Tim Peak Event

Interesting images: Gaia detects proton storm

The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission has been in orbit since December 2013. Its purpose is to observe more than a thousand million stars in our Galaxy, monitoring each target star about 70 times over a five-year period and precisely charting their positions, distances, movements and brightness.

Although Gaia is not equipped with a dedicated radiation monitor, it can provide information about space weather (and the solar particles and radiation) that it encounters at its unique orbital position, 1.5 million km from Earth towards the Sun.

In September, Gaia unexpectedly detected a large quantity of subatomic particles, called protons, that make up each and every one of us, emitted by a solar flare.


(In this image, captured by Gaia’s Wave Front Sensor – a sort of ‘camera within a camera’ in its main star-sensing instrument – the streaks of ‘snow’ are trails of individual protons. During normal space weather conditions, the image would only include one or two proton trails. The long trail running horizontally across the image indicates a particularly energetic proton. Image Credit: ESA / E. Serpell)

Read the full story here.

Free Electron Lasers (FELs) are opening up new avenues of scientific research

They have a huge potential to tackle global challenges – from drug development to the production of hydrogen fuels. Through FELs we can look at things at the atomic scale with unprecedented speed.


(The Compact Linear Accelerator for Research and Applications (CLARA) facility at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory. Credit: STFC)

What is a Free Electron Laser (FEL)?
Like other lasers, FELs produce light. To do this, they use electrons driven by a particle accelerator to incredibly high speeds. The electrons are then passed through a series of magnets, which makes them bunch together in such a way that induces them to emit ultra-short, ultrabright bursts of light. This light can then be aimed at a target within a sample station (or in the case of large research facilities, several sample stations). The interaction between the light and the sample is captured using a detector.

What can you do with FELs?
There are lots of things that FELs can be used to investigate. They can look at things that are really small and at processes that happen really quickly. One example of a problem that FELs could help us solve is using sunlight to produce fuel. Plants use sunlight to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water in a process called photosynthesis. During one of the steps in this process, hydrogen is created. A better understanding of how plants do this would open up the possibility of using sunlight to produce hydrogen for fuel – and this understanding is something that FELs could provide.

Find out what else you can do with FELs by reading the full article in the Autumn issue of Fascination, pages 18-19.