Tales of Brave Ulysses II – Solar Wind at Lowest Pressure Since Measurement Began

Tales of Brave Ulysses II – Solar Wind at Lowest Pressure Since Measurement Began

The Ulysses satellite Solar Wind Observations Over the Poles (SWOOPS) solar wind sensors are reporting a 20 percent drop in pressure, with only a 3 percent drop in speed. Dave McComas, the principle investigator for the project, states  this as the lowest solar wind pressure observed since the early sixties when we began measuring it.

“What we’re seeing is a long term trend, a steady decrease in pressure that began sometime in the mid-1990s,” explains Arik Posner, NASA’s Ulysses Program Scientist in Washington DC.

How unusual is this event?

“It’s hard to say. We’ve only been monitoring solar wind since the early years of the Space Age—from the early 60s to the present,” says Posner. “Over that period of time, it’s unique. How the event stands out over centuries or millennia, however, is anybody’s guess. We don’t have data going back that far.” 

What this bodes longer term is unknown, we don’t have a long history of solar wind measurements to judge by. Here’s a link to the positve Ion measurements half of the data if you want to take a look at it yourself, and I’ve also included a McComas jpg visual above, click the thumbnail to enlarge. On Earth we aren’t going to be affected short term, but Space Travel has become slightly more dangerous due to increased Cosmic Ray penetration of the Heliosphere.

“The solar wind isn’t inflating the heliosphere as much as it used to,” says McComas. “That means less shielding against cosmic rays.” Dave McComas

To picture this think of the solar wind pressure emanating from the sun as part of the atmosphere of the sun (no, it really isn’t, but bear with me a moment;) a huge bubble around the solar system called the Heliosphere. Then picture that heliosphere zooming through a dense sea of Cosmic rays. Still can’t picture it? Take a look here.

Anecdotal but truth as I know it: People living near the poles will also be exposed to more cosmic rays, which could lead to some effects. One of the visible effects I’ve observed is higher incidence of gray hair at earlier ages in populations living near the Northern pole. Earth’s magnetic shield is the backstop for the heliosphere in stopping cosmic rays from affecting life on Earth, and the shape of the magnetic field allows entry to more Cosmic rays at the poles.

Another effect could be on Clouds and climate, which the linked story speaks of.

What’s Next?


What’s Next

Predicting the future is notoriously hard for many reasons, but one of those is inability to forsee what will happen in the verges where sciences meet, the verges where engineering applies science, and finally in that verge where humans both adopt and adapt to new technologies.

What changes will be wrought in the verge between evolutionary biology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology? I haven’t a clue but I do know that the outcomes can not be predicted. A few general directions can be foreseen, but how humans will creatively use the discoveries coming, how they will invent unforeseen uses for them, how that will change society, and what that will in turn lead to cannot be predicted.

Bio-tech/Nanotech/Medical sciences is one of the more exciting and obvious verges nowadays, but others are cropping up fast. What about humans, nanotechnology, and computer science? What about digital imaging, neuropsychology, advertising, and art? What about biotech, materials science, and fashion? What about information technology, network science, materials sciences, and home construction? What about evolutionary biology, linguistics, and anthropology?

Applying the human element is one of the main areas where predictability breaks down. If humans could change their eye color not with contacts, not with painful ocular injections, but instead by swallowing a pill, would some do that? What if they could grow hair the translucency of spun glass and the beautiful blue color of the Caribbean sea?

If the above were true, what would the effects be on the beauty industry? Would hair dye go away? Would beauticians be required to have a pharmacology degree? Not questions I can readily answer, but it’s when you look at the verges and extrapolate that things get exciting and unpredictable.

You could almost make the argument that we’ve passed the event horizon of Vernor Vinge’s Singularity and just do not realize it yet.

Tales of Brave Ulysses: Solar Winds Ebb to Fifty Year Low

The solar winds are now the lowest they’ve been in fifty years, meaning that the Sun’s effects on our solar system are also at an ebb. The Ulysses solar probe is providing these measurements, and the winds have not only lessened, but are also 13% cooler. Much more at BBC.

“This is a whole Sun phenomenon,” said Dave McComas, Ulysses solar wind instrument principal investigator, from Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, US.

“The entire Sun is blowing significantly less hard – about 20-25% less hard – than it was during the last solar minimum 10-15 years ago.

“That’s a very significant change. In fact, the solar wind we’re seeing now is blowing the least hard we’ve see it for a prolonged time, since the start of those observations in the 1960s at the start of the space age.”

In addition to being calmer, the wind measured at Ulysses is 13% cooler.

However, judging from Sun activity data collected by non-satellite methods over the past 200 years, the current behaviour is thought to be well within the long-term norm.

Nonetheless, scientists expect the weakened wind to have a wide range of impacts.

Among the notable effects of this will be cooling of our upper atmosphere, and increased penetration through the solar system of external cosmic rays.

Computational Genomics: Deconstructing DNA to Determine Evolutionary Paths

You Shall Not Bear False Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.


Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour.


The Problem With ID and Discovery Institute


Even though I am atheist, I don’t have a problem with intelligent design, or the existence of G-D: both are distinct possibilities if you are talking about the origin of  the universe, or of life itself. The issue isn’t with Intelligent design and belief in a creator as the movie “Expelled” poorly attempts to portray. Ir’s about their markedly political agenda to discredit evolution and to stop its teaching in science class. 

When I said poorly above it’s because there is a certain amount of deceit in the movie. You have to wonder why they leave an interview with a Christian evolutionary biologist on the cutting room floor if the movie’s really about academic freedom? 

You don’t have to disbelieve G-D to oppose the Discovery Institute and their aims. You don’t get special credit in heaven for supporting them either, because they are attacking truth as scientists know it today through deceit. As the good book says  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

While there certainly are rabid atheist secularists out there like Richard Dawkins, they are the exception, not the rule. Interviewing Dawkins on a subject such as this would be like interviewing Fred Phelps in a documentary about Christianity – you would be guaranteed some juicy bits, but would you really be portraying Christianity truthfully? I think not.

Forty percent of scientists believe in G-D in one form of religion or another. So why would the film attack atheism? Why would it attack science with the blood libel that they created the holocaust?

Those are not rhetorical questions: those are questions you need to ask yourself; and then you need to read the Wedge Document here which was leaked from the Discovery Institute. Before you accuse me of trusting wiki etc. be aware that the Institute, and the documents creators have admitted that it is real, however they do make serious attempts to downplay it, as noted here. (There are plenty of links at the bottom, citations, as well as a photocopy of the cover of the doc.)

The theory of evolution makes no claim to “knowing” how life started, or how the universe originated. How life and the universe began are hot topics of controversy within science, they are unsettled fields, and they are exciting fields. Religious scientists want to find truth every bit as much as the atheist and agnostics do, I would imagine they look upon it as discovery of G-D’s work.

So Ben sets up one strawman argument, and then rebutted himself. The other strawman shaken in our faces in the movie is the assumption that evolutionary theory is never challenged. This is somewhat over the top as it does get challenged regularly, not only by creationists, but also by scientists themselves. The debate over the details and mechanisms of evolution has raged across science for a long time, and it will continue to do so for it helps fuel new discoveries.

One of the strategies of the Discovery Institute is to attack and invalidate evolution by “teaching the controversy” – however when I studied evolution they were ahead of the DI. In other words my teachers did teach that there were gaps in fossil records and that there were controversies in Evolution. Teaching what we don’t know is an important part of science education.  The unanswered questions are the exciting parts for scientists and for students after all.

In the end you have to wonder who is closer to G-D – a scientist who studies wonders such as this in daily awe at the universe, or a disingenuous PR flack for a neo-luddite political think-tank?

Other resources:

Expelled exposed – a site that exposes the deceit and flaws in the movie

The Discovery Institute – the think tank

The Panda’s Thumb – an evolution blog

Talk Origins FAQ – records and debunking of the various claims against evolution