Stellar Mood Swings

Seeing as my spare time has been spent reading up about stars and stellar phenomena, this seemed appropriate. NASA’s photo of the day (in negative here) is of the Solar cycle. Over a period of roughly 11 years, the Sun goes from a tranquil bringer of daylight to a rampaging x-ray spewing beast. It varies, anywhere between 9 and 14 years, but it happens every time. Right now, we’re in a solar minima, so all is nice and quiet. Around 2011 however, things are going to be a bit stormier out in space. The solar maxima causes vast coronal mass ejections, solar flares powerful enough to knock satellites offline and generally, the most spectacular Aurora Borealis you’ll ever see.
In the past, times of solar maxima have caused flares large enough to interfere with ground-based communications, and on extremely rare occasions, Aurorae far enough Southwards to be visible over Plymouth! Mercifully, the worst thing most of us will notice is a case of solar acne. Sunspots are the most well known effect of the solar cycle. What exactly causes this cycle isn’t that well understood, even though people have been studying the sun for hundreds of years. Current theories say it’s all to do with streams of plasma circulating between the sun’s equator and poles… In a way, it’s like solar weather.

Of course, a lot of things that are true about the Sun are true of other stars, being as the Sun’s a star and all. Starspots have been observed elsewhere in the sky, as have flares. It varies to do with the star itself – seemingly, lower mass stars are more convective, and have larger flares (probably because there’s less gravity acting on the material being ejected).

The matter of flares, I find particularly interesting, especially given it may have an effect on any circumstellar chemistry going on. If flares do have such an effect, then you have to wonder what repurcussions a stellar cycle might have too. Of course, this is speculation on my part, but it’s an interesting thought. Either way, some of the chemistries I’ll be researching may be prominently affected by stellar phenomena. X-rays and high energy particles can break chemical bonds, knock away electrons, create free radicals… some energetic particles can even shatter atomic nuclei and create new elements. Interesting how the Sun provided such inspiration for the alchemists of old…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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8 Responses to Stellar Mood Swings

  1. invaderxan says:


  2. invaderxan says:

    Well it’s certainly true that we have no clear definition of life or consciousness. Strictly speaking, planets stars and even galaxies meet several of the accepted criteria for life. Something sci-fi authors have been dabbling with for a long time. :)
    Oh, I see… Hydrogen storage for fuels… Let me get back to you on that one. ;)
    Heroes! Man, I’m totally behind on Heroes… Haven’t watched it for a couple of weeks. Might have to get some popcorn and beer in and have a Heroes night!

  3. ibespin says:

    Yep, read it, its a lovely theory quite plausible too if you think outside the box for a moment too. I mean, why ?? At some level there could even be consciousness, that isn’t me saying I think there is, that’s me admitting that we don’t even know what we don’t know yet.
    The 62kg per cubic meter thing is what the US has set as an acceptable level of capacity for a hydrogen cell distribution network to be viable. This is a replacement for oil as I’m sure you know. They have the technology to use it just like fossil fuels but not the technology to store it as efficiently as a petrol station would store petrol.. As far as I know with my small amount of research into the subject anyway.
    But yes.. whoever figures that out not only becomes the richest person ever invented but they also give us a fantastic shot at solving the global warming issue, pollution.. oh im sure you know all that stuff.. so, 62kg per cubic meter m8.. hurry up! :P :)
    Heroes was good this week m8, if you haven’t watched it yet you are in for a treat, make sure you have munchies and are settled in etc, you will love it :) I think this is the end of the season too :cry: (im talking about the latest ones here…)

  4. invaderxan says:

    As the Earth and the environment go man, I’d heartily recommend reading a book called “Gaia” by James Lovelock (actually, Lucy could probably lend you a copy). He’s written several of these books, but the first one is a good introduction. Fascinating stuff and full of things to entertain people with at parties. ;)
    62 Kg/m^3? Erm… Ok, slightly random. Purely out of interest, what’s this in aid of? :)
    That’s about 8.8 Gigajoules worth of energy though, which is an impressive amount!

  5. ibespin says:

    Oh boo!! I was a fan of wheeling that one out at parties too lol. Please feel free to tear my opinions to shreds let alone quash them, I will live m8 :)
    Yeh, I would never disagree that we are not helping the situation, I do think we have less to worry about than what is predicted though. Dood, new dmp project for ya! Learn how to store Hydrogen so theres 62kg per cubic meter.. :)
    so can we have that done by the weekend you think ?

  6. invaderxan says:

    Circumstellar… Pretty much the same size as our solar system. The Sun is a typical star in a lot of ways. :)
    Actually, did you know that further out in the solar system, the chemistry is actually affected by the light from other stars too? There’s a thought, huh?
    Ice ages are probably more to do with the planet actually dude. The Earth has cycles too. Every few hundred thousand years, the magnetic poles flip (North becomes South and vice versa). There is a fair chance that it’s all part of
    Earth’s cycle, but from what I’ve read, it’s pretty much undeniable that we’re accelerating the process. Not to quash your point of view though dude, but the Sun has apparently been ruled out as a cause…
    That said — like I was saying, we really don’t know that much about the Sun!
    Though it does irritate me the way the media are trying to paint Carbon Dioxide as the enemy. Without it, our planet would never have been warm enough in the first place!
    All is just fine, man. Just fine. 8)

  7. ibespin says:

    Awesome picture,
    i think its entirely reasonable if not probable that a stellar cycle would have a huge effect on the circumstellar chemistry, (how far out are we going with circumstellar?) I’m fairly certain there are longer stellar cycles that are the cause of various ice ages etc. I’m also still not convinced that we are wholly to blame for global warming, I’m one of those people that refuses to ignore the fact that there is an enormous flaming ball of extremely condensed matter not that far away from us on a planetary scale.. It always has and always will have a profound effect on our overall temperature and if you are looking for something to point at with regards to the planet warming up.. I’d look there first lol.
    Not that I’m dismissing the effect of CO2 and that we might have kick started it but I think it was coming our way anyway and there was never really anything we could do other than know about it and prepare properly.. Now I’m asking myself does this mean that rampant capitalism is a good idea? Ih.. I should go do some work :)
    Heya m8,
    Hope all is well on planet Xan!!

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