NASA EDGE Show 11: Magnetospherence™

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NASA EDGE Show 11: Magnetospherence™
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Show 11: Magnetospherence™

Featuring: NASA Sun-Earth Day 2008, Solar Week, Space Weather Action Center


CHRIS: Welcome to NASA Edge.

TROY: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: That was a great job.

FRANKLIN:: Whoa. Hey.

BLAIR: That wasn’t the plan. What’s going on?

TROY: Oh, really?

CHRIS: The rule is the person who’s in the chair closest to the center is the co-host for the show.

BLAIR: Well, it’s magic.

FRANKLIN:: You’ve been superseded, Blair.

BLAIR: That won’t be the first. That’s signing in, not signing off.

CHRIS: But your job is to introduce the special co-host for the day.

BLAIR: Today is our “magnetospherence” show or Sun-Earth show. If you don’t mind…

TROY: I don’t mind.

CHRIS: 2008.

BLAIR: 2008. We’re going to be talking today about primarily solar power and of course Solar Week. Which is what Troy is going to help us with. But first, I’m very happy Troy is here for it. We’re going to do Franklin’s news segment.

FRANKLIN:: Hey Troy, I’m glad you’re here. I came across this story on the NASA website about solar storms. I’m going to tell you about it and get your point of view on it.

TROY: Let’s talk.

FRANKLIN:: The most intense bursts of solar radiation in five decades accompanied a large solar flare on January 20, ’05, shaking space weather theory and highlighting a need for new forecasting techniques, similar to the “magnetospherence” that you experienced during your cache.

TROY: Precisely.

CHRIS: In Chesapeake, VA.

BLAIR: But did you say 2005?



TROY: Recent history, relatively.

BLAIR: Hot news.

FRANKLIN:: The solar flare occurred at 2:00 am Eastern Standard time, tripping radiation monitors all over the planet and scrambling detectors on spacecraft within minutes. It was an extreme example of a flare with radiation storms that arrive too quickly to warn future interplanetary astronauts. My question to you, Troy, is a storm of this magnitude or flare, generally, how fast does a flare leave the sun and make it to Earth?

TROY: Generally, from the time we see the flare, which the light from that flare, coronal mass ejection happens, takes about eight minutes.


TROY: Right, a CME. It takes about 8 minutes for us to see that on Earth. However, that’s a great indicator because it usually gives us up to three days before the plasma and energy from the storm actually impacts the earth and its magnetic field.

BLAIR: Creating “magnetospherence?”

CHRIS: And that’s the satellites that help us out with that. They give us the early warning.

TROY: Absolutely. Sometimes they’re our first indicator of their severity or if the storm is actually in a direction that’s going to have an effect on Earth.

CHRIS: Okay.

TROY: One of the big indicators that there’s serious “magnetospherence” going on is the aurora.

FRANKLIN:: I was actually in the air when the storm hit.

TROY: Is that right?

FRANKLIN:: Yes, I was looking out the airplane. We were crossing from Pennsylvania over into Maryland. I looked out the plan and said, “Man, it’s bright out here.” I saw the color.

TROY: It’s beautiful.

FRANKLIN:: Yeah. It was special.

BLAIR: We didn’t believe him. You’re not going to see an aurora flying near Pennsylvania from a commercial flight. You must have had the free drink or something.

[all laughing]

CHRIS: The problem with that is if we had astronauts on the lunar surface in their unpressurized rover away from their base camp, the proton radiation would have gone right through the suits and it would have been a big problem.

TROY: That’s a really good point. We’ve been very fortunate, especially in the early days of space travel to have gone up between solar storms or around the solar storms. They knew of solar activity in those days but not to the extent that we do now. Now, we really can predict and forecast space weather in a much better way than we ever could have before.

CHRIS: As we journey back to the moon, Mars and beyond, one of the biggest concerns we’ll have is radiation affect, not only from the sun but also galactic cosmic radiation.

TROY: That’s right. Imagine taking six months to get to Mars. And in that time, you’re certainly going to have solar storms during a solar cycle, especially if you’re in what’s called solar maximum when the sun is really active. As matter of fact, we’re heading towards that right now. Solar maximum.

CHRIS: In fact, that’s why the show is so important today because we’re going to be talking about the sun and solar energy. And we know that there are detrimental effects from the sun but there are also some benefits too from the sun.

BLAIR: Right. What’s also important as an insider and soon to be medianaut, that’s why my roll as space weather action center expert really comes into play. Today, I’ve set up a special space weather action center report. The specialty is I’ve decided to power the entire event by solar means.

CHRIS: That’s your second edition, right?

BLAIR: Yes, my second edition. I’ve set up some solar panels. In fact, I did something else. I went so far as to create a control using exercise bikes to compare. I’ve got this whole thing set up. Hopefully, before you go but if not, shortly thereafter, we’ll have a space weather action center report, right here, today, giving you valuable information. So, if you’re on the moon or planning to go, you don’t get caught in some misfortunate radioactivity.

TROY: If you take a bike to keep it powered up.

CHRIS: He thinks he’s Lance Armstrong.

FRANKLIN:: I was thinking the same thing.

BLAIR: That’s the control. I just want to be able to compare how well I can power via solar energy versus pedal power.

CHRIS: Let’s take a break. I know you have a lot of work to get that ready. Hey, you’re watching NASA Edge.

FRANKLIN:: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: What is it? That’s my line.

CHRIS: You’re not in the seat. Don’t worry about it.

BLAIR: I’m not in the seat but he didn’t say it that time either.

TROY: I need a cue card. I’m sorry.

BLAIR: It jumped over to Franklin.


TROY: Welcome back to NASA Edge.

FRANKLIN:: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: See, it seems so natural when Troy says it.

BLAIR: Yes, it does seem natural.

FRANKLIN:: What about me, man?

CHRIS: You’re always good.

BLAIR: You’re the standard. Stop.

CHRIS: We have a special guest on the line today.

BLAIR: Yes, we do.

CHRIS: We have Paulett Liewer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL. Paulett has a cool piece of technology that involves the sun directly, indirectly. We’ll let her explain. And that’s on solar sails.

BLAIR: Solar sails, is that when you get a discount on something.

[Paulett laughs]

PAULETT: Wrong sale.

TROY: Blue light special.

CHRIS: Paulett, could you explain to Blair the whole idea of solar sails and what they’re all about?

PAULETT: You can use the radiation that comes from the sun to propel a spacecraft. And to do that you have to put up a great big sail. We call it a solar sail. It’s a shiny material; very shiny aluminum or something like that that reflects the sunlight. And just the fact that sunlight is being reflected off the shiny sail gives a push on the sail. And you can use that to propel a spacecraft.

CHRIS: So it’s not solar wind?

PAULETT: No, it’s not using the solar wind. The solar wind is a constant stream of particles coming from the sun but it’s too weak. It has much less energy.

BLAIR: Okay. It’s weak but it also creates issues here on Earth even though it’s very weak. But that’s a radiation issue, not a power issue, so to speak. Is that right?

PAULETT: We definitely feel its affect on Earth.

BLAIR: Yeah, like “magnetospherence.” That’s my word by the way. You can use it in any publications.

CHRIS: Solar sails have been around for a long time. Right?

PAULETT: The concept has been around for a long time. Unfortunately, NASA has not yet tried to do a mission or even demonstrate the technology.

CHRIS: Is the concept of solar sails just be used in the inner planets or could you use the solar sail technology as you go beyond Mars and head toward the outer planets?

PAULETT: One of the missions that NASA looked at the study of a mission that would actually leave the solar system. It would use solar sail technology to go all the way out beyond the planets and go beyond what we call the sphere of influence of the sun. And go out into the materials of the stars to see what this interstellar material is like.

BLAIR: I’m sensing that there’s a little controversy here. Is it the difference between the people that use yachts versus the people that use sailboats?

PAULETT: Yeah, that’s a good idea. I like that analogy. I like sailboats myself. Anyone that sails really looks down on people that use powerboats.

BLAIR: Exactly.

CHRIS: What kind of sail are we talking about? Are we talking about a football size sail?

PAULETT: The one mission I talked about that would leave the solar system, that one required a sail that was about 200 meters on the side. So, that’s about two football fields on a side. We’re talking about really big pieces of aluminum foil.

TROY: Paulett, how thick is that material?

PAULETT: It’s really thin. You’re getting so much push on it, so you want it to be as light as possible so it can go faster.

FRANKLIN:: Being made with a thin material, there wouldn’t be any problems with solar dust or anything puncturing the sail?

PAULETT: We’ve looked at that. You get going fast and you might get a little piece of space dust will make a teeny hole and goes through. Obviously if you hit something really big, you’d have a big problem. You can’t be that unlucky. What are the odds of getting hit by an asteroid?

BLAIR: I like her attitude; optimism, a little unlikeliness there.


CHRIS: I think you need to investigate the NASA Edge logo origami shape.

BLAIR: No that’s a good idea.

CHRIS: Because if you could unfold it and have it in the shape of NASA Edge logo, it would go beyond the solar system out to interstellar space.

PAULETT: We could do that.

TROY: I have a question I’d like to ask about solar sails. You mentioned how fast these solar sails can go. Let’s say were in a spaceship that’s going really fast, a spacecraft with this solar sail, how in the world do we slow down?

PAULETT: Yes, that’s a problem. You hit the nail on the head. That’s basically why NASA hasn’t been as interested in using this technology as an alternative which is called solar electric propulsion. Because that you can stop. Once you get out to the outer planets, there’s no radiation pressure anymore because it’s falling off and you can’t stop. NASA has a mission called the Dawn spacecraft. Dawn’s mission is going out to visit some asteroids. That’s usual solar electric propulsion. That spacecraft has great big solar panels, the typical solar panels that you have. And they take that and make energy and have an engine, what’s called an ion engine.

BLAIR: Like a tie fighter from Star Wars.

PAULETT: Yeah. They’re a little slower than that unfortunately.

BLAIR: That’s the twin ion engine. That’s what TIE stands for.

CHRIS: That’s true.

TROY: We’ve already done this.

BLAIR: It was a long time ago.

CHRIS: It was back in ’77.

BLAIR: That was a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

CHRIS: Where do you see this solar sail technology 10, 20, 30 years down the road? Do you think it’s viable and we can have a triple solar sail vessel going to one of the outer planets one day?

PAULETT: I hope so. The other place I talked about it leaving the solar system. The other thing we’d really like to use it for is to get a spacecraft that can go in an orbit over the poles of the sun because all of our missions that are looking at the sun are stuck in the ecliptic. It’s a limited viewpoint. The poles of the sun are different. That’s the poles of the magnet.

BLAIR: Or being told not to ever directly look into the sun, that’s not something you want to do anyway.

CHRIS: And our co-host is stuck in the ecliptic as Edge host. So he can’t get beyond that.

BLAIR: Yeah, very limited.

TROY: Maybe we can have a bi-polar spacecraft.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: Then it will need counseling and medication.

CHRIS: Thank you Paulett for being on the show today. We appreciate you explaining more to us about solar sail technology.

BLAIR: And look forward to a space weather action center from me later on today, hopefully in this show. We’ll send it to you.


BLAIR: And don’t forget “magnetospherence.” We can talk about that later though.

CHRIS: And if you’re going to put that in a report, put it as a footnote at the bottom of the page.

PAULETT: Okay, thanks a lot.

CHRIS: Have a great time out in California.

BLAIR: Thanks.

PAULETT: Bye-bye.

BLAIR: You’re watching NASA Edge

FRANKLIN:: …an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: I was waiting for you guys to do that.

BLAIR: You sure were.

TROY: What show is this?

BLAIR: Go ahead, Troy. Take the reins on that.

TROY: You’re watching NASA Edge.

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


FRANKLIN:: Welcome back to NASA Edge.

TROY: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: He’s a pro at this.

BLAIR: That’s actually a bit uncomfortable. You could at least stutter a little.


BLAIR: Or fumble.

TROY: I could fumble the ball just a bit. I can work on that.

CHRIS: What did you think about that solar sail technology?

BLAIR: Awesome. I don’t know if you noticed that in addition to being very knowledgeable about the solar sail, she really picked up on “magnetospherence.”

CHRIS: That all comes back to the sun, which is the focus of the show. And especially looking at solar energy and how beneficial solar energy is for us because, without the sun, we wouldn’t be around. I’ll be surprised if in the next 20, 30 years, we’re not going to have solar powered everything.

FRANKLIN:: We need solar power. Have you looked at your energy bill during the winter yet? It’s out of control.

ALL: It is out of control.

TROY: And with the right amount of solar technology, you’ll be able to put energy back into the power grid. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

CHRIS: Yeah, there are actually neighborhoods around the country that are giving back power and making money.

TROY: That’s right.

BLAIR: I’m sorry. Did you say making money? That’s very important.

TROY: Ching, Ching, Ching.

BLAIR: Reducing the power bill and increasing profit.

CHRIS: That’s a Dave Ramsey philosophy.

BLAIR: That’s right. We’re debt free!

FRANKLIN:: That’s an economy I can buy into right there.

BLAIR: Moving on.

TROY: We have Sun-Earth Day. Sun-Earth Day started as just one event right around March 21st, the equinox. And eventually we found out people, from all over the world, were using Sun-Earth Day activities throughout the year. Now, Sun-Earth Day is this huge event that happens with the culminating event happening on the equinox, however activities are going on all the time & any time you can do it. This year we’re focusing primarily on space weather and space weather around the world.

BLAIR: If you need a guess lecturer, I can show up.

TROY: You’re hired. We’ll bring you right in.

BLAIR: Did my mom talk to you earlier?

TROY: She did. She’s on my iTtouch.

CHRIS: Your site is a one-stop shop about the sun and solar weather.

TROY: That’s right.

CHRIS: Why go anywhere else because your site has everything?

TROY: It has just about anything a class or even a museum would be interested in using. Because this year is focusing on space weather, we’re going to have a whole section on that site that talks about all of these types of space weather and solar and solar energy types of activities. It has a science fair project to do in the classroom.

CHRIS: That might give you an idea for your little…

BLAIR: No, I’m way ahead of you.

CHRIS: You’re way ahead of me?

BLAIR: I wanted to tell you, “Thank you” personally because the solar technology I’m using for my Space Weather Action Center was derived from your sight.

TROY: Is that right?

BLAIR: I explored and learned a little about solar energy. I did talk to NASA researchers afterwards.

TROY: Well, that’s always a good start.

BLAIR: To pull off a full Space Weather Action Center report based on solar power, I needed a little more power than to boil water.

TROY: Solar Week happens a couple of times a year. We usually have it in the Spring and in the Fall. It’s an entire week of activity that’s devoted to people who go online to register to become part of Solar Week. You can get to that website through Sun-Earth Day easily. And on that website there are several different kinds of activities you can participate in. Every day of the week there’s a different theme related to space weather. And this time we’ll be dealing a lot with solar energy.

CHRIS: Yeah, I noticed that is one of the activities.

TROY: There’s information on there for teachers to go in to. They can find all the activities, the games that can be played, and how kids can get involved. One of the really great parts about Solar Week is they have guest scientists there throughout that week.

CHRIS: That’s cool.

TROY: So, kids can actually ask questions anytime they’d like.

CHRIS: This is online?

TROY: This is online. If you go to the Sun-Earth Day website,, you’ll be able to find the Solar Week and also the dates for when that event takes place.

CHRIS: It’s kind of cool. You have a section for solar careers. That’s cool because it let’s the students know what kind of careers you have in solar energy or solar power.

TROY: That’s right. One day is devoted to kids going on line and typing any questions about the science we’re talking about or the careers and getting answers right back.

CHRIS: Blair, is there any info here that you’ve learned in the last few minutes that might help you with your project, maybe tweak it? Look at other possibilities, different perspectives.

BLAIR: No, actually I’m good to go with my space; pre-packaged. I put it together. It’s just a matter having enough…

CHRIS: Present it to Troy. Let’s do it now.

BLAIR: Well, I…

CHRIS: Franklin, do you want to…?

FRANKLIN:: There’s no better time than the present.

BLAIR: Well, there is a better time. There’s a time in the future… [all laughing]

BLAIR: …that’s going to be much better because I’m doing this via solar power. It looks like I’m at only 70% right now. When I reach a 100%, I will be able to broadcast my Space Weather Action Center.

TROY: The Space Weather Action Center that Blair is talking about is a program that you can also learn how to do yourself on the Sun-Earth Day website. As a matter of fact, I’ve brought a few props to show you what Space Weather Action Center is. To do a Space Weather Action center, you can set it up, build it your classroom. All you need is…

BLAIR: A leisure suit.

TROY: … a piece of green clothe. This is my leisure suit from my mother that she built for me. You can basically put this up on the wall or paint the wall green. You can do some chroma keying with some really inexpensive software.

CHRIS: The green screen.

TROY: The green screen like they do with the weatherman on TV. The ultimate goal is to make something called a Space Weather report like you’re apparently going to do for us. Is that right?

BLAIR: I don’t have a big notebook like that.

TROY: Let me show you what this big notebook can do for you. This is the Space Weather Action Center notebook. I made this myself like teachers would. You can go to the Sun-Earth Day website. You can download a flip chart and it will walk you through how to track a solar storm by yourself.

BLAIR: Done it.

TROY: In a real… It’s pretty easy to do, isn’t it?

BLAIR: Yeah. I just did the online. I didn’t print it all out but that’s exactly what I had to go through to get…

CHRIS: Is this what your report looks like?

BLAIR: No, what you’re going to see later is the produced video component.

TROY: That’s perfect. That’s what we’re hoping all of our students will do too.

BLAIR: There you go.

TROY: They can make the reports anyway they want for them, their classroom. Ultimately, we’d love to see students through their schools, maybe podcast some of the reports out.

CHRIS: How long is it going to take you to get to 100%?

BLAIR: Soon but I don’t know.

CHRIS: We got to go to a break.

TROY: Are we getting close there.

BLAIR: Okay, we’ll go to a break but I’m really unsure on the time. But I tell you what, the second it’s done, I will make sure you get a copy. And you can see it, evaluate it, and make sure it’s up to speed.

TROY: That’s great because I have to take off here really soon. And I’ll try to take a look as soon as I can. I’m very interested in seeing this.

BLAIR: Perfect. I’m looking forward to it. It should be great.

CHRIS: Let’s go ahead and take a break then we’ll come back. We’ll talk more with Troy off line.

TROY: Okay, you’re watching NASA Edge.

FRANKLIN:: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: What…

CHRIS: I’m looking forward to seeing it.

BLAIR: I’m looking forward to being part of the show again. I need that job link from the site.


CHRIS: Welcome back to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR & FRANKLIN:: … an inside and outside…

CHRIS: Go ahead.

BLAIR: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA. Thank you because this is my moment.

CHRIS: Do you feel better now?

BLAIR: I do feel better.

CHRIS: It’s because you’re back in the chair.

BLAIR: I’m back in the seat.

CHRIS: … closest to the center, so now you’re the co-host.

BLAIR: I feel good again but I have to say it was a great experience to have Troy in the studio today. It was a lot of fun and of course we learned a lot.

CHRIS: You know I covered for you because you never finished your Space Weather Action Center report.

BLAIR: No, I did. I finished it. It’s done. It’s a matter of being able to broadcast and having the power available to do that.

CHRIS: In other words, you procrastinated to hook it up so you could get the power.

BLAIR: No, no. It’s just that solar power takes longer. Franklin, back me up on this. I didn’t have the industrial solar panels. I had to scrounge for what I could get.

FRANKLIN:: I’m just glad to see back in the driver’s seat.

CHRIS: Yeah.

BLAIR: It’s great, isn’t it? Listen, here’s what I’m going to do.

CHRIS: There’s an aura around you now, “magnetospherence.”

BLAIR: It’s the lighting. It’s the lighting off the red hair.

FRANKLIN:: It’s the red glow.

BLAIR: Essentially, what I’ve done is the Space Weather Action Center. I’ve followed the plans religiously on the website, the Sun-Earth website. I put together this report. It’s powered entirely by solar power and I’m ready to demonstrate it for you. And of course, I am going to make it available for Troy.

CHRIS: You can send to him by email.

BLAIR: Absolutely.

CHRIS: You’re going to put it on the screen here?

BLAIR: Absolutely. As long as you guys are ready…. Get ready because this is it. This is my big Space Weather Action Center.

CHRIS: Have you seen this yet?


BLAIR: He couldn’t have because I haven’t shown it to anybody. So this is all new. Blair Allen with the Space Weather Action Center.

CHRIS: Let’s check it out.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Space Weather Action Center with Blair “Heat Meiser” Allen. The 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. Today’s entire forecast is powered by the sun. And now, here’s your master of “magnetospherence”, Blair Allen.

BLAIR: Thank you, brilliant announcer guy and welcome fellow solar prognosticators. I’m going to do two things today. I’m going to demonstrate my eco sensibilities by using Troy’s leisure suit, I mean green screen, and I’m powering the entire segment with solar energy. Secondly, I’d like to introduce new technology that uses and analyses solar imagery to provide data that will enable us to better handle the fluctuations in solar activity, solar flares, CMEs and most of all “magnetospherence.”

BLAIR: Let’s begin, shall we? Image one. Oh, this is clearly a Class 1 CME. Which within about three days you can expect minimal “magnetospherence.” You’ll probably drop a call here and there, maybe from an in-law… you think about your SPF. You probably could subtract five from your sunscreen rating, pretty manageable stuff. Next picture.

BLAIR: Oh, now we’re getting somewhere. This is clearly a Class 5 CME. You still have about three days to respond but you’re going to feel the “magnetospherence.” We’re talking about GPS “recalculating” on a major scale. One minute your in downtown DC., next you’re on the coast of Madagascar with no cell phone service. Next picture.

BLAIR: Oh, boy. This is much more serious. Like all Class 6 CMEs, speed is a little less predictable. Kids do not stare into the sun, not even with those little eclipse shoeboxes. Put away the magnifying glass unless you plan on burning a hole to the Earth’s core. Plus you lose all cell phone, GPS, power grids, and sunscreen becomes nothing more than a marinade. Pretty serious stuff. Next image.

BLAIR: Oh, that’s strange. I don’t have any classification for this. Interesting auroras. It’s pretty much the last thing you’re going to see before you burst into flames. Uh, we’re losing power. Wait a minute. Where’s my Herzsprung-Russel diagram? This is Blair signing off.

BLAIR: Okay, there’s a little bit of difficulty with the solar power but get the idea. Right? It’s pretty good, right? No, it’s good. It’s fine.

CHRIS: Have you sent this to Troy yet?

BLAIR: Yeah, it went up immediately once it was green. Gone.

[FRANKLIN: laughing]

BLAIR: Troy would support me on this. Email Troy. Troy would back me up on this. It’s a fine space weather report. It’s just the delivery was…

CHRIS: Hey, if you want to learn more about Sun-Earth Day and Solar Week, go to I wish you were paying attention during that segment.

BLAIR: Yes, of course.


BLAIR: And if you didn’t like my Space Weather Action Center, you can do your own and submit it on the website to Troy. And he’ll judge.

CHRIS: Email us a and give us your opinion about his SWAC or Space Weather Action Center.

BLAIR: Yeah, it’s very important for my future. Because if I’m going to be a medianaut, my role is to make sure that we don’t fly during “magnetospherence.”

CHRIS: All right. Whatever. Hey, you’re watching NASA Edge.

FRANKLIN:: … an inside and outside look at all things NASA. I beat you. I’m first.

BLAIR: Chump.

CHRIS: You better d’up.

BLAIR: No, I’m fine. I told you it’s a power requirement. The problem isn’t the content of the…

TROY: And this is the guy that came up with “magnetospherence?”

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