Author Topic: A few questions regarding 'recent' discoveries  (Read 2608 times)

Seeker2000

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A few questions regarding 'recent' discoveries
« on: September 19, 2012, 06:42:29 pm »
Hi!

I could not imagine a better place to ask some questions, regarding to some scientific discoveries made quite recently and the possibility to get the answer a layman (with some background) could understand:

1. It is 'common' knowledge about our Sun cycles, which roughly variate between 11 years. But can somebody explain me the meaning (or importance and consequences) of the assumption, that THIS last solar MAXIMUM is expected to be around 25% 'weaker' than ALL others previously observed?

2. How close is the science from shifting in practice (I know in theory this is a 'long dream to be fulfilled') the 'paradigm' of spotting solar storms to predict them, before they appear? (A metaphor: as a physician I'd ask: 'Roughly how far are we from being focused primarily on 'preventive' measures than treatment itself?)

Maybe not the best example, but I think I was understood. Especially because it is maybe not so much prevention (that would be even tougher) than giving us much more 'manoeuvring' space to act, if we are able to predict storms, before they appear.

3. This one is the most 'tricky', because I did not understand fully the 'implications' made by this discovery in the first place:

As I understood, there was a 'definitive' link established by processes occurring on the Sun (storms, flares, winds,...) and the CHANGE in the rate of decay of RADIOACTIVE elements. Something, that was very long thought to be a constant for each of the elements radioactive isotopes, an 'axiom' as for example light speed is. If this is really true, than this has HUGE implications throughout the science, including (nuclear) medicine.

I'm sorry to 'just simply jump in' and expect answers. If I would have time, I'd try to do this alone first and ask later, but I lack proper knowledge as the necessary time itself (although I'd IMMEDIATELY focus ALL my attention and time on such kind of research and also quantum and relativistic physics and for example also the possible connections of those fields to neuroscience or more precisely the conciousness itself - but so far I got the impression, that even asking about such things is a kind of 'taboo' in the scientific community)  :(

Thank You in advance.

Denis
« Last Edit: September 19, 2012, 06:49:01 pm by Seeker2000 »

Quialiss

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Re: A few questions regarding 'recent' discoveries
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2012, 04:04:40 pm »
I'm just going to tackle the first of your questions for now Denis!  The second one would involve a lot of speculation about things that I don't quite know enough about to make educated guesses at, and while I do actually remember recently seeing a paper about the radioactive decay rates being influenced by solar activity, I only skimmed the abstract, if you've read it, your understanding of the subject is probably greater than mine!

On to the question, from one layman with background to another..  :D first thing I want to note is that while this coming solar maximum is going to be less intense than predicted, it's by no means the weakest ever.  The sunspot data here from the last 160 years or so shows that there have definitely been solar cycles around this activity level before, and even lower.  It is lower than what several predictions said it would be before we hit solar minimum, but that's related to your second question!


Because this solar maximum is going to be so quiet, the chances of any major storms are lower than, say, they were in the past three solar maximums.  That doesn't mean it cannot happen, just that it's less likely.  To use an analogy, where I live we have problems with wildfires in the summer, and we can predict how bad it's going to be in a given season based on snowfall in the winter and rainfall in the spring.  There will be fires, no matter what, and their severity is pretty accurately predicted month to month, but what's really hard to predict is when one of those fires will get near enough to a town or city and cause damage until it's right there, rather like our unpredictable sun, which might launch a storm that could do serious damage to all our hardware here... or it might launch it off harmlessly into space, or we might not even see any seriously powerful storms this cycle.

Not sure if you wanted an answer like that, or more on the whys and hows of the predictions themselves.  If you want more information, you can always ask.   :)  I do love questions, ones that I know the answers to because it means I can help someone understand something, and maybe get better at explaining things, and ones that I don't know the answers to, because they make me curious and make me think. 

If you'd like more reading, this is a good place to start
http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/SunspotCycle.shtml
« Last Edit: September 20, 2012, 06:25:19 pm by Quialiss »

Seeker2000

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Re: A few questions regarding 'recent' discoveries
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2012, 05:52:45 pm »
Hi!

Thank You for this really extensive and understandable (to someone like me) explanation. Such things only 'fuel' my curiosity and determination to 'dig' further and learn more. There is LOT to even 'process' before beginning to understand (not to even mention the most difficult task: 'To ask the RIGHT question in the first place if you expect to get a good answer')

I'm must admit, I had no idea, that this Solar MAX differs from previous ones by its lover 'strength' based ONLY on predictions being made about it, but NOT actually, when looking at 'empirical' data, so much from others in the past.

I'm a bit sceptical (but that's my personal opinion and I haven't done enough reading on that - as in Your case, when You mentioned the issue about radioactive decay), or better said, I'd rather not draw ANY conclusions about possible 'real life' implications, that our Sun will be more 'quiet', or to quote a small part of Your explanation:

Quote
Because this solar maximum is going to be so quiet, the chances of any major storms are lower than, say, they were in the past three solar maximums...

... just because ONE scientifically established criteria, namely 'LOWER number of solar spots' (even if we are talking just about statistics here).

I completely understand, that I've taken this conversation even more into OVERSIMPLIFICATION of things to come. But You surely agree, if the debate is not about making DEFINITIVE conclusions, but only about the exchange of opinions, the result can't be anything else than positive.  :)

And I just remembered:

Was there not in the (not so far away) past an 'accidental' difference, between how the number of sunspots should be (and was) counted by UNIFIED criteria, discovered, which led to 'conflicting' information about the 'validity' of this gathered data in our past?   :-\

I'm only VAGUELY familiar with this topic and I don't have a clue if this even influenced something, what could be of importance, but more importantly (assuming if there is something I got right on this), the 'lesson' about that should be really, how important it is, that the WHOLE 'scientific' community, from various areas (not only those dealing with SOLAR weather and astrophysics) should make even more effort in working as close as much together and do everything possible to 'bridge' the areas in which they differ and not the other way around (talking from own experiences - of course on a much simpler and different area - , but sometimes in the sake of an argument itself, the 'big picture' got out of the view and the consequences were quite dire).

It was a pleasure to talk with You and I hope we get a chance to repeat the experience.  ;) 

Denis
« Last Edit: September 20, 2012, 06:01:06 pm by Seeker2000 »

Quialiss

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Re: A few questions regarding 'recent' discoveries
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2012, 07:02:04 pm »
Hi Denis!

You are absolutely right that you shouldn't take one particular indicator, like sunspots, and use it to infer other things, like x-ray emissions, without making sure that they actually relate to each other.  They do, but there's a lot of theory and observation to go with that statement that I haven't provided, you're right to want to go find out more, and not accept what I'm saying at face value.     

About sunspots... plenty of room for confusion there, such a lovely straightforward number.. not!  The way we count sunspots now is to count the number of sunspot groups, multiply that number by ten, because that's the average number of sunspots in a group, and then add any small, individual sunspots to that number.  Rudolf Wolf came up with this method in 1848, and we've been doing it that way ever since. 

Before that, the sunspot number was just however many spots you could count.  The problem with that method, as simple and straightforward as it may seem, is that there are these nasty things called clouds, and atmosphere, between us and the sun, and quite often they get in the way.  It might be easy to see a large sunspot group on a hazy day, it's not so easy to count the individual spots in it!  Because the ten sunspots in a group isn't some random number Wolf came up with, it was based on his observations on sunspot groups, the difference between counting each and every sunspot, and counting groups and singles, is incredibly small.

Another source of confusion is that there are at least two official sunspot numbers, each of which is an average of measurements like I just described, from all sorts of different sources, different telescopes.  They are slightly different from one another, but they're not conflicting with each other, that would be like saying 'I was looking at these grains of sand through a magnifying glass and counted 20, and then I looked at them with my naked eye and counted 16, I must have miscounted the first time.'  One of the numbers just includes smaller sunspots in its count. 

I hope you continue to follow your curiosity, I always find mine leads me to wonderful places.  :)