PBS’ hit science program, NOVA, examines the science behind trying to determine when the next big solar event will occur.

Courtesy: PBS

“Secrets of the Sun” starts off explaining just how important it is to try and predict when the next big solar weather event will happen.  The scientists interviewed use the example of the event that hitQuebec,Canadain 1989.  The region was hit by not one but two Coronal Mass Ejections.  It’s explained that the double dose did massive damage to the region’s communications and electrical systems.  Roughly six million people were left without power as a result of the event.  So since then, scientists have struggled to figure out a way to predict how solar flares and storms happen or how they affect Earth. 

The first key discovery noted in the search for a way to predict solar activity is that the sun actually generates sound waves.  Those sound waves, according to the scientists interviewed, can be used to tell what’s going on inside the sun.  It postulates that much like moving fault lines inside the earth create sound waves so does the sun’s core.  Those movements create disturbances on the sun’s surface, which lead to the possibility of increased activity.  This is what is known as the science of “Helioseismology.”

Theories centered on the sun’s magnetic field, and sunspots are also explained in the near one hour run time.  Those theories are both worthy of discussion.  But they might not have been even considered if not for the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in 2010.  This observatory has shown the sun in ways never before imagined after reaching it.  The SDO has also been beneficial in helping scientists determine that the sun is allegedly going to be nearing “solar max” again in 2013.  Because of this, they are working on each theory and ways to help protect the Earth should another CME come Earth’s way. 

Ultimately, the conclusion on determining whether one theory or another can ultimately determine the next wave of CME’s is inconclusive.  But thanks to the theories and the SDO, science is that much closer to getting an answer.  Everything discussed in this episode makes for an excellent addition to any Physics class.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org

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