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SDO sees new kind of magnetic explosion on sun – Herald Planet

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Forced magnetic reconnection, caused by a prominence from the Sun, was seen for the first time in images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO. This image shows the Sun on May 3, 2012, with the inset showing a close-up of the reconnection event imaged by SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument, where the signature X-shape is visible. Credit: NASA/SDO/Abhishek Srivastava/IIT(BHU)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has observed a magnetic explosion the likes of which have never been seen before. In the scorching upper reaches of the Sun’s atmosphere, a prominence—a large loop of material launched by an eruption on the solar surface—started falling back to the surface of the Sun. But before it could make it, the prominence ran into a snarl of magnetic field lines, sparking a magnetic explosion.

Scientists have previously seen the explosive snap and realignment of tangled magnetic field lines on the Sun—a process known as magnetic reconnection—but never one that had been triggered by a nearby eruption. The observation, which confirms a decade-old theory, may help scientists understand a key mystery about the Sun’s atmosphere, better predict space weather, and may also lead to breakthroughs in the controlled fusion and lab plasma experiments. 

“This was the first observation of an external driver of magnetic reconnection,” said Abhishek Srivastava, solar scientist at Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), in Varanasi, India. “This could be very useful for understanding other systems.  For example, Earth’s and planetary magnetospheres, other magnetized plasma sources, including experiments at laboratory scales where plasma is highly diffusive and very hard to control.”

Previously a type of magnetic reconnection known as spontaneous reconnection has been seen, both on the Sun and around Earth. But this new explosion-driven type—called forced reconnection—had never been seen directly, thought it was first theorized 15 years ago. The new observations have just been published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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Forced magnetic reconnection, caused by a prominence from the Sun, was seen for the first time in images from NASA’s SDO. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The previously-observed spontaneous reconnection requires a region with just the right conditions—such as having a thin sheet of ionized gas, or plasma, that only weakly conducts electric current—in order to occur. The new type, forced reconnection, can happen in a wider range of places, such as in plasma that has even lower resistance to conducting an electric current. However, it can only occur if there is some type of eruption to trigger it. The eruption squeezes the plasma and magnetic fields, causing them to reconnect.

While the Sun’s jumble of magnetic field lines are invisible, they nonetheless affect the material around them—a soup of ultra-hot charged particles known as plasma. The scientists were able to study this plasma using observations from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, looking specifically at a wavelength of light showing particles heated 1-2 million kelvins (1.8-3.6 million F).

The observations allowed them to directly see the forced reconnection event for the first time in the solar corona—the Sun’s uppermost atmospheric layer. In a series of images taken over an hour, a prominence in the corona could be seen falling back into the photosphere. En route, the prominence ran into a snarl of magnetic field lines, causing them to reconnect in a distinct X shape. 

Spontaneous reconnection offers one explanation for how hot the solar atmosphere is—mysteriously, the corona is millions of degrees hotter than lower atmospheric layers, a conundrum that has led solar scientists for decades to search for what mechanism is driving that heat. The scientists looked at multiple ultraviolet wavelengths to calculate the temperature of the plasma during and following the reconnection event. The data showed that the prominence, which was fairly cool relative to the blistering corona, gained heat after the event. This suggests forced reconnection might be one way the corona is heated locally. Spontaneous reconnection also can heat plasma, but forced reconnection seems to be a much more effective heater—raising the temperature of the plasma quicker, higher, and in a more controlled manner.

While a prominence was the driver behind this reconnection event, other solar eruptions like flares and coronal mass ejections, could also cause forced reconnection. Since these eruptions drive space weather—the bursts of solar radiation that can damage satellites around Earth—understanding forced reconnection can help modelers better predict when disruptive high-energy charged particles might come speeding at Earth.

Understanding how magnetic reconnection can be forced in a controlled way may also help plasma physicists reproduce reconnection in the lab. This is ultimately useful in the field of laboratory plasma to control and stabilize them.

The scientists are continuing to look for more forced reconnection events. With more observations they can begin to understand the mechanics behind the reconnection and often it might happen.

“Our thought is that forced reconnection is everywhere,” Srivastava said. “But we have to continue to observe it, to quantify it, if we want prove that.”



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SDO sees new kind of magnetic explosion on sun (2019, December 17)
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Buried lakes of liquid water discovered on Mars – BBC News

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Three underground lakes have been detected near the south pole of Mars.

Scientists also confirmed the existence of a fourth lake – the presence of which was hinted at in 2018.

Liquid water is vital for biology, so the finding will be of interest to researchers studying the potential for life elsewhere in the Solar System.

But the lakes are also thought to be extremely salty, which could make it difficult for any microbial life to survive in them.

Mars’ thin atmosphere means that the presence of liquid water on the surface is a near-impossibility. But water could remain liquid below ground.

The latest discovery was made using data from a radar instrument on the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Mars Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting the Red Planet since December 2003.

In 2018, researchers used data from the Marsis radar to report signs of a 20km-wide subsurface lake located 1.5km under Mars’ south polar layered deposits, a thick polar cap formed by layers of ice and dust.

However, that finding was based on 29 observations collected by Marsis between 2012 and 2015. Now, a team including many of the same scientists from the 2018 study have analysed a much bigger dataset of 134 radar profiles gathered between 2010 and 2019.

“Not only did we confirm the position, extent and strength of the reflector from our 2018 study, but we found three new bright areas,” said co-author Elena Pettinelli from Roma Tre University in Italy.

“The main lake is surrounded by smaller bodies of liquid water, but because of the technical characteristics of the radar, and of its distance from the Martian surface, we cannot conclusively determine whether they are interconnected.”

The team borrowed a technique commonly used in radar sounder investigations of sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica, Canada and Greenland, adapting the method to analyse the data from Marsis.

“The interpretation that best reconciles all the available evidence is that the high intensity reflections (from Mars) are coming from extended pools of liquid water,” said co-author Sebastian Lauro, also from Roma Tre University.

There’s not enough heat at these depths to melt the ice, so scientists believe the liquid water must contain high concentrations of dissolved salts. These chemical salts (different to the stuff we sprinkle on our chips) can significantly lower water’s freezing point.

In fact, recent experiments have shown that water with dissolved salts of magnesium and calcium perchlorate (a chemical compound containing chlorine bound to four oxygens) can remain liquid at temperatures of -123C.

“These experiments have demonstrated that brines can persist for geologically significant periods of time even at the temperatures typical of the Martian polar regions (considerably below the freezing temperature of pure water),” said co-author Graziella Caprarelli, from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

“Therefore we think that any process of formation and persistence of sub-ice water beneath the ice polar caps requires the liquid to have high salinity.”

Whether life could survive in such conditions depends on just how salty these Martian pools are. On Earth, only very specific types of microbes, known as halophiles, can survive in the saltiest bodies of water.

Roberto Orosei, chief scientist on the Marsis experiment, said: “While the existence of a single sub-glacial lake could be attributed to exceptional conditions such as the presence of a volcano under the ice sheet, the discovery of an entire system of lakes implies that their formation process is relatively simple and common, and that these lakes have probably existed for much of Mars’ history.

“For this reason, they could still retain traces of any life forms that could have evolved when Mars had a dense atmosphere, a milder climate and the presence of liquid water on the surface, similar to the early Earth.”

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INRS Researchers Develop a New Membraneless Fuel Cell – Canada NewsWire

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Conventional fuel cells are ubiquitous. They power electric cars on today’s roads and were part of the computers used in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. These fuel cells lose voltage as they are used and eventually stop working. This happens because alcohol molecules (methanol or ethanol) in the fuel cell’s anode compartment crossover the membrane separating them from the cathode compartment. Oxygen molecules in the cathode compartment react with the alcohol, causing a drop in voltage.

Numerous scientists have unsuccessfully tried to develop a membrane that stops alcohol molecules from passing through it. Professor Mohamed Mohamedi, a lead author of the study published on September 8, took another tack: developing a fuel cell without a membrane. 

His novel solution costs less and requires fewer steps to manufacture, but it fails to address a key challenge. “When the membrane is removed, the methanol or ethanol reacts with the oxygen, just like in conventional fuel cells. To prevent voltage drops, we had to develop selective electrodes in the cathode compartment. These electrodes, designed by doctoral student Juan Carlos Abrego-Martinez, remain inactive in the presence of alcohol molecules but are sensitive to the oxygen that generates electricity,” Professor Mohamedi explains. He notes another unique property of this membraneless fuel cell: it uses oxygen from the air around it.

From Model to Prototype

The first step the researchers took in building a working prototype was to run numerical simulations created by Alonso Moreno Zuria, INRS postdoctoral fellow and a lead author of the study. Through computer modelling, the team tested different configurations of selective electrodes in the fuel cell. “Conventional fuel cells are like sandwiches, with the membrane in the middle. We chose instead to work on a single-layer design. We had to determine how to arrange and space the electrodes to maximize fuel use while keeping ambient air oxygen concentration in mind,” says Professor Mohamedi.

Once the researchers settled on a configuration, they tested a prototype that became a proof of concept. The membraneless fuel cell powered an LED for four hours using only 234 microlitres of methanol. The researchers want to optimize the fuel cell so it can use ethanol, a greener fuel that can be produced from biomass and agricultural waste. Ethanol also provides more power per equivalent unit of volume.

The team expects the fuel cell to power portable electronics such as mobile phones and microsystems such as air pollution sensors. Unlike conventional batteries that store electricity and must be recharged, fuel cells continue to produce energy as long as fuel is available. “This energy supply method is particularly effective when recharging is not possible. Imagine being in the middle of the desert, without electricity. You could recharge your mobile phone using a small capsule of ethanol that you connect to the device,” says Professor Mohamedi.

This pioneering technology has already attracted industry attention even though the research team is only at the prototype stage. 

About the study
The researchers received financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Quebec Centre for Advanced Materials (QCAM), the UNESCO/MATECSS chair, Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT, Mexico), and Científicos Mexicanos en el Extranjero.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2020.110045

About INRS

INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Quebec and second in Canada. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,400 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.

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SOURCE Institut National de la recherche scientifique (INRS)

For further information: Audrey-Maude Vézina, Service des communications de l’INRS, 418 254-2156, [email protected]

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Salty ponds found on Mars suggest stronger prospect of life on red planet, scientists say – CBC.ca

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A network of salty ponds may be gurgling beneath the South Pole on Mars, alongside a large underground lake, raising the prospect of tiny, swimming Martian life.

Italian scientists reported their findings Monday, two years after identifying what they believed to be a large buried lake. They widened their coverage area by a couple hundred miles, using even more data from a radar sounder on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

In the latest study appearing in the journal Nature Astronomy, the scientists provide further evidence of this salty underground lake, estimated to be 20 to 30 kilometres across and buried 1.5 kilometres beneath the icy surface.

Even more tantalizing, they’ve also identified three smaller bodies of water surrounding the lake. These ponds appear to be of various sizes and are separate from the main lake.

Roughly four billion years ago, Mars was warm and wet, like Earth. But the red planet eventually morphed into the barren, dry world it is today.

The research team led by Roma Tre University’s Sebastian Emanuel Lauro used a method similar to those used on Earth to detect buried lakes in the Antarctic and Canadian Arctic. They based their findings on more than 100 radar observations by Mars Express from 2010 to 2019; the spacecraft was launched in 2003.

All this potential water raises the possibility of microbial life on — or inside — Mars. High concentrations of salt are likely keeping the water from freezing at this frigid location, the scientists noted. The surface temperature at the South Pole is an estimated -113 degrees C and gets gradually warmer with depth.

These bodies of water are potentially interesting biologically and the researchers wrote that “future missions to Mars should target this region.” 

Earlier this year, a new computer model by NASA scientists lent further support to the theory that the ocean beneath the thick, icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa could be habitable.

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