May 18, 2019 Blue Moon Ponder

Since the dawn of my existence “once in a blue moon” defined rarity of two full moons in a calendar month. More than that, it served as impetus for cosmic wonder. Tonight I discovered the Blue Moon of May 18, 2019 is “seasonal”, meaning the third of four full moons in a single season. How rare can that be?

Twelve months in a year, each month roughly based on a single lunar orbit of Earth. Twelve months, four seasons, three months per season. Fine, I get it – four full moons in a season is rare, but someone could have told me “once in a blue moon” had alternate meanings! There was one on November 21, 2010 another August 20, 2013 and May 21, 2016. After May 18, 2019 we won’t witness another seasonal blue moon until August 22, 2021.

An article published in the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine titled Once In a Blue Moon by James Hugh Pruett, cemented blue moon in popular culture. Referring to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac,  Pruett wrote –

“Seven times in 19 years there were – and still are – 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.”

Despite the fact Pruett goofed in reference to astronomical details of 1937 moons (there were 12 that year not 13 ), the term Blue Moon was born. Me – I’m still coming to terms with the fact I’ve lived 59 years and never considered blue moon anything other than 2 full moons in a calendar month. Lesson learned.

Blue Moon: All you need to know

Link to detailed list of Blue Moon dates and designation –

Chemically Enhanced Aurora

On April 5 NASA scientists launched sounding rocket mission AZURE (Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment) from Norway’s Andoya Space Center. Twin rockets deployed chemical tracers capable of allowing researchers to track the flow of neutral and charged particles during an active geomagnetic storm. Emergency service switchboards were inundated with UFO sighting hysteria – seems no one bothered to alert residents of AZURE’s chemical meddling.

Lights over Lapland  webcam operator Chad Blakely captured the first chemical puffs. Video below from Adrien Mauduit documents the spectacle.


How To Name New Moons Of Jupiter

Trust me when I say the International Astronomical Union (IAU) rarely engages the public in astronomical matters. Truth is IAU arrogance rubs many a scientist the wrong way. IAU members have sole authority and discretion in naming astronomical objects and features, but for a stroke of IAU pen Pluto would still call itself planet. Cosmic nomenclature isn’t official until the IAU says so.

In summer 2018 science discovered twelve unknown moons of Jupiter, now the IAU wants help in naming five. Anyone can submit entries, but guidelines are strict. In keeping with Jovian propriety moons of Jupiter are named for characters in Greek or Roman mythology either descended from or lovers of Zeus. Ponder this before referencing ancient mythology – not all moons orbit Jupiter in the same direction. Those orbiting in the same direction (in this case 2 out of 5) require names ending in “a”, opposite rotation require names ending in “e”. Submissions can’t be similar to other cosmic bodies/features or be culturally offensive.

Diagram of Jupiter's moons including five recently-discovered

Anyone up for the challenge has until April 15, 2019 to submit nominations and explain why in a single tweet to @JupiterLunacy tagged #NameJupitersMoons

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.



Pondering Artificial Meteor Showers

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.