TCD Hosts Hinode Conference for World Leading Solar Physicists
Aug 20, 2007
Trinity College Dublin is hosting the 1st Hinode Science Meeting this week which brings together 150 of the world’s leading solar physicists to discuss breath-taking new images from the Hinode satellite.
Hinode, from the Japanese word “sunrise”, was designed to obtain the finest detailed pictures of the sun’s surface and atmosphere. Hinode’s three year mission is to explore the magnetic fields of the sun, and improve our understanding of the mechanisms that power the solar atmosphere and drive eruptions from the sun, called solar storms.
The exciting mission was launched in September 2006 by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in collaboration with NASA, the UK’s Science and Technology Research Council, and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The solar physics team at Trinity College Dublin, led by Dr. Peter Gallagher, is playing a leading role in the international effort to understand the sun and how events on the sun affect the earth. “Hinode will enable us to study the fundamental physics responsible for powering solar storms with unprecedented resolution,” according to Dr. Gallagher. “The super-fine detail visible in Hinode’s X-ray images in particular will initiate a new era of study on the physical processes that affect earth, astronauts and orbiting satellites.” Dr. Gallagher’s team is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the European Space Agency.
“Trinity College is honoured to host such an important conference,” said Dr. Gallagher. “The new data from Hinode has forced theoretical and experimental physicists to almost completely rethink how the solar atmosphere works.”
Solar eruptions eject billions of tonnes of material at millions of kilometres per hour into space. At times, this hot material can collide with the earth, producing a variety of “space weather” effects, such as the northern lights. “These energetic eruptions can also wreak havoc on technological systems such as communications and navigation systems, GPS, satellite electronics and electricity distribution networks” according to Dr. Gallagher, a member of ESA’s Space Weather Working Team. “The effects of a large solar flare was particularly evident on March 13, 1989, when a storm induced currents in a transformer on the Canadian national grid, leaving 6 million people in Quebec without electricity for nine hours.”
In more recent times, the increased activity of December 2006 forced astronauts to sleep in protective areas of the International Space Station, and affected several ESA missions, including Integral, Cluster and SOHO. In 2003, the ADEOS-2 communication satellite, worth €500 million, is believed to have failed completely during a particularly stormy period in 2003.
The Trinity team’s research will improve our understanding of solar flares, and consequently our ability to make more accurate predictions of periods of adverse space weather.
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