SDO whacks sundog

From NASA science news: Last week, on Feb. 11th, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) lifted off from Cape Canaveral on a five-year mission to study the sun. Researchers have called the advanced spacecraft the “crown jewel” of NASA’s heliophysics fleet. SDO will beam back IMAX-quality images of solar explosions and peer beneath the stellar surface to see the sun’s magnetic dynamo in action.

SDO is designed to amaze—and it got off to a good start.

“The observatory did something amazing before it even left the atmosphere,” says SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Moments after launch, SDO’s Atlas V rocket flew past a sundog hanging suspended in the blue Florida sky and, with a rippling flurry of shock waves, destroyed it. Click on the image below to launch a video recorded by 13-year-old Anna Herbst at NASA’s Banana River viewing site—and don’t forget to turn up the volume to hear the reaction of the crowd.

Above: SDO has a close encounter with a sundog. Movie formats: 10 MB Quicktime, 1 MB mpeg-4. Credit: Anna Herbst of Bishop, California.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Anna. “The shock waves were so cool.” Anna traveled with classmate Amelia Phillips three thousand miles from Bishop, California, to witness the launch. “I’m so glad we came,” says Amelia. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Sundogs are formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high, cold cirrus clouds. As the crystals drift down from the sky like leaves fluttering from trees, aerodynamic forces tend to align their broad faces parallel to the ground. When sunlight hits a patch of well-aligned crystals at just the right distance from the sun, voila!–a sundog.

“When the Atlas V rocket penetrated the cirrus, shock waves rippled through the cloud and destroyed the alignment of the crystals,” explains atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. “This extinguished the sundog.”

Videos by other photographers at Banana River show the shock waves particularly well. Here’s one from Romeo Durscher of Stanford, California, and another from Barbara Tomlinson of Beachton, Georgia.

In the past, says Cowley, there have been anecdotal reports of atmospheric disturbances destroying sundogs—for instance, “gunfire and meteor shock waves have been invoked to explain their disruption. But this is the first video I know of that shows the effect in action.”

Right: Sundogs are formed by the refracting action of plate-shaped ice crystals. Image credit: Les Cowley/Atmospheric Optics [more]

The effect on the crowd was electric.

“When the sundog disappeared, we started screaming and jumping up and down,” says Pesnell. “SDO hit a home run: Perfect launch, rippling waves, and a disappearing sundog. You couldn’t ask for a better start for a mission.”

SDO is now in orbit. “The observatory is doing great as the post-launch checkout continues,” he reports. “We’ll spend much of the first month moving into our final orbit and then we’ll turn on the instruments. The first jaw-dropping images should be available sometime in April.”

Believe it or not, Pesnell says, the best is yet to come.

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FergalR
February 20, 2010 9:23 am

BAM! Tore that sucker up like a climatologist through a stack of FOI requests.

February 20, 2010 9:33 am

Doesn’t NASA know that the sundog population has been imperiled by global warming? The stratspheric ice crystals, which are these rare creatures’ natural habitat, are melting at an alarming rate. Exhausted, doe-eyed sundogs (with fluffy sunpuppies in tow) have been seen clinging to contrails in sheer desperation. For NASA to murder a beautiful specimen like this with one of its abominable rockets is unconscionable, absolutely unconscionable.
[/sarc]

B.Peck
February 20, 2010 9:35 am

Way to go Anna! Great work. A perfect metaphor for how the scientfic method and brave Seekers of Truth will vanquish, like a Bolt from the Blue, the CAGW dogs of disinformation and promoters of politicized psuedo-science { ;>)}

supercritical
February 20, 2010 9:39 am

That was sheer vandalism!

pwl
February 20, 2010 9:40 am

These videos show how we’re gas breathing evolved fish critters in liquid like atmospheric bubble. Very cool waves. Woof for sundogs!
Can’t wait to see Sol up close and all Imaxy! What will we learn.
pwl
http://PathsToKnowledge.net

Doug in Seattle
February 20, 2010 9:58 am

I don’t know about the “just the right distance from the sun” part. The videos are awesome though.

John F. Hultquist
February 20, 2010 10:08 am

It’s worse than I thought. Is it not enough that penguins, polar bears, and Arctic ice are being destroyed by modern technology? Now Sundogs? Soon there won’t be any left. Help me Save The Sundogs. Join STS. Send $25 to . . .

Editor
February 20, 2010 10:11 am

That is really, really cool. It’ll be a long time before I see a sun dog and not think of that video.
Sometimes science gets lucky.

Craig Moore
February 20, 2010 10:22 am

The thing about a sundog is that its arc is worse than its light.
REPLY: Groan…..

R. Gates
February 20, 2010 10:30 am

An auspicious start to a very important science mission. Cool video…thanks for sharing!

Douglas DC
February 20, 2010 10:38 am

Wow. what a shot! However we appear to be extinguishing the candle, not
lighting it.Care to sleep under the light of a Chinese Moon?

Brian D
February 20, 2010 10:41 am

FergalR
LOL LOL LOL LOL!!!
First laugh of the day.

Tim Clark
February 20, 2010 11:13 am

I would add a word of caution;
Before viewing the video you might click the google ad link provided above or here:
Sundog Glasses
All Styles Available With Low Price Guaranteed, Great Customer Service
http://www.GolflandWarehouse.com
to purchase your sundog glasses.
The precautionary principle works for the alarmists, so ya nevar know!

Erik
February 20, 2010 11:14 am

Nah, just a glitch in the IPCC, It happens when they change something..
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/quotes

Pat Frank
February 20, 2010 11:28 am

Barbara Tomlinson’s video is really outstanding. You can see almost the full set of concentric ripples, followed by a second set as the sonic shock behind the rocket passes through the clouds.
Great science post, Anthony. I hope your publicity helps the video find its way into high school and freshman physics classes. It’s a great demonstration for wave propagation and light refraction.

February 20, 2010 12:00 pm

Absolutely beautiful. And Congress wants to cut funding to this division of NASA. What a travesty. Having witnesses a space shuttle launch firsthand, I can tell you there are few feelings like it.

DirkH
February 20, 2010 12:04 pm

Fascinating video, thanks a lot!

DirkH
February 20, 2010 12:12 pm

Yeah, the best one is Barbara Tomlinson’s.

James F. Evans
February 20, 2010 12:14 pm

Science@NASA: Solar Dynamics Observatory: The ‘Variable Sun’ Mission
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2010/05feb_sdo.htm
“February 5, 2010: For some years now, an unorthodox idea has been gaining favor among astronomers. It contradicts old teachings and unsettles thoughtful observers, especially climatologists.”
“The sun,” explains Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC, “is a variable star.”
“Over longer periods of decades to centuries, solar activity waxes and wanes with a complex rhythm that researchers are still sorting out. The most famous “beat” is the 11-year sunspot cycle, described in many texts as a regular, clockwork process. In fact, it seems to have a mind of its own.”
“SDO is going to revolutionize our view of the sun.” — Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC
“Astronomers were once so convinced of the sun’s constancy, they called the irradiance of the sun “the solar constant,” and they set out to measure it as they would any constant of Nature.”
“To the amazement of many researchers, the solar constant has turned out to be not constant.”
“‘Solar constant’ is an oxymoron,” says Judith Lean of the Naval Research Lab. “Satellite data show that the sun’s total irradiance rises and falls with the sunspot cycle by a significant amount.”
“At solar maximum, the sun is about 0.1% brighter than it is at solar minimum. That may not sound like much, but consider the following: A 0.1% change in 1361 W/m2 equals 1.4 Watts/m2. Averaging this number over the spherical Earth and correcting for Earth’s reflectivity yields 0.24 Watts for every square meter of our planet.”
“Add it all up and you get a lot of energy,” says Lean. “How this might affect weather and climate is a matter of—at times passionate—debate.”
Yes, indeed.

February 20, 2010 12:32 pm

James F. Evans (12:14:48) :
“February 5, 2010: For some years now, an unorthodox idea has been gaining favor among astronomers. It contradicts old teachings and unsettles thoughtful observers, especially climatologists.”
“The sun,” explains Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC, “is a variable star.”

This is just the usual NASA hype and this is nothing new or unorthodox or contradictory. Abbot showed this 100 years ago:
http://www.leif.org/EOS/Abbot-Variation-Sun.pdf
Riccioli claimed that much in 1651 and Herschel in 1801.

STEPHEN PARKER
February 20, 2010 12:35 pm

AH,it’s amazing! to a non university educated person like me, the sun has an effect on temperature and weather- never!

February 20, 2010 12:38 pm

FergalR — BAM! Tore that sucker up like a climatologist through a stack of FOI requests.
LOL, you must have had that one prepped and pre-loaded.
When is it supposed to open it’s eyes?

CRS, Dr.P.H.
February 20, 2010 1:44 pm

Great posts, everyone! Thanks for the grins! 😎 FergalR wins the Grammy!
This is an excellent little site for tracking sunspot activity and a bunch of other cool stuff, the “I Shot The Sundog” movie is also posted here:
http://www.spaceweather.com/
I enjoy the videos of solar activity in different wavelength spectrums. Oh wait, you mean the sun is a VARIABLE star?? Who’da thunk?
Thanks for the paper, Leif! A classic!

kadaka
February 20, 2010 1:46 pm

Wade (12:00:49) :
Absolutely beautiful. And Congress wants to cut funding to this division of NASA. What a travesty. Having witnesses a space shuttle launch firsthand, I can tell you there are few feelings like it.

It’s worse than we thought.

NASA plans more outreach to Muslim countries
WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has asked him to “find ways to reach out to dominantly Muslim countries” as the White House pushes the space agency to become a tool of international diplomacy.
(…)

NASA is now for International Diplomacy, forget that “space exploration” stuff. Guess that means NASA will soon have the State Department overseeing it. Although perhaps they could dispatch “damaged goods” Hansen as a “Special Ambassador” to the UN or somewhere and get someone more trustworthy to take his old post, so it might not be a total loss.

George Varros
February 20, 2010 1:46 pm

FergalR (09:23:44) :
almost lost my coffee… through my nose

February 20, 2010 1:59 pm

This is really amazing. Not only can you witness something that has only anecdotally recorded but someone at NASA actually admits the Sun may affect our climate!
BTW The video that DirkH posted by Barbara Tomlinson is super.

James F. Evans
February 20, 2010 3:59 pm

Great! The Sun is a variable star with variable solar output.
Yes, the Sun influences the Earth.
Next thing, you know, they’ll be saying the Sun’s output controls climate.
Happy days are here again…
Just like when I was a kid and we all went to the neighborhood pool when it was sunny because we knew it would be warm…

John Whitman
February 20, 2010 6:14 pm

Anna H,
Great shot of sundog! Because of you and Anthony bringing this clip, I learned something today. I never knew they were called Sundogs. Cool name, Sundog.
I always just thought “high cirrus clouds & ice effect” or something like that.
Thanks,
John

John Whitman
February 20, 2010 6:33 pm

”””’Erik (11:14:32) : Nah, just a glitch in the IPCC, It happens when they change something..”””
Erik,
Did you take the blue pill or the red?
John

SusanP
February 20, 2010 6:35 pm

Love the way the sonic boom blows the surrounding clouds away! (Very visible on Barbara’s video). Brought back long-forgotten memories of watching a launch from the very same spot as a child back in 1976. Can’t remember what was being launched. Waiting for my mom to reply to email to tell me.

John Whitman
February 20, 2010 6:37 pm

””””“February 5, 2010: For some years now, an unorthodox idea has been gaining favor among astronomers. It contradicts old teachings and unsettles thoughtful observers, especially climatologists.”””””’
“”””’The sun,” explains Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC, “is a variable star.””””’
Lika G,
You need to get out more . . . . talk to some solar physicists.
John

Editor
February 20, 2010 9:05 pm

Has PETA weighed in on this yet? They’ll probably be able to get our President to cancel our launch program….

Latimer Alder
February 21, 2010 12:03 am

Old East Anglian Climate Professor (well actually a hydrologist and currently on leave to do interviews) he say:
‘Every time a sundog is destroyed a cudllywuddly polar bear dies and the angels shed a tear’.
Therefore ban any study of solar radiation..it has nothing to do with Climate

Tenuc
February 21, 2010 3:37 am

Great video Anthony, thanks for posting it. I hope they get this baby on line soon. Can’t wait to see what the hi-res images reveal!, and what confirmation it will provide about the mainstream solar model!
I’ve seen more ‘sun-dogs’ last few months than I’ve seen for several years, perhaps indicative of a lot of ice particles in the high atmosphere. Nice simple explanation of how they are formed here:-
http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/graphics/2008-10-15-atmospheric-optics-sun-dogs-pillars-halos-rainbows_N.htm

DirkH
February 21, 2010 5:32 pm

“BTW The video that DirkH posted by Barbara Tomlinson is super.”
I only reposted one of the links in the main post to spare people the scrolling.

February 22, 2010 2:10 am

Robert E. Phelan (21:05:09) :
Has PETA weighed in on this yet? They’ll probably be able to get our President to cancel our launch program…
Yeah, I can hardly wait for PETA’s first screed denouncing NASA for its wanton destruction of SunKittens…

February 22, 2010 8:34 pm

Quote: James F. Evans (12:14:48) :
Science@NASA: Solar Dynamics Observatory: The ‘Variable Sun’ Mission
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2010/05feb_sdo.htm
“February 5, 2010: For some years now, an unorthodox idea has been gaining favor among astronomers. It contradicts old teachings and unsettles thoughtful observers, especially climatologists.”
“The sun,” explains Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC, “is a variable star.”
“Over longer periods of decades to centuries, solar activity waxes and wanes with a complex rhythm that researchers are still sorting out. The most famous “beat” is the 11-year sunspot cycle, described in many texts as a regular, clockwork process. In fact, it seems to have a mind of its own.”
“SDO is going to revolutionize our view of the sun.” — Lika Guhathakurta of NASA headquarters in Washington DC
. . . .
“To the amazement of many researchers, the solar constant has turned out to be not constant.”
“‘Solar constant’ is an oxymoron,” says Judith Lean of the Naval Research Lab. “Satellite data show that the sun’s total irradiance rises and falls with the sunspot cycle by a significant amount.”
. . . .
“Add it all up and you get a lot of energy,” says Lean. “How this might affect weather and climate is a matter of—at times passionate—debate.”
– – – – – –
Thanks, James.
To revolutionize NASA’s view of the Sun, NASA need only explain why the very top of the Sun’s atmosphere is 91% H and 9% He – the lightest and the next lightest elements, respectively, and lightweight isotopes of xenon in the solar wind are enriched by ~3.5% per mass unit, from Xe-124 to Xe-136.
Solar wind xenon was measured in lunar samples at Caltech, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Missouri-Rolla, the University of Bern-Switzerland, Washington University, etc.
With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Emeritus Professor of
Nuclear & Space Science
Former NASA PI for Apollo

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