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The sun as seen in near real time from the SOHO observatory (link in the sidebar).

Rumours are flying right now that volcano Katla in Iceland may be ready to blow. Increased seismic activity has observers on high alert to the possibility of a large eruption. Katla is a very large volcano that has erupted before.

Icelandic Met Office, Icelandic Institute of Earth Sciences

More than 500 tremors have been recorded in the last month. Sky News reports:
“A huge Icelandic volcano long overdue an eruption is showing signs of activity – threatening disruption to air traffic, experts have said.
There have been more than 500 tremors at Katla in the south of the country in just the last month. An increase in activity at the site since July has also been causing volcanologists concern, when increasing temperatures and seismic activity caused a flood, washing away a road bridge.

The last major eruption at the volcano was in 1918, and caused such a large glacier meltdown that icebergs were swept by the resulting floods into the ocean.

Significant activity at Katla – which has a huge 6.2 mile (10km) crater – usually occurs every 40 to 80 years. It is feared when it does eventually erupt, it could be the most powerful activity the country has seen in almost a century. Catastrophic flooding could result as the frozen surface of the volcano melts, sending vast amounts of water into the Atlantic Ocean.

Volcano expert Andy Hooper, from Delft University, said although there had been increased activity at the site, it was difficult to predict if and when Katla would erupt. However, he told Sky News Online that the implications for Iceland if an eruption did occur would be “major”. “Because of the glacier on top, massive amounts of ice would melt, washing away the roads. “There could also be a big ash fallout on people living in the area and that will affect the farms. “There could be big implications for people there.

“In terms of the rest of the world, it really depends on the weather at the time of the eruption. “If Katla erupts, it will erupt higher (than recent volcanoes) and that means the ash will stay around longer – that could impact on air traffic.”

A statement on Iceland’s Met Office website warned there was no imminent threat but that “given the heightened levels of seismic activity, the situation might change abruptly”. “Monitoring teams at the Icelandic Met Office are following the ongoing activity closely, and sensor-based networks around the volcano ensure that all seismological, geodetic, and hydrological changes are detected.”

In the meantime, while you’re waiting for Katla-induced global freeze-over, and due enjoy the overwhelming majesty of the Aurora Borealis over Iceland through the lens of Stefan Forster:

Copyright (c) 2011 Stefan Forster

I intended to address this earlier, but Iceland’s volcanology stole the stage for a bit. NASA recently put a new satellite into orbit whose mission will be to monitor the sun, using new and more advanced technology then has been previously deployed: the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO). From the web page:

“Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun and its dynamic behavior. The spacecraft will provide images with clarity ten times better than high definition television and more comprehensive science data faster than any solar observing spacecraft in history.” and from the mission statement:

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be taking a closer look at the Sun, the source of all Space Weather. Space Weather affects not only our lives here on Earth, but the Earth itself, and everything outside its atmosphere (astronauts and satellites out in space and even the other planets)….SDO is the first satellite under the Living with a Star (LWS) program at NASA. The spacecraft is being designed to fly for five years. However, since satellites go through a lot of testing and retesting, they often keep working long past their initial mission life. SOHO for example, which was built to fly for five years, in 2005 celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2005!…

“First light” is astronomer-speak for the first time a new telescope is turned toward the heavens to capture the light of a remote star or space object. On April 2312, 2010, SDO (the Solar Dynamic Observatory) unveiled its first-light imagery for the first time, and the views are, and will be spectacular:

full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credit: NASA SDO/AIA

Click on the filament image below for a full screen mp4 video of this filament erupting:

A close-up view of the filament launch in the 304 band, which corresponds to a wavelength of about 304 Angstroms.

Additional motion views at different scales are available here.

The NASA home page for SDO is, and many of the images will available at the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio (search “SDO” under Most Recent Imagery at the Studio pages).

While I busied myself with other things, I failed to notice an event going on on the surface of the sun, that would have been visible on my own monitoring pages, had I been looking. Hmmm. In the sidebar there is an “Active Monitoring” list. In this list is where I put topics/events for which there are active elements that are current and constantly being updated from their sources. I have one for the sun here.

WUWT managed to catch this item:

Arrows mark the filament, more then a million kilometers in length

So, check in with SOHO frequently – you never know what you might see!

Update: After a number of “false” starts it appears the cycle is underway. Opinions vary, but generally its believed that it is not likely to be a strong cycle. So, hams, start your radios! If, as it is believed, we are entering a rather long period of low solar activity, windows of opportunity might not be that great for the next few years. And if you’ve never seen sunspots up close, get out your telescope with an intact good quality, good condition, solar filter over the front element and check them out.

Caution: NEVER, EVER, EVER VIEW THE SUN WITH A NAKED SCOPE OR WITH A CHEAP EYEPIECE FILTER! NEVER, EVER, DO IT! NEVER! YOU WILL REGRET IT EVERY DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! (not meaning to sound shrill, but the retinal burn is instantaneous and permanent).

Update:After a drought, perhaps cycle 24 (25?) is about to get started – updating image below is from the “Soho” link in the sidebar.

Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope. EIT304: Taken at 304 Angstrom the bright material is at 60,000 to 80,000 degrees Kelvin.

Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope. EIT304: Taken at 304 Angstrom the bright material is at 60,000 to 80,000 degrees Kelvin.

Michelson Doppler Imager, Continuum: images shown here are taken in the continuum near the Ni I 6768 Angstrom line. The most prominent features are the sunspots.

Michelson Doppler Imager, Continuum: images shown here are taken in the continuum near the Ni I 6768 Angstrom line. The most prominent features are the sunspots.

MDI Magnetogram.  The magnetogram image shows the magnetic field in the solar photosphere, with black and white indicating opposite polarities.

MDI Magnetogram. The magnetogram image shows the magnetic field in the solar photosphere, with black and white indicating opposite polarities.

The venerable Mt. Wilson Observatory in California was under threat of wild fires, and had been evacuated. The webcam on its 150 ft solar tower showed images of an eerie landscape reminiscent of Mars, as the flames down the mountain illuminated a smokey night sky.

Night view from the solar tower just after evacuation from the Station fire.

The view from Mt. Wilson during the Station fire.

Established in 1904, “in the twenty-first century, the Observatory hosts several of the most technologically advanced facilities in the world for studying astronomical objects with unprecedented resolution and clarity. The 100-inch Hooker telescope remains in active scientific service, and the solar towers are daily collecting data representing the world’s longest continuous record of the sun. ”

View from the Mt Wilson SolarCam

Current view from the Mt Wilson SolarCam. Click on image for large view.

Fire blogging ceased from the Mt Wilson site on Sept 2, 2009. The image above is the current solarcam image from the tower, and is updated throughout the day. The hills beyond the dome were almost completely burnt over in the fires. Over time, regeneration should be evident in the solarcam images.

Update 2009/09/04: While not specifically mentioned in the MWO director’s blog page, it appears the solarcam web cam feedline has been repaired, as the picture below is recent. Situation remains hopeful for a positive outcome.

Update 2009/09/03: The Station fire that is threatening MWO has now burned an area of 219 sq. mi, an area the size of San Francisco or Philadelphia, and is 38% contained as of today. Brandon Riza, an area photographer, has made a time lapse video of the Station fire, showing the enormity of it. [h/t WUWT]

Update 2009/09/01 (2): “The Mount Wilson webserver has gone down, most likely due to a backfire infiltration of a pull box containing telephone lines that bring us our T1 internet service. There will be no more updates from the Towercam, the last one being upoaded at 13:49:06.

Update 2009/09/01 (1): Firefighters are apparently setting backfires in order to cut off the fuel supply in order to prevent the Observatory area from being overrun. This is the explanation for the new smoke visible in the webcam.

Solar ISN mean dips below 1.00

While the sun still struggles to form cycle 24 spots like seen in this weak plage area (upper right) in today’s SOHO MDI and Magnetograms (shown below) Paul Stanko of NOAA writes to tell me of an interesting development in his tracking of the International Sunspot Number (ISN).


Paul writes:

My running mean of the International Sunspot Number for 2009 just dipped below 1.00. For anything comparable you now need to go back before 1913 (which scored a 1.43) which could mean we’re now competing directly with the Dalton Minimum.

Just in case you’d like another tidbit, here is something that puts our 20 to 30 day spotless runs in perspective… the mother of all spotless runs (in the heart of the Maunder Minimum, of course!) was from October 15, 1661 to August 2, 1671. It totaled 3579 consecutive spotless days, all of which had obs.

Errant counting of sunspecks from Catainia aside, it appears that we haven’t seen anything like this in modern history.

We live in interesting times.

For more about sunspot monitoring check out SOHO in the sidebar.


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