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NE Live@Sun-Earth Day 2010
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NASA EDGE: NE Live@Sun-Earth Day 2010

Sun-Earth Day 2010
Interviews and Guests
- Troy Cline
- Holly Gilbert
- Elaine Lewis
- Nicola “Nicky” Fox
- Steele Hill

We just enjoyed another Spring Equinox, and everyone knows that no Spring Equinox is complete without enjoying the culmination of the NASA Sun-Earth Day Team's year long thematic study and celebration of the heliosphere. This year's theme: Magnetic Storms. And the Magnetic Storm experts joined NASA EDGE on the set during our live, near 'magnetospherence' free webcast from the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We even witnessed a cool demonstration of magnetospherence and our magnetosphere by some visiting science teachers. Of course, Blair was sent to the Principal's office. Download the vodcast today!


CHRIS: Coming up on The Best of NE Live…

BLAIR: Sun-Earth Day 2010, magnetic storms.

CHRIS: Let’s listen to Troy Cline talk about Sun-Earth Day.

CHRIS: Troy, lets take us through the whole process. Sun-Earth Day has been around a long time.

TROY: It has.

CHRIS: When did it first start?

TROY: We actually started Sun-Earth Day 10 years ago. We had scientists that came to us from several heliophysics missions and said we’d like to have one day a year to celebrate space weather and the sun.

BLAIR: You’re pretty excited about the sun, aren’t you, Troy?

TROY: I am. I had no idea when I first started 10 years ago that there would be this much fun. We’ve had a blast.

CHRIS: What is the website to access Sun-Earth Day and the education activities.

TROY: It’s easy,

CHRIS: That’s pretty easy to remember, in fact, we’ll put it on our screen throughout the show to write it down and go to the website while you’re watching the show.

TROY: Absolutely, that’s great.

CHRIS: You talked about having experts on the show. Did you include Blair as an expert?

TROY: We have our magnetospherence expert; our “Solar Blair” expert I might add.

BLAIR: I have solar hair color.

TROY: There we go. That’s why we chose you, right?

BLAIR: Keeping it real.

TROY: I have to say we did one of your NASA EDGE shows together about a year ago. You did one of our Space Weather Action Center Reports.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Space Weather Action Center with Blair Geek Meister Allen, creator of magnetospherence. Even as a child, the NASA EDGE co-host recognized his unique relationship with the sun.

YOUNG BLAIR: Die cruel star.

ANNOUNCER: Years later, Blair restored his relationship with the yellow, dwarf star and began to use its power for good.

BLAIR: Just to report to the crowd today, according to all my research we are broadcasting magnetospherence free. So the forecast for today is very minimal magnetospherence. If you’re having a problem seeing this podcast, it’s not due to the sun.

TROY: And if you do see any static, you can go to the Sun-Earth Day website and click on the space weather media viewer. There you can watch near real-time images of the sun at any time of the day or night, 24 hours a day.

BLAIR: What do you get the star that has everything all ready?

TROY: Where do you get the star?

BLAIR: If you’re celebration the Sun-Earth Day it’s like a birthday. Sun is hard to shop for.

TROY: You’re absolutely right. We like to give it satellites and beautiful images in HD quality. The sun really likes that.

CHRIS: The great thing about Sun-Earth Day is you have evolved over the last 8 to 10 years. Correct me if I’m wrong but now you’re using social media in Sun-Earth Day. You’re an expert now at these bubble tweets that we’ve seen you doing on Twitter. What’s in the future for Sun-Earth Day?

TROY: We have Solar Max coming up. We were thinking 2012. We had about 2 years where the sun was kind of quiet. So, we’re thinking the Solar Max may happen a little bit after 2012. Stay tuned for that information.

BLAIR: Let’s check in on Franklin before we go to a break if that’s okay.

CHRIS: Sure, not a problem.

BLAIR: Franklin, are you out there?

FRANKLIN: Yes, I am. I am here with Jim from NASA Goddard. He is involved with heliophysics.

JIM: That’s correct. I’m involved with heliophysics education.

FRANKLIN: What does NASA have for teachers attending NSTA here in Philadelphia?

JIM: There are a lot of handouts that people come for, in particular, we have this web cast today. That’s another good thing that’s coming up and today is Sun-Earth Day; great day for the spring equinox and celebrating heliophysics education.

BLAIR: Thanks, Franklin.

CHRIS: We’ll be right back. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.


CHRIS: On deck is Holly Gilbert.

BLAIR: Solar physicist from NASA Goddard and is the co-host and average star.

HOLLY: Space weather all starts at the sun. The sun really generates these magnetic storms and space weather because it’s a big ball of plasma moving around. When plasma moves around it generates magnetic fields. Sometimes they interact and react to create explosive, energetic storms. They’re composed of flares and coronal mass ejections.


HOLLY: CME’s, yes, exactly.

CHRIS: When you talk about magnetic storms, how is that different from hurricanes or tornados in terms of the energy produced?

HOLLY: They’re extremely energetic. For instance, a solar flare is at 15 million degrees. That’s when these magnetic field lines interact and explode. They create thermal energy, so heat and magnetic energy. The coronal mass ejections are the magnetic fields and huge amounts of mass blowing away from the sun. This is what we call space weather. This stuff that is coming through space and sometime it hits the earth.

BLAIR: You may or may not know I have a history with Space Weather Action Center. I’m really interested in predicting this. How good are we now, NASA and other folks, at predicting these solar events?

HOLLY: We are getting much better. We are not at the point where we can predict when they’re going to happen but we’re starting to understand the fundamental physics behind these energetic storms. Sometimes they blow away from the earth so it’s a very complicated system. We have to know where on the sun they’re going to originate, often times near sunspots. We also need to understand how it interacts with the solar wind, which is always emanating from the sun and how it is going to get intertwined with the solar wind and if it’s going to hit the earth. There are many factors that go into being able to predict. With the new observatories out in space, better observations, and better models, we’re getting better at being able to predict. It’s an interesting, dynamic star. For instance, we just went through this very long period of Solar Minimum. We weren’t expecting it to last as long as it did. We’re still trying to figure out the different cycles and how they’re going to impact us. We don’t fully understand everything but we are getting much closer. Right now it’s about middle aged. It’s happily middle aged but it will eventually die.

BLAIR: Wait a minute. Did you say the sun is middle aged?


BLAIR: What happens if it goes through a mid-life crisis, not unlike I’m going through right now?

CHRIS: And our sun is just an average star?


CHRIS: Compared to other stars in the solar system.

BLAIR: Now, that’s not nice.

HOLLY: It’s not bad to be average.

CHRIS: It’s an important average star.

BLAIR: We have the best sun around. We have the best sun in our solar system.

CHRIS: That’s true.

HOLLY: Yeah. Can’t debate that. That’s true.

FRANKLIN: I’m rolling around the floor here at the NSTA convention. I came across Vickie Baker from Overbrook High School. She’s here as a robotics coach for her students who are actually here at the convention. Vickie, what does it mean to have your students come out and experience NSTA?

VICKIE: It’s really important. It’s exciting for my students who participated in vast robotics to see all kinds of science equipment, to talk to people and, in fact, here they’re able to talk with people about what they have done. It broadens what they know. It helps them to see all the possibilities of the things they’re doing at school.

BLAIR: Just for the record, I’m not going through any mid-life crisis in any way, shape, or form.

CHRIS: Up next is Elaine Lewis, educational specialist at NASA Goddard.

BLAIR: And she’s not going through any mid-life crisis either. In fact, I think she’s going to focus on magnetic activities.

ELAINE: I met a couple of teachers yesterday. I just grabbed them off the floor to work with us on an activity and discovered one of them had been doing Space Weather Action Center for two years. I had no idea.

BLAIR: They were inspired by my Space Weather Action Centers a few years ago.

ELAINE: Oh, I’m sure they were.

YOUNG BLAIR: Die cruel star.

BLAIR: That’s because magnetospherence, my key word, is really gaining popularity and momentum among the scientific and educational communities.

ELAINE: Oh, okay. I’ll tell the scientists that.

CHRIS: To back him up… I rarely back him up but in this particular instance, he coined the term magnetospherence. He had a professor from the University of Washington use it in her physics classes.

ELAINE: That’s cool.

BLAIR: We did not check her credentials but I’m fairly confident that’s a good institution. It’s getting some good use out there.

CHRIS: There have been a lot of educational activities in the past.

ELAINE: Oh yeah.

CHRIS: You can go to the Sun-Earth Day website to download all the different activities that you’ve developed over the past 10 plus years.

ELAINE: They just go to the educator’s section. There are all kinds of activities and we have them connected to standards. They are set up in different grade levels as well.

CHRIS: Today, we have a treat. We went through a pretty cool activity using a magnaprobe and a cow magnet. The great thing about these educational activities for all the students and teachers that are watching is that they’re easy to produce in the classroom. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. A lot of it you can download from the website and the materials you need to get are pretty cheap. Elaine, as we’re looking at the B roll, take us through the activity and what’s going on.

ELAINE: I’m working with two teachers from New Jersey. As you can see, I’ve taped the cow magnet in the middle of the piece of paper and I am tracing the lines. I’m using the north pole as the read, and I’m pointing in the direction of north.

BLAIR: Gotcha.

ELAINE: We’re forming our own little magnetosphere. Now you can see the teachers took over. They were going to fill that entire sheet of paper with field lines.

BLAIR: You can already see the early signs of the magnetosphere.

ELAINE: That’s right. It’s right behind us.

BLAIR: Yes, just like our posters here.

ELAINE: They started to take it off the paper. You’ll see on this next one. She drops off the paper.

BLAIR: That illustrates a good point… it continues. If you’re out of paper it still is happening.

ELAINE: Yes, it’s still happening. I told them just to put dots there because they’re little magnet is pointing straight up and down.

BLAIR: Magnetospherence.

ELAINE: Magnetospherence, oh man.

BLAIR: No, that’s okay. That’s perfect. That’s it.

CHRIS: But in just a short amount of time, those two teachers learned how to do this activity.

ELAINE: Yes, it was very quick.

BLAIR: It is also true that even when there is interference you got to see and demonstrate that if there is metal under the table or the legs are there, you have to account for that. Of course, there could be other things at work causing problems for your little demonstration.

ELAINE: I don’t know what that could be. I happened to find a cow magnet. I wanted to produce a little magnetospherence and there you go.

ELAINE: They caught you didn’t they?

BLAIR: Yes, in fact, I was sent to the principal’s office for the rest of the afternoon. That was good for any other demonstration that we had.


CHRIS: Elaine, when a teacher wants to get some activities from your Sun-Earth Day program, they are going to go to your website.

ELAINE: Our website has so many resources for teachers. They can see images. Tech Through Time, it follows technology through history. In the educator’s section, we have all kinds of activities that they can download and use in their classrooms.

CHRIS: Once again, to download any education activity for Sun-Earth Day, you can go to the Sun-Earth Day site, which is It’s loaded with a wealth of information. Go there today.

BLAIR: Free information, which is great.

CHRIS: Batting clean up is Nicky Fox.

BLAIR: Do you bat clean up in cricket?

CHRIS: I don’t know. Let’s ask the deputy project scientist.

BLAIR: I’m steering clear of sports. I’ll just focus on the sun.

NICKY: That’s probably why we’ve had an extra long Solar Minimum because you said it was an average star.

BLAIR: No, I was defending it. I was saying that it wasn’t an average star. It’s the best star we have in our solar system.

NICKY: I think you better buy a corvette or something so we can move to Solar Maximum.

BLAIR: Off the top of your head, what’s your favorite observatory?

NICKY: My favorite observatory hasn’t been launched yet. It will be launched in 2012. It’s the Radiation Belt Storm Probes. It is the coolest mission ever.

BLAIR: I’m sorry. What was that again?

NICKY: The Radiation Belt Storm Probes. We have two spacecraft that will be studying the earth’s radiation belts, the Van Allen belts, getting really up close and personal with our own radiation source and the planet.

CHRIS: Is that the RBS?

NICKY: It’s RBSP. Do we have an instrument called ECT? Yes, we do.

BLAIR: R-S-B-C-T find out what it means to me.

NICKY: R-B-S-P-E-C-T, sock it to me.

BLAIR: It looks like the sun is going to be socking it to us with some great data.

NICKY: Yes, it will. We have SDO launched earlier this year. They’re taking really cool pictures of the sun, very, very high-definition. We will be very soon joining the Constellation and sitting in our radiation regions waiting to see what happens.

CHRIS: What exactly is this mission going to do?

NICKY: The radiation belts are a very difficult place to live and work. Most satellites that we have in orbit, all the commercial satellites, actually can safe themselves. A lot of them turn off when they go through the radiation belts. Others, if there are big storms coming, will actually do something to protect themselves. But because we have research satellites, we can’t turn them off. We have to sit through and live through the worst possible storms. That’s what we’re going to be doing out there. It’s a little bit like the windsock at the airport. It’s really good and tells you what the wind is doing right up until it blows away. Because we live in the atmosphere of the sun, the sun’s outer atmosphere is continually streaming away and it baths all the planets. So, we live in the atmosphere of the sun. If the sun has some change on it, we will feel the effects. If the sun sneezes, the earth will catch a cold.

CHRIS: You said sneezes?

NICKY: I did.

BLAIR: That’s so gross.

NICKY: It’s okay because we have a Kleenex of our own. It’s called the magnetosphere and it protects us. It stops all those germs coming in. So if it sneezes the magnetosphere will be there to protect us.

CHRIS: From magnetic storms, which is the theme for Sun-Earth Day 2010.

BLAIR: Right. And that’s how we tie this all in thematically. Very good but even though we have the magnetosphere that protects us from this solar sneeze, if you will, it’s still a little gross.

NICKY: It can be but when you see these really big events coming up… As I said, several of these spacecrafts actually have to protect themselves to keep the germs away. It’s a bit like, oh, hand sanitizer.

BLAIR: Hand sanitizer! She brings her own props, ladies and gentlemen.

CHRIS: I don’t know if this is correct but isn’t the only visible way we can see the interaction between the sun and the earth through the auroras?

NICKY: It’s a visible way we can see down here on Earth. Yes, without needing any kind of special equipment. You can look up in the sky and see the aurora. When that’s happening, you know there is a space weather event in progress. It’s showing the coupling between all the systems. The solar wind couples with the magnetosphere, couples with the ionosphere and fuels the power of the aurora.

CHRIS: For those of you out there watching this live show, if you ever get a chance to see an aurora, it is an amazing stream of lights. We had a chance to go to Norway to cover a program. To see the Northern Lights, the green lights, the red lights, in the sky was truly breath taking.

BLAIR: It’s also cool, if I may, because that’s the real visible example of magnetospherence. It’s the word that you’re helping me introduce into the scientific community.

NICKY: I am. I use it all the time. Yes.

BLAIR: Do you really use it all the time?

NICKY: Maybe not all the time but some of the time, yes.

BLAIR: How have your colleagues responded to this word? Have you taken credit for it inappropriately?

NICKY: I never take credit for anything you do, Blair. Particularly, if I say magnetospherence, they kind of go, “huh?” I would always say, Blair said that not me.

BLAIR: It looks like my chances of making it in the academic community has just taken a turn for the worse. You’re supposed to support me in this.

NICKY: I’m right behind you, right behind you.


BLAIR: To download our latest video podcast or learn more about NASA EDGE, just visit our website at

CHRIS: From there, go to the archive page to view our entire collection of video podcasts.

BLAIR: You can also find NASA EDGE on iTunes. Visit the music store, type NASA EDGE in the search window to visit our page. From there, you can download the vodcast, subscribe for free and even tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

CHRIS: Download NASA EDGE today.

BLAIR: And get an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: Let’s see if Steele Hill will support the co-host as we take a look at three cool space weather satellites.

BLAIR: Unfortunately, we won’t be talking to Steele’s twin brother, Aluminum.

BLAIR: Be careful folks, this is scary.

[rubber chicken screeching]

BLAIR: He does that all the time.

CHRIS: This is actually Camilla’s cousin. We don’t have a name for Camilla’s cousin but Camilla, who looks just like this, is the official mascot for SDO or the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

STEELE: What is really cool about this spacecraft’s instruments is we’re going to see the sun in super HD for the first time. We’re talking 4,000 x 4,000 pixels, which is about 10 times your average HDTV. The level of detail will be phenomenal. Besides seeing the full sun at that size, we can zoom in on a real small area where there might be a sunspot, prominence, or solar activity and still have really crisp detail. Four times better than SOHO, which is another solar mission, and twice the resolution of STEREO, which is a more recent solar mission.

BLAIR: I’m a little concerned about this because it’s Sun-Earth Day. We’re celebrating it and the sun is a star, right?

STEELE: It is.

BLAIR: But SDO is coming off as a really intense paparazzi-type situation with all these photographs. You’re like the TMZ for the sun.

STEELE: That’s right. We’re going to send back 1.5 terabytes a day. Let me tell you what the represents. That means a picture every second or so of the sun at 16 megabytes per picture. You do the math…

BLAIR: Don’t ask me to do the math.

STEELE: It amounts to half a million iTunes a day.

CHRIS: You mentioned STEREO, which is another satellite. Actually it’s two satellites up there, right?

STEELE: That’s right. What is really cool about STEREO is this 3D look of the sun. We have one ahead of earth, one behind the earth pretty much on earth orbit. They can see the sun from two perspectives. For a while it took 3D images of the sun. They’re on the STEREO website. Now they’re too far apart but what’s really cool is that they’re so far apart that we’re seeing more and more of the sun. This one sees around the corner, so to speak. The other one sees around the corner. In about a year they’ll be exactly opposed to each other. We’ll see the whole sun for the very first time. With our space weather warning system, we do tell satellite operators that we think there is a solar storm. We saw it happen. We think it will get here in about a day and a half, sometimes 2 or 3. Sometimes they take precautionary measures. We’re in that mode where we can provide some early warning system.

CHRIS: We’re going to go to a break. When we come back, it’s going to be your turn to ask questions to the subject matter experts. We’ll be right back. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: Let’s wrap up the best of NE Live with…

BLAIR: A live Q & A session Sun-Earth Day 2010.

CHRIS: Don’t forget your Kleenex.

BLAIR: Or your hand sanitizer.

NICKY: When the solar storm arrived at the earth, it hit us very hard. We had an absolutely fabulous aurora. If you see an aurora in the sky you have a current system flowing. You have particles flowing around and that gives you a current. When those currents are up there, they can interfere with currents down on Earth. They need to find somewhere to close. They have to find something really good to close through. Let’s see… a power grid. They even have the wires there, conveniently there for them. So, the current flows through the wires of the power grid. Normally the electricity that comes into your home is an AC current. This is a big, dirty, great DC current, comes down, smacks through the whole thing, causes fires, all kinds of things, and hotspots in transformers. It really did a lot of damage.

CHRIS: We have another question. The astronauts on ISS, International Space Station, are they protected from the solar storms?

NICKY: Yes. They are. If you know a solar storm is coming you don’t want to have an astronaut outside the space station. They go inside and there are areas that are particularly well-shielded, extra hand sanitizer, to keep the radiation away from them.

CHRIS: An extra bottle.

NICKY: Extra bottle. It’s very thick shielding. They go inside and avoid going outside until the radiation has gone down.

STEELE: We make sure that we tell them when we think that’s coming.

CHRIS: That brings up a good point. As we adventure beyond low-earth orbit 10, 20, 30 years down the road, maybe go to Mars one day; solar storms are going to be a huge part. We will have to protect those astronauts as the venture off to Mars.

STEELE: Very much so. That’s a concern of NASA’s. That is one reason we have a lot of solar study missions. Very smart people are working on shielding for astronauts for that kind of trip. We’ll have a solution in time.

CHRIS: We have a question from Franklin from the internet. Franklin.

FRANKLIN: How powerful is the typical solar flare? Is there a typical solar flare?

NICKY: If you want to know the amount of radiation coming from a solar flare? If it took about 2 ½ to 3 minutes boil a cup of water in your microwave, if you had a solar flare, you’d boil the Great Lakes in seconds.

STEELE: Oh, I like that.

CHRIS: Can you repeat that one more time?

NICKY: I certainly can. If it takes 2 ½ to 3 minutes to boil a cup of water in your microwave, you would boil away the Great Lakes in just a few seconds.


NICKY: You don’t mess with a solar flare.

CHRIS: No. Before we end the live show, do you ever watch American Idol?


CHRIS: Do you know the judges that are on American Idol? We want you to be the judges here. We have a little video clip we want to share with you. As you know Elaine and Troy have the Space Weather Action Center Reports that they provide.

NICKY: Okay.

CHRIS: They do a great job. You get to see videos from the kids delivering Space Weather Action Center Reports. The co-host has developed one. I want you to judge his performance.

BLAIR: Minimal magnetospherence, you’ll probably drop a call here and there, maybe from an in-law. You think about your SPF, with the intensity you can probably subtract five from your sunscreen rating, pretty manageable stuff. Next picture. Oh, now we’re getting somewhere.

NICKY: What up b’dog. You did your thing. And in the words of Paula, “Good for you.”

CHRIS: There you go. Steele, what do you think?

STEELE: I’ve got to give him props. He really did some original things there. Anybody that can think of magnetospherence deserves another chance to come back.

CHRIS: Just to clarify on the content, is there such a thing as a class 5 CME?

NICKY: It depends what scale you are on but I think there could be, yes. I think that looked good for a class 5 CME.

STEELE: We’ll buy that.

NICKY: I did want to say he blatantly use magnetospherence without the use of the Kleenex. That was a little worrying.

STEELE: A little worrying. [laughing]

CHRIS: We want to thank you. Thank you, Steele, Holly, Troy, and Elaine. For all of you out there watching today. Thank you for coming on. This is Sun-Earth Day 2010. You’re watching NASA EDGE, an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

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