SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Solar eclipse

49

The British Isles benefits from dense meteorological observation networks, enabling insights into the still-unresolved effects of solar eclipse events on the near-surface wind field. The near-surface effects of the solar eclipse of 20 March 2015 are derived through comparison of output from the Met Office’s operational weather forecast model (which is ignorant of the eclipse) with data from two meteorological networks: the Met Office’s land surface station (MIDAS) network and a roadside measurement network operated by Vaisala. Synoptic-evolution relative calculations reveal the cooling and increase in relative humidity almost universally attributed to eclipse events. In addition, a slackening of wind speeds by up to about 2 knots in already weak winds and backing in wind direction of about 20° under clear skies across middle England are attributed to the eclipse event. The slackening of wind speed is consistent with the previously reported boundary layer stabilization during eclipse events. Wind direction changes have previously been attributed to a large-scale ‘eclipse-induced cold-cored cyclone’, mountain slope flows, and changes in the strength of sea breezes. A new explanation is proposed here by analogy with nocturnal wind changes at sunset and shown to predict direction changes consistent with those observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Wind, Wind power, British Isles, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse

46

The National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx) was a citizen science project designed to assess the effects of the 20 March 2015 partial solar eclipse on the weather over the United Kingdom (UK). NEWEx had two principal objectives: to provide a spatial network of meteorological observations across the UK to aid the investigation of eclipse-induced weather changes, and to develop a nationwide public engagement activity-based participation of citizen scientists. In total, NEWEx collected 15 606 observations of air temperature, cloudiness and wind speed and direction from 309 locations across the UK, over a 3 h window spanning the eclipse period. The headline results were processed in near real time, immediately published online, and featured in UK national press articles on the day of the eclipse. Here, we describe the technical development of NEWEx and how the observations provided by the citizen scientists were analysed. By comparing the results of the NEWEx analyses with results from other investigations of the same eclipse using different observational networks, including measurements from the University of Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory, we demonstrate that NEWEx provided a fair representation of the change in the UK meteorological conditions throughout the eclipse. Despite the simplicity of the approach adopted, robust reductions in both temperature and wind speed during the eclipse were observed.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, United Kingdom, Lunar eclipse, Meteorology, Wind, Eclipse, Solar eclipse

27

Through reduction of a huge data set spanning 2010-2017, we compare mean global changes in temperature, emission measure (EM), and underlying photospheric magnetic field of the solar corona over most of the last activity cycle. The quiet coronal mean temperature rises from 1.4 to 1.8 MK, whereas EM increases by almost a factor of 50% from solar minimum to maximum. An increased high-temperature component near 3 MK at solar maximum drives the increase in quiet coronal mean temperature, whereas the bulk of the plasma remains near 1.6 MK throughout the cycle. The mean, spatially smoothed magnitude of the quiet Sun magnetic field rises from 1.6 G in 2011 to peak at 2.0 G in 2015. Active region conditions are highly variable, but their mean remains approximately constant over the cycle, although there is a consistent decrease in active region high-temperature emission (near 3 MK) between the peak of solar maximum and present. Active region mean temperature, EM, and magnetic field magnitude are highly correlated. Correlation between sunspot/active region area and quiet coronal conditions shows the important influence of decaying sunspots in driving global changes, although we find no appreciable delay between changes in active region area and quiet Sun magnetic field strength. The hot coronal contribution to extreme ultraviolet (EUV) irradiance is dominated by the quiet corona throughout most of the cycle, whereas the high variability is driven by active regions. Solar EUV irradiance cannot be predicted accurately by sunspot index alone, highlighting the need for continued measurements.

Concepts: Sun, Plasma, Solar flare, Sunspot, Corona, Photosphere, Solar cycle, Solar eclipse

20

Internal gravity waves are generated as adjustment radiation whenever a sudden change in forcing causes the atmosphere to depart from its large-scale balanced state. Such a forcing anomaly occurs during a solar eclipse, when the Moon’s shadow cools part of the Earth’s surface. The resulting atmospheric gravity waves are associated with pressure and temperature perturbations, which in principle are detectable both at the surface and aloft. In this study, surface pressure and temperature data from two UK sites at Reading and Lerwick are examined for eclipse-driven gravity wave perturbations during the 20 March 2015 solar eclipse over northwest Europe. Radiosonde wind data from the same two sites are also analysed using a moving parcel analysis method, to determine the periodicities of the waves aloft. On this occasion, the perturbations both at the surface and aloft are found not to be confidently attributable to eclipse-driven gravity waves. We conclude that the complex synoptic weather conditions over the UK at the time of this particular eclipse helped to mask any eclipse-driven gravity waves.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Lunar eclipse, Eclipse, Ecliptic, Gravity wave, Solar eclipse, Saros cycle

17

Superflares are large explosive events on stellar surfaces one to six orders-of-magnitude larger than the largest flares observed on the Sun throughout the space age. Due to the huge amount of energy released in these superflares, it has been speculated if the underlying mechanism is the same as for solar flares, which are caused by magnetic reconnection in the solar corona. Here, we analyse observations made with the LAMOST telescope of 5,648 solar-like stars, including 48 superflare stars. These observations show that superflare stars are generally characterized by larger chromospheric emissions than other stars, including the Sun. However, superflare stars with activity levels lower than, or comparable to, the Sun do exist, suggesting that solar flares and superflares most likely share the same origin. The very large ensemble of solar-like stars included in this study enables detailed and robust estimates of the relation between chromospheric activity and the occurrence of superflares.

Concepts: Sun, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Photosphere, Plasma physics, Solar eclipse

6

A solar eclipse provides a well-characterized reduction in solar radiation, of calculable amount and duration. This captivating natural astronomical phenomenon is ideally suited to science outreach activities, but the predictability of the change in solar radiation also provides unusual conditions for assessing the atmospheric response to a known stimulus. Modern automatic observing networks used for weather forecasting and atmospheric research have dense spatial coverage, so the quantitative meteorological responses to an eclipse can now be evaluated with excellent space and time resolution. Numerical models representing the atmosphere at high spatial resolution can also be used to predict eclipse-related changes and interpret the observations. Combining the models with measurements yields the elements of a controlled atmospheric experiment on a regional scale (10-1000 km), which is almost impossible to achieve by other means. This modern approach to ‘eclipse meteorology’ as identified here can ultimately improve weather prediction models and be used to plan for transient reductions in renewable electricity generation. During the 20 March 2015 eclipse, UK electrical energy demand increased by about 3 GWh (11 TJ) or about 4%, alongside reductions in the wind and photovoltaic electrical energy generation of 1.5 GWh (5.5 TJ).This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Mercury, Meteorology, Wind, Weather forecasting, Eclipse, Solar eclipse

5

Solar eclipses provide unique possibilities to investigate atmospheric processes, such as new particle formation (NPF), important to the global aerosol load and radiative balance. The temporary absence of solar radiation gives particular insight into different oxidation and clustering processes leading to NPF. This is crucial because our mechanistic understanding on how NPF is related to photochemistry is still rather limited. During a partial solar eclipse over Finland in 2015, we found that this phenomenon had prominent effects on atmospheric on-going NPF. During the eclipse, the sources of aerosol precursor gases, such as sulphuric acid and nitrogen- containing highly oxidised organic compounds, decreased considerably, which was followed by a reduced formation of small clusters and nanoparticles and thus termination of NPF. After the eclipse, aerosol precursor molecule concentrations recovered and re-initiated NPF. Our results provide direct evidence on the key role of the photochemical production of sulphuric acid and highly oxidized organic compounds in maintaining atmospheric NPF. Our results also explain the rare occurrence of this phenomenon under dark conditions, as well as its seemingly weak connection with atmospheric ions.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Earth, Hydrogen, Carbon, Lunar eclipse, Eclipse, Solar eclipse

4

It is now apparent that there are at least two heating mechanisms in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. Wave heating may be the prevalent mechanism in quiet solar periods and may contribute to heating the corona to 1,500,000 K (refs 1-3). The active corona needs additional heating to reach 2,000,000-4,000,000 K; this heat has been theoretically proposed to come from the reconnection and unravelling of magnetic ‘braids’. Evidence favouring that process has been inferred, but has not been generally accepted because observations are sparse and, in general, the braided magnetic strands that are thought to have an angular width of about 0.2 arc seconds have not been resolved. Fine-scale braiding has been seen in the chromosphere but not, until now, in the corona. Here we report observations, at a resolution of 0.2 arc seconds, of magnetic braids in a coronal active region that are reconnecting, relaxing and dissipating sufficient energy to heat the structures to about 4,000,000 K. Although our 5-minute observations cannot unambiguously identify the field reconnection and subsequent relaxation as the dominant heating mechanism throughout active regions, the energy available from the observed field relaxation in our example is ample for the observed heating.

Concepts: Sun, Solar flare, Sunspot, Corona, Photosphere, Solar cycle, Plasma physics, Solar eclipse

3

The ancient Greek astronomical calculating machine, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, predicted eclipses, based on the 223-lunar month Saros cycle. Eclipses are indicated on a four-turn spiral Saros Dial by glyphs, which describe type and time of eclipse and include alphabetical index letters, referring to solar eclipse inscriptions. These include Index Letter Groups, describing shared eclipse characteristics. The grouping and ordering of the index letters, the organization of the inscriptions and the eclipse times have previously been unsolved. A new reading and interpretation of data from the back plate of the Antikythera Mechanism, including the glyphs, the index letters and the eclipse inscriptions, has resulted in substantial changes to previously published work. Based on these new readings, two arithmetical models are presented here that explain the complete eclipse prediction scheme. The first model solves the glyph distribution, the grouping and anomalous ordering of the index letters and the structure of the inscriptions. It also implies the existence of lost lunar eclipse inscriptions. The second model closely matches the glyph times and explains the four-turn spiral of the Saros Dial. Together, these models imply a surprisingly early epoch for the Antikythera Mechanism. The ancient Greeks built a machine that can predict, for many years ahead, not only eclipses but also a remarkable array of their characteristics, such as directions of obscuration, magnitude, colour, angular diameter of the Moon, relationship with the Moon’s node and eclipse time. It was not entirely accurate, but it was an astonishing achievement for its era.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Lunar eclipse, Eclipse, Solar eclipse, Saros cycle, Eclipse cycle, Antikythera mechanism

2

Solar eclipses provide a rapidly changing solar radiation environment. These changes can be studied using simple photodiode sensors, if the radiation reaching the sensors is unaffected by cloud. Transporting the sensors aloft using standard meteorological instrument packages modified to carry extra sensors, provides one promising but hitherto unexploited possibility for making solar eclipse radiation measurements. For the 20 March 2015 solar eclipse, a coordinated campaign of balloon-carried solar radiation measurements was undertaken from Reading (51.44°N, 0.94°W), Lerwick (60.15°N, 1.13°W) and Reykjavik (64.13°N, 21.90°W), straddling the path of the eclipse. The balloons reached sufficient altitude at the eclipse time for eclipse-induced variations in solar radiation and solar limb darkening to be measured above cloud. Because the sensor platforms were free to swing, techniques have been evaluated to correct the measurements for their changing orientation. In the swing-averaged technique, the mean value across a set of swings was used to approximate the radiation falling on a horizontal surface; in the swing-maximum technique, the direct beam was estimated by assuming that the maximum solar radiation during a swing occurs when the photodiode sensing surface becomes normal to the direction of the solar beam. Both approaches, essentially independent, give values that agree with theoretical expectations for the eclipse-induced radiation changes.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Lunar eclipse, Eclipse, Solar eclipse, Saros cycle, Eclipse cycle, Limb darkening