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WORLD OF PHYSICS
September 13, 2019
F.M. Walter: the Dark Side of the Sun
The Sun, a perfectly ordinary middle-aged intermediate mass star, is absolutely critical for life as we know it on Earth. Essentially all the energy we, and all life, has to work with comes from the Sun. Nothing the Sun has done in the past 4 billion years has wiped out life on Earth. But today human technology threatens to bring us into direct conflict with less-appreciated aspects of Solar behavior.
Solar magnetic activity causes sunspots and heats the chromosphere and corona. Recombining magnetic fields cause solar flares, solar proton events, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). When these reach the Earth, they cause the spectacle of the aurorae (the Northern and Southern Lights). These phenomena have endangered astronauts and destroyed satellites. CMEs play havoc with the power grid, and there is an uncomfortably-high probability that in the near future a large CME will bring down the North American power grid, with catastrophic consequences.
I will review the spectacle of Solar magnetic activity, what we know of the history of Solar magnetic activity, and lay out the case that modern civilization is inadequately prepared for these new threats.
Prof. Walter, a resident of East Setauket, studies star birth, stellar weather (including stellar coronae), and star death using the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, and telescopes in Arizona, Hawaii and Chile. He has been a professor of Astronomy at Stony Brook since 1989.
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