Posted tagged ‘solar minimum’

The Plasma Universe: our Electric Connection

January 24, 2011

Gods wielding Thunderbolts: not imaginary mythological tales but formative Earth's memory of her violent past

Plasma braids:
“Thunderbolt that steers the Universe”

Heraclitus, 5th Century B.C.

Our galaxy is not void.

For years we were taught traditional theory of our Universe as ‘space’, a vacuum, inert, orderly with few surprises. It was forever expanding outward from a point of primeval Big Bang, controlled and geared by gravity (the weakest celestial force), full of black holes, with anomalous behavior in comets, meteorites and exploding galaxies explained as the work of anti-matter, ‘dark’ matter or, as in nuclear physics, attributed to ‘unknown’ factors such as quarks, charm, CERN‘s conjectural Higgs-Boson particle or the existence of the ‘weak force’, anti-gravity or String Theory’s multiple dimensions. While physicists had trouble proving their theories (many of the ‘forces’ and particles were hypothetical and had theoreticians predicting ‘mass-less’ entities and the ‘graviton’) they are now swinging to a view of the operation of the Universe via another mode of Being:

As electrically-charged plasma.

Plasma is looked upon as the ‘fourth state of matter’, different from solid, liquid, gas. And as plasma is almost exclusively electromagnetic –a cluster of ionized particles– electrical theory is being unwrapped from the closet and given another airing.

NASA, JPL, CERN and the Los Alamos National Laboratory all give explanations for their switch from traditional space theory to a more generally accepted (and more familiar electromagnetically-driven) plasma physics, whose founding father, Swedish Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995) coined the phrase ‘Plasma Universe’. Originally trained as an electrical power engineer, he researched and taught many years in the field. His plasma theories describe behavior of aurorae, Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts, effect of magnetic storms on Earth’s magnetic field, magnetic and electric fields in cosmic plasmas, the terrestrial magnetosphere and dynamics of plasmas within our galaxy.

Because of its unique behavior, (unlike solids, liquids, gas) plasma is seen as the dominant form of matter in the universe. It has been called the ‘fundamental state of matter.’

When a material is heated from solid to liquid to gas phase, and then even hotter, it starts to become ionized, i.e. one or more electrons of an atom become liberated. Plasma is essentially a collection of ionized particles and while in its simplest form it behaves according to basic electromagnetic laws, at its most complex it continues to astonish specialists in its ability to self-organize into cells with different electrical characteristics.

Plasma comes in many forms, all electromagnetically active

Plasmas are not routinely encountered on the Earth’s surface. Natural plasmas, however, do form lightning and aurora, with the cool, man-made version most commonly seen in fluorescent light bulbs. Solar corona and solar flares are good examples of hot plasma. Earth’s magnetosphere contains plasma generated by particles of solar wind interacting with Earth’s own electromagnetic field, liberating ions into the Ionosphere (upper atmosphere).

Aurora borealis, Aurora australis

Aurora on Jupiter, photo courtesy John T Clarke (U.Mich)

Aurora borealis/australis is the result of charged solar wind particles clashing with and becoming trapped within the Van Allen radiation belts, where they hit the ionosphere and fluoresce. Every planet with a magnetic field generates its own plasma, like that around Jupiter and its moon Io. Beyond the solar system, in interstellar space, ions and electrons proliferate everywhere.

Fire in the Sky
A plasma discharge (spontaneous flash of light) is familiar to students of electromagnetism. To our ancestors, however, who must have witnessed many such plasma discharges in the ancient skies and recorded these (frightening) occurrences, they were seen as battles of the gods, sky heroes and god-kings clashing with sky monsters, serpents, ‘smoke-stars’, fire-dragons which, against apparently insuperable odds, they succeeded in overcoming.

As comets enter the inner solar system, a plasma tail often develops (in addition to a non-charged tail of dust), like Shoemaker-Levy 9 (1993-4) and Hale-Bopp (1995, 1997). NASA’s most famous comet-rendezvous program, Deep Impact, confirmed cometary composition (‘dirty snowball’ plus ionized particle tails) in its hit on comet Tempel 1 in July 2005 and flyby of comet Hartley 2 November last year.

Several ancient cultures name fearful comets as ‘smoking stars’ and lightning, with its thunderbolt — often in the shape of axe, jagged staff or flashing sword — was seen as the divine weapon of gods and king-heroes wielded against ‘fiery dragons’ curled inside the earth (volcanoes?) which threatened the populace.

Castor and Pollux —Alpha and Beta Geminorum, the ‘heavenly’ or ‘thunder’ twins — were revered by the Aztec as the first ‘fire sticks’, from which Mankind learned to drill fire. And, interestingly, when the Peruvian Indians became Christian, they chose to call one of those twins Santiago because their missionaries taught them that Christ named James (Santiago) and John the ‘Sons of Thunder’.

In Mesopotamia 4,500 years earlier (4000 BC), Gemini* served as pointers to mark the beginning of the new year by setting with the first new moon of spring, just as Egyptian astronomy’s pointer Dog star Sirius, Sothis signaled annual flooding of the Nile. Classical Greece called them the Dioscuri, the ‘thunder boys’, sons of Zeus.

In the opinion of seminal scholar of world mythology Prof. J. Rendel Harris:

‘Great commentators of the Christian church had missed the meaning. In demythologizing the Bible, they threw out vast sections of primitive culture’s connection to the stars.’ (Boanerges 1913)

Authors Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend of (IMHO) one of the greatest compilations of world mythology, (Hamlet’s Mill 1969, 1977, 2002) call the Bible ‘that most unscientific of records.’

Viewing cosmology in an electromagnetic context, the Mill of the title begins to make sudden sense of millennia of myth. Hamlet is a translation of Finnish/Norse/Icelandic proto-hero Amlodhi whose staff (Yggdrasil, ‘world tree’) spun the mill of the maelstrom, the whirlpool of the cosmos, the vortex, axis mundi — the Earth’s magnetic polar shaft. The Finnish quern/mill Sampo (vault of heaven, from Sanskrit skambha, pillar, pole, axis) ground out Mankind’s deep origins: it was this mill which created ocean, earth, Man. In good times it ground out ‘peace and plenty’, in bad times, salt. And, according to the Finns whose mythology is alive in recitation, it grinds still. It lingers in Vedic tradition in a hymn —Atharva Veda— to the world pillar (skambha):

A great monster in the midst of creation strode in penance on the back of the sea. In it are set what gods there are, like branches of a tree roundabout the trunk. AV 10.7.38

From such fragments of antiquity embedded in folk memory indicating a preoccupation with earth’s magnetic axis, it is tempting to believe that a polar shift, such as predicted by some for our ‘End Times’, may have occurred at least once before.

There seem to have been other cosmic cataclysmic occurrences.

Heliospheric current generates its own electromagnetic field

In an electromagnetic context within interstellar space, plasma spontaneously generates filaments which, like magnetic poles, attract each other at long distances and repel each other at short range. These filaments often braid themselves into ‘ropes’ that act like power transmission lines through space, with virtually unlimited scope in the distances and speeds they can travel.

Following precise magnetic field lines, these braids and ropes are known as Birkeland currents, after Norwegian explorer and physicist Kristian Birkeland who predicted them in 1903 after years of study of aurora in the Arctic.

Space plasma moving through a magnetic field generates its own electric current, and conducts electricity better than metals. Professor Emeritus of the Swedish Alfvén Laboratory, Carl-Gunne Fälthammar wrote (1986):

“A reason why Birkeland currents are particularly interesting is that, in the plasma forced to carry them, they cause a number of physical processes to occur (waves, instabilities, fine structure formation). These in turn lead to consequences such as accelerated charged particles, both positive and negative, and element separation (like preferential ejection of oxygen ions). Both classes of phenomena should be of general astrophysical interest far beyond that of understanding the space environment of our own Earth.”

In the medium of space, strong radial magnetic fields can make a plasma pinch like the hourglass-shaped Ant nebula, left, produce characteristic filaments like the plasma ball (top), and particle beams, as in its dense plasma center.

Filaments leave a magnetic field signature that is recognizable in the observable universe. Astronomers have been aware of these electromagnetic fields, but have historically paid them little attention.

At a most basic level, magnetic fields are produced only by electricity. So with new eyes we observe our Universe as electrically charged, electrically based and electrically-operated.

If stories transmitted through myth in all ancient cultures are taken as genuine records of visual phenomena –plasma bursts in the heavens– we begin to see formative earth peoples experiencing life on a volatile planet among cataclysmic prehistoric events happening in their skies. Our recent past, by comparison, has been a peaceful one. We can imagine how such events must have instilled fear, but faith and belief that their leaders (god-kings in ancient Egypt, China, Babylon) could and did overcome such monsters is not in our makeup. By ignoring the heavens, we have become complacent: we are no longer skywatchers. Because our history relates few cosmic incidents, we are lulled into ignoring our unique connection to our star, its orbiting companions, the Milky Way galaxy which drives us and the great space of infinity beyond.

Yet this is a running theme through all primitive earth culture, myth and art. And while science is beginning to access the bigger picture, we may be seeing a greater whole just in time: as the predicted solar maximum (increased sunspot activity, below) has the potential to return us to such tempestuous celestial activity as our ancestors experienced. Fire in our skies… perhaps eliciting earth’s (volcanic) response…

Astronomers and astrophysicists are beginning to accept that every energetic object in the universe has a plasma associated with it. Plasmas are detected by trace electromagnetic radiation (light, x-rays, radio waves), or in some cases, by the interaction of their ions and electrons with other objects.

Scientists think solar wind has been turned sideways by pressure from interstellar wind from distant stars

Distilling plasma theory down to its simplest form, and with great leaps in astronomical technology (space vehicles like Cassini and Voyager, telescopes like Hubble and SOHO), we can view and photograph from earth beautiful plasma nebulae which, excited by light from nearby stars, display precisely the same formations and explosive patterns seen in electromagnetism produced in the laboratory. It is also synchronous that Voyager is only now hurtling toward interstellar space approximately 10.8 billion miles (17.4 billion kilometers) from the sun on the outer edge of the solar system. Voyager 1 has crossed into an area of deep space where the velocity of hot ionized gas, (plasma) emanating directly outward from the sun as solar wind has slowed to zero.

Voyager 2 confirmed the existence of Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Uranus and Neptune.

As with Earth, the outer planets are affected by solar storms, but Earth’s proximity to her star (93 million miles, 1AU) makes her more susceptible.

Van Allen radiation belts surround Earth's magnetosphere

Energetic particle fluxes (radiation) can increase and decrease dramatically as a consequence of geomagnetic storms, themselves triggered by magnetic field and plasma disturbances produced by the Sun. We moved out of an unusually extended solar minimum last year. It may be in our interest to be (cautiously) more aware of the possibility of increasing solar disturbances during this next eleven-year cycle which will crown at solar maximum, thought to occur 2012.

While solar disruption on the scale of 1859’s Carrington Event may not happen, with our present dependence on electronic media for almost all human activity, we would be wise to have backup systems available, should such a CME-derived blackout occur.

Nobody in living memory knows what to do should a pole reversal occur. Angelic assistance is preferable.

Westbury crop circle July 2010 'Van Allen radiation belts'?

As we know (or rather, as some of us on this weblog community are following), 2009/2010 crop circle seasons were significant in their display of designs and consciousness-triggers alerting us to astrophysical phenomena and Earth’s fragility in its electromagnetic cocoon. Solar flares, plasma ejections (coronal mass ejections, CMEs), sunspot activity have all featured in Wiltshire wheatfields and are on the increase –see blog entries February through October 2010— alongside dimensional and spiritual instruction to prepare us for what may be around the corner.

Earth’s Mythological Past

Meantime, interdisciplinary researchers have not been idle. Given such a wealth of new information from astronomers, mythologists (following the trail begun by Hamlet’s Mill authors) have been working alongside scientists to make sense of thousands of years of transmitted lore, art, ancestral wisdom and belief which attest to hugely violent episodes in our planet’s past related to the heavens. Mythological and cultural archetypes worldwide share language, symbols and a timeframe which suggest a less-than-tranquil formative period in Earth’s evolution than the one traditionally held by astronomers.

Under the umbrella of the Thunderbolts Project of Portland, OR, scientists, authors, mythologists and historians led by Wallace Thornhill, David Talbott and electrical engineer Prof. Donald E. Scott, are cooperating with plasma physicist Dr. Anthony Peratt to interpret petroglyph symbolism used by almost every ancient civilization to depict mythological heroes and events. Peratt has for 30 years run a laboratory using computer-generated electrical activity to predict plasma bursts in celestial forms. Together they are finding remarkable resonance between plasma forms in the lab, those produced in the cosmos, and the rock art of ancient man who drew what he saw in the sky.

On a spiritual and cosmic level, an ‘electric Universe’ — via our planetary umbilical cord to our star; its energetic tie to Galactic Center and through it the galaxy’s electromagnetic relationship with all other galaxies and the most distant stars — can be viewed as a purposeful whole, held together by plasma ropes, braids of light and power transmission lines which do indeed transmit information.

We are only just learning the language of the stars.

*According to pre-Hellenic myth, the Age of Gemini (approx 6000 BC) was considered the ‘Golden Age’, Saturnia regna when Saturn/Kronos ruled. Following the Precession of the Equinoxes, each celestial Age lasts around 2200 years. More detail on successive ages here. In Mongolian myth the Age of Gemini signaled a time when ‘heaven and earth separated’ and fire was born. In other words, before the ecliptic and celestial equator fell apart (and the equinoxes started to precess), there was no fire. It was ‘given by heaven’ in the Golden Age of the Twins. 8000 years on, we entered the Age of Aquarius on February 14, 2009.

All the Cs: Crop Circles, Comets, eClipses

June 13, 2010

Comet McNaught presently moving away from the Andromeda Spiral Galaxy, NGC-891, a near-twin of our own Milky Way galaxy

Throughout history the appearance of comets was seen in the mind of ancient Man as a sign of great change; a bad omen, sometimes heavenly intervention. Usually a bright comet was viewed as a ‘harbinger of doom’, a ‘messenger bringing bad luck’, or ‘death to tyrants and their evil’. But it was also seen – in the light of change – as a portent of unexpected gifts, a messenger from the gods, a shift in observation, in human awareness, a ‘quickening’. As signs in the heavens, comets were both feared and venerated.

The Romans recorded that a fiery comet was blamed for excess bloodshed in battle between Pompey and Julius Caesar in the days of the triumvirate. Shortly afterwards, another marked the Ides of March and Caesar’s assassination. Halley’s Comet was thought to have brought the Black Death in Europe. In the Andes, the Inca record a comet as foreshadowing the arrival of Francisco Pizarro. His armies conquered them and committed acts of brutality literally days after the comet disappeared.

Recent research suggests the Star of Bethlehem was either the cosmological conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7BC; or Halley’s comet (or a similar periodic comet)’s appearance in mid-April 5BC.

7000-year old Great Gallery 'Ghost Panel', Horseshoe Canyon Canyonlands National Park, Utah with Milky Way Galaxy backdrop

In North America indigenous Americans saw them as communication from Grandfather Great Spirit; their sudden bright appearance and disappearance marking the descent of special shaman or spirit messengers who joined their number on Earth.

The Chinese made a study of comets for centuries before written records were begun by Western society, but thought of comets as ‘vile stars’ or ‘long-tailed pheasants’ and yet they mapped and recorded their appearance and passage through the heavens.

In ancient cultures astronomy and astrology were inextricably linked – they were both sciences. And what went on in the heavens affected the lives of mere mortals on Earth.

Last week Jupiter and Uranus joined together (in astrological conjunction) in 0ºAries, the cusp degree of the fire sign of action, movement and drive. They are headed for a great opposition, three days after solstice, when a celestial Grand Cross will stand in Earth’s astrological chart.

In western astrology, Jupiter signifies growth and expansion and is considered fortunate, influencing belief, philosophy and social justice. Uranus implies change and excitement. It is eccentric and influences revolution, invention, and technology, such as spacecraft and the internet. Put these two planets together and you can expect fireworks: the change and excitement of Uranus will be amplified by the expansiveness of Jupiter. Growth and the philosophy of endless capacity (Jupiter) are subject to Uranian change with unexpected twists and turns.

Windmill Hill 6th August 2009, a month before comet C/2009 R1 was discovered

Uranus also breeds awareness that comes from a rapid awakening in our (Jovian) belief and faith. If you put the two together, and right now they are neck and neck, the biblical essence called ‘Quickening’ arises in humanity.

There have been pointers.

We’ve been given lots of ‘wayshowers’ by the ‘signs in the fields’.

Swallow, symbol of 'quickening', leading comet with coded tail, Alton Priors, June 2009

Last summer, the last few crop circles which graced the late harvest fields of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire included a stunning swallow with what might now be seen as a ‘comet tail’; it appeared in wheat in the South Field at Alton Priors on June 27th. On August 6th, 2009 another wheat crop received the imprint of a comet ‘panel’ of celestial objects breaching the solar wind or sun’s magnetosphere. This crop circle appeared at Windmill Hill, Wiltshire one month before Comet McNaught was discovered heading our way from the Oort Cloud.

Last crop circle of the 2009 season links to one of 2010's first designs

And the very last crop formation of last season appeared on August 29th at Waylands Smithy, Oxon in maize (corn): a spiral suggesting both comet and orbit.

So, it is interesting to see comets manifesting in one of the first designs of the 2010 season: at Stony Littleton near Bath in Somerset a wonderful double spiral appeared in a field of beans, in the forecourt of a 5000-year old neolithic chambered tomb, which might suggest two comets orbiting a central cross formation of planetary stations – the June-July Grand Cross perhaps?

Crop circles have in the past sent fairly regular messages which have been interpreted with delight by the astronomical, mathematical and scientific communities: invariably using the ‘Golden Mean’ or Fibonacci perfection, almost always encouraging us to look within or upwards to the heavens. Designs have traditionally been laid out with beautiful geometric precision, but the theme lately has been decidedly astral.

Should we expect the unexpected from Comet McNaught, a new body from the Oort Cloud just starting to appear in the east to the naked eye?

Stony Littleton near Bath, Somerset June 2010 formation in bean crop of comets circling opposing planets?

The name Comet derives from Greek ‘long-haired’ because of the coma or tail which emanates from the head as the astral body enters the inner solar system on approach to the sun. Known to emanate from two areas in the far reaches of the outer solar system, the Kuiper Belt between Uranus and Neptune and the Oort Cloud beyond Pluto’s orbit, many have been witnessed and recorded for centuries, some making repeat visits. One of the most famous, Halley’s comet, recorded by astronomer-Royal Edmond Halley (1656-1742) in 1682 as having a recurring orbit with previous documented sightings in 1456, 1531 and 1607, last visited Earth in 1986 and will on its 76-year elliptical orbit, approach the sun again in 2062.

Shoemaker-Levy crashed in fragments into Jupiter in 1994 after its near-Earth flyby

In the meantime we’ve had Shoemaker-Levy in 1994 which circled Earth before splintering and crashing into the atmosphere of Jupiter on its return trip; Hyakutake in 1996 and Hale-Bopp in 1997, a spectacular comet with a double tail tracing a similar path through Perseus; along with comet 17P/Holmes and a previous McNaught in 2007. [Robert McNaught is a British-Australian astronomer who spends a lot of time focused on telescopic comet discovery from the Antipodean observatory at Siding Spring].

Comet Hale-Bopp in solar orbit in 1997, with dramatic double tail and coma

The nucleus of a comet is like a ball of rock mixed with dirty ‘ice’: frozen water, methane, ammonia. As the object gets close to the sun, frozen gases and dust start to heat and evaporate, creating a long tail of vaporized molecules, dust and debris emanating from the coma – the ‘hair’ – to flow behind it. Out beyond the solar system perimeter, the object is only a small unremarkable frozen nucleus, visible by telescope as reflected sunlight: a speck of ice and dust. But as it is pulled in on its saucer-shaped orbit towards the sun, it transforms.

Dust elements are blown by the solar wind to form the tail, and water and gas molecules heated by their approach to the great solar furnace – hydrogen, oxygen, carbon monoxide and dioxide – have one of their electrons torn off (ionized) by the action of sunlight and they too are pushed into the ion tail. The ‘coma’ can extend to many times the size of the original nucleus, creating spectacular night-sky objects visible first through binoculars and telescopes and then, as the comet gets close to Earth orbit, to the naked eye. Because the comet’s head is on orbit headed for the sun, the tail always points away from the sun, outward from the nucleus, driven by the solar wind.

Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught has a green coma and has regrown its tail; it may manifest more unexpected variations

Special effects can result when added molecules are present. In the case of C/2009 R1, its luminous green coma is a result of ultraviolet solar rays mingling with cyanogen gas.

Comet R1 McNaught was discovered on 09/09/09, but only started becoming visible in the northern hemisphere just before dawn in late May-early June 2010 on the eastern horizon. It should be a naked-eye object best seen this weekend and early next week when the new moon is at its thinnest crescent and the comet at close range to Earth. It lies a one-and-a-half ‘Cassiopeia’ lengths below that famous ‘W’ shape in the northern sky.

Path of C/2009 R1 Comet through constellations Andromeda, Perseus, Auriga and Gemini

Thereafter it will increase in brightness as it moves from the constellation Andromeda through Perseus and then into Auriga between mid-June and early July when it passes Earth on towards its closest brush with the sun, perihelion, on July 2nd.

While C/2009 R1 then becomes difficult to see in the north, it will be a bright addition to the dawn sky in the southern hemisphere in the early nights of July on the runup to July 11th, when something miraculous will occur.

To backtrack a little, New Age metaphysician, charismatic speaker and student of the Maya and indigenous peoples, Drunvalo Melchizedek took a journey in 2003 starting in the north and moving to the south Pacific with a group of people who represented every nation of the planet Earth.

He says:

We have to find the secret of how this leap in consciousness we are being asked to make is acquired: human consciousness combines conscious awareness of the Ancient world – the world of Nature – with the conscious awareness of the modern world. The two meshed together create a new shift upward in all consciousness. If we can at least try to reach that respect and atunement with Nature, with the divine essence of the planet, we can make it into this new level of consciousness.

Drunvalo and his group first held a ceremony of love and appreciation in 2003 at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, said to be the north pole of the etheric web – or electromagnetic field around the Earth – offering gifts of peace and meditating on Man’s return to natural ways of living on Earth. Then, through Geomancy, (Arabic, ilm al-raml), various degrees of difficulty and many months, they finally succeeded in holding a similar ceremony on a small island in the South Pacific in 2008 at the closest point to the planet’s electromagnetic ‘south pole’, diametrically opposite the Great Pyramid and on the other side of the world within the Easter Island group. When the ceremony was over, Drunvalo says there came a series of ‘signs’ from the heavens and they knew as a group that their work of ‘birthing a new consciousness’ for the planet Earth was completed, although he says he knew it would take some considerable time for the rest of humanity to follow and to see similar ‘signs’ of awakening, quickening.

It just so happens that when Comet C/2009 R1 McNaught moves as a night sky object in early July into the southern hemisphere, something else will occur which may rock a few (astronomical as well as spiritual) socks. On July 11th, Comet McNaught will become difficult to see in both northern and southern hemispheres: in the north it is too close to the horizon – and getting very close to the sun – for practical observation as dawn breaks, another distraction; in the south it occurs during daylight hours.

On July 11th, however, the Cosmos has devised a little trick to make it visible. On that day the southern hemisphere – in particular the island of Mangaia near Easter Island (close to where Drunvalo Melchizedek and his group of meditators and earth-healers held ceremony in 2008) will experience a total solar eclipse and the sky will be dark for four minutes. During the occultation Comet McNaught will be the brightest object in the (daytime) sky! What a delightful coincidence: Easter Island residents not only got to help participate in healing the planet’s electromagnetosphere but they now get to see the heavenly response to their work.

Drunvalo, I suspect, along with the New Age community and astronomy buffs worldwide, will be pleased.

As an afterthought,
Swami Beyondananda, aka Steve Bhaerman says:

THE bad news is that the world as we know it is coming to an end; the good news is the world as we know it is coming to an end…

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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