Feeds

Sun's solar wind hits 50-year low

'Our protective shields are failing, captain'

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The Sun's solar wind output has fallen to the lowest level since "accurate readings" became available, and the drop may have an effect on the natural shielding which protects the solar system from cosmic rays, NASA reports.

The data comes from the venerable Ulysses spacecraft, the joint NASA-European Space Agency mission launched in 1990* to "to study the sun and its influence on surrounding space". Readings indicate "the solar wind's global pressure is the lowest we have seen since the beginning of the space age", according to Ulysses' solar wind instrument principal investigator, Dave McComas.

Specifically, NASA explains: "In 2007, Ulysses made its third rapid scan of the solar wind and magnetic field from the sun's south to north pole. When the results were compared with observations from the previous solar cycle, the strength of the solar wind pressure and the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind were found to have decreased by 20 per cent. The field strength near the spacecraft has decreased by 36 per cent."

Ed Smith, NASA's Ulysses project scientist, said: "The Sun cycles between periods of great activity and lesser activity. Right now, we are in a period of minimal activity that has stretched on longer than anyone anticipated."

The upshot of all this is that the the "heliosphere" surrounding our solar system - formed by the charged solar wind particles and which stretches to the "heliopause" where the particles are no longer energetic enough to advance against rival particles from other stars - could shrink.

Smith said: "With the solar wind at an all-time low, there is an excellent chance the heliosphere will diminish in size and strength. If that occurs, more galactic cosmic rays will make it into the inner part of our solar system."

NASA has a paricular interest in cosmic rays because they're "linked to engineering decisions for unmanned interplanetary spacecraft and exposure limits for astronauts traveling beyond low-Earth orbit". ®

Bootnote

* NASA explains: "The Ulysses spacecraft was carried into Earth orbit aboard space shuttle Discovery on Oct. 6, 1990. From Earth orbit it was propelled toward Jupiter, passing the planet on Feb. 8, 1992. Jupiter's immense gravity bent the spacecraft's flight path downward and away from the plane of the planets' orbits. This placed Ulysses into a final orbit around the sun that would take it over its north and south poles."

Ulysses is finally "succumbing to the harsh environment of space" and is sure to hang up its detectors in the next few months after "four times its expected mission lifetime".

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.