smoke by jemppu

spaceweather, from eclipse to eclipse

June 23, 2010

AURORAS FROM ABOVE: Have you ever wondered what auroras look like from above? Astronauts onboard the International Space Station found out on May 29th when they flew through a geomagnetic storm and witnessed this green ribbon snaking over the Indian Ocean.

June 24, 2010

AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream is heading for Earth, due to arrive on or about June 26th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on that date.

SPACE STATION MARATHON: The International Space Station (ISS) is about to put on a remarkable show. For the next few days, the behemoth spacecraft will be in almost-constant sunlight. This means it will shine brightly in the night sky every single time it passes overhead. Some observers can see it 3, 4, even 5 times a night!

June 25, 2010

BIG LUNAR ECLIPSE: This Saturday morning, June 26th, there's going to be a lunar eclipse—and for many residents of the USA, it's going to be a big one. The eclipse will occur as the Moon is setting, causing the "Moon Illusion" to magnify the event to truly beautiful proportions. [full story] [eclipse gallery]

June 26, 2010

FALCON 9 DECAY: SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, launched on June 4th from Cape Canaveral as a possible successor to the space shuttle, is about to reenter Earth's atmosphere. According to US Strategic Command, reentry should occur on June 27th at 0146 UT +/- 7 hours.

LUNAR ECLIPSE: This morning, the Moon passed through the shadow of Earth, producing a partial lunar eclipse.

June 27, 2010

FALCON 9 REENTRY: According to US Strategic Command, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket reentered Earth's atmosphere on June 27th at 50 minutes past midnight UT (+/- 2 hours). Nominally, this puts the fireball somewhere over the Iraq-Syria border, although the 2 hour uncertainty means reentry could have happened almost anywhere along the rocket's ground track.

LUNAR ECLIPSE: On Saturday, June 26th, the Moon passed through the shadow of Earth, producing a partial lunar eclipse. [][Big Lunar Eclipse]

NEW SUNSPOT 1084: A new sunspot is rotating into view around the sun's southeastern limb.

June 28, 2010

ISS MARATHON CONTINUES: The ISS continues to orbit Earth in almost constant sunlight, setting the stage for multiple bright flybys in the night sky. Some observers are seeing the space station as often as five times a night! A NASA all-sky meteor camera caught the ISS flying over Georgia on June 27th.

NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: Northern Europe is experiencing an outbreak of electric-blue noctilucent clouds--the brightest of the year so far. "The display over Szubin, Poland, on June 27th was amazing," says photographer Marek Nikodem… Some "great NLCs" materialized in Sweden, too, says P-M Hedén. "We especially enjoyed the view before dawn when Jupiter ascended amog the noctilucent clouds--really nice!" Summer is the season for NLCs, and the recent solstice seems to have kicked these mysterious clouds into high gear.

June 29, 2010

HOW LONG CAN THIS GO ON? Answer: Until Friday. For the rest of this week, the ISS will be in almost constant sunlight. This means the space station shines brightly in the night sky every single time it passes overhead. Many observers are witnessing 3, 4, even 5 flybys a night. On June 28th, Mark Humpage photographed a rare triple flyby over Lutterworth, UK. Ready for your own triple?

PLASMA PUFFS: A magnetic filament is snaking over the sun's northeastern limb, and it is filled with cool dark "puffs" of solar plasma. Pete Lawrence sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK.

STORKS AND SPACE WEATHER: This week, sky watchers in northern Europe are witnessing an intense display of electric-blue noctilucent clouds. It's a veritable "NLC storm." The storks are enjoying the show, too. "Each year in late Spring, thousands of storks (Ciconia ciconia) arrive in Poland," reports Marek Nikodem of Szubin, Poland. "Last night I caught one nesting during the most beautiful display of NLCs this year." [see more images]

June 30, 2010

ISS-LUNAR CONJUNCTION: Click here to see a spaceship fly past the Moon. Peter Rosén recorded the encounter last night when the International Space Station (ISS) soared over Stockholm, Sweden. The ISS is currently performing a "marathon" of flybys over towns and cities around the world, sometimes 3 to 5 times a night, increasing the chances of such conjunctions.

AURORAS VS. MIDNIGHT SUN: A gust of solar wind hit Earth's magnetic field on June 30th, sparking a G1-class (Kp=5) geomagnetic storm. There is no doubt that Northern Lights were dancing around the Arctic Circle. It would have been a good show--except for the midnight sun.

July 1, 2010

SOUTH PACIFIC SOLAR ECLIPSE: Yearning to visit the South Pacific? This is the month to set sail. On July 11th, the Moon will pass directly in front off the sun, producing a total solar eclipse. The path of totality stretches across the south Pacific Ocean, making landfall in only three places: Mangaia (Cook Islands), Easter Island, and the southern tip of South America. Get the details from NASA.

PINWHEEL SUNSPOT: The dark core of sunspot 1084 is twice as wide as Earth itself. More impressive, however, is the enormous swirl of hot gas and magnetic fields suspended overhead. Today's extreme UV image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory reveals the sunspot's pinwheel canopy.

July 2, 2010

WEEKEND SKY SHOW: Jupiter and the Moon are gathering in Pisces for a beautiful weekend sky show. Look south at sunrise to see the two heavenly beacons less than 10° apart. They are so bright, you can see them even after the sky turns twilight blue--indeed, that is the most beautiful time to look. Morning sky maps: July 3, July 4

COMET McNAUGHT: Today, Comet McNaught (C/2009 R1) is making its closest approach to the sun (0.4 AU). Solar heating is furiously vaporizing the comet's icy core and undoubtedly brightening the first-time visitor from the outer solar system. Unfortunately, we can see very little of the action because it is happening on the far side of the sun. Rudi Dobesberger and Hermann Weixlbaum were lucky to catch the comet [location] just after sunset on June 29th. Their photo shows Comet McNaught shining through the waning glow of sunset and the city lights of Aschach, Austria… After today, the comet will recede from the sun and begin to fade. Solar glare will continue to hinder observations for the rest of July, so this could be our last look at Comet McNaught.

July 3, 2010

DOUBLE BLAST: The sun is very active today. A pair of magnetic filaments--one on either side of the solar disk--erupted on July 3rd, hurliing a pair of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into space. Click on the image to set the clouds in motion. The movie actually shows four eruptions. The first pair may have been precursors of the second. Stay tuned for related high-res images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and more information as we unravel these explosive events.

SPACE STATION COMPANION: The International Space Station has an unexpected companion this weekend. On Friday, July 2nd, Russia's Progress 38 supply ship failed to dock with the ISS when the ISS-Progress telemetry link was temporarily scrambled by interference (details). Now Progress 38 is circling Earth in tandem with the space station. "After getting an alert about the aborted docking, I set up my camera and waited for a scheduled pass of the ISS over my home in Northern Ireland," says amateur astronomer John C McConnell. "Sure enough, up popped the ISS from behind the trees and about ten degrees in front was the Progress." He took this picture using a Canon 400D. "The evening sky was still bright, and the Progress 38 was faint, but I could see it," says John C McConnell. "It resembled an ordinary satellite though it was on the same orbit as the ISS."

(UPDATE) Russian ground teams have figured out the cause of the docking problems. A TV transmission from the Zvezda Service Module interfered with radio signals used by the automated docking system. This triggered a "cancel dynamic operations" command that instructed the Progress 38 to fly past the station on its final approach for docking. The interference has been eliminated and a second docking attempt will be made on Sunday, July 4, at 12:10 p.m. EDT.

July 4, 2010

PROGRESS 38 DOCKED: Two time's a charm. Russia's Progress 38 supply ship docked to the ISS at 12:17 pm EDT on Sunday, July 4th.

4TH OF JULY FIREWORKS: It has been a busy weekend on the sun. So far the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has recorded no fewer than five CMEs blasting out of the sun's atmosphere. Click on the image to set the clouds in motion. The two brightest CMEs, pictured above, were caused by eruptions of unrelated magnetic filaments on opposite sides of the sun. The origin of the other three CMEs in the movie remains uncertain. None of the clouds appears to be heading toward Earth; the display was photogenic, but not geoeffective. [see more movies]

NOCTILUCENT DAWN: This morning's sunrise over the UK was highlighted by an unusual color: electric blue.

July 5, 2010

PLUTO AND THE BLACK CLOUD: This week, Pluto is transiting Barnard 92, an inky black cloud of dust in the constellation Sagittarius.

SUN HALO: Temperatures in Kolkata, India, today are above 90 degrees F. So when a gathering thundercloud drifted in front of the sun, producing a patch of cool shade on the ground, photographer Rana Khan looked up gratefully. Then he scrambled for a camera!

WHIRLPOOL SUNSPOT: "Sunspot 1084 reminds me of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)," says astrophotographer Mike Borman. The resemblance is certainly uncanny in this photo he took on July 3rd from his backyard observatory in Evansville, Indiana.

July 6, 2010

FARSIDE BLAST: Old sunspot 1082, currently rounding the far side of the sun, erupted during the late hours of July 5th… The farside location of the blast site means there will be no Earth effects from the event--not this time. The active region will turn to face Earth after July 10th. Stay tuned.

July 7, 2010

SBSS LAUNCH DELAYED: The US Air Force's first Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) spacecraft will not launch on July 8th as planned. The Minotaur IV launch vehicle might have a software problem, just identified in a laboratory test of another Minotaur IV. When the SBSS does get off the ground, it will use a large onboard telescope to track space debris and other "potential future threats to the United States' space assets," according to prime contractor Boeing.

A SUNSPOT APPROACHES: For several days, NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft has been monitoring an apparent sunspot on the far side of the sun. Just yesterday, it erupted and hurled a bright coronal mass ejection over the edge of the solar disk (movie). Now, the sunspot itself is approaching. The Solar and Dynamics Observatory took this extreme ultraviolet picture just hours ago. It shows the spot's magnetic canopy towering over the sun's eastern limb, heralding the appearance of the sunspot's core on July 9th or 10th. After that the active region will turn to face Earth and any further eruptions could be geo-effective. Stay tuned for space weather.

July 8, 2010

SOUTH PACIFIC ECLIPSE: On July 11th, the Moon will pass directly in front off the sun, producing a total solar eclipse.

HERE COMES TROUBLE? The northeastern limb of the sun is literally bursting with activity. Click on the image to set the scene in motion [MPG]. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the flare during the early hours of July 8th. It heralds the approach of a sunspot--possibly a big one--that has been erupting on the far side of the sun for days. A notable blast on July 5th hurled a bright CME over the limb. Soon the active region will turn to face Earth and its eruptions could become geo-effective. Stay tuned for space weather.

WHITE RAINBOW, GOOD OMEN: Waking up early on a foggy morning can have surprising rewards. Consider the tale of Artur T. Grodz of Elblag, Poland: "July 4th was election day in Poland, and I woke up early to get to my polling station. I was pedalling my bike along the Vistula river when I witnessed an extraordinary white rainbow." Actually, it's a fogbow, caused by sunlight reflected from tiny droplets of fog hanging by the river's edge. They're often called "white rainbows" because of their rainbow-shape and pale colors, but rain is not involved. "As I was stood contemplating the phenomenon, I noticed the broad arc setting as the sun rose behind me," recalls Grodz. "The show was over! It was so beautiful, I took it as a good omen for my presidental candidate." (Indeed, it proved to be so, becase his candidate won.) Readers, to see your own white rainbow, follow these instructions: Wake up early, find some morning fog, face away from the low-hanging sun. Apparently, it's a lucky way to begin the day.

July 9, 2010

EMERGING ACTIVE REGION: An active region is emerging over the sun's northeastern limb. It appears to be the remains of old sunspot 1082, but unlike a genuine corpse, these remains are animated. The region is crackling with low-level solar flares.

July 10, 2010

SUNSET CONJUNCTION: Look west at sunset. Venus is passing by 1st magnitude star Regulus; they're only a little more than a degree apart. Bright Venus catches the eye first. As the glow of sunset fades, Regulus pops out of the twilight a little below Venus. The view through binoculars is superb.

SOUTH PACIFIC ECLIPSE: On Sunday, July 11th, the new Moon will pass in front of the sun, producing an eclipse of rare beauty over the South Pacific. Best observing sites include Easter Island, the Cook Islands, the waters off Tahiti, and southern parts of Chile and Argentina. [full story] [animated map] [details]

NOCTILUCENT STORM: Last night, sky watchers in Europe witnessed the finest display of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) so far this year. Electric-blue tendrils spread as far south as France… In England, the same display stretched from horizon to horizon… July is often the best month of the year to see these mysterious clouds. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for electric blue in the nights ahead.

July 11, 2010

ASTEROID FLYBY: Yesterday, July 10th, the ESA's Rosetta probe executed a close flyby of big asteroid Lutetia. Close-up photography reveals an alien terrain dented by a giant bowl-shaped depression with "asteroid-boulders" rolling down the sides. Must-see images here!

SOUTH PACIFIC ECLIPSE: Today's South Pacific eclipse is over. During the 5-hour event, sky watchers spent as much as 4 minutes completely enveloped in the Moon's shadow watching in awe as the solar corona revealed itself to the human eye. First images are coming in now: Total Eclipse Photo Gallery [South Pacific Eclipse]

SINUOUS BEAUTY: Sunspot 1087 is developing into a behemoth many times wider than Earth. It now has dozens of dark cores with a long magnetic filament snaking among them. "What amazing active region!" says Britta Suhre who sends this picture from her backyard observatory in Rosenheim, Germany. The filament is crackling with B- and C-class solar flares, as shown in these movies from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The biggest and most spectacular eruption so far was a C3-flare on July 9th: movie.

July 13, 2010

WHAT LIES INSIDE LUNAR PITS? Researchers discuss the possibilities in today's story from Science@NASA.

MAGNIFICENT ACTIVE REGION: Sunspot 1087 has a magnetic canopy that can only be described as magnificent. It's on full display in today's extreme ultraviolet image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN: At the end of Sunday's total solar eclipse, amateur astronomer Daniel Fischer of Germany… At almost the last possible moment, he snapped this picture. "The shadow of the Moon sweeping over Patagonia in southern Argentina plunged the snowy steppe east of El Calafate into darkness just before sunset on 11 July 2010," says Fischer. "The sharp delineation of the Moon's shadow in the sky stunned everyone." "There had been little advance news coverage of the eclipse in Argentina, probably because it coincided with the final game of the World Cup," he continues. "It was mainly individual eclipse chasers and tour groups from distant countries who converged here for a totality practically at sunset, something few have ever seen." "We assembled at a mirador--a small parking lot beside Route 11 with a good view of the Andes. And then the shadow came, racing towards us with supersonic speed, almost grazing the Earth's surface and about to lift off into space again after having swept through a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean in the hours past. In a short time we witnessed every phase of the eclipse in the unusually clear Patagonian sky. No one present will ever forget it," he says.

July 14, 2010

HAUNTING BEAUTY IN DEEP SPACE: The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe is beaming back images of haunting beauty from mysterious asteroid Lutetia. Researchers discuss the meaning of the photos in today's story from Science@NASA.

SUNSET PLANETS: The planets are aligning for a beautiful sunset sky show. Last night on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Miguel Claro photographed Venus, Mars and Saturn all in a row. "The planets were beautifully arrayed over the Costa da Caparica," says Claro. "Even the bright lights of Lisbon (lower right in the full-sized photo) could not spoil the show." Tonight the crescent Moon joins the show. It will appear beside Venus at the end of the line. For the rest of the week, the Moon will planet-hop from Venus to Mars to Saturn on successive nights. Go outside at sunset and take a look! Sky maps: July 14, 15, 16.

SOLAR ACTIVITY: The magnetic canopy of sunspot 1087 is crackling with low-level solar flares. The biggest of the day so far, a C1-flare at 1230 UT on July 14th, caught the attention of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

July 16, 2010

PUZZLING COLLAPSE OF THE THERMOSPHERE: Researchers are puzzling over a sharper-than-expected collapse of Earth's upper atmosphere during the deep solar minimum of 2008-09. "Something is going on that we do not understand," says John Emmert of the Naval Research Lab, lead author of a paper announcing the finding. Get the full story from Science@NASA.

DUCK-CLASS SOLAR FLARE: Sunspot 1087 has been crackling with low-level solar flares, so when Jo Dahlmans of the Netherlands looked at the active region yesterday, he wasn't surprised to catch a C-class flare in mid-eruption. He was very surprised, however, to find a duck! Click here.

July 17, 2010

MIDNIGHT RAINBOWS: For the past couple of months, sky watchers above the Arctic Circle say they've had trouble seeing the Northern Lights. What's the problem? Apparently, rainbows are getting in the way.

VENUS AT VENUS POINT: On July 11th, Canadian astronomer Alan Dyer was in Tahiti to witness a total eclipse of the sun. If only that cloud hadn't spoiled the moment of totality...! He didn't leave the South Pacific empty-handed, however. "On the evening of the eclipse," he says, "I was able to photograph Venus from historic Venus Point." "This is where Capt. James Cook made his famous observations of the transit of Venus in 1769," explains Dyer. "Cook named the site 'Venus Point' and it became the mooring point for other expeditions that followed, such as the infamous Bounty voyage. What a beautiful place to watch the sky."

July 18, 2010

SOLAR FLARE: Sunspot 1087 erupted on July 17th (1800 UT) producing a long-duration C2-class solar flare… The leisurely but powerful eruption hurled a faint coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. Minor geomagnetic storms are possible on or about July 20th when the cloud reaches Earth. Arctic sky watchers won't likely see auroras because of the midnight sun; Antarctic sky watchers, on the other hand, should be alert for Southern Lights.

July 19, 2010

NEW SUNSPOT: A new sunspot is emerging over the sun's southeastern limb, and it could be a big one. Click here and here for first-look images.

NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: "An amazing display ... bright and beautiful ... like a dolphin playing in electric-blue waves..." These are a few of the things sky watchers are saying about the noctilucent clouds drifting over Europe.

FIERY TRANSIT: For a split second yesterday, the sunspot number sunspot increased .... by 6 astronauts and 815,520 lb of laboratories, habitats, and solar arrays. "It was a solar transit of the International Space Station," says Thierry Legault who photographed the event from Rambouillet, France… And that's not all: "In addition to the ISS, there were several prominences, decaying sunspot 1087, and a new eruptive area coming into view over the sun's southeastern limb." Click here for the complete picture. more images: from Jérôme Delpau of Le Mans, Sarthe, France.

July 20, 2010

SUN-EARTH CONNECTION: The Earth and sun are 93 million miles apart, but they are hardly separated. Magnetic lines of force connect our planet's poles directly to the stellar surface, forming a "sun-Earth system" that researchers are only beginning to understand. Ultimately, the accuracy of space weather forecasts hinges on their progress, and it may require an international effort to succeed. Read more in today's story from Science@NASA.

BEAR CLAW SUNSPOT: Observers are likening new sunspot 1089 to a giant paw print or bear claw. It would take a mighty big bear, however, to make this print.

IRIDESCENT HAIR DAY: "I was playing mini-golf with my daughter today when we noticed a beautiful iridescent corona around the sun," reports Jesper Grønne of Denmark. Kneeling in his daughter's shadow on the 7th green, he recorded the phenomenon.

July 21, 2010

LAST X-FLARE: Can you remember the last time the sun produced an X-class solar flare? (Spoiler alert: The answer lies two sentences hence.) X-class flares are the most powerful kind of solar eruption, and during years of solar maximum they can occur on a daily basis. The most recent X-flare occurred on Dec. 14, 2006, almost four years ago. That last gasp of decaying Solar Cycle 23 marked the beginning of a deep solar minimum that is only now coming to an end. When will the first X-flare of Solar Cycle 24 explode? You could be the first to know. [The Most Powerful Solar Flares Ever Recorded]

ULTRAVIOLET SUNSPOT: Sunspot 1089 is churning out a lot of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) photons… The bright glow comes from hot (80,000 K) plasma trapped by the sunspot's magnetic field. All by itself, this one 'hot spot' is lifting the EUV brightness of the entire sun toward a high point for the year. EUV photons from sunspot 1089 are absorbed in Earth's upper atmosphere where they heat the rarefied air and help reverse the recent collapse of the thermosphere. Sunspot 1089 is still growing, both in brightness and area.

July 22, 2010

KITT PEAK SUNSET: Sunspot 1089 has grown so large, it can now be seen without the aid of a specialized solar telescope. Yesterday, Gil Esquerdo "spotted it" as the sun set over Kitt Peak, Arizona. Esquerdo was located on adjacent Mt. Hopkins. "Twice a year, the sun sets behind Kitt Peak as seen from the ridge on Mt. Hopkins and the Whipple Observatory," he says.

July 23, 2010

AURORA WATCH: High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras tonight. A solar wind stream is about to hit Earth's magnetic field, and the impact could spark geomagnetic storms.

VIEW FROM A JACUZZI: Yesterday in the San Bernardino mountains of southern California, photographer Nicolas Gorceix was enjoying a break in his jacuzzi. As hot water swirled around the tub, he leaned back and saw this… The phenomenon is called iridescence./p>

July 24, 2010

BRIGHT BODIES: Many of the brightest objects in Earth orbit are not satellites, but rather the big rocket bodies that propelled those satellites off Earth's surface. This weekend, our Simple Satellite Tracker is highlighting derelict rocket bodies. Not only are they bright, but also they tend to flash as they tumble through space. Rocket bodies even have their own app. Check it out!

LUNAR TRANSIT: Last night, the International Space Station (ISS) flew directly in front of the Sea of Tranquility. Leonardo Julio sends this picture from Buenos Aires, Argentina... This weekend, the Moon is nearly full, so there will be plenty of bright lunar terrain for spaceship silhouettes.

MAGNETIC FILAMENT: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is beaming back images of unprecedented clarity. On a daily basis, solar physicists are seeing things on the sun that for decades they could only imagine. Today's example is this magnetic filament. Scarcely wider than California, the tubular structure holds millions of tons of relatively cool and dense solar plasma.

July 25, 2010

SUNSET PLANETS: Mars and Saturn are converging with Venus to form a skinny triangle in the sunset sky. When the sun sets tonight, go outside and look west. Venus pops out of the twilight first, followed by Saturn, then Mars. Dates of note include July 30th and 31st when Saturn and Mars are only 2° apart. Sky maps: July 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

THUNDER MOON: Picture this: You step outside on a warm summer evening. In the distance, a stroke of lightning lunges to Earth. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand. The air shakes with thunder and, at that moment, the clouds part to reveal a brilliant full Moon. Too good to be true? It could happen tonight. According to folklore, tonight's full Moon is the "Thunder Moon", named after the storms of summer.

SUNSPOT 1089: The two dark cores of sunspot 1089 are each larger than Earth, and the whole region is criss-crossed by dark magnetic filaments. It's a photogenic ensemble.

July 26, 2010

SPINNING BEHEMOTH: Although Jupiter is ten times wider than Earth, it spins more than twice as fast. One day on the giant planet lasts just 9 hours and 55 minutes. To illustrate the dizzying pace, astrophotographer Anthony Wesley of Australia made a five-hour movie of Jupiter in motion on July 23rd. Click here to make the planet spin.

OVER THE HORIZON: Something bright and active on the far side of the sun is about to turn toward Earth. Magnetic loops towering over the eastern limb herald its approach. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture during the early hours of July 26th. The bright glow revealed by SDO's extreme ultraviolet camera comes from million-degree plasma trapped by overlying magnetic fields. A sunspot is likely at the bottom of it all. Or maybe two sunspots... NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft is stationed over the sun's eastern limb, and it sees a pair of active regions approaching single file. The one peeking over the limb now is actually the smaller of the two. Readers with solar telescopes should train their optics here.

BREATHTAKING PLANETS: "Standing on the summit of Mount Lawu, 3265m above sea level on July 21st, I was treated to one of the most beautiful views of my life," reports Jia Hao of Java, Indonesia. "With reknowed Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu soaked in twilight colors and city lights from Solo shining like stars, four of the major planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn lined up in a row above western horizon."… Readers, take a deep breath, because this scene is about to get even better. Venus, Mars and Saturn are converging for a rare three-way conjunction in August. The show reaches its peak on August 12th and 13th when the crescent Moon joins them for a sunset gathering of surpassing beauty. Browse the sky maps for coming attractions: July 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, August 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

July 27, 2010

SPACEQUAKES DETECTED NEAR EARTH: Get the full story from Science@NASA.

SUNSPOT CONJUNCTION: Yesterday the International Space Station (ISS) had a close encounter--with sunspot 1089.

STRANGE SUNRISE: On Monday morning, July 26th, John Stetson woke up early to watch the sunrise over Casco Bay in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He expected a pretty view. What he got was pretty strange.

July 28, 2010

METEOR SHOWER: Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaks on July 28th and 29th.

SOLAR ACTIVITY: Readers with solar telescopes, train your optics on the sun's northeastern limb. A big sunspot with an active magnetic canopy is emerging there. And that's not all... Today around 1200 UT, magnetic fields looping over the sun's southeastern limb became unstable and erupted. The blast produced a towering prominence dozens of times taller than Earth itself. David Evans took the picture from his backyard observatory in Coleshill, North Warwickshire, UK. "This was a huge event," he says. "It just goes to show how the sun can surprise observers even at this 'low' phase of the solar cycle."

July 29, 2010

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER ERUPTION: This morning, the sun produced another eruption just as impressive as yesterday's 'Towering Blast.' It occured in the vicinity of new sunspot 1092 on the sun's northeastern limb. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a must-see movie: 12 MB gif.

TOWERING BLAST: Yesterday, a magnetic filament curling over the southeastern limb of thee sun became unstable and erupted. The blast produced a towering curlicue prominence that "Dr Seuss would have loved," says Alan Friedman, who sends this picture [smaller] from his backyard observatory in Buffalo, New York. "It towered more than 200,000 miles above the stellar surface," says Friedman. Astronomers around the world watched the structure twist, curl, and eventually fling itself into space over a six hour period. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory had the best view of all. Onboard cameras recorded an IMAX-quality movie of the event ... coming soon to a theatre near you? NASA is planning an IMAX movie about SDO, and this eruption will probably make the cut. Until then, enjoy these previews: 9 MB movie, 15 MB slow-motion movie. [see more images]

SUMMER LIGHTS: A high speed solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, and this is causing geomagnetic activity around the poles. Zoltan Kenwell of Edmonton, Alberta, witnessed this display on July 27th.

July 30, 2010

CELESTIAL TRIANGLE: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look west. Venus, Saturn, and Mars have converged to form a skinny triangle in the sunset sky. Saturn and Mars are especially close together, only 2° apart for the next few nights. Sky maps: July 30, 31, August 1, 2. [more triangle images]

DEJA VU ERUPTIONS: On July 28th, magnetic fields on the sun's eastern limb became unstable and erupted, producing a towering prominence of surpassing beauty. On July 29th, it happened again. Click on the image to play a movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Neither eruption produced a bright flash of X-radiation. For that reason, solar activity on July 28th and 29th was officially classified by NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center as "low" to "very low." It might be time to change the classification scheme. [see more movies]

July 31, 2010

SPECTACULAR SUNSPOT: Today, big sunspot 1092 and its surroundings are putting on a spectacular show for anyone with a solar telescope. Click on the links for snapshots from around the world: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9

CORONAL MASS EJECTION: During the late hours of July 30th, a magnificent coronal mass ejection (CME) billowed away from the eastern limb of the sun. Click on the image to set the cloud in motion. If a CME like this hit Earth, polar sky watchers would likely see bright auroras. In this case, however, the cloud is not aimed in our direction. At most, it would deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field around August 2nd, producing only minor geomagnetic activity. The source of the blast was apparently sunspot 1092. Future CMEs could be more geoeffective as the sunspot turns to face Earth in the days ahead.

August 1, 2010

NEW MEXICO FIREBALL: Dawn came early to New Mexico on Saturday around 4:54 am local time when a brilliant meteor exploded near Santa Fe. "It turned night into day," says amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft who recorded the fireball using an all-sky video camera: must-see movie [MP4].

COMPLEX ERUPTION ON THE SUN: This morning around 0855 UT, Earth orbiting satellites detected a C3-class solar flare. The origin of the blast was sunspot 1092. At about the same time, an enormous magnetic filament stretching across the sun's northern hemisphere erupted. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action. [Click to launch a 304 Å movie] The timing of these events suggest they are connected, and a review of SDO movies strengthens that conclusion. Despite the ~400,000 km distance between them, the sunspot and filament seem to erupt together; they are probably connected by long-range magnetic fields. In this movie (171 Å), a shadowy shock wave (a "solar tsunami") can be seen emerging from the flare site and rippling across the northern hemisphere into the filament's eruption zone. That may have helped propel the filament into space.

In short, we have just witnessed a complex global eruption involving almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun.

A coronal mass ejection (CME) produced by the event is heading directly for Earth: SOHO movie. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when it arrives on or about August 3rd.

solar tsunami: 13-Feb-09 @ 05:35:18 UT ~ Sun Aquarius 24°39' ~ Aquarius 25° A butterfly struggles to emerge from the chrysalis and it seems that the right wing is more perfectly formed

NEW MOVIE: Researchers working with data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory have prepared a new movie of yesterday's eruption.

SUNSPOT SUNRISE: Sunspot 1092, a key player in yesterday's Earth-directed eruptions, is big enough to see without the aid of a solar telescope. Oleg Toumilovitch "spotted" [more] it on July 31st rising over Blairgowrie, South Africa.

August 3, 2010

CME IMPACT! The first of possibly two incoming CMEs hit Earth's magnetic field today at approximately 1730 UT (1:30 pm EDT). As a result of the impact, a polar geomagnetic storm is brewing. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall. UPDATE: Northern Lights are being sighted now in Europe. Jesper Grønne sends this picture from Denmark (latitude +56 degrees). Rob Stammes sends this report from Laukvik, Lofoten, Norway: "At 17.40 UT, electrical currents began to flow throgh the ground outside my laboratory: data. This indicated the arrrival of the CME. Three hours later a geomagnetic storm is active, strong enough for auroras."

COMPLEX ERUPTION ON THE SUN: On August 1st, the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more. Click [MOV] on the image to view just a fraction of the action. The movie recorded by extreme UV cameras onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows an enormous magnetic filament breaking away from the sun. Some of the breakaway material is now en route to Earth in the form of a coronal mass ejection (CME).

Seeing the sun erupt on such a global scale has galvanized the international community [Severe Space Weather--Social and Economic Impacts ][International Living with a Star] of solar physicists. Researchers are still sorting out the complex sequence of events and trying to understand why they all happened at once.

August 4, 2010

GEOMAGNETIC STORM--MORE TO COME? The solar storm of August 1st sent two CMEs toward Earth. The first one arrived yesterday, August 3rd, sparking mild but beautiful Northern Lights over Europe and North America (see below). The second CME is still en route. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of major geomagnetic storms when the cloud arrives on August 4th or 5th.

NORTHERN LIGHTS: A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field on August 3rd at 1740 UT. The impact sparked a G2-class geomagnetic storm that lasted nearly 12 hours--time enough for auroras to spread all the way from Europe to North America… With the possible arrival of a second CME on August 4th [gallery].

COMPLEX ERUPTION ON THE SUN: On August 1st, the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. There was a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more. This extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun's northern hemisphere in mid-eruption.

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