On August 26, a flare-up erupted from the Sun and set off a “solar tsunami.”
This event sent a giant wave of hot particles flowing through the Solar System at speeds of up to 560 miles per hour, and some of it could reach Earth.
The latest wave of solar eruptions has some scientists worried that this may initiate a geomagnetic storm on Earth. But so far, the Earth is safe as the flareup turned out to be minor. However, these storms are hard to predict, and scientists still haven’t figured out what causes the Sun to erupt in these flareups.
If a geomagnetic storm were to occur today, it would likely destroy our navigation systems and underwater internet cables.
As scientists try to figure out what kind of solar storm the latest shockwave initiated, Inverse breaks down how the Sun works, why it sends hot plasma in our direction, and the effects of space weather on Earth.
How do solar storms affect Earth?
The Sun is an active star. Every now and then, a solar flare will erupt from the Sun and send a small ripple toward Earth’s magnetic field.
A phenomenon related to flares called coronal mass ejections causes highly energetic eruptions from the Sun, providing the main source of major space weather events. These eruptions are essentially giant bubbles of gas and magnetic flux carrying up to a billion tons of charged particles, traveling at speeds of several million miles per hour.
These clouds, and the shock waves they cause, occasionally reach Earth and cause geomagnetic storms.
Geomagnetic storms are major disturbances of Earth’s magnetosphere — the space surrounding our planet governed by our magnetic field. The storms can often be observed as beautiful aurorae in our night sky, but they can also cause major disturbances in Earth’s power grids and navigation systems.
One of the last geomagnetic storms that had a major impact on Earth took place on August 7, 1972. A massive solar flare erupted from the Sun’s surface, disrupting radio waves, telecommunication networks, and power systems by triggering an intense magnetic storm.
Is a solar storm about to hit Earth?
The forecast for the latest solar tsunami indicated that a geomagnetic storm may ensue, according to the recent forecast by the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
But so far, the Earth is safe.
It was a C3-class solar flare, which is considered a minor solar flare with little to no effects on Earth. The solar flare launched a partial halo coronal mass ejection at a speed of about 500 kilometers per second, which is considered relatively slow, according to Space Weather.
But it created a partial halo coronal mass ejection headed towards Earth, with a minor chance of a geomagnetic storm.
What would happen on Earth if a storm got bad?
Solar flares sound scary, but they won’t exactly destroy the Earth.
The Sun’s occasional eruptions could reach our planet if they are especially powerful, and at that point may cause damage to power grids.
At the last SIGCOMM data communication conference held in late August, computer scientist Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi expressed concern that Earth’s modern-day power grids and large-scale internet cables would not be able to withstand a solar storm if it were to ever hit the planet.
Jyothi highlighted that underwater cables are not grounded well, and are therefore at risk of being damaged. Should a solar storm hit the Earth today, our GPS systems and satellites will likely be destroyed.
How often do solar storms occur?
Scientists have been studying the Sun for decades, and yet have still not been able to figure out what causes these storms to erupt or how to predict when the next solar storm will occur.
But NASA does keep a close eye on our Sun with satellites such as SOHO in case it decides to flare up in our direction, and ongoing missions headed towards the Sun such as the Parker Solar Probe will collect enough data on our host star to help scientists predict its behavior.
For now, scientists must observe our star closely should it decide to mess with our precious technology.
This Canadian 'Dark Sky Highway' is a stargazer dream – The Weather Network
E.C. Manning Provincial Park is one of the most popular provincial parks in British Columbia.
Located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, its climate and geography have combined to make this park a go-to destination for stargazers across the country.
The park is within a three-hour drive from either the Lower Mainland or the Okanagan, with the closest city being about 45 minutes away. Road trippers can get there using BC Highway 3, also known as the Crowsnest Highway, located along what has become known as the Dark Sky Highway, due to the limited light pollution.
Photo of the night sky captured along B.C.’s Dark Sky Highway. The five bright stars stretched out through the right-hand side of the image are part of the constellation Ursa Major, aka the Big Dipper. (Mia Gordon)
Every year, photographers from around the country come out here to get a good glimpse of the Milky Way and other incredible constellations, and now the Manning Resort and the park are working towards becoming a dark sky designation.
“That means it is a continued commitment to preserve and protect the night and the environment but more specifically the organisms that live in the park that rely on the night to hunt and navigate,” explained Manning Park Communications Manager Emma Schram.
Every year, the resort partners with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for an Astronomy Weekend, where visitors can speak with experts, learn how to use a telescope, and even participate in yoga under the stars. This year’s event is taking place October 15-17, and while it is sold out, any time of year is the perfect time to go stargazing in the park.
Learn more about this stargazer’s dream destination in the video above.
Thumbnail image courtesy: Getty Images
Faces of 3 Egyptian mummies revealed for the first time – Editorials 99
New DNA sequencing technology is giving us a first glimpse at what ancient men looked like — before they were mummies.
Genetic researchers have revealed highly detailed three-dimensional renderings of the faces of three Egyptian men who lived more than 2,000 years ago, using DNA pulled from their mummified remains.
The digital reconstructions show the men at age 25, who were unearthed in the vicinity of the ancient Egyptian city of Abusir el-Meleq, in the south of Cairo. Scientists estimate the men were each buried sometime between 1380 B.C. and A.D. 425, Live Science has reported. Their DNA was previously sequenced in 2017 at the Max Planck institute in Germany — at the time, the first successful reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy’s genome in history.
Since then, researchers at Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia have used forensic DNA phenotyping to create 3D models of the men’s faces, a process by which genetic data is used to predict facial features and other physical characteristics of the sampled mummy.
“This is the first time comprehensive DNA phenotyping has been performed on human DNA of this age,” Parabon said in a statement.
The lab used a combination of efforts to reconstruct the faces. Some features, including skin and eye color, can be predicted via genetic markers in the individual’s genome, while others are measured through what’s left of their physical remains.
Parabon’s methods revealed that the men had light brown skin with dark eyes and hair, and that the men were more genetically similar to modern-day Mediterranean populations than that of Egypt today.
Their process had to account for the fact that human DNA degrades over time, and is likely to be contaminated by bacterial DNA. In this case, researchers use genetic commonalities between human populations to fill in the gaps of their mummy genome.
Researchers see that this process could eventually be used in contemporary forensics, in order to identify more recent remains of unknown individuals.
Parabon’s work in genetics has already been used to crack 175 cold cases, including nine solved using the methods described in the current study, they told Live Science.
Some animal species can survive successfully without sexual reproduction: study – CTV News
An international team of researchers have found that some animals can survive over very long periods of time — possibly millions of years — without sexual reproduction.
By studying a tiny beetle mite species, just one-fifth of a millimetre in size, scientists found that asexual reproduction can be successful in the long term.
The study authors note that until now, the survival of an animal species over a geologically long period of time without sexual reproduction was considered very unlikely, if not impossible.
Asexual reproduction involves one parent and produces offspring that are genetically identical to each other and the parent, while sexual reproduction involves two parents and produces offspring that are genetically unique.
Using the Oppiella nova beetle mite, an all-female species, researchers from the Universities of Cologne and Göttingen, the University in Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Montpellier in France, demonstrated for the first time the so-called Meselson effect in animals.
According to the study, the Meselson effect is a characteristic trace in the genome of an organism that suggests “purely asexual reproduction.”
In the study, researchers looked at different populations of the Oppiella nova and the closely related, but sexually reproducing species, Oppiella subpectinata in Germany and sequenced their genomes. The study found that the sequencing of the Oppiella nova genomes showed the Meselson effect.
The findings were published Tuesday in peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS.
Scientists had previously considered the Oppiella nova species an “ancient asexual scandal” as they couldn’t determine how the beetles were managing to reproduce without having sexual intercourse.
Initially, the study notes that biologists thought these beetles were hiding their acts of reproduction.
“There could be, for example, some kind of ‘cryptic’ sexual exchange that is not known. Or not yet known,” first author of the study Alexander Brandt of the University of Lausanne said in a press release.
“For example, very rarely a reproductive male could be produced after all — possibly even ‘by accident’,” he added.
However, the Oppiella nova beetle mite clones itself rather than reproducing, according to the study.
Researchers say the existence of ancient asexual animal species can be difficult to explain as asexual reproduction can seem “very disadvantageous” in the long term due to a lack of genetic diversity.
Biologists say there is typically an “evolutionary advantage” to having two different genomes that only a pair of parents can supply. Through sexual reproduction, this ensures a “constant ‘mixing’ of the two copies” of the genome in each of their cells.
This means that the two sets of genetic information remain very similar, but there are differences that allow organisms on earth to adapt over time, evolving characteristics that best suit the changing environment.
Researchers also found that it is possible for asexually reproducing species to introduce genetic variance into their genomes and thus adapt to their environment during evolution, despite producing genetic clones of themselves.
Scientists say that lack of “genome mixing” compared to sexual species causes the two genome copies of asexual animals to accumulate separate mutations and evolve independently over time.
While the survival rate of a species without sexual reproduction is quite rare, scientists conclude that it is not impossible.
“Our results clearly show that O. nova reproduces exclusively asexually. When it comes to understanding how evolution works without sex, these beetle mites could still provide a surprise or two,” Jens Bast, junior research group leader at the University of Cologne, said in the press release.
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