Space Weather Update

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 (ürgenstock)

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.


Visitor From Beyond the Kuiper Belt

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.



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.

Image result for perseid night sky statue of jesus

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.

Earth Has An Asteroid Buddy

In 2016 planetary astronomers at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory discovered a small ( 100 meter ) object moving with Earth around the Sun. Dubbed 2016 OR3, initial science speculation wondered if it might be a piece of space junk, perhaps a rogue rocket booster caught in wobbly orbit occasionally intersecting Earth orbit.

Last week at the annual Division For Planetary Sciences  meeting in Provo, Utah Vishnu Reddy from University of Arizona laid speculation to rest, identifying 2016 OR3 as an asteroid, stating in part –

“2016 HO3 is a small near-Earth object (NEO) measuring no more than 100 meters (330 feet) across that, while orbiting the sun, also appears to circle around the Earth as a quasi-satellite. Only five quasi-satellites have been discovered so far, but 2016 HO3 is the most stable of them. The provenance of this object is unknown. On timescales of a few centuries, 2016 HO3 remains within 38 to 100 lunar-distances from us.”

“One way to visualize HO3’s orbit is by picturing a hula hoop dancer — the sun in this analogy — twirling two hoops around the hips at the same time, ever so slightly out of sync. While it orbits the sun, the object makes yearly loops around the Earth.

As a result, the object appears to orbit the Earth, but it is not gravitationally bound to our planet.”

2016 HO3 is seen at the top left corner of this animation made of ten 2mn long exposures in I band using MODS1 on the left side of LBT – The telescope is tracking the moving asteroid, so background stars (and even a couple of galaxies) are trailed. Image via LBTO.

Asteroid 2016 OR3 is hardly a harbinger of doom – orbiting politely at 38 – 100 lunar distance from Earth, it is a cosmic companion which now bears official designation of quasi-satellite. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said –

The asteroid’s orbit also undergoes a slow, back-and-forth twist over multiple decades. “The asteroid’s loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth’s gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon,” said Chodas. “The same effect also prevents the asteroid from approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”

“Caught in a little dance with Earth” makes me smile. Not for knowing Earth has an asteroid buddy, but for affirmation everything in our universe is caught in a little dance.