Old 03-10-2012, 11:50 PM   #1
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Default Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Due to the recent spike in interest of the subject, I have decided to keep a regularly updated post-blog about what's happening in the night sky at a given day. I currently take an astronomy course and have a deep interest in the field, and the goal is to

a) Inspire people to enjoy the night sky differently than how it'd commonly be dismissed, thanks to light pollution.
b) Spark interest in the subject.
c) Educate people about the subject, and events in general.

Everyone is welcome to post in this thread, after all the goal is to spark interest! How I will update the thread is this: For the daily-weekly sky at a glance, I will create a new post so that the topic remains active. For the picture of the day, or most other updates, I will update this post so that the main post is also updated. New posts I make will have a copy of all new information I post.j

Things I will generally post about: Anything you can physically see in space, auroras, equipment (telescopes, binoculars, cameras, filters), deep space objects, light pollution.

Recommend me any suggestions on how I can make this thread better!
To make in the future:
i) Glossary of terms
ii) Better layout, structure, and a "topic-of-the-day".

Statistics Charts:





Milestones:

March 10, 2012: Astronomy Thread Created.
March 17, 2012: Ascend to Page 2.
March 21, 2012: Thread Eclipses 500 Views.
April 1, 2012: Thread Stickied.
April 4, 2012: Thread Eclipses 1,000 Views.
April 10, 2012: 1 Month of Existence. (1,200 views, 38.7 visitors a day).
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May 15, 2012: Thread Eclipses 2,000 Views.
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Updates:
March 11, 2012: Added links found by Staiain and Mau5. Thanks guys!
March 12, 2012: Center aligned "What's in the Sky Tonight?", "Aurora Tracker", and "Astro Pic of the Day".
March 13, 2012: Implemented International Space Station Tracker.
March 20, 2012: Organized, Improved links section.
April 4, 2012: Added spoiler tags for the month of March to prevent slow computers from lagging. Implemented Light Pollution Map for Lower Canada, US, Northern Mexico, Europe, World. Also implemented a Messier Objects and general skymap.
April 16, 2012: Added a video timelapse of ISS's view of the Earth, credit to Reach for finding the video!
May 13, 2012: Added an Upcoming Events spoiler tag to see important fascinating events.
October 26, 2012: Finished major maintenance of the main post, fixing bad spoiler tags buried in center tags, and did a cleanup of old entries to allow the main post to be updated again. the old entries have been archived; link is available at the end of the "Previous" sections of each entry.
December 10, 2012: News feature added, meant to add interesting articles going on in space.
March 10, 2013: New aurora monitors added for North and South Poles.
July 18, 2013: New link added: NLC / Meteorite Calculator.
July 20, 2013: Noctilucent Clouds Tracker feature added; track northern hemisphere NLCs to forecast when an ideal day would be to look out for them.
September 16, 2013: Meteor Tracker added: discover how many meteroites are blazing through the North American skies and how fast they are travelling, and where they come from!

Helpful Links

Clear Dark Sky
For North Americans only.
You can use the light pollution maps and astronomer's forecasts found in this page to discover how optimal your viewing conditions are.

Heavens Above
Use this website to track the space station, other satellites, when you can see them pass over! The website also tracks comets, planets, and shows a picture of the orbits of the planets.

Moon Phases Calendar
Quick and convenient moon phases calendar, shows the month at a glance. (Thanks Mau5 for the find!)

NLC / Meteorite Calculator
Calculates the height of NLCs or meteorites given the coordinates of two observers' records.

Sky and Telescope
Great for an "at a glance", and the interesting article that I may pull out here time to time.

Stellarium
A tool you can download that simulates the night sky where you live. It is possible to go forward and backward in time to check how the sky may have looked in previous and future days. (Thanks Staiain for the find!)

SWPC Real-Time Monitor Displays
Real-time monitors of space weather. For auroras maps, go to "Estimate Planetary Kp".

Telescopes and Binoculars
Ever wanted to know information about good telescopes or a set of binoculars? Try looking here.

Wiki List of Messier Objects
This is a list of all 110 Messier objects. Good for quick reference.


Suspicious0bservers Daily Weather Post:

October 28, 2014


Past Posts:

October 27, 2014


October 26, 2014


October 25, 2014


October 24, 2014


October 23, 2014


October 22, 2014


October 21, 2014


October 20, 2014


October 19, 2014


October 18, 2014


October 17, 2014


October 16, 2014


October 15, 2014


October 14, 2014


October 13, 2014


October 12, 2014


October 11, 2014


October 10, 2014


October 9, 2014


October 8, 2014


October 7, 2014


October 6, 2014


October 5, 2014


October 4, 2014


October 3, 2014


October 2, 2014


October 1, 2014


September 30, 2014


September 29, 2014


September 28, 2014


September 27, 2014


September 26, 2014


September 25, 2014


September 24, 2014


September 23, 2014


September 22, 2014


September 21, 2014


September 20, 2014


September 19, 2014


September 18, 2014


September 17, 2014


September 16, 2014


September 15, 2014


September 14, 2014


September 13, 2014


September 12, 2014


September 11, 2014


September 10, 2014


September 9, 2014


September 8, 2014


September 7, 2014


September 6, 2014


September 5, 2014


September 4, 2014


September 3, 2014


September 2, 2014


September 1, 2014


August 31, 2014


August 30, 2014


August 29, 2014


August 28, 2014


August 27, 2014


August 26, 2014


August 25, 2014


August 24, 2014


August 23, 2014


August 22, 2014


August 21, 2014


August 20, 2014


August 19, 2014


August 18, 2014


August 17, 2014


August 16, 2014


August 15, 2014


August 14, 2014


August 13, 2014


August 12, 2014


August 11, 2014


August 10, 2014


August 9, 2014


August 8, 2014


August 7, 2014


August 6, 2014


August 5, 2014


August 4, 2014


August 3, 2014


August 2, 2014


August 1, 2014


July 31, 2014


July 30, 2014


July 29, 2014


July 28, 2014


July 27, 2014


July 26, 2014


July 25, 2014


July 24, 2014


July 23, 2014


July 22, 2014


July 21, 2014


July 20, 2014


July 19, 2014


July 18, 2014


July 17, 2014


July 16, 2014


July 15, 2014


July 14, 2014


July 13, 2014


July 12, 2014


July 11, 2014


July 10, 2014


July 9, 2014


July 8, 2014


July 7, 2014


July 6, 2014


July 5, 2014


July 4, 2014


July 3, 2014


July 2, 2014


July 1, 2014


June 30, 2014


June 29, 2014


June 28, 2014


June 27, 2014


June 26, 2014


June 25, 2014


June 24, 2014


June 23, 2014


June 22, 2014


June 21, 2014


June 20, 2014


June 19, 2014


June 18, 2014


June 17, 2014


June 16, 2014


June 15, 2014


June 14, 2014


June 13, 2014


June 12, 2014


June 11, 2014


June 10, 2014


June 9, 2014


June 8, 2014


June 7, 2014


June 6, 2014


June 5, 2014


June 4, 2014


June 3, 2014


June 2, 2014


June 1, 2014


Older archived posts may be found here:
January 1, 2014 - May 31, 2014




What's in the sky tonight?

October 28, 2014
-Super-sunspot AR2192 produced another strong flare on Oct. 27th. The X2-category blast ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere and caused a strong HF radio blackout over the Atlantic Ocean basin as well in South America and western Africa. The blackout started at ~10:15 am EDT (1415 UTC) and lasted for about an hour.

-High-latitude auroras are possible on Oct. 28th when Earth crosses through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. This is called a "solar sector boundary crossing," and NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when it occurs.

Previous Days:

October 27, 2014
-AR2192 is the biggest sunspot in nearly 25 years, and it is still growing. The active region now covers 2750 millionths of the solar disk, an area equivalent to 33 planet Earths skinned and spread out flat. It is so large that sky watchers are seeing it with the naked eye when the sun is dimmed by low-hanging clouds or, in this case, dense fog. Barry Freas took the picture on October 26th from Red Hill, Kentucky. "It was a very foggy morning," he says. "AR2192 was remarkable."

Big sunspots tend to produce strong flares, and AR2192 is no exception. It is crackling with magnetic activity. In the past three days alone it has unleashed 3 X-class flares and 8 M-flares. The most intense of these flares have caused HF radio blackouts and other communication disturbances on the dayside of Earth.

Usually, strong flares are accompanied by massive CMEs--billion-ton clouds of electrified gas that billow away from the blast site. So far, however, none of the eruptions from AR2192 has produced a major CME. Without a series of CMEs to hit Earth and rattle our planet's magnetic field, there have been no geomagnetic storms nor any widespread auroras.



October 26, 2014
-Giant sunspot AR2192 is growing again, which means high solar activity is unlikely to subside this weekend. NOAA forecasters estimate an 85% chance of M-class flares and a 45% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours.

-Since Friday, AR2192 has produced two major X-class solar flares: X3 (Oct. 24 @ 2140 UT) and X1 (Oct 25 @ 1709 UT). An X2 erupted just 3 hours ago.

-On Oct. 23rd, just as the New Moon was about to pass in front of the sun, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a helium balloon carrying a Nikon D7000 camera. Their goal: to set the record for high-altitude photography of an eclipse. During a two-hour flight to the edge of space, the camera captured 11 images of the crescent sun. The final picture, taken just a split second before the balloon exploded, was GPS-tagged with an altitude of 108,900 feet.

To put this achievement into context, consider the following: Most people who photographed the eclipse carefully mounted their cameras on a rock-solid tripod, or used the precision clock-drive of a telescope to track the sun. The students, however, managed the same trick from an un-stabilized platform, spinning, buffeted by wind, and racing upward to the heavens at 15 mph. Their photos show that DLSR astrophotography from an suborbital helium balloon is possible, and they will surely refine their techniques for even better photos in the future.

Earth to Sky Calculus: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Earth...74490502634920




October 25, 2014
-Giant sunspot AR2192 erupted again on Oct. 24th (21:40 UT), producing a powerful X3-class solar flare. Using a backyard solar telescope, Sergio Castillo of Corona, California, was monitoring the sunspot when it exploded, and he snapped this picture. "This flare was so intense that it almost shorted out my computer! Well ... not really," says Castillo, "but I knew right away that it was an X-class eruption."

A pulse of extreme UV radiation from the flare ionized the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere, causing a brief but strong blackout of HF radio communications over the dayside of Earth. Such blackouts may be noticed by amateur radio operators, aviators, and mariners.

Coronagraph data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) suggest that the explosion did not hurl a significant CME toward our planet. (Interestinngly, none of the X-flares from this active region has so far produced a major CME.) As a result, Earth-effects may be limited to the radio blackout.

-Sunspot AR2192, now facing Earth, is the largest sunspot of the current solar cycle. Sprawling across more than 200,000 km of solar terrain, wider than the planet Jupiter, this is the type of sunspot that comes along every 10 years or so. To put AR2192 in context, spaceweather.com reader Hagan Hensley of San Antonio TX placed it beside pictures of two other significant sunspots from the years 2001 and 1947.

"Using Photoshop, I created this composite image of three big sunspots: AR2192 (2014), AR9393 (2001) and the great sunspot of 1947, the largest ever recorded," explains Hensley. "Positions on the solar disk shifted somewhat to avoid overlap."

Spaceweather.com didn't exist in 1947, so we're not sure what happened then. In 2001, however, giant sunspot AR9393 was fully covered by the web site. In March of that year, the sunspot unleashed multiple X-flares, caused radio blackouts and radiation storms, and sparked red auroras seen as far south as Mexico.

-Despite shrinking by ~10% on Oct. 24th, sunspot AR2192 remains the largest and most active sunspot of the current solar cycle. By far. NOAA forecasters estimate an 85% chance of M-class flares and a 45% chance of X-flares on Oct. 25th.




October 24, 2014
-The afternoon sun over North America looked a little unusual on Thursday. It was crescent shaped. James W. Young photographed the phenomenon from Wrightwood, California. "What a beautiful eclipse," says Young. "Sunspot AR2192 made it extra special."

Millions of sky watchers in Canada, the USA and Mexico saw the Moon pass in front of the sun, covering as much as 70% of the solar disk over Alaska and as little as 12% over Florida.

-I've also included my own shot of the same sunspot group from my 300mm lens in Toronto, albeit not a impressive of a shot.




October 23, 2014
-On Thursday, Oct. 23rd, the Moon will pass in front of the sun, off center, producing a partial solar eclipse visible from almost all of North America. This animated visibility map shows when to look. LINK: http://shadowandsubstance.com/ The event will be particularly beautiful in the Central and Eastern time zones where maximum eclipse occurs at sunset.

The farther north and west you are, the deeper Thursday afternoon's partial solar eclipse will become.




October 22, 2014
-Solar activity is high. During the past 48 hours, monster sunspot AR2192 has produced a series of seven M-class solar flares of increasing intensity. The eruptions crossed the threshold into X-territory with an X1-class flare on Oct. 22nd. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a powerful flash of extreme UV radiation in the sunspot's magnetic canopy at 14:30 UT. Remarkably, not one of the explosions so far has hurled a significant CME toward Earth. The primary effect of the flares has been to ionize Earth's upper atmosphere, causing a series of short-lived HF radio communications blackouts. Such blackouts may be noticed by amateur radio operators, aviators, and mariners.

Earth-effects could increase in the days ahead. AR2192 has an unstable 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for powerful explosions, and the active region is turning toward Earth. NOAA forecasters estimate at 65% chance of M-class flares and a 20% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. Solar flare alerts: text, voice

AR2192 is shaping up to be the biggest sunspot in many years. Its area is now approaching that of AR0486, the last great sunspot of the previous solar cycle, which covered 2610 millionths of the solar disc on Oct. 30, 2003. As of 0h UT today AR 2192 is 2410 millionths. (Thanks to Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory for this comparison.) The sun face from October 30, 2003 is shown below side-by-side with the sun face today for comparison.

Because the sunspot is so large--now about as wide as the planet Jupiter--people are beginning to notice it at sunset when the sun is dimmed by clouds or haze. Pilot Brian Whittaker took this picture on Oct. 21st while flying 36,000 ft over Resolute, Nunavut, Canada. "I was impressed to photograph the giant sunspot as the sun set over Arctic Canada," says Whittaker. "Actually, the sun was temporarily rising because of our great relative speed over the lines of longitude at N75 degrees! Note the green upper rim."





October 21, 2014
-The biggest sunspot of the current solar cycle is turning toward Earth. This morning when astronomer Karzaman Ahmad of Malaysia's Langkawi Nagtional Observatory looked through the eyepiece of his solar telescope, he declared AR2192 a "monster" and snapped this picture. This behemoth active region is 125,000 km wide, almost as big as the planet Jupiter. These dimensions make it an easy target for backyard solar telescopes.

A few days ago, AR2192 unleashed an X1-class solar flare. Since then the sunspot has almost doubled in size and developed an increasingly unstable 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field. It would seem to be just a matter of time before another strong explosion occurs. NOAA forecasters estimate at 60% chance of M-class flares and a 20% chance of X-flares on Oct. 21st.

-A high-speed stream of solar wind is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, sparking bright lights around both poles. "This evening the auroras appeared everywhere," reports Anne Birgitte Fyhn, who photographed the display from a pond on Kvalųya island, Tromsų, Norway. "They were amazing," she says. "I ran around the pond a couple of times taking pictures from different spots. Finally, I decided to just sit down, look up, and enjoy the show."

High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras on Oct. 21-22. NOAA forecasters estmate a 45% chance of geomagnetic storms as the solar wind continues to blow.




October 20, 2014
-Big sunspot AR2192 has grown even bigger, spreading across 1/3rd more solar terrain today than it did yesterday. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the expansion. The chances of an explosion are growing along with the sunspot. On Oct. 20th, NOAA forecasters boosted the odds of an M-class flare to 60% and an X-flare to 20%.

Yesterday, the sunspot produced a long-duration X1-flare and a strong HF radio blackout over Asia and Australia. The next X-flare, if one occurs, will be even more geoeffective as the sunspot turns toward Earth.

If you have a solar telescope, now is a great time to look at the sun. AR2192 looks absolutely spectacular.



October 19, 2014
-Today, Oct. 19th, Comet Siding Spring is buzzing Mars. The encounter is so close, the atmosphere of the comet could brush against the atmosphere of the planet. Will this spark auroras on Mars? Follow a webcast of the encounter courtesy of the Virtual Telescope project; watch in real time starting at 16:45 UT (12:45 p.m. EDT) today, or watch the recording later. LINK: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2014/...-online-event/

-This comes as no surprise. Behemoth sunspot AR2192 has unleashed an X1-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast in this extreme UV image of the sun on Oct. 19th (0500 UT). A pulse of ultraviolet and X-radiation from the flare caused a brief but strong HF radio blackout on the dayside of Earth, mainly over Asia and Australia. Also, the explosion probably hurled a CME into space. This possibility has not yet been confirmed by SOHO coronagraph data. If a CME is forthcoming, it will probably sail wide of Earth due to the sunspot's location near the sun's eastern limb.

Big sunspots tend to produce big flares, and clearly AR2192 is no exception. More X-flares are likely as AR2192 turns toward Earth in the days ahead. Also, if you have a solar telescope, point it at the sun. This active region is a real beauty.






October 18, 2014
-Most rainbows are caused by light reflected once, or sometimes twice, inside raindrops. Larger numbers of reflections are possible, but the rainbows they create are very rare. After years of searching, atmospheric optics experts have sighted a rainbow caused by five reflections, the elusive 5th-order rainbow. Details here:
http://www.atoptics.co.uk/fz1063.htm
Publication: http://www.opticsinfobase.org/ao/abs...ri=ao-54-4-B26

-A large and active sunspot is rotating over the sun's southeastern limb on Oct. 17th. J. P. Brahic sends this picture of the behemoth to spaceweather.com from Uzčs, France:

"I inserted a picture of Earth for scale," says Brahic. The sunspot's primary dark core could swallow our entire planet with room to spare.

This sunspot could cause a sharp increase in solar activity over the weekend. Earlier this week, while it was still hidden behind the southeastern limb, the active region unleashed several M-class solar flares and hurled a massive CME into space. Considering the fact that the blast site was partially eclipsed by the edge of the sun, those flares were probably much stronger than their nominal classification. Now that the sunspot has revealed itself, X-flares may be in the offing.




October 17, 2014
-Before dawn Saturday morning, Jupiter shines above the waning Moon, as shown at right. Although they look rather close together, Jupiter is 2,100 times farther in the background — it's at a distance of 47 light-minutes, compared to the Moon's 1.3 light-seconds.

-On Sunday, Oct. 19th, Comet Siding Spring will pass only 140,000 km away from Mars. For comparison, that's about 1/3rd the distance between Earth and the Moon. For a while last year, astronomers thought the comet might actually hit Mars, setting off a cataclysmic climate change experiment, but now we know it's going to be a near miss. Last night, only three days before closest approach, astrophotographer Damian Peach snapped this picture. "The comet is presently moving against the dense star clouds of the southern Milky Way," says Peach. "Soon, however, it will reach Mars."

An international fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers will observe the encounter from close range. The most interesting data could come from MAVEN, a NASA spacecraft that has reached Mars just ahead of the comet. MAVEN is designed to study the martian atmosphere. That's good, because when the comet arrives, the atmosphere of the comet will likely brush against the atmosphere of Mars, possibly sparking auroras on the Red Planet. MAVEN could record these alien lights.

"Just as exciting," adds comet researcher Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab, "is the prospect of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera being able to actually resolve (i.e. determine the shape of) the nucleus of the comet. ESA and NASA spacecraft have seen comet nuclei before, but comet Siding Spring is a little different. It's an 'Oort Cloud comet' on its first ever foray into our solar system. This means it is largely pristine and will likely not have undergone any major changes since it formed. We've never seen one of these comets up close. Never. We don't know exactly what to expect."

Experienced amateur astronomers with mid-sized telescopes and sensitive digital cameras should have no trouble photographing Comet Siding Spring in the nights ahead. It can be found glowing like a 12th magnitude star in the constellation Ophiuchus right next to ... you guessed it ... the planet Mars.




October 16, 2014
-For the second day in a row, auroras are dancing around the Arctic Circle. The lights were sparked by a minor CME impact on Oct. 14th and amplified on Oct. 15th when Earth passed through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of continued polar geomagnetic storms on Oct. 16th.

-A sunspot capable of powerful eruptions is about to rotate onto the Earthside of the sun. It announced itself on Oct. 14th by hurling a spectacular CME over the sun's southeastern limb:

The underlying explosion was hidden behind the southeastern edge of the sun. Even in eclipse, however, the blast registered M2 on the Richter Scale of Solar Flares. The actual rating must have been must higher, perhaps even X-class.



October 15, 2014
-This Sunday, Oct. 19th, Comet Siding Spring will pass only 140,000 km from Mars. The encounter is so close, the atmosphere of the comet could brush against the atmosphere of the planet. Will this spark auroras on Mars? A video below from NASA weighs the odds of some very strange space weather.

-Last-quarter Moon (exactly so at 3:12 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time). The Moon rises around midnight tonight, below Gemini. By early dawn on Thursday the 16th it's very high in the south — with Pollux and Castor above it, Procyon to its lower right, and bright Jupiter shining farther to its lower left.



October 14, 2014
-When the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August, one of the biggest surprises was the boulders: The comet's core is littered with them. Rosetta's OSIRIS camera photographed this specimen, a 45-meter-wide behemoth named "Cheops," on Sept. 19th. On Nov. 12th, Rosetta will drop a lander onto the surface of the comet, and these boulders are a key hazard Philae must avoid.

But are they really boulders? "Maybe they only look like rocky boulders," says Art Chmielewski, the US Rosetta Project Manager at JPL. "Some scientists believe that they are 'flimsy' boulders. They may be more like dirty snow balls made in very cold weather. If so they are very fragile and would collapse under the lander. I hope Philae will not find out if that is true."

Claudia Alexander, the Project Scientist for the US Rosetta Project says the boulders could be telling us something new about the way comets "sublimate"--that is, the way sunlight converts cometary ices into jets of gas. "I personally wonder if we've gotten the sublimation process understood in the reverse. In other other words, instead of sublimation coming forth from a crack or fissure in the ground, sublimation emerges from cliff-sides, or 'spires' or vertical features, and then these features collapse when the vapor has been evacuated." Boulders could be debris from such a process.

"Obviously Rosetta is perfectly poised to make the measurements that will help us understand the physics of this process, and better understand cometary geology!"



October 13, 2014
-High-latitude auroras are possible on Oct. 14th when Earth crosses through a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. This is called a "solar sector boundary crossing," and NOAA forecasters estimate a 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when it occurs.

-Look up at the Moon. The surface of Earth's satellite never seems to change. Indeed, planetary scientists have long thought that lunar volcanism came to an abrupt end about a billion years ago, and little has changed since. On Oct. 12th, NASA announced evidence to the contrary. A camera onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has found signs of eruptions that occurred no more than 100 million years ago. 100 million years may sound like a long time, but in geological terms it's just a blink of an eye. The volcanic craters LRO found were erupting during the Cretaceous period--the heyday of dinosaurs. Some of the volcanic features may be even younger, 50 million years old, a time when mammals were replacing dinosaurs as dominant lifeforms.

"This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the Moon," said John Keller, LRO project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center."

Using its high-resolution camera, LRO has found scores of these geologically "fresh" eruptions. The features are too small to be seen from Earth, averaging less than a third of a mile (500 meters) across in their largest dimension, but they appear to be widespread.

"These young volcanic features are prime targets for future exploration, both robotic and human," said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) at Arizona State University.



October 12, 2014
-There are only two sunspots visible on the solar disk, and both of them appear to be in a state of decay. NOAA forecasters estimate a waning 20% chance of M-flares and only a 1% chance of X-flares this weekend.

-Orion preview: With fall well underway, the "winter" constellation Orion rises in the east by 11 or midnight, depending on how far east or west (respectively) you live in your time zone. It's well to the lower right of the waning Moon. Orion's Belt will be vertical, as it always is when Orion is rising for mid-northern skywatchers. Orion reaches its highest stand in the south well before the first light of dawn, with the Moon now above it (on the morning of the 13th).



October 11, 2014
-The Moon late this evening shines near Aldebaran amid the Hyades. Take a look with binoculars. This will be a challenging scene to photograph (use a long lens), what with the Moon's brilliance and the Hyades stars' faintness. By dawn they've moved over to high in the southwest.

-A magnetic filament near the sun's southwestern limb collapsed during the late hours of Oct. 10th. Earth-orbiting satellites detected a C3-class Hyder flare when the filament hit the solar surface: movie. The eruption also hurled a CME into space, but the storm cloud appears set to miss Earth.



October 10, 2014
-NOAA forecasters have raised the odds of an M-class solar flare today to 40%. The likely source is sunspot AR2182, which has tripled in size since yesterday. Because the sunspot is near the sun's western limb, however, its flares may not be geoeffective.

-At this time of year, only a few weeks after the equinox, Northern Lights are almost always visible somewhere around the Arctic Circle. "Last night I was flying to Europe from Calgary and I strategically selected the window seat hoping for a show," reports traveler Christy Turner. This is what she saw.

"Boy did I luck out!" she says. Indeed she did. During her flight, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) around Earth tipped south. South-pointing IMFs pry open a crack in Earth's magnetosphere, allowing solar wind to pour through and ignite auroras.



October 9, 2014
-During a lunar eclipse, the normally-bright full Moon darkens as it passes through the shadow of Earth. Millions of sky watchers witnessed this beautiful dimming on Oct. 8th. David Boatwright of Californiia experienced the eclipse in a different way. His solar array browned out. "My home has a 4.5 kW photovoltaic solar system on its roof," he explains. "During the day it produces a good amount of electricity. It even produces a couple of volts from ambient light at night. A full Moon will increase it to nearly 4 volts DC when overhead."

"Pictured above is a screen shot of the power output from my system. As you can see, it recorded the lunar eclipse. The voltage was cut in half during totality. From 3:30am to 4:30am PDT, the DC voltage dropped from 4 volts to 2 volts and then back up to 3volts at the conclusion of the eclipse. I believe the 1 volt difference, before vs. after the eclipse, is due to the Moon being lower in the sky when the eclipse ended."

"By the way, I was watching the eclipse in my backyard as this voltage drop was occurring," he says.



October 8, 2014
-Solar activity is low, and the quiet is likely to continue. Not one of the six sunspot groups on the disk of the sun has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong eruptions. NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 5% chance of M-flares on Oct. 8th.

-Altair is the brightest star high in the south at nightfall. Very far to its lower left (about six fist-widths) is Fomalhaut, almost as bright.

-As the total lunar eclipse ends and the moon sets over the North American continent, like almost all other lunar eclipses, there is a solar eclipse that joins it in 2 weeks. The October 23 partial solar eclipse also favours North America, and the further north in latitude you are, the better your chance of seeing it. The further west you are, the more likely you are to see the whole thing. Use this link to find out how much of an eclipse you will have! http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsearc...p?Ecl=20141023 For those around the Toronto latitude, you are looking at a 50% cover at maximum eclipse. Toronto will see the eclipse as the sun sets.




October 7, 2014
-On Wednesday morning, Oct. 8th, there will be a total lunar eclipse. Observers across the Pacific side of Earth can see the normally-pale full Moon turn a beautiful shade of red as it passes through the sunset-colored shadow of our planet. The Moon first dips into Earth's shadow at approximately 9:15 UT (2:15 a.m. PDT), kicking off the partial phase of the eclipse. Totality, when the Moon is fully immersed, begins at 10:25 UT (3:25 a.m. PDT) and lasts for nearly an hour. Details: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfi...2014-Fig03.pdf



October 6, 2014
-As twilight fades, look for Arcturus, the Spring Star, twinkling in the west to west-northwest. It's still pretty easy to see. But how much later into the fall, as it sinks away, will you be able to keep it in view?

-Jupiter (magnitude –1.9, at the Cancer-Leo border) rises in the east-northeast around 2 or 3 a.m. It shines brightly high in the east before and during dawn. It forms a big triangle with Pollux above it (by about two fists at arm's length) and Procyon to their right. Look below Jupiter and a bit left for Regulus.

October 5, 2014
-The sun is peppered with spots, but not one of the eight numbered sunspot groups on the solar disk has the type of unstable magnetic field that poses a threat for strong flares. Solar activity is low. NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of M-flares today, decreasing to only 5% tomorrow.

October 4, 2014
-The W pattern of Cassiopeia stands vertically (on its dimmer end) high in the northeast around 10 or 11 p.m., depending on your location. By then the Big Dipper is lying level just above the north-northwest horizon — if you live in the mid-northern latitudes. As far south as San Diego and Jacksonville, the Dipper will lie partly below the horizon.

-Mark your calendar. On Wednesday morning, Oct. 8th, observers across the Pacific side of Earth will see the Moon turn a beautiful shade of red as it passes through the sunset-colored shadow of our planet. Totality begins at 10:25 UT (3:25 a.m. PDT) and lasts for nearly an hour. Don't miss it! Details: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEplot/...2014Oct08T.pdf

-The Moon is waxing full. That means now is a good time to look for lunar coronas. Lauri Kangas photographed this specimen over Fort Frances, Ontario, on October 2nd. Lunar coronas are made of moonlight diffracted by tiny droplets of water in the air. Sometimes the droplets are supplied by passing clouds. This time, however, they came in the form of fog.

"Late in that evening the temperature dropped rapidly and a ground fog developed," says Kangas. "I could see the tiny water droplets with my flashlight. These water droplets formed a beautiful corona around the Moon. To the naked eye the blue colored ring was awesome."

Rings around the Moon also form when ice crystals drift by, but those are ice halos, and they have a different appearance.



October 3, 2014
-Departing sunspot complex AR2172-AR2173 erupted on Oct. 2nd around 1915 UT, producing an M7-class solar flare. NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed a massive plume of debris flying away from the blast site.

A flash of UV radiation from the flare ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere, briefly disturbing the normal propagation of shortwave and VLF radio signals on the dayside of Earth. Otherwise there should be few Earth-effects from this eruption. Perched on the sun's western limb, the instigating sunspot group is not facing our planet and most of the explosion's debris should sail wide of Earth.

There is a slim chance that a CME emerging from the blast site could deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field in a few days. To evaluate this possibility, NOAA analysts are looking carefully at coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO.



October 2, 2014
-If you thought an X1-class solar flare was bad, how about an X100,000? NASA's Swift spacecraft has detected such a explosion. Fortunately for life on Earth, it did not come from the sun. The source of the super-flare was another star almost 60 light-years away.

-It only looks like a lunchbox. Pictured below is a Space Weather Buoy--an insulated capsule containing a cosmic ray detector, video cameras, GPS trackers, and other sensors. On Sept. 28th, it flew 115,000 feet above Earth's surface to check radiation levels in the stratosphere. This picture was taken at the apex of the flight.

In collaboration with Spaceweather.com, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching these buoys on a regular basis to study the effect of solar activity on Earth's upper atmosphere. Their latest flight has a sharply defined purpose: to find out if stratospheric radiation is rebounding from a "Forbush Decrease" earlier this month.

The story begins on Sept. 12th when a CME hit Earth head-on, sparking the strongest geomagnetic storm of the year. The students launched a Space Weather Buoy into the storm, expecting to measure an increase in energetic particles. Instead of more, however, they measured less. The CME swept away many of the cosmic rays around Earth and, as a result, radiation levels in the stratosphere dropped. This counterintuitive effect is called a "Forbush Decrease" after the 20th century physicist Scott Forbush who first described it.

Now that the CME is long gone, cosmic radiation levels around Earth should be returning to normal. But are they? The answer lies inside the payload, which a team recovered yesterday from a remote landing site in Death Valley National Park. Stay tuned.

Note: The students wish to thank Sander Geophysics for sponsoring this flight. (Note their logo in the upper right corner of the payload.) Their generous contribution of $500 paid for the helium and other supplies necessary to get this research off the ground.



October 1, 2014
-So far this week, solar activity has been low. However, there are five sunspots on the solar disk poised to break the quiet. All of them have 'beta-gamma' magnetic fields that harbor energy for moderately strong eruptions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 65% chance of M-class solar flares and a 15% chance of X-flares.

-For the 5th day in a row, observers around the Arctic Circle are reporting dynamic auroras. Pilot Brian Whittaker photographed this outburst on Sept. 30th while he was flying 35,000 feet over Hudson Bay, Canada. "For many hours we watched the sky come alive, often with rapid pulses," Whittaker says. "It was mostly cloudy below, but a fantastic show at 35,000 ft."

The ongoing display is a result of our planet's response to the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). For days the IMF has been tipping south, slightly, just enough to open a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind leaks in to fuel the auroras.

Conditions favor more auroras tonight. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Oct. 1st. However, a full-fledged storm is not required for Northern Lights at this time of year. The odds of Arctic auroras are, therefore, quite a bit higher than 35%.



September 30, 2014
-Arcturus is the bright star due west at nightfall. It's an orange giant 37 light-years away. Off to its right in the northwest is the Big Dipper, most of whose stars are about 80 light-years away. They're both sinking lower every week now.

-Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Libra) is sinking away into the afterglow of sunset. Look for it well to the right of the Mars-Antares pair, and probably a little lower depending on your latitude.

September 29, 2014
-There are now four sunspot groups on the solar disk with unstable magnetic fields, which means an eruption today is likely. NOAA forecasters have raised the daily odds of an M-class solar flare to 75% and an X-flare to 15%.

-While much attention is being paid to the fact that September's equinox kicked off aurora season in the Northern Hemisphere, we should not forget that the Southern Hemisphere has just experienced the exact same equinox. It is aurora season there, too. Petr Horįlek sends this example of Southern Lights over Lauder, New Zealand, on Sept 25th. "The auroras burned very low above the southern horizon here at the NIWA atmospheric research station," Horįlek says. "The opened dome is the BOOTES telescope, which is used to detect the optical afterglow of distant gamma-ray bursts. A green lidar behind me reflected from the dome, giving it a green hue."

For reasons researchers do not fully understand, at this time of year even gentle gusts of solar wind can ignite beautiful auroras. Right now Earth is passing through a minor stream of solar wind that has both poles aglow.



September 28, 2014
-Weekend fireworks were predicted, and the sun complied. On Sunday, Sept. 28th (0258 UT), the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2173 erupted, producing an M5-class solar flare. The sun was high overhead in Australia when Matt Wastell of Brisbane photographed the explosion. Extreme UV radiation from the flare ionized the top of Earth's atmosphere, disturbing the normal propagation of radio transmissions around our planet. In particular, there was a limited blackout of HF radio communications and a probable loss of shortwave radio contact in daylit areas for some tens of minutes.

At the moment, we do not know if this explosion hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. Based on the impulsiveness (brevity) of the flare, we think not. A final answer awaits coronagraph data from the SOHO and STEREO spacecraft.

Wastell's picture, which he took using a solar telescope tuned to the red glow of solar hydrogen, shows more than a half-dozen dark magnetic filaments winding across the face of the sun. Like sunspots, these filaments pose a threat for flares. When a magnetic filament collapses it can hit the stellar surface and explode, causing a type of "spotless" explosion called a Hyder flare.

Taking into account all of the sunspots as well as the filaments, NOAA forecasters estimate a 65% chance of M-class flares and a 10% chance of X-flares in the next 24 hours.



September 27, 2014
-Fast-growing sunspot AR2175 has developed a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for significant eruptions. As a result, NOAA forecasters have upped the daily odds of M-class flares to 65% and X-flares to 10%. Stay tuned for weekend fireworks.

-During the early hours of Sept. 26th, something exploded behind the southeastern edge of the solar disk. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed a massive plume of debris rising over the sun's limb.

As the inset shows, the plasma-plume was big enough to swallow dozens of planets Earth. In this case, however, Earth was not in the line of fire. The ejecta will completely miss our planet.

X-rays from the eruption registered C8 on the Richter Scale of Solar Flares. The actual intensity must have been much higher, though, because the flare was eclipsed by the edge of the sun. The underlying active region might be potent.

In a few days, the blast site will emerge into view as the sun's rotation turns it toward Earth. Then we will be able to evaluate its potential for future eruptions, increasingly geoeffective as the sun slowly spins on its axis.



September 26, 2014
-New sunspot AR2175 didn't exist one day ago. Now it stretches more than 100,000 km across the face of the sun with a primary dark core larger than Earth. The fast-growing region has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares.

-As early as 8 or 9 p.m. now look for Fomalhaut, the lonely 1st-magnitude Autumn Star, twinkling on its way up from the southeast horizon. It will be highest due south around 11 or midnight (depending on your location).

-The waxing crescent Moon works its way eastward above the star-and-planet display low in the southwestern twilight. (These scenes are plotted for the middle of North America.)



September 25, 2014
-A CME launched into space by the M2-class flare of Sept 23rd will not hit Earth, according to NOAA analysts. Forecast models predict that it will sail wide of our planet. More CMEs may be in the offing, however. The source of the Sept. 23rd explosion, big sunspot AR2172, has an unstable magnetic field that is likely to erupt again. Because the sun's rotation is turning the sunspot toward Earth, future CMEs will probably be geoeffective.

-How do you know it's autumn in Iceland? It's when the icebergs turn green. Last night, Steve Lansdell photographed the phenomenon from the Jokulsaron Ice Lagoon. "We've seen auroras 4 nights in a row, but last night was really spectacular," says Lansdell. "The green lit up the icebergs in a wonderful display that thrilled my friends."

These are equinox auroras, appearing less than 48 hours after the onset of northern autumn. For reasons researchers don't fully understand, auroras love equinoxes. At this time of year even a gentle gust of solar wind can spark a beautiful display. Mindful of the season, NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of more polar geomagnetic storms--and more green ice--in the next 24 hours.



September 24, 2014
-Today, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth is tilting south, not much, but enough to open a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind is pouring through the opening to fuel beautiful polar auroras. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance that a full-fledged geomagnetic storm could develop in the next 24 hours.

-Northern autumn began with a bang, albeit only a medium-sized one. Big sunspot AR2172 erupted on Sept. 23rd at 2316 UT, producing an impulsive M2-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the extreme ultraviolet flash.

The explosion might have hurled a CME toward Earth, but SOHO and STEREO coronagraph data are not yet available to confirm this possibility. Stay tuned for updates in the hours ahead.

Meanwhile, more flares are in the offing. AR2172 continues to grow and it has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for strong explosions. NOAA forcasters estimate a 30% chance of M-class flares and a 5% chance of X-flares on Sept. 24th.



September 23, 2014
-Solar activity is low. However, new sunspot AR2172 threatens to break the quiet. Karzaman Ahmad photographed the behemoth active region on Sept. 22nd from the Langkawi National Observatory in Maylasia. The sunspot's primary dark cores are nearly as wide as Earth, and the entire group stretches more than 80,000 km from end to end. These dimensions make AR2172 an easy target for small solar telescopes. "I took the picture using an 11-inch telescope," says Ahmad.

Yesterday, for a while, the sunspot's magnetic field displayed an unstable mixture of polarities that harbored energy for strong explosions. Now the threat has subsided. As the situation shifts back and forth, NOAA forcasters estimate a 30% chance of M-class flares and a 5% chance of X-flares on Sept. 23rd.

-Today, Sept. 23rd at 0229 UT, the sun crossed the celestial equator heading south. The crossing marks the beginning of fall in the northern hemisphere--a.k.a. the autumnal equinox. Equinox means equal night. With the sun near the celestial equator, we experience equal amounts of daylight and darkness, 12 hours of each. Good news for sky watchers: It's also the beginning of aurora season.



September 22, 2014
-NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept. 23-24 when a co-rotating interaction region (CIR) is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. CIRs are transition zones between fast- and slow-moving solar wind streams. Solar wind plasma piles up in these regions, producing density gradients and shock waves that do a good job of sparking auroras.

-The northern autumnal equinox is less than a day away. That's good news for sky watchers because, for reasons researchers do not fully understand, auroras love equinoxes. At this time of year even gentle gusts of solar wind can spark a nice display of Northern Lights. Igor Matveev took the picture on Sept. 19th from Monchegorsk, Russia. There was no geomagnetic storm predicted that night--and no meteor shower. Yet Matveev saw both. "What luck!" he says. "I caught the entire meteor streaking beneath the auroras."

No CME was required to spark the auroras. Instead, a relatively minor fluctuation in the magnetism of the solar wind caused the display. Tomorrow's CIR (co-rotating interaction region), explained above, could be even more effective.



September 21, 2014
-On Sept. 23th the sun will cross the celestial equator heading south, marking the end of northern summer. That's good news for high-latitude sky watchers because, for reasons researchers do not fully understand, auroras love equinoxes. At this time of year when the seasons are changing, even gentle gusts of solar wind can spark a nice display of Northern Lights. Harald Albrigtsen took the picture on Sept. 19th from Kvalųya, Norway. There was no geomagnetic storm predicted that night, and indeed no CME struck our planet. Instead a relatively minor fluctuation in the magnetic orientation of the solar wind sparked the display.

NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept 21st, and the probability of Arctic auroras is probably even higher than that.

-Sky watchers in parts of California are finding that, suddenly, they can view sunspots without a solar telescope. Smoke from the epic King Fire is providing a natural filter. David Wheat photographed the fiery sunset from Tuolumne CA. "Notice the 3 sunspots on the upper left of the solar disk " points out Wheat.

The fire, which began a week ago in a canyon east of Sacramento, has ballooned in size to 80,000 acres, larger than the city of Portland. Dense smoke has grounded planes and choked the air for hundreds of miles around the blaze--including a Sierra peak where the headquarters of Spaceweather.com is located. Because the fire is only 10% contained, fiery sunsets will likely continue for days to come.





September 20, 2014
-Although the sun is peppered with spots, not one them has the type of complex magnetic field that harbors energy for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters estimate a slight 20% chance of M-class solar flares during what should be a quiet weekend.

-In bright twilight, Mercury and fainter Spica are in conjunction 0.6° apart just above the west-southwest horizon. Use binoculars to scan for them about 20 minutes after sunset.

The eclipsing variable star Algol (Beta Persei) should be at its minimum light, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple of hours centered on 10:55 p.m. EDT.

In early dawn on Sunday the 21st, the waning crescent Moon shines far below Jupiter and closer to the right of Regulus, as shown below.



September 19, 2014
-No geomagnetic storm was in the forecast for Sept. 19th, but a storm occurred anyway. Sky watchers around the Arctic Circle saw the midnight sky turn green as magnetometers registered an unexpected G1-class disturbance between 0300 and 0600 UT. "Suddenly there were lots of Northern Lights above the Lofoten Islands of Norway," reports Eric Fokke, who put his camera on the ground to record the display through a patch of mushrooms.

"Unfortunately there was no Moon to illuminate the mushroms, so I had to take this picture under streetlights," says Fokke. "The auroras were bright enough to see despite the manmade glare."

The source of the display was a fluctuation in the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). During the early hours of Sept. 19th, the IMF tipped south, opening a crack in our planet's magnetosphere. Solar wind poured in to fuel the storm.

NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of more polar geomagnetic storms tonight. In other words, if you're an Arctic photographer, there's a 1 in 5 chance you should find a pumpkin patch.



September 18, 2014
-A minor CME expected to hit Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 17th apparently did not. Either it sailed wide of our planet or its impact was too puny to detect. With no CME to rattle Earth's magnetic field, NOAA forecasters have downgraded the chances of a geomagnetic storm today to only 20%.

-Iceland's largest volcano is restless. The Bardarbunga volcano system, located under the massive Vatnajoekull glacier, has been rocked by hundreds of tremors daily since mid-August. Lava is currently spewing from fissures, prompting fears of a much larger eruption. Local photographers, meanwhile, are having a great time recording a rare mix of lava-red and aurora-green in the night sky. Thorsten Boeckel sends this photo from Mżvatn, Iceland. "The red shine of the fissure eruption together with the green aurora provided a phantastic view," he says.

A full-fledged eruption of this volcano has the potential to be even more disruptive than the 2010 eruption of nearby Eyjafjallajokull, which threw air traffic into chaos across Europe. According to the Icelandic Met Office, there are no signs of decreasing magma output as of Sept. 17th. This means more lava is in the offing--along with more phantastic photo-ops as aurora season unfolds around the Arctic Circle.


September 17, 2014
-A slow-moving CME propelled toward Earth by an erupting magnetic filament on the sun is expected to arrive today, Sept. 17th. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of minor geomagnetic storms in response to the sluggish impact. High-latitude sky watchers, be alert for auroras.

-On Sept. 12th, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field, igniting the most intense geomagnetic storm of the year. The students of Earth to Sky Calculus quickly launched a helium balloon to the stratosphere to see what effect the storm was having on Earth's upper atmosphere. They expected to measure more radiation than usual. Instead, they measured less. This plot shows a sharp drop in high energy radiation on Sept. 12th compared to previous flights in May, June, and August.

What caused this counterintuitive drop? Answer: When the CME swept past Earth, it swept aside many of the cosmic rays that normally surround our planet. The effect is called a "Forbush Decrease," after American physicist Scott F. Forbush who first described it.

Wherever CMEs go, cosmic rays are deflected by magnetic fields inside the CME. Forbush decreases have been observed on Earth and in Earth orbit onboard Mir and the ISS. The Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft have experienced them, too, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Now high school students have detected a Forbush Decrease in the stratosphere using little more than an insulated lunchbox and a helium balloon.

The balloon's lunchbox-payload is shown here suspended almost 110,000 feet above the Sierras of central California.

Inside the payload, there was a high-energy radiation sensor, a cryogenic thermometer, multiple GPS altimeters and trackers, and three cameras. During the 2.5 hour flight, the buoy collected more than 50 gigabytes of video and science data ranging in altitude from 8500 ft to 113,700 ft above sea level. The analysis is still underway.

The students wish to thank Caisson Biotech LLC for sponsoring this flight. Note their logo on the upper right corner of the payload!

-If you would like to sponsor an upcoming balloon launch, support the next generation of scientists, and have your logo flown to the edge of space, please contact Dr. Tony Phillips to make arrangements. The cost of sponsorship is $500. Sponsors receive a complete video of the flight along with advertising exposure on spaceweather.com.

Email:
dr.tony.phillips@gmail.com




September 16, 2014
-Solar activity is low. However, sunspots AR2157, AR2158 and AR2164 have 'beta-gamma' magnetic fields that harbor energy for significant eruptions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of M-class flares on Sept. 16th.

September 15, 2014
-Last-quarter Moon (exactly last-quarter at 10:05 p.m. EDT). The Moon rises around midnight tonight under the horn-tips of Taurus. It stands high in the south over Orion by Tuesday's dawn.

-Another CME is en route to Earth. It was launched in our direction three days ago by the eruption of a magnetic filament near the center of the solar disk. The impact won't be as effective as the double-whammy of Sept. 12th, described below. Nevertheless, NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept. 16th when the CME arrives. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

-At the peak of the September 11-12 storm, observers in Scandinavia witnessed stunning coronas and even a rare aurora-rainbow ensemble. A hint of auroras were even photographed in Arizona. The below image was taken by Kjetil Skogli of Tromsų Norway. His comments: "During a workshop I had for group of photographers we experienced a rare combination late evening. Northern lights above a rainbow. It was rainy in the lower part of a valley and we had the moon behind us. The rainbow stayed there for hours. For me this was the third time I experienced this during my 11 years as a Aurora photographer Every time it has been in the same valley." Link to image: http://spaceweathergallery.com/indiv...load_id=101791



September 14, 2014
-Sunspot AR2158, the source of last week's powerful X-flare, is decaying as it turns away from Earth. This is decreasing the chance of another geoeffective explosion. NOAA forecasters put the odds of an X-flare today at a waning 25%.

-While the web site Spaceweather.com was down during the most intense geomagnetic storm of the year, the webmaster shook off the stress by going outside ... and launching a space weather probe. Carried aloft by a helium balloon, the probe was prepared and released by the students of Earth to Sky Calculus just as the planetary K-index hit 7during the waning hours of Sept. 12th.

Inside the balloon's payload, there was a high-energy radiation sensor, a cryogenic thermometer, multiple GPS altimeters and trackers, and three cameras to record the flight. The launch was the latest in an ongoing series of suborbital balloon flights to measure the effect of stormy space weather on Earth's atmosphere from ground level to the stratosphere. Soon, the group will release an entire year's worth of data of interest to commercial aviation and space tourism.

After a 2.5 hour flight, the payload has parachuted back to Earth and landed in the Inyo Mountains of central California. A student team will recover the payload and its sensors this weekend.



September 13, 2014
-As predicted, a pair of CMEs hit Earth's magnetic field in quick succession on Sept. 11th and 12th. The result was a G3-class geomagnetic storm, the most intense of the year so far. At the peak of the storm on Sept 12-13, bright auroras ringed the Arctic Circle and spilled down over several northern-tier US states. The sky over Maine exploded in a rainbow of colors. "I took the picture from Casco, Maine, facing north towards the Presidential Range in New Hampshire," says photographer John Stetson. "Red, purple, green, blue--all the colors were there!"

The storm is subsiding now. Nevertheless, high-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. NOAA forecasters estimate a whopping 90% chance of additional polar geomagetic activity on Sept. 13th as Earth passes through the wake of the double CME.

Sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

-On Sept. 12th, Spaceweather.com was offline for more than 12 hours during the most intense geomagnetic storm of the year. Ironically, the outage was not caused by solar activity. A hardware failure in the network of our Internet service provider brought the web site down at the worst possible time. Webmaster Dr. Tony Phillips apologizes to our readers, alert subscribers, and advertisers for the outage. We are taking steps to make sure this cannot happen again.



September 12, 2014
-The first of two CMEs expected to hit Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 12th has arrived, and a minor (G1-class) geomagnetic storm is underway as a result of the impact. The second and potentially more powerful CME is still en route. NOAA forecasters say geomagnetic storming could become strong (G3-class) during the late hours of Sept. 12th and Sept 13th after the second CME arrives.

-Observers in Canada and several northern-tier US states saw mild green auroras after the first impact. Matthew Moses sends this picture from Munger, MN. "It was a somewhat subdued display," says Moses. "I am looking forward to see what the next CME treats us to."

The next CME, now only hours away, was launched by an X-class flare, so it is potent. However, not every potent CME produces a potent geomagnetic storm. It all depends on the inner magnetic architecture of the CME, which is unknown until the CME actually arrives. NOAA forecasters are estimating a 45% chance that strong magnetic disturbances will reach mid-latitudes on Sept 13--almost like a coin toss.

Sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.



September 11, 2014
-A pair of CMEs is heading for Earth. The two solar storm clouds were launched on Sept. 9th and 10th by strong explosions in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2158. NOAA forecasters estimate a nearly 80% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept. 12th when the first of the two CMEs arrives. Auroras are in the offing, possibly visible at mid-latitudes before the weekend.

-Sunspot AR2158 erupted on Sept. 10th at 17:46 UT, producing an X1.6-class solar flare. A flash of ultraviolet radiation from the explosion ionized the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere, disturbing HF radio communications for more than an hour. More importantly, the explosion hurled a CME directly toward Earth. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory photographed the expanding cloud.

Radio emissions from shock waves at the leading edge of the CME suggest that the cloud tore through the sun's atmosphere at speeds as high as 3750 km/s. That would make this a very fast moving storm, and likely to reach Earth before the weekend. Auroras are definitely in the offing.

-The X-flare of Sept 10th caused a radio blackout on Earth. Ironically, it also caused a blast of radio noise. Radio astronomers and hams in the Americas and across the Pacific Ocean heard static roaring from the loudspeakers of their shortwave receivers. "It was absolutely howling," reports Thomas Ashcraft, who sends this 3-minute recording from his amateur radio observatory in rural New Mexico.

"This is what I heard at the onset of the flare," he explains. "By the time the flare peaked, it became almost too intense for my ears."

Advice: Listen to the sound file using stereo headphones. The two channels correspond to two radio frequencies--22 and 23 MHz. Link: http://www.spaceweather.com/images20...shcraft_02.mp3

Radio emissions like these are caused by shock waves in the sun's atmosphere. Looking at the CME pictured in the news item above, it is easy to imagine how the fast-moving cloud would spawn shock waves in the atmosphere overlying sunspot AR2158. Those shock waves triggered plasma instabilities which, in turn, generated the shortwave radio emissions.

More radio bursts may be in the offing. Sunspots AR2157 and AR2158 have unstable magnetic fields that harboor energy for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of X-class flares and a whopping 85% chance of M-flares on Sept. 11th.




September 10, 2014
-The gibbous Moon, still big, rises in the east in late twilight. Look well above it for the bottom corner of the up-tilted Great Square of Pegasus.

-NOAA forecasters have issued a geomagnetic storm warning for Sept. 12th when a CME (described below) is expected to deliver a glancing but potent blow to Earth's magnetic field. The storm could reach moderate intensity (G2-class) with auroras visible across northern-tier US states such as Maine, Michigan, and Minnnesota.

-Yesterday, the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2158 erupted, producing an explosion that lasted more than 6 hours. The flare peaked on Sept. 9th at 00:30 UT with a classification of M4 on the Richter Scale of Solar Flares. Long-duration flares tend to produce bright CMEs, and this one was no exception. Coronagraphs onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory observed a CME racing out of the blast site at nearly 1,000 km/s (2.2 million mph).

Most of the storm cloud is heading north of the sun-Earth line, but not all. A fraction of the CME will deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field during the early hours of Sept. 12th. In the past few weeks, glancing blows from minor CMEs have sparked beautiful auroras around the Arctic Circle. This CME could spark even better displays. NOAA forecasters estimate a 79% (not a typo: 79%) chance of polar geomagnetic storming on Sept. 12th.



September 9, 2014
-Arcturus is the bright star fairly high due west at nightfall. It's an orange giant 37 light-years away. Off to its right in the northwest is the Big Dipper, most of whose stars are about 80 light-years away.

-Reports are circulating of a meteorite strike in Nicaragua on Sunday, Sept. 7th. Because the timing coincides with the flyby of asteroid 2014 RC, some reporters have suggested a link. We are skeptical. The crater outside Managua looks more like it was dug by a backhoe than excavated by a high-energy meteoritic explosion. Also, no streak of light corresponding to a meteor was actually observed. Stay tuned for updates on this developing story. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-29106843

-The northern autumnal equinox is less than two weeks away. That makes tonight's full Moon the Harvest Moon, the full Moon closest to the beginning of Fall. Ruslan Merzlyakov sends this picture of the pumpkin-colored orb from Nykųbing Mors, Denmark:

"It was a very beautiful moonrise!" he says.

The name "Harvest Moon" harkens back to a bygone era. Before the days of electric lights, farmers relied on moonlight to harvest crops which ripened all at once in autumn. They couldn't afford to stop working at sunset, so "harvest moonlight" was essential to their operations. The flow of electricity has made the Moon obsolete as a source of practical illumination, but not as an object of beauty. Step outside tonight at sunset, look east and enjoy the view.



September 8, 2014
-NOAA forecasters have raised the odds of an X-class solar flare today to 30%. Two sunspots turning toward Earth pose a threat for such eruptions: AR2157 and AR2158. Both are capable of strong geoeffective activity.

-On Sunday, Sept. 7th, house-sized asteroid 2014 RC flew past Earth. There was no danger of a collision, but the space rock was close. It sailed just underneath Earth's belt of geeosynchronous satellites and about 40,000 km over New Zealand. Using robotic telescope in Australia, a team of astronomers led by Ernesto Guido photographed 2014 RC zipping through the southern constellation Phoenix at 10 km/s (22,000 mph).

2014 RC came from the asteroid belt just beyond the orbit of Mars. According to NASA, "2014 RC will return to our planet's neighborhood in the future. The asteroid's future motion will be closely monitored, but no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified."



September 7, 2014
-Look for bright Vega passing your zenith in late twilight, if you live in the world's mid-northern latitudes. Vega goes right through your zenith if you're at latitude 39° north (near Baltimore, Kansas City, Lake Tahoe, Sendai, Beijing, Athens, Lisbon). How closely can you judge this?

-According to NOAA analysts, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 6th at 1525 UT. However, the impact was weak and did not spark geomagnetic storms.

September 6, 2014
-This is International Observe the Moon night! Zoom in on the map
http://observethemoonnight.org/
to find an event near you. Or set up your own telescope for the public, and add your event to the map so people can find you! The Moon is waxing gibbous, two days from full. (Just make sure it'll be in view from your site when you tell people to come!)

Also, look to the right of the Moon, by a little more than a fist-width at arm's length, for two faintish (3rd-magnitude) stars: Alpha and Beta Capricorni, one above the other. Alpha is the one on top. With sharp vision, you can barely see that it's double. Binoculars resolve it easily.

-NOAA forecasters estimate a 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept. 6th when a CME is expected to deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

September 5, 2014
-Saturn, Mars, Delta (δ) Scorpii, and Antares form an equally-spaced ragged line in the southwest at dusk, as shown at right. Delta Scorpii used to be a bit dimmer than Beta above it. Then in July 2000 it doubled in brightness. It has remained bright, with slow fluctuations, ever since.
Look high above the Moon this evening for Altair.

-This Sunday, a house-sized asteroid named "2014 RC" will fly through the Earth-Moon system almost inside the orbit of geosynchronous satellites. At closest approach, Sept. 7th at 18:18 UTC, the 20-meter-wide space rock will pass just 40,000 km over New Zealand. This diagram from NASA shows the geometry of the encounter.

There is no danger of a collision with Earth.

Asteroid 2014 RC was discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakalā on Maui, Hawaii. Follow-up observations quickly confirmed the orbit of 2014 RC: it comes from just beyond the orbit of Mars.

The close appproach of this space rock offers researchers an opportunity for point-blank studies of a near-Earth asteroid. Even amateur astronomers will be able to track it. Around the time of closest approach, it will brighten to magnitude +11.5 as it zips through the constellation Pisces. This means it will be invisible to the naked eye but a relatively easy target for backyard telescopes equipped with CCD cameras.

According to NASA, "[the orbit of 2014 RC] will bring it back to our planet's neighborhood in the future. The asteroid's future motion will be closely monitored, but no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified."

If you want to try and see this asteroid for yourself, use the following link for tracking information: http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/db_...RC&commit=Show




September 4, 2014
-In Friday's dawn, use binoculars to help pick up Venus just above the eastern horizon about 30 minutes before sunrise. It's far to the lower left of Jupiter. Can you make out Regulus, less than a hundredth as bright, within 1° of Venus?

-On Sept. 2nd, an enormous filament of dark plasma, which had been snaking across the face of the sun for days, became unstable and erupted. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the event (movies: #1, #2). A CME emerging from the blast site appears to have an Earth-directed component.

According to NOAA analysts, the CME could deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on Sept. 6th. This is not a particularly fast or powerful CME. Nevertheless, the coming impact could spark auroras. The last two minor CMEs that struck Earth in late August triggered beautiful displays of Northern and Southern Lights. The reason: it's aurora season. High-latitude sky watchers should prepare for Sept. 6th.

September 3, 2014
-For days, amateur astronomers around the world have been monitoring an enormous filament of dark plasma snaking across the face of the sun. Yesterday it erupted. A movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory seems to show debris from the blast hurtling in the general direction of Earth. Stay tuned for coronagraph data, which could confirm or refute an Earth-directed CME.

September 2, 2014
-The Great Square of Pegasus is well up in the east as soon as nightfall is complete. It's larger than your fist at arm's length and currently stands on one corner. Seen from your latitude at your time, how close is its balance to being perfect?

-A sunspot located just behind the sun's northeastern limb exploded yesterday, Sept. 1st @ 1105 UT, producing "a significant solar flare," according to NOAA analysts. NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft, stationed over the farside of the sun, recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. A fast CME emerged from the blast site traveling approximately 2000 km/s (4.5 million mph). The flare also produced strong radio bursts and a farside solar proton storm. Only the intervening limb of the sun prevented Earth effects.

When flares occur on the Earthside of the sun, we classify them according to their X-ray intensity: C (weak), M (medium), or X (strong). Farside explosions, however, cannot be precisely classified because none of the spacecraft stationed over the farside of the sun are equipped with X-ray sensors. Based on the appearance of the flare at UV wavelengths, plus other factors such as the CME and radiation storm, we would guess that this was a strong-M or X-class event.

Soon, the source of the explosion will reveal itself as solar rotation carries it up and over the sun's NE limb. Earth-directed solar activity could be just a few days away.




September 1, 2014
-First-quarter Moon this evening and Tuesday evening (exactly first quarter at 7:11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Tuesday morning). It's passing over Scorpius, as shown below.

-After a long, long summer day, Arctic skies are darkening again, and in the sunset observers are seeing rays of green in the twilight blue. Frank Olsen of Sortland, Norway, took this picture at sunset on Aug. 31st. "I went out last night to catch the sunset--but mostly the auroras," says Olsen. "Even before it was dark, the Northern Lights made an appearance."

More lights are in the offing. NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% of polar geomagnetic storms during the next 24 hours. The odds of Arctic auroras are higher, however, because it doesn't take a full-fledged storm to turn the twilight green at polar latitudes.




August 31, 2014
-Spot the Moon at dusk with Saturn to its right and Mars to its lower left (for North America).

-As the stars come out this week, the first you see may be Arcturus shining high in the west. As the sky gets a little darker, look to its right for the Big Dipper scooping down in the northwest.

-As northern summer comes to a close, electrical storms are rumbling across the USA. After nightfall, red sprites can be seen dancing across the cloudtops. On Aug. 20th, Tom A. Warner photographed these speciments above New Underwood, South Dakota. "On the night of Aug 20th, intense storms developed in north central South Dakota," says Warner. "Skies cleared out to the west and offered a chance to capture some sprites from the northern activity."

He saw not only sprites, but also green-glowing gravity waves. The waves are, literally, the ripple effect of a powerful thunderstorm on the mesosphere some 80 km above Earth's surface. From space, these waves look like a giant atmospheric bull's eye. From the ground, they appear to be green ripples in the sky, as shown in Warner's images.

Left to themselves, gravity waves would be invisible to the human eye. We see them, however, because they are colored green by an aurora-like phenomenon called "airglow." Airglow is caused by an assortment of chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere driven mainly by solar ultraviolet radiation. Gravity waves rippling away from the central axis of a thunderstorm cause temperature and density perturbations in the upper atmosphere. Speaking simplistically, those perturbations alter the chemical reaction rates of airglow, leading to more-bright or less-bright bands depending on whether the rates are boosted or diminished, respectively.

Inhabiting the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere alongside meteors, noctilucent clouds and some auroras, sprites and mesospheric gravity waves are true space weather phenomena. Now is a good time to see them.




August 30, 2014
-The waxing crescent Moon now shines closer to Saturn and Mars, as shown above. Can you see little Alpha Librae in the middle of the narrow triangle they make?

-In mid-November, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft will make history by dropping a probe onto the surface of a comet. Bristling with 10 sensors including a camera, the Philae lander will touchdown somewhere on the rugged double-lobed core of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.



August 29, 2014
-The Moon is coming back into the evening sky. Look for the waxing crescent low in the west-southwest in twilight, as shown at lower right. Can you make out Spica twinkling beneath it? Binoculars help. Far to their upper left are Saturn and Mars.

-"After a long summer without stars, the Northern Lights have finally returned," reports Fredrik Broms of Tromsų, Norway (70 deg N latitude). "Last night's display was so strong that, although constellations such as Cassiopeia are still only to be made out very faintly on the blue night sky, the auroras shimmered and danced in an explosion of colors!" This is what he saw almost directly overhead around local midnight on August 28th:

-The twilight display was sparked by a pair of CME impacts on August 27th. As Earth passed through the wake of the storm clouds, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) around Earth tipped south. This opened a crack in our planet's magnetosphere; solar wind poured in to fuel a light show that lasted for nearly three days and nights.

NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Aug. 29th as CME effects wane. Arctic sky watchers should remain alert for green in the twilight.




August 28, 2014
-The Great Square of Pegasus is now well up in the east as soon as nightfall is complete. It's larger than your fist at arm's length and currently stands on one corner. Seen from your latitude at your time, how close is the balance to perfect?

-Go outside just after sunset and look southwest. Something there will make you do a double-take. Mars and Saturn have converged alongside the second brightest star in Libra to form a pretty twilight triangle. "It was an amazing triangle," says photographer Marek Nikodem of Szubin, Poland. The planets are labeled in Nikodem's photo, but that star is not. That's because its name wouldn't fit. The second brightest star in Libra is Zubenelgenubi. Pronounced "zoo-BEN-el-je-NEW-bee," it is a double star 77 light years from Earth easily split by binoculars or a small backyard telescope.

Soon, the threesome will become a foursome. The crescent Moon will pass through the triangle on August 30th and 31st. On those evenings, in the time it takes to scan your telescope around a small patch of sky, you can see a double star, the rings of Saturn, the red disk of Mars, and the cratered landscape of the Moon. Mark your calendar!



August 27, 2014
-Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras. Currently, solar wind conditions favor geomagnetic activity at high-latitudes, sparking Northern Lights bright enough to shine through the late-summer twilight. Mike Theiss sends this picture from the east coast of Iceland. "The lights were incredible," says Theiss. "They changed intensity on and off for about 3 hours on Aug. 27th."

These auroras signal the arrival of a CME launched toward Earth on Aug. 22nd. As NOAA analysts predicted, the solar wind speed did not change much in response to the CME. However, the storm cloud contained a south-pointing magnetic field that opened a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind is pouring in to fuel the ongoing display.

-orking over the weekend, Rosetta mission planners and scientists narrowed a list of 10 candidate landing sites to only 5. They are circled in this image of the core of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In mid-November, Rosetta's Philae lander will attempt to touch down in one of these locations--the first time humankind has ever landed a probe on the core of a comet.

The candidate sites are distributed as follows: three (I, B and J) on the comet's smaller lobe and two (A and C) on the larger. The comet's canyon-like neck has been excluded. All of the candidate landing sites provide at least six hours of daylight per comet rotation and offer some flat terrain. According to the ESA, every site has the potential for unique scientific discoveries by the lander's 10 instruments.

A full discussion of each site may be found in this ESA press release. By September 14th, the five candidates will have been assessed and ranked, leading to the selection of a primary landing site, for which a fully detailed strategy for the landing operations will be developed, along with a backup.




August 26, 2014
-If you're in the Earth's mid-northern latitudes, bright Vega shines near your zenith just as night becomes fully dark. Whenever you see Vega most nearly straight up, you know that Sagittarius, with its deep-sky riches, is at its highest in the south.

-Yesterday, active sunspot AR2148 erupted twice, producing a rapidfire pair of M-class solar flares (M2 @ 1511 UT and M3 @ 2021 UT). The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded a corresponding pair of CMEs emerging from the blast site. According to NOAA analysts, the first CME does not have an Earth-directed component. The second CME looks even less Earth-directed than the first. In short, they missed.

More eruptions may be in the offing. Sunspots AR2146 and AR2149 both have complex magnetic fields that harbor energy for strong flares. NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of M-class flares and 10% chance of X-flares on August 26th.



August 25, 2014
-Have you ever wondered what a lunchbox suspended 112,000 feet above Earth's surface would look like? The answer is, this:

-This is actually a Space Weather Buoy--a lunchbox containing a cosmic ray detector, cameras, GPS trackers, a thermometer and other sensors. It flew to the stratosphere on August 22nd tethered to a suborbital helium balloon. In collaboration with Spaceweather.com, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching these buoys on a regular basis to study the effect of solar activity on Earth's upper atmosphere. Soon, they will release results from a year-long campaign covering altitudes of interest to aviation, space tourism, and ozone research.

The students wish to thank Eden Botanicals for sponsoring the August 22nd flight. (Note their logo on the corner of the payload.) This was the student group's 58th successful launch--almost all paid for by a combination of donations and commercial advertising. If you would like your own logo sent to the stratosphere, visit the spaceweather.com website and contact dr.tony.phillips@earthlink.net .



August 24, 2014
-Mars and Saturn are closest together this evening and Monday evening, separated by 3.4°. They're the same brightness but not the same color. And compare Mars's color to that of its rival Antares, not quite as bright, in Scorpius about 20° to the left. (See the last illustration below.) Mars will pass Antares by just 3° in late September.

-On Saturday morning, Aug. 23rd, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon converged to form a bright triangle in the pre-dawn sky. On Sunday morning the triangle dispersed. Pete Lawrence photographed the break-up from the seashore in Selsey, West Sussex, UK. "Venus and Jupiter were easy targets this morning, but the thin (4%) crescent Moon was a different matter!" says Lawrence. "It was almost invisible in the red glow of sunrise." (can't find the moon in the image below? http://puu.sh/b5Ol2/77db7e425b.jpg )

-Did you oversleep on Saturday? No problem. Another "celestial triangle" is in the offing. Right now the Moon is passing the sun en route to the evening sky. On August 31st it will join Mars and Saturn in the constellation Libra. Visible after sunset, the new triangle won't be quite as luminous as the old one, because Mars + Saturn is not as bright as Venus + Jupiter, but the formaton will still be very pretty.



August 23, 2014
[left]-August is prime Milky Way time. After dark, the Milky Way runs from Sagittarius and Scorpius in the south-southwest, up and left across Aquila and through the big Summer Triangle very high in the southeast and east, and on down through Cassiopeia to Perseus rising low in the north-northeast.

-Europe's Rosetta probe has been at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for two weeks, taking close-up pictures and making measurements of the comet's strange landscape. According to ESA, researchers now have the data they need to start picking a landing site. This weekend, mission planners will meet to consider 10 candidate locations, with the goal of narrowing the list to 5 by Monday.

August 22, 2014
-Altair is the brightest star shining halfway up the southeastern sky after nightfall. Look to its left, by a little more than a fist at arm's length, for the dim but distinctive constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin. He's leaping leftward, just below the Milky Way.

-In Saturday's dawn, the thin waning crescent Moon forms an elegant triangle with Jupiter and Venus low in the east, as shown at lower right.

-Visually, the CME that struck Earth's magnetic field on August 19th was dim and unimpressive. The auroras it produced were magnificent. "For the first time in my life, I saw the Northern Lights," says Tadas Janušonis who sends this photo from Vabalninkas, Lithuania.

"It is a very rare phenomenon here in Lithuania," he says, "but the August 19th impact was strong enough to [produce] them."

Actually, the impact was weak. A CME like this one hits with a mechanical pressure of no more than 1 or 2 nanoPascals. That's 1 or 2 billionths of a Pascal - softer than a baby's breath. The reason it was so effective had more to do with its inner magnetic structure. This CME contained a region of south-pointing magnetism that partially canceled Earth's north-pointing magnetic field, opening a crack in the magnetosphere. Solar wind poured and fueled the display.



August 21, 2014
-As soon as the stars come out, the Great Square of Pegasus stands low in the east. It's balancing on one corner, and your fist at arm's length fits inside it. It rises higher through the evening and floats highest overhead around 2 or 3 a.m.

-For the past month, the sun has been mostly quiet with only a smattering of C- and B-class solar flares. As flares go, these are puny. In fact, when the sun is crackling with flares no stronger than B-class, we often say that "solar activity is very low."

But is it, really? A B-class solar flare packs a bigger punch than is generally supposed. Consider this specimen photographed by Harald Paleske of Weißenfels/ OT Langendorf, Germany, on August 17th. "This was a B8-class flare in sunspot AR2144," says Paleske. "Despite poor seeing, I was able to capture a high-resolution view of the explosion using my 225mm Unigraph solartelescope."

The violence frozen in these snapshots belies the idea that this was a weak explosion. And indeed it was not. A typical B-class solar flare releases as much energy as 100 million WWII atomic bombs. Only on the sun, which is itself a 1027 ton self-contained nuclear explosion, would such a blast be considered puny.

So the next time you hear that the forecast calls for "low solar activity," remember ... everything is relative. Today's forecast, by the way, calls for low solar activity with only a 10% chance of M-class solar flares.


August 20, 2014
-A moderate (G2-class) geomagnetic storm that erupted following a CME strike on August 19th is subsiding now. At its peak, the storm sparked auroras around both poles visible from the ground and from space. Astronaut Reid Wiseman took this picture from the window of the International Space Station:

"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this," tweeted Wiseman (@astro_reid). "Unbelievable."

Around the Arctic Circle where the midnight sun has overwhelmed auroras since Spring, observers caught their first glimpse of Northern Lights in months "At one point a massive corona unfolded just over my head!" reports Alexander Kuznetsov from the Finnish Lapland. "It was a great season opener," added Pekka Hyytinen of Tampere, Finland. "I also caught a lightning strike in one of my photos."

Solar wind conditions are unsettled but calming as Earth passes through the wake of the CME. NOAA forecasters estimate a waning 30% to 15% chance of more geomagnetic storms during the next 24 hours.




August 19, 2014
-If you're in the Earth's mid-northern latitudes, bright Vega passes close by your zenith just as night becomes fully dark. Whenever you see Vega at its closest to straight up, you know that Sagittarius, with its deep-sky riches, is at its highest in the south.

-A minor CME hit Earth's magnetic field on August 19th at approximately 06:30 UT. The impact was not a strong one. Nevertheless, mild to moderate geomagnetic storms are possible at high latitudes as Earth moves through the CME's wake on August 19-20.

-Set your alarm for dawn. Venus and Jupiter are putting on a fantastic show in the early morning sky. At daybreak on Tuesday, August 19, Marek Nikodem caught the planets rising over Szubin, Poland:

"It was a beautiful celestial dawn," says Nikodem, "definitely worth waking up for."

Following their 0.2o near-miss on Monday, August 18th, Venus and Jupiter are separating, but not too quickly. They'll remain in the same patch of sunrise sky for the rest of the week. A date of special interest is August 23rd when the crescent Moon joins the planets to form a must-see celestial triangle.



August 18, 2014
-Look northeast as soon as the stars come out for W-shaped Cassiopeia. In twilight it's not quite as high as the Big Dipper is in the northwest, but right after dark, Cassiopeia and the Dipper reach their balance point. Summer is nearing its end.

-NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on August 18th when a faint CME is expected to strike Earth's magnetic field head-on. This is not a major event. Nevertheless, high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when the CME arrives.

-This morning Venus and Jupiter converged in the pre-dawn sky for a spectacular conjunction. At closest aproach they were barely 0.2o apart. Didier Van Hellemont sends this picture from Les Estables, France. "I photographed Venus and Jupiter from Mount Mezenc, one of the higher points of the Auvergne region in France," says Van Hellemont. "The sky was so clear and beautiful. It was definitely worth the early wake-up call."

The planets are separating now, but not too quickly. They will still be a beautiful pair for the rest of the week. A date of special interest is August 23rd when the crescent Moon joins the planets to form a bright celestial triangle in the eastern pre-dawn sky.

Observing tips: Go outside 30 minutes before sunrise and look north-northeast. No telescope is required. Jupiter and Venus are bright enough to see with the naked eye even from light polluted cities. Try following the bright pair after the dawn sky begins to brighten. A tight conjunction of Venus and Jupiter framed by twilight blue is a great way to start the day.



August 17, 2014
-As dawn brightens on Monday morning, look for Jupiter and Venus having their very close conjunction low in the east-northeast, 0.2° or 0.3° apart, as shown below. The best view should be about 60 to 30 minutes before your local sunrise time.

-The Moon is at last quarter (exact at 8:26 a.m. on the 17th EDT). It shines high in the southeast in early dawn on this date, with the Pleiades roughly a fist-width at arm's length to its left and a bit higher.



August 16, 2014
-The two brightest stars of summer are Vega, overhead right after dark, and Arcturus, shining in the west. Vega is a white-hot type-A star 25 light-years away. Arcturus is an orange-yellow-hot type-K giant 37 light-years distant. Their color difference is fairly clear to the unaided eye. Both are dozens of times more luminous than the Sun.

-Set your alarm for dawn! Venus and Jupiter are converging for a spectacular conjunction in the early morning sky. Closest approach: August 18th. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK57BMj2Vj4

August 15, 2014
-For the next several mornings, look low in the east-northeast about 45 to 30 minutes before sunrise for Venus and Jupiter very close together. On Saturday morning, these two brightest planets are still 2° apart, as shown at right. They'll be closest on Monday morning the 18th: just 0.2° or 0.25° apart at the time of dawn for Europe, 0.3° by the time dawn reaches the Americas.

-Solar activity has been low for more than month, and there are scant signs of change in the offing. Not one of the sunspots now crossing the solar disk poses a threat for strong eruptions. As a result, NOAA forecasters put the odds of an M- or X-class solar flare during the next 24 hours at no more than 1%.

-On August 6th, Europe's Rosetta spacecraft rendezvoused with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and began to fly alongside it. Seven days later, mission scientists released this spectacular view of the comet's double-lobed core. A closer look reveals many interesting features: While the comet's head (in the top half of the image) is scored with parallel linear features, the neck is peppered with boulders resting on a smooth underlying terrain. In comparison, the comet's body (lower half of the image) is jagged and dimpled by crater-like depressions.

Now imagine this magnificent landscape ruptured by dozens of geysers spewing dust and gas into space. Future pictures may show exactly that. Rosetta will follow this comet for more than a year as it approaches the sun. In 2015, if not sooner, solar heating will activate the comet's icy core, creating a riot of activity the likes of which no spacecraft has ever seen before. Stay tuned for that.

Full Res Image: http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/i...7_August_a.jpg




August 14, 2014
-Vega is almost overhead after dark. The brightest star in the southeast is Altair, nearly as bright. Altair is flagged by little Tarazed (3rd magnitude) a finger-width above it: an orange giant far in Altair's background.

-Observers reporting to the International Meteor Organization say that Perseid meteor rates are still high, greater than 40 per hour on Aug. 13-14. This means Earth has not yet exited the debris stream of parent comet Swift-Tuttle. If it is dark where you live, go outside and look up.

-Before the Perseid meteor shower began, forecasters worried that people might not see it due to the glare of a supermoon. This photo illustrates why the Perseids succeeded in spite of lunar interference; the shower is rich in fireballs. "This was the brightest Perseid I saw on the night of August 12/13," says photographer Pete Lawrence. "Visually, it was a stunner!"

After the meteor exploded over Lawrence's home in Selsey, UK, a wispy trail of debris appeared where the meteor had been a split-second before. "I recorded it in the very next frame," he says.

This is "meteor smoke," a sinuous cloud of microscopic cinders tracing the path of the incinerating fireball. The particles of meteor smoke disperse in Earth's upper atmosphere and, ultimately, become the seeds of noctilucent clouds. All meteors produce such smoke, but only the brightest fireballs create a lingering trail bright enough to see with the unaided eye.

Light from the supermoon, ironically, helps us see meteor smoke, because reflected moonlight increases the visibility of smoky debris. As a result, the smoke may have been photographed more often than usual during the 2014 Perseids.

-Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics.

On Aug. 13, 2014, the network reported 163 fireballs. (99 Perseids, 61 sporadics, 1 Northern Delta Aquarid, 1 Southern Delta Aquarid, 1 Southern Iota Aquarid)




August 13, 2014
-The waning gibbous Moon rises in the east just about at the end of twilight. Look above the Moon (or above where it's just about to rise) for the Great Square of Pegasus, larger than your fist at arm's length and standing on one corner.

-Comet Siding Spring is about to fly historically close to Mars. The encounter could spark Martian auroras, a meteor shower, and other unpredictable effects. Whatever happens, NASA's fleet of Mars satellites will have a ringside seat.



August 12, 2014
-Peak Perseid meteor night late tonight. But the Moon, just two days after full, compromises the view.

-The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight, Aug. 12-13, as Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Forecasters expect peak rates of 30 to 40 meteors per hour, less than usual because of the glare from the waning supermoon. Observing tips: To reduce the effects of moonlight, pick an observing site with clear, dry air. Also try watching the sky from the moonshadow of a tall building or other obstacle. Many Perseid fireballs will be visible in spite of the glare. [NASA chat]

Unaffected by moonlight, the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) is scanning the skies above North America for echoes from disintegrating meteoroids. The latest CMOR sky map shows strong activity from the constellation Perseus (PER). The Perseids are not alone. In the southern hemisphere, a cluster of lesser radiants is also active. Foremost among them is the Southern Delta Aquarids (SDA) probably caused by debris from Comet 96P/Machholz. Delta Aquarid fireballs will augment the Perseids south of the equator.



August 11, 2014
-Mars is pulling a little closer to Saturn every day. Spot them in the southwest at dusk; Mars is the one on the lower right. Tonight they're still 8° apart. Look farther to the lower right of Mars for twinkly Spica.

-The full Moon of August 10th was as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of the year. Some say that makes it a supermoon. Others retort that it's really not as super as the media has made it out to be. Who's correct? Vesa Vauhkonen of Rautalampi, Finland, took a stab at settling the question with this side-by-side comparison.

"I compared the normal full Moon of March 2014 with the Supermoon of Aug 2014," says Vauhkonen. "In individual images, the difference in size might be difficult to see, but putting them side by side makes the difference clear. I used the same photo settings for both images, so the scaling has no errors."

Supermoons are possible because the Moon's orbit is not a circle, it is an ellipse. One side, perigee, is 50,000 km closer than the other, apogee. On August 10th the Moon became full just as it reached perigee, the point closest to Earth. This caused the Moon to appear authentically bigger and brighter than usual.



August 10, 2014
-Largest full Moon of the year, but not by much. Can you really detect any difference? The Moon is only 8% larger than average.

-As the one-month anniversary of the "All-Quiet Event" approaches, the sun's global X-ray output is sinking again. Solar activity is very low. Only one sunspot (AR2135) poses a threat for significant flares, but it seems reluctant to erupt.

-Tonight's full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. Astronomers call it a perigee moon; the popular term is "supermoon." Stephen Mudge photographed the bright orb rising over the Mormon temple in Brisbane, Queensland, on Aug. 10th. Supermoons are possible because the Moon's orbit is not a circle, it is an ellipse. One side, perigee, is 50,000 km closer than the other, apogee. Today the Moon becomes full just as it reaches perigee, the point closest to Earth. The perigee supermoon you see tonight is as much as 14% closer and 30% brighter than other full Moons of the year.

Go outside at sunset, look east, and enjoy the super-moonlight!



August 9, 2014
-If you're in the Earth's mid-northern latitudes, bright Vega passes close by your zenith around 10 or 11 p.m. (depending on where you live east-west in your time zone). Wherever you are, Deneb always passes the zenith two hours after Vega.

-Sunspot AR2135 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. Like every other sunspot that has crossed the solar disk in the past month, however, AR2135 seems reluctant to erupt. Solar activity is low and will likely remain so for the rest of the weekend.

-On Friday, August 8th, Europe's robotic cargo carrier, the "George Lemaitre," flew just 4 miles underneath the International Space Station. In Berlin, Germany, astrophotographer Thomas Becker recorded the close encounter. "I caught the two spacecraft over the Wilhelm-Foerster-Observatory in Berlin," says Becker. "Bright moonlight completed the scenery."

Loaded with more than seven tons of fuel and supplies, the George Lemaitre (a.k.a. "ATV-5") is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Tuesday, Aug. 12th. Friday's preliminary flyby allowed mission controllers to test a suite of lasers and sensors that may be incorporated into the design of future European spacecraft.

George Lemaitre, the man, was a 20th century Belgian astronomer and physicist credited with proposing the theory of the expansion of the universe. ATV-5, the fifth in Europe's series of Automated Transfer Vehicles for shuttling supplies to the ISS, was named in his honor. Track when the ISS will orbit over your head with http://heavens-above.com/



August 8, 2014
-Already you may see an occasional Perseid meteor if you keep an eye on the night sky. The shower's peak night is predicted for next Tuesday (August 12–13), but moonlight will compromise the view all week.
Look northeast as the stars come out for W-shaped Cassiopeia. It's still not quite as high as the Big Dipper is in the northwest, but the two are on their way to their dusk balance point week by week. Get a preview of this by checking on them around 11 p.m. (depending on your location).

-This Friday, Aug. 8th, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus will continue their ongoing campaign of high-altitude research with the launch of another Space Weather Radiation Buoy. The purpose of the research is to discover how solar activity affects the ozone layer and alters levels of radiation at altitudes of interest to aviation and space tourism.

August 7, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star very high in the east after dusk, almost overhead. The brightest in the southeast is Altair, nearly as bright. Altair is flagged by little Tarazed (3rd magnitude) a finger-width above it: an orange giant far in Altair's background.

-For the first time ever, a spacecraft from Earth is traveling alongside a comet. Yesterday, at the end of a 10 year and 6 billion km journey, the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe reached 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On approach, Rosetta's OSIRIS camera took this stunning picture of the comet's nucleus only 130 km away. The image clearly shows a range of features including boulders, craters and steep cliffs. As the ESA science team noted this morning, "choosing a landing site will not be easy." More close-up shots may be found here.

Rosetta has reached the comet, but it is not in orbit yet. As the below video shows, the spacecraft will spend the next month maneuvering closer and closer to the comet's core. When Rosetta dscends to within about 30 km of the surface in early September, the comet's weak gravity will be able to capture the spacecraft into a final orbit.




August 6, 2014
-Antares is well to the lower right of the Moon this evening, as shown here. More than twice as far to the Moon's upper left shines Altair.

-The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe has reached 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and is maneuvering to go into orbit around the comet's core. This is an historic event. After Rosetta goes into orbit, it will follow the comet around the sun, observing its activity from point-blank range for more than a year. Moreover, in November, Rosetta will drop a lander onto the comet's strange surface. Today's events are being streamed live by the ESA. Link: http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/54457-ros...he-event-live/

-On Tuesday morning, August 5th, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the AsiaSat 8 telecommunications satellite. About an hour and a half after the 4 AM launch, electric-blue clouds appeared over Orlando FL. "These clouds appeared just before sunrise," says photographer Mike Bartils.

These are, essentially, man-made noctilucent clouds (NLCs). Water vapor in the exhaust of the rocket crystallized in the high atmosphere, creating an icy cloud that turned blue when it was hit by the rays of the morning sun. Years ago, space shuttle launches produced similar displays.

Natural NLCs form around Earth's poles when water vapor in the mesosphere crystalizes around meteor smoke. Sometimes they spread as far south as Colorado and Utah, but rarely or never Florida. Electric-blue over the Sunshine State requires a rocket launch, and that's what happened today.




August 5, 2014
-Look below the Moon this evening for the red supergiant Antares, as shown at right. Around Antares and to its right are other stars of upper Scorpius.

-Meteor activity is increasing as Earth plunges deeper into the debris stream of Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. On the night of Aug 3-4, NASA cameras recorded more than a dozen Perseid fireballs over the USA. Counts are high even though the shower's peak is still more than a week away. To see for yourself, get away from city lights and look up during the dark hours before sunrise.

-On Saturday night, August 2nd, NASA meteor cameras detected a fireball that exploded in a flash of light many times brighter than the Moon. It came not from the Perseid debris stream, but rather from the vicinity of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. "The meteoroid was about 15 inches in diameter and weighed close to 100 lbs," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "Travelling 47,000 miles per hour, it broke apart in a brilliant flash of light above the Alabama town of Henagar. Our cameras continued to track a large fragment until it disappeared 18 miles above Gaylesville, located near Lake Weiss close to the Georgia state line. At last sight, the fragment was still traveling at 11,000 miles per hour. Based on the meteor's speed, final altitude, and weak doppler radar signatures, we believe that this fireball produced small meteorites on the ground somewhere between Borden Springs, AL and Lake Weiss."

The NASA Meteoroid Environment Office would like to hear from those in the area around Alabama's Lake Weiss who may have heard sonic booms or similar sounds around 10:20 PM Saturday night. Please contact Dr. Bill Cooke at william.j.cooke@nasa.gov with reports.

Link to the movie: http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/events...31914A_02A.avi




August 4, 2014
-This weekend, Jupiter and Mercury are in conjunction. Don't bother looking because the meeting takes place in the noontime sky. What human eyes cannot see, however, spacecraft can. Using an opaque disk to block the glare of the sun, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is monitoring the encounter.

At closest approach on August 2nd, the two bright planets were less than 1o apart. If such an alignment occured at night, it would surely be headline news. At noon, its just spaceweather news.




August 3, 2014
-This weekend the ESA released a new image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as seen from the Rosetta probe only 1000 km away. It shows the rough surface of the comet's double nucleus in amazing detail:

The photo was taken on Aug. 1st at 02:48 UTC by Rosetta's OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera. The dark spot near image-center is an artifact from the onboard CCD.

This new view heightens anticipation for August 6th when Rosetta reaches the comet and goes into orbit around it. Then we will see the strange double-core from point-blank range, and researchers can start to pick touchdown sites for Philae, a lander that will descend to the comet's surface in November.




August 2, 2014
-The Moon shines about midway between Spica and Mars this evening, as shown below (plotted for the middle of North America).

-This weekend, Jupiter and Mercury are in conjunction. Don't bother looking because the meeting takes place in the noontime sky. What human eyes cannot see, however, spacecraft can. Using an opaque disk to block the glare of the sun, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is monitoring the encounter. At closest approach on August 2nd, the two bright planets will be less than 1o apart. If such an alignment occured at night, it would surely be headline news. At noon, its just spaceweather news.




August 1, 2014
-At dusk this evening, the Moon forms the lower-right end of a very long, curving line of celestial objects. Counting to the Moon's upper left, these are Spica, Mars, and Saturn, as shown here.

-Today is Lammas Day or Lughnasadh, one of the four traditional "cross-quarter" days midway between the solstices and equinoxes. More or less. The actual midpoint between the June solstice and the September equinox this year comes at 2:40 a.m. August 7th Eastern Daylight Time (6:40 UT). That will be the exact center of (astronomical) summer.

-ESA's Rosetta probe is now only five days away from a historic encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If all goes as planned, Rosetta will become the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, follow it around the sun, and even drop a lander on its surface. Readers got a sneak preview yesterday when ESA released dramatic new images of the comet's core and atmosphere.

The comet's atmosphere or "coma" (left), is a mixture of gas and dust slowly evaporating away from the sun-warmed core (right). At the moment, the coma is diffuse and relatively calm. That's because the comet is still far from the sun, about 544 million kilometers away in the cold dark space between Mars and Jupiter. A year from now this could change, however, as the comet swings by the sun only 185 million kilometers away. Increased solar heating will liberate jets of dust and high-speed streamers of gas, swelling the coma into something larger and much more dangerous to the spacecraft.

Rosetta is meeting up with the comet now so that researchers can not only study how the comet warms up along its orbit and how activity develops, but also because it is much safer to learn how to operate in such a new environment when the activity is relatively low. Moreover, landing would be significantly more challenging next year when activity is expected to be much higher.




July 31, 2014
-In a really dark sky, the Milky Way now forms a magnificent arch high across the whole eastern sky after darkness is complete. It runs all the way from below Cassiopeia in the north-northeast, up and across Cygnus and the Summer Triangle high in the east, and down past the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot in the south.

-On Oct. 19, 2014, Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) will pass extremely close to Mars. For a while last year researchers thought the comet's core might strike the planet's surface. Now we know that it will be a near miss. Siding Spring will glide by Mars only 132,000 km away--about 1/3rd of the distance between Earth and the Moon. On July 28th, UK astrophotographer Damian Peach photographed the comet en route to Mars passing by the galaxy Fornax A.

"This proved to be a rather fascinating conjunction due to the strange appearance of Fornax A," says Peach. "The various faint shells surrounding it are thought to have been caused by several galactic collisions in the remote past."

Three months from now the comet will reach Mars. Although the comet's nucleus will not strike the planet, gas and dust spewing out of the comet's core will likely interact with the Martian atmosphere. There could be a meteor shower, auroras, and other effects that no one can predict. NASA's fleet of Mars spacecraft and rovers will record whatever happens.



July 30, 2014
-The two brightest stars of summer are Vega, just east of the zenith after dark, and Arcturus, less high toward the west. Both are zero magnitude. The next zero-magnitude star to make its appearance will be Capella. It doesn't emerge until the early-morning hours. Look for it low in the north-northeast after about 1 a.m. local time (depending on your location, especially your latitude).

-As the sunspot number rebounds from a deep low in mid-July, the chance of flares is increasing, too. However, the biggest threat for a flare today might not be a sunspot at all. Instead, our attention turns to a long dark filament of magnetism. Astrophotograher Jack Newton photographed the structure on July 29th from his observatory in Osoyoos, British Columbia. Stretching more than 100,000 km from end to end, and filled with dense plasma, the sinuous filament is held aloft by solar magnetic fields. If it snaps or collapses and hits the stellar surface below, the result could be a Hyder flare--a type of explosion that does not require a sunspot.

NOAA forecasters estimate an increasing 25% chance of M-flares and a small but non-negligible 5% chance of X-flares on July 30th.



July 29, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star very high in the east. Far down to its lower right shines Altair, almost as bright. Altair is flagged by little Tarazed (3rd magnitude) a finger-width above it, an orange giant far in Altair's background.

-The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is now less than 2300 km from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In only 9 days, Rosetta will reach the comet's core and go into orbit around it. Latest images from the probe's navigation camera show a strangely-shaped nucleus that is coming into sharper focus day by day.



July 28, 2014
-Mars continues its eastward trek against the cosmic backdrop. Look southwest at dusk. You'll notice that it's now definitely closer to Saturn than Antares is. Mars is to Saturn's lower right; Antares is to Saturn's lower left.

-NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% chance of polar geomagnetic storms today when Earth makes contact with a minor solar wind stream. Sky watchers around the darkening Arctic Circle should be alert for auroras.

-Earth is entering a broad stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the peak of the shower is not expected until August, meteors are already flitting acrosss the night sky. On July 27th, NASA cameras caught this Perseid fireball flying over New Mexico.

Over the weekend, NASA detected a total of five Perseid fireballs, a "micro-flurry" that signals the beginning of the annual display. Normally the best time to watch would be during the shower's peak: August 11th through 13th. This year, however, the supermoon will cast an interfering glare across the nights of maximum activity, reducing visibility from 120 meteors per hour (the typical Perseid peak rate) to less than 30. Instead, late July-early August might be the best time to watch as Earth plunges deeper into the debris stream before the Moon becomes full.

If you go out meteor watching in the nights ahead, you'll likely see another shower, too: the Southern Delta Aquariids. Produced by debris from Comet 96P/Machholz, this shower peaks on July 29-30 with 15 to 20 meteors per hour. This is considered to be a minor shower, but rich enough in fireballs to merit attention. NASA will stream the display from an observing site at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Live video begins on July 29th at 9:30 pm EDT.



July 27, 2014
-Despite an uptick in the sunspot number, solar activity remains low. AR2121 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares, but so far the quiet sunspot seems dis-inclined to erupt. A significant flare this weekend would be a surprise.

-What a difference 10 years can make. The Solar Max of 2014 has been mild, producing relatively few sunspots and meagre auroras. A decade ago, however, a much more potent Solar Max was underway. A strong solar storm on July 27, 2004, sparked Northern Lights as far south as the Anza-Borrego Desert of California. Photographer Dennis Mammana recalls the night: "It was ten years ago--during the pre-dawn hours of July 27, 2004--that the Anza-Borrego Desert of Southern California was bathed in the most unusual of light—that of the aurora borealis. On this morning it danced over so wide an area of the northern sky that it required four wide-angle images stitched carefully together to capture it all."

"As the sky darkened the night before, solar data convinced me that we in the Desert Southwest might get a rare display of Northern Lights, so I aimed a camera north and set it to take one exposure every minute. From time to time I checked the camera's LCD screen to see if it had captured anything of interest. Then, just before 4 a.m., I discovered blue streaks across the image. 'What a lousy time for the sensor to crap out on me!', I thought. But as I scrolled through the previous images to learn where it went bad, I saw the blue streaks dancing gracefully across the scene. It was the Northern Lights!"

"I hastily threw all my gear in the back of the Jeep and headed for an interesting foreground a couple of miles away. And the photo you see is the result--perhaps the only image of the northern lights with ocotillos in the foreground!"

Mammana's recollection reminds us what a "good Solar Max" is really like. There is still hope, however, that the ongoing mini-Max might produce some good displays. Statistics of previous solar cycles show that the strongest geomagnetic storms tend to occur during the declining phase of solar cycles--in other words, just where we are now. There may yet be SoCal auroras in the offing before this Solar Max is done.



July 26, 2014
-New Moon (exact at 6:42 p.m. EDT).
Summer is hardly more than a third over, astronomically speaking. But already the Great Square of Pegasus, symbol of the coming fall, heaves up from behind the east-northeast horizon at dusk and climbs higher in the east through the evening. It's balancing on one corner.

-The return of old sunspots AR2107 and AR2108 from the farside of the sun has failed to elevate solar activity. The two formerly-active regions decayed during their two week absence and are now little more than "sunspot corpses." Forecasters expect the quiet sun to remain quiet throughout the weekend.

-Auroras were *not* in the forecast this weekend. Nevertheless, "they're baaaaaaack," reports Bob Conzemius, who saw the Northern Lights on July 26th over Grand Rapids, Minnesota:

"It has been a pretty quiet summer in northern Minnesota for seeing auroras, so it was nice to see them again," says Conzemius. "I shot entirely within the city limits of Grand Rapids, starting from my front yard and ending at McKinney Lake as it was getting light at 4:00 AM CDT."

The source of this unexpected display was a fluctuation in the interplanetary magnetic field. The IMF tipped south, opening a crack in Earth's magnetospere. Solar wind poured in and ignited the auroras.



July 25, 2014
-Mars and Spica shine in the southwest at nightfall. Mars keeps pulling farther away from Spica; they're now 6° apart. Saturn glows pale yellow to their upper left. Arcturus sparkles high to their upper right.

-In the middle of Solar Max, the sun has slipped into a state that resembles Solar Minimum. Sunspot numbers are low; the sun's X-ray and radio output are depressed; and NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of solar flares during the next 24 hours. The quiet could be disturbed during the weekend, however, by the expected return of two old sunspots currently transiting the farside of the sun.

-The luminous tendrils of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) have been likened to "frozen lightning", slow-moving bolts of electric-blue that slowly zig-zag across the twilight sky during the months of Arctic summer. Last night photographer P-M Hedén witnessed a display over Hedesunda, Sweden, that suggested a different name: "They looked like 'veins of Heaven,'" he says. "I was really hoping for a good show like this because my children came along to watch," says Hedén. "We were not disappointed. From the beginning at 23:00 local time we saw noctilucent clouds all around the sky - amazing! Around 1 AM we had veins of Heaven both in the sky and reflected in the water."



July 24, 2014
-In a really dark sky, the Milky Way now forms a magnificent arch high across the whole eastern sky after darkness is complete. It runs all the way from below Cassiopeia in the north-northeast, up and across Cygnus and the Summer Triangle in the east, and down past the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot in the south.

-This week, Jupiter is passing behind the sun. Normally solar interference would make it difficult for radio astronomers to pick up Jupiter's shortwave radio bursts. Because the sun is so quiet, however, Jupiter is still able to maake itself heard. "I was able to capture distinct narrow-band radio emissions from Jupiter on July 21st," reports Thomas Ashcraft of New Mexico. They are the sloping lines in this dynamic spectrum he recorded using a RadioJove Project dual dipole antenna.

"At the time Jupiter was 6.3 Astronomical Units (585,621,586 miles) distant from Earth," he adds. "I think this is a neat observation because it means there is always the possibility of receiving Jupiter radio emissions here on Earth--even when the sun is in the way and Jupiter is very distant."

Jupiter's radio storms are caused by natural radio lasers in the planet's magnetosphere that sweep past Earth as Jupiter rotates. Electrical currents flowing between Jupiter's upper atmosphere and the volcanic moon Io can boost these emissions to power levels easily detected by ham radio antennas on Earth. Jovian "S-bursts" and "L-bursts" mimic the sounds of woodpeckers, whales, and waves crashing on the beach.




July 23, 2014
-As dawn brightens on Thursday morning the 24th, spot Venus low in the east-northeast with the waning crescent Moon to its right and Mercury still to its lower left, as shown here.

-Today is the second anniversary of a scary near-miss. On July 23, 2012, Earth narrowly evaded a powerful solar storm capable of knocking civilization back into the 19th century. The event confirms that "solar superstorms" are real, and the odds of impact may be higher than we think: 12% in the next 10 years http://science.nasa.gov/science-news...ul_superstorm/

-Last night, a bank of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) rippled across northern Europe. "They were stunning," reports Alex Lebedev, who witnessed the apparition from Kohtla-Järve, Ida-Virumaa, Estonia. "Viewing it by eye was even better than the photo," he says.

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by "meteor smoke," they form at the edge of space 83 km above Earth's surface. When sunlight hits the tiny ice crystals that form around the meteor debris, the clouds glow electric blue.

July is the best month to see NLCs. They favor the climate of summer because that is when water molecules, warmed by summer sunlight, are wafted up from the lower atmosphere to mix with the meteor smoke. That is also, ironically, when the upper atmosphere is coldest, allowing the ice crystals of NLCs to form.

The natural habitat of noctilucent clouds is the Arctic Circle. In recent years, however, they have spread to lower latitudes with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This will likely happen in 2014 as well.




July 22, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star very high in the east. Far down to its lower right shines Altair, almost as bright. Altair is flagged by little Tarazed a finger-width above it, an orange-giant star far in Altair's background.

-Solar activity remains very low. There is only one sunspot (AR2119) on the Earth-facing side of the sun, and it has a simple magnetic field that poses no threat for strong explosions. NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of M- or X-flares during the next 24 hours.

-Some of us have seen the midnight sun. Even more have witnessed sundogs. But have many people have seen a mashup of the two--the elusive midnight sundog? On July 21-22, Stine Bratteberg photographed the combo from Bleik, Andųya, Norway. "These fantastic sundogs appeared near midnight on the last day of the summer Midnight Sun here in northern Norway," says Bratteberg.

Sundogs, the rainbow-colored splashes of light on either side of the sun, are caused by sunlight striking ice crystals in the air. Plate-shaped crystals flutter down from the sky like leaves falling from trees. Aerodynamic forces align their flat sides parallel to the ground, and when sunlight hits a patch of well-aligned crystals at the right distance from the sun, voila!--a sundog. Bratteberg's photo also captured a faint midnight sun halo and a midnight upper tangent arc.

You can see a lot of midnight atmospheric optics from the Arctic Circle. But not for much longer. As northern summer comes to an end, the midnight sun will fade and auroras will chase the sundogs into the darkening Arctic night.




July 21, 2014
-As dawn begins very early early Tuesday morning the 22nd, look for Aldebaran near the waning crescent Moon in the east as shown below. Can you catch the Hyades stars before dawn gets too bright?

-The "All Quiet Event" is still underway. For the 6th day in a row, solar activity is extremely low, with weak solar wind, no flares, and a sunspot number near zero. NOAA forecasters put the odds of a significant flare today at no more than 1%.



July 20, 2014
-Solar activity is extremely low. Nevertheless, space weather continues. High above thunderstorms in the American west, red sprites are dancing across the cloudtops, reaching up to the edge of space itself. Harald Edens photographed this specimen on July 18th from the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research in New Mexico.

"This colorful sprite occurred over a large thunderstorm system in northeast New Mexico and was visible to the naked eye," says Edens. "I took the picture using a Nikon D4s and a 50 mm f/2 lens at ISO 25600."

Inhabiting the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere alongside noctilucent clouds, meteors, and some auroras, sprites are a true space weather phenomenon. Some researchers believe they are linked to cosmic rays: subatomic particles from deep space striking the top of Earth's atmosphere produce secondary electrons that, in turn, could provide the spark that triggers sprites.

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" regularly photograph the upward bolts from their own homes. Give it a try!




July 19, 2014
-Mars at dusk is still slightly less than 3° (two finger widths at arm's length) from Spica in the southwestern sky. But they're widening and sinking lower day by day.

-For the 4th day in a row, solar activity is extremely low. Compared to the beginning of July, when sunspots were abundant, the sun's global X-ray output has dropped by a factor of ten. Moreover, on July 17th the sunspot number fell all the way to zero. We call it "the All Quiet Event."

As July 19th unfolds, the sun is no longer completely blank. Three small sunspots are emerging, circled in this image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. These small sunspots are not about to break the quiet. None of them has the kind of complex magnetic field that harbors energy for strong flares. NOAA forecasters estimate the odds of a significant flare (M- or X-class) in the next 24 hours to be no more than 1%.

Before July 17, 2014, the previous spotless day was August 14, 2011, a gap of nearly 3 years. What happened then provides context for what is happening now. Overall, 2011 was a year of relatively high solar activity with multiple X-flares; the spotless sun was just a temporary intermission. 2014 will probably be remembered the same way. Or not. Almost anything is possible because, as one pundit observes, "you just can't predict the sun."



July 18, 2014
-Last-quarter Moon (exact at 10:08 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time). The Moon rises around midnight tonight, shining in Pisces.

-This week, solar activity has sharply declined. There is only one numbered sunspot on the Earth-facing side of the sun, and it is so small you might have trouble finding it. The sun today draws similarities to 2008-2009, where there were years of spotlessness when the sun plunged into the deepest solar minimum in a century. The resemblance, however, is only superficial. Deep inside the sun, the solar dynamo is still churning out knots of magnetism that should soon bob to the surface to make new sunspots. Solar Max is not finished, it's just miniature.

Until the sunspots return, solar flares are unlikely. NOAA forecasters estimate the odds of an M-flare today to be no more than 1%.




July 17, 2014
-The Big Dipper, high in the northwest after dark, is beginning to turning around to "scoop up water" through the nights of summer and early fall.

-The waning Moon, nearly at last quarter, rises around 11 or midnight and climbs high in the early-morning hours. Far in its background is Uranus, magnitude 5.8.

-The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe is now less than 10,000 km from its target: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is expected to reach and begin orbiting the comet's nucleus on August 6th. Long-range images suggest that the comet is a contact binary. This could present some interesting challenges for Philae, the probe's lander, which is slated to touch down on the comet's surface in early November.

A contact binary occurs when two celestial objects, such as asteroids or comets, slowly move towards each other until they are touching.
The slow approach of the two means they will form a single-oddly shaped body, rather than rebounding of one another.
Nine near-Earth objects are known to be contact binaries.
However, it is estimated that as many as 15 per cent of all near-Earth asteroids more than 650 feet (200 metres) in size are actually contact binaries.



July 16, 2014
[left]-If you have a dark enough sky, the Milky Way now forms a magnificent arch high across the whole eastern sky after nightfall is complete. It runs all the way from below Cassiopeia in the north-northeast, up and across Cygnus and the Summer Triangle in the east, and down past the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot in the south.

-Ten days ago, the sun was peppered with large spots. Now it is nearly blank. This image taken on July 15th by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar disk almost completely devoid of dark cores.

Long-time readers absorbing this image might be reminded of 2008-2009, years when the sun plunged into the deepest solar minimum in a century. The resemblance, however, is only superficial. Underneath the visible surface of the sun, the solar dynamo is still churning out knots of magnetism that will soon bob to the surface to make sunspots. Solar Max is not finished.

For today, though, it has been paused. Solar activity is low, and NOAA forecasters put the odds of an X-class flare at less than 1%.



July 15, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star very high in the east. Far down to its lower right shines Altair, almost as bright. Look left of Altair by about a fist and a half at arm's length, and a little lower, for dim, compact Delphinus, the Dolphin. It's leaping in the lower edge of the Milky Way.

-Frequent fliers who look out the window of their planes often see the shadow of the aircraft dipping in and out of clouds below. The interplay of light and shadow with water droplets in the clouds can produce colorful rings of light called "glories." On July 13th, Tony DeFreece saw a glory that was not a colorful ring, but rather a heart. "I was flying over Oregon when I looked out and saw this heart-shaped figure," he says. "It was one of those moments when the Universe aligns and takes your breath away."

DeFreece suspects, probably correctly, that the shape of the clouds bent the usual circular glory into the heart-shaped apparition. Mystery solved? Not entirely. Glories are caused by sunlight reflected backwards from water droplets in clouds. Exactly how backscattering produces the colorful rings, however, is a mystery involving surface waves and multiple reflections within individual droplets. Each sighting is a lovely puzzle, so grab the window seat and keep an eye on the clouds below.

-NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is only a year away from Pluto. Researchers are buzzing with anticipation as humankind prepares to encounter a new world for the first time in decades.



July 14, 2014
-The tail of Scorpius is low in the south after dark — how low depends on how far north you are. Look for the two stars especially close together in the tail. These are Lambda and fainter Upsilon Scorpii, Shaula and Lesath, known as the Cat's Eyes. They're canted at an angle.

-They point west by nearly a fist-width toward Mu Scorpii, a much tighter pair known as the Little Cat's Eyes. Can you resolve Mu without using binoculars?

-All week, Mercury remains almost the same distance to the lower left of bright Venus low in the dawn. The best view may be about 45 minutes before sunrise, depending on how clear the air is.

-The odds of an Earth-directed solar flare are plummeting as sunspots AR2108 and AR2109 rotate over over the sun's western limb. The departure of these two active regions leaves the face of the sun almost blank. Solar activity should remain low for the next 24-48 hours.



July 13, 2014
-This is the evening when Mars shines closest to Spica. Look southwest at nightfall. They're 1.3° apart. Fiery Mars is the brighter one.

-Last night another outbreak of noctilucent clouds appeared over Europe. Photographer Peter Rosén of Stockholm, Sweden, stitched together 24 exposures taken with a fisheye lens to produce a "Little Planet" projection. "The NLC display last night was just incredible and covered half of the sky with electric blue filaments," says Rosen. "Normaly the Moon would have stolen the show, but a night like this it looked quite lonely on the southern horizon."

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by "meteor smoke," they form at the edge of space 83 km above Earth's surface. When sunlight hits the tiny ice crystals that make up these clouds, they glow electric blue.

In the northern hemisphere, July is the best month to see them. NLCs appear during summer because that is when water molecules are wafted up from the lower atmosphere to mix with the meteor smoke. That is also, ironically, when the upper atmosphere is coldest, allowing the ice crystals of NLCs to form.

The natural habitat of noctilucent clouds is the Arctic Circle. In recent years, however, they have spread to lower latitudes with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This will likely happen in 2014 as well.



July 12, 2014
-Look far above the still-full Moon this evening, and a bit left, to spot Altair. Continue a similar distance in roughly the same direction, and there's brighter Vega.

-Earth could receive a glancing blow from a CME on July 13th. It comes from a magnetic filament that erupted from the sun's northern hemisphere on July 9th and hurled part of itself into space. Minor geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME arrives.

-Today's full Moon is a perigee "supermoon," as much as 14% closer and 30% brighter than other full moons of the year. John Stetson photographed the swollen orb setting over Sebago Lake, Maine, this morning just minutes after sunrise. "An inferior mirage appears in the foreground where the lake meets the shoreline," points out Stetson.

This was just the first of three supermooons in a row. Two more are coming on August 10th and September 9th.

-This week, the sun is peppered with big spots. In some places, you can see them even at midnight. "Here in Lofoten islands, north of the Arctic circle, the sun never sets," reports Therese van Nieuwenhoven, "so we can observe sunspots around the clock. "As we enjoyed the beautiful midnight Sun in the north above the sea, my husband was projecting the large sunspots on a white piece of paper," she explains.

Earlier in the week, several of these sunspots posed a threat for strong flares, but now the odds of an explosion are declining. Only one of the decaying active regions (AR2108) still has an unstable 'beta-gamma' magnetic field. NOAA forecasters estimate a waning 60% chance of M-flares on July 12th.




July 11, 2014
-Mars and Spica form a striking pair in the southwestern sky at dusk! They're now just under 2° apart. On Sunday evening they'll be at their minimum separation, 1.3°. Watch them change day by day.

-Full Moon tonight and Saturday night (exactly full at 7:25 a.m. Saturday morning Eastern Daylight Time.) This evening the Moon shines in northern Sagittarius. Tomorrow it's in western Capricornus.

July 10, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star very high in the east these evenings. The brightest to its lower left is Deneb. Farther to Vega's lower right is Altair. These make up the big Summer Triangle.

-Solar activity is low, but the quiet is unlikely to persist. There are three sunspots with unstable magnetic fields capable of strong eruptions: AR2108, AR2109, AR2113. NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of M-flares and 15% chance of X-flares on July 10th.

-After weeks of sightings over Europe, noctilucent clouds (NLCs) are spreading to North America. "A spectacular display emerged over the Edmonton area on July 8/9," reports Canadian photographer Mark Zalcik. "For awhile there were multiple zones of billow-type NLC, including the snake-like one in this photo."



July 9, 2014
-Yesterday, July 8th, Earth-orbiting satellites detected a strong M6-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash.

X-ray and UV radiation from the flare sent waves of ionization coursing through Earth's upper atmosphere. This briefly disturbed the propagation of shortwave radio transmissions around the dayside of our planet, especially over Europe and North America. Conditions have since returned to normal.

The flare came as little surprise. A phalanx of large sunspots is crossing the solar disk, and forecasters have been predicting an explosion for more than a week. However, the source of the flare was unexpected. It came from a minor and seemingly harmless sunspot named AR2113. Appearances notwithstanding, AR2113 has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares.

With this flare, AR2113 joins two other sunspots capable of potent activity: AR2108 and AR2109. NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of M-flares and a 20% chance of X-flares on July 9th.



July 8, 2014
-The Moon's latest daily shift eastward brings it left of Saturn and upper right of Antares at nightfall. Closer below the Moon are Beta and Delta Scorpii (as seen from North America).

-For the second day in a row, the odds of a powerful flare have increased. NOAA forecasters now estimate a 70% chance of M-flares and a 15% chance of X-flares on July 8th. The likely sources are sunspots AR2108 and AR2109; both have unstable "beta-gamma-delta" magnetic fields that harbor energy for eruptions.

-This morning in Russia, the sunrise was electric-blue. Bright bands of noctilucent clouds zig-zagged like lightning across the twilight sky, continuing a two-day display that has delighted observers across northern Europe. Michael Zavyalov sends this picture taken July 8th from the city of Yaroslavl.

"Another night with bright noctilucent clouds (NLCs) in Yaroslavl!" says Zavyalov. "We could even see their reflection in the water."

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by "meteor smoke," they form at the edge of space 83 km above Earth's surface. When sunlight hits the tiny ice crystals that make up these clouds, they glow electric blue.
In the northern hemisphere, July is the best month to see them. NLCs appear during summer because that is when water molecules are wafted up from the lower atmosphere to mix with the meteor smoke. That is also, ironically, when the upper atmosphere is coldest, allowing the ice crystals of NLCs to form.

The natural habitat of noctilucent clouds is the Arctic Circle. In recent years, however, they have spread to lower latitudes with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This will likely happen in 2014 as well. Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see blue-white tendrils zig-zagging across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.




July 7, 2014
-Now the waxing gibbous Moon shines closely under Saturn in the evening (for North America), as shown at right. For southern South America, the Moon occults Saturn. Timetables: http://www.lunar-occultations.com/io...0708saturn.htm

-Another outbreak of noctilucent clouds is underway over Europe. Jim Henderson sends this picture from Torphins, 15 miles west of Aberdeen, Scotland. "This is the second time this summer we've seen extensive NLCs in Scotland," he says. "I took the picture using a Nikon D700 (f5.6) set at at ISO 500 for 3 seconds."

High-latitude sky watchers, take note of those settings. July is the best month of the year for noctilucent clouds, and your chance to take a similar picture could be just hours away.





July 6, 2014
-The Moon this evening poses midway between Saturn at its left and the Mars-Spica pair at its right.

The Moon is very much in the foreground, just 1.3 light-seconds from Earth. Mars is currently 8½ light-minutes away, Saturn is 78 light-minutes away, and Spica is 250 light-years in the background.

-As wide as a World Cup football field, the biggest spacecraft ever built makes a impressive silhouette when it passes in front of the sun. Yesterday, Maximilian Teodorescu of Romania caught the winged shadow of the International Space Station in conjuncton with sunspots AR2104 and AR2107. "This is my first attempt to catch the station with a small-sensor camera at high magnification," he says. "I managed to catch the ISS in three frames."

His wife Eliza was right beside him with her own camera and solar filter, and she caught it too. "The moment was all the more spectacular because the ISS path was almost parallel to the very numerous string of sunspots," she notes. One conjunction after another unfolded as their cameras rolled.

With the sunspot number so high, now is a good time to catch ISS-sunspot conjunctions.




July 5, 2014
-First-quarter Moon. The half-lit Moon is quite close to Mars as seen from North America. The Moon occults (hides) Mars during daylight for Hawaii and at dusk or night in parts of Latin America.

-The two most massive objects in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres and minor planet Vesta, are converging for a close encounter in the night sky on July 4th and 5th. Last night in Italy, Gianluca Masi used a remotely operated telescope to photograph the monster asteroids only 13 arcminutes apart--less than half the width of a full Moon. The line splitting the two is a terrestrial satellite.

At closest approach on July 5th, the two asteroids will be only 10 arcminutes apart in the constellation Virgo. They are too dim to see with the unaided eye, but easy targets for binoculars and small telescopes. Observing tips are available from Sky and Telescope.

Got clouds? You can watch the close encounter online. Choose between Gianluca Masi's Virtual Telescope Project (which begins July 5th at 4:00 p.m. EDT) or Slooh's webcast (July 3rd at 8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).
Virtual Telescope Project: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/2014/...n-5-july-2014/
Slooh: http://live.slooh.com/

Quite near the two asteroids on the sky, though utterly invisible, is NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Dawn recently finished visiting Vesta and is now en route to Ceres. The ion-propelled spacecraft will enter orbit around Ceres next March. Cameras on Dawn will resolve the pinprick of light you see this weekend into a full-fledged world of unknown wonders. Stay tuned for that!




July 4, 2014
-Out to watch fireworks? As you're waiting for twilight to end, spot the Moon in the west-southwest with Mars and Spica off to its left, as shown for July 4 here. High above them all shines brighter Arcturus. Saturn is farther left.

-Ceres and Vesta at their closest. The two leading asteroids, currently magnitudes 8.5 and 7.2, appear closest together this evening and tomorrow evening, just 10 arcminutes apart. 1 Ceres is the largest asteroid, and 4 Vesta sometimes becomes the brightest.

-Sky watchers in Europe are reporting an outburst of bright noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The display began at sunset on July 3rd, filling northern horizons with electric-blue ripples, swirls, and tendrils of light. Morten Ross sends this picture from Sandbukta, Norway.

"An incredibly bright and widespread display - from northern horizon to zenith!" says Ross. "This is only the third night of July and its already much better than last year." Similar reports have come from France, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, England and Belgium.

Although most of the reports so far have come from Europe, the nights ahead could bring NLCs to North America as well.





July 3, 2014
-NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of M-class solar flares today. The likely source would be big sunspot AR2104, which has a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for strong eruptions.

-Yesterday morning at 2:56 AM PDT, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) blasted into space from the Vandenberg AFB in California. After liftoff, the exhaust from the satellite's Delta II rocket glowed so brightly that Juan Perez was able to see it 500 miles away in Wittmann, Arizona.

Now orbiting Earth, OCO-2 is set to begin a two-plus year mission to locate the sources and sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. The launch was from the west coast so the spacecraft could enter a polar orbit of the Earth, a flight path that will see it cross over the Arctic and Antarctic regions during each revolution and get a complete picture of the Earth. It will fly about 438 miles above the planet's surface to take its readings. While ground stations have been monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations for years, OCO-2 will be the first spacecraft to conduct a global-scale reading over several seasons.

-The sunspot number, already high, ticked upward again today with the arrival of another large active region over the sun's eastern limb. Click to play a 24-hour movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The explosive potential of this new sunspot is unknown. It will come into sharper focus later today and tomorrow as the region turns more directly toward Earth, revealing whether or not AR2109 has the kind of unstable magnetic field that leads to strong flares. For now, solar activty remains low despite the increasing sunspot count.




July 2, 2014
-For people in the northern hemisphere, July is the best time of the year to see noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The month got off to a good start on July 1st when the sunrise over Radebeul, Germany turned electric-blue. "This morning was extremely electric blue over Saxony," says photograher Heiko Ulbricht. "What a great display of noctilucent clouds! I spent much of the night watching the World Cup with friends. At about 2 o'clock in the morning, we drove to a field in Radebeul near the Astronomical Observatory. When the sun came up we were rewarded--a great morning! "

NLCs are Earth's highest clouds. Seeded by "meteor smoke," they form at the edge of space 83 km above Earth's surface. When sunlight hits the tiny ice crystals that make up these clouds, they glow electric blue.

NLCs appear during summer because that is when water molecules are wafted up from the lower atmosphere to mix with the meteor smoke. That is also, ironically, when the upper atmosphere is coldest, allowing the ice crystals of NLCs to form.

The natural habitat of noctilucent clouds is the Arctic Circle. In recent years, however, they have spread to lower latitudes with sightings as far south as Utah and Colorado. This will likely happen in 2014 as well. Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.



July 1, 2014
-Big sunspot AR2104, which emerged over the weekend, has developed a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for X-class solar flares. So far, however, the sunspot has been relatively quiet, producing no more than a few minor C-flares. Sergio Castillo photographed the brooding giant on June 30th from his backyard observatory in Inglewood, CA. Castillo used a solar telescope capped with a "Calcium-K" filter tuned to 3933 Å, a wavelength that reveals the bright magnetic froth around active sunspots. "The magnetic froth is amazingly visible around AR2104," says Castillo. "I truly hope this active region brings fireworks just in time for the 4th of July."

He might get his wish. NOAA forecasters estimate a growing 40% chance of M-class flares and a 5% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. The odds of geoeffective eruptions will increase even more in the days ahead as the sunspot turns toward Earth.

-Ceres and Vesta at their closest. The two leading asteroids, currently magnitudes 8.4 and 7.1, are closing right in on each other as seen on the sky. They're not far above Mars and Spica after dark. They are within 1/3° of each other for the next week and will appear closest together, just 1/6° apart, on the evenings of July 4th and 5th.



June 30, 2014
-Now the thickening crescent Moon is higher and easier to see in twilight, with Jupiter farther to its lower right and stars of Leo above it, as shown here.

-A pair of new sunspots is emerging over the sun's eastern limb--and they appear to be bigs ones. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded their arrival during the early hours of June 29th.

The sun has been mostly quiet for the past two weeks, and these sunspots could break the quiet. Already they are crackling with C-class solar flares. As the active regions turn toward Earth, we will be able to examine their magnetic fields and evaluate the posssibilitty that they harbor energy for stronger eruptions.





June 29, 2014
-Shortly after sunset, look for the thin waxing crescent Moon very low in the west-northwest, then look for Jupiter well to its right, as shown here.

-Yesterday, NASA's "flying saucer"--a device designed to deliver heavy payloads to Mars--made its first test flight over Hawaii. "The vehicle worked beautifully, and we met all of our flight objectives," reports project manager Mark Adler of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Flight videos and a full report were issued at a news conference on June 29th. Videos can be found here: http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/ldsd/telecon2014/
Report: http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/ldsd/test-fl...sful-20140629/



June 28, 2014
-Can you see the big Coma Berenices star cluster from where you live? Does your light pollution really hide it, or do you just not know exactly where to look? It's 2/5 of the way from Denebola (Leo's tail) to the end of the Big Dipper's handle (Ursa Major's tail). Its brightest members form an inverted Y. The cluster is about 5° wide overall — a big, dim glow in at least a moderately dark sky. It nearly fills a binocular view.

-During the early hours of June 27th, a series of bright CMEs billowed over the sun's northern limb. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded the blasts. NASA's STEREO probes saw the eruptions that gave birth to these clouds; the blast sites were on the farside of the sun. During STEREO's year-long brownout, pinpointing farside eruptions won't always be possible. Data trickling out of the STEREO's antenna's sidelobes simply cannot provide the kind of uninterrupted coverage required to catch every flare.

The situation could worsen if, during STEREO's absence, something happens to SOHO. Launched in 1995, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory is an old spacecraft operating far beyond its design lifetime. A mishap for SOHO could leave us without any operating space-based coronagraphs until STEREO comes back online in late 2015. Such a scenario would make it impossible to detect and track emerging CMEs. Imagine a whole year of space weather forecasting based on supposition and guesswork! This possibility highlights the need for a next generation of spacecraft to monitor the sun.



June 27, 2014
-This is the time of year when, at the end of dusk, the dim Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) floats straight upward from Polaris (the end of its handle) — like a helium balloon on a string, escaped from some summer evening party. Look due north.

-Through light pollution, all you may see of the Little Dipper are Polaris at one end and Kochab, the lip of the Little Dipper's bowl, above it at the other.

-NASA's twin STEREO probes, which can see the farside of the sun and make 3D models of incoming CMEs, have revolutionized space weather forecasting. We might have to do without them for a while. Later this year, the twin probes will pass directly behind the sun. Originally, mission planners expected a brief eclipse. Instead, operations could be curtailed for more than a year. The reason has to do with STEREO's high gain antenna feed. Ironically, when the antenna points too close to the sun, it overheats. As the probes pass behind the sun, they can't point their antennas at Earth without heat-sensitive components becoming dangerously hot. This engineering problem was not anticipated when STEREO was launched in 2006. On the bright side, it might be possible to avert a complete blackout using the antenna's sidelobes. Tests in July will evaluate this possibility.

June 26, 2014
-If you have a really good dark sky, look east as the final glow of twilight fades away. All across the low eastern sky, the intricate, mottled band of the Milky Way is on the rise. It rises higher through the night and crosses straight overhead around 2 or 3 a.m.

-The solstice sun has been very quiet. For more than five days there have been no significant flares, and the quiet appears set to continue. NOAA forecasters put the daily odds of an M- or X-class flare at no more than 1%.

-With the arrival of summer, thunderstorm activity is underway across the USA. We all know what comes out of the bottom of thunderstorms: lightning. Lesser known is what comes out of the top: sprites. "Lately there has been a bumper crop of sprites," reports Thomas Ashcraft, a longtime observer of the phenomenon. "Here is one of the largest' 'jellyfish' sprites I have captured in the last four years." The cluster shot up from western Oklahoma on June 23, so large that it was visible from Ashcraft's observatory in New Mexico 289 miles away. "According to my measurements, it was 40 miles tall and 46 miles wide. This sprite would dwarf Mt. Everest!" he exclaims. Ashcraft's video: http://vimeo.com/99060196

Also in New Mexico, Jan Curtis saw a cluster of red sprites just one night later, June 24. "I've always wanted to capture these elusive atmospheric phenomena and last night I was finally successful."

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" regularly photograph the upward bolts from their own homes.

Ashcraft explains how he does it: "My method for photographing sprites is fairly simple. First I check for strong thunderstorms within 500 miles using regional radar maps accessible on the Internet. There must be a locally clear sky to image above the distant storm clouds. Then I aim my cameras out over the direction of the thunderstorms (which will be hot red or purple on the radar maps) and shoot continuous DSLR exposures. I usually shoot continuous 2 second exposures but if there is no moon then I will shoot up to 4 second exposures. Then I run through all the photographs and if I am lucky some sprites will be there. It might take hundreds to usually thousands of exposures so be prepared for many shutter clicks. I use a modified near infrared DLSR but any DLSR will capture sprites. Note that it does require persistence and a little bit of luck."

Inhabiting the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere alongside meteors, noctilucent clouds and some auroras, sprites are a true space weather phenomenon. Now is a good time to see them.



June 25, 2014
-With Scorpius now in fine evening view, keep an eye on the doings of Delta Scorpii. This is the middle star in the row of three marking Scorpius's head. In July 2000 it unexpectedly doubled in brightness. It has remained brighter than normal ever since, with fluctuations, at about magnitude 2.0. Compare it to Beta Scorpii above it, magnitude 2.6, and Antares, 1.1.

-With only three small sunspot groups dotting the solar disk, and not one of them flaring, solar activity is low. NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of M-flares on June 25th.

-Looking at the sun can be a wincing, painful experience. Yesterday in Finland it was a rare delight. "On June 24th, multiple arcs and rings of light appeared around the sun," reports Ville Miettinen of Kuopio. "What a spectacular view!" He dashed inside and grabbed his camera to record the amazing vista." They lingered in the sky for three whole hours," he says, "only disappearing when thick clouds intervened."

These luminous forms are called ice halos, because they caused by sunlight shining through icy crystals in cirrus clouds. Usually their forms are rather simple, like a solitary pillar or an uncomplicated ring. In this case, however, a complex assortment of halos criss-crossed the sky. In Miettinen's photo, we see a complete parhelic circle, a circumscribed halo, a supralateral arc, a 22-degree halo, and a pair of sundogs.

Vesa Vauhkonen of Rautalampi, Finland, saw even more forms. "These were very, very impressive halos--some of them quite rare," he says.

The variety of halos they witnessed was caused by a corresponding variety of ice crystals with rare gem-like perfection and unusually precise crystal-to-crystal alignment. What are the odds? No one knows but, apparently, they're higher in Finland.



June 24, 2014
-Mars and Spica shine in the southwest after dusk, with Arcturus high above them. Watch Mars move closer to Spica day by day. They'll pass each other on July 13th, just 1.3° apart.

-Arriving about a day later than expected, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field on June 23rd at 2300 UT. The impact did not spark a geomagnetic storm. A second CME following close behind could, however, push the geomagnetic field over the threshold into storm conditions. A glancing blow is expected during the early hours of June 24th.

-If you've never heard of a "damocloid", don't feel bad; even many professional astronomers don't know what they are. However, there are at least 50 of them moving through the Solar System. Named after protoptype object 5335 Damocles, a damocloid is an asteroid that follows a comet-like orbit. In fact, many damacloids turn out to be comets when, without warning, they suddenly sprout a tail. The latest to make this transformation is damacloid 2013 UQ4. Michael Jäger photographed it on June 23rd from his backyard observatory in Stixendorf, Austria. Discovered in the fall of 2013 by Catalina Sky Survey, 2013 UQ4 at first appeared to be a dark asteroid. On May 7, 2014, however, astronomers noticed a fuzzy atmosphere surrounding object's formerly-inert core. Barely two months later, it has sprouted a tail and is undeniably a comet. 2013 UQ4 swung by the sun in early June, a warm encounter that boosted the activity of its apparently icy nucleus. 2013 UQ4 is expected to brighten to binocular visibility (7th magnitude) by July 10th when it flies by Earth approximately 29 million miles (0.3 AU) away.



June 23, 2014
-Can you still see Jupiter in the sunset? Look low in the west-northwest about 45 minutes after sundown. If the air is clear it shouldn't be hard. Jupiter is heading away into conjunction with the Sun.

-Moon and Venus at Dawn Tuesday. The waning crescent Moon forms a beautiful close pair with Venus in Tuesday's dawn, as seen from the Americas. Look low in the east, as shown at the top of this page. Look early enough, and you can see the Pleiades to their upper right. From other longitudes around the world, the Moon and Venus appear farther apart at the local time of dawn.

-Regular sky watchers are accustomed to seeing rings of light around the sun. Called "ice halos," they form when sunlight shines through ice crystals in high clouds. Usually these rings appear one at a time. On June 21st, Jun Lao of Mason, Ohio, saw three at once. "It was about 4 p.m. EDT in the greater Cincinnati area when I imaged what I first thought was a regular halo, but was surprised to see three concentric halos!" says Lao. "The sky had a light cloud layer, and I suspect these multiple halos were caused by pyramidal ice crystals."

Indeed, they were. Ordinary sun halos are produced by crystals shaped like pencils and flat plates. On rare occasions, however, the sky fills with pyramidal crystals. They look like two pyramids glued together, base-to-base. The pyramid-tips are sometimes truncated, and sometimes the two pyramids are separated by an intervening prism section, creating 18 different variations with up to 20 sides. Such a complicated crystalline form can produce multiple halos during the same display.

These multiple halos are sometimes called "odd-radius halos." However, as atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley points out, "Odd radius halos are perhaps not so 'odd' or rare as usually thought. Make a point of routinely searching for them."



June 22, 2014
-What is the oldest thing you've ever seen? The Earth, Sun, Moon, and planets are 4.6 billion years old. The age record for people who occasionally glance at the sky might be Arcturus, about 7 billion years old. But with a pair of binoculars, you can pick up the 7.2-magnitude star HD 140283 in Libra, the constellation that houses Saturn these evenings. This star is in competition for the title of the oldest known, with an age recently measured at about 13 billion years. That means it formed just several hundred million years after the Big Bang.

-NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of minor geomagnetic storms today, June 22nd, when a CME is expected hit Earth's magnetic field. High-latitude sky watchers shoud be alert for auroras.

-Assisted by the students of Earth to Sky Calculus, spaceweather.com has been launching a series of Space Weather Buoys to measure cosmic radiation in the stratosphere. A buoy consists of an insulated payload (a.k.a. K-Mart lunchbox) bristling with sensors and cameras, carried aloft by a suborbital helium balloon. On the latest flight, June 19th, the payload took a selfie. Below it is flying 95,000 feet above Earth's surface. The "SelfieCam" was designed by high school student Carson Reid.

The goal of the ongoing experiment is to determine how radiation levels change during solar and geomagnetic storms, and how those changes affect the ozone layer. During each flight, the buoy gathers a complete radiation profile starting at the launch site in California's Eastern Sierras and extending up to 100,000+ feet. Such data are of interest to aviators, entrepreneurs in the emerging space tourism industry, and researchers of the ozone layer. Selfies are a visual bonus.

A complete data set will be released in Oct. 2014 when the student scientists will have collected a full year of radiation measurements, spanning all four seasons and a variety of space weather conditions.



June 21, 2014
-If you have a good dark sky, look east as the final glow of twilight fades away. All across the low eastern sky on any clear night now, the starry, mottled band of the Milky Way is looming up. It rises higher through the night and crosses straight overhead around 3 a.m.


-The June solstice occurs at 6:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. This is when the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky for the year and begins its six-month return south. Summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere, where today is the longest day. In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the start of winter and the longest night.



June 20, 2014
-This is the time of year when the two brightest stars of summer, Arcturus and Vega, shine equally high overhead as evening grows late: Arcturus in the southwest, Vega toward the east. Arcturus and Vega are 37 and 25 light-years away, respectively. They represent the two commonest types of naked-eye stars: a yellow-orange K giant and a white A main-sequence star. They're 150 and 50 times more luminous than the Sun — which, combined with their nearness, is why they dominate the evening.

-The season are changing. On June 21st, the sun will reach its northernmost point in the sky, +23.5 degrees above the celestial equator, marking the onset of summer in the north and winter in the south. Today is the last day of northern spring. Happy solstice!

-A dark magnetic filament on the sun erupted during the late hours of June 19th. While one end of the filament remained connected to sunspot complex AR2093-AR2094, the other end corkscrewed wildly through the sun's atmosphere. Click the link to view the eruption, and keep an eye on the circled region in the preview below.
http://www.spaceweather.com/images20...2_aia_0304.mp4

The corkscrewing filament hurled much of itself into space. Both of NASA's STEREO probes and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded a CME emerging from the blast site. A preliminary analysis suggests an expansion velocity near 600 km/s or 1.3 million mph. That may sound fast, but it is merely typical for a CME. The expanding cloud could deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field in a few days, possibly sparking a minor geomagnetic storm.



June 19, 2014
-Around the northern hemisphere, sky watchers are starting to report a rainbow-colored sun halo that appears almost-exclusively during summer: the circumhorizon arc. "I saw one on June 13th. It was very bright," says Michail Anastasio, who snapped this picture from the cockpit of a plane flying 20,000 feet over Singapore.

Nicknamed the "fire rainbow" because of its fiery rainbow colors, this apparition in fact has nothing to do with either fire or rainbows. It is caused by sunlight refracting through plate-shaped ice crystals in cirrus clouds. The geometry of the refraction requires that the sun be high in the sky (above 58o), which explains why this is a summertime phenomenon.

June and July are the best months to see circumhorizon arcs. Look for them circling the horizon sometimes in patches, sometimes not, always brightly decorated with pure and well separated prismatic colors. You'll know it when you see it.



June 18, 2014
-With Scorpius coming up into good evening view now, keep an eye on the doings of Delta Scorpii. This is the middle star in the row of three marking Scorpius's head. In July 2000 it unexpectedly doubled in brightness. It has remained brighter than normal ever since, with fluctuations, at about magnitude 2.0. Compare it to Beta Scorpii above it, magnitude 2.6, and Antares, 1.1.

-NASA Cassini spacecraft is swooping over Saturn's moon Titan today, June 18th, for a radar experiment to explore the nature of the moon's mysterious petroleum lakes.

June 17, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star high in the east. Barely to its lower left after dark is one of the best-known multiple stars in the sky: 4th-magnitude Epsilon (ε) Lyrae, the Double-Double. It forms one corner of a roughly equilateral triangle with Vega and Zeta (ζ) Lyrae. The triangle is less than 2° on a side, hardly the width of your thumb at arm's length. Binoculars easily resolve Epsilon (not quite resolved in the photo here), and a 4-inch telescope at 100× or more should resolve each of Epsilon's two wide components into a tight pair.

Zeta Lyrae, the triangle's third star, is also a double star for binoculars, much tougher, but it's easily split with a telescope. Delta Lyrae, the next star down, as a much wider binocular pair; it's resolved in the photo.



June 16, 2014
-After dark, look below Mars and Spica in the southwest for the four-star pattern of Corvus, the Crow. It's a springtime constellation descending now that spring is nearing its end.

-NOAA forecasters estimate a 20% to 30% chance of minor geomagnetic storms on June 16-17 in response to a high-speed solar wind stream. Auroras may be difficult to see, however, because of glare from the waning full Moon.

-With several active sunspots rotating over the sun's western limb, solar activity is quieting. The departure, however, is a riot. J. P. Brahic sends this picture of activity in the exit zone from Uzčs, France.

Brahic took the picture through cirrus clouds using a 9 inch solar telescope, and he inserted an image of Earth for scale. The dark cores of the departing sunspots are about the size of our planet, and the surrounding tangle of magnetic filaments could swallow Earth with room to spare.

These sunspots are leaving behind at least one region still capable of major flares: AR2087 is almost directly facing Earth and it has a 'beta-gamma' magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class eruptions. Any flares from AR2087 today would hit Earth head on.



June 15, 2014
-The waning gibbous Moon rises in the east-southeast around 11 p.m. (depending on where you live). Well to its upper left shines Altair, flagged by the little star Tarazed about a finger-width at arm's length above it. Left or lower left of Altair, by about a fist and a half at arm's length, look for the compact constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin.

-Red dwarfs are by far the most numerous type of star in the Galaxy, accounting for as much as 80% of the stellar population of the Milky Way. Because of this, astronomers looking for potentially habitable worlds have targeted red dwarf stars. A new study, however, shows that harsh space weather might strip the atmosphere of any rocky planet orbiting in a red dwarf's habitable zone, dooming life as we would know it in a majority of the Galaxy's planetary systems. story: http://smithsonianscience.org/2014/0...dwarf-planets/

-The northern summer solstice is just one week away. According to Jan Koeman of Philippus Lansbergen Observatory in Middelburg,the Netherlands, that means "it's time to check your solarcans." A solarcan, a.k.a. solargraph, is a pinhole camera made from a soda or beer can lined with a piece of photographic paper. Using such a simple device, it is possible to take extraordinarily long exposures of the daily sun--in this case, six months long. Yesterday, Koeman opened a solarcan he deployed in December, and this is what he found. Normally, solarcans record the graceful tracks the sun makes across the sky as the seasons unfold--high tracks corresponding to summer, low tracks to winter. In this case, the tracks were interrupted because Koeman deployed his solarcan inside a lighthouse. "I worried that the powerful light from the lighthouse would overwhelm the sun. Luckily our sun is much stronger. However, the fresnel prisms in the lighthouse were chopping up the sunlight."



June 14, 2014
-Mars and Spica arrest your eye in the southwest just after dark this week. Spot brighter Arcturus high above them. Half as far below them is the four-star pattern of Corvus, the Crow.

-A CME expected to hit Earth's magnetic field on Friday the 13th did not show up. Either it missed or, as NOAA forecasters suspect, the storm cloud is still en route. A glancing blow on June 14th could spark a G1-class geomagnetic storm.

-Two sunspots that have threatened Earth with flares during the past week will soon be gone. AR2080 and AR2085 are about to disappear over the sun's western limb. "These two amazing sunspot groups are saying goodbye with a splendid array of prominences, filaments and minor flare activity," reports Sergio Castillo who sends this parting shot from his backyard observatory in Corona, CA. Although these sunspots are leaving, they still pose a threat to Earth. Both of them are well-connected to our planet by the sun's spiraling magnetic field. If one of them erupts this weekend--a distinct possibility--energetic particles could be funneled by magnetic forces back toward Earth, causing a solar proton storm.

Meanwhile, another active sunspot is not leaving: AR2087 is almost directly facing Earth and it has a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field that harbors energy for X-class solar flares. Any eruption from this sunspot would hit Earth head on. NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of X-flares on June 14th.



June 13, 2014
-Vega is the brightest star shining in the east after dusk. It's currently the top star of the big Summer Triangle. The brightest star to Vega's lower left is Deneb. Look farther to Vega's lower right for Altair. The Summer Triangle will climb higher in early evening all through the summer, to pose highest overhead at dusk when fall begins.

-A coronal mass ejection hurled into space by the double X-flare of June 10th could sideswipe Earth's magnetic field today. NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of polar geomagnetic storms in response to the glancing blow.

-For soccer fans, Friday the 13th is a lucky day because the World Cup is underway. The world's biggest sports event began yesterday in Brazil with a game between the host country and Croatia. (Brazil won.) To celebrate the kickoff, Jean-Baptiste Feldmann took this picture of the Moon rising over Nuits-Saint-Georges, France.

The fact that this month's full Moon falls on Friday the 13th has been widely noted in the media. Such a coincidence is not particularly rare. The last Friday the 13th full Moon occurred on Aug. 13, 2011. The next one will be on Aug. 13, 2049.

Neither is the coincidence unlucky. Folklore holds that all kinds of wacky things happen under the light of a full Moon. Supposedly, hospital admissions increase, the crime rate ticks upward, and people behave strangely. The idea that the full Moon causes mental disorders was widespread in the Middle Ages. Even the word "lunacy," meaning "insanity," comes from the Latin word for "Moon." The majority of modern studies, however, show no correlation between the phase of the Moon and the incidence of crime, sickness, or human behavior. This is true even on Fridays.

-Last week NASA's Curiosity rover witnessed something no one has ever seen from the surface of another world: a planetary transit of the sun. As the sun rose over Mars' Gale Crater on June 3rd, Curiosity's two-eyed MastCam tracked the shadowy silhouette of Mercury crossing the solar disk. In addition to showing Mercury, the same MastCam frames show two sunspots approximately the size of Earth.

This is the first transit of the sun by a planet observed from any planet other than Earth, and also the first imaging of Mercury from Mars. Mercury fills only about one-sixth of one pixel as seen from such a great distance, so the darkening does not have a distinct shape. Nevertheless, it is definitely Mercury as the shadow follows Mercury's expected path based on orbital calculations.

On Earth, it is possible to observe solar transits of Mercury and Venus, although they are rare. Last seen in June 2012, Venus transits are typically separated by more than a hundred years. The next Mercury transit visible from Earth will be May 9, 2016. Mercury and Venus transits are visible more often from Mars than from Earth, and Mars also offers a vantage point for seeing Earth transits. The next of each type visible from Mars will be Mercury in April 2015, Venus in August 2030 and Earth in November 2084.




June 12, 2014
[left]-Solar activity remains high. Active sunspot AR2087 unleashed another X-flare on June 11th (X1.0), following two X-flares (X2.1 and X1.5) on June 10th. The latest blast was intense but short-lived, and it is not expected to have significant Earth-effects.

-Full Moon (exact at 12:11 a.m. June 13th EDT). The Moon shines in the dim legs of the constellation Ophiuchus. Look for Antares well to its right.

June 11, 2014
-Now it's Antares's turn to shine near the Moon. As evening grows late, it swings straight below the Moon (for North America).

-Yesterday's double X-flare may have produced a geoeffective CME after all. At first it appeared that Earth was outside the line of fire, but a closer look at the CME reveals an Earth-directed component. Click to view a movie of the explosion from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory:

The movie shows a faint CME associated with the first X-flare emerging around 1200 UT. A second, brighter CME from the second X-flare quickly overtakes it, forming a "cannibal CME." Computer models run yesterday by NOAA analysts suggest the merged storm cloud will reach Earth mid-day on June 13th. The glancing blow could spark polar geomagnetic storms.

Meanwhile, more X-flares are in the offing. At least two sunspots (AR2080 and AR2087) have unstable 'delta-class' magnetic fields that could erupt at any moment. The source of yesterday's X-flares, AR2087, is particularly potent, and it is turning toward Earth. NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of M-flares and a 30% chance of X-flares on June 11th.




June 10, 2014
-Last night, June 9th, a spectacular display of noctilucent clouds (NLCs) swept across central Europe. "I have waited three years to take a picture like this," says Piotr Majewski who witnessed the apparition at the Torun Centre for Astronomy in Poland.

"Noctilucent cloud season has officially begun here in Poland," says Marek Nikodem. "I saw the same display from the town of Szubin, and it was spectacular." Nikodem is a long-time photographer of noctilucent clouds. Last night he framed a nest of storks backlit by electric blue.

Noctilucent clouds are a summertime phenomenon. NASA's AIM spacecraft spotted the first NLCs of the 2014 season on May 24th, and they have been intensifying ever since. Long ago, NLCs were confined to the Arctic, but in recent years they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Utah. Some researchers think the increasing visibility is a sign of climate change. Whatever the cause, sky watchers should be alert for NLCs as northern summer unfolds.

Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.

-Now the waxing gibbous Moon is lower left of Saturn at nightfall. Look farther to the Moon's lower left for Antares and the other stars of upper Scorpius, as shown here.

For southernmost Africa, the Moon occults (covers) Saturn around 19 hours Universal Time.




June 9, 2014
-The Moon is part of a four-object lineup tonight: with Saturn to its left and Spica and Mars to its right.

-With summer not far off, can you still catch Procyon very low in the twilight? You may need binoculars. It's 17° lower left of Jupiter. For how many more days can you follow it? The first day that a star becomes completely invisible in the afterglow of sunset is called its heliacal setting.

-Over the weekend, the sky above Canada and many northern-tier US states turned purple. It was the aurora borealis, sparked by a CME impact during the late hours of June 7th. "Wonderful purple and blue auroras spanned the sky, peaking between 2 and 2:30 a.m. MDT on June 8th," reports Alan Dyer, who captured the colors outside an old barn in Alberta, Canada. In auroras, purple is a sign of nitrogen. While oxygen atoms produce the green glow in Dyer's image, the purple comes from molecular nitrogen ions at very high altitudes. For some reason, high-altitude nitrogen was unusually excited during this G2-class geomagnetic storm, and many people witnessed its telltale hue.

More purple could be in the offing. A solar wind stream following in the wake of the CME has kept Earth's magnetic field unsettled two full days after the CME's impact. Solar wind speeds are now greater than 500 km/s, prompting NOAA forecasters to boost the odds of a polar geomagnetic storm on June 9th to 50%.



June 8, 2014
-High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras as Earth passes through the wake of a CME that struck on June 7th. The initial impact of the CME was weak, but as June 7th turned into June 8th a G2-class geomagnetic storm developed. At its peak, the storm sparked Northern Lights in the USA as far south as Wisconsin. "There was a quick burst of northern lights in New Auburn WI tonight," says photographer Justin Phillips. "For 10 minutes the pinks were just incredible. What a way to end the aurora drought!"

-NOAA forecasters say CME effects could persist until June 9th with a 25% chance of continued geomagnetic storms.




June 7, 2014
-The waxing gibbous Moon shines near Mars this evening. Look just above Mars for fainter Gamma (γ) Virginis (Porrima). Spica shines farther to their their left.

-NOAA forecasters have boosted the odds of an M-class flare on June 7th to 35%. To see why, pay close attention to the image below.

During the past 48 hours, three large sunspot groups have materialized. Nearly invisible on June 5th, now the active regions are peppered with dark cores larger than Earth. All three regions have unstable magnetic fields that pose a threat for significant eruptions.

The greatest threat comes from sunspot AR2080. Its 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field harbors energy not only for medium M-class flares, but also for powerful X-flares. Because AR2080 is centrally located on the solar disk, any flares this weekend will likely be Earth-directed.




June 6, 2014
-Look left of the Moon this evening for Mars, then Spica. With June under way, the Big Dipper is swinging around after dark to hang down by its handle high in the northwest. The middle star of its handle is Mizar, with tiny little Alcor right next to it. On which side of Mizar should you look for Alcor? As always, on the side toward Vega! Which is now shining in the east-northeast.

-NASA's AIM spacecraft saw the first wispy noctilucent clouds (NLCs) of the 2014 summer season on May 24th. Since then NLCs have begun to intensify around the Arctic Circle and descend to lower latitudes. This morning, June 6th, Noel Blaney spotted a bank of the electric-blue clouds over Bangor, Northern Ireland.

"I witnessed this nice early-season noctilucent cloud display over Belfast Lough at 2am," says Blaney. "These are my first proper images of NLCs!"

A few hours later, Lance Taylor saw more NLCs over Edmonton, Alberta. "This was my first sighting of the season - and I have been watching for them for the past two weeks now," he says.

Seeded by meteor smoke and boosted by the climate-change gas methane, noctilucent clouds have been spreading beyond the Arctic. In recent years, they have been sighted as far south as Colorado and Utah. Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the Sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you may have spotted a noctilucent cloud.




June 5, 2014
-It is well known that ice crystals in high clouds can catch the light of the sun, bending its rays to produce beautiful circular halos in the sky. Last month, Alan Clark of Calgary, Alberta, saw such a halo, but it was strangely broken. "I saw this unusual halo on May 17th," says Clark. "It appears that a sharp transition between clouds of significantly different ice crystal types crossed in front of the Sun, [producing jagged edges around the circle]."

To investigate this possibility, Clark simulated the display using the HaloSim program written by atmospheric optics experts Les Cowley and Michael Shroeder. The results are shown in the upper right, above. "I used different crystal types in the upper and lower parts of this halo," explains Clark. "In the simulation, one cloud consisted of 30% of horizontal hexagonal columnar crystals and 70% hexagonal flat-plate crystals with a wide dispersion of angles of their faces to the horizontal. The other cloud contained hexagonal columnar crystals with their axes distributed randomly."

The computer-generated halo was a good match to what Clark saw. "I agree entirely with Alan's interpretation," notes Les Cowley. "It is a very unusual observation indeed. The upper halo is a fragment of a circumscribed halo generated by the horizontal column crystals. The lower halo is a fragment of the familiar 22-degree halo from randomly oriented crystals."



June 4, 2014
-As the stars come out, Regulus and the Sickle of Leo are now upper right of the Moon.

-Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics. On Jun. 3, 2014, the network reported 33 fireballs. (33 sporadics)




June 3, 2014
-Look above the Moon early this evening for Regulus and Gamma (γ) Leonis, slightly fainter. They're the two brightest stars of the Sickle of Leo.

-On August 27, 2014, Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS will buzz Earth's orbit only 0.05 AU away. Unfortunately for sky watchers, Earth won't be there. Our planet will be on the other side of the sun during PanSTARRS's close approach. A better time to photograph the comet is now. UK astronomer Damian Peach took this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, West Sussex, on May 31st. His picture highlights the comet's vivid green atmosphere or "coma". The verdant hue is a sign of diatomic carbon and cyanogen, two gases that grow green when illuminated by sunligght in the near-vacuum of space.

"The comet's long ion tail is still rather faint," notes Peach. To pull it out of the starry background required a 30 minute exposure with his 4-inch telecope.

PanSTARRS K1 is currently moving through Ursa Major, shining about as brightly as an 8th magnitude star. This makes it an easy target for mid-sized backyard telescopes, albeit invisible to the naked eye. Amateur astronomers who wish to image the comet can find orbital elements and an ephemeris here.

If Earth and the comet were on the same side of the sun in August, the view would be spectacular. Disappointment will be mitigated, only a little, by images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO's C3 coronagraph will track the comet as it passes behind the sun (from our point of view) from August 2nd until August 16th.




June 2, 2014
-With summer not far off, can you still catch Procyon low in the twilight? It's lower left of Jupiter and, this evening, below or perhaps lower right of the Moon (depending on your latitude). How much later into the season can you follow it? The first day that a star becomes completely invisible in the afterglow of sunset is called its heliacal setting.

-On August 27, 2014, Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS will buzz Earth's orbit only 0.05 AU away. Unfortunately for sky watchers, Earth won't be there. Our planet will be on the other side of the sun during PanSTARRS's close approach. A better time to photograph the comet is now. UK astronomer Damian Peach took this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, West Sussex, on May 31st. His picture highlights the comet's vivid green atmosphere or "coma". The verdant hue is a sign of diatomic carbon and cyanogen, two gases that grow green when illuminated by sunligght in the near-vacuum of space.

"The comet's long ion tail is still rather faint," notes Peach. To pull it out of the starry background required a 30 minute exposure with his 4-inch telecope.

PanSTARRS K1 is currently moving through Ursa Major, shining about as brightly as an 8th magnitude star. This makes it an easy target for mid-sized backyard telescopes, albeit invisible to the naked eye. Amateur astronomers who wish to image the comet can find orbital elements and an ephemeris here.

If Earth and the comet were on the same side of the sun in August, the view would be spectacular. Disappointment will be mitigated, only a little, by images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO's C3 coronagraph will track the comet as it passes behind the sun (from our point of view) from August 2nd until August 16th.



June 1, 2014
-At nightfall, Mars shines yellow-orange in the south. Look 4° (two or three finger-widths at arm's length) above it for 3rd-magnitude Porrima (Gamma Virginis). This is a famous, fast-changing close double star for telescopes. This year its two components, equal in brightness, are 2.2 arcseconds apart. A decade ago they were unresolvable.

-For the third night in a row, there's something extra in the sunset: Jupiter and the crescent Moon. Separated by less than 10o, the two bright bodies pop out of the twilight as soon as the sun goes down. Take a look!

-With no sunspots actively flaring, the face of the sun is quiet. The edge of the sun is another matter. Amateur astronomers around the world are monitoring a bushy filament of plasma seething over the sun's southeastern limb. Sergio Castillo sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Inglewood, California. "This gigantic prominence spreading its plasma material and gases on the limb makes an excellent target for imaging," says Castillo.

The hot gas in this prominence is held aloft by solar magnetic fields. If those fields become unstable the structure could collapse, causing an explosion when it hits the stellar surface below. This kind of explosion, which occurs without the aid of a sunspot, is called a "Hyder flare."






Older archived posts may be found here:
March 10, 2012 - August 31, 2012
September 1, 2012 - February 28, 2013
March 1, 2013 - July 31, 2013
August 1, 2013 - December 31, 2013
January 1, 2014 - May 31, 2014





News:

June 24, 2014
Shadow of a Supervoid


May 28, 2014
New, Intriguing Double Martian Crater


April 24, 2014
Jupiter’s Not-So-Great Red Spot


April 10, 2014
April’s Total Eclipse of the Moon


April 4, 2014
LADEE Skims the Moon Before Crash


March 29, 2014
Global "Fail" for the Big Regulus Cover-up


March 28, 2014
Rosetta Spots Its Comet


March 25, 2014
Have We Spotted Dark Matter in the Milky Way?


March 17, 2014
First Direct Evidence of Big Bang Inflation


March 13, 2014
Regulus Occultation: Asteroid to Black Out Bright Star


March 4, 2014
Zodiacal Light in the Evening


February 28, 2014
New Record for Oldest Earth Rock


February 21, 2014
Mapping a Supernova's Radioactive Glow


February 20, 2014
The Purest Star Tells an Ancient Tale


February 14, 2014
Unveiling Ganymede


January 31, 2014
Mystery of the Missing Galaxy Clusters


January 23, 2014
"Dwarf Planet" Ceres Exhales Water


January 22, 2014
Bright Supernova in M82


January 20, 2014
The End of Rosetta's Big Sleep


January 10, 2014
Galaxies Trace Early Cosmic History


January 4, 2014
Huge Sunspot Group Now Observable


January 2, 2014
Small Asteroid 2014 AA Hits Earth


December 30, 2013
Eclipses in 2014


December 30, 2013
Meteor Showers in 2014


December 19, 2013
Gaia Launches to Pinpoint a Billion Stars



December 17, 2013
See Venus's Thin Crescent



December 16, 2013
Argon Found in The Crab



December 14, 2013
Chang'e 3 Delivers Rover to Lunar Surface



December 11, 2013
Comet ISON: What We've Learned



December 10, 2013
A Double Black Hole?



December 9, 2013
New View of Saturn's Hexagon


November 7, 2013
New Chelyabinsk Results Yield Surprises


October 29, 2013
November 3rd's Rare Solar Eclipse


October 19, 2013
(Maybe) Watch a Binary Asteroid "Wink Out"


October 18, 2013
Undue Ado About Asteroid 2013 TV135


October 18, 2013
October 18th's Penumbral Lunar Eclipse


October 16, 2013
Huge Meteorite Pulled from Russian Lake


October 13, 2013
Warm Glow from an Orphaned Planet


October 4, 2013
Donations Needed for Eclipse-Glasses Effort


October 3, 2013
The Quest for Zodiacal Light


October 1, 2013
News Posted Today:
Uranus's Unlikely Companion


September 23, 2013
Is Phaethon a "Rock Comet"?


September 15, 2013
Hisaki: An Orbiting Planetary Observatory


September 11, 2013
Deep Impact on the Fritz


September 5, 2013
LADEE Leaves for Luna


September 2, 2013
An Annular Eclipse on Mars


September 1, 2013
Sun Loses Lithium with Age


August 27, 2013
Green Bank Telescope Secures $1 Million Boost


August 15, 2013
New Pulsar Explores Heart of Milky Way


August 14, 2013
Bright Nova in Delphinus


August 7, 2013
Under Stress, Asteroids May Be Fragile


August 6, 2013
Get Ready for the 2013 Perseids


August 5, 2013
Subaru Sees New Planet Directly


July 29, 2013
Supernova Erupts in M74


July 19, 2013
Wave at Saturn — But Will Cassini See You?


July 17, 2013
Magnifying Quasars


July 15, 2013
The Sun's Heat Wave


July 14, 2013
A Tale of the Sun's Tail


June 30, 2013
Now Playing: Core Collapse in 3D


June 29, 2013
Good-bye to GALEX


June 20, 2013
The Myth of the Supermoon


June 19, 2013
A Billion Pixels of Mars-scape


June 18, 2013
Winds on Venus: Getting Stronger


June 4, 2013
Radiation Risks for Future Marsonauts
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June 3, 2013
Chance to Catch Closest Planet?
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May 21, 2013
A Bright Flash in the (Lunar) Night


May 16, 2013
Kepler Goes Down - and Probably Out


May 10, 2013
A Cosmic Sleight of Hand


May 3, 2013
Lingering Echoes of Comet S-L 9's Demise


May 1, 2013
Saturn is Making Waves


April 29, 2013
One Gap, No Planets


April 29, 2013
Herschel Breathes Its Last


April 26, 2013
See Saturn at Its Best for 2013


April 19, 2013
A Tumbling Apophis: Good News for Earth


April 12, 2013
The Most Distant Star Ever Seen?


April 11, 2013
Has the Mars 3 Lander Been Found?


April 9, 2013
A New Type of Supernova


March 26, 2013
Closest Brown Dwarf System Discovered


March 23, 2013
Curiosity Wades Into Mudstone and More


March 21, 2013
Planck: Best Map Yet of Cosmic Creation


March 1, 2013:
Mars has Front-Row Seat for 2014 Comet


February 21, 2013
Info on Russian Meteor Pours In


February 19, 2013
Star HD 140283 is confirmed roughly as old as the universe


February 18, 2013
Baby Black Hole Discovered


February 15, 2012
Lessons from Today’s Russia Meteor Impact


February 1, 2013
The First-Ever Meteorite from Mercury?


January 30, 2013
Asteroid 2012 DA14 to Zip Past Earth


January 24, 2013
Pulsar Twitches Leave Astronomers Perplexed


January 18, 2013
Mapping the Milky Way


January 16, 2013
Galactic Bubbles Spark Debate


January 12, 2013
NGC 6872: Largest Spiral Galaxy Known


December 28, 2012
Triple Stars in Far-Flung Relationships


December 27, 2012
Radio Astronomy in the Aussie Outback


December 20, 2012
Planets Around Tau Ceti?

December 15, 2012
Toutatis Revealed by Chinese Spacecraft

December 12, 2012
Big River on Titan

December 7, 2012
Spacetime Ripples on the Horizon?


December 6, 2012
Gravity Probes Unlock Deep Lunar Secrets.




Aurora Tracker:

Depending on your location, use the KP = n scale to find out if auroras are possible where you live. You must live above the magnetic line of a certain number in order to have a chance in seeing auroras.



North America:


Eurasia:



Meteor Tracker:

The following information is taken from http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/. By clicking this link, you can view recordings of bright fireballs [meteorites brighter than the planet Venus or magnitude -4] caught by cameras pointed in the sky 24/7 in the navigation panel on the left. Simply click the date of the day you are interested in viewing!

Cameras are placed in the following orientation:


The following plots show the location of meteor shower radiants as detected in near real-time by the MEO-sponsored multi-station Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR). Each day approximately 4000-5000 individual meteoroid orbits are measured by CMOR - the amount of "clumpiness" in these radiants determines the location of individual showers. Groupings of radiants in location and speed are localized using a 3D wavelet transform technique and the associated showers listed by their three letter International Astronomical Union code. The source of all IAU Codes can be found here.

Skymap Activity

This plot shows the apparent radiant activity overlaid on a map of the sky as seen from the radar station (43N, 81W) at the time indicated. The sun and moon are also displayed.


Meteorite Velocity

This plot shows the same view as the skymap activity plot, but with individual radiants color coded by their speed.



Noctilucent Clouds Tracker:




International Space Station Tracker:



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To find out when the International Space Station will pass over your head, go here to select your location and timezone, hit submit, and then click "10 day predictions for ISS".

From there, you will see a table that gives you the date, brightness in magnitude, Start time, altitude, and azimuth, Highest point time, altitude and azimuth, and End Time, altitude and azimuth. The lower the number, the brighter the space station will be. Generally, the higher the altitude, the brighter it will be as well because there is less atmosphere for it to travel through. These are the best times to view the space station. It will only be around for a few minutes!

If you've ever wondered how the Earth looks like from the ISS, take a look at this video. Thanks Reach for the find!



Light Pollution Maps:

World:




Europe:



United States, Lower Canada, Northern Mexico:




Request a light pollution map for your location, and I will get you one. This is what I have for now. I caution that pictures can get very large here.

Scale:
Black: Gegenschein visible. Zodiacal light annoyingly bright. Rising milkyway confuses some into thinking it's dawn. Limiting magnitude 7.6 to 8.0 for people with exceptional vision. Users of large dobsonian telescopes are very happy.
Grey: Faint shadows cast by milkyway visible on white objects. Clouds are black holes in the sky. No light domes. The milky way has faint extentions making it 50 degrees thick. Limiting magntiude 7.1 to 7.5.
Blue: Low light domes (10 to 15 degrees) on horizon. M33 easy with averted vision. M15 is naked eye. Milky way shows bulge into Ophiuchus. Limiting magnitude 6.6 to 7.0.
Green: Zodiacal light seen on best nights. Milkyway shows much dark lane structure with beginnings of faint bulge into Ophiuchus. M33 difficult even when above 50 degrees. Limiting magnitude about 6.2 to 6.5.
Yellow: Some dark lanes in milkyway but no bulge into Ophiuchus. Washed out milkyway visible near horizon. Zodiacal light very rare. Light domes up to 45 degrees. Limiting magnitude about 5.9 to 6.2.
Orange: Milkyway washed out at zenith and invisible at horizon. Many light domes. Clouds are brighter than sky. M31 easily visible. Limiting magnitude about 5.6 to 5.9.
Red: Milkyway at best very faint at zenith. M31 difficult and indestinct. Sky is grey up to 35 degrees. Limiting magntidue 5.0 to 5.5.
White: Entire sky is grayish or brighter. Familliar constellations are missing stars. Fainter constellations are absent. Less than 20 stars visible over 30 degrees elevation in brigher areas. Limiting magntude from 3 to 4. Most people don't look up. CCD imaging is still possible. But telescopic visual observation is usually limited to the moon, planets, double stars and variable stars.


Messier Objects and Sky Map:


Click the image to see the labelled version. The 3 letter labels are constellations found in a certain region of the sky, and the numbered labels are messier objects. The legend at the bottom left of this image tells you what each object is. The milky way band is shown throughout the image. Zoom in on the hyperlinked picture to read the labels more clearly.


Astro Picture of the Day:

October 28, 2014



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Why would Mars appear to move backwards? Most of the time, the apparent motion of Mars in Earth's sky is in one direction, slow but steady in front of the far distant stars. About every two years, however, the Earth passes Mars as they orbit around the Sun. During the most recent such pass starting late last year, Mars as usual, loomed large and bright. Also during this time, Mars appeared to move backwards in the sky, a phenomenon called retrograde motion. Featured here is a series of images digitally stacked so that all of the stars coincide. Here, Mars appears to trace out a narrow loop in the sky. At the center of the loop, Earth passed Mars and the retrograde motion was the highest. Retrograde motion can also be seen for other Solar System planets.

Previous Days:

October 27, 2014


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What's that in front of the Sun? The closest object is an airplane, visible just below the Sun's center and caught purely by chance. Next out are numerous clouds in Earth's atmosphere, creating a series of darkened horizontal streaks. Farther out is Earth's Moon, seen as the large dark circular bite on the upper right. Just above the airplane and just below the Sun's surface are sunspots. The main sunspot group captured here, AR 2192, is one of the largest ever recorded and has been crackling and bursting with flares since it came around the edge of the Sun early last week. Taken last Thursday, this show of solar silhouettes was unfortunately short-lived. Within a few seconds the plane flew away. Within a few minutes the clouds drifted off. Within a few hours the partial solar eclipse of the Sun by the Moon was over. Only the sunspot group remains, but within a few more days even AR 2192 will disappear around the edge of the Sun. Fortunately, when it comes to the Sun, even unexpected alignments are surprisingly frequent.

October 26, 2014


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What would you see if you went right up to a black hole? Featured is a computer generated image highlighting how strange things would look. The black hole has such strong gravity that light is noticeably bent towards it - causing some very unusual visual distortions. Every star in the normal frame has at least two bright images - one on each side of the black hole. Near the black hole, you can see the whole sky - light from every direction is bent around and comes back to you. The original background map was taken from the 2MASS infrared sky survey, with stars from the Henry Draper catalog superposed. Black holes are thought to be the densest state of matter, and there is indirect evidence for their presence in stellar binary systems and the centers of globular clusters, galaxies, and quasars.

October 25, 2014


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A New Moon joined giant sunspot group AR 2192 to dim the bright solar disk during Thursday's much anticipated partial solar eclipse. Visible from much of North America, the Moon's broad silhouette is captured in this extreme telephoto snapshot near eclipse maximum from Santa Cruz, California. About the size of Jupiter, the remarkable AR 2192 itself darkens a noticeable fraction of the Sun, near center and below the curved lunar limb. As the sunspot group slowly rotates across the Sun and out of view in the coming days its activity is difficult to forecast. But the timing of solar eclipses is easier to predict. The next will be a total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015.

October 24, 2014


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As you (safely!) watched the progress of yesterday's partial solar eclipse, you probably also spotted a giant sunspot group. Captured in this sharp telescopic image from October 22nd the complex AR 2192 is beautiful to see, a sprawling solar active region comparable in size to the diameter of Jupiter. Like other smaller sunspot groups, AR 2192 is now crossing the Earth-facing side of the Sun and appears dark in visible light because it is cooler than the surrounding surface. Still, the energy stored in the region's twisted magnetic fields is enormous and has already generated powerful explosions, including two X-class solar flares this week. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) associated with the flares have not affected planet Earth, so far. The forecast for further activity from AR 2192 is still significant though, as it swings across the center of the solar disk and Earth-directed CMEs become possible.

October 23, 2014


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This wide, sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars and faint dust nebulae of the Milky Way at the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

October 22, 2014


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One of the largest sunspot groups in recent years is now crossing the Sun. Labelled Active Region 2192, it has already thrown a powerful solar flare and has the potential to produce more. The featured video shows a time lapse sequence of the Sun in visible and ultraviolet light taken yesterday and incorporating the previous 48 hours. AR 2192, rotating in from the left, rivals Jupiter in size and is literally crackling with magnetic energy. The active Sun has caused some spectacular auroras in recent days, and energetic particles originating from AR 2192 may help continue them over the next week. Tomorrow, the Sun will appear unusual for even another reason: a partial solar eclipse will be visible before sunset from much of North America.

October 21, 2014


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Whatever hit Mimas nearly destroyed it. What remains is one of the largest impact craters on one of Saturn's smallest moons. The crater, named Herschel after the 1789 discoverer of Mimas, Sir William Herschel, spans about 130 kilometers and is pictured above. Mimas' low mass produces a surface gravity just strong enough to create a spherical body but weak enough to allow such relatively large surface features. Mimas is made of mostly water ice with a smattering of rock - so it is accurately described as a big dirty snowball. The above image was taken during the 2010 February flyby of the robot spacecraft Cassini now in orbit around Saturn. A recent analysis of Mimas's unusual wobble indicates that it might house a liquid water interior ocean.
October 20, 2014


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Yesterday, a comet passed very close to Mars. In fact, Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) passed closer to the red planet than any comet has ever passed to Earth in recorded history. To take advantage of this unique opportunity to study the close interaction of a comet and a planet, humanity currently has five active spacecraft orbiting Mars: NASA's MAVEN, MRO, Mars Odyssey, as well as ESA's Mars Express, and India's Mars Orbiter. Most of these spacecraft have now sent back information that they have not been damaged by small pieces of the passing comet. These spacecraft, as well as the two active rovers on the Martian surface -- NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity -- have taken data and images that will be downloaded to Earth for weeks to come and likely studied for years to come. The featured image taken yesterday, however, was not taken from Mars but from Earth and shows Comet Siding Spring on the lower left as it passed Mars, on the upper right.

October 19, 2014


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Comet McNaught was perhaps the most photogenic comet of modern times -- from Earth. After making quite a show in the northern hemisphere in early January of 2007, the comet moved south and developed a long and unusual dust tail that dazzled southern hemisphere observers. In late January 2007, Comet McNaught was captured between Mount Remarkable and Cecil Peak in this spectacular image taken from Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand. The bright comet dominates the right part of the above image, while the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy dominates the left. Careful inspection of the image will reveal a meteor streak just to the left of the comet. Today, Comet Siding Spring may become the most photogenic comet of modern times -- from Mars.

October 18, 2014


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Cosmic clouds form fantastic shapes in the central regions of emission nebula IC 1805. The clouds are sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from massive hot stars in the nebula's newborn star cluster, Melotte 15. About 1.5 million years young, the cluster stars are toward the right in this colorful skyscape, along with dark dust clouds in silhouette against glowing atomic gas. A composite of narrowband and broadband telescopic images, the view spans about 30 light-years and includes emission from ionized hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen atoms mapped to green, red, and blue hues in the popular Hubble Palette. Wider field images reveal that IC 1805's simpler, overall outline suggests its popular name - The Heart Nebula. IC 1805 is located about 7,500 light years away toward the boastful constellation Cassiopeia.

October 17, 2014


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This looks like a near miss but the greenish coma and tail of Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) are really 2,000 light-years or so away from the stars of open cluster Messier 6. They do appear close together though, along the same line-of-sight in this gorgeous October 9th skyscape toward the constellation Scorpius. Still, on Sunday, October 19th this comet really will be involved in a near miss, passing within only 139,500 kilometers of planet Mars. That's about 10 times closer than any known comet flyby of planet Earth, and nearly one third the Earth-Moon distance. While an impact with the nucleus is not a threat the comet's dust, moving with a speed of about 56 kilometers per second relative to the Red Planet, and outskirts of its gaseous coma could interact with the thin Martian atmosphere. Of course, the comet's close encounter will be followed intently by spacecraft in Martian orbit and rovers on the surface.

October 16, 2014


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This Rosetta spacecraft selfie was snapped on October 7th. At the time the spacecraft was about 472 million kilometers from planet Earth, but only 16 kilometers from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Looming beyond the spacecraft near the top of the frame, dust and gas stream away from the comet's curious double-lobed nucleus and bright sunlight glints off one of Rosetta's 14 meter long solar arrays. In fact, two exposures, one short and one long, were combined to record the dramatic high contrast scene using the CIVA camera system on Rosetta's still-attached Philae lander. Its chosen primary landing site is visible on the smaller lobe of the nucleus. This is the last image anticipated from Philae's cameras before the lander separates from Rosetta on November 12. Shortly after separation Philae will take another image looking back toward the orbiter, and begin its descent to the nucleus of the comet.

October 15, 2014


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What is that changing object in a cold hydrocarbon sea of Titan? Radar images from the robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn have been recording the surface of the cloud-engulfed moon Titan for years. When imaging the flat -- and hence radar dark -- surface of the methane and ethane lake called Ligeia Mare, an object appeared in 2013 just was not there in 2007. Subsequent observations in 2014 found the object remained -- but had changed! The featured image shows how the 20-km long object has appeared and evolved. Current origin speculative explanations include bubbling foam and floating solids, but no one is sure. Future observations may either resolve the enigma or open up more speculation.

October 14, 2014


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Higher than the highest mountain lies the realm of the aurora. Auroras rarely reach below 60 kilometers, and can range up to 1000 kilometers. Aurora light results from energetic electrons and protons striking atoms and molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. Somewhat uncommon, an auroral corona appears as a center point for a surrounding display and may occur when an aurora develops directly overhead, or when auroral rays are pointed nearly toward the observer. This picturesque but brief green and purple aurora exhibition occurred last month high above Kvalųya, Tromsų, Norway. The Sessųyfjorden fjord runs through the foreground, while numerous stars are visible far in the distance.

October 13, 2014


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What causes sprite lightning? Mysterious bursts of light in the sky that momentarily resemble gigantic jellyfish have been recorded for over 25 years, but their root cause remains unknown. Some thunderstorms have them -- most don't. Recently, however, high speed videos are better detailing how sprites actually develop. The featured video is fast enough -- at about 10,000 frames per second -- to time-resolve several sprite "bombs" dropping and developing into the multi-pronged streamers that appear on still images. Unfortunately, the visual clues provided by these videos do not fully resolve the sprite origins mystery. They do indicate to some researchers, though, that sprites are more likely to occur when plasma irregularities exist in the upper atmosphere. Plasma Irregularities: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/14...comms4740.html

October 12, 2014


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How did a star create the Helix nebula? The shapes of planetary nebula like the Helix are important because they likely hold clues to how stars like the Sun end their lives. Observations by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and the 4-meter Blanco Telescope in Chile, however, have shown the Helix is not really a simple helix. Rather, it incorporates two nearly perpendicular disks as well as arcs, shocks, and even features not well understood. Even so, many strikingly geometric symmetries remain. How a single Sun-like star created such beautiful yet geometric complexity is a topic of research. The Helix Nebula is the nearest planetary nebula to Earth, lies only about 700 light years away toward the constellation of Aquarius, and spans about 3 light-years.

October 11, 2014


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As the Moon rose and the Sun set on October 8, a lunar eclipse was in progress seen from Chongqing, China. Trailing through this composite time exposure, the rising Moon began as a dark reddened disk in total eclipse near the eastern horizon. Steadily climbing above the populous city's colorful lights along the Yangtze River, the moontrail grows brighter and broader, until a bright Full Moon emerged from the Earth's shadow in evening skies. Although lunar eclipses are not always total ones, this eclipse, along with last April's lunar eclipse, were the first two of four consecutive total lunar eclipses, a series known as a tetrad. The final two eclipses of this tetrad will occur in early April and late September 2015.

October 10, 2014


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From the early hours of October 8, over the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos, California, the totally eclipsed Moon shows a range of color across this well-exposed telescopic view of the lunar eclipse. Of course, a lunar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is opposite the Sun in Earth's sky and gliding through the planet's shadow. But also near opposition during this eclipse, and remarkably only half a degree or so from the lunar limb, distant Uranus is faint but easy to spot at the lower right. Fainter still are the ice giant's moons. While even the darkened surface of our eclipsed Moon will be strongly overexposed, Uranus moons Titania, Oberon, and Umbriel can just be distinguished as faint pinpricks of light.

October 9, 2014

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The Pacific Ocean and Chilean coast lie below this sea of clouds. Seen through the subtle colors of the predawn sky a lunar eclipse is in progress above, the partially eclipsed Moon growing dark. The curved edge of planet Earth's shadow still cuts across the middle of the lunar disk as the Moon sinks lower toward the western horizon. In fact, from this southern hemisphere location as well as much of eastern North America totality, the Moon completely immersed within Earth's shadow, began near the time of moonset and sunrise on October 8. From farther west the total phase could be followed for almost an hour though, the darker reddened Moon still high in the night sky.

October 8, 2014

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Star cluster NGC 6823 is slowly turning gas clouds into stars. The center of the open cluster, visible on the upper right, formed only about two million years ago and is dominated in brightness by a host of bright young blue stars. Some outer parts of the cluster, visible in the featured image's center as the stars and pillars of emission nebula NGC 6820, contain even younger stars. The huge pillars of gas and dust likely get their elongated shape by erosion from hot radiation emitted from the brightest cluster stars. Striking dark globules of gas and dust are also visible across the upper left of the featured image. Open star cluster NGC 6823 spans about 50 light years and lies about 6000 light years away toward the constellation of the Fox (Vulpecula).

October 7, 2014


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What connects the Sun to the Moon? Many answers have been given throughout history, but in the case of today's featured image, it appears to be the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The 16-image panorama was taken in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA where two sandstone monoliths -- the Temple of the Moon on the left and the Temple of the Sun on the right -- rise dramatically from the desert. Each natural monument stands about 100 meters tall and survives from the Jurassic period 160 million years ago. Even older are many of the stars and nebula that dot the celestial background, including the Andromeda Galaxy. Tomorrow the Earth will connect the Sun to the Moon by way of its shadow: a total lunar eclipse will be visible from many locations around the globe.

October 6, 2014

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Where did all these high energy positrons come from? The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) onboard the International Space Station (ISS) has been meticulously recording how often it is struck by both high energy electrons and positrons since 2011. After accumulating years of data, it has now become clear that there are significantly more positrons than electrons at the highest energies detected. The excess may have a very exciting and profound origin -- the annihilation of distant but previously undetected dark matter particles. However, it is also possible that astronomical sources such as pulsars are creating the unexplained discrepancy. The topic remains a very active area of research. Pictured here, the AMS is visible on the ISS just after being installed, with a US Space Shuttle docked on the far right, a Russian Soyuz capsule docked on the far left, and the blue Earth that houses all nations visible across the background.

October 5, 2014
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If the full Moon suddenly faded, what would you see? The answer during the total lunar eclipse of 2011 June was recorded in a dramatic time lapse video from Tajikistan. During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth moves between the Moon and the Sun, causing the moon to fade dramatically. The Moon never gets completely dark, though, since the Earth's atmosphere refracts some light. As the above video begins, the scene may appear to be daytime and sunlit, but actually it is a nighttime and lit by the glow of the full Moon. As the moon becomes eclipsed and fades, the wind dies down and background stars can be seen reflected in foreground lake. Most spectacularly, the sky surrounding the eclipsed moon suddenly appears to be full of stars and highlighted by the busy plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The sequence repeats with a closer view, and the final image shows the placement of the eclipsed Moon near the Eagle, Swan, Trifid, and Lagoon nebulas. Nearly two hours after the eclipse started, the moon emerged from the Earth's shadow and its bright full glare again dominated the sky. The next total lunar eclipse will occur this Wednesday.

October 4, 2014

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Mars, Antares, Moon, and Saturn are the brightest celestial beacons in this serene sky. The Sun's golden light is still scattered along the southwestern horizon though, captured after sunset on September 28. The evening gathering of wandering planets and Moon along with the bright star viewed as an equal to Mars and the Scorpion's Heart was enjoyed around planet Earth. But from the photographer's perspective looking across the calm waters of Lake Balaton, Hungary, they were joined by a more terrestrial sailboat mast light. Mast light, bright star, planets and Moon are all posing near the plane of the ecliptic.

October 3, 2014

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Stepping stones seem to lead to the Milky Way as it stretches across this little sky. Of course, the scene is really the northern hemisphere's autumnal equinox night. Water and sky are inverted by a top to bottom, around the horizon stereographic projection centered on the zenith above Lake Storsjön in Jämtland, Sweden. In the north the Milky Way arcs from east to west overhead as fall begins, but the season is also a good time for viewing aurora. Geomagnetic storms increase in frequency near the equinox and produce remarkable displays of northern lights at high latitudes, like the eerie greenish glow reflected in this watery cosmos.e green channel.

October 2, 2014

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Blown by the wind from a massive star, this interstellar apparition has a surprisingly familiar shape. Cataloged as NGC 7635, it is also known simply as The Bubble Nebula. Although it looks delicate, the 10 light-year diameter bubble offers evidence of violent processes at work. Below and left of the Bubble's center is a hot, O star, several hundred thousand times more luminous and around 45 times more massive than the Sun. A fierce stellar wind and intense radiation from that star has blasted out the structure of glowing gas against denser material in a surrounding molecular cloud. The intriguing Bubble Nebula and associated cloud complex lie a mere 11,000 light-years away toward the boastful constellation Cassiopeia. This tantalizing view of the cosmic bubble is composed from narrowband image data, recording emission from the region's ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms. To create the three color image, hydrogen and oxygen emission were used for red and blue and combined to create the green channel.

October 1, 2014

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The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3, and is presented here in reprocessed colors. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).

September 30, 2014

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Have you ever seen an entire rainbow? From the ground, typically, only the top portion of a rainbow is visible because directions toward the ground have fewer raindrops. From the air, though, the entire 360 degree circle of a rainbow is more commonly visible. Pictured here, a full circle rainbow was captured over Cottesloe Beach near Perth, Australia last year by a helicopter flying between a setting sun and a downpour. An observer-dependent phenomenon primarily caused by the internal reflection of sunlight by raindrops, the 84-degree diameter rainbow followed the helicopter, intact, for about 5 kilometers. As a bonus, a second rainbow that was more faint and color-reversed was visible outside the first.

September 29, 2014

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How did these Martian rocks form? As the robotic Curiosity rover has approached Pahrump Hills on Mars, it has seen an interesting and textured landscape dotted by some unusual rocks. The featured image shows a curiously round rock spanning about two centimeters across. Seemingly a larger version of numerous spherules dubbed blueberries found by the Opportunity rover on Mars in 2004, what caused this roundness remains unknown. Possibilities include frequent tumbling in flowing water, sprayed molten rock in a volcanic eruption, or a concretion mechanism. The inset image, taken a few days later, shows another small but unusually shaped rock structure. As Curiosity rolls around and up Mount Sharp, different layers of the landscape will be imaged and studied to better understand the ancient history of the region and to investigate whether Mars could once have harbored life.

September 28, 2014

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What's happening at the center of active galaxy 3C 75? The two bright sources at the center of this composite x-ray (blue)/ radio (pink) image are co-orbiting supermassive black holes powering the giant radio source 3C 75. Surrounded by multimillion degree x-ray emitting gas, and blasting out jets of relativistic particles the supermassive black holes are separated by 25,000 light-years. At the cores of two merging galaxies in the Abell 400 galaxy cluster they are some 300 million light-years away. Astronomers conclude that these two supermassive black holes are bound together by gravity in a binary system in part because the jets' consistent swept back appearance is most likely due to their common motion as they speed through the hot cluster gas at 1200 kilometers per second. Such spectacular cosmic mergers are thought to be common in crowded galaxy cluster environments in the distant universe. In their final stages the mergers are expected to be intense sources of gravitational waves.

September 27, 2014

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Taken from an Atlantic beach, Cape Canaveral, planet Earth, four identically framed digital images are combined in this night skyscape. Slightly shifted short star trails dot the sky, but the exposure times were adjusted to follow the flight of a Falcon 9 rocket. The September 21 launch delivered a Dragon X capsule filled with supplies to the International Space Station. Above the bright flare seen just after launch, the rocket's first stage firing trails upward from the left. After separation, the second stage burn begins near center with the vehicle climbing toward low Earth orbit. At the horizon, the flare near center records the re-ignition and controlled descent of the Falcon 9's first stage to a soft splashdown off the coast.

September 26, 2014

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Launched on November 18, 2013, the MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) spacecraft completed its interplanetary voyage September 21, captured into a wide, elliptical orbit around Mars. MAVEN's imaging ultraviolet spectrograph has already begun its planned exploration of the Red Planet's upper atmosphere, acquiring this image data from an altitude of 36,500 kilometers. In false color, the three ultraviolet wavelength bands show light reflected from atomic hydrogen (in blue), atomic oxygen (in green) and the planet's surface (in red). Low mass atomic hydrogen is seen to extend thousands of kilometers into space, with the cloud of more massive oxygen atoms held closer by Mars' gravity. Both are by products of the breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in Mars' atmosphere and the MAVEN data can be used to determine the rate of water loss over time. In fact, MAVEN is the first mission dedicated to exploring Mars' tenuous upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. But the most recent addition to the fleet of spacecraft from planet Earth now in martian orbit is MOM.

September 25, 2014

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The large stellar association cataloged as NGC 206 is nestled within the dusty arms of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Also known as M31, the spiral galaxy is a mere 2.5 million light-years away. NGC 206 is near top center in this gorgeous close-up of the southwestern extent of Andromeda's disk, a remarkable composite of data from space and ground-based observatories. The bright, blue stars of NGC 206 indicate its youth. In fact, its youngest massive stars are less than 10 million years old. Much larger than the open or galactic clusters of young stars in the disk of our Milky Way galaxy, NGC 206 spans about 4,000 light-years. That's comparable in size to the giant stellar nurseries NGC 604 in nearby spiral M33 and the Tarantula Nebula, in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Star forming sites within Andromeda are revealed by the telltale reddish emission from clouds of ionized hydrogen gas.

September 24, 2014

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The large majestic Lagoon Nebula is home for many young stars and hot gas. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebula is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of Sagittarius. Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. A bright knot of gas and dust in the nebula's center is known as the Hourglass Nebula. The featured picture is a newly processed panorama of M8, capturing five times the diameter of the Moon. Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many globules that exist there.

September 23, 2014


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That's no sunset. And that thin red line just above it -- that's not a sun pillar. The red glow on the horizon originates from a volcanic eruption, and the red line is the eruption's reflection from fluttering atmospheric ice crystals. This unusual volcanic light pillar was captured over Iceland earlier this month. The featured scene looks north from Jökulsįrlón toward the erupting volcano Bįršarbunga in the Holuhraun lava field. Even the foreground sky is picturesque, with textured grey clouds in the lower atmosphere, shimmering green aurora in the upper atmosphere, and bright stars far in the distance. Although the last eruption from Holuhraun was in 1797, the present volcanic activity continues.

September 22, 2014

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Earth is at equinox. Over the next 24 hours, day and night have nearly equal duration all over planet Earth. Technically, equinox transpires at 2:29 am Universal Time tomorrow, but this occurs today in North and South America. This September equinox signal that winter is approaching in the northern hemisphere, and summer is approaching in the south. At equinox, the dividing line between the sunlit half of Earth and the nighttime half of Earth temporarily passes through Earth's north and south spin poles. This dividing line is shown in clear detail in the featured video, taken by the Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L during last year's September equinox. The Elektro-L satellite is in geostationary orbit over one spot on Earth's equator and always points directly toward the Earth. The featured video shows a time lapse for an entire day surrounding the equinox, with a new image taken every 30 minutes. Cloud motions are visible as well as the reflection of the Sun are visible as the equinox day progressed. The next Earth equinox is scheduled for March.

September 21, 2014

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How would Saturn look if its ring plane pointed right at the Sun? Before August 2009, nobody knew. Every 15 years, as seen from Earth, Saturn's rings point toward the Earth and appear to disappear. The disappearing rings are no longer a mystery -- Saturn's rings are known to be so thin and the Earth is so near the Sun that when the rings point toward the Sun, they also point nearly edge-on at the Earth. Fortunately, in this third millennium, humanity is advanced enough to have a spacecraft that can see the rings during equinox from the side. In August 2009, that Saturn-orbiting spacecraft, Cassini, was able to snap a series of unprecedented pictures of Saturn's rings during equinox. A digital composite of 75 such images is shown above. The rings appear unusually dark, and a very thin ring shadow line can be made out on Saturn's cloud-tops. Objects sticking out of the ring plane are brightly illuminated and cast long shadows. Inspection of these images is helping humanity to understand the specific sizes of Saturn's ring particles and the general dynamics of orbital motion. This week, Earth undergoes an equinox.

September 20, 2014

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Against dark rifts of interstellar dust, the ebb and flow of starlight along the Milky Way looks like waves breaking on a cosmic shore in this night skyscape. Taken with a digital camera from the dunes of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, planet Earth, the monochrome image is reminiscent of the time when sensitive black and white film was a popular choice for dimmly lit night- and astro-photography. Looking south, the bright stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius are near the center of the frame. Wandering Mars, Saturn, and Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae) form the compact triangle of bright celestial beacons farther right of the galaxy's central bulge. Of course, the evocative black and white beach scene could also be from that vintage 1950s scifi movie you never saw, "It Came From Beyond the Dunes."

September 19, 2014

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For astrobiologists, these may be the four most tantalizing moons in our Solar System. Shown at the same scale, their exploration by interplanetary spacecraft has launched the idea that moons, not just planets, could have environments supporting life. The Galileo mission to Jupiter discovered Europa's global subsurface ocean of liquid water and indications of Ganymede's interior seas. At Saturn, the Cassini probe detected erupting fountains of water ice from Enceladus indicating warmer subsurface water on even that small moon, while finding surface lakes of frigid but still liquid hydrocarbons beneath the dense atmosphere of large moon Titan. Now looking beyond the Solar System, new research suggests that sizable exomoons, could actually outnumber exoplanets in stellar habitable zones. That would make moons the most common type of habitable world in the Universe.

September 18, 2014

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In this crowded starfield covering over 2 degrees within the high flying constellation Cygnus, the eye is drawn to the Cocoon Nebula. A compact star forming region, the cosmic Cocoon punctuates a long trail of obscuring interstellar dust clouds. Cataloged as IC 5146, the nebula is nearly 15 light-years wide, located some 4,000 light years away. Like other star forming regions, it stands out in red, glowing, hydrogen gas excited by the young, hot stars and blue, dust-reflected starlight at the edge of an otherwise invisible molecular cloud. In fact, the bright star near the center of this nebula is likely only a few hundred thousand years old, powering the nebular glow as it clears out a cavity in the molecular cloud's star forming dust and gas. But the long dusty filaments that appear dark in this visible light image are themselves hiding stars in the process of formation that can be seen seen at infrared wavelengths.

September 17, 2014

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It has been a good week for auroras. Earlier this month active sunspot region 2158 rotated into view and unleashed a series of flares and plasma ejections into the Solar System during its journey across the Sun's disk. In particular, a pair of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) impacted the Earth's magnetosphere toward the end of last week, creating the most intense geomagnetic storm so far this year. Although power outages were feared by some, the most dramatic effects of these impacting plasma clouds were auroras seen as far south as Wisconsin, USA. In the featured image taken last Friday night, rays and sheets of multicolored auroras were captured over Acadia National Park, in Maine, USA. Since another CME plasma cloud is currently approaching the Earth, tonight offers another good chance to see an impressive auroral display.

September 16, 2014


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Galaxies, stars, and a serene reflecting pool combine to create this memorable land and skyscape. The featured panorama is a 12-image mosaic taken last month from the Salar de Atacama salt flat in northern Chile. The calm water is Laguna Cejar, a salty lagoon featuring a large central sinkhole. On the image left, the astrophotographer's fiancee is seen capturing the same photogenic scene. The night sky is lit up with countless stars, the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud galaxies on the left, and the band of our Milky Way galaxy running diagonally up the right. The Milky Way may appear to be causing havoc at the horizon, but those are just the normal lights of a nearby town.

September 15, 2014

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Spacecraft Rosetta continues to approach, circle, and map Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Crossing the inner Solar System for ten years to reach the vicinity of the comet last month, the robotic spacecraft continues to image the unusual double-lobed comet nucleus. The reconstructed-color image featured, taken about 10 days ago, indicates how dark this comet nucleus is. On the average, the comet's surface reflects only about four percent of impinging visible light, making it as dark as coal. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko spans about four kilometers in length and has a surface gravity so low that an astronaut could jump off of it. In about two months, Rosetta is scheduled to release the first probe ever to attempt a controlled landing on a comet's nucleus.

September 14, 2014

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The first hint of what will become of our Sun was discovered inadvertently in 1764. At that time, Charles Messier was compiling a list of diffuse objects not to be confused with comets. The 27th object on Messier's list, now known as M27 or the Dumbbell Nebula, is a planetary nebula, the type of nebula our Sun will produce when nuclear fusion stops in its core. M27 is one of the brightest planetary nebulae on the sky, and can be seen toward the constellation of the Fox (Vulpecula) with binoculars. It takes light about 1000 years to reach us from M27, shown above in colors emitted by hydrogen and oxygen. Understanding the physics and significance of M27 was well beyond 18th century science. Even today, many things remain mysterious about bipolar planetary nebula like M27, including the physical mechanism that expels a low-mass star's gaseous outer-envelope, leaving an X-ray hot white dwarf.

September 13, 2014

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Now, as you sip your cosmic latte you can view 100 Hubble Space Telescope images at the same time. The popular scenes of the cosmos as captured from low Earth orbit are all combined into this single digital presentation. To make it, Hubble's top 100 images were downloaded and resized to identical pixel dimensions. At each point the 100 pixel values were arranged from lowest to highest, and the middle or median value was chosen for the final image. The combined image results in a visual abstraction - light from across the Universe surrounded by darkness. Hubble's Top 100 images: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/top100/

September 12, 2014

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Driven by the explosion of a massive star, supernova remnant Puppis A is blasting into the surrounding interstellar medium about 7,000 light-years away. At that distance, this remarkable false-color exploration of its complex expansion is about 180 light-years wide. It is based on the most complete X-ray data set so far from the Chandra and XMM/Newton observations, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. In blue hues, the filamentary X-ray glow is from gas heated by the supernova's shock wave, while the infrared emission shown in red and green is from warm dust. The bright pastel tones trace the regions where shocked gas and warmed dust mingle. Light from the initial supernova itself, triggered by the collapse of the massive star's core, would have reached Earth about 3,700 years ago, though the Puppis A supernova remnant remains a strong source in the X-ray sky.

September 11, 2014


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You might not guess it, but sunrise was still hours away when this nightscape was taken, a view along the eastern horizon from a remote location in Chile's Atacama desert. Stretching high into the otherwise dark, starry sky the unusually bright conical glow is sunlight though, scattered by dust along the solar system's ecliptic plane . Known as Zodiacal light, the apparition is also nicknamed the "false dawn". Near center, bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster seem immersed in the Zodiacal light, with Orion toward the right edge of the frame. Reddish emission from NGC 1499, the California Nebula, can also be seen through the tinge of airglow along the horizon.

September 10, 2014

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It is not only one of the largest structures known -- it is our home. The just-identified Laniakea Supercluster of galaxies contains thousands of galaxies that includes our Milky Way Galaxy, the Local Group of galaxies, and the entire nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The colossal supercluster is shown in the above computer-generated visualization, where green areas are rich with white-dot galaxies and white lines indicate motion towards the supercluster center. An outline of Laniakea is given in orange, while the blue dot shows our location. Outside the orange line, galaxies flow into other galatic concentrations. The Laniakea Supercluster spans about 500 million light years and contains about 100,000 times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. The discoverers of Laniakea gave it a name that means "immense heaven" in Hawaiian.

September 9, 2014

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This sky looked delicious. Double auroral ovals were captured above the town lights of Östersund, Sweden, last week. Pictured above, the green ovals occurred lower to the ground than violet aurora rays above, making the whole display look a bit like a cupcake. To top it off, far in the distance, the central band or our Milky Way Galaxy slants down from the upper left. The auroras were caused by our Sun ejecting plasma clouds into the Solar System just a few days before, ionized particles that subsequently impacted the magnetosphere of the Earth. Aurora displays may continue this week as an active sunspot group rotated into view just a few days ago.

September 8, 2014

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What is so super about tomorrow's supermoon? Tomorrow, a full moon will occur that appears slightly larger and brighter than usual. The reason is that the Moon's fully illuminated phase occurs within a short time from perigee - when the Moon is its closest to the Earth in its elliptical orbit. Although the precise conditions that define a supermoon vary, given one definition, tomorrow's will be the third supermoon of the year -- and the third consecutive month that a supermoon occurs. One reason supermoons are popular is because they are so easy to see -- just go outside and sunset and watch an impressive full moon rise! Since perigee actually occurs today, tonight's sunset moonrise should also be impressive. Pictured above, a supermoon from 2012 is compared to a micromoon -- when a full Moon occurs near the furthest part of the Moon's orbit -- so that it appears smaller and dimmer than usual. Given many definitions, at least one supermoon occurs each year, with the next being 2015 August 30.

September 7, 2014
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Have you ever watched the Moon rise? The slow rise of a nearly full moon over a clear horizon can be an impressive sight. One impressive moonrise was imaged in early 2013 over Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand. With detailed planning, an industrious astrophotographer placed a camera about two kilometers away and pointed it across the lookout to where the Moon would surely soon be making its nightly debut. The above single shot sequence is unedited and shown in real time -- it is not a time lapse. People on Mount Victoria Lookout can be seen in silhouette themselves admiring the dawn of Earth's largest satellite. Seeing a moonrise yourself is not difficult: it happens every day, although only half the time at night. Each day the Moon rises about fifty minutes later than the previous day, with a full moon always rising at sunset. A good time to see a moonrise will occur at sunset on Tuesday as the Moon's relative closeness to Earth during a full phase -- called a supermoon -- will cause it to appear slightly larger and brighter than usual.

September 6, 2014

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Like a rainbow at night, a beautiful moonbow shines above the western horizon in this deserted beach scene from Molokai Island, Hawaii, USA, planet Earth. Captured last June 17 in early morning hours, the lights along the horizon are from Honolulu and cities on the island of Oahu some 30 miles away. So where was the Moon? A rainbow is produced by sunlight internally reflected in rain drops from the direction opposite the Sun back toward the observer. As the light passes from air to water and back to air again, longer wavelengths are refracted (bent) less than shorter ones resulting in the separation of colors. And so the moonbow is produced as raindrops reflect moonlight from the direction opposite the Moon. That puts the Moon directly behind the photographer, still low and rising over the eastern horizon, a few days past its full phase.

September 5, 2014

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This rich starscape spans nearly 7 degrees on the sky, toward the Sagittarius spiral arm and the center of our Milky Way galaxy. A telescopic mosaic, it features well-known bright nebulae and star clusters cataloged by 18th century cosmic tourist Charles Messier. Still popular stops for skygazers M16, the Eagle (far right), and M17, the Swan (near center) nebulae are the brightest star-forming emission regions. With wingspans of 100 light-years or so, they shine with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen atoms from over 5,000 light-years away. Colorful open star cluster M25 near the upper left edge of the scene is closer, a mere 2,000 light-years distant and about 20 light-years across. M24, also known as the Sagittarius Star Cloud, crowds in just left of center along the bottom of the frame, fainter and more distant Milky Way stars seen through a narrow window in obscuring fields of interstellar dust.

September 4, 2014

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On October 19th, a good place to watch Comet Siding Spring will be from Mars. Then, this inbound visitor (C/2013 A1) to the inner solar system, discovered in January 2013 by Robert McNaught at Australia's Siding Spring Observatory, will pass within 132,000 kilometers of the Red Planet. That's a near miss, equivalent to just over 1/3 the Earth-Moon distance. Great views of the comet for denizens of planet Earth's southern hemisphere are possible now, though. This telescopic snapshot from August 29 captured the comet's whitish coma and arcing dust tail sweeping through southern skies. The fabulous field of view includes, the Small Magellanic Cloud and globular star clusters 47 Tucanae (right) and NGC 362 (upper left). Worried about all those spacecraft in Martian orbit? Streaking dust particles from the comet could pose a danger and controllers plan to position Mars orbiters on the opposite side of the planet during the comet's close flyby.

September 3, 2014

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To some, the outline of the open cluster of stars M6 resembles a butterfly. M6, also known as NGC 6405, spans about 20 light-years and lies about 2,000 light years distant. M6, pictured above, can best be seen in a dark sky with binoculars towards the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius), coving about as much of the sky as the full moon. Like other open clusters, M6 is composed predominantly of young blue stars, although the brightest star is nearly orange. M6 is estimated to be about 100 million years old. Determining the distance to clusters like M6 helps astronomers calibrate the distance scale of the universe.

September 2, 2014

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How different are space and time at very small scales? To explore the unfamiliar domain of the miniscule Planck scale -- where normally unnoticeable quantum effects might become dominant -- a newly developed instrument called the Fermilab Holometer has begun operating at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) near Chicago, Illinois, USA. The instrument seeks to determine if slight but simultaneous jiggles of a mirror in two directions expose a fundamental type of holographic noise that always exceeds a minimum amount. Pictured above is one of the end mirrors of a Holometer prototype. Although the discovery of holographic noise would surely be groundbreaking, the dependence of such noise on a specific laboratory length scale would surprise some spacetime enthusiasts. One reason for this is the Lorentz Invariance postulate of Einstein's special relativity, which states that all length scales should appear contracted to a relatively moving observer -- even the diminutive Planck length. Still, the experiment is unique and many are curious what the results will show.

September 1, 2014

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Why would the sky look like a giant target? Airglow. Following a giant thunderstorm over Bangladesh in late April, giant circular ripples of glowing air appeared over Tibet, China, as pictured above. The unusual pattern is created by atmospheric gravity waves, waves of alternating air pressure that can grow with height as the air thins, in this case about 90 kilometers up. Unlike auroras powered by collisions with energetic charged particles and seen at high latitudes, airglow is due to chemiluminescence, the production of light in a chemical reaction. More typically seen near the horizon, airglow keeps the night sky from ever being completely dark.

August 31, 2014

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How was this picture taken? Usually, pictures of the shuttle, taken from space, are snapped from the space station. Commonly, pictures of the space station are snapped from the shuttle. How, then, can there be a picture of both the shuttle and the station together, taken from space? The answer is that during the Space Shuttle Endeavour's last trip to the International Space Station in 2011 May, a supply ship departed the station with astronauts that captured a series of rare views. The supply ship was the Russian Soyuz TMA-20 which landed in Kazakhstan later that day. The above spectacular image well captures the relative sizes of the station and docked shuttle. Far below, clouds of Earth are seen above a blue sea.

August 30, 2014

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Look up in New Zealand's Hollow Hill Cave and you might think you see a familiar starry sky. And that's exactly what Arachnocampa luminosa are counting on. Captured in this long exposure, the New Zealand glowworms scattered across the cave ceiling give it the inviting and open appearance of a clear, dark night sky filled with stars. Unsuspecting insects fooled into flying too far upwards get trapped in sticky snares the glowworms create and hang down to catch food. Of course professional astronomers wouldn't be so easily fooled, although that does look a lot like the Coalsack Nebula and Southern Cross at the upper left ... Comparison Photo: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap070517.html

August 29, 2014


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Open star cluster NGC 7380 is still embedded in its natal cloud of interstellar gas and dust popularly known as the Wizard Nebula. Seen with foreground and background stars along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy it lies some 8,000 light-years distant, toward the constellation Cepheus. A full moon would easily fit inside this telescopic view of the 4 million year young cluster and associated nebula, normally much too faint to be seen by eye. Made with telescope and camera firmly planted on Earth, the image reveals multi light-year sized shapes and structures within the Wizard in a color palette made popular in Hubble Space Telescope images. Recorded with narrowband filters, the visible wavelength light from the nebula's hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur atoms is transformed into green, blue, and red colors in the final digital composite. But there is still a trick up the Wizard's sleeve. Sliding your cursor over the image (or following this link) will make the stars disappear, leaving only the cosmic gas and dust of the Wizard Nebula.

August 28, 2014

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The beautiful Trifid Nebula, also known as Messier 20, is easy to find with a small telescope in the nebula rich constellation Sagittarius. About 5,000 light-years away, the colorful study in cosmic contrasts shares this well-composed, nearly 1 degree wide field with open star cluster Messier 21 (top right). Trisected by dust lanes the Trifid itself is about 40 light-years across and a mere 300,000 years old. That makes it one of the youngest star forming regions in our sky, with newborn and embryonic stars embedded in its natal dust and gas clouds. Estimates of the distance to open star cluster M21 are similar to M20's, but though they share this gorgeous telescopic skyscape there is no apparent connection between the two. In fact, M21's stars are much older, about 8 million years old.

August 27, 2014

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The Milky Way was not created by an evaporating lake. The colorful pool of water, about 10 meters across, is known as Silex Spring and is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. Illuminated artificially, the colors are caused by layers of bacteria that grow in the hot spring. Steam rises off the spring, heated by a magma chamber deep underneath known as the Yellowstone hotspot. Unrelated and far in the distance, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy arches high overhead, a band lit by billions of stars. The above picture is a 16-image panorama taken late last month. If the Yellowstone hotspot causes another supervolcanic eruption as it did 640,000 years ago, a large part of North America would be affected.

August 26, 2014

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What would it look like to fly past Triton, the largest moon of planet Neptune? Only one spacecraft has ever done this -- and now, for the first time, images of this dramatic encounter have been gathered into a movie. On 1989 August 25, the Voyager 2 spacecraft shot through the Neptune system with cameras blazing. Triton is slightly smaller than Earth's Moon but has ice volcanoes and a surface rich in frozen nitrogen. The first sequence in the video shows Voyager's approach to Triton, which, despite its unusual green tint, appears in approximately true color. The mysterious terrain seen under the spacecraft soon changed from light to dark, with the terminator of night soon crossing underneath. After closest approach, Voyager pivoted to see the departing moon, now visible as a diminishing crescent. Next July, assuming all goes well, the robotic New Horizons spacecraft will make a similar flight past Pluto, an orb of similar size to Triton.

August 25, 2014

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Why does this galaxy have such a long tail? In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Draco. Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 - from right to left in this view - and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy's stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail's star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.

August 24, 2014

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What's that dot on the Sun? If you look closely, it is almost perfectly round. The dot is the result of an unusual type of solar eclipse that occurred in 2006. Usually it is the Earth's Moon that eclipses the Sun. This time, the planet Mercury took a turn. Like the approach to New Moon before a solar eclipse, the phase of Mercury became a continually thinner crescent as the planet progressed toward an alignment with the Sun. Eventually the phase of Mercury dropped to zero and the dark spot of Mercury crossed our parent star. The situation could technically be labeled a Mercurian annular eclipse with an extraordinarily large ring of fire. From above the cratered planes of the night side of Mercury, the Earth appeared in its fullest phase. Hours later, as Mercury continued in its orbit, a slight crescent phase appeared again. The next Mercurian solar eclipse will occur in 2016.

August 23, 2014

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The city of Veszprem, Hungary was only briefly haunted by this mysterious spectre. On the morning of August 11, its monstrous form hovered in the mist above municipal buildings near the town center. A clue to its true identity is offered by the photographer, though, who reports he took the picture from the top of a twenty story building with the rising Sun directly at his back. That special geometry suggests this is an example of an atmospheric phenomenon called the Glory or sometimes "the Spectre of the Brocken". Also seen from mountain tops and airplanes when looking opposite the Sun, the dramatic apparition is the observer's shadow on clouds or fog, the small droplets of water scattering light back towards the Sun through complex internal reflections. Careful night sky watchers can also encounter this spectre's analog in astronomy, a brightening of zodiacal light opposite the Sun known as the gegenschein.

August 22, 2014

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On July 13th, a good place to watch Comet Jacques was from Venus. Then, the recently discovered visitor (C/2014 E2) to the inner solar system passed within about 14.5 million kilometers of our sister planet. Still, the outbound comet will pass only 84 million kilometers from our fair planet on August 28 and is already a fine target for telescopes and binoculars. Two days ago, Jacques' greenish coma and straight and narrow ion tail were captured in this telescopic snapshot, a single 2 minute long exposure with a modified digital camera. The comet is flanked by IC 1805 and IC 1848, also known as Cassiopeia's Heart and Soul Nebulae. If you're stuck on planet Earth this weekend you can hunt for Comet Jacques in evening skies, or spot a Venus, Jupiter, crescent Moon triangle before the dawn.

August 21, 2014

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On Monday morning, Venus and Jupiter gathered close in dawn skies, for some separated by about half the width of a full moon. It was their closest conjunction since 2000, captured here above the eastern horizon before sunrise. The serene and colorful view is from Istia beach near the city of Capoliveri on the island of Elba. Distant lights and rolling hills are along Italy's Tuscan coast. Of course, the celestial pair soon wandered apart. Brighter Venus headed lower, toward the eastern horizon and the glare of the Sun, while Jupiter continues to rise a little higher now in the sky near dawn. The two brightest planets meet again next June 30th, in the evening twilight above the western horizon.

August 20, 2014

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The center of the Lagoon Nebula is a whirlwind of spectacular star formation. Visible near the image center, at least two long funnel-shaped clouds, each roughly half a light-year long, have been formed by extreme stellar winds and intense energetic starlight. The tremendously bright nearby star, Hershel 36, lights the area. Walls of dust hide and redden other hot young stars. As energy from these stars pours into the cool dust and gas, large temperature differences in adjoining regions can be created generating shearing winds which may cause the funnels. This picture, spanning about 5 light years, combines images taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The Lagoon Nebula, also known as M8, lies about 5,000 light years distant toward the constellation of Sagittarius.

August 19, 2014

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Where should Philae land? As ESA's robotic spacecraft Rosetta circles toward Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a decision must eventually be made as to where its mechanical lander should attempt to touch-down. Reaching the comet earlier this month, Rosetta is sending back detailed pictures of the comet's unusual nucleus from which a smooth landing site will be selected. Pictured above, near the image top, the head of the comet's nucleus shows rugged grooves, while near the image bottom, the body shows a patch-work of areas sometimes separated by jagged hills. Some of the patch-work areas apparent on both the head and body seem to have fields of relatively smooth terrain. In the connecting area called the neck, however, visible across the image center, a relatively large swath of light-colored smooth terrain appears, punctuated occasionally by large boulders. Rosetta is scheduled to release Philae toward the dark mountain-sized comet nucleus with an anticipated landing date in November.

August 18, 2014

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Both land and sky were restless. The unsettled land included erupting Mount Semeru in the distance, the caldera of steaming Mount Bromo on the left, flowing fog, and the lights of moving cars along roads that thread between hills and volcanoes in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in East Java, Indonesia. The stirring sky included stars circling the South Celestial Pole and a meteor streaking across the image right. The above 270-image composite was taken from King Kong Hill in mid-June over two hours, with a rising Moon lighting the landscape.

August 17, 2014

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It was visible around the world. The sunset conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2012 was visible almost no matter where you lived on Earth. Anyone on the planet with a clear western horizon at sunset could see them. Pictured above in 2012, a creative photographer traveled away from the town lights of Szubin, Poland to image a near closest approach of the two planets. The bright planets were separated only by three degrees and his daughter struck a humorous pose. A faint red sunset still glowed in the background. Early tomorrow (Monday) morning, the two planets will pass even closer -- only 0.2 degrees apart as visible from some locations -- just before sunrise.

August 16, 2014

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Last January, telescopes in observatories around planet Earth were eagerly used to watch the rise of SN 2014J, a bright supernova in nearby galaxy M82. Still, the most important observations may have been from orbit where the Chandra X-ray Observatory saw nothing. Identified as a Type Ia supernova, the explosion of SN2014J was thought to be triggered by the buildup of mass on a white dwarf star steadily accreting material from a companion star. That model predicts X-rays would be generated when the supernova blastwave struck the material left surrounding the white dwarf. But no X-rays were seen from the supernova. The mostly blank close-ups centered on the supernova's position are shown in the before and after inset panels of Chandra's false color X-ray image of the M82 galaxy. The stunning lack of X-rays from SN 2014J will require astronomers to explore other models to explain what triggers these cosmic explosions.

August 15, 2014

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Bright moonlight from a Full Moon near perigee illuminates the night and casts shadows in this skyscape from central Iran. Taken on August 12, near the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower the exposure also captures a bright and colorful perseid streak above the shady tree in the foreground. This year the super moonlight interfered with meteor watching into the early morning hours, overwhelming the trails from many fainter perseids in the shower. Brighter perseids like this one were still visible though, their trails pointing back to the heroic constellation Perseus outlined at the right. Swept up as planet Earth orbits through dust left behind from periodic comet Swift-Tuttle, the cosmic grains that produce perseid meteors enter the atmosphere at nearly 60 kilometers per second, heated to incandesence and vaporized at altitudes of about 100 kilometers. Next year, Perseid meteors will flash through dark skies under a New Moon.

August 14, 2014

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Big, bright, and beautiful, a Full Moon near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around our fair planet, rose on August 10. This remarkable picture records the scene with a dreamlike quality from the east coast of the United States. The picture is actually a composite of 10 digital frames made with exposures from 1/500th second to 1 second long, preserving contrast and detail over a much wider than normal range of brightness. At a perigee distance of a mere 356,896 kilometers, August's Full Moon was the closest, and so the largest and most super, of the three Full Moons nearest perigee in 2014 now popularly known as supermoons. But if you missed August's super supermoon, the next not-quite-so supermoon will be September 8. Then, near the full lunar phase the Moon's perigee will be a slightly more distant 358,387 kilometers. That's only about 0.4 percent less super (farther and smaller) than the super supermoon.

August 13, 2014

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It is a familiar sight to sky enthusiasts with even a small telescope. There is much more to the Ring Nebula (M57), however, than can be seen through a small telescope. The easily visible central ring is about one light-year across, but this remarkably deep exposure - a collaborative effort combining data from three different large telescopes - explores the looping filaments of glowing gas extending much farther from the nebula's central star. This remarkable composite image includes narrowband hydrogen image, visible light emission, and infrared light emission. Of course, in this well-studied example of a planetary nebula, the glowing material does not come from planets. Instead, the gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. The Ring Nebula is about 2,000 light-years away toward the musical constellation Lyra.

August 12, 2014

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What's happened in Hebes Chasma on Mars? Hebes Chasma is a depression just north of the enormous Valles Marineris canyon. Since the depression is unconnected to other surface features, it is unclear where the internal material went. Inside Hebes Chasma is Hebes Mensa, a 5 kilometer high mesa that appears to have undergone an unusual partial collapse -- a collapse that might be providing clues. The above image, taken by the robotic Mars Express spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, shows great details of the chasm and the unusual horseshoe shaped indentation in the central mesa. Material from the mesa appears to have flowed onto the floor of the chasm, while a possible dark layer appears to have pooled like ink on a downslope landing. A recent hypothesis holds that salty rock composes some lower layers in Hebes Chasma, with the salt dissolving in melted ice flows that drained through holes into an underground aquifer.

August 11, 2014

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What does it look like to approach a comet? Early this month humanity received a new rendition as the robotic Rosetta spacecraft went right up to -- and began orbiting -- the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This approach turned out to be particularly fascinating because the comet nucleus first revealed itself to have an unexpected double structure, and later showed off an unusual and craggily surface. The above 101-frame time-lapse video details the approach of the spacecraft from August 1 through August 6. The icy comet's core is the size of a mountain and rotates every 12.7 hours. Rosetta's images and data may shed light on the origin of comets and the early history of our Solar System. Later this year, Rosetta is scheduled to release the Philae lander, which will attempt to land on Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko's periphery and harpoon itself to the surface.

August 10, 2014

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Denizens of planet Earth typically watch meteor showers by looking up. But this remarkable view, captured on August 13, 2011 by astronaut Ron Garan, caught a Perseid meteor by looking down. From Garan's perspective onboard the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of about 380 kilometers, the Perseid meteors streak below, swept up dust left from comet Swift-Tuttle heated to incandescence. The glowing comet dust grains are traveling at about 60 kilometers per second through the denser atmosphere around 100 kilometers above Earth's surface. In this case, the foreshortened meteor flash is right of frame center, below the curving limb of the Earth and a layer of greenish airglow, just below bright star Arcturus. Want to look up at a meteor shower? You're in luck, as the 2014 Perseids meteor shower peaks this week. Unfortunately, the fainter meteors in this year's shower will be hard to see in a relatively bright sky lit by the glow of a nearly full Moon.

August 9, 2014

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What shines in the world at night? Just visible to the eye, a rare electric blue glow spread along the shores of Victoria Lake on January 16, 2013. Against reflections of a light near the horizon, this digitally stacked long exposure recorded the bioluminescence of noctiluca scintillans, plankton stimulated by the lapping waves. Above, the night skies of the Gippsland Lakes region, Victoria, Australia shine with a fainter greenish airglow. Oxygen atoms in the upper atmosphere, initially excited by ultraviolet sunlight, produce the more widely seen fading atmospheric chemiluminescence. Washed out by the Earth's rotation, the faint band of the southern summer Milky Way stretches from the horizon as star trails circle the South Celestial Pole.

August 8, 2014

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Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. Orientation and composition give a strong sense of depth to this colorful galaxy portrait that covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. This giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, spiral arms filled with young blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions sweep past a smaller satellite galaxy at the lower left, reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

August 7, 2014

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On August 3rd, the Rosetta spacecraft's narrow angle camera captured this stunning image of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After 10 years and 6.5 billion kilometers of travel along gravity assist trajectories looping through interplanetary space, Rosetta had approached to within 285 kilometers of its target. The curious double-lobed shape of the nucleus is revealed in amazing detail at an image resolution of 5.3 meters per pixel. About 4 kilometers across, the comet nucleus is presently just over 400 million kilometers from Earth, between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Now the first spacecraft to achieve a delicate orbit around a comet, Rosetta will swing to within 50 kilometers and closer in the coming weeks, identifiying candidate sites for landing its probe Philae later this year.

August 6, 2014

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Acquiring its first sunlit views of far northern Saturn in late 2012, the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera recorded this stunning, false-color image of the ringed planet's north pole. The composite of near-infrared image data results in red hues for low clouds and green for high ones, giving the Saturnian cloudscape a vivid appearance. Enormous by terrestrial standards, Saturn's north polar hurricane-like storm is deep, red, and about 2,000 kilometers wide. Clouds at its outer edge travel at over 500 kilometers per hour. Other atmospheric vortices also swirl inside the large, yellowish green, six-sided jet stream known as the hexagon. Beyond the cloud tops at the upper right, arcs of the planet's eye-catching rings appear bright blue.

August 5, 2014

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No place on Earth was safe. Four billion years ago, during the Hadean eon, our Solar System was a dangerous shooting gallery of large and dangerous rocks and ice chunks. Recent examination of lunar and Earth bombardment data indicate that the entire surface of the Earth underwent piecemeal upheavals, hiding our globe's ancient geologic history, and creating a battered world with no remaining familiar land masses. The rain of devastation made it difficult for any life to survive, although bacteria that could endure high temperatures had the best chance. Oceans thought to have formed during this epoch would boil away after particularly heavy impacts, only to reform again. The above artist's illustration depicts how Earth might have looked during this epoch, with circular impact features dotting the daylight side, and hot lava flows visible in the night. One billion years later, in a calmer Solar System, Earth's first supercontinent formed.

August 4, 2014

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Why does Enceladus have ice plumes? The discovery of jets spewing water vapor and ice was detected by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft in 2005. The origin of the water feeding the jets, however, remained a topic of research. A leading hypothesis held that the source might originate from a deep underground sea, but another hypothesis indicated that it might just be ice melted off walls of deep rifts by the moon's tidal flexing and heating. Pictured above, the textured surface of Enceladus is visible in the foreground, while rows of plumes rise from ice fractures in the distance. These jets are made more visible by the Sun angle and the encroaching shadow of night. Recent study of over a hundred images like this -- of geysers crossing Enceladus' South Pole, together with regional heat maps, indicate that these plumes likely originate from a hidden sea, incresaing the chance that this frosty globe might be harboring life.

August 3, 2014

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What's that approaching? Astronauts on board the International Space Station first saw it in early 2010 far in the distance. Soon it enlarged to become a dark silhouette. As it came even closer, the silhouette appeared to be a spaceship. Finally, the object revealed itself to be the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and it soon docked as expected with the Earth-orbiting space station. Pictured above, Endeavour was imaged near Earth's horizon as it approached, where several layers of the Earth's atmosphere were visible. Directly behind the shuttle is the mesosphere, which appears blue. The atmospheric layer that appears white is the stratosphere, while the orange layer is Earth's Troposphere. This shuttle mission, began with a dramatic night launch. Tasks completed during this shuttle's visit to the ISS included the delivery of the Tranquility Module which contained a cupola bay window complex that allows even better views of spaceships approaching and leaving the space station.

August 2, 2014

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These clouds of interstellar dust and gas have blossomed 1,300 light-years away in the fertile star fields of the constellation Cepheus. Sometimes called the Iris Nebula, NGC 7023 is not the only nebula in the sky to evoke the imagery of flowers, though. Still, this deep telescopic view shows off the Iris Nebula's range of colors and symmetries in impressive detail. Within the Iris, dusty nebular material surrounds a hot, young star. The dominant color of the brighter reflection nebula is blue, characteristic of dust grains reflecting starlight. Central filaments of the dusty clouds glow with a faint reddish photoluminesence as some dust grains effectively convert the star's invisible ultraviolet radiation to visible red light. Infrared observations indicate that this nebula may contain complex carbon molecules known as PAHs. The pretty blue petals of the Iris Nebula span about six light-years.

August 1, 2014

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An alluring night skyscape, this scene looks west across the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, Planet Earth. The Snake River glides through the foreground, while above the Tetons' rugged mountain peaks the starry sky is laced with exceptionally strong red and green airglow. That night, the luminous atmospheric glow was just faintly visible to the eye, its color and wavey structure captured only by a sensitive digital camera. In fact, this contemporary digital photograph matches the location and perspective of a well-known photograph from 1942 - The Tetons and The Snake River , by Ansel Adams, renown photographer of the American West. Adams' image is one of 115 images stored on the Voyager Golden Record. Humanity's message in a bottle, golden records were onboard both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977 and now headed toward interstellar space.

July 31, 2014

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Transfusing sunlight through a a still dark sky, this exceptional display of noctilucent clouds was captured earlier this month above the island of Gotland, Sweden. From the edge of space, about 80 kilometers above Earth's surface, the icy clouds reflect sunlight even though the Sun itself is below the horizon as seen from the ground. Usually spotted at high latitudes in summer months the night shining clouds made a strong showing this July. Also known as polar mesopheric clouds they are understood to form as water vapor driven into the cold upper atmosphere condenses on the fine dust particles supplied by disintegrating meteors or volcanic ash. NASA's AIM mission provides daily projections of noctilucent clouds as seen from space.

July 30, 2014

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Andromeda is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 was taken with a standard camera through a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including how it acquired its unusual double-peaked center.

July 29, 2014

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To some, it may look like a portal into the distant universe. To others, it may appear as the eye of a giant. Given poetic license, both are correct. Pictured above is a standard fisheye view of the sky -- but with an unusual projection. The view is from a perch in New Zealand called Te Mata Peak, a name that translates from the Maori language as "Sleeping Giant". The wondrous panorama shows the band of our Milky Way Galaxy right down the center of the sky, with the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds visible to the right. The red hue is atmospheric airglow that surprised the photographer as it was better captured by the camera than the eye. The above image was taken two weeks ago as the photographer's sister, on the left, and an acquaintance peered into the sky portal.

July 28, 2014

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The clouds surrounding the star system Rho Ophiuchi compose one of the One of the most identifiable nebulae in the sky, the Horsehead Nebula in Orion, is part of a large, dark, molecular cloud. Also known as Barnard 33, the unusual shape was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late 1800s. The red glow originates from hydrogen gas predominantly behind the nebula, ionized by the nearby bright star Sigma Orionis. The darkness of the Horsehead is caused mostly by thick dust, although the lower part of the Horsehead's neck casts a shadow to the left. Streams of gas leaving the nebula are funneled by a strong magnetic field. Bright spots in the Horsehead Nebula's base are young stars just in the process of forming. Light takes about 1,500 years to reach us from the Horsehead Nebula. The above image is a digital combination of images taken in blue, green, red, and hydrogen-alpha light from the Argentina, and an image taken in infrared light by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

July 27, 2014

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The clouds surrounding the star system Rho Ophiuchi compose one of the closest star forming regions. Rho Ophiuchi itself is a binary star system visible in the light-colored region on the image right. The star system, located only 400 light years away, is distinguished by its colorful surroundings, which include a red emission nebula and numerous light and dark brown dust lanes. Near the upper right of the Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud system is the yellow star Antares, while a distant but coincidently-superposed globular cluster of stars, M4, is visible between Antares and the red emission nebula. Near the image bottom lies IC 4592, the Blue Horsehead nebula. The blue glow that surrounds the Blue Horsehead's eye -- and other stars around the image -- is a reflection nebula composed of fine dust. On the above image left is a geometrically angled reflection nebula cataloged as Sharpless 1. Here, the bright star near the dust vortex creates the light of surrounding reflection nebula. Although most of these features are visible through a small telescope pointed toward the constellations of Ophiuchus, Scorpius, and Sagittarius, the only way to see the intricate details of the dust swirls, as featured above, is to use a long exposure camera.

July 26, 2014

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Shiny NGC 253 is one of the brightest spiral galaxies visible, and also one of the dustiest. Some call it the Silver Dollar Galaxy for its appearance in small telescopes, or just the Sculptor Galaxy for its location within the boundaries of the southern constellation Sculptor. First swept up in 1783 by mathematician and astronomer Caroline Herschel, the dusty island universe lies a mere 10 million light-years away. About 70 thousand light-years across, NGC 253 is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest to our own Local Group of Galaxies. In addition to its spiral dust lanes, tendrils of dust seem to be rising from a galactic disk laced with young star clusters and star forming regions in this sharp color image. The high dust content accompanies frantic star formation, earning NGC 253 the designation of a starburst galaxy. NGC 253 is also known to be a strong source of high-energy x-rays and gamma rays, likely due to massives black hole near the galaxy's center.

July 25, 2014

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The Crab Pulsar, a city-sized, magnetized neutron star spinning 30 times a second, lies at the center of this tantalizing wide-field image of the Crab Nebula. A spectacular picture of one of our Milky Way's supernova remnants, it combines optical survey data with X-ray data from the orbiting Chandra Observatory. The composite was created as part of a celebration of Chandra's 15 year long exploration of the high energy cosmos. Like a cosmic dynamo the pulsar powers the X-ray and optical emission from the nebula, accelerating charged particles to extreme energies to produce the jets and rings glowing in X-rays. The innermost ring structure is about a light-year across. With more mass than the Sun and the density of an atomic nucleus, the spinning pulsar is the collapsed core of the massive star that exploded, while the nebula is the expanding remnant of the star's outer layers. The supernova explosion was witnessed in the year 1054.

July 24, 2014

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This alluring all-skyscape was taken 5,100 meters above sea level, from the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. Viewed through the site's rarefied atmosphere at about 50% sea level pressure, the gorgeous Milky Way stretches through the scene. Its cosmic rifts of dust, stars, and nebulae are joined by Venus, a brilliant morning star immersed in a strong band of predawn Zodiacal light. Still not completely dark even at this high altitude, the night sky's greenish cast is due to airglow emission from oxygen atoms. Around the horizon the dish antenna units of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, ALMA, explore the universe at wavelengths over 1,000 times longer than visible light.

July 23, 2014

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Why does this starfield photograph resemble an impressionistic painting? The effect is created not by digital trickery but by large amounts of interstellar dust. Dust, minute globs rich in carbon and similar in size to cigarette smoke, frequently starts in the outer atmospheres of large, cool, young stars. The dust is dispersed as the star dies and grows as things stick to it in the interstellar medium. Dense dust clouds are opaque to visible light and can completely hide background stars. For less dense clouds, the capacity of dust to preferentially reflect blue starlight becomes important, effectively blooming the stars blue light out and marking the surrounding dust. Nebular gas emissions, typically brightest in red light, can combine to form areas seemingly created on an artist's canvas. Photographed above is the central part of the nebula IC 4603 surrounding the bright star SAO 184376 (actually 8th magnitude) which mostly illuminates the blue reflection nebula. IC 4603 can be seen near the very bright star Antares (1st magnitude) toward the constellation of Ophiuchus.

July 22, 2014

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Yes, but have you ever seen aurora from a cave? To capture this fascinating juxtaposition between below and above, astrophotographer Bjargmundsson spent much of a night alone in the kilometer-long Raufarhólshellir lava cave in Iceland during late March. There, he took separate images of three parts of the cave using a strobe for illumination. He also took a deep image of the sky to capture faint aurora, and digitally combined the four images later. The 4600-year old lava tube has several skylights under which stone rubble and snow have accumulated. Oh -- the person standing on each mound -- it's the artist.

July 21, 2014

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Why does this comet's nucleus have two components? The surprising discovery that Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has a double nucleus came late last week as ESA's robotic interplanetary spacecraft Rosetta continued its approach toward the ancient comet's core. Speculative ideas on how the double core was created include, currently, that Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko is actually the result of the merger of two comets, that the comet is a loose pile of rubble pulled apart by tidal forces, that ice evaporation on the comet has been asymmetric, or that the comet has undergone some sort of explosive event. Pictured above, the comet's unusual 5-km sized comet nucleus is seen rotating over the course of a few hours, with each frame taken 20-minutes apart. Better images -- and hopefully more refined theories -- are expected as Rosetta is on track to enter orbit around Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko's nucleus early next month, and by the end of the year, if possible, land a probe on it.

July 20, 2014

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What's happened to our Sun? Nothing very unusual -- it just threw a filament. Toward the middle of 2012, a long standing solar filament suddenly erupted into space producing an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The filament had been held up for days by the Sun's ever changing magnetic field and the timing of the eruption was unexpected. Watched closely by the Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the resulting explosion shot electrons and ions into the Solar System, some of which arrived at Earth three days later and impacted Earth's magnetosphere, causing visible aurorae. Loops of plasma surrounding an active region can be seen above the erupting filament in the ultraviolet image. Over the past week the number of sunspots visible on the Sun unexpectedly dropped to zero, causing speculation that the Sun has now passed a very unusual solar maximum, the time in the Sun's 11-year cycle when it is most active.

July 19, 2014

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In this beach and skyscape from Alicante, Spain, July's Full Moon shines in the dark blue twilight, its reflection coloring the Mediterranean waters. Near the horizon, the moonlight is reddened by its long path through the atmosphere, but this Full Moon was also near perigee, the closest point to Earth along the Moon's elliptical orbit. That made it a Supermoon, a mighty 14% larger and 30% brighter than a Full Moon at apogee, the Moon's farthest orbital swing. Of course, most warm summer nights are a good time to enjoy a family meal oceanside, but what fish do you catch on the night of a Supermoon? They must be Moon breams ...

July 18, 2014

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A mysterious, squid-like apparition, this nebula is very faint, but also very large in planet Earth's sky. In the mosaic image, composed with narrowband data from the 2.5 meter Isaac Newton Telescope, it spans some 2.5 full moons toward the constellation Cepheus. Recently discovered by French astro-imager Nicolas Outters, the remarkable nebula's bipolar shape and emission are consistent with it being a planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star, but its actual distance and origin are unknown. A new investigation suggests Ou4 really lies within the emission region SH2-129 some 2,300 light-years away. Consistent with that scenario, the cosmic squid would represent a spectacular outflow of material driven by a triple system of hot, massive stars, cataloged as HR8119, seen near the center of the nebula. If so, this truly giant squid nebula would physically be nearly 50 light-years across.

July 17, 2014

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If you're looking for something to print with that new 3D printer, try out a copy of the Homunculus Nebula. The dusty, bipolar cosmic cloud is around 1 light-year across but is slightly scaled down for printing to about 1/4 light-nanosecond or 80 millimeters. The full scale Homunculus surrounds Eta Carinae, famously unstable massive stars in a binary system embedded in the extensive Carina Nebula about 7,500 light-years distant. Between 1838 and 1845, Eta Carinae underwent the Great Eruption becoming the second brightest star in planet Earth's night sky and ejecting the Homunculus Nebula. The new 3D model of the still expanding Homunculus was created by exploring the nebula with the European Southern Observatory's VLT/X-Shooter. That instrument is capable of mapping the velocity of molecular hydrogen gas through the nebula's dust at a fine resolution. It reveals trenches, divots and protrusions, even in the dust obscured regions that face away from Earth. Eta Carinae itself still undergoes violent outbursts, a candidate to explode in a spectacular supernova in the next few million years.

July 16, 2014

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What happened to half of Saturn? Nothing other than Earth's Moon getting in the way. As pictured above on the far right, Saturn is partly eclipsed by a dark edge of a Moon itself only partly illuminated by the Sun. This year the orbits of the Moon and Saturn have led to an unusually high number of alignments of the ringed giant behind Earth's largest satellite. Technically termed an occultation, the above image captured one such photogenic juxtaposition from Buenos Aires, Argentina that occurred early last week. Visible to the unaided eye but best viewed with binoculars, there are still four more eclipses of Saturn by our Moon left in 2014. The next one will be on August 4 and visible from Australia, while the one after will occur on August 31 and be visible from western Africa at night but simultaneously from much of eastern North America during the day.

July 15, 2014

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Why is there a blue bridge of stars across the center of this galaxy cluster? First and foremost the cluster, designated SDSS J1531+3414, contains many large yellow elliptical galaxies. The cluster's center, as pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope, is surrounded by many unusual, thin, and curving blue filaments that are actually galaxies far in the distance whose images have become magnified and elongated by the gravitational lens effect of the massive cluster. More unusual, however, is a squiggly blue filament near the two large elliptical galaxies at the cluster center. Close inspection of the filament indicates that it is most likely a bridge created by tidal effects between the two merging central elliptical galaxies rather than a background galaxy with an image distorted by gravitational lensing. The knots in the bridge are condensation regions that glow blue from the light of massive young stars. The central cluster region will likely undergo continued study as its uniqueness makes it an interesting laboratory of star formation.

July 14, 2014

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Gusting solar winds and blasts of charged particles from the Sun resulted in several rewarding nights last December for those anticipating auroras. The above image captured dramatic auroras stretching across a sky near the town of Yellowknife in northern Canada. The auroras were so bright that they not only inspired awe, but were easily visible on an image exposure of only 1.3 seconds. A video taken concurrently shows the dancing sky lights evolving in real time as tourists, many there just to see auroras, respond with cheers. The conical dwellings on the image right are teepees, while far in the background, near the image center, is the constellation of Orion. Video: http://vimeo.com/85070976

July 13, 2014

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NGC 2818 is a beautiful planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star. It could well offer a glimpse of the future that awaits our own Sun after spending another 5 billion years or so steadily using up hydrogen at its core, and then finally helium, as fuel for nuclear fusion. Curiously, NGC 2818 seems to lie within an open star cluster, NGC 2818A, that is some 10,000 light-years distant toward the southern constellation Pyxis (the Compass). At the distance of the star cluster, the nebula would be about 4 light-years across. But accurate velocity measurements show that the nebula's own velocity is very different from the cluster's member stars. The result is strong evidence that NGC 2818 is only by chance found along the line of sight to the star cluster and so may not share the cluster's distance or age. The Hubble image is a composite of exposures through narrow-band filters, presenting emission from nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in the nebula as red, green, and blue hues.

July 12, 2014

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A new star, likely the brightest supernova in recorded human history, lit up planet Earth's sky in the year 1006 AD. The expanding debris cloud from the stellar explosion, found in the southerly constellation of Lupus, still puts on a cosmic light show across the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, this composite view includes X-ray data in blue from the Chandra Observatory, optical data in yellowish hues, and radio image data in red. Now known as the SN 1006 supernova remnant, the debris cloud appears to be about 60 light-years across and is understood to represent the remains of a white dwarf star. Part of a binary star system, the compact white dwarf gradually captured material from its companion star. The buildup in mass finally triggered a thermonuclear explosion that destroyed the dwarf star. Because the distance to the supernova remnant is about 7,000 light-years, that explosion actually happened 7,000 years before the light reached Earth in 1006. Shockwaves in the remnant accelerate particles to extreme energies and are thought to be a source of the mysterious cosmic rays.

July 11, 2014

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In this composite cityscape, dawn's first colors backdrop the lights along Brisbane's skyline at the southeastern corner of Queensland, Australia, planet Earth. Using a solar filter, additional exposures made every 3.5 minutes follow the winter sunrise on July 8 as planet-sized sunspots cross the visible solar disk. The sunspots mark solar active regions with convoluted magnetic fields. Even as the maximum in the solar activity cycle begins to fade, the active regions produce intense solar flares and eruptions launching coronal mass ejections (CMEs), enormous clouds of energetic particles, into our fair solar system.

July 10, 2014

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This scene from the early morning hours of July 3 looks out across the River Thames from the Westminster Bridge. Part of a luminous timelapse video (vimeo), the frame captures a sight familiar in London, the nighttime glow of the London Eye. But a not-so-familiar sight is shining in the still dark sky above, widespread noctilucent clouds. From the edge of space, about 80 kilometers above Earth's surface, the icy clouds can still reflect sunlight even though the Sun itself is below the horizon as seen from the ground. Usually spotted at high latitudes in summer months the diaphanous apparitions are also known as polar mesospheric clouds. The seasonal clouds are understood to form as water vapor driven into the cold upper atmosphere condenses on the fine dust particles supplied by disintegrating meteors or volcanic ash. NASA's AIM mission provides daily projections of the noctilucent clouds as seen from space.

July 9, 2014

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This planet is only 16 light years away -- could it harbor life? Recently discovered exoplanet Gliese 832c has been found in a close orbit around a star that is less bright than our Sun. An interesting coincidence, however, is that Gliese 832c receives just about the same average flux from its parent star as does the Earth. Since the planet was discovered only by a slight wobble in its parent star's motion, the above illustration is just an artistic guess of the planet's appearance -- much remains unknown about Gliese 832c's true mass, size, and atmosphere. If Gliese 832c has an atmosphere like Earth, it may be a super-Earth undergoing strong seasons but capable of supporting life. Alternatively, if Gliese 832c has a thick atmosphere like Venus, it may be a super-Venus and so unlikely to support life as we know it. The close 16-light year distance makes the Gliese 832 planetary system currently the nearest to Earth that could potentially support life. The proximity of the Gliese 832 system therefore lends itself to more detailed future examination and, in the most spectacularly optimistic scenario, actual communication -- were intelligent life found there.

July 8, 2014

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Why would a cloud appear to be different colors? A relatively rare phenomenon known as iridescent clouds can show unusual colors vividly or a whole spectrum of colors simultaneously. These clouds are formed of small water droplets of nearly uniform size. When the Sun is in the right position and mostly hidden by thick clouds, these thinner clouds significantly diffract sunlight in a nearly coherent manner, with different colors being deflected by different amounts. Therefore, different colors will come to the observer from slightly different directions. Many clouds start with uniform regions that could show iridescence but quickly become too thick, too mixed, or too far from the Sun to exhibit striking colors. The above iridescent cloud was photographed in 2009 from the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal, behind the 6,600-meter peak named Thamserku.

July 7, 2014

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Most galaxies contain one supermassive black hole -- why does this galaxy have three? The likely reason is that galaxy J1502+1115 is the product of the recent coalescence of three smaller galaxies. The two closest black holes are shown above resolved in radio waves by large coordinated array of antennas spread out over Europe, Asia, and Africa. These two supermassive black holes imaged are separated by about 500 light years and each has a likely mass about 100 million times the mass of our Sun. Currently, J1502+1115, at a redshift of 0.39, is one of only a few triple black hole system known and is being studied to learn more about galaxy and supermassive black hole interaction rates during the middle ages of our universe. Gravitational radiation emitted by such massive black hole systems may be detectable by future observatories.

July 6, 2014

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This coming Saturday, if it is clear, well placed New Yorkers can go outside at sunset and watch their city act like a modern version of Stonehenge. Manhattan's streets will flood dramatically with sunlight just as the Sun sets precisely at each street's western end. Usually, the tall buildings that line the gridded streets of New York City's tallest borough will hide the setting Sun. This effect makes Manhattan a type of modern Stonehenge, although only aligned to about 30 degrees east of north. Were Manhattan's road grid perfectly aligned to east and west, today's effect would occur on the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, March 21 and September 21, the only two days that the Sun rises and sets due east and west. Pictured above in this horizontally stretched image, the Sun sets down 34th Street as viewed from Park Avenue. If Saturday's sunset is hidden by clouds do not despair -- the same thing happens twice each year: in late May and mid July. On none of these occasions, however, should you ever look directly at the Sun.

July 5, 2014

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The spiral arms of bright, active galaxy M106 sprawl through this remarkable multiwavelength portrait, composed of image data from radio to X-rays, across the electromagnetic spectrum. Also known as NGC 4258, M106 can be found toward the northern constellation Canes Venatici. The well-measured distance to M106 is 23.5 million light-years, making this cosmic scene about 60,000 light-years across. Typical in grand spiral galaxies, dark dust lanes, youthful star clusters, and star forming regions trace spiral arms that converge on a bright nucleus. But this composite highlights two anomalous arms in radio (purple) and X-ray (blue) that seem to arise in the central region of M106, evidence of energetic jets of material blasting into the galaxy's disk. The jets are likely powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole.

July 4, 2014


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In this alluring time exposure, star trails arc across the night sky above foggy Monterey Bay and the lights of Santa Cruz, California in the United States of America. Since the exposure began around 2:56am PDT on July 2 it also records the trail of a Delta II rocket lofting NASA's OCO-2 spacecraft into orbit. Seen from a vantage point 200 miles north of the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch site, the trail represents the first five minutes of the rocket's flight along a trajectory south and west over the Pacific to join the A-Train in polar orbit around planet Earth. The entire trail through main engine cut-off is captured, with a very faint puff at the end marking the nose fairing separation. Under the rocket's path, the two brightest trails are the alpha and beta stars of the constellation Grus, flying high in southern skies. The OCO-2 mission goal is a study of atmospheric carbon dioxide, watching from space as planet Earth breathes.

July 3, 2014

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The prominent ridge of emission featured in this vivid skyscape is known as the Cygnus Wall. Part of a larger emission nebula with a distinctive shape popularly called The North America Nebula, the ridge spans about 10 light-years along an outline that suggests the western coast of Mexico. Constructed from narrowband image data, the cosmic close-up maps emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms to red, green, and blue colors. The result highlights the bright ionization front with fine details of dark, dusty forms in silhouette. Sculpted by energetic radiation from the region's young, hot, massive stars, the dark shapes inhabiting the view are clouds of cool gas and dust with stars likely forming within. The North America Nebula itself, NGC 7000, is about 1,500 light-years away. To find it, look northeast of bright star Deneb in the high flying constellation Cygnus.

July 2, 2014

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Spiral galaxy NGC 4651 is a mere 62 million light-years distant, toward the well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. About the size of our Milky Way, this island universe is seen to have a faint umbrella-shaped structure that seems to extend (left) some 100 thousand light-years beyond the bright galactic disk. The giant cosmic umbrella is now known to be composed of tidal star streams - extensive trails of stars gravitationally stripped from a smaller satellite galaxy. The small galaxy was eventually torn apart in repeated encounters as it swept back and forth on eccentric orbits through NGC 4651. In fact, the picture insert zooms in on the smaller galaxy's remnant core, identified in an extensive exploration of the system, using data from the large Subaru and Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea. Work begun by a remarkable collaboration of amateur and professional astronomers to image faint structures around bright galaxies suggests that even in nearby galaxies, tidal star streams are common markers of such galactic mergers. The result is explained by models of galaxy formation that also apply to our own Milky Way.

July 1, 2014

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Some stars explode in slow motion. Rare, massive Wolf-Rayet stars are so tumultuous and hot that they slowly disintegrate right before our telescopes. Glowing gas globs each typically over 30 times more massive than the Earth are being expelled by violent stellar winds. Wolf-Rayet star WR 124, visible near the above image center spanning six light years across, is thus creating the surrounding nebula known as M1-67. Details of why this star has been slowly blowing itself apart over the past 20,000 years remains a topic of research. WR 124 lies 15,000 light-years away towards the constellation of Sagitta. The fate of any given Wolf-Rayet star likely depends on how massive it is, but many are thought to end their lives with spectacular explosions such as supernovas or gamma-ray bursts.

June 30, 2014

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What's happened to the center of this galaxy? Unusual and dramatic dust lanes run across the center of elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. These dust lanes are so thick they almost completely obscure the galaxy's center in visible light. This is particularly unusual as Cen A's red stars and round shape are characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a galaxy type usually low in dark dust. Cen A, also known as NGC 5128, is also unusual compared to an average elliptical galaxy because it contains a higher proportion of young blue stars and is a very strong source of radio emission. Evidence indicates that Cen A is likely the result of the collision of two normal galaxies. During the collision, many young stars were formed, but details of the creation of Cen A's unusual dust belts are still being researched. Cen A lies only 13 million light years away, making it the closest active galaxy. Cen A, pictured above, spans 60,000 light years and can be seen with binoculars toward the constellation of Centaurus.

June 29, 2014

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To see a vista like this takes patience, hiking, and a camera. Patience was needed in searching out just the right place and waiting for just the right time. A short hike was needed to reach this rugged perch above a secluded cove in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in California, USA. And a camera was needed for the long exposure required to bring out the faint light from stars and nebulae in the background Milky Way galaxy. Moonlight illuminated the hidden beach and inlet behind nearby trees in the above composite image taken last month. Usually obscured McWay Falls is visible just below the image center, while the Pacific Ocean is in view to its right.

June 28, 2014

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Orion's belt runs just along the horizon, seen through Earth's atmosphere and rising in this starry snapshot from low Earth orbit on board the International Space Station. The belt stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka run right to left and Orion's sword, home to the great Orion Nebula, hangs above his belt, an orientation unfamiliar to denizens of the planet's northern hemisphere. That puts bright star Rigel, at the foot of Orion, still higher above Orion's belt. Of course the brightest celestial beacon in the frame is Sirius, alpha star of the constellation Canis Major. The station's Destiny Laboratory module is in the foreground at the top right.

June 27, 2014

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June 24th marked the first full Martian year of the Curiosity Rover's exploration of the surface of the Red Planet. That's 687 Earth days or 669 sols since its landing on August 5, 2012. To celebrate, consider this self-portrait of the car-sized robot posing next to a rocky outcrop dubbed Windjana, its recent drilling and sampling site. The mosaicked selfie was constructed with frames taken this April and May using the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), intended for close-up work and mounted at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The MAHLI frames used exclude sections that show the arm itself and so MAHLI and the robotic arm are not seen. Famous for panoramic views, the rover's Mastcam is visible though, on top of the tall mast staring toward the left and down at the drill hole.

June 26, 2014

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Early morning risers were treated to a beautiful conjunction of Venus and waning Crescent Moon on June 24, captured in this seaside photo near Belmar, New Jersey, USA, planet Earth. The serene celestial pairing is seen above the Atlantic Ocean horizon as the eastern sky grows brighter with dawn's early light. Wispy, scattered clouds appear in silhouette. But the exposure also reveals the night side of the lunar orb in the arms of the sunlit crescent. That shadowed part of the Moon, with hints of the smooth, dark lunar seas or maria, is illuminated by Earthshine, sunlight reflected from planet Earth itself.

June 25, 2014

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These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of island universes a mere 500 million light-years away. Also known as Abell 2151, this cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star-forming spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. The colors in this remarkably deep composite image clearly show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and galaxies with older stellar populations with a yellowish cast. The sharp picture spans about 3/4 degree across the cluster center, corresponding to over 6 million light-years at the cluster's estimated distance. Diffraction spikes around brighter foreground stars in our own Milky Way galaxy are produced by the imaging telescope's mirror support vanes. In the cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. In fact, the Hercules Cluster itself may be seen as the result of ongoing mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and is thought to be similar to young galaxy clusters in the much more distant, early Universe.

June 24, 2014

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What flowers in this field of dark star dust? The Iris Nebula. The striking blue color of the Iris Nebula is created by light from the bright star SAO 19158 reflecting off of a dense patch of normally dark dust. Not only is the star itself mostly blue, but blue light from the star is preferentially reflected by the dust -- the same affect that makes Earth's sky blue. The brown tint of the pervasive dust comes partly from photoluminescence -- dust converting ultraviolet radiation to red light. Cataloged as NGC 7023, the Iris Nebula is studied frequently because of the unusual prevalence there of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), complex molecules that are also released on Earth during the incomplete combustion of wood fires. The bright blue portion of the Iris Nebula spans about six light years. The Iris Nebula, pictured above, lies about 1300 light years distant and can be found with a small telescope toward the constellation of Cepheus.

June 23, 2014

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Are lasers from giant telescopes being used to attack the Galactic center? No. Lasers shot from telescopes are now commonly used to help increase the accuracy of astronomical observations. In some sky locations, Earth atmosphere-induced fluctuations in starlight can indicate how the air mass over a telescope is changing, but many times no bright star exists in the direction where atmospheric information is needed. In these cases, astronomers create an artificial star where they need it -- with a laser. Subsequent observations of the artificial laser guide star can reveal information so detailed about the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere that much of this blurring can be removed by rapidly flexing the mirror. Such adaptive optic techniques allow high-resolution ground-based observations of real stars, planets, and nebulae. Pictured above, four telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA are being used simultaneously to study the center of our Galaxy and so all use a laser to create an artificial star nearby.

June 22, 2014

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Are Saturn's auroras like Earth's? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn's South Pole simultaneously as Cassini closed in on the gas giant in January 2004. Hubble snapped images in ultraviolet light, while Cassini recorded radio emissions and monitored the solar wind. Like on Earth, Saturn's auroras make total or partial rings around magnetic poles. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn's auroras persist for days, as opposed to only minutes on Earth. Although surely created by charged particles entering the atmosphere, Saturn's auroras also appear to be more closely modulated by the solar wind than either Earth's or Jupiter's auroras. The above sequence shows three Hubble images of Saturn each taken two days apart.

June 21, 2014

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The Sun set on Friday the 13th as a full Honey Moon rose, captured in this well-planned time-lapse sequence. Lisbon, Portugal's Christ the King monument is in the foreground, about 6 kilometers distant from camera and telephoto lens. During the days surrounding today's solstice (June 21, 10:51 UT) the Sun follows its highest arc through northern hemisphere skies as it travels along the ecliptic plane. At night the ecliptic plane is low, and the Full Moon's path close to the ecliptic was also low, the rising Moon separating more slowly from the distant horizon. Northern moon watchers were likely to experience the mysterious Moon Illusion, the lunar orb appearing impossibly large while near the horizon. But the photo sequence shows the Moon's apparent size did not not change at all. Its light was initially scattered by the long line-of-sight through the atmosphere though, and a deeper reddened color gave way to a paler gold as the Full Moon rose into the night.

June 20, 2014

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In this night skyscape setting stars trail above the western horizon over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a venue for the 2014 World Cup. Gentle arcs from the bright, colorful stars of Orion are near the center of the frame, while the starfield itself straddles planet Earth's celestial equator during the long exposure. Of course, trails from more local lights seem to create the strident paths through the scene. Air traffic smears an intense glow over an airport at the far right, while helicopters fly above the city and boats cruise near the coast. Striping the waterfront are tantalizing reflections of bright lights along the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Near the horizon, the brightest fixed light is the famous Cristo statue overlooking Rio at night.

June 19, 2014

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The central bulge of our Milky Way Galaxy rises above a sea of clouds in this ethereal scene. An echo of the Milky Way's dark dust lanes, the volcanic peak in foreground silhouette is on France's Réunion Island in the southern Indian Ocean. Taken in February, the photograph was voted the winner of the 2014 International Earth and Sky Photo Contest's Beauty of the Night Sky Category. This and other winning and noteable images from the contest were selected from over a thousand entries from 55 countries around planet Earth. Also featured in the contest compilation video (vimeo), the moving images are a testament to the importance and beauty of our world at night.

June 18, 2014

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Nebulas are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble. Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat's Paw Nebula visible in Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat's Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula or NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years. Pictured above is a deep field image of the Cat's Paw nebula.

June 17, 2014

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What caused this outburst of V838 Mon? For reasons unknown, star V838 Mon suddenly became one of the brightest stars in the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Then, just a few months later, it faded. A stellar flash like this has never been seen before -- supernovas and novas expel a tremendous amount of matter out into space. Although the V838 Mon flash appeared to expel some material into space, what is seen in the above eight-frame movie, interpolated for smoothness, is actually an outwardly moving light echo of the flash. The actual time-span of the above movie is from 2002, when the flash was first recorded, to 2006. In a light echo, light from the flash is reflected by successively more distant ellipsoids in the complex array of ambient interstellar dust that already surrounded the star. Currently, the leading model for V838's outburst was the orbital decay and subsequent merging of two relatively normal stars. V838 Mon lies about 20,000 light years away toward the constellation of Monoceros, while the largest light echo above spans about six light years in diameter.


June 16, 2014

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NASA's APOD turns 19 today. APOD's thank yous: The first APOD appeared 19 years ago today. To help celebrate, APOD brings you today an all-sky heatmap of (nearly) 19 years of APOD entries. The brighter a region appears on the above heatmap, the more APODs that occur in that region. Clicking anywhere on the map will bring up a link to all APODs, if any, that appear nearby. We at APOD again thank our readers, NASA, astrophotographers, volunteers who translate APOD daily into over 20 languages, volunteers who run APOD's over 20 mirror sites, volunteers who answer questions and administer APOD's main discussion board, and volunteers who run and update APOD's social media sites and smartphone applications for their continued support.

June 15, 2014

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Our Earth is not at rest. The Earth moves around the Sun. The Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy orbits in the Local Group of Galaxies. The Local Group falls toward the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. But these speeds are less than the speed that all of these objects together move relative to the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). In the above all-sky map from the COBE satellite, radiation in the Earth's direction of motion appears blueshifted and hence hotter, while radiation on the opposite side of the sky is redshifted and colder. The map indicates that the Local Group moves at about 600 kilometers per second relative to this primordial radiation. This high speed was initially unexpected and its magnitude is still unexplained.

June 14, 2014

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Bright stars of Sagittarius and the center of our Milky Way Galaxy lie just off the wing of a Boeing 747 in this astronomical travel photo. The stratospheric scene was captured earlier this month during a flight from New York to London, 11,000 meters above the Atlantic Ocean. Of course the sky was clear and dark at that altitude, ideal conditions for astronomical imaging. But there were challenges to overcome while looking out a passenger window of the aircraft moving at nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour (600 mph). Over 90 exposures of 30 seconds or less were attempted with a fast lens and sensitive camera setting, using a small, flexible tripod and a blanket to block reflections of interior lighting. In the end, one 10 second long exposure resulted in this steady and colorful example of airborne astronomy.

June 13, 2014

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June's Full Moon (full phase on June 13, 0411 UT) is traditionally known as the Strawberry Moon or Rose Moon. Of course those names might also describe the appearance of this Full Moon, rising last month over the small Swedish village of Marieby. The Moon looks large in the image because the scene was captured with a long focal length lens from a place about 8 kilometers from the foreground houses. But just by eye a Full Moon rising, even on Friday the 13th, will appear to loom impossibly large near the horizon. That effect has long been recognized as the Moon Illusion. Unlike the magnification provided by a telescope or telephoto lens, the cause of the Moon illusion is still poorly understood and not explained by atmospheric optical effects, such as scattering and refraction, that produce the Moon's blushing color and ragged edge also seen in the photograph.

June 12, 2014

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The Tarantula Nebula is more than 1,000 light-years in diameter, a giant star forming region within our neighboring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). That cosmic arachnid lies toward the upper left in this deep and colorful telescopic view made through broad-band and narrow-band filters. The image spans nearly 2 degrees (4 full moons) on the sky and covers a part of the LMC over 8,000 light-years across. Within the Tarantula (NGC 2070), intense radiation, stellar winds and supernova shocks from the central young cluster of massive stars, cataloged as R136, energize the nebular glow and shape the spidery filaments. Around the Tarantula are other violent star-forming regions with young star clusters, filaments, and bubble-shaped clouds In fact, the frame includes the site of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A, just above center. The rich field of view is located in the southern constellation Dorado.

June 11, 2014

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No, radio dishes cannot broadcast galaxies. Although they can detect them, the above image features a photogenic superposition during a dark night in New Zealand about two weeks ago. As pictured above, the central part of our Milky Way Galaxy is seen rising to the east on the image left and arching high overhead. Beneath the Galactic arc and just above the horizon are the two brightest satellite galaxies of our Milky Way, with the Small Magellanic Cloud to the left and the Large Magellanic Cloud on the right. The radio dish is the Warkworth Satellite Station located just north of Auckland.

June 10, 2014


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What if we X-rayed an entire spiral galaxy? This was done (again) recently by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory for the nearby interacting galaxies known as the Whirlpool (M51). Hundreds of glittering x-ray stars are present in the above Chandra image of the spiral and its neighbor. The image is a conglomerate of X-ray light from Chandra and visible light from the Hubble Space Telescope. The number of luminous x-ray sources, likely neutron star and black hole binary systems within the confines of M51, is unusually high for normal spiral or elliptical galaxies and suggests this cosmic whirlpool has experienced intense bursts of massive star formation. The bright cores of both galaxies, NGC 5194 and NGC 5195 (right and left respectively), also exhibit high-energy activity. In this false-color image where X-rays are depicted in purple, diffuse X-ray emission typically results from multi-million degree gas heated by supernova explosions.

June 9, 2014

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What is that light in the sky? Perhaps one of humanity's more common questions, an answer may result from a few quick observations. For example -- is it moving or blinking? If so, and if you live near a city, the answer is typically an airplane, since planes are so numerous and so few stars and satellites are bright enough to be seen over the din of artificial city lights. If not, and if you live far from a city, that bright light is likely a planet such as Venus or Mars -- the former of which is constrained to appear near the horizon just before dawn or after dusk. Sometimes the low apparent motion of a distant airplane near the horizon makes it hard to tell from a bright planet, but even this can usually be discerned by the plane's motion over a few minutes. Still unsure? The above chart gives a sometimes-humorous but mostly-accurate assessment.

June 8, 2014

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Jewels don't shine this bright -- only stars do. Like gems in a jewel box, though, the stars of open cluster NGC 290 glitter in a beautiful display of brightness and color. The photogenic cluster, pictured above, was captured recently by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Open clusters of stars are younger, contain few stars, and contain a much higher fraction of blue stars than do globular clusters of stars. NGC 290 lies about 200,000 light-years distant in a neighboring galaxy called the Small Cloud of Magellan (SMC). The open cluster contains hundreds of stars and spans about 65 light years across. NGC 290 and other open clusters are good laboratories for studying how stars of different masses evolve, since all the open cluster's stars were born at about the same time.

June 7, 2014

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A star cluster around 2 million years young, M16 is surrounded by natal clouds of dust and glowing gas also known as The Eagle Nebula. This beautifully detailed image of the region includes cosmic sculptures made famous in Hubble Space Telescope close-ups of the starforming complex. Described as elephant trunks or Pillars of Creation, dense, dusty columns rising near the center are light-years in length but are gravitationally contracting to form stars. Energetic radiation from the cluster stars erodes material near the tips, eventually exposing the embedded new stars. Extending from the left edge of the frame is another dusty starforming column known as the Fairy of Eagle Nebula. M16 and the Eagle Nebula lie about 7,000 light-years away, an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes in a nebula rich part of the sky toward the split constellation Serpens Cauda (the tail of the snake).

June 6, 2014

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Sweeping slowly through northern skies, the comet PanSTARRS C/2012 K1 posed for this telescopic portrait on June 2nd in the constellation Ursa Major. Now in the inner solar system, the icy body from the Oort cloud sports two tails, a lighter broad dust tail and crooked ion tail extending below and right. The comet's condensed greenish coma makes a nice contrast with the spiky yellowish background star above. NGC 3319 appears at the upper left of the frame that spans almost twice the apparent diameter of the full Moon. The spiral galaxy is about 47 million light-years away, far beyond the stars in our own Milky Way. In comparison, the comet was a mere 14 light-minutes from our fair planet. This comet PanSTARRS will slowly grow brighter in the coming months remaining a good target for telescopic comet watchers and reaching perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, while just beyond Earth's orbit in late August.

June 5, 2014

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Galaxies like colorful pieces of candy fill the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014. The dimmest galaxies are more than 10 billion times fainter than stars visible to the unaided eye and represent the Universe in the extreme past, a few 100 million years after the Big Bang. The image itself was made with the significant addition of ultraviolet data to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an update of Hubble's famous most distant gaze toward the southern constellation of Fornax. It now covers the entire range of wavelengths available to Hubble's cameras, from ultraviolet through visible to near-infrared. Ultraviolet data adds the crucial capability of studying star formation in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field galaxies between 5 and 10 billion light-years distant.

June 4, 2014

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Many think it is just a myth. Others think it is true but its cause isn't known. Adventurers pride themselves on having seen it. It's a green flash from the Sun. The truth is the green flash does exist and its cause is well understood. Just as the setting Sun disappears completely from view, a last glimmer appears startlingly green. The effect is typically visible only from locations with a low, distant horizon, and lasts just a few seconds. A green flash is also visible for a rising Sun, but takes better timing to spot. A dramatic green flash, as well as an even more rare red flash, was caught in the above photograph recently observed during a sunset visible from the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos in the Canary Islands, Spain. The Sun itself does not turn partly green or red -- the effect is caused by layers of the Earth's atmosphere acting like a prism.

June 3, 2014

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Might this giant pinwheel one-day destroy us? Probably not, but investigation of the unusual star system Wolf-Rayet 104 has turned up an unexpected threat. The unusual pinwheel pattern has been found to be created by energetic winds of gas and dust that are expelled and intertwine as two massive stars orbit each other. One system component is a Wolf-Rayet star, a tumultuous orb in the last stage of evolution before it explodes in a supernova -- and event possible anytime in the next million years. Research into the spiral pattern of the emitted dust, however, indicates the we are looking nearly straight down the spin axis of the system -- possibly the same axis along which a powerful jet would emerge were the supernova accompanied by a gamma-ray burst. Now the WR 104 supernova itself will likely be an impressive but harmless spectacle. Conversely, were Earth really near the center of the powerful GRB beam, even the explosion's 8,000 light year distance might not be far enough to protect us. Currently, neither WR 104 nor GRB beams are understood well enough to know the real level of danger.

June 2, 2014

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The space station has caught a dragon. Specifically, in mid-April, the International Space Station captured the unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule sent to resupply the orbiting outpost. Pictured above, the station's Canadarm2 had just grabbed the commercial spaceship. The Dragon capsule was filled with over 5000 lbs (2260 kilos) of supplies and experiments to be used by the current band of six ISS astronauts who compose Expedition 39, as well as the six astronauts who compose Expedition 40. After docking with the ISS, the Dragon capsule was unloaded and eventually released, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on May 18. The current Expedition 40 crew, now complete, will apply themselves to many tasks including the deployment of the Napor-mini RSA experiment which will use phased array radar and a small optical telescope to monitor possible emergency situations on the Earth below.

June 1, 2014

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The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae in the sky. Its haunting symmetries are seen in the very central region of this stunning false-color picture, processed to reveal the enormous but extremely faint halo of gaseous material, over three light-years across, which surrounds the brighter, familiar planetary nebula. Made with data from the Nordic Optical Telescope in the Canary Islands, the composite picture shows extended emission from the nebula. Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a sun-like star. Only much more recently however, have some planetaries been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary portions of this halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years.




Older archived posts may be found Here.
September 1, 2012 - February 28, 2013
March 1, 2013 - July 31, 2013
August 1, 2013 - December 31, 2013
January 1, 2014 - May 31, 2014




This thread will be updated before nightfall Eastern Standard Time Daily. I will try to update when I wake up if I can, to accommodate for users in Europe & Asia.
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:58 PM   #2
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

I feel like i'm sitting in Astronomy class all over again. ;D Will be interesting to see how this progresses (:
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Old 03-11-2012, 12:13 AM   #3
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

It's... Beautiful @_@

I like where this thread is going...
I'm in spaaaaaace
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yolo

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Old 03-11-2012, 12:23 AM   #4
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Wow Terry shitty thread you have the worst ideas.
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Old 03-11-2012, 01:38 AM   #5
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Sweet, you got around to make this thread



I'd recommend for people Stellarium, it's a really nice tool for alot of stuff if oyu're interested in astronomy, you can set its location to were you are and simulate the sky where you live, and even go back and forth in time etc



http://www.stellarium.org/
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Old 03-11-2012, 07:00 AM   #6
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluearrowll View Post
This thread will be updated before nightfall Eastern Standard Time Daily. I will try to update when I wake up if I can, to accommodate for users in Europe & Asia.
What about the users in Australia? ;___; Just kidding. This thread is a great idea. I'll be sure to check it out every so often.
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Old 03-11-2012, 09:28 AM   #7
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Naice job haha. Here's a moon phases calandar
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Old 03-11-2012, 09:41 AM   #8
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

I have added the two links to the OP.

What's in the sky tonight?
March 11, 2012
-As the moon wanes, a perfectly clear sky and an area that is not light polluted unlocks the chance to track Comet Garradd. Garradd has been visible since January, as it slowly makes it's way across the inner solar system, and will be visible until April. It is currently on its way to pass the Big Dipper, and today it wedges itself nicely between the big dipper and the little dipper. Use This Comet Tracker Guide to help you discover the comet! It's coming in at a magnitude 6.5 though, so you will need a telescope to find it. Under a light polluted city, humans cannot see fainter than magnitude 4-5. (I can see M42 which is Magnitude 4.0 from where I live at the beach of Toronto, but I cannot see it in the heart of Toronto. Location in a city makes a big difference too!)

Astro Picture of the Day:
March 11, 2012

Source:
Comet Garradd within 1 degree of M92, a globular cluster found in Hercules. It approaches the best time for viewing this month.
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Bluearrowll = The Canadian player who can not detect awkward patterns. If it's awkward for most people, it's normal for Terry. If the file is difficult but super straight forward, he has issues. If he's AAAing a FGO but then heard that his favorite Hockey team was losing by a point, Hockey > FFR
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:48 PM   #9
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

New link added:
http://www.heavens-above.com/ - Use this website to track the space station, other satellites, when you can see them pass over! The website also tracks comets, planets, and shows a picture of the orbits of the planets.

What's in the sky tonight?
March 12, 2012

-Jupiter and Venus are just 3.1 degrees apart today in the west. They are at their closest tomorrow where they appear exactly 3.0 degrees away from each other. Today however, they appear exactly level with each other.


-After locating Jupiter and Venus, at around 8:00pm EST turn 170 degrees at the same level to your left. You will see a red dot, this is Mars calmly rising in the East. Mars is at its highest around 1 in the morning. It appears 13.8 arcseconds wide in a telescope, the largest it will appear until 2014.

Astro Picture of the Day:
March 12, 2012

Source:
Ever wonder what the night sky would look like if you took a 4 hour long exopsure with your camera? You'd notice the stars generate neat star trails of how they've progressed over the course of 4 hours. They revolve around the north and south poles in this 360 degree panorama taken in Mudgee, New South Wales, Austrailia.

Note* This picture has been adjusted to not stretch the forums. If you want to see the full picture go here

Terry's photo of Jupiter-Venus pair last night (conveniently hovering over the Toronto cityscape):
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Bluearrowll = The Canadian player who can not detect awkward patterns. If it's awkward for most people, it's normal for Terry. If the file is difficult but super straight forward, he has issues. If he's AAAing a FGO but then heard that his favorite Hockey team was losing by a point, Hockey > FFR
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Old 03-12-2012, 03:07 PM   #10
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Star trails picture

is completely awesome 0_0

Thanks for sharing this stuff with us, I'll be sure to check this thread every time I log in.
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Old 03-12-2012, 04:17 PM   #11
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Great thread! I'll be sure to check it out often I'm sure I'll learn some things
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Old 03-13-2012, 10:25 AM   #12
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

NEW FEATURE ADDED: International Space Station Tracker. Updates whenever you refresh.

What's in the Sky Tonight?

March 13, 2012
-Jupiter and Venus are at their closest point together for the next few years today, 3 degrees apart. That's about the distance of 3 middle fingers side by side at arms length.

-Comet Garradd (At magnitude 6.5) is the brightest and longet lasting comet the northern hemisphere has had in recent memory. It will spend the next two or so days crossing Kappa Draconis in the constellation Draco. Unless you live out of the city, it may be worthless looking for the comet, as light pollution erodes all but the best of it. Use this chart to find the comet as it makes its way towards the Big Dipper.

Astro Picture of the Day:


Source:
Under a completely dark sky in the southern hemisphere, if you went outside and tilted your head up while the sky was clear, this is what you would see after letting your eyes adjust for about 20 minutes to the faint lights the Milky Way galaxy has to offer. This picture specifically was taken on Mangaia, the southernmost of the Cook islands. The bright stars just off centre to the right are part of the constellation Centaurus. The brightest star is alpha centauri, which follows how stars are typically named. They are named from brightest to dimmest, beginning with the greek alphabet, and often extending into our alphabet. For example, "beta sagittae" is the 2nd brightest star in the constellation Sagittarius.
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Bluearrowll = The Canadian player who can not detect awkward patterns. If it's awkward for most people, it's normal for Terry. If the file is difficult but super straight forward, he has issues. If he's AAAing a FGO but then heard that his favorite Hockey team was losing by a point, Hockey > FFR
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Old 03-13-2012, 10:30 AM   #13
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

astounding pics o.o
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Old 03-13-2012, 11:34 AM   #14
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluearrowll View Post
Astro Picture of the Day:


Source:
Under a completely dark sky in the southern hemisphere, if you went outside and tilted your head up while the sky was clear, this is what you would see after letting your eyes adjust for about 20 minutes to the faint lights the Milky Way galaxy has to offer. This picture specifically was taken on Mangaia, the southernmost of the Cook islands. The bright stars just off centre to the right are part of the constellation Centaurus. The brightest star is alpha centauri, which follows how stars are typically named. They are named from brightest to dimmest, beginning with the greek alphabet, and often extending into our alphabet. For example, "beta sagittae" is the 2nd brightest star in the constellation Sagittarius.
i'll never see something this amazing with the naked eye

**** you light polution. every night i look up at the sky and im so saddened by the lack of stars it really brings me down, so depressing.
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Old 03-14-2012, 01:39 PM   #15
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

March 14, 2012
-The moon reaches its last quarter phase tonight at exactly 9:25pm EST. It quietly rises in the middle of the night, and it's just above the teapot of Saggitarius at dawn.



Source:
This is a digitally stacked series of Mars to track the movement of Mars between October and June. Between this time, Mars appears to move backwards. Approximately every 2 years, Earth passes Mars as they orbit around the Sun. During the pass, Mars appears brightest, and also looks to move backwards in the sky. This is called retrograde motion. At the centre of this loop that Mars makes, retrograde motion is at its highest.
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Bluearrowll = The Canadian player who can not detect awkward patterns. If it's awkward for most people, it's normal for Terry. If the file is difficult but super straight forward, he has issues. If he's AAAing a FGO but then heard that his favorite Hockey team was losing by a point, Hockey > FFR
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Old 03-14-2012, 07:30 PM   #16
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

TERRY
this is dope as hell. youre awesome <3 ^_________^ ima look here again tomorrowww!!
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Old 03-15-2012, 08:56 AM   #17
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

What's in the Sky Tonight?
March 15, 2012
-Those in the mid northern latitudes of North America get a special treat this time of year; this is the greatest time of year to see the bulk of the milky way in the evening. Look east-southeast of of Canis Major in the constellation Puppis. A telescope will serve you well here.


Astro Picture of the Day
March 14, 2012

Source:
The heart and soul nebulae are located in Cassiopeia, a familiar constellation in North America due to it's 5 obvious bright stars that are often said to look like a W (or M in this picture). The nebulae shine brightly with the red light of energized hydrogen. There are several young star clusters visible in this image as well, appearing in blue, which makes this area a hot spot for astrophotography. Andromeda Galaxy isn't too far away from this picture either. A hydrogen filter on a camera would bring out the nebulae nicely if one wished to take a picture of these emission nebulae.
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:04 AM   #18
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

What's in the Sky Tonight?
March 16, 2012
-Jupiter and Venus have separated to 4.0 degrees now. Still notably close, but nothing compared to the 13th.

-Comet Garradd at 7th magnitude passes within 1/4 of a degree of 4th magnitude star Lambda Draconis. One of the best nights to try and discover this comet! Good luck on your quest to photograph or observe it.


Astro Picture of the Day
March 16, 2012

Source:
One of the most famous images related to space as of late, this is a photo of the Pillars of Creation taken in 1995 by the Hubble Telescope. The pillars lie in the Eagle Nebula dubbed M16 and are associated with an open star cluster. The "pillars" are molecular hydrogen gas and dark dust that doesn't emit light. The pillars are light years in length and so dense that interior gas actually gravitationally contracts to form stars. Unfortunately, this pretty structure is short lived, as there is evidence of a supernova explosion that happened 6,000 years ago. The Eagle Nebula and the Pillars of Creation are about 7,000 light years away, so we only have another thousand years to observe these pillars before we witness their destruction.
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Bluearrowll = The Canadian player who can not detect awkward patterns. If it's awkward for most people, it's normal for Terry. If the file is difficult but super straight forward, he has issues. If he's AAAing a FGO but then heard that his favorite Hockey team was losing by a point, Hockey > FFR
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Old 03-17-2012, 01:30 PM   #19
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Happy St Patrick's Day everyone

What's in the Sky Tonight?
March 17, 2012
-Have you heard of the Winter Triangle? It contains 3 of some of the brightest stars in the night sky for the northern hemisphere, and it's an equilateral triangle! The brightest of the 3 stars is Sirius, which is found in Canis Major. It is the blue looking star in the southwest. To it's upper right is the red star Betelgeuse, found on the shoulder of Orion. To the left is Procyon found in Canis Minor. All 3 are bright enough to be seen anywhere, no matter how light polluted you are. Did you know Procyon is expected to expand and turn into a red giant at any time? We could witness it happen tomorrow, or 10,000 years from now.


Astro Picture of the Day
March 17, 2012

Source:
This photo is part of the spiral galaxy M83, which is 12 million light years away. It can be found near the bottom of constellation Hydra, and this galaxy is known for it's prominent blue star clusters and red star clusters found in its arms. These clusters have given M83 the nickname of "The Thousand-Ruby Galaxy," but it is more often referred to as the Southern Pinwheel. The centre of this galaxy is dominated by red, older stars so it appears yellow. The blue and red clusters are areas of starbirth, where the blue stars are hot, young, bright and brilliant, and the red clusters are filled with ionized hydrogen, creating new stars.
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Old 03-17-2012, 01:41 PM   #20
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Default Re: Terry's Astronomy Thread.

Terry because of you I'm taking astronomy as my general elective next year. Thanks for peaking an interest
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I'm sorry but... *flicks hair* I don't DO 0.x rates 8)
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