Once a planet Pluto marks its 91st anniversary of discovery on February 18, 2021. Take a moment to ponder 91 years of Pluto from discovery to New Horizons mission majesty. Kudos Pluto, your presence is a source of infinite wonder. It’s remarkable to consider Pluto, a solar system constant, has only been known for 91 years. Arizona’s Lowell Observatory is recognized as the birthplace of Pluto. From – Celebrate the 91st anniversary of Pluto’s discovery | Human World | EarthSky –
“Lowell Observatory bills itself as the the “Home of Pluto.” Percival Lowell, a wealthy American businessman with a passion for astronomy, postulated the existence of a “trans-Neptunian object” and searched for it until his death in 1916. His estate, managed by Lowell’s brother, Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lovell, donated money for a new telescope that still stands at the current Lowell Observatory. Using this telescope, Clyde Tombaugh continued Lowell’s search. On February 18, 1930, he detected movements on photographic plates taken in late January. The discovery was announced on March 13, 1930, on what would have been Lowell’s 75th birthday.”
The I Heart Pluto Festival for 2021 runs virtually February 13-18, 2021. Image via IHeartPluto.Org.
Does Pluto love us back? It almost seems to, with this giant heart on the surface! This image was taken by the New Horizons mission on July 13, 2015. Here are 10 cool things about Pluto you might not know. Image via NASA/ APL/ SwRI.
Astronomers describe the meeting of planets and other cosmic objects on our sky’s dome as “conjunction”. The term “great conjunction” is reserved for close optical alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. Saturn takes roughly 30 years to complete one orbit of the Sun. Jupiter, approximately 12 years. Every twentyish years they meet for a great conjunction. Why? In a nutshell, each year Saturn completes 12 degrees of orbit, Jupiter 30 orbital degrees. As such, in one year Jupiter closes the gap between itself and Saturn by 18 degrees. (30-12=18). Therefore, over 20 years Jupiter gains 360 degrees on Saturn ( 18×20=360 ). When Jupiter laps Saturn a great conjunction is born.
On December 21, 2020, winter solstice arrives with the closest great conjunction since 1226, a mere 0.1 degrees separates Saturn and Jupiter. Degree of separation so rare that in a thousand years between 1600 and 2599, only six great conjunctions have separation of less than 0.2 degrees. The last in 1683, next on March 15, 2080.
Next week’s great conjunction is exceedingly rare. Saturn and Jupiter appearing so close to the eye, they meld into a single bright object. So bright it’s being called the Christmas Star or Star of Bethlehem. Biblical mythology aside, this once in a lifetime spectacle is worth a gander. Weather permitting, if clouds cooperate, look low to the southwestern horizon on December 21st 30 minutes to an hour after sunset. The great conjunction deserves an audience.
Nothing in life escapes official designation, everything has a name, there’s a name for everything. Take Pareidolia, who knew it defined the rabbit your minds’ eye sees in the oil slick on the garage floor? Be it ink blot, cloud formation, piece of driftwood or crisp edge of a grilled cheese sandwich – familiar objects or patterns in completely unrelated objects or patterns are pareidolia.
Here’s the so-called “face on Mars” as originally captured in a 1976 image from the Viking 1 orbiter. Click here to see how subsequent spacecraft revealed the “face” to be simply a play of light and shadows.
Beaming with pride, cosmic wonder is pleased to introduce Aurora Cometalis. According to Marina Galand of Imperial College London, lead author of research published this week in Nature Astronomy., Comet 67P has auroras. Galand’s paper explaining how 67P turns jets of water into Aurora Cometalis is nothing short of remarkable. Seems Aurora Borealis has European Space Agency Rosetta Mission to thank posthumously for expanding the Borealis family tree.
While orbiting Comet 67P between 2014-2016, Rosetta captured images of odd light emissions. Astronomers scratched heads over peculiar ultraviolet light glow invisible to the human eye. 67P doesn’t have a magnetic field, glaring absence of observable green, red, purple or pinkish undulating waves never screamed “wake up people, these invisible ultraviolet bursts are auroras!”.
Galand’s team persevered. Years of combining data from Rosetta’s sensors coupled with computer models plotting interactions between solar wind and comet atmosphere concluded – auroras are real even when invisible to the human eye.
In a nutshell, naturally occurring electric fields in a comet’s atmosphere can grab electrons tossing them inward to collide with spewing water molecules. Exuberant atoms empowered by sudden molecular disruption dance with wild abandon to the tune of ultraviolet auroras.
If you could stand on Comet 67P and see UV light, Aurora Cometalis would appear as bands of diffused, uneven light punctuated by brighter bands when jets of water march across the field of view. Best of all, you’d be surrounded by light – Aurora Cometalis descend all the way down to the surface. So cool! There’s no reason why other comets can’t have auroras. Galand’s research is based on Comet 67P because Rosetta just happened to be in the neighborhood. Welcome to the cosmos Aurora Cometalis.
Jupiter has 79 known moons, second only to 82 identified moons of Saturn. That’s a lot of moons, but what if Jupiter had 600 moons? How cool would that be? University of British Columbia researchers Edward Ashton, Matthew Beaudoin and Brett Gladman studied archival images of Jupiter taken over a 3 hour period on Sept. 8, 2020 at Canada, France, Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Factoring in variation of movement across the field of view, they digitally combined images from 126 different viewpoints. Voila – 52 possibly unknown Jovian moons appeared, Further analysis kicked 7 to the curb (known moons with irregular orbits), leaving 45 eager applicants vying for official Jovian moon status. Curiously, all in retrograde orbit. ( orbiting backward in relation to Jupiter’s orbit ).
So why 600 unidentified moons of Jupiter? Their search was limited to one square degree of view of space surrounding Jupiter. Extrapolation concluded as many as 600 or more unknown moons of Jupiter. Lead researchers will present their findings virtually on Sept. 25, 2020 at the Europlanet Science Congress 2020.
Admittedly these moons are small, 800 meters or so, struggling or barely within reach of IAU (International Astronomical Union ) rules requiring one kilometer in diameter to qualify as moons. Stark contrast to Ganymede – Jupiter’s largest moon, largest moon in our solar system, a moon larger than planets Mercury and Mars.
Cloud streets are long rows of cumulus cloud oriented parallel to the direction of wind. Cloud streets are a product of convection – rolling waves of rising warm air met by sinking layers of upper atmosphere cold air. Atmospheric science 101 – clouds form when water droplets contained in rising warm air condense on introduction to sinking cold air.
The MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured these cloud streets over the Bering Sea on January 20, 2006. Image via Jesse Allen/ NASA. Read more about this image.
Cloud streets are technically called horizontal convection rolls. Typically observed from satellite eyes above, cloud streets generally form over vast expanses of ocean water. Unique to cloud streets are cloud free zones on either side created by sinking cold air.
Every cloud has a story, explanation and reason for being there. Next time you look up, remind yourself of exquisitely balanced natural forces responsible for life as we know it.
On March 27, 2020 C/2020 F3 was discovered by astronomers at WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), a NASA space telescope launched in 2009. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-field_Infrared_Survey_Explorer . On March 31, 2020 it gained official comet status, April 1, 2020 saw it dubbed comet NEOWISE. In a nutshell comets are cosmic objects comprised of ice, dust and space gak presenting a observable tail courtesy close orbital proximity to the Sun. (hence, ice melt) NEOWISE, current darling of space and common observers alike, made closest approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020. The rest is history, history which won’t be repeated until NEOWISE returns in 6,800 years.
Comet NEOWISE is a rare naked eye cosmic spectacle. A remarkably bright experience afforded Northern Hemisphere residents willing to find a dark place, look northwest after sunset toward the Big Dipper to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE.
Resistance is futile. Trust me, I tried to avoid Kings of Pain airing on History Channel. Ignored promotional clips, balked at tuning in, ran for the hills when it appeared on the TV guide. Ultimately I caved, momentary weakness spawned inexplicable obsession. Kings of Pain is satisfying on SO MANY levels!
Overview – hosts Adam Thom ( “wildlife biologist” ) and Rob “Caveman” Aleva ( “animal handler” ) travel the globe in search of venomous, deadly or cranky insects and animals. Their mission, to rank bites and stings on a 30 point scale in 3 categories – 10 points each for initial physical pain, duration of pain and after effects. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kings_of_Pain
Kings of Pain must be seen to be believed. Not for the premise, but for dialogue (seriously now, how many times can two men call each other “dude” in an hour), absurd ineptitude of on camera medics and hysterical observation of fore mentioned medics posing awkwardly when on camera. It’s so great!
Tonight into tomorrow, northern hemisphere sky watchers as far south as Iowa or Michigan to Washington State are on aurora alert. Auroras are caused by charged particles hitching a ride on solar wind, dark skies turn undulating curtains of mischievous colour when charged particles interact with molecules in our atmosphere. Usually, our magnetosphere acts as a planetary shield preventing geomagnetic interaction of charged particles. Every so often fast moving particles overwhelm our magnetic field, create an opening and light up night skies.
On May 12, a magnetic filament on the sun, seen here, became unstable and erupted. (NASA/SDO)
Since Monday, 3 additional solar eruptions sent fast moving charged particles our way. As a result the auroral oval (doughnut shaped ring around the pole where charged particles follow magnetic field lines, reason why far northern latitudes regularly witness geomagnetic storms), has shifted far to the south.
The northern lights as seen looking eastward from just east of Penzance, Sask., at 1:21 a.m. local time Tuesday morning. (Submitted by Notanee Bourassa)
The colour of that light depends on the kind of molecule and the altitude of the collision.
Green is the most common colour, produced when the particles collide with oxygen at an altitude of around 100 to 300 km. At about 300 to 400 km, the interaction with oxygen produces red. Pink occurs below 100 km when nitrogen atoms are struck.
Bottom line – Space Weather Prediction Centre forecasters say there’s a 75% chance of geomagnetic storm activity tonight. If your skies are clear, go outside. If she’s willing, Aurora will find you. Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.
Phonebots clog city streets. Tenacious, impenetrable and defiant, they march catatonic to the glow of their hand held device. They invade crosswalks with self absorbed surety of army ants, oblivious to crossing signals, traffic flow or common decency.
Wanting to scream “what’s wrong with you!” never goes well when driving a company vehicle. Self centred numskulls always take offence. Sometimes they snap a photo of our company logo/phone number, calling to express outrage over the employee who almost ran them down. Propriety dictates polite restraint. I take a deep breath, waiting patiently for phonebots to cross the street. Every so often my inner prankster honks the horn, if I’m lucky a phonebot jumps and scurries. One time a phonebot dropped their device, I laughed out loud.
Do phonebots know how infuriating they are? Believe it their right to cross intersections with flashing “Don’t Walk” signals? Create gridlock by stepping off the curb seconds before a light changes preventing vehicles from making turns, then dawdle along with kaleidoscope eyes fixated on their cell phone? Do the self absorbed little darlings care? Absolutely not! So I sit, and I wait, and every so often I shake them up with a strategically dispatched blast of the horn. It’s hysterical, phonebots hate it when you interrupt social media dribble in the middle of an intersection at rush hour.