90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
The Breathtaking Power And Beauty Of The Sun

The science, destruction, and beauty of the solar storm that’s been blasting earth—from the breathtaking Aurora Borealis to future exploration of the sun itself.

In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, the skies over the frozen Susitna River near Talkeetna, Alaska are lit up by a display of the northern lights, or Aurora Borealis.  A common occurrence in northern climates, the aurora was enhanced in this display by solar flares in the days preceding the event.  (AP)

In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, the skies over the frozen Susitna River near Talkeetna, Alaska are lit up by a display of the northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. A common occurrence in northern climates, the aurora was enhanced in this display by solar flares in the days preceding the event. (AP)

We know our sun is vast and blazing.  But sometimes it’s blazing more aggressively than others.  Positively storming.  Last week, the largest solar storm in almost a decade boomed out with a wave of cosmic energy across the 93 million miles to Earth.  And we got hit.

Superheated gas hurling waves of particles off the sun.  Slamming Earth’s magnetic field.  Threatening power grids, orbiting satellites, GPS signals, airline flights, radio communications.  And making some amazing Northern Lights.

This hour, On Point:  Heading into storm season on the sun.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Justin Kasper, astrophysicist in the Solar and Stellar X-Ray Group in the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. His latest project is leading the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas And Protons (SWEAP) investigation on the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft.

Howard Singer, chief scientist at NOAA’s Space Weather and Prediction Center.

Frank Koza, executive director of operations support at PJM Interconnection, which is a regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of electricity in 13 states.

Chad Blakley, aurora borealis photographer, who runs the website Lights Over Lapland.

Photos

Astrophysicist Justin Kasper outside the On Point studios at WBUR in Boston. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Astrophysicist Justin Kasper outside the On Point studios at WBUR in Boston. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

From Tom’s Reading List

NASA “The sun erupted late on January 22, 2012 with an M8.7 class flare, an earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), and a burst of fast moving, highly energetic protons known as a “solar energetic particle” event. The latter has caused the strongest solar radiation storm since September 2005 according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.”

NPR “It begins on the sun’s surface: a broad, hellish plain of boiling 5,700 degree gas. Powerful magnetic fields arc upwards from the surface, rising high into the solar atmosphere to form giant, twisting arcades of energy. Matter streams up these arches to be gripped in a magnetic vise a million miles above the surface. Then something happens. Something shifts. Magnetic lines of force in the arcade snap like steel cables on the bridge to heaven. Billions of tons of solar gas are suddenly blown outward, exploding across interplanetary space. Three days later the shimmering ball of energy smashes head-on into the unsuspecting Earth.”

Discovery News “As the sun increases in activity toward “solar maximum” (predicted to occur in 2013), we can expect more intense solar storms over the coming months. Magnetic activity is bursting through the solar “surface” (the photosphere), producing a rash of sunspots. This in turn has resulted in explosive events — solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — boosting the intensity of radiation environment surrounding our planet.”

Video: Lights of Lapland

Here’s some video of the recent Northern Lights display over the Abisko National Park in Sweden.
http://vimeo.com/35618405

Video: NASA Photographs Solar Storms

In this video, shot on January 22, 2012, shows a portion of the sun erupting and blasting into space.

Video: The Sun Song

This video, uploaded to YouTube by NASA, features the Chromatics, a group of astrophysicist a capella singers from the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Playlist

“Why Does the Sun Shine?” by They Might Be Giants

“The Sun Song” by The Chromatics

“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles

 

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Sep 22, 2014
President Barack Obama gestures during a statement in the State Dining Room of the White House, on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Washington. Obama spoke after Congress voted to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State group. (AP/Evan Vucci)

A tough, critical examination of US plans to take on ISIS. Strategy in the hot seat.

Sep 22, 2014
Demonstrators make their way down Sixth Avenue in New York during the People's Climate March Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP/Jason DeCrow)

Big climate protests in New York before a big UN summit. Activist and author Naomi Klein says change the economy or die. She’s with us.

RECENT
SHOWS
Sep 19, 2014
Joseph O'Neill (courtesy of the author)

Author of “Netherland,” novelist Joseph O’Neill is back, with “The Dog,” on globalization, capitalism, and self-discovery in Dubai.

 
Sep 19, 2014
No campaigners celebrate as results come in at the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh,Scotland,Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Scottish voters have rejected independence and decided that Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. The result announced early Friday was the one favored by Britain's political leaders, who had campaigned hard in recent weeks to convince Scottish voters to stay. It dashed many Scots' hopes of breaking free and building their own nation. (AP Photo/David Cheskin)

ISIS and arming Syrian fighters. Scotland rejects independence. NFL turmoil. US troops and Ebola. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: September 19, 2014
Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Lots of big, contentious topics on the show this week — from Zionism to early education, corporal punishment to development in the Grand Canyon.

More »
Comment
 
Talking Through The Issue Of Corporal Punishment For Kids
Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

On Point dove into the debate over corporal punishment on Wednesday — as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson faces charges in Texas after he allegedly hit his four-year-old son with a switch.

More »
2 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: September 12, 2014
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

In which you had varied reactions to the prospect of a robotic spouse.

More »
Comment