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Communications NASA Space Science

X-Ray Noise From Comets Leads To Space Weather Signal 27

sciencehabit writes "Scientists observing the x-ray sky first noticed noise in their signals that was eventually ascribed to x-rays produced when the solar wind interacts with the tails of comets. Once alerted to this phenomenon, researchers then noticed that similar x-rays are generated when solar wind particles strike neutral atoms just above Earth's magnetosphere, the bubble produced by Earth's magnetic field that surrounds the planet and protects it from harmful solar radiation. The emissions, which are easy to detect with x-ray telescopes, could produce a display of the entire magnetosheath, the part of the magnetosphere that is bombarded by incoming solar particles. And that display could enable scientists to generate, in real-time, global, space-weather images, just as high-flying meteorological satellites provide real-time images of weather on Earth. This would be useful because, when sudden bursts of intense radiation from the sun pierce the magnetosphere's protective bubble, they set off events that can fry the delicate electronic equipment aboard orbiting satellites, interfere with or kill telecommunications signals, and even overload electric power grids on the ground."
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X-Ray Noise From Comets Leads To Space Weather Signal

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  • Just in time for the 2013 solar storms... []

  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) < minus bsd> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:26PM (#32659246)
    If predicting weather in space is anything like my local stations ability to successfully "predict" statistical patterns (hint: throws dart at spinning wheel, bam, "Sunny with a chance of rain!"), well, space travelers might as well never forget their x-ray'ne coats and sun screen (pun intended), because it will be anyones guess. /facetious & dry humor
    • If I had $1 for every time the weather forecast was wrong I'd be a rich man...
      • by cosm ( 1072588 )

        If I had $1 for every time the weather forecast was wrong I'd be a rich man...

        Carry umbrellas for sale during clear-sky forecast, jackets for moderately warm forecast, and snow shovels for cloudy but no snow forecast. At 1$ each, on a long enough timeline, you too could own your own oil well in the middle east!

    • by Kepesk ( 1093871 )
      Either way, I think is about to get way more interesting!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PPH ( 736903 )
      As long as they have that hot looking babe giving the space weather reports, its all good.
  • "Arghh, matey! You landlubbers had best not to be taking out to outer space seas now. With those X-rays striking neutral atoms in the magnetosphere, it's a sure sign of bad sailing!"

    "Thirty days in space, and not a wench to be seen . . . grease up the monkey!"

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:50PM (#32659504)
    The classic case is radio telescope hiss which to turned out to be big bang remnant radiation discovered a half century ago. Scientists use systematic variances in GPS signals to measure the height of the ionosphere and mositure in the atmosphere. Thats a lot cheaper than sending up weather balloons.
  • Im confus (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by HaeMaker ( 221642 )

    When we have weather forecasting, we can see a storm 5 days away from the area it will potentially hit. When we see an uptick in x-rays in the magnetosphere, we see it fractions of a second before it will get to us. Sounds like earthquake prediction. Hopefully, there aren't any Italian researchers on this project.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:18PM (#32660598) Journal

    This is one of those "Of course!" moments, where something is obvious after the fact.

    Of COURSE the wind of charged particles, containing high-speed electrons, produces X-rays when it encounters enough matter in the vacuum to stop it. One such sudden density increase is just above the magnetopause, where new neutral atoms drift out of the shield into the hard vacuum which is swept clean by the solar wind bombardment - and get hit as the first step of being swept away in turn.


    How do mountains explode? Film of Mount St. Helens going up explained it. (It was taken(by a geologist caught in the eruption and killed by it, who snapped a series of shots and then wrapped his camera in his clothes and backpack.):
      - Gas pressure builds under the mountain as it grows.
      - Eventually a landslide occurs, with one side of the mountain sliding off.
      - This greatly reduces the weight holding down the pressure.
      - The gas blasts its way through the remaining layers above it, pulverizing them and throwing the dust up into the stratosphere.

    How do you keep dry cells (which have a caustic goo eating away the zinc can) from leaking and eating the flashlight? After years of research one depressed engineer told his wife what his team were working on and getting nowhere, and she asked "Why don't you seal it in a steel can?". (The patent battle when Union Carbide (Eveready) tried to claim it was obvious - when they'd also worked for years trying unsuccessfully to solve the problem - is the major precedent in patent law showing that obvious AFTER the fact doesn't cut it.)

    And one of mine:

    Some time before the first Voyager flyby I heard the explanation for the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings. (Orbits there are destabilized by their period's 2-1 resonance with the moon Mimas, so the perturbations accumulate and move 'em out or in a bit.) At the time I thought "Why isn't there a gap or a resonance-stabilized thickening at EVERY location where an orbital period would have a rational-number ratio to that of one or another moon? There are LOTS of ratios of small integers, which should have strong effects, so that should make the rings look like a phonograph record."

    Turns out it DOES look like a phonograph record, largely because of that phenomenon. But Earth-based telescopes, blurred by the atmosphere, just didn't have the resolution to show it. DARN I wished I'd published that speculation (BEFORE the flyby). B-)

  • If we start regularly scanning the X-ray sky, might we detect an incoming comet by its faint tail emitting X-rays?
  • I wonder what other applications this might bring. Detecting aircraft, satellites, or holes in the ozone?

  • Now that we have sensitive high-tech equipment we can detect events that will damage sensitive high-tech equipment so we can save our sensitive high-tech equipment!

    It all works out.

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