With the total lack of Solar activity the last couple of years you can imagine how excited I got when a couple of prominences popped out of the Sun's chromosphere the other day. I was able to capture the prominences with my Canon 40D attached directly to my Coronado PST. This little scope allows a narrow band of the light spectrum through, the Hydrogen- alpha emission which blocks out the blinding white light and lets the beautiful Solar chromosphere through where all the action happens. Prominences are powerful explosions on the Sun which shoot tons of Solar plasma into space, the prominences above and below are 10 Earth diameters high.
As I was taking pics one of the neighbours asked if I was taking pics of the Sun again. You'd think that a camera attached to my scope pointed at the Sun would be a good clue,... yes.... yes it would, that is if they could see it, you see to prevent the glare of the Sun from reaching my camera and preventing me from seeing the Sun in my camera's LCD monitor I have a bath towel swung over me and the scope, odd picture to say the least. You can see the image above on Sky and Telescope's web site, cool.
All this activity was happening just after NASA announced in a press release that the Solar wind was at it's 50 year low. Seems the pressure of the Solar wind has dropped 20% since the mid 1990's. The long term implications could be quite serious. The Solar wind inflates our protective Solar System Heliosphere. The Heliosphere is like a magnetic bubble surrounding and protecting the planets from deadly cosmic rays originating from outside our Solar System.
Less solar wind pressure, less bubble, less protection, which means more cosmic rays, which will have a detrimental effect on any kind of space travel, more satellite damage and on top of all that there are some scientists that believe there is a link between climate change and cosmic rays.
To keep track of our Heliosphere and to see how the decreasing Solar wind pressure affect it NASA is launching the IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft October 5th. The craft will keep track of our Heliosphere without actually having to travel to the edge of our Solar system to do it
Well there may not be a pot of gold at the end of the above rainbow, at least not for the Hubble. Hubble is down, one of it's vital pieces of equipment, the Control Unit/Science Data Formatter is broke, or at least one side of it, they are now trying to get the backup side B running. The Formatter stores and transmits all the science data from all the equipment on Hubble down to us on Earth, very serious problem. Needless to say the Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble will be on hold until NASA determines what their next move will be. If they do happen to get the Hubble up and running NASA will then have to make a decision whether or not to send another Control Unit up with the STS 125 crew for installation, I vote yes, what good is all the new fancy schmancy equipment if the backup unit dies.
I'll leave you now with a cool clip of some Solar prominences in action.