Archive | Solar

Solar Physics Installation to Get Upgrade

NEWARK, N.J., Oct. 6 (UPI) — An array of radio antennas in California will be upgraded to help answer questions about solar flares and their impact on Earth, researchers say.

A $5 million National Science Foundation grant will be used to upgrade and expand the antennas at the Owens Valley Solar Array near Big Pine, Calif., operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, an institute release said Wednesday.

“Space weather incidents such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares can cause problems with cellphone reception, GPS systems, power grids and other technologies,” NJIT Professor Dale Gary, an expert in solar radio physics and instrumentation, said. “We hope that by improving radio frequency observations of the Sun we can learn better information and make new discoveries about the nature of these phenomena.”

Images of the Sun taken at radio frequencies are the only way to measure the magnetic fields that power flares, he said.

“Radio observations can also track solar eruptions longer and at greater distance from the sun than other ground-based techniques, so researchers can visualize them better,” said Gary.

The three-year grant will increase the size of the existing telescope array from seven to 15 radio antennas.

“When the expansion of this facility is completed three years from now, it will be the largest of its kind in the U.S.,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Probe to Study Sun's Atmosphere

NEWARK, Del., Oct. 6 (UPI) — A Delaware researcher says he is helping design scientific instruments to be sent on a one-way expedition — directly into our sun.

William Matthaeus, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, is taking part in NASA’s Solar Probe Plus project, slated to launch by 2018, a university release said.

The unmanned spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere to help answer perplexing mysteries about our sun.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics — why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said.

An unmanned mission to the sun has been discussed for years, Matthaeus says, but had to wait for carbon-fiber and other technology that could protect a space probe from the sun’s intense heat.

“At the Solar Probe’s closest approach, the light from the sun will be more than 500 times as intense as at Earth, and the surrounding gas, although very tenuous, will likely be at hundreds of thousands of degrees,” Matthaeus said.

Matthaeus leads the effort to develop instruments for monitoring the electrons, protons and ions that continuously stream from the sun, known as solar wind. The radiation can cause magnetic storms capable of knocking out electrical power grids.

“The more we rely on satellite technology, such as GPS, the more vulnerable to magnetic storms we become. So we need to understand how they work in order to protect societal assets such as satellites in space, as well as humans who explore or work in space,” Matthaeus said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar System's Shield is Showing Cracks

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 2 (UPI) — The outer boundary of the solar system is more dynamic and complex than ever imagined, astronomers said.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite, launched two years ago, is studying the heliosphere, the invisible bubble far beyond the planetary orbits where the solar wind meets the particles and radiation that fill interstellar space, researchers told the Los Angeles Times.

The heliosphere, which protects the solar system from 90 percent of the cosmic rays outside it, is changing much faster than scientists expected, according to data published Thursday in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The sun emits a steady stream of particles traveling outward in all directions about 1 million mph. When they have traveled about 100 times farther than the distance between Earth and the sun the particles collide with the interstellar medium. They deflect most cosmic rays back into space and produce uncharged particles that stream back into the inner solar system.

Over the last two decades, the solar wind has weakened and the heliosphere has shrunk, letting more cosmic radiation enter. Increased cosmic radiation could be very dangerous to future interstellar space travelers, said astronomer David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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First 'habitable Zone' Exoplanet Found

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they’ve detected a rocky planet in another solar system with the basic and essential conditions needed to support extraterrestrial life.

Scientists for years have predicted the existence of Earth-like exoplanets in what is called the “habitable zone” around a star, but the identification and measurement of one has been called the beginning of a new era in the search for life beyond Earth.

“This is our first Goldilocks planet — just the right size and the right distance from its sun,” astronomer Paul Butler with the Carnegie Institution of Washington told The Washington Post.

“A threshold has been crossed,” he said.

The new exoplanet, called Gliese 581G, is quite close at 20 light years from Earth.

Because of its size and its distance from its sun, it is considered to be in its star’s habitable zone.

Its distance from the star that it orbits means any water on the planet will be in liquid form, scientists say, and the planet is large enough to have the gravitational pull to hold an atmosphere around it.

The star Gliese 581 is now known to have six and perhaps seven planets orbiting it in circular paths and lined up by type in a way similar to our solar system.

“As we collect more data, we can see the system looks like our own — with an inner clutch of rocky, terrestrial planets and then a big loner like Jupiter further out,” Steven Vogt of the University of California at Santa Cruz said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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S. Africa Looks to Solar, Nuclear Power

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Sept. 29 (UPI) — South Africa, subject to electricity rationing and rolling blackouts, says it will invest in a solar power farm to meet increasing electricity demands.

The solar park will be built in the Northern Cape Province and generate 5,000 megawatts of energy, about 11 percent of the country’s current power production, the BBC reported.

South Africa has been rationing electrical power since 2008.

Presently, most of the country’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants.

The country, which also supplies electricity to a few neighbors including Zimbabwe, needs to increase its energy production by 40,000 megawatts during the next decade, the energy department says.

The Northern Cape was the ideal location for the park, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said, and the project would create 12,300 construction jobs and more than 3,000 maintenance and operations positions.

The country is also considering a nuclear plant, which would be its second such installation, officials said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Calif. in Aggressive Push for Solar Power

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Solar projects on track for approval by California will double the state’s ability to generate electricity from solar power, state officials say.

Since August, four major solar projects including a 7,000-acre solar farm billed as the world’s largest have won approval from the California Energy Commission, which is expected to OK two more this week, USA Today reported Wednesday.

The solar farms, which use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s power to produce heat and generate electricity, could eventually produce enough electricity to power 675,000 homes, the newspaper said.

California has ample sunshine and will need it to meet its big renewable-energy goals. Last week state regulators passed measures requiring one-third of electricity sold in California to come from renewable sources by 2020.

The size of the projects shows how aggressively the state is embracing solar power.

“These are the first projects of this size in the U.S.,” Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, says. “They’re a sign to the rest of the country that solar is here, not a technology of the future.”

California’s aggressive push for solar is also being driven by an approaching federal deadline for stimulus funds.

Renewable-energy projects must be started by Dec. 31 to get federal cash grants in lieu of tax credits equal to 30 percent of the projects’ costs, USA Today reported.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Student Builds Solar-power Motorcycle

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Sept. 29 (UPI) — A Purdue University student has created a street-legal solar powered motorcycle he says can carry a commuter for a penny a mile.

Physics major Tony Danger Coiro spent $2,500 redesigning and retrofitting the 1978 Suzuki bought for $50 to create the vehicle that has a top speed of 45 mph, a university release said Wednesday.

“The riding experience is surreal,” Coiro said. “I get instant, silent, constant acceleration that outpaces urban traffic. It’s like riding a magic carpet.”

The lead acid batteries that get power from the bike’s solar cells can also be charged by plugging into household current.

Coiro, along with two other solar-power vehicle enthusiasts, has started the Purdue Electric Vehicles Club to help like-minded students expand environmentally friendly transportation options.

“Purdue Electric Vehicles will encourage enthusiasm for, and knowledge and development of, electric vehicles by students and the community,” Coiro said.

Coiro is already designing a 100-horsepower motorcycle that will travel up to 100 miles per charge, top 100 mph and draw even more of its energy from the sun, he said.

“I’ve learned a lot building this first bike, and now I’m ready to make a game-changer,” Coiro said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Italian Towns Profit from Green Energy

TOCCO DA CASAURIA, Italy, Sept. 29 (UPI) — More than 800 communities in Italy are making more power than they use with wind and solar installations, and many are making a profit from it, officials say.

One such community is Tocco Da Casauria, where selling excess renewable energy has meant the town has no local taxes and charges no fees for services like garbage removal, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

In the town of 2,700 people in Italy’s poor mountainous center, wind turbines sprout from its olive groves while solar panels generate electricity at its cemetery and sports complex as well as at a growing number of private residences, the newspaper said.

“Normally when you think about energy you think about big plants, but here what’s interesting is that local municipalities have been very active,” Edoardo Zanchini of the environmental group Legambiente said. “That this can happen in a place like Italy is really impressive.”

Like many towns, Tocco was motivated to become an early adopter of renewable energy because Italy has some of the highest electricity rates in Europe, nearly three times the average in the United States.

Tocco is now generating 30 percent more electricity than it uses. Production of green electricity earned the town more than $200,000 last year.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Scientists Say Northern Lights Disrupted

HELSINKI, Finland, Sept. 28 (UPI) — The astronomical phenomenon of the Northern Lights has become more rare in recent years than at any time in more than a century, scientists say.

The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, generally follow an 11-year “solar cycle” in which the frequency of the phenomena rises to a maximum, tapers off into a minimum and then repeats the cycle, the BBC reports.

But researchers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute say the minimum point, officially reached in 2008, is “going on and on and on.”

“Only in the past half a year have we seen more activity, but we don’t really know whether we’re coming out of this minimum,” researchers Noora Partamies said.

The Northern Lights are triggered by solar winds hitting Earth and being drawn to the magnetic poles, energizing electrons in the parts of the atmosphere known as the ionosphere and magnetosphere.

A lessening of the Northern Lights is a signal that activities on the sun that cause solar winds, such as solar flares and sun sports, are also quieting down.

This is the first time researchers have been able to use a network of modern observation stations to track a solar cycle when it becomes as severely disrupted as it seems now.

“We’re waiting to see what happens, is the next maximum going to be on time, is it going to be late, is it going to be huge?” Partamies said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Scientists Create Solar-power 'leaves'

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 24 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say flexible, water-gel-based “solar leaves” could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than silicon-based solar cells.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say the bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, a NCSU release reports.

The molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity, similar to the way plant molecules get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, Orlin Velev, a professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, says.

The team hopes to “learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy,” Velev says.

Now that they’ve proven the concept, the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more like real leaves.

“The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants,” Velev says.

“We do not want to over-promise at this stage, as the devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical technology,” he says.

“However, we believe that the concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies,” Velev says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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