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Published by liberascienza2012
June 27, 2012

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Excerpt from “Dynamic Earth

A giant explosion of magnetic energy from the Sun, called a coronal mass ejection, slams into and is deflected completely by the Earth’s powerful magnetic field. The Sun also continually sends out streams of light and radiation energy. Earth’s atmosphere acts like a radiation shield, blocking quite a bit of this energy.

Much of the radiation energy that makes it through is reflected back into space by clouds, ice and snow and the energy that remains helps to drive the Earth system, powering a remarkable planetary engine — the climate. It becomes the energy that feeds swirling wind and ocean currents as cold air and surface waters move toward the equator and warm air and water moves toward the poles — all in an attempt to equalize temperatures around the world.

This animation was selected for a prestigious computer graphics and technical research forum, the Association for Computer Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) and is an excerpt from the fulldome, high-resolution show ‘Dynamic Earth: Exploring Earth’s Climate Engine.’

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Transcript:
Music Music Narrator: What safeguards our solar system… is our star. The sun provides a shield, stretching beyond the last planet in its orbit: a force field that deflects these “cosmic rays.” But these “solar winds” can be dangerous too, especially during outbursts called coronal mass ejections. Want a vision of earth gone wrong? Just look at what solar storms do our sister planet, Venus. They strip away lighter elements in its upper atmosphere, hydrogen, oxygen and the molecule they form: water. What’s left is a witch’s brew of noxious chemicals including thick sulfurous clouds. How has Earth avoided the grim fate of Venus? We can see the answer as the solar storm approaches Earth. Music Our planet has a protective shield all it’s own– A powerful magnetic field generated deep within its core. In fact, that’s just our first line of defense. Much of the solar energy that gets through is reflected back to space by clouds, ice, and snow. The energy that Earth absorbs is just enough to power a remarkable planetary engine: the climate. It’s set in motion by the unevenness of solar heating, due in part to the cycles of day and night, and the seasons that cause warm tropical winds to blow toward the poles and cold polar air toward the equator. Wind currents drive surface ocean currents. This computer simulation shows the Gulf Stream winding its way along the coast of North America. Music Music Music This great ocean river carries enough heat energy to power the industrial world a hundred times over. It breaks down in massive world pools that spread warm tropical waters over northern seas. Music Below the surface they mix with cold deep currents that swirl around under sea ledges and mountains. Music Music Music Music Music Earth’s climate engine has countless moving parts: tides and terrain, cross winds and currents– all working to equalize temperatures around the globe.

Alexandra Bruce

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