New research published in the journal Science Advances supports a correlation between moon cycles and sleep. Seems we go to bed later, sleep less when the moon is full. Scientists analyzed sleep patterns of two control groups, one in rural Argentina without artificial light pollution, the other college students living in downtown Seattle. Research concluded full moons disrupt sleep patterns even in urban locations with artificial light pollution. Participants wore wristbands to monitor activity, both groups went to bed later, slept less during the week leading up to a full moon. Research confirmed humanity’s inherent link to evolutionary circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythm regulates wake/sleep hours, repeating once every 24 hours in step with rotation of Earth. Circadian (from Latin “circa” meaning around or approximately and “diem”, meaning day ) rhythm is hard wired into every form of life. It dictates when bees feed, bats fly and we sleep. Circadian rhythm is sensitive to light fluctuation – enter full moon sleep deprivation.
As I write, Earth directed solar wind blows at 559.3 km/second. High speed solar wind is credited to sunspot AR2803 –
Last night, Adrien Mauduit at Night Lights Films captured “Aurora at the Beach”, mesmerizing real time aurora majesty washed in waves tickling a stony beach. Treat yourself to Aurora at the Beach, follow Adrien Mauduit at Night Lights Films. –
Below – screenshot of the current Aurora Oval illustrating the impact of high speed solar wind from AR2308. Centered at true magnetic North rather than geographical North Pole, the Aurora Oval widens or retreats at the command of space weather. Ovation Auroral Forecast – Auroral oval | SpaceWeatherLive.com is my go to aurora resource.
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.
Roughly seven months ago the U.S., China and United Arab Emirates took advantage of favourable Earth/Mars orbit to launch missions to Mars. Over the next two weeks all three, one orbiter and two landers will reach Mars. Ponder the enormity of three nations, three separate missions congregating at Mars within days of each other. Who knew the UAE has a space program? Why is China poking at Mars? How many people still believe space exploration starts and ends with NASA? Who even knows how many separate space missions are active?
The UAE arrives first on February 9th. The EMM (Emirates Mars Mission) probe Amal is an orbiter tasked with collecting atmospheric data. The UAE space program is an initiative to advance science and technology rather than reliance on oil. The very next day China’s Tianwen-1, a dual orbiter/lander mission settles into orbit. If all goes well, Tianwen-1 will deploy its solar powered lander sometime in May. This is China’s second attempt to deploy a Mars lander, their 2011 joint venture with Russia failed. On February 18 NASA’s Perseverance Rover skips orbit for immediate deployment to the Jezero Crater, an ancient river delta which flowed into a lake. NASA is the only space agency to successfully land on Mars. (Eight times since 1976 )
The Apollo era cemented universal cosmic wonder. The enormity of space travel, realization of science fiction becoming reality resonated with collective astonishment. Tonight I write of three autonomous Mars missions arriving within days of each other knowing full well most people aren’t interested. Today, cosmic wonder languishes in a puddle of competing click bait, occasionally bubbling to the surface when news feeds pluck near Earth asteroid calamity froth. Missions to Mars aren’t enough to attract clicks and views. Cosmic wonder suffers in silence.
Ring in the New Year with a nod to Sirius, brightest star in the night sky. Residing in constellation Canis Major, Sirius often answers to the name Dog Star. Tonight and every New Years Eve, Sirius reaches its highest point near the strike of midnight making it the New Years star. Tipping your hat to Sirius is as simple as spotting Orion’s iconic belt –
This photo comes from EarthSky Facebook friend Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington. See how it matches the chart above, with the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt pointing to Sirius?
Independent of each other, every ancient civilization from Egypt to Sumeria, Babylon and Greece revered sparkling Sirius. As we tread softly into 2021, think of Sirius as an astronomical foundation acknowledged through the ages. Resolve to gaze upward on a clear dark night, follow Orion’s belt to Sirius and smile. Happy New Year.
It’s a fact, Northern Hemisphere stars appear brighter in winter than summer. Why? Our infinitesimally small solar system resides within the Milky Way galaxy, roughly 100,000 light years across with its centre 25-28 thousand light years away from plucky planet Earth. During December, January and February Northern Hemisphere night skies face away from the centre toward outskirts less muddied by cosmic dust. There are fewer stars between us and extragalactic space at this time of year. We’re gazing toward the Orion Arm, a minor spiraling tendril of the Milky Way housing our solar system. At this time of year large stars within the Orion Arm appear closer and brighter courtesy less galactic dust.
Bright winter stars have nothing to do with cold nights, everything to do with orbital alignment in relation to the heart of our galaxy. Don’t be shy, when night skies clear look up and wish upon a bright winter star.
Geminid Borealis by Adrien Mauduit at Night Lights Films takes my breath away. Envious is an understatement. Oh to be perched on a peninsula in Norway witnessing the Geminids through tendrils of ethereal auroras.
The mind’s eye likes to categorize images based on reference, circumstance and familiarity. Be it dark or daylight skies, we thrive on recognizable predictability. From contrails to crescent moon, ominous storm clouds to constellation Orion, familiar skyscapes fit like comfortable slippers. By virtue of our nature, everything we see is processed according to common knowledge. So what happens when perception defies instinctive categorization? When “I’ve never seen a cloud like that” or “that can’t possibly be an airplane” muddies reflexive comprehension? Void of immediate explanation some ask themselves, is it a UFO?
Ponder this image. How does your mind’s eye categorize eerie concentric circles punctuated with a tilted ascending beam of blue light? Extraterrestrial origin or definable illusion? In December 2009 a failed Russian ballistic missile test created this illusion in skies over Norway. Rings of light stem from spiraling trajectory following third stage missile failure.
UFO? No, it’s a Iridium flare. “Iridium” flare terminology stems from a constellation of communications satellites first launched in 1997 by Iridium Communications. Satellites generally appear as slow moving “stars” to the untrained eye. The original 66 Iridium satellites have been phased out, replaced by second generation SpaceX low orbit installations. That said, for the past 20 years momentary bright flashes occurred up to four times a day when reflective antenna caught sunlight.
From weather balloons, drones, funky clouds, upper atmosphere ice crystals bending light, low orbit satellites to bright magnitude planet Venus, the mind’s eye demands explanation. Is it a UFO? Probably not. 99.9% of the time there’s a perfectly logical explanation.
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.