ISON – Bye, Bye Bye


Oh comet ISON, you tried so hard; you refused to go down without a fight and sadly all you have to show for it is a rather messy dust cloud. Cheer up – you did your best, and I for one wasn’t disappointed. Still smarting over the fact my sister laid eyes on you and I never had that chance hurts, but I’m optimistic your fading glory might still cross my path in December.

NASA scientists now describe what’s left of ISON as a “fading ghost”. R.I.P ISON.

Don’t take it personally ISON, you’re not the only kid in space. Instead of sulking over your demise I’m looking for a replacement before you’ve even left the stage. As of today, 1440 PHA’s (potentially hazardous asteroids) lurk within 100 LD (lunar distance) from earth. Some of them game changers, such as the almost 2 Km. wide asteroid passing within 18 LD (one LD equals the distance from earth to the moon) on Jan. 21 – massive, but harmless – much too far away. The closest any of these PHA’s will come is the 5 metre chunk that passed within .4 LD yesterday. Hardly worth giving you the hook dusty ISON.

Solar winds have risen sharply; now almost 500 Km/second, coupled with two active “earth facing” sunspots – AR 1908 and 1907 barely make a ripple on my radar. Sorry earth facing sunspots; you’ll have to do better than a 25% chance of M-class flares if you want to replace ISON. Our sun, flipping magnetic polarity is pretty cool – even if it happens every 11 years or so At the very least worthy of a nod for jaw dropping auroras.

I’m partial to the Tycho supernova; witnessed by astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1572. For almost a year it shone as brightly in the night sky as Venus. Take that dusty, disintegrating ISON. Tycho blasted elements outward at an impressive 11 million miles an hour. No big deal, that’s what white dwarf stars do when they go supernova. The cool thing is that science now understands when Tycho went ballistic a shock wave or “sonic boom” of sorts went outwards at Mach 300, the wave collided with interstellar gases and created a reverse shock wave – one that turned back on Tycho at Mach 1000, heating gases and making them visible to astronomers as a glowing ball. Very cool; Tycho helped us understand supernovas – you just confused us ISON.

ISON; you thought dazzling us with a 16 million Km. tail would suffice – remarkable yes, but you have stiff competition. Asteroid P/2013 P5, discovered by pan-STARRS  on Sept. 10,  2013 , rotates like a sprinkler head with six distinct comet like tails radiating from the centre. This is jaw dropping ISON – science has never encountered this anomaly. You’re up against gamma ray bursts, black holes and star nebulas, “A” for effort ISON.

The universe is too full of wonder to keep you around; take heart – you had a good run, and I’ll miss you.

Solar Flare-Up


Our sun has been busy, purging plasma with the vengeance of Thor. A X-1 flare from sunspot AR1875 on Oct. 28 is the third X-class flare since Oct. 25. This follows three M-class flares since Oct. 20. None of the recent flares are likely to give any direct hits to our magnetic field; instead “glancing blows” are likely to stir up geo-magnetic storms, resulting in spectacular auroras.

For the next 24 hours, Solar Dynamics Observatory predicts a 75% chance of M-class and 30% chance of more X-class flares. My secret wish is for solar hiccups to last long enough for my trip next week to the Canadian prairies; the home of endless, dark, crystal clear skies. A place to take in the majesty of Northern Lights.

Holy Sunspot Batman


Solar activity makes me giddy; I prickle with school girl excitement at the mere mention of an earth directed CME.  I knew the sun was getting a little uppity – a visit to http://spaceweather.com/ when I got home from work set my heart a flutter. Our sun has been busy – three flares between Oct. 20 – 22 have apparently merged into one; promising to light up our magnetic field with auroras. Another powerful M-9 class flare hurled earthward yesterday, arrival time as yet unknown.

Courtesy NASA – Solar Dynamics Observatory

Sunspots AR1875 and 1877 are ready to speak their minds – both strutting their stuff – ready to make a statement. Predictions of activity in the next 24 hours may not be earth shattering – 40% chance of M-class and 10% chance of X-class flares – still enough of a magnetic storm for ridiculous northern lights.

Meanwhile, Comet C/2012X1 exploded 450 million Km’s from earth. Of little significance to our little corner of the universe, yet worthy of a look low on the eastern horizon an hour or so before sunrise if you happen to have a telescope.

Solar winds are relatively low at 345 Km/second.

This concludes tonight’s space weather report.

Attention Northern Hemisphere Sky Watchers


This is not a warning, hysterical plea to take cover or recruiting post for the tin foil hat club – simply a heads up for Northern hemisphere sky watchers. Sunspot AR1865 sent an M1 class flare our way, it should reach earth’s magnetic field this evening. Not powerful enough to cause a bad day – even though it was earth directed – the magic is expected to unfold in spectacular auroras.

Those who have witnessed Aurora’s spell understand her soul restoring powers. Those who haven’t can only hope that one day she will allow you to witness her dance across the northern sky. If you happen to find yourself in a dark place, away from city lights; gaze upwards tonight – if you’re lucky, Aurora will dance for you.

NASA – AR1865

Deep Space Climate Observatory


Stating I was passionate about space weather would be a gross understatement. Saying I’m at a loss to comprehend why a majority of the population hasn’t the foggiest notion how space weather impacts earth, would be a completely accurate statement. Pleading the case to Canadian radio and television stations hasn’t garnered so much as a polite “thanks, but no thanks”. Long ago giving up on “educating” people I know – tired of eyes glazing over just before they roll, accompanied by a polite “that’s interesting” – my head screams ARGH as I change the subject.

Yesterday I received news prompting a happy jig in front of my computer screen. Within minutes I was on the phone to my like minded brother – excitedly asking “have you heard the news?” NOAA plans to launch DSCOVR – the Deep Space Climate Observatory in 2015.

Proposed in 1998 by then Vice President Al Gore, and known as Triana or GoreSat, it was intended to give a continuous view of the sun and sunlit side of the earth. Gore saw it as a chance not only to raise awareness through a continuous internet feed, but as a tool to measure UV light making its way through the ozone layer – hence tracking global warming, cloud patterns, weather systems and early warning for approaching solar storms. It was put on the back burner by George W. Bush shortly after taking office.

In November of 2008 the Obama administration dusted off the $100 million dollar satellite; by 2011 actively  securing funds for a proposed launch – the project was renamed DSCOVR.

When John Zande – http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/ messaged me yesterday with news of the proposed 2015 launch – I practically swooned. Trust me; this is BIG news. I’ll spare all you glazed over eye rollers another account of the Carrington or Bastille Day events. Anyone left standing with the slightest interest – I applaud your pondering mind; fingers crossed you’ll “think about, talk about, learn more about” the importance of space weather.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Climate_Observatory

http://spaceweather.com/

Harvest Moon Time


The full moon closest to the fall equinox is the ” Harvest Moon” – those of us in the northern hemisphere can expect a behemoth moon rising shortly after sunset tonight. Harvest moons appear larger because of the ecliptic orbit of our moons path in relation to the earth. The same phenomenon that sees the moon rise 20 minutes or so earlier than  normal, forcing us to view it through thicker atmosphere – accounting for characteristic orange monster moons.

The harvest moon is familiar to just about everyone – our moon has many names, depending on the time of year. January brings the wolf moon; named by native Americans and medieval Europeans for the howling of hungry wolves in the dead of winter. February sees the storm, snow and hunger moon rise in the icy sky. Native Americans called the last full moon of March the worm moon after worm trails that appeared in the thawing snow. The Pink moon of April is for blossoming trees, also known as the sprouting grass, fish, and egg moon. May’s flower moon or corn planting moon is followed by the strawberry moon to native Americans or rose moon to Europeans. Native Americans saw the full moon of July as the buck moon, for male deer shedding their antlers. The sturgeon moon of August for plentiful fish, also called the green corn, grain, and red moon. September’s harvest moon is followed by the hunter’s moon in October. November has the beaver or frost moon, finally the cold or long night moon of December.

I went outside for an early howl at the harvest moon. Clouds wrapped every corner of the sky, and still the moon cast my shadow. Second thoughts on considering my neighbour’s baby, compounded by scrutiny from the old woman in the window of the retirement home, stifled my bravado. Instead I did a little moon dance while humming Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.

A link to sunrise/sunset locater…

http://www.sunrisesunset.com/predefined.asp

The link that will answer any astronomical question…..

http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services

Earthsky link to Harvest Moon,,,,,

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/harvest-moon-2

Solar Pole Flip


It appears our sun is about to flip poles. I was stunned to learn this happens every 11 years; or at least that seems to be the pattern since the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford started paying attention in 1976. The sun’s magnetic influence is called the heliosphere, reaching outwards for billions of kilometres , directly impacting space weather in every corner of our galaxy.

The “current sheet” radiates outwards from the equator of the sun. Slow rotation of the sun’s magnetic field produces an electrical current, when the sun’s inner core tidies itself up, reorganizing the closets, a pole shift takes place making the current sheet “wavy”. As Earth passes in and out of this wavy charge, space weather can be a little bonkers.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/05aug_fieldflip/

Hardly a prediction of catastrophe, solar pole reversal is a normal part of the solar cycle. My only wish is for people to start paying attention to the sky. As I write Perseids blaze across the night sky, solar wind rages at 460 Km/second – down from the blast of solar wind striking earth yesterday, responsible for the geomagnetic storm igniting auroras. Asteroid 2013PJ10 just passed earth, a mere Lunar Distance away; at just over 50 metres, capable of wiping out an entire city.

A little cosmic pondering is good for the soul; it helps put things in perspective.