Archive | September 2010

Way to go, everyone!

I am painfully aware that there has been a lot of activity on Stormwatch and not very much feedback from us scientists. Fear not, we haven’t been sitting back with our feet on the desk waiting for you to finish analysing everything. A more accurate description would be that we have been frantically trying to keep up with you all!

So, I thought I ought to look up from my computer code and let you know something about what we have been doing with all your hard work.

Firstly, I wanted to say something about the real-time anaysis you have been doing with Incoming! and Incoming – Trace it. We have been looking at your results and this is proving to be a great way of accurately determining the speed and direction of solar storms. We are working towards automating this system so that, if enough of you agree on a particular event, we can start issuing our very own Solar Stormwatch space-weather forecast!

Over the summer I also worked with a student named Amy to look at the distribution of dust impacts on the spacecraft. We plotted out the distribution of dust around the spacecraft orbit and then compared this with the locations of known dust streams (that cause meteor showers on Earth when our planet passes through them). We found that many of the impacts corresponded to times when the spacecraft were moving through the same streams but other impacts showed no relationship with any known clouds. We are still pondering what this means. I suspect it tells us something about the size of the dust particles and the density of the clouds since you need fairly large particles to generate a meteor in the Earth’s atmosphere so a cloud consisting of smaller particles may not generate a meteor shower. Similarly, the STEREO spacecraft are very small compared with the Earth and so if a cloud contained very few particles that were spaced more than a few metres apart, a spacecraft could move between them and not see anything while the Earth would sweep them all up.

The spacecraft will have, by now, moved through the centre of the mysterious Trojan Points, where gravity is weaker and it is thought that the distribution of dust could be different. The STEREO spacecraft are the first to travel through this mysterious region so please continue to mark particle strikes in the What’s that? game so that we can be the first to find out if there is anything unusual about this region of space.

Thanks again for all your time and enthusiasm,


Art, chat and NASA inspired baking

Happy Half-Birthday Solar Stormwatch….part 3

What’s the last thing you would expect when joining a forum? Making some good on-line friends maybe? Or actually meeting up with the people you post with (and finding that they really are OK!)? Or discovering hidden artistic talents? Or (and I think this might win) enjoying the culinary efforts of a lead team member who just happens to have a STEREO spaceship shaped biscuit cutter courtesy of NASA? Grin

Told you that one would win!

As well as a place to discuss the science and ask questions the Solar Stormwatch forum has developed into a place to chat with friends and share a virtual cup of tea or coffee and a slice of virtual cake.

The sense of community is important for some participants. It adds another dimension to taking part in the project. It might not be the busiest forum out there but it is somewhere people can drop in whenever they want advice, information, contact with other stormwatchers or team members or just to chat. Some people prefer to lurk – we always have guests – and that’s fine. In fact the majority of people who take part in Solar Stormwatch don’t use the forum at all, which is not unusual. You tend to find this with many projects. However, forums are not only where interesting discussions take place but where interesting finds pop up. Galaxy Zoo found the Voorwerp. Moon Zoo is looking for Moon bridges and Solar Stormwatch found circular storms. So anyone reading this who hasn’t discovered the forum yet – please consider coming along and joining in. It’s the place where the science team raise issues and ask for our help with extra projects. And the place where that unusual discovery is waiting to be made. Don’t miss out!

One forum thread in particular has something of a cult following. The Sun Art thread has attracted several arty types and the results are spectacular. Here’s just a taste courtesy of algwat, Christelle, Deanimation, Quialiss, Galactic Momma, me and resident artist Caro.

All pictures are based on single frames from Solar Stormwatch videos or related images of the Sun.

Posting on a forum is one thing but what about actually meeting up with people? Other forums do it but many people involved in the Zooniverse projects are new to forums and are naturally wary. It’s quite a big step coming out from behind your avatar and shaking hands but after 3 years of meeting people from forums I can highly recommend it. A small group of us had a Solar Stormwatch meeting back in March 2010 when we hijacked a Solar event at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

One of the highlights of the meeting was sitting in the Endeavour Room at the top of one of the Observatory buildings at the biggest round table you have ever seen surrounded by old solar and astronomical equipment. Another highlight was these:

Biscuits in the shape of STEREO spacecraft! Never did establish whether it was STEREO A or B! Team member Chris Davis brought them and took an empty container back home. And the biscuit cutter really was from NASA.

We also got caught up in Word Cup fever and had our own World Cup Competition to find the solar storm that looked most like the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

The real thing
The winner! (Herve Stevenin.)

So in 6 short months we have helped collect hundreds of solar storms, found comets, planets, lots of dust, a World Cup trophy look-alike and established a truly international community.

Here’s to the next 6 months!

Jules is a volunteer moderator for the Solar Stormwatch Forum.