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Standing in the Light: Rainbow Symphony Blog

What Is A Solar Storm and Why Do They Matter?

solar storms

It’s easy to take the Sun for granted. Every morning, it rises in the East and every evening it sets in the West. And unless it’s blocked by inclement weather, you can count on it shining day in and day out. So, you might be surprised to learn that there is a lot more activity happening on the surface of the Sun than you might think –– and that includes solar storms!

But what is a solar storm, and why does it matter? The Sun is a remarkable source of space weather, and its activity can have a direct impact on the Earth. Below, we’ll explain various types of solar activity, including solar storms, and its impact on the Earth.

Types of Solar Storm Events

When it comes to the question of what is a solar storm, the answer is a little complicated. When referring to a solar storm, we are really talking about one or more of the following solar events: coronal mass ejections, solar wind, solar energetic particles, and solar flares. Each of these events is generated by the solar magnetic field.

  • Coronal mass ejections, known as CMEs, are clouds of magnetic fields and plasma that can explode anywhere on the Sun and into any direction. Typically, unless the cloud is exploding in the direction of the Earth, it will not have any direct impact on the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Solar winds are produced from coronal holes, which can be generated anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds happen near the solar equator, they can potentially reach Earth.
  • Solar energetic particles are released near the front of CMEs as it moves through solar winds along the path of magnetic field lines.
  • Solar flares are sudden bursts of photons that travel out from the surface of the Sun. These are also the sites where particles such as protons and electrons are accelerated. Like CMEs, unless they are facing the Earth, solar flares won’t have an impact on our atmosphere.

Solar Storms and Earth

What is a solar storm’s effect on Earth? When a strong solar event occurs in the direction of Earth, such as a coronal mass ejection, it sends highly charged particles towards our planet. Usually, the Earth’s magnetosphere acts like a forcefield from these particles. However, a particularly strong emission arriving at a southward angle can clash with our magnetosphere. Because the magnetically charged emission is oppositely charged than that of our magnetosphere, this causes a sort of magnetic ‘explosion’.

The ‘explosion’ creates a hole in the Earth’s magnetosphere which enables solar winds to penetrate our atmosphere, effectively attacking the Earth’s own magnetic field. In these circumstances, power grids, communications systems, and navigational equipment can all be impacted or knocked out for between six and twelve hours –– or more depending on the magnitude of the solar storm.

The Carrington Event

magnetosphere of the Earth

Back in 1859, a massive solar storm struck the magnetosphere of the Earth, known as the Carrington Event. This coronal mass ejection, which was the largest such event in recorded history at the time, knocked out telegraph systems around the world. It’s an example of the power of these solar events; luckily for the citizens of Earth in 1859, their entire civilization wasn’t dependent on international communications!

The charged particles given off by these solar storms interact with the Earth’s magnetosphere, potentially triggering a geomagnetic storm and atmospheric disturbances.That’s why some scientists are trying to understand exactly what a solar storm is and just how often the Sun actually produces them.

If a solar storm event the size of The Carrington Event were to occur today, it could cause serious problems. A solar storm of that magnitude could knock out communication systems, power grids, navigation systems, and more. That could impact everything from television signals and internet connections to air travel and municipal electricity networks.

Researchers believe that The Carrington Event was not one sudden burst of solar energy, but rather several rapid explosions of solar energy that occurred between August and October of 1859. While The Carrington Event is still considered to be an outlier of an event –– a solar storm of its size has not occurred since –– governments, corporations, and private citizens should be aware of the risk and be prepared to respond accordingly to repair any damage that power grids and communications systems sustain.

Learn More About The Sun

The Sun serves as an endless source of solar energy –– and an endless source of fascination! At Rainbow Symphony, we want to encourage every curious star-gazer by offering more educational materials and better solar viewing products. We offer a wide selection of eclipse gear, including plastic eclipse glasses and paper eclipse glasses, solar filters to photograph the Sun, and other solar astronomy products to help you answer the question ‘what is a solar storm’ and more!

Explore our blog for more interesting insights into the stars above, or browse our store to find the tools you need to investigate the stars for yourself!

solar strom

Who Are These Guys? 3 Of The Most Fascinating Eclipse Chasers in the US

nature from around the world

A solar eclipse is an unforgettable event that lures fans of science, astronomy, and nature from around the world to locations where they can properly experience the phenomenon first-hand. Eclipse chasers are the most devoted of these fans, spending considerable resources ensuring that they can be in the right place at the right time to experience solar eclipses –– taking them around the world and back again to do so.

As of 2020, Jay Pasachoff, Glenn Schneider, and John Beattie have each seen 34 total solar eclipses. This means that the three men are tied for the world record! But what drives them to witness these eclipses time and time again? Let’s find out!

Glenn Schneider

Glenn Schneider

Glenn Schneider is self-described “umbraphile,” which means that when it comes to basking in the shadow of the moon, he simply can’t get enough. Dr. Schneider, an Astronomer at the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, specializes in the study of extrasolar planetary systems and pursues scientific research on everything from galactic astronomy to star formation.

Schneider experienced his first total solar eclipse in 1970, and has continued to chase the wondrous events wherever they may occur ever since. Schneider maintains a log of his eclipse experiences, with photographs, location information, and other data points.

Approximately every 16 months, Schneider makes the journey to the path of totality for the next total solar eclipse to fulfill his destiny as an umbraphile –– a journey that never gets old. As of this writing, Schneider boasts a total of 1 hour, 50 minutes, and 50.2 seconds under the lunar umbral shadow.

Jay Pasachoff

Jay Pasachoff

Jay Pasachoff describes the feeling of experiencing a total solar eclipse, “like going to the seventh game of the World Series with the score tied in the ninth inning."

As the Chair of the Astronomy department and the Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College in Massachusetts, his passion is well known among eclipse chasers and the broader astronomy field. Pasachoff has been recognized for his scientific study of eclipses and for his efforts to emphasize the value of continuing to study these rare celestial events.

Recently, Pasachoff was awarded the 2019 Klumpke-Roberts Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. When being presented with the award, it was noted that during solar eclipses, Pasachoff becomes the “cheerleader-in-chief” for the field of astronomy and his enthusiasm helps others understand and appreciate the wonder of eclipses.

Over the course of his long and successful career, Pasachoff has had his research sponsored by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and National Geographic Society. But his interest in solar eclipses extends beyond the scientific study of the stars above; Pasachoff has worked with art history expert Roberta Olson to study images of eclipses and other astronomical events in paintings from the Renaissance and other historical periods. In 2014, he reviewed the astronomy-themed opera, Prince Igor, staged at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

In 2003, Pasachoff was awarded the Education Prize of the American Astronomical Society, which commended his tremendous abilities as a teacher and professor, his writings and publications, and his advocacy on behalf of the scientific community and the field of astronomy in particular. Once again, Pasachoff’s passion “for sharing with the world the joys of observing eclipses,” was also specifically noted.

John Beattie

Where Schneider and Pasachoff devote their careers to the field of astronomy, John Beattie is a bit of an outlier when it comes to famous eclipse chasers. A proofreader in Manhattan, Beattie avoids the spotlight when it comes to talking about his fascination with solar eclipses. According to Schneider –– the three men know one another well -–– Beattie is an enthusiastic, even extroverted, eclipse chaser. However, he doesn’t particularly like press attention and prefers to remain a “private person.”

Beattie’s enthusiasm may be summed up by his plans for the August 2017 solar eclipse which occurred in North America: Schneider reported that Beattie wanted to experience the eclipse near at an airport that was within the path of totality; if bad weather was going to potentially affect his experience, he could quickly hop on a plane and fly somewhere else within the path where he could witness the eclipse from the sky.

Become an Eclipse Chaser

At Rainbow Symphony, our mission is to encourage the next generation of eclipse chasers by serving as an educational resource and an eclipse gear supplier. We want to be your destination for all things solar eclipse, including articles and insights on when and where to experience an eclipse, and how to observe eclipses safely.

Explore our blog for more information about total solar eclipses, and check out our entire selection of eclipse gear to ensure that you’re ready for the next big event! For questions, contact us by phone today at 818-708-8400 or rainbowsymphony@rainbowsymphony.com

Mother Nature's Other Rainbow: The Science Behind Colorful Sunsets

science behind sunsets

There is nothing quite like watching a sunset, especially on those evenings when the sky transforms into a beautiful spectrum of colors –– pinks and purples, yellows and oranges. Colorful sunsets are just another reminder that Mother Nature is an endlessly creative artist!

These awe-inspiring moments are a sight to behold –– but have you ever wondered about the science behind sunsets? Let’s take a look at what’s really going on during a sunset.

Why the Sun Sets

To understand the science behind sunsets, we first need to understand why the Sun “sets” in the first place. That, of course, means we need to revisit our basic astronomy!

We all remember that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but it also rotates on an axis. The reason the Sun appears to rise every morning and set every evening is due to the rotation of the Earth around its axis. A full rotation of the Earth takes 24 hours –– which is how we define a day.

As the part of the Earth on which you, the observer, is standing begins to rotate its face away from the Sun, the Sun appears to be sinking towards the surface of the planet –– or “setting” along the horizon. And voila, you’ve got a colorful sunset!

The Scattering of Sunlight

colorful sunset

As the sun sets along the horizon, the angle at which sunlight strikes enters the atmosphere lowers. As it lowers, it passes through a layer of the atmosphere crowded with particulate matter and various molecules that are suspended in the air.

When the sunlight strikes these particles and molecules, it causes the light to reflect, refract, and diffract. This breaks up the light into its spectrum of colors and –– depending on the shape of the molecule and the specific angle of the light –– causes the light to change. This process, known as scattering, is what creates those magnificent pinks and purples and oranges that we see when we’re observing a colorful sunset!

A more complicated piece of the science behind sunsets lies in determining the specific color and breadth of the event. They are nearly impossible to predict, as so much of the coloration you see depends on the volume of particles and molecules floating in your observable area of the sunset, as well as the wavelength of the light which passes through them.

Sunsets and Pollution

brilliant sunsets

It is an unfortunate truth that, in some cases, pollution is responsible for these colorful sunsets. Across the world, sunsets can be a sad side effect of an abundance of air pollution and a sign of low emissions standards. The smoke emitted from wildfires, too, can generate clouds of ashen particulates that contribute to brilliant sunsets.

In the United States, for example, Los Angeles, California, famously enjoys beautiful sunsets on an almost nightly basis. However, at least some of that beauty is related to the smog that LA’s millions of vehicles produce while crisscrossing the freeways each day.

(Fortunately, over the past several decades, Los Angeles has made progress on this front, reducing their smog pollution by nearly 85% since 1970. And the good news, Angelenos still get to enjoy amazing sunsets!)

The Symbolism of Sunsets

What any given sunset means to someone is deeply personal. Some people like to take sunsets as an opportunity to reflect on the day or meditate. In many cultures, a sunset marks the end of a journey, the passage of time, or a peaceful symbol of the end of a life.

Throughout history, sunsets have served as inspiration for paintings and poetry, works of literature, and captured on photographs and in films. In fact, in the film industry, sunset is referred to as ‘magic hour’ because the natural light creates an optimal condition for capturing beautiful footage.

Experience More of Mother Nature

From dazzling rainbows to colorful sunsets, Rainbow Symphony wants you to experience the best of what Mother Nature has to offer. That’s why we create products that help you discover these magical moments for yourself.

We carry a complete line of diffraction glasses to better explore the magic of light and color, eclipse shades to safely observe total solar eclipses, and suncatchers to celebrate the sun as part of your home decor. We offer bulk discounts for educators and customizable options for brands and events.

For any questions about our products, just shoot us a message by filling out our contact form.

Sunsets

How Solar Activity Can Change the Earth's Climate

solar activity and climate

Whether you’re watching the sunrise from your back porch or you’re basking in the Sun’s rays at the beach, it’s easy to take for granted the consistency of the Sun and its relationship to the Earth. It rises and sets each day and night, and while you can never really count on the weather, the seasons come and go in roughly the same pattern each year.

The Earth’s climate, however, does evolve over the course of generations –– millennia, even. And you might not realize it lying on a towel in the sand, but changes in the behavior of the Sun can contribute to that evolution. So, how are solar activity and climate connected? According to scientists, even small fluctuations in solar activity can have an impact here on Earth, altering climate and weather in complex and unexpected ways.

Let’s take a look at how and why the Sun and its activity affects the Earth’s climate.

A Constant Star

solar cycles and climate

Relative to other stars in the galaxy, our Sun is considered a comparably constant star. While some stars vary in size, brightness, and the amount of energy they produce, the Sun remains fairly stable; the amount of light created by the Sun only changed by about 0.1 percent over the course of an 11-year-long solar cycle tracked by researchers.

However, that tiny fraction of variation –– that seemingly insignificant 0.1 percent –– suddenly becomes far more significant when you take into account the fact that the light produced by the Sun is responsible for approximately 2,500 times as much energy as every other energy source on Earth combined.

National Research Council (NRC) wanted to know more about solar activity and climate, so they brought together scholars and experts in astronomy, physics, chemistry, and more. Their assignment was to study solar cycles and climate and try to determine some of the ways that changes in the Sun’s behavior might affect Earth.

Their findings were complicated in nature, to say the least! One example they came up with for how solar activity could affect climate pertained to the reduction of the ozone layer. If the Sun’s emittance of cosmic rays triggered a reduction in ozone levels, this would change the behavior of the atmosphere. That could, in turn, change the course of storms along the surface of the Earth.

This is due to the connection between ozone and temperature; when ozone is reduced, it cools the stratosphere. This creates a greater contrast in temperatures between the polar regions and the central tropics. This prompts an instability in the atmosphere moving west to east and changing the course of jet streams –– and any weather associated with them.

The Maunder Minimum

Scientists have dubbed the period between the late 17th to early 18th century as the Little Ice Age due to the especially cold winters experienced in the Americas and across Europe. Some scientists speculate that the “Maunder Minimum,” a 70-year stretch during which there were a below-average number of sunspots, could have contributed to the unusually cold temperatures, as the lack of sunspots is indicative of a lower production in ultraviolet radiation.

Some researchers wonder if we are approaching yet another Maunder Minimum, because the current solar cycle is the weakest it has been in over half a century. If that is the case, researchers believe it is more important than ever to understand the link between solar cycles and climate, as this could impact global weather patterns for years to come.

Solar Activity and Climate Change

disruptions and variations

Despite the fact that the Sun provides the vast majority of energy and heat for Earth, disruptions and variations in solar activity are not responsible for the greenhouse gas-related global warming that has been measured in the past several decades.

According to scientists, the Sun certainly has the potential to cause enormous fluctuations in Earth’s climate –– but luckily for us, it doesn’t really do so. Rather, the Sun remains fairly stable in terms of its radiation output, and therefore, does not cause extreme changes in climate with any frequency.

One could imagine the challenges of living near a less stable star; more extreme changes in solar activity and climate would make life on that planet very different –– and unpredictable! All the more reason for those of us here on Earth to meet the current challenges of climate change while there is still time.

Scientists hope that investment will still be made in space technology and imaging devices, such as radiometric imagers, to better understand solar activity, solar cycles and climate.

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Continue Your Study of the Sun

Whether you’re interested in gazing up at the stars, gaining a deeper understanding of solar phenomenon, or just love the way sunlight dances off of suncatchers, Rainbow Symphony is the place for you.

We’re passionate about all things light and color, from rainbows and sunsets to total solar eclipses. That’s why we carry the best educational products, from diffraction glasses to eclipse shades –– even solar filters to help you view and photograph the Sun.

Explore our blog and our store to find the resources you need to further your study of the Sun!

Solar Halos: What Are They, and How Do They Appear?

solar-halo

Have you ever looked at the sky and noticed that there is a faint rainbow wrapped around the Sun? This is an optical phenomenon known as a solar halo, and it can be a marvelous sight to behold! But did you know that there are several different types of these halos, and each one has its own unique characteristics and causes?

Let’s take a look at what causes these halos in the first place, the different types of halos that occur, and explore ways you can study these amazing events even further.

What Causes Solar Halos?

So, what causes solar halos? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is ice crystals! When the weather conditions are just right, ice crystals become suspended in the upper atmosphere, typically within cirrus, or wispy, clouds.

When sunlight hits these ice crystals, light is reflected, refracted, and dispersed through the prism of the crystal, where it is bent at a 22° angle. This separates the light into its individual colors of the spectrum –– the same principles of light behavior which cause traditional rainbows to occur after a rain shower. As with rainbows, these halos are all about the position of the observer (you) to the light source.

Before modern meteorology, these halos were considered leading indicators of an impending rainfall; the cirrus and cirrostratus clouds which cause the halos often signal a frontal system on the horizon.

Different Types of Halos

sun-dogs-solar-halo

There are a few different types of solar halos that you can observe, but let’s take a look at some of the most common. In addition to the standard circular halo –– known as the 22° halo –– there are also sun dogs and light pillars

Sun Dogs are bright spots that occur on either side of the Sun –– to the left, right, or both. These are most commonly observed when the Sun is close to setting along the horizon, and when ice crystals are closer to the ground (rather than floating in the upper atmosphere). In this instance, the ice crystals are referred to as ‘diamond dust’.

Light Pillars are another type of optical phenomenon that produces a vertical beam of light near the Sun. These are typically caused by flat, hexagonal ice crystals that fall through the sky like flakes. As those flat crystals fall, sunlight is reflected vertically through them, thus creating the telltale ‘pillar’.

Solar Halos During an Eclipse

solar-eclipse-halo

There is another type of solar halo that occurs during an eclipse, one which has to do with the Sun’s corona. The corona, which is Latin for ‘crown’, is the gaseous outer atmosphere of the Sun. Although it is always hanging around the surface of the Sun, we normally cannot see it due to the brightness of the Sun’s light.

A solar eclipse halo occurs during a total solar eclipse, during the moments when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. When the Moon blocks the circumference of the Sun, thus blocking out the light being emitted by the Sun, the corona becomes visible. This halo appears as a hazy white cloud surrounding the blacked-out Sun.

Scientists use total solar eclipses as an opportunity to study the Sun’s atmosphere, from the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere to the intensity of the radiation it produces. These observations can help us gain a better understanding of the Sun’s behavior, including its impact on space travel and communication systems here on Earth.

What Causes Lunar Halos?

The Sun isn’t the only celestial body that gets to have all the fun. The Moon is capable of producing a lunar halo, too! The basic principles involved are the same: ice crystals trapped in high altitude cirrus clouds reflect, refract, and disperse the light coming off of the Moon. That is why you are more likely to observe a lunar halo during colder months and around the time of a full moon, when the light being reflected by the Moon is brightest.

Continue Your Study of Halos

If solar halos have piqued your interest and you would like to continue your study of light, refraction, and rainbows, consider picking up a pair of diffraction glasses. Our plastic diffraction glasses are an affordable way to continue your exploration of light, halos, and rainbows, and can help bring your lesson plan to life in a way that students will never forget.

If you’re planning on experiencing a total solar eclipse in the near future to catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse halo for yourself, you’ll want to be prepared. We have a wide selection of eclipse viewing equipment, including a variety of solar eclipse shades, solar eclipse viewers, and solar filters for cameras and telescopes. All of our eclipse gear is CE Certified, meets the standard for ISO 12312-2:2015 and the transmission requirements of scale 12-16 of EN 169/1992 for truly safe direct solar viewing.

Discover the Wonder

Discover the wonder of solar halos for yourself, from circular halos and sun dogs to light pillars and solar eclipse halos. If you have any questions about the diffraction glasses or the eclipse gear you need to further your education, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Contact Rainbow Symphony by phone at 818-708-8400, or by email at rainbowsymphony@rainbowsymphony.com