AeroSpace and Beyond February 2014

February 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Coronal mass ejection from a solar flare that bypassed earth

Dr. Pierre Cilliers

Dr. Pierre Cilliers

On 7 January 2014 active region 1944 on the sun erupted with an X-class X-ray solar flare accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME). A severe space weather warning was issued by the Regional Space Weather Centre of the International Space Environment Service (ISES) which is situated at SANSA Space Science Directorate in Hermanus, Western Cape. The warning said that the CME was travelling towards Earth and was estimated to impact the Earth’s magnetic field around 11 am on 09 January 2014. Based on time/height measurements of SOHO/LASCO data the initial CME speed is estimated at ~2353 km/s. The impact of the CME could spark a strong geomagnetic storm through 9 to 10 January 2014.

A CME is a massive cloud of high energy particles ejected from the surface of the sun when stored energy is suddenly released. When the magnetic field of a CME interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field it causes a temporary disturbance know as a geomagnetic storm. The impact of a CME will not harm humans and other life forms on Earth as we are protected by the Earth’s magnetic field. However it can cause disturbances to our satellite communication systems like GPS, radio communications, internet, cell phones and DStv.

But it did not happen as the solar storm petered out before reaching the earth’s ionosphere. It is however important that SANSA provides this service as such an event can have devastating impact on communication and electricity supply routes. “We base our predictions on the size and intensity of the solar flare on the sun, but a lot can happen on it journey towards Earth,” Dr. Pierre Cilliers, research physicist at Space Science Directorate of SANSA said. “We have nothing in between that will give us an indication. Often the geomagnetic storm slows down and arrives on Earth must later than predicted and then often at a much lower intensity as originally predicted.” Visit for up-to-the-minute space weather updates.


Water vapour found on dwarf planet

Dwarf planet Ceres is located in the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, as illustrated in this artist's conception.  Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab.

Dwarf planet Ceres is located in the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, as illustrated in this artist’s conception.
Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab.

Scientists using the Herschel Space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapour on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres. Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with major NASA contributions. Data from the infrared observatory suggest that plumes of water vapour shoot up from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. The results come at the right time for NASA’s Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.

Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity. For the past century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union – the governing organisation responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 950 km in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system’s main belt of asteroids.

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system’s existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

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