One Half Million Mile Solar Filament Observed

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has observed an incredible whip-like filament extending high above the sun’s surface. Pictured below, the filament measures one half million miles long. To put that in perspective, the earth’s circumference at the equator is approximately 25,000 miles.

Credit: NASA/SDO

A solar filament is tethered to the sun’s photosphere and jets out towards the corona. It is a cooler material and thus the contrast can be observed. Below, you can see a video from NASA’s SDO which shows the incredible phenomenon.

[Video Link]

The Solar Dynamics Observatory was launched back in February of 2010. Since the time of its launch, the SDO has brought back stunning video and photos of never seen before views of our Sun.  According to NASA the purpose of the SDO is as follows:

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be taking a closer look at the Sun, the source of all Space Weather. Space Weather affects not only our lives here on Earth, but the Earth itself, and everything outside its atmosphere (astronauts and satellites out in space and even the other planets).

Space weather is a serious issue for astronauts and satellite developers. Because we enjoy the benefits of being surrounded by Earth’s atmosphere, we only have to worry about little things sunburns and using sunscreen. Outside the confines of our atmosphere though is a much larger danger. Extreme radiation coming from the Sun’s surface can be perilous to our astronauts, so getting a better understanding of this is critical for their safety. Communications satellites are not exempt from solar related problems either.

For more information about the SDO mission, visit NASA’s website at

Researchers Create “MRI” of the Sun’s Interior Motions

A team of researchers from NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and its Department of Physics, Princeton University, the Max Planck Institute, and NASA have created an “MRI” of the sun’s interior motions.

MRI of Sun
Image of the sun’s surface taken by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) onboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (courtesy NASA)

Looking for Some Hot Stuff

The sun’s inner core creates heat through a process called nuclear fusion. The heat moves to the outer surface of the sun through convection. Since the sun is opaque, not much has been learned about how the process works. Scientists have had to rely on studies of fluid models and then try to apply those observations to the sun.

The sun is primarily composed of hydrogen, helium, and plasma. Plasma according to Princeton’s website is “a fourth state of matter distinct from solid or liquid or gas and present in stars and fusion reactors; a gas becomes a plasma when it is heated until the atoms lose all their electrons, leaving a highly electrified collection of nuclei and free electrons”. It is also the primary contributor to the sun’s magnetic fields. This study sought to grasp a better understanding of phenomenon such as sun spots and magnetic fields. A fantastic NASA video showing activity on the surface of the sun is embedded below.

Smile! Say Cheese

To get their “MRI” the researchers relied on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory to get a high definition picture of the sun’s surface. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager measures the effects of convection on the sun’s surface using a 16 million pixel camera. No hiding any sun spots or blemishes with a camera like that!

The end result of the research showed that many of our assumptions about the sun were incorrect. Current theory about the sun’s magnetic field rely on assumptions about the speed and magnitude of the sun’s inner motions. According to an NYU press release, study author Shravan Hanasoge, an associate research scholar in geosciences at Princeton University and a visiting scholar at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences said, “our results suggest that convective motions in the Sun are nearly 100 times smaller than these current theoretical expectations” Hanasoge continued saying “If these motions are indeed that slow in the Sun, then the most widely accepted theory concerning the generation of solar magnetic field is broken, leaving us with no compelling theory to explain its generation of magnetic fields and the need to overhaul our understanding of the physics of the Sun’s interior.”

As so often happens in science, further research sometimes opens more questions and challenges the theories of the day. This research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

High-Def Video Captures A Comet As It Plunges Into The Sun

NASA’s SOHO telescope has just captured the last few moments of a comet as it smashed into the Sun. The Comet SWAN, presently officially known as C/2012 E2 (SWAN), can be clearly seen plunging into the Sun. SOHO’s LASCO C2 and C3 camera took the photos, which were then stitched up to form a High-Definition video.

The point to note is that SWAN did not actually crash into the Sun. There was no contact – it vaporized much before that. The nearest distance calculated turns out to be 350,000 km away from the Solar surface, but probably, the comet was gone much before that.

Here is a stunning photo snapped by the LASCO C2 camera, which clearly shows the SWAN comet before its demise.

Comet Swan can be clearly seen on the bottom left quarter (Courtesy: NASA, SOHO)

SWAN was a bright comet. Comet scientists were quite enthusiastic about it. Its doom was predicted by many and so SOHO knew exactly what to look for – and found it. Take a look at this spectacular video, all in 1080p goodness!

Please note that the ensuing solar flare seen in the video occurring diametrically opposite to the SWAN comet’s trajectory is just a coincidence. The two events occur hours apart and the solar flare is completely uncorrelated to the cometary demise. No comet is big enough to cause that big a disturbance on the Sun’s surface.

Enjoy the carnage.

Mysterious Eruptions on Venus A Result Of Massive Solar Activity

Strange things are afoot on Venus and we’ve got just a hint as to what they are. Gigantic explosions have been seen on the surface of Venus, possibly triggered by the intense Solar winds, which peaked yesterday. The spectacular explosions occur just above the surface of the planet, since Venus lacks a proper magnetosphere.

How the magnetosphere of a planet shields it from a solar wind. Venus doesn't have a strong enough magnetic field.

Scientists call these Hot Flow Anomalies (HFA’s) and these are common on Saturn. They have also been seen on Mars, but this is the first time such gigantic explosions are afoot on Venus.

An Explanation

Here’s a quick explanation as to why these HFA’s actually happen. The Sun sends out millions of charged particles travelling at very high speeds towards the planet. There are often discontinuities in the solar wind, and this is recorded as a sharp change in the magnetic field of the solar winds.

HFA's on Venus. The charged particles get swept up by this moving front of weak magnetic field. (Image Courtesy: GSFC/Collinson paper)

If these areas lie parallel to the direction of wind flow, the wind can remain in contact with the contour along which the solar wind slows down and changes direction, called the bow shock (marked). If the propagation of the discontinuity is slow enough, it sweeps up enough charged particles. These charged particles form plasma, which sends shockwaves resulting in these gigantic eruptions.

Huge Energy reservoirs

This process happens on Earth too, but the strong magnetic field of the Earth prevents the process from occurring too close to the surface. These processes release a lot of energy. About the HFAs on Venus, David Sibeck, a planetary climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says:

Hot flow anomalies release so much energy that the solar wind is deflected, and can even move back toward the sun. That’s a lot of energy when you consider that the solar wind is supersonic — traveling faster than the speed of sound — and the HFA is strong enough to make it turn around.

The study regarding this phenomenon made by Glyn Collinson and David Sibeck, both from GSFC, appeared in Journal of Geophysica; Research.

Huge Solar Flare Headed Directly For Earth; To Strike In A Few Hours

A huge Solar Flare is heading towards Earth and is expected to collide in a few hours. On the 4th of March, night time in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Sun released a huge amount of charged particles travelling at large speeds in what was a X1.1 class Solar Flare. These particles are going to collide with the Earth’s atmosphere and generate spectacular auroral shows near the poles, and may even cause problems in communication in certain places.


Direct Aim

The bad news is that this solar flare, or Coronal Mass Ejection (CME’s), ejected from the active sunspot AR1429, is aimed directly at Earth. This falls in a series of very big solar flares from the Sun over the last year or so, leading up to the maximum of the 11-year Solar Cycle in 2013. The only difference between this present one and the previous ones is that the earlier ones were not directly straight at us.

You may expect significant disturbances in satellite communications, may be even partial blackouts for a few hours. Power grids are also expected to be hit. NASA is also tracking the exact trajectory of the CME, fearing for the astronauts on the International Space Station.

The expected arrival time is about 2300 EST on 6th March, but it could be early morning on 7th March.

What To Expect

The bottomline is this: Watch out for Auroras if you are in the higher latitudes, whether in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. In addition to that, do not be surprised if you are rendered without mobile network or even power for a few hours, especially if you reside in the higher latitudes. Do make light preparations for that.

Solar Activity Linked To Extreme Weather Conditions in Europe

The Solar cycle might be related to the heating and cooling of our planet, says a new study. The extreme weather in European winters can be tracked to the dip in solar activity in the recent past, like November-December, 2010, claim British researchers.

Unusually cold winters: The mechanism (Courtesy: Nature)

In their paper  published yesterday (9th October, 2011) in Nature Geoscience, the joint research team at Hadley Centre, Oxford University and the Imperial College argue that the correlation between the two is too strong to be just a coincidence.

The authors hasten to add that the effect is not a global warming or cooling of the Earth. Cool Northern Europe temperatures are compensated by hotter ones down south, thus there is no net temperature change of the Earth, averaged out over a year.

The Mechanism

The team focuses on the UV absorption of the atmosphere by the ozone layer. (Photo above) The ozone in the stratosphere heats up and this effect percolates to the lower atmosphere. This changes the wind pattern across North America and Europe, weakening it and allowing frigid winds from Greenland to flow to the UK and the rest of Europe. This creates cold winters in Europe.

Not quite open-and-shut case

It is not a clear open and shut case, since other factors like the El Nino or the melting sea ice play major roles in creating extremely cold winters in Europe. The data must be significant enough.

The work is not complete and only further data will confirm the measurements taken.

NASA Spacecraft Catches A Huge Solar Flare; Increased Sunspot Activity Leads to Awesome Auroras

The Sun’s roaring again and it’s usually bad news when that happens. An active sunspot, Sunspot 1302, has suddenly grown vigorous and is releasing vast amounts of highly energetic charged particles hurtling out of the Sun. It released a huge solar flare on the 24th of September and its hyperactivity continues unabated over the last few days. The activity was caught by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory or SDO.

Coronal Mass Ejection and a brilliant lightshow

NASA warned that a huge Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or a Solar Flare is in progress. The CME occurred at about 8:15 AM EST, today i.e. on the 26th of September. Upon reaching Earth this will cause a huge geomagnetic storm, interfering with radio communications everywhere. This will also produce scintillating auroras near the poles of the Earth. If you stay in the higher altitudes, remember to look up in the sky the light show is due to the Sun.

This is Big!

Scientists use a Kp-index to indicate the enormity of the Solar flare. It is a scale from 0 to 9, 0 indicating no activity and 9 indicating hyperactivity. It tells us whether there will be a significant geomagnetic storm caused due to Solar activity, with any reading above Kp=4 denoting a geomagnetic storm. The 26th September solar flare was marked Kp=8! The solar flare was so huge that it could be heard on all radios across the world. Here’s a video from NASA.

The solar flare was marked as a X1.9 category flare, indicating that it had some X-ray components to it. However, this is much lower than the X6.9 solar flare on 9th August or even the X2.2 flare on 15th February this year.

The increased activity of the Sun is related to the peak in the Solar Cycle. The Peak is expected in Early or mid-2013 and this is all leading up to that.

A thing of awe is a source of beauty forever.

Cosmic Spectacle: Stunning Pic of Earth Eclipsing the Sun, As Seen By NASA Satellite from Outer Space

For the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a Solar Eclipse is no big deal it sees two each year. Now it returns a photo of what it sees and it is stunning. But don’t trust us, take a look at it yourself! Here it is!

The Solar Eclipse as taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Courtesy: SDO/NASA)

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO is a satellite, which observes the Sun and monitors its activities. It is on a five-year mission. Part of the Living with a Star (LWS) Program, the goal of SDO is to study how the Sun influences the Earth. Of primary importance is the study of how the magnetic storms from the Sun influences the Earth’s atmosphere and the various communication devices that depend crucially on the ionosphere layer of the atmosphere. It also measures the seismic activity of the Sun (i.e. Sun quakes). This is a very rich field of study as the Sun, being a ball of plasma, experiences violent quakes quite frequently. The absence of solid rock on the Sun prevents attenuation of the seismic waves and the whole Sun thus moves with basically one frequency and higher harmonics during a violent Solar Quake. This can be roughly understood by the model of a balloon completely filled with water. Whole of the bulbous balloon can be set into vibration of one frequency. These form of vibrations involving just one frequency and higher harmonics are called normal modes. Monitoring these normal modes for the Sun, the SDO can give vital details about the solar density.

Eclipse Season and another photo

The present eclipse will last till 4th October, having commenced on the 11th of September. The Sun is already showing signs of violence as it builds up to the predicted peak in its activity in 2013. The last few months have seen violent solar storms, which have even knocked out communication. These will only increase and SDO’s job of monitoring these is crucial.

Just before ending, we wish to share another photo with you, taken from the Space Station. This one shows the bright Sun, blue Earth and black space. Enjoy.

The bright Sun and the blue Earth (Courtesy: NASA/ISS)

The Sun is a thing of immense beauty and fearful fury. We perceive it as an object which has given us life, but it’s really indifferent. We shall forever be in its awe.

Largest Solar Flare Observed: Communication Blackouts Reported Along With A Scintillating Show

Solar activity seems to have peaked sharply in the last few days, with frequent massive solar flares being ejected out of the Sun. The biggest happened today, 9th August, 2011, early morning EST time.

Solar activity cycle lasts for 11 years and waxes and wanes predictably over that period. The Solar maximum is expected in 2013 and these are events leading up to that climax.

An image of a flare taken by the SOHO satellite. Notice the central disc of the Sun being blocked out, so that the peripheral features are prominent - a feature of SOHO. (Photo Courtesy: NASA/JPL)

Today’s Blast

Today’s solar flare and Coronal Mass Ejection, though not directed right at Earth, caused blackouts in a number of places on the sunlit side of the Earth. It hampered satellite communication and also interrupted HF (high frequency) communications, with reporting blackouts.

The current solar flare has a large X-ray component to it, the highest, in fact, in this solar cycle. The previous largest flare had occurred on 15th Feb, 2011 and had an X-Ray rating of X2.2. The current one weighs in at a massive X6.9, more than three times the former. Come 2013, and we might expect X9.0 storms, which will wreck havoc on communication systems of Earth. Satellites and other artificial orbiting bodies might be severely damaged.

The Soho satellite captured a series of images that were made into this gif. (Courtesy: NASA/JPL)

Lucky, in two ways

It seems that Earth had the luck to escape this time, but we may not be this lucky in coming weeks. Although nothing catastrophic is predicted, communication blackouts can be expected.

The solar flares also give a brilliant sight to behold, as charged particles are accelerated in the Earth’s magnetic field and also hit the nuclei in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing beautiful auroras. To see auroras, you’ll have to be in higher latitudes, though. Database Compromised By Blind SQL Injection

An email was sent out earlier today on the Full-Disclosure mailing list, detailing the compromise of numerous MySQL websites along with portions of their database containing usernames and passwords.


MySQL offers database software and services for businesses at an enterprise level as well as services for online retailers, web forums and even governments. The vulnerability for the attack, completed using blind SQL injection and targeted servers including,, and, was initially found by "TinKode" and "Ne0h" of Slacker.Ro (according to their dump of the stolen credentials) but published by "Jackh4x0r".

The stolen database contain both member and employee email addresses and credentials, as well as tables with customer and partner information and internal network details. Hashes from the database have been posted, with some having been already cracked.

A submission to also details an XSS (Cross Site Scripting) vulnerability affecting that may have provided a secondary entry point for compromising visitors or employees with the organization since early January of 2011.

This is definitely a shame for the folks behind MySQL since they were bought by Sun and later on by Oracle (through the Sun acquisition). MySQL is used by millions of users for small and medium sized databases, including by the popular blogging software WordPress.

The email sent to Full Disclosure lists out all the databases, tables and even some password hashes for the users at There has been no response from MySQL on this issue yet. We have contacted them for a comment and will update this post once more information becomes available.

More updates coming soon….

Update: This hack also compromised the database at, more info on this at