Here comes the sun!

Wednesday 12 March 2003

The University of St Andrews will host a general public event to celebrate the Sun and its effects on the Earth.

The University’s Solar Theory Group within the School of Mathematics and Statistics, will host the event, open to both adults and children, on Tuesday 18th March, to coincide with International Sun-Earth Day 2003.

Sun-Earth Day is an international effort, spearheaded by ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to promote public awareness of the dynamics of the Sun and its influence on the Earth. The St Andrews event, entitled ‘Here comes the Sun!’, will be one of many held at various institutions throughout the world in support of this promotion.

Dr Ineke De Moortel, a Research Fellow with the Solar Theory Group and one of the organisers of the event, said:

“The Sun, our closest star, provides us with the light and heat that is needed to sustain life on our planet. On a nice, bright day, the Sun might seem friendly and harmless, but in reality, this gigantic ball of intensely hot, electrically charged, gas is the source of violent storms that can destroy satellites and disrupt communication, navigation and power grids on Earth.”

“As our society relies more and more on resources placed in space, understanding the influence of the Sun and its activity is more important then ever before. Although the Sun might look serene to us, it is in fact, literally, bursting with activity. Indeed, part of the Sun’s outer atmosphere constantly flows into space in the form of the solar wind. When the solar wind arrives at the Earth, it interacts with our magnetic field and can cause ‘magnetic’ storms in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Professor Alan Hood, Dr Clare Parnell and Dr Thomas Neukirch from the School of Mathematics and Statistics will give a series of three 20-minute talks illustrated by stunning images and the latest observations from satellites such as SOHO (the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory). They belong to the Solar Theory Group, which has a world-class reputation in the area of understanding the Sun. The group is one of the largest in the world, studying the Sun using mathematical modelling techniques and observational data from spacecraft such as SOHO (located between the Sun and the Earth) and ground-based observatories.

They will give an exciting tour of the Sun, its various different types of activity and its impact and influence on the Earth. The team will also explore so- called ‘space weather’ – magnetic storms, disturbances in the solar wind and CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections) from the Sun.

They will discuss how magnetic storms can interfere with all kinds of signals, most importantly, satellite signals. Today’s society depends heavily on satellites, for example to provide navigation information for airplanes and ships or to transmit radio, television and telephone signals. During a magnetic storm, huge electric currents are generated, which can disrupt power distribution on Earth and cause blackouts in an instant. Additionally, oil and gas pipes corrode faster due to the large currents travelling along them, induced by solar storms. In space, there are even more problems – a large CME will bombard satellites with tons of electrically charged particles, which could cause severe damage, or even disable them altogether. Furthermore, astronauts may be exposed to dangerous amounts of particle radiation from explosions on the Sun.

They will also illustrate how disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar storms, can trigger a beautiful display of coloured curtains of light, making the sky glow in this hemisphere with the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis.

Afterwards, there will be an opportunity for the audience to take part in an interactive, internet session, to find out how you can view close-up, real-time, images of the Sun from home and discover more about the Sun and its effects on our lives.

The public event will take place on Tuesday 18th March, from 7.30 pm onwards, in Lecture Theatre A, School of Physics & Astronomy, North Haugh, St Andrews. The event is open to the public and entry is free. Refreshments will be served.

For further information, see:


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email Ref: sun-earth event pr 120303 View the latest University news at

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