Un­der­stand­ing our sun

NASA ex­hibit launches at Per­ryville Li­brary



— While the sun is the clos­est star to Earth, a se­ries of pro­grams start­ing at the li­brary this week aims to bring it even closer.

On Tues­day, an ex­hibit called “Un­der­stand­ing the Sun Through NASA Mis­sions” of­fi­cially opened at Ce­cil County Pub­lic Li­brary’s


Per­ryville branch, serv­ing as a kick­off for a num­ber of space and so­lar events that will take place at li­brary branches across the county in the com­ing weeks. The ex­hibit, which con­sists of five pan­els de­tail­ing in­for­ma­tion about the sun, is spon­sored by NASA and by the Maryland Sci­ence Cen­ter.

One of those events is a talk by Jim O’Leary, se­nior sci­en­tist at the cen­ter, that takes place at 7 p.m. next

Thurs­day, Oct. 20, at the Per­ryville branch. The talk will serve as a good in­tro­duc­tion for peo­ple of all ages who want to learn more about the sun, O’Leary said.

“The sun is prob­a­bly the most com­mon ob­ject we all ex­pe­ri­ence, ev­ery­body knows it, and we’re all told not to look at it be­cause it’s so bright and pow­er­ful. So you can’t re­ally find out that much about it,” he said. “So that’s re­ally the prac­ti­cal side of it — to in­tro­duce peo­ple to those ideas and to in­tro­duce peo­ple to the re­search NASA is do­ing to try and bet­ter un­der­stand it all.”

The ex­hibit at the Per­ryville branch is one of three that has been set up at li­braries around the state and is funded by a four-year grant from NASA. That same grant also funds a se­ries of ed­u­ca­tor work­shops for teach­ers in Maryland, Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia. The goal of the work­shops, in­clud­ing one held last June for county teach­ers, is to in­tro­duce teach­ers to the idea of so­lar sci­ence as well as the work NASA is do­ing, O’Leary said.

And some of that NASA work takes place close to home. NASA cur­rently has a fleet of 10 to 12 satel­lites that are ob­serv­ing the sun in var­i­ous ways and are all con­trolled from the NASA God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter down in Green­belt. These satel­lites are part of NASA’s So­lar Dy­nam­ics Ob­ser­va­tory and take high-res­o­lu­tion pho­tos of the sun at var­i­ous wave­lengths ev­ery sec­ond, O’Leary said.

“They show things you wouldn’t nor­mally see by eye,” he ex­plained.

The goal of the NASA re­search is to un­der­stand the sun a lit­tle bet­ter since, even though it’s the source of all life on Earth, not a lot is known about how it works. Sci­en­tists are still try­ing to un­der­stand things such as what pro­duces sunspots and why the sun is more ac­tive at cer­tain times than at oth­ers, O’Leary said.

In par­tic­u­lar, sci­en­tists are try­ing to be un­der­stand what pro­duces so­lar storms or what O’Leary calls “space weather.” When the sun is most ac­tive, it sends out so­lar storms all over the so­lar sys­tem. Most of the storms di­rected at Earth are stopped by the planet’s mag­netic field but par­tic­u­larly strong ones do make it through and can dis­rupt power lines and satel­lites and even cause black­outs, O’Leary said.

“We cer­tainly can’t con­trol the sun, but we can prob­a­bly bet­ter pre­pare our­selves on Earth for the storms that it sends our way,” he said.

Those in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about the sun will have plenty of op­tions to chose from with CCPL branches host­ing pro­grams for pre-school­ers all the way up to adults, said Christy Reynolds, Per­ryville branch man­ager.

“We’re very ex­cited to have this ex­hibit,” she said. “It’s an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity.”

Events in­clude a NASA and the sun live broad­cast where NASA ex­perts will be broad­cast live to the li­brary to talk about NASA and the 2017 so­lar eclipse, and a preschool sci­ence event where young kids can do sim­ple sci­ence ex­per­i­ments and other hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to the sun.

A full sched­ule is avail­able at the li­brary’s web­site, www.ce­cil.ebranch.info.


The sun erupts with a promi­nence erup­tion in this Novem­ber 2012 photo taken by NASA’s SDO pro­gram.


Jim O’Leary, se­nior sci­en­tist at the Maryland Sci­ence Cen­ter, stands next to a new ex­hibit on the sun that opened at the Per­ryville li­brary this week.

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