Sneaky 2018 RC

Asteroids make no apology for sneakiness. February 2013, Chelyabinsk Russia, a unknown 20 meter wide meteor traveling at 18 km/second began to tear apart at an altitude of 35 kilometers. Beneath the meteor’s path shock waves knocked people off their feet. In the city of Chelyabinsk windows in over 3,600 building shattered. Over 1,200 people treated for injuries, a fireball 30 times brighter than the sun arriving without warning. A swath of destruction unleashed by a rogue 20 meter space rock.

Five days ago the ATLAS sky survey in Hawaii discovered 2018 RC, a near earth asteroid estimated at 32-71 meters. Later today 2018 RC will come within 220,000 km, roughly half the distance between earth and the moon. As potentially hazardous asteroids go that’s freaking close. There’s no chance 2018 RC will hit earth. That said, asteroids are sneaky.For all the eyes cast at all the skies astronomers detected 2018 RC 5 days ago, Chelyabinsk came without warning.

The Virtual Telescope Project invites us to ponder2018 RC live.

Near-Earth asteroid 2018 RC: poster of the event

At 6 pm eastern daylight time the Virtual Telescope Project invites everyone to watch live images of 2018 RC. To participate click on the link above.


Solar Sector Boundary Crossing Coincides With Historic 150th Anniversary

September 2nd marks a historic 150th anniversary. On this day in 1859 miners in Virginia woke at 3 am thinking glowing skies signaled sunrise. From the North Pole to Cuba, Hawaii, most of Mexico, parts of Central America and Colombia, China and Japan, brilliant auroras delivered a electromagnetic circus. All across Europe and North America telegraph wires sparked, stations caught fire, some operators reported sending and receiving messages even after disconnecting power lines.

150 years ago British astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed a unprecedented solar flare – today we know it as the Carrington Event. A similar event today would devastate life as we know it. Ponder weeks, months, possibly years without electricity, internet, ATMs, GPS, power to pump water and fuel, air, road or rail travel. Space weather is real and it matters.

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On September 3rd space weather predicts a solar sector boundary crossing.

Our sun produces wind (currently 316.9 Km/second) blasts across the cosmos. Just like Earth, the Sun has a magnetic field – known as the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF).  Whipped into spiral rotation, wind driven IMF rotates in one direction. It divides into spiral sections pointing to and away from the sun along the ecliptic plane ( a direct line between Earth and the Sun). The edge of this swirling mass has a surface separating polarities of planetary and solar magnetism called the heliosphere current sheet.

Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause (the point of contact between our magnetosphere and the IMF). If the IMF happens to point south at contact (scientific term, southward Bz) the two fields link causing partial cancellation of Earth’s magnetic field – in other words, opening a temporary door for solar energy to enter our atmosphere. Welcome solar sector boundary crossing – a phenomenon born of high solar wind and coronal mass ejections (CME’s – aka solar flares).

It takes 3 or 4 days for magnetism to sort itself out – during that time expect occasional high frequency radio wave disruption,  wonky GPS and cell phone service peppered with sudden power grid failure events. On the upside, we’re treated to kick ass auroras.

Space weather really does matter.

Pondering ALMA Timelapse

Ponder the Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-millimeter Array ( ALMA ), a ground level array of 66 radio telescopes commanding Chile’s Atacama Desert at an elevation of 16,000 feet. Operational since 2013 with cooperation from the U.S., Europe, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Chile, ALMA is our largest ground based telescope array. Mission – ” to provide insight on star birth during the early universe and detailed imaging of local star and planet formation. ”

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Lose yourself in ALMA timelapse –


Burning Tears Of Saint Lawrence

Tonight through August 13 the Perseid meteor shower promises to deliver peak sightings. According to science – “In 1835, Adolphe Quetelet identified the shower as emanating from the constellation Perseus. In 1866, after the perihelion passage of Swift-Tuttle in 1862, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli discovered the link between meteor showers and comets.“. Seems over zealous astronomers neglected to ask the church were Perseid originated.

Martyred Christian deacon Saint Lawrence was put to death August 10, 258 AD by Roman emperor Valerian. According to legend Lawrence was grilled to death over hot coals. Before succumbing to his death deacon Lawrence is said to have told his torturers he was “done” on one side and to turn him over. ( reason National Geographic claims made Lawrence the patron saint of chefs ) History documents Catholic observance of Saint Lawrence martyrdom on August 10 since the fourth century.

Somewhere in the annuals of early Catholic history Perseids became the fiery tears of Saint Lawrence. Clearly the only explanation for a annual event coinciding with grilling the patron saint of chefs.

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A Perseid meteor crosses the night sky over a statue of Jesus Christ in a Belarusian village on August 13, 2016.

The annual Perseid meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a stream of dust from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, as shown in this orbit diagram.

Go to for tips on watching Perseid.

2018 Perseids

Every year between July 17 and August 24 Earth orbit crosses paths with debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle follows a long exaggerated oblong orbit, a journey of 133 years to complete one lap from beyond Pluto when farthest from the Sun, to inside Earth orbit when closest to our Sun. Swift-Tuttle’s behemoth debris tail is a product of solar warming – every time it passes through the inner solar system, solar energy loosens particles of icy comet releasing tiny particles into the debris stream. Particles which smack our atmosphere at 210,000 km/hour to deliver the Perseid Meteor shower.

This year, Perseid 2018 coincides with a near moonless sky on August 11, 12 and 13. Recommended viewing typically suggests observation points away from city lights between midnight and dawn. Dark skies help but don’t give up if you aren’t a night crawler or can’t escape light pollution. Be sky aware, gaze upwards and if you’re lucky a spectacular earthgrazer ( slow, colourful meteors traveling along the horizon before midnight when the radiant point of comet debris is close to the horizon ) might just make your day.

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Earth encounters debris from comet, via Astro Bob.

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Image result for perseid meteor 2018

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Look Up At Behemoth Mars

In 2003 Mars was closer to Earth than any time in the past 60,000 years. Tonight Mars is slightly farther away, but won’t be this close again until 2035. Doesn’t have to be tonight, but please look up and ponder Mars.

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Ours is not a symmetrical universe, celestial objects don’t march in perfect circular orbit. Mass, proximity, tilt of axis, speed of rotation and composition dictate elliptical waltzes across the night sky. Every elliptical planetary orbit has a closest point (perihelion) and farthest point (aphelion) from the Sun. On July 27, 2018 “opposition” placed Earth directly between Mars and the Sun, but thanks to elliptical orbit not closest to Earth until tonight. Time between Mars opposition and closest point to Earth varies from 8.5 days (1969) to 10 minutes (2208 and 2232).

So put Mars viewing on your calendar for 2016. You won’t see Mars this size again until 2018, when Mars will put on an even better show. Illustration via

Illustration of a telescopic view of Mars at its last opposition in 2016, in contrast to 2018. Mars appears larger through a telescope in 2018. Its larger size in our sky means it’s brighter, very bright indeed, as you’ll see if you look for Mars tonight! Illustration via

Mars will still be visible after July and August, 2018, but each month it will shrink in apparent size as Earth rushes ahead of Mars in our smaller, faster orbit around the sun. As telescopes show Mars smaller in apparent sky, our unaided eyes will see Mars fade in brightness. Image via NASA Tumblr.