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.