Its been a while since space weather graced this blog, far too long if you ask me. With that in mind, ponder a Sunday night space weather update.
As I write solar wind blows at 354.8 km/second, 1,967 potentially hazardous asteroids are identified within 100 LD (lunar distance) from our planet and 2 observable fireballs have been recorded in the past 24 hours. Despite a lull in solar activity courtesy cyclical expectations of solar minimum, a behemoth Earth facing hole in the Sun’s surface catapults solar wind in our direction. Contact with Earth’s magnetic field is anticipated on February 19 or 20th. Aurora watchers can expect geomagnetic storms.
On Monday February 18, Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky will be eclipsed by asteroid 4388 Jurgenstock (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4388_Jürgenstock)
In sharp contrast to February 2018 which came and went without a full moon, February 19, 2018 delivers a supermoon designated the closest full moon of the year.
Few people know what space weather is, let alone grasp how it impacts life on Earth. If you were a passenger on NetJets flight 795 from White Plains to Burbank last week, you received a radiation dose of x 68.4 that of radiation exposure at sea level. Space weather is real and it matters. Happy Sunday.
On February 12/13, 2019 comet Iwamoto makes a rare visit to our corner of the universe. Discovered in 2018 by amateur Japanese astronomer Massayuki Iwamoto, his namesake passes harmlessly at a distance of 45 million km. with astronomical magnitude of +6.5 – too faint for the human eye, easily observed by backyard telescopes. With a wonky elliptical orbit of 1,371 years, comet Iwamoto hasn’t said hello since 648 AD and won’t be back until the year 3390. Point your telescope toward constellation Leo around midnight on the 12th to catch a glimpse of Iwamoto.
Comet Iwamoto (C/2018 Y1) hails from beyond the Kuiper Belt. Officially this Extreme Trans-Neptunian Object (ETNOs) comes from a distance 5 times greater than that of Pluto to the Sun. Regarded as a “dirty snowball” –
“The most popular theory about the nature of comets was put forward by American astronomer Fred Whipple, often known as the “grandfather” of modern cometary science. Whipple believed they were like dirty snowballs – large chunks of water ice and dust mixed with ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. As the snowball approached the Sun, its outer ices began to vapourise, releasing large amounts of dust and gas which formed the characteristic tails.
Today, largely thanks to data from Giotto and the Russian Vega spacecraft, we now know that Whipple’s model was fairly accurate. A comet nucleus resembles a fluffy snowball (usually only a few kilometres across) coated with a crust of black material and spouting jets of vaporised ice.”
Only a handful of keeners will witness Iwamoto’s passing. Seeing it matters less than knowing it’s out there and tipping your hat to cosmic wonder.
On January 18, 2019 JAXA ( Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency ) successfully launched a small Epsilon-4 rocket at the Uchinoura Space Center. JAXA proudly declared it one of 7 planned micro-satellite launches deployed to demonstrate innovative technology. Which innovative technology you ask? GPS, solar radiation, weather? Nope! Ponder entertainment technology, embellishing firework extravaganzas with artificial meteor showers.
It seems Lena Okajima, president of Astro Live Experiences was smitten by an encounter with the Leonid meteor shower 20 years ago. Her vision – pack a satellite with hundreds of pellets, launch into Earth orbit, program release of pellets to simulate a meteor shower. Today AstroLive is poised to facilitate Okajima’s dream of meteors at your service. Pardon my ignorance for asking why JAXA considers artificial meteor showers valid aerospace exploration. Despite questionable mingling of entertainment and science, ALE has a vision and JAXA is on board.
As I write, an ALE satellite orbits 500 kilometers above Earth. Engineers at ALE say 500 Km is too high for controlled release of artificial meteors. As such ALE’s satellite will gradually decrease orbit over the year to a distance of 400 kilometers. The first artificial meteor shower is slated for sometime in 2020 over Hiroshima, Japan. Pressure driven gas tanks will shoot out 20-30 pellets per entertainment event, each pellet glowing brightly as it burns up in the atmosphere. ALE’s goal is to dominate night skies with meteor showers on demand. “We want to use the sky as canvas and create very beautiful things” said Okajima.
Few snippets of space news upset me as much as ALE’s determination to turn meteor showers into on demand entertainment. Twenty years ago Lena Okajima encountered Leonid and squealed look at the pretty lights. Rather than promote dark sky sanctuaries, cosmic education or productive research, she decides to cheapen cosmic wonder with artificial slight of hand.
Take a moment to ponder timelapse perfection by Lucie Debelkova – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClDKSZTXcuOz4lC_Zv183Ng Lucie travelled along ancient trade routes from the Atlas mountains, across the Sahara to Marrakech during darkest Moon phases to capture night skies without light pollution. Dark skies reveal the Milky Way of our ancestors – mesmerizing, irrefutable and bristling with thought provoking imagination.
Invitation to the first full moon of 2019 arrives with the promise of cosmic splendor. January 20 marks the first full moon, first total lunar eclipse and first of three consecutive full supermoons ( lunar orbit coinciding with perigee, the closest point of orbit to Earth ). Full, total and super define the show, blood is an inaccurate rumour. Participants sold Blood Moon tickets needn’t despair, absence of Biblical prophecy won’t detract from the spectacle. Missing the show means waiting until May 26, 2021 for another.
There was a time when total lunar eclipse viewable from North and South America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern and western Africa and the Arctic was enough to attract participants. Today media dumbs us down with banners of blood moon click bait. In 2013 fundamentalist Christian pastor John Hagee published his book “Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change”. Four blood moons refers to a tetrad – four consecutive total lunar eclipses with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each separated from the other by six full moons. The last astronomical tetrad occurred during 2014/2015. End-timers dusted off the Book of Joel, equating “the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” with ominous end times prophecy. Never mind that a sun turning to darkness refers to solar eclipse, or science of atmospheric conditions make an early rising moon appear red. Hagee’s book spent weeks on NY Times best seller list, sold millions of copies and solidified full moons as blood. Blood Moons are fundamentalist poppycock, total supermoon lunar eclipses are cosmic gems. Shame on Christian fundamentalists for trying to steal cosmic wonder. Leave the moon alone.
Visit https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/ to determine optimal viewing at your location. Watch live at https://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2019/01/15/21-jan-2019-supermoon-total-eclipse-live-events-online/ or throw caution to the wind by going outside.