Partial eclipse of the sun

19 03 2015

Friday morning will see a partial eclipse of the sun over the UK. So what does the weather have in store?

Friday Weather

There is expected to be a lot of cloud around for Friday morning. There may be some clearer spells across central England, Wales and the south west England, with a chance of some breaks in the cloud either side of this.

It looks like Southern England, Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland will have cloud and this will be thicker the further north you go.

Check out the expected cloud cover in your area on our cloud map.

If you’re interested in seeing the eclipse, it’s worth heading out to take a look regardless of the weather. If it’s cloudy it’ll still get noticeably darker as the moon passes in front of the sun, and you may just get a better look if the cloud thins or a small break in the clouds appears at the right time – but do remember to use appropriate viewing equipment.

Will the Eclipse affect Space Weather?

Earlier in the week we saw the biggest solar storm in 11 years which led to sightings of  the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, as far south as Somerset.  The solar storm was caused by a large explosion on the Sun on Sunday (15 March) throwing huge amounts of magnetically charged particles into space, called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).

The eclipse won’t have an impact on the space weather we experience, however it will give scientists an opportunity to study the corona of the Sun in more detail. The detail within the corona is only visible when the extremely bright light from the Sun is obscured during an eclipse. A number of instruments used for monitoring the Sun for space weather forecasting, such as the LASCO instrument on the SOHO satellite, produce an artificial eclipse by placing an obscurer in front of the solar disc. This produces images like the one below showing a ‘streamer’ to the left of the Sun and a twisted magnetic structure within a coronal mass ejection on the right.

Picture courtesy of NASA

Picture courtesy of NASA

In the image, the position of the Sun is indicated by the white circle, with a larger obscurer blocking out the bright light from the Sun exposing the finer and fainter structures.





Update: Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

17 05 2013

Updated on 20th May 2013

The recent activity on the Sun has now decreased back to levels we would normally expect at this point in time, close to a maximum of the 11-year solar cycle.

This follows a period where a sunspot, identified as 1748, emitted a number of powerful solar flares which were directed away from Earth.

There was a concern that another eruption from 1748 would be more directly aimed at Earth as it moved round with the Sun’s rotation. However, 1748 has reduced in size and has seen no significant activity for more than 48 hours.

While the risk of impacts on Earth has decreased, it is still possible that high levels of activity will re-emerge from 1748 while it is facing Earth. The Met Office will continue to monitor the situation.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “This sunspot was particularly active last week, sending out one solar flare which was the largest measured for over a year. Fortunately its eruptions were not directed at Earth and we saw very minimal impacts.

“We have observed a decrease in the spot’s activity in the past couple of days and, while a risk remains, we are now at a normal level of activity for this point in the solar cycle.”

 

Previous updates:

Updated on 17th May 2013

As per our blog article published yesterday, the Met Office continues to closely monitor the Sun following a recent surge in its activity related to a sunspot (identified by the number 1748).

This morning saw a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which is an eruption of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma), from the sunspot. The CME is due to catch Earth with a glancing blow which is not expected to cause any significant impacts.

There remains a low risk through to the end of next week that we could see a CME from 1748 which is aimed more directly at Earth, but after that the risk is expected to diminish.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates if there are any changes.





Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

16 05 2013

The Met Office will be keeping a close eye on the Sun over the coming days after a recent surge in its activity.

It’s fairly common for eruptions from the Sun (often called “space weather”) to occur, and these are usually associated with sunspots – dark areas of intense activity on the surface of the star.

The eruptions from these spots come in several different forms, but if the events are of sufficient strength and directed towards the Earth, they can all cause impacts on our modern-day technology. Impacts range from minor interference to communication networks to temporary disruption to electricity supply, satellites and GPS navigation.

Over the past few days a sunspot, identified by the number 1748, has been the cause of many solar eruptions which have already caused some minor impacts.

NASA image showing a solar flare from sunspot 1748

NASA image showing one of the recent solar flares ejecting from sunspot 1748

Some of the eruptions have been in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which are plumes of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma). These have been focused away from Earth so far, but, as the sun rotates, there is a chance the sunspot could emit a CME in our direction.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “If a strong CME were to be directed at Earth it could have some disruptive impacts, but at the moment the probability of this happening appears to be low.

“We’ll be keeping a close watch on the situation, particularly from Friday evening onwards, to advise on anything that could cause disruption to help the UK minimise any potential impacts. Hopefully this event will pass without the majority of people noticing, but it’s important we monitor the risk.”

Since February 2011, the Met Office has been working with a range of partners, including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the UK Space Agency to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service.

This monitors the Sun’s activity and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment. The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

In the event of a CME, space weather monitoring can provide anything from 17 hours to 3 days advance warning – allowing vital time to prepare.

Solar activity is currently expected to be high as we are near the peak of an 11-year solar cycle, which sees the Sun’s activity increase and decrease over the period.

You can see more about space weather forecasting in our Youtube video.





Met Office in the Media: 11 October 2011

11 10 2011

There has been continued interest in the research from the Met Office with  Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, that shows that low UV output from the sun can contribute to an increased risk of  cold winters over parts of the northern hemisphere, such as recently seen in the UK. Michael Hanlon of the Daily Mail posted an fascinating blog article on Mini ice-age or global warming: why can’t they make their minds up?. Elsewhere Jonathan Leake from the Sunday Times has clarified his article on this science in which he said:

Thanks to those who have commented on this article. However, there appears to be a common misunderstanding. This article is not about anthropogenic climate change. The phenomena mentioned in this article are natural and separate from climate change. They operate in parallel to climate change, in parallel to each other but, of course, each on very different time scales.
La Nina, for example, is really about weather. It’s part of a relatively short term natural cycle operating over periods of a few years. 
It’s just one of many factors which together mean that weather is constantly showing a high level of variability. In other words, getting a cold winter or two does not tell us anything about climate change. It just tells us that weather changes a lot – which we already know.
Similarly, the research in Nature Geoscience about the changes in solar radiation, is also nothing to do with climate change. It’s an entirely separate effect happening in parallel. Scientists think its part of a 3-400 year cycle of changes in UV radiation. There’s a good article here
and the original is here.
It’s interesting to wonder if it will mitigate or amplify the effects of greenhouse gas emissions but I suspect no-one really knows yet.
The key point is that short term changes in the weather and long term changes in the climate are both driven by a complex mix of variables. Working out the most likely future trends is hard and takes long-term dedicated science. Reducing it all to an argument to undermine climate change misses the real point which is that we should be trying to use the best science to assess just how much of a problem all these effects really present to an increasingly crowded and interconnected world.
The science suggesting that the Earth faces significant warming remains very strong. If you disagree then you need good science to back your case. These other phenomena (La Nina, UV radiation etc) are simply not relevant.
Jonathan Leake

 








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