Why Space Weather Matters and How Forecasting Will Improve in the DSCOVR Era
Doug Biesecker, NOAA/NWS/Space Weather Prediction Center
Space Weather is a growing enterprise, with growing recognition of its importance inside and outside government. The largest concern is with the electric power grid, but impacts to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are also significant. Other areas of impact include satellites and human space flight, and high frequency communication for aviation, mariners, and emergency responders, among many. The NOAA National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is the nation’s official source of space weather watches, warnings and alerts. SWPC does this with a 24×7 staffed operation that monitors the Sun, solar wind, and geospace environment taking advantage of a broad suite of observations and models to provide the best forecasts possible. In conjunction with the growing recognition of space weather, NOAA launched its first mission, the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), out of the Earth’s orbit to an orbit about the L1 Lagrange point. This is also NOAA’s first satellite mission where space weather is the primary mission and DSCOVR marks the first of what is expected to be a long series of space weather monitoring satellites. NOAA is also bringing numerical space weather models into the mix of models running on the nation’s supercomputers. Numerical space weather models have demonstrated the ability to improve the onset time of space weather storms and will, for the first time, allow regional geomagnetic forecasting. Instead of describing conditions on Earth with a single number, customers will have forecasts tailored to their location.
On the Edge: Exoplanets with Orbital Periods Shorter Than a Peter Jackson Movie
Brian Jackson, Boise State Univeristy
From wispy gas giants to tiny rocky bodies, exoplanets with orbital periods of several days and less challenge theories of planet formation and evolution. Recent searches have found small rocky planets with orbits reaching almost down to their host stars’ surfaces, including an iron-rich Mars-sized body with an orbital period of only four hours. So close to their host stars that some of them are actively disintegrating, these objects’ origins remain unclear, and even formation models that allow significant migration have trouble accounting for their very short periods. Some are members of multi-planet system and may have been driven inward via secular excitation and tidal damping by their sibling planets. Others may be the fossil cores of former gas giants whose atmospheres were stripped by tides.
In this presentation, I’ll discuss the work of our Short-Period Planets Group (SuPerPiG), focused on finding and understanding this surprising new class of exoplanets. We are sifting data from the reincarnated Kepler Mission, K2, to search for additional short-period planets and have found several new candidates. We are also modeling the tidal decay and disruption of close-in gaseous planets to determine how we could identify their remnants, and preliminary results suggest the cores have a distinctive mass-period relationship that may be apparent in the observed population. Whatever their origins, short-period planets are particularly amenable to discovery and detailed follow-up by ongoing and future surveys, including the TESS mission.
Magnetic Influences on Coronal Heating and the Solar Wind
Lauren Woolsey, Harvard University
The physical mechanism(s) that generate and accelerate the solar wind have not been conclusively determined after decades of study, though not for lack of possibilities. The long list of proposed processes can be grouped into two main paradigms: 1) models that require the rearranging of magnetic topology through magnetic reconnection in order to release energy and accelerate the wind and 2) models that require the launching of magnetoacoustic and Alfvén waves to propagate along the magnetic field and generate turbulence to heat the corona and accelerate the emanating wind. After a short overview of these paradigms, I will present my ongoing dissertation work that seeks to investigate the latter category of theoretical models and the role that different magnetic field profiles play in the resulting solar wind properties with Alfvén-wave-driven turbulent heating. I will describe the computer modeling in 1D and 3D that I have done of bundles of magnetic field (flux tubes) that are open to the heliosphere, and what our results can tell us about the influences of magnetic field on the solar wind in these flux tubes, including the latest time-dependent modeling that produces bursty, nanoflare-like heating. Additionally, I will present the latest results of our study of chromospheric network jets and the magnetic thresholds we are finding in magnetogram data.
A .pdf of the talk can be found here.
Star formation in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Centre
Dr. Mark Wardle, Macquarie University
The disruptive tidal field near supermassive black holes overcomes the self-gravity of objects that are less dense than the Roche density. This was once expected to suppress star formation within several parsecs of Sgr A*, the four million solar mass black hole at the centre of the Galaxy. It has since become apparent that things are not this simple: Sgr A* is surrounded by a sub-parsec-scale orbiting disk of massive stars, indicating a star formation event occurred a few million years ago. And on parsec scales, star formation seems to be happening now: there are proplyd candidates and protostellar outflow candidates, as well as methanol and water masers that in the galactic disk would be regarded as sure-fire signatures of star formation. In this talk, I shall consider how star formation can occur so close to Sgr A*.
The stellar disk may be created through the partial capture of a molecular cloud as it swept through the inner few parsecs of the galaxy and temporarily engulfed Sgr A*. This rather naturally creates a disk of gas with the steep surface density profile of the present stellar disk. The inner 0.04 pc is so optically thick that it cannot fragment, instead accreting onto Sgr A* in a few million years; meanwhile the outer disk fragments and creates the observed stellar disk. The isolated young stellar objects found at larger distances, on the other hand, can be explained by stabilisation of clouds or cloud cores by the high external pressure that permeates the inner Galaxy. A virial analysis shows that clouds are indeed tidally disrupted within 0.5 pc of Sgr A*, but outside this the external pressure allows self-gravitating clouds to survive, providing the raw material for ongoing star formation.
Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph Views of How the Solar Atmosphere is Energized
Dr. Bart De Pontieu, Lockheed Martin
At the interface between the Sun’s surface and million-degree outer atmosphere or corona lies the chromosphere. At 10,000K it is much cooler than the corona, but also many orders of magnitude denser. The chromosphere processes all magneto-convective energy that drives the heating of the million-degree outer atmosphere or corona, and requires a heating rate that is at least as large as that required for the corona. Yet many questions remain about what drives the chromospheric dynamics and energetics and how these are connected to the transition region and corona.
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is a NASA small explorer satellite that was launched in 2013 to study these questions. I will review recent results from IRIS in which observations and models are compared to study the onset of fast magnetic reconnection in the solar atmosphere, the generation of violent jets and how they feed plasma into the hot corona, and the role of nanoflares in heating the corona.
Antarctic high altitude balloon observations of solar flares: Life and work on the ice
Dr. Hazel Bain, University of California, Berkeley
The Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for solar flares (GRIPS) instrument is a balloon-borne telescope designed to study particle acceleration in solar flares. The process through which stored magnetic energy is released and particles are accelerated to high energies in solar flares is not well understood. Hard x-rays and gamma-rays are direct signatures of these accelerated particles and can be used as a proxy to investigate particle acceleration mechanisms in these explosive events.
In the austral summer of 2016, GRIPS began its inaugural flight from NASA’s Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility just outside McMurdo, Antarctica. During the 12 day flight, the balloon was carried around the Antarctic continent by the seasonal stratospheric polar vortex. At the end of the 2016 season, the data vaults were recovered however due to the lateness of the season a full recovery was scheduled for the following year.
In this talk I will discuss the GRIPS instrument design and science goals, the process of testing and integration leading up to a balloon launch, the inaugural flight and subsequent instrument recovery this year from the GRIPS landing site out in Antarctica’s “flat white”. I’ll also talk a little bit about life and work on the ice.
Starless clumps and the earliest phases of high-mass star formation in the Milky Way
Brian Svoboda, NRAO Jansky Fellow
High-mass stars are key to regulating the interstellar medium, star formation activity, and overall evolution of galaxies, but their formation remains an open problem in astrophysics. In order to understand the physical conditions during the earliest phases of high-mass star formation, I will present observational studies we have carried out on dense starless clump candidates (SCCs) that show no signatures of star formation activity. We identify 2223 SCCs from the 1.1 mm Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey, systematically analyse their physical properties, and show that the starless phase is not represented by a single timescale, but evolves more rapidly with increasing clump mass. To investigate the sub-structure in SCCs at high spatial resolution, we investigate the 12 most high-mass SCCs within 5 kpc using ALMA. We find previously undetected low-luminosity protostars in 11 out of 12 SCCs, fragmentation equal to the thermal Jeans length of the clump, and no starless cores exceeding 30 solar masses. While uncertainties remain concerning the star formation efficiency in this sample, these observational facts are consistent with models where high-mass stars form from initially low- to intermediate-mass protostars that accrete most of their mass from the surrounding clump. I will also present on-going research studying gas inflow signatures with GBT/Argus and ALMA, and the dense core mass function with the JVLA.
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