Posted tagged ‘New Moon’

2010: Year of the Metal Tiger

February 12, 2010

Victor Kahn's magical tiger in female clothing

2010 is predicted to be a tumultuous year on many fronts. And, as of Valentine’s Day, it becomes the Year of the Metal Tiger. The Tiger in oriental astrology returns – along with the planet Jupiter – every twelve years. So we are about to have our Jupiter Return. The Tiger is the symbol of courage, inviting bold actions and risk taking. The Metal element will provide steely resolve, fortitude and determination to accomplish goals.

That’s a bold combination for a year which begins, in this era of multi-cultural clashes, with a day of cultural harmony. In terms of celebration at least, half the world will be out making whoopee on Sunday.

Preparations for Sunday's parade in Rio


It is the day of the New Moon (in refined and forward-looking Aquarius, alongside Sun and Mercury); at the center of the Inca world, a solemn dedication to light and Pachamama is held in the Temple of the Priestesses on Titicaca’s Island of the Moon; it is the beginning of Creole and Latin Carnival and Roman Catholic German ‘Fasching’, which lasts until Ash Wednesday next week.

The Tiger ushers in a year of inscrutable Chinese philosophy (possibly even an upsurge in Tai Chi classes); it signals the first day of Tibetan Buddhist Losar and, almost forgotten in the melée and rush to grab a bargain, to feast before the fast of Lent, it is the celebration of the Roman Valentinus who was persecuted for his belief in Christian love: St. Valentine, a politically-incorrect Christian in the last years of pre-Christian emperor Claudius II’s reign, was executed outside Rome’s Flaminian Gate on February 14th AD270. He was brought to trial for aiding Christians who were being persecuted in Claudian Rome; and when he attempted to convert the emperor himself to Christianity, his execution was ordered. The lovers whom he had joined in Christian wedded bliss in earlier illegal ceremonies brought him gifts of flowers while he awaited his fate.

Valentine’s Day floral gifts are today given with little or no knowledge of their original place in the legend of Valentinus. It is not surprising. While Pope Gelasius in AD496 recognized his martyrdom and designated February 14th to honor him, he was never officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Once more, the act of celebrating on the first day of the first New Moon in February is much more heavily laced with pre-Christian countryman (‘pagan’) belief than with any superimposed Church festival. At this time of year, along with the return of the Light – longer hours of sunlight and the movement of the sun’s disk rising higher daily in northern skies, it was a time to celebrate the rising of sap in trees, the first signs of birds pairing and beginning to mate; the appearance of first growth in the Earth. Snowdrops and aconites open; first shoots of daffodil and bluebell leaves appear; the Earth awakens.

This year the Sun appears to be awakening again, too.

THEMIS Satellite group measures auroral activity from orbit

Until December we Earth residents were affected by a trickle of solar wind: the last vestiges of a solar minimum – an eleven-year cycle of minimal solar activity. Apart from a coronal mass ejection (CME) predicted in a couple of Wiltshire crop circles in June last year for the early part of July 2009, we were blessed with no power outages caused by magnetic storms, our annual display of aurora borealis has been relatively undramatic and NASA has had plenty time to observe activity of their THEMIS satellite group (there are five), launched from Cape Canaveral in February 2007 to orbit the earth and study aurora and the planet’s magnetosphere.

Solar magnetic field drapes against Earth's magnetosphere as it drifts by


THEMIS stands for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms: the study of Aurora, for short.

They’ve had a few surprises.

The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds the Earth and protects us from the Solar Wind.

Earth’s magnetic field carves out a cavity in the sun’s onrushing field. The Earth’s magnetosphere is thus ‘buffeted like a wind sock in gale force winds, fluttering back and forth in the solar wind,’ according to David Sibeck of the THEMIS project at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Solar particles by themselves don’t cause severe space weather, but they get energized when the solar magnetic field becomes oppositely-directed to Earth’s own field and reconnects, rather like a load of iron filings in the proximity of a magnet.

These energized sun particles have a combined force equal in some cases to a CME. They can cause magnetic storms of such magnitude that they overload power lines with excess current, and cause widespread blackouts. One of these events happened in September 1859 when a solar flare lasted nearly a week. Most of Middle America was without power for that period. It is remembered in astronomical and meteorological circles as the Superstorm or the Carrington Event.

Charged solar particles can also cause radiation storms that present hazards to spacecraft in high orbits or to the Space Shuttle with its crew of astronauts passing through a storm on its way to the moon, the ISS or other destinations in the solar system.

But, like Met. Office warnings of bad weather, these Space Weather forecasts can be predicted.

‘The more particles, the more severe the storm,’ says Joachim (Jimmy) Raeder of the University of New Hampshire, who collaborates with NASA. ‘If the solar (magnetic) field has been aligned with the Earth’s for a while, we know Earth’s field is heavily loaded with solar particles and primed for a strong storm. This discovery gives us a basic predictive capability for the severity of solar storms, similar to a hurricane forecaster’s realization that warmer oceans set the stage for more intense hurricanes.’

So far, so good. But Jimmy has a prognostication: He says calmly:

‘In fact, we expect stronger storms in the upcoming solar cycle.’

The solar magnetic field changes direction every cycle, that is, every eleven years, and we have had eleven years of a minimum: relatively calm Space Weather. Not a lot happening in the magnetosphere. Also, with the Sun’s non-alignment with Earth’s magnetic field, the shield is up; fewer particles can get in.

Streams of plasma jet out from the Sun in a recent CME


However, we just entered the doorway to a new cycle. Two new sunspots appeared on the sun’s disk last week, one (1045) described by SOHO as ‘awesome’ and ‘complex’ and the other (1046) – which just appeared around the edge – seems set to outdo its neighbor. Because of the Sun’s altered magnetic orientation in the new cycle, SOHO and THEMIS are expecting fireworks.

Not immediately at first, perhaps. These sunspot occlusions take time to build. Yet, when a sustained CME of plasma bursts from the solar prominences, we should expect something a little different to hit our placid earth shores. The expected clouds of particles ejected from the sun will have a magnetic field which is at first not aligned with Earth’s, but by the time the CME hits, (it takes about three days to travel 93,000,000 miles to us) the solar magnetic field is programmed to react and turn the other cheek. Its magnetic polarity switches to its opposite as the cloud passes by. And our magnetosphere opens its doors to welcome it.

It’s rather like sending a solar invitation to dinner: the earth is at first the reluctant host, but when the package is delivered, the host welcomes the new guest with open arms.

Coronal Mass Ejection crop circle which predicted July 2009 CME

THEMIS is currently pondering a new series of data which suggests that when the two magnetic fields line up, together they create a ‘huge breach, and there’s lots and lots of particles coming in’- David Sibeck’s words.

As they orbited Earth, THEMIS’s five spacecraft were able to estimate the thickness of the band of solar particles getting in through the breach when the fields were aligned — it turned out to be about 20 times the number that got in when the fields were counter-aligned. They measured meticulously as they orbited through the band.

Like one of Saturn’s rings, the band turns out to be one Earth radius thick, or about 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers).

So, when the barriers are down, Earth is vulnerable. In 1859, at the time of the Carrington Event, nobody on Earth had a computer, banking systems and air traffic control were a figment in a futurist’s imagination; weather was something you ‘got through’.

If the data which THEMIS and SOHO are now contemplating becomes crystallized – if the beauty seen in a crop circle last summer becomes a reality: if we have a CME or a particle storm equal to or more powerful than that single event of last July 7th, Earth is in for a rocky ride.

We’ll need all our Tiger and Metal attributes to get us through.

In the meantime, happy Fat Tuesday (pancakes & syrup). Happy Mardi Gras.


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