The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) was established in 2010. Following a period of rapid growth and transition the agency has made significant advancements towards addressing its mandate of deriving greater value from space science and technology for the benefit of South African society.

Biggest Solar Flare of the Year Erupts from the Surface of the Sun

on . Posted in SANSA Space Science News

Hermanus, South Africa, 13/04/2013

From the Regional Space Weather Warning Centre at the Space Science Directorate of the South African National Space Agency.

The most powerful solar flare of the year erupted from the sun on 11 April 2013. Active region 1719 produced an M-class flare associated with an Earth directed coronal mass ejection (CME). The CME is expected to arrive at Earth on 13 April 2013 at ~22:00 UTC. This will lead to disturbed geomagnetic conditions and will continue to be monitored by the South African National Space Agency.

Solar Heliospheric Observatory captured this series of images of a coronal mass ejection on the morning of April 11, 2013. Mars can be seen on the left. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO/GSFC

A CME is a massive cloud of hydrogen ions ejected from the surface of the sun when stored energy is suddenly released.  The CME produces a cloud of high energy particles traveling at supersonic speeds (500-2000 km per second). When a CME is ejected towards Earth it reaches us within a day or two and can cause a disturbance to the Earth's magnetic field.

Sun and Earth Mag field







The Earth's magnetic field protects us form adverse space weather like CME's and the solar wind. Credit: NASA

The effects of a CME will not harm humans and other life forms on Earth as we are protected by the Earth's magnetic field, but it can cause disturbances to our satellite communication systems like GPS, radio communications, cell phones and DStv.  Only minor disturbances are expected at this stage.

An M-Class flare is a relatively mid-level flare on the scale of solar flares with X-Class flares at the top of the scale. Five categories — A, B, C, M and X — are used to rank solar flashes associated with solar flares based on their intensity. A-Class flashes are the weakest, while X-Class flashes are the most energetic. Last year a number of X-Class flares associated with Earth directed CME's occurred causing mild geomagnetic storms.

The sun goes through 11-year cycles of solar activity. Solar minimum which refers to a period when the number of sunspots is lowest bringing less solar activity and solar maximum when sunspots are most numerous bringing more frequent solar activity and a greater likelihood of solar flares. The sun is currently in a solar maximum cycle which is expected to peak later this year.

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Over-wintering in Antarctica

on . Posted in SANSA Space Science News

By Jonathan Ward

The 8th of December 2011 is a date I will never forget. After nearly six months of training at the South African National Space Agency in Hermanus, I stood on the deck of the SA Agulhas I, surrounded by nine relative strangers, as it sailed out of Table Bay, marking the beginning of my 15 month adventure down South.

SANSA Antarctic TeamWe watched as Table Mountain shrunk into a small dot and then disappeared below the horizon. There was now no turning back for the ten members of the 51st South African National Antarctic Expedition's (SANAE) over-wintering team; for better or for worse, we would be living and working together until the summer of 2012/2013. What had we all gotten ourselves into?

It is not easy over-wintering in Antarctica.  It is a job in an extreme environment that nothing can truly prepare you for. Technology does not always operate or last as long as it would back in South Africa, your supplies are limited and you are expected to make do with what is available. You spend many hours outdoors, especially during the summer, and there is a physical side to much of the work that you undertake. In addition, the climate and long periods of isolation challenge you both mentally and physically. To put it bluntly – it is not for the faint hearted.

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