Friday, September 05, 2014

Smithsonian planetarium films tread likely on solar storm risk

It may seem to put two 23-minute planetarium “films”, shown at the National Air and Space Museum, on this blog, but there is a point. 
Whoppi Goldberg narrates “Journey to the Stars” with lots of discussion of how starts and galaxies formed.  She does explain supernovas.  One would be significant if within a few hundred light years of Earth, because the resultant gamma rays could fry all life, but there is no evidence that such a specific threat really exists.  But where the film gets critical (after all the stellar art work showing the geometry of galaxies) is the discussion of how the Sun works, how sunspots form, and what solar storms can do.  She softpedals the risk, saying that the Earth’s magnetic field deflects almost all of the radiation except near the poles.  But during the strongest storms (resulting in the biggest coronal mass ejections) damaging magnetic pulses can penetrate at lower latitudes, likely damaging power grid equipment during the very largest (Carrington-sized) storms. She also describes how in a few billion years, when the Milky Way is merging with Andromeda, the Sun will become a red giant, the surface almost reaching Earth, or at least frying it.  In time, mankind will have to learn how to move to outer planets or to other solar systems, as in the film “Evacuate Earth” (Aug. 30, 2013 here), or even as series like “The 100” (TV blog, March 29, 2014).  Triage would have to be done, and enormous social problems would be inevitable.

I also saw “Dark Universe”, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  It seems that the “Dark force” is responsible for the fact that the Universe keeps expanding at a faster rate.  The Universe has no center.  It’s not clear if it was infinite after the big bang.  

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