No Telescope? No Problem


On April 29th behemoth asteroid 1998 OR2 will make closest approach to Earth at a safe distance of approximately 6 million kilometers. Traveling through the cosmos at 31,320 km/h, 1.8 km wide, 4.1 km long 1998 OR2 reigns as largest near Earth asteroid flyby of the year. There’s no chance of planetary impact and sadly no chance of seeing it without a telescope. Fear not, the Virtual Telescope Project hosts free online viewing starting April 28, 2020.https://www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/

Ghostly image of a large boulder in space.

Radar image of asteroid 1998 OR2, acquired April 18, 2020. According to current estimates, this space rock is probably at least a mile wide (1.8 km) and maybe 2 1/2 times that long (4.1 km). Image via Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

First glimpses of large asteroid due to pass soon

Super Pink Grass Egg


Folklore in North America regards the April full moon as Pink, Grass or Egg Moon. When the full moon coincides with perigee ( closest point in elliptic lunar orbit to Earth ) it’s called a Supermoon. Tonight’s pink supermoon boasts closest lunar perigee of 2020, a mere 356,909 km distance from Earth.

Year’s biggest and brightest supermoon on April 7-8

Moments ago I ushered my husband and son outside to the telescope. Nothing short of joy describes their reaction. A Moon so full and bright my son grabbed sunglasses to fully appreciate jaw dropping resolution. Can’t remember the last time anything made me as happy.

Lost track of how many times I’ve posted this video. Without hesitation, here it is again – three minutes of cosmic wonder guaranteed to evoke childhood wonder and imagination.

Couldn’t let this Pink Moon set without a nod to Nick Drake –

Comet ATLAS


In December 2019 astronomers at ATLAS ( Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System ) in Hawaii discovered Comet C/2019Y4, flagging it as one to watch come May 2020. Almost immediately C/2019Y4 became known as comet ATLAS.  At first astronomers predicted May 31, 2020 as day to watch ATLAS pass within the orbit of Mercury and the Sun at 0.25 AU distance, culminating in spectacular brightness as dissolving heat set ATLAS ablaze.

This week astronomers watched in amazement as magnitude increased 4,000 fold from +17 in early February to +8 by mid-March, stunned by runaway magnitude several months ahead of perihelion (closest orbital approach to the Sun ).  Magnitude is a measure of brightness observed from Earth, the lower the magnitude, the brighter the cosmic object. For perspective, faintest objects visible from Earth with binoculars have a magnitude of +9.5. Venus and Mars at their brightest, magnitude -4.4 and -3.0 respectively.  More magnitude linked below –

https://lco.global/spacebook/distance/what-apparent-magnitude/

“Comet ATLAS continues to brighten much faster than expected,” says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “Some predictions for its peak brightness now border on the absurd.”

According to Dr. Tony Phillips at https://spaceweatherarchive.com/2020/03/16/comet-atlas-is-brightening-faster-than-expected/ if ATLAS magnitude continues to bloom at this pace, by May it could range between +1 to -5, possibly brighter than Venus and visible to the naked eye in daylight.

atlas3_crop

Comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4) photographed on March 6, 2020, by Austrian astrophotographer Michael Jäger. The comet’s diffuse green atmosphere is about twice as wide as the planet Jupiter.

 

 

Juno


On August 5, 2011 NASA’s Juno mission left Earth orbit, destination Jupiter. The farthest space probe ever to be powered by solar arrays, Juno arrived in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Every 53 days Juno completes one orbit of Jupiter. Close orbital passes are called perijoves, from the Greek word peri which means near. Images from Juno’s latest close approach, ( perijove 25 completed on February 27, 2020 ) were made public this week by NASA.

Blue ball with white swirls.

Jupiter at mid-northern latitudes as seen by Juno during Perijove 25. The small, round, swirly spots are storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ SwRI/ MSSS/ Kevin M. Gill.

And now, a word from Juno at Jupiter

Ponder timelapse from JunoCam –

 

Restorative Timelapse


It’s been a tough week, when things get tough I turn to timelapse. Serendipity introduced Yosemite Channel by Barry Chall, retired professional photographer and digital artist turned dark sky visual custodian. Take a deep breath, relax with a journey through the sky….

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY49rsyLXsD4vtVX_96W-uA

Pale Blue Dot Revisited


Thirty years ago today, February 14, 1990 – NASA spacecraft Voyager 1 looked back from Saturn to capture the Pale Blue Dot.

An image of bluish space, with streaks of sunlight crossing it, and with a single dot - Earth - within one of the sunbeams.

In this image from Voyager 1 – acquired on February 14, 1990, from a distance slightly past the orbit of Saturn – Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam, just right of center. Earth appears softly blue. It occupies less than a single pixel in this image and thus is not fully resolved. Image via NASA.

As Voyager 1 approached Saturn, mission control planned to conserve power by shutting down imaging cameras. Astronomer Carl Sagan had an idea – before shutdown look back at planet Earth. Six billion kilometers across the cosmos Voyager 1 immortalized the Pale Blue Dot.

Today, 30th anniversary of the Pale Blue Dot

On this 30th anniversary, every last one of us should take a moment to ponder Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot –

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

Inouye Sun


Highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun were released January 29, 2020 by astronomers at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Inouye, the world’s largest solar telescope sits near the summit of Mount Haleakala on Maui. Construction began in January 2013. The distinguishing feature, a 13 foot primary mirror arrived in August, 2017. This week we have Inouye to thank for expanding solar horizons. A statement from NSF (National Science Foundation) –

“The images show a pattern of turbulent ‘boiling’ plasma that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of ‘cells,’ cools, then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.”

Square of tightly-packed caramel corn-like granules.

https://www.nso.edu/press-release/inouye-solar-telescope-first-light/

I can’t watch this video without grinning from ear to ear –

Erupting solar plasma drives space weather’s engine. Solar storms impact airlines, GPS, telecommunications and the power grid. To understand solar dynamics, is to understand space weather. High resolution Inouye images are touted as the greatest leap in humanity’s ability to study the Sun since Galileo.  Said Thomas Rimmele, Director of Inouye Solar Telescope –

“It’s all about the magnetic field. To unravel the sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles [150 million km] away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun.”

Newest solar telescope releases its 1st images