In the news: 2013 – The Year of Solar Flare


The sun erupted with an X1.7 class solar flare on May 12th, 2013. This is a blend of two images of the flare from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. One image shows the light in the 171-angstrom wavelength and the other show the 131 angstroms.

Are science fiction literature authors correct when they write about solar flares causing Earth’s communications to fail and causing catastrophes worldwide or is this simply a convenient plot device? The year 2013 has seen the most solar flares since 2003 because the Sun’s magnetic field cycle is reversing polarization, as it does every 11 years. This reversal causes larger and more frequent solar flares, which explains why this year has seen a large number of these impressive solar weather occurrences in many years.  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officials say “the sun’s normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013” (NASA News, 2013, found below).

Early in October the Earth was treated to a wonderful display of Northern Lights, illuminating the sky with brilliant dancing colors throughout the Northern United States and Canada. A solar flare directed at the Earth sent a larger than average stream of magnetized radiation at the Earth, which reacted with the Earth’s own gravity and magnetic field, creating Northern Lights. This particular flare was a class M, which was not strong enough to disrupt any satellites or space stations orbiting the Earth but is still considered impressive by NASA’s standards.

The question remains: how will these solar flares affect technology and are they dangerous to the Earth? Below are some informative links explaining what solar flares are, how they affect technology, and how they are studied.

What are solar flares and why are they important:

Solar Flare Theory Educational Web Pages (find it on the ipl2)

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the Heliophysics Science Division offers a detailed look at solar flares, explaining what a solar flare is, why it’s important to study solar flares, and what impact solar flares have. Additionally, this site reviews current research projects in the field of solar flares, such as the RHESSI Spacecraft.

NASA News (find it on the ipl2)

On June 8th, 2013, NASA announced that a class M solar flare had occurred on June 7th. NASA explained effects such as moderate radio blackout are common with class M solar flares. NASA officials also stated that increased solar weather activities, like flares, were likely to occur more frequently in 2013, as the magnetic field was likely to reach “solar maximum.” The United States Space Weather Prediction Center with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association predicts that the solar flare activities are likely to increase late in 2013.

The Sun Also Flips: 11-Year Solar Cycle Wimpy, but Peaking (New!)

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Terry Devitt provides an in depth explanation of the solar flare and of solar maxes, explaining that the Sun’s magnetic field reverses direction every 11 years, causing sunspots, solar flares, auroras, and geomagnetic storms.  Devitt also discusses the effects of superflares and their potential global threat to the Earth.

The not-so Northern Lights: Solar Flare Slams into Earth to Display Majestic Aurora as Far South as Kansas, Maine and Donegal (New!)

The Daily Mail Online explains how a powerful solar flare brought the Northern Lights as far south as Kansas, Main, and Donegal (a town in Ireland). The site explains the phenomena and includes many lovely photos from Paul Cyr illustrating an Amish family experiencing the Lights for the first time. The Daily explains what a solar flare is, why it occurs, and that in December of 2013 this solar flare cycle will reach its peak, undoubtedly creating more Northern Lights.

How do they affect technology on the Earth:

The Effects of Solar Flares on Technology (New!)

eHow explains the Effects of Solar Flares on Technology in a manner that is clear and easy to understand. eHow explains the Sun’s 11 year magnetic energy cycle and its effect on the rate of solar flare as it changes.  The site additionally outlines the effect on the power grids, GPS technology, and mobile devices.

Could an Extremely Powerful Solar Flare Destroy all the Electronics on Earth? (find it on the ipl2)

In Jonathan Strickland’s article with, he explains the nature of the sun, solar flares, and the potential for damage for our planet when a solar flare happens. Strickland explains that the majority of flares are absorbed in our atmosphere, creating Northern Lights and leaving the majority of people unharmed, but for people in space or at high altitudes skin cancer or irritation is a risk depending of the flare’s classification; additionally Strickland explains the vulnerability of satellites and electronics. The last super-storm from the Sun happened in 1859, when a flare so powerful occurred that Cubans saw the Northern Light. Strickland explains that if a similar flare happened today, it would take months to repair the damage.

Solar Flare Warning Issued by NASA (New!)

On August 21st NASA issued a Solar Flare Warning as a storm hurtled toward the Earth at 3 million mph, interrupting some satellites used for GPSs and airline communications. The article from Inquisitor explains that 3 million mph is an average speed for solar storms. Additionally the Northern Lights is an extraordinary side effect of the these storms.  When the solar radiation from the the flare hits the Earth’s magnetic field, the radiation breaks up in the atmosphere creating the Northern Lights in the sky, which are brightest at the poles of the Earth where the magnetic field is the strongest.

Solar Effects (find it on the ipl2)

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Space Weather Predictions Centers (SWPC) offers detailed descriptions of solar effects, including solar cycles, solar-terrestrial effects (the solar weather’s effects on earth), and a look at SWPC’s other solar weather operations. The table provided on this site is particularly helpful in laying out the specific effects that solar weather has on the Earth.

How do we study the sun:

Scientists have High Hopes for Japan’s Solar-B Mission Which has been Launched from the Uchinoura Space Port (find it on the ipl2)

Here the BBC’s Jonathan Amos discusses Japan’s new mission to study solar explosions. In September of 2006, Japan sent the spacecraft Solar-B into space carrying a probe, which will find out more about the Sun’s magnetic fields that cause solar flares when their 11-year cycle changes, flinging radiation into space. Amos explains that the probe will act as magnet to study the sun, giving scientists the hope that with finer detail they will be able to predict solar flares more accurate and avoid disaster in the future.

The Classification of X-ray Solar Flares or “Solar Flare Alphabet Soup” (find it on the ipl2) gives a unique look into the science of classifying solar flares. By analyzing strength of wattage, or the measurement of light admitted from the Sun, in a measurement called an Angstrom, scientists are able to determine the classifications; for example 10^-5.5 watts measures up to a class M solar event.  The site then explains how class X could lead to lasting radio blackout and radiation, class M would cause radiation in the Earth’s magnetic field and radio blackouts around the pole, and class C are unnoticed by the public.

Strongest Solar Flare in Months Unleashed by Sun (find it on the ipl2)

NBC’s Denise Chow offers a clear explanation of the class system for solar flares in a report of the event on October 9th, 2013, when at 9:48pm EDT one of the strongest solar flare in two months occurred. Chow illustrates the role of Earth’s magnetic field and how the flare could disrupt communications on Earth.

Our Sun (New!)

This children’s site illustrates the fundamentals of solar astronomy, highlighting key points like x-ray classification of solar flares, convection, thermonuclear fusion, and sun spots and winds. This site is particularly helpful because it offers HD video from NASA and the Kids Know It Network.

NASA Canyon of Fire on the Sun (find it on the ipl2)

Nasa’s YouTube Channel offers look at an eruption of solar material that occurred in late September. The video illustrates how the Sun is actually made out of plasma, and as magnetic fields change cycles, eruptions, like solar flares, can happen. This video demonstrates that by analyzing the eruption at different wavelengths, as demonstrated by the multiple colors, scientists are able to study the magnetic field around the Sun.


The Link: The Quest for Science

The shortest and best definition of the term ‘science’ can be summed up in one short phrase, “science is life.” In one way or another, science plays a vital role in the lives of everyone, everywhere. Science often widens and enhances our lives and can challenge our misconceptions about the world in a systematic way. According to the European Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, (ERASMUS) the true purpose of science is to create helpful models of reality in order to better understand the universe.

The French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science Henri Poincaré stated that, “[t]he scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.”

New resources that will be added to the ipl2 are noted NEW! All other resources are already listed in the ipl2 collection.

Applied Sciences 

A Sightseer’s Guide to Engineering (find it on ipl2)
This travel guide from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) highlights engineering achievements throughout the United States. The database may be searched by keyword, engineering discipline (such as automotive, civil/environmental, or mining), category (such as amusement park, bridge, tunnel, or monument), or geographically by clicking on the image map of the United States. Contact information, hours of operation, engineering details, a photo, and a “fun fact” are given for each sightseeing destination. 

NEW! Engineers without Borders
Find information on current projects and overseas development and relief from Engineers without Borders, a community-driven network of volunteers committed to making a difference around the globe. Engineers without Borders aims to use engineering to apply solutions in disaster and development scenarios directly for the good of mankind. Locate information on chapters across the United States, how to become a volunteer, and community projects you can become involved in.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (find it on ipl2)
This searchable site serves as “a gateway to hundreds of Web sites and thousands of online documents on energy efficiency and renewable energy,” including information about buildings, transportation, industry, bioenergy, hydrogen, solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, and geothermal power. The site features consumer information, an “energy lab” for children, and information about the various other programs of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The Archaeology Channel (find it on ipl2)
This site from the Archaeology Legacy Institute (ALI), explores “the human cultural heritage through streaming media,” which allows users to travel through time to discover the diversity of the human experience. Visitors can watch videos about archeological sites, read news about research, and explore further great finds. 

NEW! Society for American Archaeology: Archaeology for the public
This site from the Society for American Archaeology provides information on archaeology including news and events; educational resources for educators and archeologists; and an interactive explore archaeology section that provides information on visiting an archaeology site or an archeology museum exhibit. The site strives to not only provide information for those interested in the field of archaeology, but for archaeologists wanting to know more about working with the public.

Physical Sciences

NEW! Chemical & Engineering News
Did you know those trick candles on your birthday cake use magnesium powder? Check out these collections for everything from the chemistry of everyday items (“What’s That Stuff?”), science in movies, how chemistry affects living things (“Critter Chemistry”), green chemistry, chemistry news on topics ranging from the effects of oil spills to chemicals and the economy, and more. (find it on ipl2)
Ever wonder how 3-D films work, or whether you can really levitate a frog with a magnet? The Institute of Physics, an England-based scientific society with roots going back nearly 150 years, has put together this site to answer these questions and more. They offer explanations of the physics of everyday things, cartoons explaining physics experiments you can do at home, articles on physics topics, physics news, information about careers in physics, and links to other physics-related websites. 

University of California Museum of Paleontology (find it on ipl2 – Science and Technology – Paleontology)
Come for the dinosaurs, stay for the science! These online exhibits from the University of California, Berkeley, cover even more than special exhibits about dinosaur and mammoth fossils (though those alone are worth the virtual visit). You can read about Earth’s biomes, try to identify a “mystery fossil,” tour Earth’s geological and biological past, examine the evidence for evolution, get resources for teaching science, and read up on what exciting research the Museum of Paleontology’s scientists are working on right now. Be sure to check out their section on “Understanding Science.”

Faultline: Seismic Science at the Epicenter (find it on ipl2) – Science and Technology – Earth Sciences)
The San Francisco Exploratorium, a museum for exploring science and art, is located in a city known for its earthquakes. Their “Faultline” exhibit covers more than the history of the famous 1906 and 1989 earthquakes: check out this site to learn about what causes earthquakes, how earthquakes affect buildings (and what we can do to make the buildings more earthquake-proof), activities to demonstrate earthquake principles, and links to real-time data on where the earth is shaking now.

Social Sciences

NEW! 100 Top Library Sites
This site provides the 100 most relevant web sites for each major category, selected, edited and ranked by professional editors.

NEW! Online Dictionary
This glossary of library terminology contains thousands of definitions, with words in the definitions hyperlinked to more definitions. Maintained by Joan Reitz, librarian at Western Connecticut State University. An excellent source for librarians and librarianship!

NEW! Cultural Studies Research
Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East Londonwas established to serve as an international centre for research in contemporary cultural studies, cultural theory and cultural production. The centre supports research into political and theoretical issues in cultural studies and cultural practice.”

NEW! Culture Machine
Culture Machine is a series of experiments in culture and theory. The aim of Culture Machine is to seek out and promote the most provocative of new work, and analysis of that work, in culture and theory from a diverse range of international authors. Culture Machine is particularly concerned with promoting research which is engaged in the constitution of new areas of inquiry and the opening of new frontiers of cultural and theoretical activity.”

Science Learning Network (find it on ipl2)
If you are a science teacher or a parent who wants to link your child to excellent science resources on the Internet, this site is for you! “The Science Learning Network (SLN) is an online community of educators, students, schools, and science museums”. Going deeper into the above link you will discover more links that further address information that pertains to science, education, and cultural topics. Also, this source has an educational Hotlists link to online resources that science educators and enthusiasts may find useful.

 NEW! 100 Best Websites for Science Education
This is a great collection of the 100 best websites for science education. Click on the Educate tab for teaching tools and activities.

Museum of Science (find it on ipl2)
The Museum of Science contains extraordinary exhibition of Egyptian antiquities and numerous exhibits and films for all grade levels and subjects.

NEW! American Studies
This is a must-visit site for professional anthropologists and students. It has numerous links to visual record of current and former Indian groups from the Northern Great Plains.

Formal Sciences 

Fractal Geometry (find it on ipl2IPL — Science and Technology — Mathematics — Calculus and Advanced Mathematics)
This site provides an “introduction to fractals for students without advanced math skills” and allows all students to understand their presence without an extensive scientific or arithmetical background. While employing mathematical principles, this site involves students outside of mathematics with practical applications of fractals within the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Game (find it on ipl2)
Game theory (also known as decision theory), a method for calculating circumstances based on others’ choices, has become a popular formal science discussion and research topic and this website provides teaching, learning, and strategic materials for its application. Many of the resources provided are from educators’ notes or student experiences and are intended to “demonstrate [game theory] concepts in a fun, interactive way.”

The History of Computing Project (find it on ipl2IPL – Science and Technology – History of Science and Technology)
Built by global partners, this site is a compilation of biographies, hardware, companies, games and software which comprise the history of computing and computer science. The extensive computing timeline serves as the center of the site and provides a year-by-year history of computing since 300 BC, beginning with simple calculations and traveling into the 2000s with the invention of the smartphone. Historical hardware, software, persons, and contributors to the history of computer science are indexed and highlighted as well.

NEW! The Polymath Blog
Polymath projects, or “massively collaborative mathematical research projects,” are hosted by this blog which is administered by mathematics professors, writers, and analysts. The problems proposed to the blog are collectively documented and worked on by administrators and contributors and polymath rules, many taken from the site’s associated wiki, and theories are tested and re-worked in the open space of this weblog.

Cognitive Sciences

AskPhilosophers (find it on ipl2Arts and Humanities – Philosophy)
Most people have not studied philosophy and “AskPhilosophers aims to bridge this gap by putting the skills and knowledge of trained philosophers at the service of the general public.” Here you can ask philosophers questions and receive answers. Previous questions are also archived by category. (find it on ipl2Social Sciences – Psychology)
This site provides a therapist directory, articles by therapists on mental health, and general information about various mental health topics. It also has free tests for self discovery, including career interests, personality, and depression and anxiety scales.

NEW! The Sociological Cinema
Geared towards sociology instructors, this site provides video clips helpful for learning about different sociological themes. Each video clip has a description of the major topics addressed in the clip as well as how to incorporate them into your lessons.

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