SUNSPOT TURNS AWAY FROM EARTH: Sunspot AR2403 is approaching the western limb of the sun. Although the sunspot is no longer directly facing Earth, it still poses a threat for geoeffective explosions. As long as the sunspot remains visible, solar flares from AR2403 can potentially cause radio blackouts and radiation storms. NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of M-flares and a 10% chance of X-flares on Aug. 27th. Solar flare alerts. text or voice
GEOMAGNETIC STORMING: For the past 12+ hours, Earth's polar magnetic field has been unsettled by geomagnetic storming. Around the Arctic Circle, sky watchers saw something they've been missing for months. "The first bright auroras this season appeared Aug.27th on a mild and quiet night," reports Anne Birgitte Fyhn of TromsГё, Norway:
"Lake Prestvannet was surrounded by the sound of impressed and happy students from abroad, who were watching this beautiful Northern Lights show," she says.
During the peak of the G2-class storm on Aug. 26-27, Northern Lights spilled across the Canadian border into multiple US states including Wisconsin. Michigan. Maine. and Michigan again .
Conditions favor more auroras tonight. The interplanetary magnetic field (IMF ) near Earth has tipped south, a condition which opens a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind is flowing in to fuel geomagnetic unrest around the Arctic Circle. Aurora alerts. text or voice
SPACE YEAST SURVIVE AND MUTATE: Yeast and people have a lot in common. About 1/3rd of our DNA is the same. Indeed, the DNA of yeast is so similar to that of humans, yeast can actually live with human genes spliced into their genetic code. This is why Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been flying yeast to the edge of space. Understanding how the microbes respond to cosmic rays could tell us how
human cells respond as well. Here are three strains of yeast (one per test tube) flying 113,936 feet above Earth's surface on August 15th:
The student in the picture is Joey, a high school senior, hitching a ride to the stratosphere along with the yeast. Joey and other members of the student research team are busy measuring growth curves and mutation rates for the space-traveling yeast.
One result is already clear: Yeast are incredibly tough. En route to the stratosphere they were frozen solid at temperatures as low as -63C, and they experienced dose rates of ionizing radiation 100x Earth normal. Survival rates in some of the returning samples were close to 100%.
Photo-micrographs show that yeast mutates in the stratosphere. This image, for instance, shows a colony of white mutants alongside the normal red colonies of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (HA2 ):
In addition to the white mutation shown above, the students have also observed petite mutants. which are a sign of changes in the cells' mitochondrial genome. These changes are of interest to space biologists because the DNA repair mechanisms of yeast are remarkably similar to those of human beings. In particular, proteins encoded by yeast RAD genes are closely related to proteins used by human cells to undo radiation damage.
Another flight of the yeast is scheduled for this Wednesday, Aug. 26th. What mutants will emerge this time? Stay tuned!
HEY THANKS: The students wish to say thanks to Dan Salkovitz, who sponsored the August 15th balloon flight. In exchange for his generous donation of $500, they flew Dan himself to the edge of space:
Readers, if you would like to sponsor an upcoming student research flight, and see your favorite picture flown to the stratosphere, please contact Dr. Tony Phillips to make arrangements.