October 23, Partial Eclipse of the Sun


A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between Earth and the Sun. The moon has “phases” as it travels in a wobbly orbit around Earth. The “light of the Moon” is really just sunlight reflecting off the lunar surface. Depending where the Moon is in relation to the Sun, this light appears to us as new moon, crescent moon, quarter moon, half moon, full moon and so on – the moon orbits Earth once every 29 1/2 days, hence our lunar cycle.

A “new Moon” can’t actually be seen from Earth because the illuminated side points away from us. A solar eclipse can only happen during the new moon phase, and only when the wobbly moon orbit lines up between Earth and the Sun, as to caste a shadow – this is a solar eclipse. Because the Moon’s orbit is tilted 5 degrees to Earth’s orbit around the Sun, the “shadow” usually misses Earth.  A couple of times a year the shadow falls on our planet, depending on the angle of orbit and global location, this translates to varying degrees of eclipse.

On October 23, a partial eclipse will dazzle those inclined to notice –  if you reside in the “red zone”, click on the link below the graphic for optimum viewing times and duration.

 

http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/2014-october-23

Happy Mars Day


April 8, 2014 is “Mars Day”. Tonight Mars will be in “opposition” to the Sun – from an Earthly perspective, Mars appears opposite the Sun as Earth orbits between the two. Since orbits are uneven, all oppositions are not equal -this April Earth hurtles past Mars on its closest orbit since 2007. Tonight Mars practically begs us to look at night sky – it doesn’t matter where you live, Mars shines as brightly as any object in the sky.

Orbiting the Sun on tilted axis may result in seasons and polar caps, but little else in common with Earth. Liberal science fiction conjures images of a “red planet” – red equated with images of sweltering heat rather than an abundance of iron or knowledge of a -60 degree Celsius average temperature.  Home to Olympus Mons – three times taller than Mount Everest, soaring 27 Km. above the surface – the solar systems’ tallest peak.  The greatest valley, Valles Marineris, – 10 km. deep running for 4000 km., as well as raging dust storms lasting months at a time.

Mars is in front of the constellation Virgo.  Spica is Virgo's brightest star.  EarthSky Facebook friend Henrique Feliciano Silva in Lisbon, Portugal photographed Mars and its surrounding stars and created this great star map.  Thank you, Henrique!

Mars is in front of the constellation Virgo. Spica is Virgo’s brightest star. EarthSky Facebook friend Henrique Feliciano Silva in Lisbon, Portugal photographed Mars and its surrounding stars and created this great star map. Thank you, Henrique! View more photos by Henrique Feliciano Silva.

Our skies finally cleared allowing for this “screen shot” of Mars courtesy Google Sky Map on my android phone.

2014-04-08 23.29.45

Anyone who hasn’t put this app on their phone needs to do so immediately.

http://www.google.com/mobile/skymap/

Link to Mars facts….

http://earthsky.org/tonight/mars-at-opposition-out-from-sundown-until-sunup-on-april-8?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=cb62a43ecc-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-cb62a43ecc-393970565

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.

Holy Crap ISON – Some Of You Made It!


Last night I wrote that ISON was the little engine that could. Holy crap ISON – I thought I would have to eat my words today but you refuse to give up. ISON won’t live up to the billing of “comet of the century”, yet it seems at least some of the nucleus survived the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists don’t expect what’s left to be as bright as comet Lovejoy in 2011, that said – ISON is most likely going to be visible in the eastern skies come Dec. 2 0r 3rd. Good job ISON.

ISON – To Be or Not to Be ?


Comet ISON isn’t going down without a fight. Early reports had scientists preparing for her funeral; now the word seems to be – not so fast!

ison-peri-11-28-2013-580

Watch ISON’s trajectory; something clearly survived the sun’s atmosphere. Not fully intact; fingers are crossed at least some of the nucleus escaped. ISON is like the little engine that could – this evening it is reported to be getting brighter. Hidden for the moment by the sun’t glare, it will be a few days before SOHO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) sorts it all out.

Had ISON managed to escape our sun unscathed, it could have reached a magnitude of brightness high enough to be seen in broad daylight with the naked eye. While hopes of that phenomenon may have been dashed; optimism gives ISON a fairly good chance of being visible away from city lights in early December.

Follow ISON at earthsky.

http://earthsky.org/

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

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.

Massive AR 1785


Massive sunspot AR 1785 – eleven times the diameter of earth – now faces our planet with potential for some nasty flares. Space weather forecasters at NOAA predict a 55% chance of M-class and 10% X-class for today.

Luckily earth has the magnetosphere which deflects solar wind and concentrates solar energy at the magnetic pole. Scientists have known for a long time the magnetosphere wasn’t perfect; just as the ozone layer develops “holes”, our magnetic shield is prone to “cracks”. Anyone lucky enough to see an aurora has witnessed the power of electrically charged solar winds.

In 1961 scientist Jim Dungey theorized these cracks occurred when the solar energy arrived packing a magnetic field that travelled in the opposite direction from our magnetic field. We now know these cracks can remain open for hours, allowing billions of electrically charged particles to light up the sky. Severe solar storms can wipe out satellites, communication, and power.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/03dec_magneticcracks/

AR 1785 will most likely blast tons of plasma into space before fading away. Geomagnetic storms will rage –  airplanes might change course to avoid radiation, auroras will dazzle, and few will be the wiser. I don’t lose sleep over space weather, I just wish more people understood the implications of a direct hit through an unlucky crack that could plunge us into darkness for months.

Photo by Taichi Nakamura of Dunedin New Zealand – southern hemisphere auroras when earth passed through a region of southward magnetic field, opening a crack in the magnetosphere on July 6.