What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Recent Geomagnetic Storms Provide Spectacular Light Shows!

August 6, 2010, 10:38 AM
Aurora_kaku

Our Sun has been asleep for a while, but now it’s starting to wake up. You’ve probably read or heard about the recent solar storms that sent plasma towards Earth, causing fantastic light shows filled with dancing arrays of colors ranging from greens, purples, pinks and even reds. Newspapers, television and the Internet have been booming with headlines about the recent geomagnetic storms and auroras appearing as far south as Michigan and Wisconsin.

The photo below was taken in Oak Heights, Ontario., near Brighton, just after midnight on Aug. 4th.

The northern lights were visible at Oak Heights, Ont., near Brighton, just after midnight on Aug. 4. (Andreas Gada)

The photo below was captured by Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo just outside of Marquette, Michigan over Lake Superior.

Aurora Photo captured by Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo just outside of Marquette, Michigan

Solar activity rises and falls on a regular cycle of about 11 years. We observed the last major peak of activity in late 2001 so this recent activity may be a sign that the Sun is starting to wake up.

August 1st was the day that almost the entire side of the Sun that faces the Earth had a bit of a temper tantrum known as a “coronal mass ejection” or (CME).  Although the eruption—described by astronomers as a Class C3 eruption—didn’t cause any damage to Earth, it gave us a show of the glowing displays of curtains and streamers of multi-colored light. Larger flare-ups, referred to as "M" or "X" class, are the ones we really need to worry about. In a previous blog post—“A Possible Solar Storm in 2012?”—I touched a bit on the massive 1859 solar storm (The Carrington Flare) that paralyzed our telegraph wires. This is a prime example of the size of solar storm that we need to worry about. Satellites, global communication, GPS, the Internet would be disrupted. Whole continents would be without power. Another geomagnetic storm in 1989 caused a major shut down of Quebec's power grid causing over 5 million people to be without electricity.

These coronal mass ejections are seen using coronagraphs, which generally allow an instrument to block the light coming directly from the Sun. They are quite amazing actually, a large (CME) can consist of literally billions of tons of matter (plasma consisting of primarily electrons and protons in addition to small quantities of heavier elements such as helium, oxygen and even iron), all entangled and intertwined in a powerful magnetic field erupting from the Sun at speeds ranging from 20 km/s to over 3,000 km/s.

Recent scientific research shows that the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection is mainly responsible for these coronal mass ejections. This is the rearrangement of magnetic lines of force when two oppositely directed magnetic fields are suddenly brought together. This animation, for example, shows a cross-section through four magnetic domains undergoing separator reconnection. Field lines (and associated plasma) flow inward from above and below the separator, reconnect, and spring outward horizontally.

The animation below, for example, shows a cross-section through four magnetic domains undergoing separator reconnection. Field lines (and associated plasma) flow inward from above and below the separator, reconnect, and spring outward horizontally.

So there are really two sides to this; Although these geomagnetic storms can give us breathtaking views in our skies, they can also wipe out our satellites, ability to communicate and even severely damage our power grids. A small snippet from my previous solar storm blog entry "It pays to do certain things now because we do face the inevitable. For example, even though satellites currently in outer space cannot be reinforced, the next generation of satellites should be reinforced to withstand the full brunt of the solar winds and solar flares. Also, on Earth, power stations and especially transformers should be insulated and reinforced so as to be able to withstand radiation coming from outer space."

Let's hope that when the sun's cycle peaks around 2012 or 2013 that we dodge the bullet and we see nothing more than a spectacular light show.

 

Recent Geomagnetic Storms P...

Newsletter: Share: