Observations Around Solar System With Parker Solar Probe’s 7th Solar Encounter


Mar 5, 2021

During Parker Solar Probe’s seventh swing by the Sun, culminating in its closest solar approach, or perihelion, on Jan. 17, 2021, celestial geometry posed a special opportunity. The configuration of this particular orbit placed Parker Solar Probe on the same side of the Sun as Earth — meaning that Earth-bound observatories could observe the Sun and its outpouring of solar wind from the same perspective as Parker’s. This comes on the heels of a similar observation campaign in the winter of 2020.

“Along with the global science community, the Parker Solar Probe team can’t wait to see this new data,” said Nour Raouafi, the Parker Solar Probe project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “Combining it with contributions from observatories around the globe will help us to put Parker observations in a broader context and build a complete picture of the phenomena observed in the solar atmosphere.”

Read on for snapshots from a few missions that observed the Sun and the solar system during Parker Solar Probe’s seventh solar encounter.


Credits: JAXA/NASA/Hinode

These images were captured by the X-ray Telescope, or XRT, aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s and NASA’s Hinode spacecraft. XRT watches the Sun in X-rays, a high-energy type of light that reveals the extremely hot material in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. These images from XRT were captured on Jan. 17, when Parker Solar Probe was closest to the Sun. Scientists can use XRT’s images with Parker Solar Probe’s direct measurements of the environment around the Sun to better understand how the Sun’s corona could drive changes in the space environment farther away from the Sun.

Solar Dynamics Observatory

Credits: NASA/SDO

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, keeps a constant eye on the Sun from its vantage point in orbit around Earth. SDO captures images of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light — a type of light that is invisible to our eyes — and visible light, as well as magnetic maps of the Sun. SDO’s data can help scientists understand the connection between conditions on the Sun and what is measured in the solar wind by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe.

These images were captured in 211 angstroms, a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light emitted by material at around 3 million degrees Fahrenheit. This wavelength highlights both active regions — seen as bright spots in the image — and coronal holes, areas of open magnetic field on the Sun from which high-seed solar wind can rush out into space. Coronal holes appear as dark areas in this wavelength of light.


Credits: NASA/IRIS

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, captures images of the lower regions of the Sun’s atmosphere in ultraviolet light, along with spectra that break down how much light is visible across different wavelengths. These images, captured on Jan. 17, show an active region on the Sun, an area of intense and complex magnetic fields that is prone to explosions of light and solar material. This particular active region was targeted for IRIS observations based on model predictions that suggested that magnetic field lines from this region could be ones Parker Solar Probe would cross and measure during its solar encounter.

The images cycle through different wavelengths of light — corresponding to views of different heights above the solar surface — to reveal features in various regions of the Sun’s structure. This imagery shows features from the solar surface to a few thousand miles above at the top of the chromosphere, a region of the Sun’s atmosphere that interfaces with the extended solar atmosphere beyond.   


black-and-white map of Sun from GONG datablack-and-white map of Sun from GONG datablack-and-white map of Sun from GONG data
Credits: Global Oscillation Network Group/National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF

The National Science Foundation’s Global Oscillation Network Group, or GONG, is a network of solar imagers distributed around the globe. They make use of the Zeeman effect — how light splits into multiple wavelengths under the influence of a magnetic field — to create magnetic maps of the solar surface. This video shows GONG’s magnetic maps, updated hourly, from Jan. 12-23, 2021. The black areas represent areas where the magnetic field is pointing in towards the Sun’s surface, and white areas are where the magnetic field is pointing out into space.

As the solar wind streams out from the Sun, it carries the solar magnetic field with it. But identifying precisely which regions on the Sun are the source for solar wind measured by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe is a challenging task for several reasons: The Sun rotates, solar wind leaves the Sun at varying speeds, and strong magnetic fields near the Sun can change the solar wind’s path as it flows out. 

The Parker Solar Probe team uses GONG’s magnetic maps, along with data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, to make predictions of which regions on the Sun are sending out material and magnetic field lines toward the spacecraft. Drawing these connections between the Sun itself and the solar wind that Parker Solar Probe is measuring directly can help scientists trace how conditions on the Sun propagate out into space.


A trio of NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft — short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms — orbit Earth to measure particles and electric and magnetic fields in near-Earth space. THEMIS’ data helps researchers untangle the complicated factors that govern the response of near-Earth space to dynamics in Earth’s magnetic field, changes in the Sun’s constantly outflowing solar wind, and activity on the Sun. 

These measurements were taken by THEMIS-E, one of the spacecraft in orbit around Earth, on Jan. 20. It takes about two to three days for solar wind to cross the tens of millions of miles from the Sun to Earth, so the solar wind conditions observed by Parker Solar Probe during its close solar approach on Jan. 17 did not begin to influence near-Earth space until about Jan. 19-20.

Stacked plots of measurements show changing conditions throughout the dayStacked plots of measurements show changing conditions throughout the dayStacked plots of measurements show changing conditions throughout the day

THEMIS-E began the day traveling through the Van Allen radiation belts — concentric bands of charged particles nested in Earth’s magnetic field — as it approached Earth. THEMIS-E then traveled back outward through the radiation belts. Both transits through the radiation belts are reflected in the areas of intense coloring in the lower left part of the plot at the beginning of the day.

Mid-morning, THEMIS-E left Earth’s magnetic field and entered the magnetosheath — the region just outside the outermost Sun-facing boundary of Earth’s magnetic field where solar wind piles up as it collides with Earth’s magnetic field. Throughout the day, gusts in the solar wind temporarily pushed the boundaries of the magnetosphere Earthward, meaning that THEMIS-E repeatedly left and re-entered the magnetosheath. For about 15 hours — until its orbit carried it back into the magnetosphere late in the day — THEMIS-E alternately observed the unperturbed solar wind outside the magnetosheath and piled-up solar wind in the magnetosheath. The undisturbed solar wind observed by THEMIS-E was a bit slower than usual, but also about twice as dense as typical solar wind — observations also confirmed by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and Wind spacecraft, which orbit further upstream between the Sun and Earth.

By Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Last Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Editor: Sarah Frazier

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March 6, 2021 at 04:28AM

FAO forecasts record wheat production in 2021

By Paul Homewood


“Despite global warming”:



ROME, ITALY — Global wheat production is expected to reach a new record of 780 million tonnes in 2021, according to a preliminary forecast issued March 4 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The record forecast reflects an anticipated rebound in production in the European Union that is expected to more than offset weather-impacted production prospects for output in the Russian Federation.

The preliminary forecast for 2021 was issued along with the FAO’s Food Price Index, which the agency said rose for the ninth consecutive month in February.

In addition to its record forecast for global wheat production in 2021, the FAO said it’s expecting a new and higher estimate for world cereal production in 2020, now seen at 2.76 billion tonnes, a 1.9% increase from the previous year, lifted by higher-than-expected outturns reported for maize in West Africa, for rice in India, and wheat harvests in the European Union, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.




March 6, 2021 at 04:12AM

The Left declares war on gas

The so-called CLEAN Future Act just introduced by the Democrat leaders of the house energy Committee calls for the elimination of gas-fired electric power generation, some immediately, some by 2023 and all by 2035. That is just 14 years from now. Coal-fired power will also be gone, the war on coal finally over with the ultimate solution: complete extermination.

The fifty year history of electric power in America goes like this:

First they came for the nukes in the 70’s. Coal and gas smiled, saying we can do the job, so we built 350,000 MW of coal-fired baseload and gas-fired peakers.

Then they came for coal in the 90’s. Gas smiled, saying we can do the job, so we built 220,000 MW of gas-fired baseload.

Now they have come for gas. Wind and solar are smiling; their trade associations love this law.

But there is a big difference this time. WIND AND SOLAR CAN’T DO THE JOB.

Unlike nuclear, coal and gas, wind and solar only produce power when nature wants them to, not when we need it. Only when the sun shines bright or the wind blows strong. Low wind nights are common. A week without wind power occurs every few years almost everywhere in America.

The wind and solar people say that storage of electricity is the solution to this problem of intermittency, as it is called. In the vast quantities required, the only viable storage technology available to meet the law’s mandate is batteries.

But the storage requirements are stupendous, so the cost of batteries is astronomical. In fact it is economically impossible. (It may also be physically impossible to hook up this many batteries, or even to make them.)

I have a standard cost calculation the applies here. It is imprecise but gives the flavor of the cost. Simply take the average hourly need for juice, with 7 days of storage, at the average cost of grid-scale batteries which today is roughly $1,500,000 per megawatt hour (MWh). There are reasons the real figure might be lower, and reasons it might be much higher, so this is a useful benchmark.

Here’s the math. America uses about 4.2 billion MWh per year, which is roughly 500,000 MWh per hour. For 7 days this works out to 84 million MWh, costing around $120 trillion. That is ONE HUNDRED TWENTY TRILLION DOLLARS just for batteries.

Note that this does not include the cost of replacing all the operating coal and gas fired generators with a mind boggling number of wind and solar generators. Nor does it include things like the electrification of all our cars and trucks, our houses, our gas-fired industries, etc., which might double the amount of electricity needed. This would also double the batteries, so we might be looking at $240 trillion.

I mention operating coal-fired generators because the war on coal is far from over; in fact it is only 40% over. We used to burn a billion tons a year but we still burn 600 million. That is a lot to shut down, a lot of mines and a lot of workers, plus the communities that depend on them. And of course the gas industry has a lot of workers and pays huge royalties.

What the Democrat’s CLEAN Future Act calls for simply cannot be done, because there is no feasible cure for intermittency. This raises a very interesting question: Will the electric power utilities finally tell Congress the truth? That it can’t be done? Until now they have carefully avoided doing so, because they are making a fortune building wind and solar power plants. The more they spend the more profit they make.

Many utilities are operating under state laws calling for 100% renewables, but that is in 2045 or 2050. There is no need for the utilities to mention the impossibility now, not when they are making so much money. But the proposed CLEAN Future Act calls for 80% of the coal and gas generation to be gone in just 9 years. This impossibility creates a very different situation for the utilities.

What about the electric power gas industry? They have seen huge growth over the last 20 years, now they are supposed to be gone in just 14 years. That has to hurt. Maybe they will stop smiling and start pointing out that what the proposed law calls for is both impossible and incredibly destructive.

Over 60% of the 4 billion megawatt hours we use each year come from coal and gas. We simply cannot shut that down in the next 9-14 years. The CLEAN Future Act is impossible.



March 6, 2021 at 03:39AM

The Texas catastrophic blackouts: Lessons for developing countries

For planners and politicians of the developing countries, most of which are signatories to the (non-binding) Paris Agreement, hectored constantly about the need to “transition” from fossil fuels, the Texas debacle provides ironic education when the chips are down in the richest country in the world.

The recent severe snowstorm in the US led to a catastrophic power outage in Texas leaving millions of people without access to power or heat for several days, with a mounting death toll that has yet to be fully tallied. The state was about 4 minutes and seconds away from a total grid collapse that would have left the state’s residents for weeks or months without power. If that were to have happened, tens of thousands of people would have been at the risk of freezing to death.  

Political leaders in Asia, Africa and Latin America, well aware that reliable and affordable electricity for their burgeoning middle classes is a pre-requisite of staying in office, would no doubt incredulously ask “How could this happen in Texas, the energy power-house of the US, the country which surpassed Russia in 2011 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and overtook Saudi Arabia in 2018 to become the world’s largest producer of oil?”

Energy planners and grid engineers in many developing countries work with creaky grid infrastructure and frequent breakdowns lead many of their customers to own diesel gen-sets as ready backups. The irony will not be lost: last week, President Biden ordered the federal government to provide diesel generators and diesel fuel along with other assistance to Texas amid the power outages brought on by extreme cold. […]

Policy lessons of the Texas debacle

For energy policy makers around the world, the lessons of the Texas debacle will be a warning sign in their own planning for power grid reliability and resilience to adverse events. Thus, UK’s The Telegraph ran a headline: “Blackouts in energy-rich Texas are a wake-up call for knife-edge Britain.” However, gleaning policy lessons will not be straight-forward.

Alas if that were but true. For those whose professional work is in the engineering, economics and public policy aspects of power grids, the Texas debacle has been a long time coming. Decades of policy preferences in Texas in favour of weather-dependent, intermittent “renewable energy” – read solar and wind – added 20 GW of capacity since 2015 while retiring coal power plants and barely adding to natural gas capacity. More than $80 billion in Federal subsidies were spent on wind and solar during 2010 – 2019; an additional average of $1.5 billion is spent annually on state subsidies for renewable energy. A deregulated market that rewards power generation without requiring reliable capacity ready to supply power as needed naturally tilted the field in favour of intermittent solar and wind power.

A most consequential irony

For planners and politicians of the developing countries, most of which are signatories to the (non-binding) Paris Agreement, hectored constantly about the need to “transition” from fossil fuels, the Texas debacle provides ironic education beyond just the rushed dependence on diesel generators when the chips are down in the richest country in the world.

Among the first actions by Joe Biden, the first US “climate president,” was to re-join the Paris Agreement. His international climate czar John Kerry met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mark America’s re-entry barely days after the worst of the Texas tragedy. Convinced that the Earth has 9 years to avert the worst consequences of the “climate crisis” and “there’s no faking it on this one,” Mr. Kerry called on the world’s big emitting countries, including China, India, and Russia to “really step up,” cut fossil fuel use and “raise their ambition” to “fight against climate change.” The irony however is lost on Mr. Kerry. He goes around lecturing poorer countries on the need for raised ambitions to fight climate change when it is those very same ambitions that likely contributed to the tragic debacle in Texas.

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March 6, 2021 at 02:24AM