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Academician Wang Jingxiu Gives a Science Lecture on Solar Activities

On the afternoon of April 12, Wang Jingxiu, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher of the National Astronomical Observatories(NAOC), was invited to Shizishan Forum to give a lecture on solar activities and their impacts on the human living environment.

Unlike ordinary lectures on physics astronomy, Wang started the lecture by quoting a literary work from Quyuan, a famous poet and statesman of the Chu State in the Warring States period of China. In a vivid yet rigorous way, he introduced the knowledge of the sun, the relationship between the sun and human beings, as well as the contributions and responsibilities of Chinese scientists in this field. He especially illustrated the impact of solar activities on human beings.

Wang referred the sun as "the most familiar stranger". By presenting various intriguing pictures, Wang introduced solar storms, space weather, earth magnetospheric protection and other concepts that are unfamiliar. To show the spectacular mystery of the sun's activities more directly, Wang presented to the audience the rare observations from observatories around the world. He said, the study of solar activity and its transmission process exert huge influences on human’s living environment and technological system. Take solar storms as an example, violent solar storms can cause strong disturbances to the earth's space environment, such as the earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere and middle and upper atmosphere. In some worse circumstances, they will endanger astronauts and cause damage to outer space vehicles such as satellites, spacecraft, etc. Besides, the safety of wireless communications, navigation, power grids and oil pipelines on the ground will all be affected. Wang asserted that, to comprehend and predict solar storms and their effects is a top scientific issue in the high-tech society.

From the rapid rotation of the black body to the fast change of the magnetic field, from the solar core to the corona of the sun, the dominant physical laws among them, are Radiation magneto hydrodynamics and plasma physics. By using a variety of video and chart data, Wang intuitively and clearly showed the simulation animation of solar activities and solar activity week, and he vividly compared the image of solar activity to "butterfly", making the complicated physical phenomena more captivating.“As everyone is tiny, and the earth is also tiny compared to the prominence,” he said. He also linked solar week to agricultural activity, such as the growth cycle of rice and changes in extreme weather.

From Zhu Gaochi, emperor of the Ming dynasty, to Gao Pingzi, a pioneer for the sunspot observation and research, Chinese people have never stopped the exploration of the sun. The top-ranking large astronomical observation instruments and the Regional Warning Center of China (RWCC), member of International Space Environment Service (ISES), all serve as the compelling evidence of China’s leading position in this field. According to Wang, at present, there are both challenges and opportunities for Chinese scientists. He said that astronomy is a real, mysterious and profound science driven by observation and discovery. Wang also introduced the development goals and expectations in the field of astronomy in China.

In the final Q&A session, a student majoring in Agricultural Economy Management raised questions: How will sunspots affect us humans? Why are sunspots sometimes visible to the naked eye? Wang explained that, sunspots represent one of basic forms of solar activity, which can cause intense solar storms. If people can see them with naked eyes, it means that the sun is in a period of intense activities. Wang expected that students can put aside the prejudices about physics, enhance interest in astronomy, and broaden the horizon.

Profile: Wang Jingxiu is an academician of the Chinese academy of sciences, a senior chair-professor at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, a researcher of the National Astronomical Observatories(NAOC), chief editor of Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics. He has been a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology, a guest professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science(ISAS, Japan), an adjunct professor of astronomy at Peking University, and an honorary professor at the Department of Space and Climate Physics at University of London. He has won the second prize of China's State Natural Science Award in 2009,and ZHANG Yuzhe Prize in 2012.


Translated by: Leng Yaqing

Supervised by: Pan Buhan