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TEDGlobal 2017

Miho Janvier: Lessons from a solar storm chaser

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Space physicist Miho Janvier studies solar storms: giant clouds of particles that escape from the Sun and can disrupt life on Earth (while also producing amazing auroras). How do you study the atmosphere on the Sun, which burns at temperatures of up to around 10 million degrees Kelvin? With math! Join the TED Fellow as she shares her work trying to better understand how the Sun affects us here on Earth.

- Space physicist
TED Fellow Miho Janvier studies the the Sun -- in particular the origin of phenomena called "solar storms" which can impact planets in the solar system. Full bio

It is almost the end of the winter,
00:13
and you've woken up to a cold house,
00:16
which is weird, because
you left the heater on all night.
00:19
You turn on the light.
00:24
It's not working.
00:25
Actually, the coffee maker, the TV --
none of them are working.
00:27
Life outside also seems to have stopped.
00:33
There are no schools,
00:36
most of the businesses are shut,
00:38
and there are no working trains.
00:40
This is not the opening scene
of a zombie apocalypse movie.
00:43
This is what happened in March 1989
in the Canadian province of Quebec,
00:48
when the power grid lost power.
00:54
The culprit?
00:57
A solar storm.
00:59
Solar storms are giant clouds of particles
01:01
escaping from the Sun from time to time,
01:04
and a constant reminder that we live
in the neighborhood of an active star.
01:06
And I, as a solar physicist,
01:13
I have a tremendous chance
to study these solar storms.
01:15
But you see, "solar storm chaser"
01:19
is not just a cool title.
01:22
My research helps to understand
where they come from,
01:24
how they behave
01:28
and, in the long run,
01:29
aims to mitigate their effects
on human societies,
01:31
which I'll get to in a second.
01:34
At the beginning of the space
exploration age 50 years ago only,
01:37
the probes we sent in space
01:42
revealed that the planets
in our Solar System
01:44
constantly bathe in a stream of particles
that are coming from the Sun
01:47
and that we call the solar wind.
01:52
And in the same way that global wind
patterns here on Earth
01:55
can be affected by hurricanes,
01:59
the solar wind is sometimes
affected by solar storms
02:01
that I like to call "space hurricanes."
02:05
When they arrive at planets,
02:09
they can perturb the space environment,
02:11
which in turn creates
the northern or southern lights,
02:13
for example, here on Earth,
02:17
but also Saturn
02:19
and also Jupiter.
02:21
Luckily, here on Earth,
02:25
we are protected
by our planet's natural shield,
02:27
a magnetic bubble that we call
the magnetosphere
02:30
and that you can see here
on the right side.
02:34
Nonetheless, solar storms
can still be responsible
02:37
for disrupting satellite
telecommunications and operations,
02:40
for disrupting navigation
systems, such as GPS,
02:45
as well as electric power transmission.
02:48
All of these are technologies
on which us humans rely more and more.
02:51
I mean, imagine if you woke up tomorrow
without a working cell phone --
02:58
no internet on it,
03:03
which means no social media.
03:05
I mean, to me that would be worse
than the zombie apocalypse.
03:07
(Laughter)
03:10
By constantly monitoring the Sun, though,
03:12
we now know where
the solar storms come from.
03:14
They come from regions of the Sun
03:17
where a tremendous amount
of energy is being stored.
03:19
You have an example here,
03:23
as a complex structure
hanging above the solar surface,
03:24
just on the verge of erupting.
03:28
Unfortunately, we cannot send probes
03:31
in the scorching hot
atmosphere of the Sun,
03:34
where temperatures can rise
up to around 10 million degrees Kelvin.
03:38
So what I do is I use computer simulations
03:44
in order to analyze but also to predict
the behavior of these storms
03:48
when they're just born at the Sun.
03:53
This is only one part
of the story, though.
03:57
When these solar storms
are moving in space,
04:01
some of them will inevitably
encounter space probes
04:05
that we humans have sent
in order to explore other worlds.
04:08
What I mean by other worlds is,
for example, planets,
04:14
such as Venus or Mercury,
04:16
but also objects, such as comets.
04:19
And while these space probes
have been made
04:22
for different scientific endeavors,
04:25
they can also act like tiny
cosmic meteorological stations
04:27
and monitor the evolution
of these space storms.
04:33
So I, with a group of researchers,
gather and analyze this data
04:36
coming from different
locations of the Solar System.
04:42
And by doing so, my research
shows that, actually,
04:45
solar storms have a generic shape,
04:48
and that this shape evolves
as solar storms move away from the Sun.
04:50
And you know what?
04:55
This is key for building tools
to predict space weather.
04:56
I would like to leave you
with this beautiful image.
05:03
This is us here on Earth,
05:06
this pale blue dot.
05:09
And while I study the Sun
and its storms every day,
05:11
I will always have a deep love
for this beautiful planet --
05:15
a pale blue dot indeed,
05:20
but a pale blue dot
with an invisible magnetic shield
05:21
that helps to protect us.
05:25
Thank you.
05:27
(Applause)
05:28

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About the speaker:

Miho Janvier - Space physicist
TED Fellow Miho Janvier studies the the Sun -- in particular the origin of phenomena called "solar storms" which can impact planets in the solar system.

Why you should listen

Miho Janvier is a space physicist at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, France. Her work focuses on the understanding of when solar flares occur, how solar storms travel in space and how they impact planetary environments in the solar system and other star systems. In a nutshell, she works towards a better prediction of "space weather," with a goal of better understanding the influence of the Sun's activity on human societies. She uses data from space missions from NASA, ESA and JAXA as well as develop 3D computer models of solar eruptions.

Janvier is involved as the deputy project scientist on the instrument SPICE as well as a scientific co-Investigator on the instrument EUI on board Solar Orbiter, the next European Space Agency mission to explore the winds and storms coming out from the Sun. Her passion for astrophysics and science communication has led her to partner with the movie production company TreeHouse Digital Ltd to develop a 360 degrees experience of a solar storm using science data and VFX. This video runs in virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift or Youtube 360, with a goal of educating the public about space science.

More profile about the speaker
Miho Janvier | Speaker | TED.com