Space Science Part 1


Solar Activity and VLF


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Solar wind Sun’s magnetic topology Transients: CIRs, CMEs, Solar flares Earth’s magnetosphere/ionosphere VLF activity


The Solar Wind

Hot plasma (106 K) from the solar corona is the source of the solar wind The coronal plasma is accelerated and flows radially outward from the sun, filling interplanetary space Solar wind properties at Earth (1 AU):
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Speed ~400 km/s Speed range ~200-700 km/s Number density ~ 7 cm-3 Magnetic field ~ 5 nT Electron temperature ~ 105 K Proton temperature ~3 x 104 K

Image of solar corona taken by STEREO spacecraft in ultraviolet light. (NASA)


Sun’s magnetic topology

Sun’s magnetic topology strongly influences characteristics of solar wind Slow streams at streamers (equator) Fast streams at coronal holes (poles) Field is well-ordered at solar minimum Field is complicated at solar maximum Magnetic topology causes transients that are carried by the solar wind: CIRs, CMEs, and Solar Flares


Co-rotating Interaction Regions (CIRs)

Sun’s rotation causes fast (polar) and slow (equatorial) streams to interact Produces compression (CIRs) CIR leading edge propagates forward into solar wind CIR trailing edge propagates back to Sun


Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)

Large eruptions of coronal plasma

Originate from active regions in Sun associated with solar flares
Solar minimum: ~1/week

Coronal streamer belt near the solar magnetic equator

Solar maximum: ~ 2-3 /day

Active regions, latitudinal distribution is more homogeneous. Coronal mass ejection. Image shows the sun in ultraviolet light. (NASA)


Solar Flares

Solar flare is a violent explosion in Sun’s atmosphere Spans EM frequencies from radio to X-ray May be caused by release of energy stored in twisted magnetic field lines Large increase in X-ray flux can affect satellites Energy release accelerates protons in solar wind and cause disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field.

An X-ray image of an intense X9 flare taken from the GOES-13 satellite. The flare was actually intense enough to damage the imager.


Solar Transients Affect Earth

CMEs, CIRs, and solar flares can affect the Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. Their effects can be severe enough to cause damage to satellites and power systems. VLF is sensitive to changes in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, so it is ideal for studying the effects and characteristics of solar phenomena.


What is the Magnetosphere?
• Solar wind flows past Earth and is deflected around Earth’s magnetic field.
Solar Wind

• The solar wind compresses the magnetic field on the sun-side, creating a boundary termed the magnetopause at ~10 RE.

• On the night side, the solar wind-dipole field interaction results in a tail up to~60 RE.
• The magnetosphere is the region within the magnetopause, from ~10 RE on the sun side to ~60 RE on the night side. • Plasma within ~4 – 6 RE rotates with the Earth—a region called the plasmasphere.

Magnetosphere and solar activity
Magnetosphere before, during, and after storm

Borovsky, Joseph E. et al. “The „calm before the storm‟ in CIR/magnetosphere interactions.”


Solar Activity and VLF

Increases in relativistic electron fluxes in outer radiation belt are associated with  enhanced geomagnetic activity  enhanced chorus (VLF) wave activity They may be produced by resonant interactions with enhanced whistler-mode chorus emissions.

Full plasmasphere  less chorus  less relativistic e-


Earth’s Ionosphere
 Atmosphere above ~70km is partially ionized by Sun’s radiation  Ionosphere extends up and merges with Magnetosphere  Low frequency (< 30kHz) are reflected from D region


Solar Activity and the Ionosphere

X-ray radiation during solar flares penetrate into the lowest layer (D-layer)

Increases D-layer ionization rate and electron density

The D-layer ionosphere and the Earth’s surface form a waveguide that can propagate VLF signals over long distances

If the D-layer electron density changes along the path from a VLF transmitter to a receiver, amplitude and phase changes can be observed by the receiver.


Moon’s Two Shadows
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Shadow of the moon consists of: 1) Penumbra: Faint outer shadow 2) Umbra: Dark inner shadow Total eclipse of Sun seen when umbral shadow sweeps across Earth’s surface Path of Totality: track of this shadow across the Earth Must be inside this path of totality to see the total eclipse of the Sun


Solar Eclipses and the Ionosphere

Solar eclipses cause disturbances in the ionosphere Effects noticed on VLF radio waves that propagate in Earth-ionosphere waveguide between ground and D region of ionosphere Solar eclipses represent localized D region disturbance on propagation of these waves Rare opportunity of getting direct measurements of D region characteristics