SOLAR WEATHER
and some interesting space stuff

2009

compiled by Dee Finney

updated 7-31-09

JANUARY - FEBRUARY - MARCH - APRIL - MAY  - JUNE - JULY -
 

AUGUST - SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER - NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

THIS COMPILATION IS BEING DONE IN HONOR OF KENT STEADMAN
OF  www.cyberspaceorbit.com  who left his earthly abode in 2008

2008 SOLAR WEATHER

PAGE 7 - JULY 2009

On January 6, 2009 there were 1014 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On February 2, 2009, there were 1019 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On March 2nd, there were 1033 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On April 8th, there were 1050 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On May 3, there were 1054 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On June 2, there were 1061 potentially hazardous asteroids
On July 23rd, there are 1067 potentially hazardous asteroids.
 
June 2009 Earth-asteroid encounters:
 
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2009 KR21
June 1
0.7 LD
16
21 m
2009 KL8
June 1
5.1 LD
18
63 m
2003 QO104
June 9
36.8 LD
14
2.9 km
1994 CC
June 10
6.6 LD
13
1.2 km
2001 FE90
June 28
7.0 LD
13
435 m
2002 KL6
June 28
57.5 LD
16
1.4 km
2006 MV1
June 30
9.6 LD
23
20 m

Notes: LD means "Lunar Distance." 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance between Earth and the Moon.
1 LD also equals 0.00256 AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on the date of closest approach.

 
On July 4, 2009 there were 1065 potentially hazardous asteroids.
July 2009 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2009 MM8
July 13
11.4 LD
18
53 m
2008 NP3
July 18
11.8 LD
18
87 m
2006 TU7
July 20
14.2 LD
17
175 m

GOES 8 MAGNETOMETER MONITOR
GOES 8 SATELLITE DATA
CURRENT SOLAR FLARE DATA

CURRENT SPACE WEATHER DATA
CURRENT SOLAR X-RAY DATA
LASCO IMAGES
 

 
ORIGINAL CAPTION: The biggest previous solar flares on record were rated X20,
on 2 April 2001 and 16 August 1989. So 2003's explosion certainly set a new mark.
But only now do scientists understand the  probable true power of the event.
The New Zealand researchers in Otago looked at the effect the flare's radiation
had on the Earth's upper atmosphere and used that to judge its strength.
The changes the Otago researchers saw allowed them to produce a new estimate
of the flare's intensity, Increasing its rating from X28 to X45. 
 "This makes it more than twice as large as any previously
recorded flare,"  said Associate Professor Neil Thomson. (SOHO)
 

NEBULA - THE RIGHT HAND OF APOLLO

TOWARD THE END OF TIME
IT'S THE DANGER OF THE SUN

Explore the Sunspot Cycle

 

7-31-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 410.2 km/sec
density: 2.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1850 UT Jul31
24-hr: A0
1850 UT Jul31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

7-30-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 344.0 km/sec
density: 4.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul30
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

CHANGES ON JUPITER: "On July 30th, it was evident that there is rapid evolution of Jupiter's impact debris cloud," reports amateur astronomer Raffaello Lena of Rome, Italy. "It is becoming very elongated." A polar projection shows the extent of the debris:

The changes are caused by turbulence and especially high-altitude winds in Jupiter's atmosphere. Polar winds blowing 25 m/s and faster could stretch the cloud all the way around Jupiter's south pole in the weeks ahead. Whether such a stretched-out cloud will be visible in small telescopes remains to be seen.

Amateur astronomers are encouraged to continue monitoring. The cloud is located near Jupiter's System II longitude 210°. For the predicted times when it will cross the planet's central meridian, add 2 hours and 6 minutes to Sky and Telescope's predicted transit times for Jupiter's Great Red Spot. [sky map]

more images: from Giovanni Coltro of Pesaro, Italy; from Romulo Liporaci of Maracaibo, Venezuela; from Sid Leach of Scottsdale, Arizona; from Tamas Ladanyi of Bakonykoppany, Hungary; from Efrain Morales Rivera of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; from Andreas Murner of Lake Chiemsee, Bavaria, Germany; from John Chumack of Dayton, Ohio USA

 

7-29-09 - No sunspots today

Solar wind
speed: 353.9 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul29
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

Solar wind stream flowing from
 the indicated coronal hole could
reach Earth on or about July 31st.
 Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

LUNAR TRANSITS: Catching a spaceship flying in front of the Moon is a rare trick. Yesterday, Roman Piffl of Bratislava, Slovakia, caught two:

"First, space shuttle Endeavour transited the Moon, followed a hundred seconds later by the International Space Station," says Piffl. Each crossing lasted no more than a fraction of a second, "but we were able to capture them using a DMK21 video camera at 60 fps." Piffl was assisted by fellow astronomers Tomáš Maruška and Miroslav Grnja.

Endeavour and the ISS will be in orbit together for just one more day. Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for last-chance flybys.

more images: from Fox Keri of Marion, Massachusetts; from Todd Hahn of Sugar Land, Texas; from Jonathan Sabin of Ellenton, Florida; from Michael Prokosch of Huntsville, Texas

 

7-28-09  - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 414.3 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1827 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1820 UT Jul28
24-hr: A0
1820 UT Jul28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1820 UT

A solar wind stream flowing from the
 indicated coronal hole could reach
Earth on or about July 31st.
Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

JUPITER'S IMPACT CLOUD EXPANDS: Jupiter's impact cloud is expanding. On July 19th, when it was discovered by amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley, the dark mark near Jupiter's south pole was barely visible in backyard telescopes. Five days later Wesley photographed the impact cloud again and found that it had approximately tripled in size:

High-resolution images from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal what's happening: turbulence and jet streams in Jupiter's atmosphere are causing the cloud to spread out. The vast impact site is now tens of thousands of times wider than the 100m-class comet or asteroid that created it.

The expansion of the cloud makes it easier than ever to see through a backyard telescope: sky map. The cloud is located near Jupiter's System II longitude 210°. For the predicted times when it will cross the planet's central meridian, add 2 hours and 6 minutes to Sky and Telescope's predicted transit times for Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

more images: from Mike Hood of Kathleen, Georgia; from Didier Favre of Brétigny-sur-orge, France; from Enzo De Bernardini of Martínez, Buenos Aires, Argentina; from Sadegh Ghomizadeh of Iran Tehran; from David Kolb of Lawrence, Kansas;

 

7-27-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 388.2 km/sec
density: 4.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul27
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

EARLY PERSEID FIREBALL: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won't peak until August 11th and 12th, the show is already underway. Brian Emfinger of Ozark, Arkansas, photographed this Perseid just after midnight on Sunday, July 26th:

"I caught the fireball and its smoke trail using my Canon Digital Rebel XT," says Emfinger. "It flew through the field of view during a one minute exposure."

This early Perseid whets the appetite for the greater show ahead. Meteor rates, low now, will increase as Earth moves deeper into the debris stream. On peak-night, sky watchers could see more than 60 Perseids per hour.

 

7-26-09 No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 410.2 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul26
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

7-25-09 - small sunspot - unnumbered as yet

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 489.5 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1340 UT Jul25
24-hr: A0
1340 UT Jul25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1340 UT

JUPITER SPOT SPREADING OUT

Hubble's view, captured by its brand-new Wide Field Camera 3 on Thursday, is the sharpest visible-light image of the impact site, which was first seen by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley on Sunday and has been changing day by day. The picture also represents Hubble's first science observation since it was upgraded during May's final servicing mission by the space shuttle Atlantis' crew.

 

7-24-09  A small sunspot is developing half way across the face of the sun.  It is part of cycle 23 according to its magnetic spin. It has not been numbered as yet

Solar wind
speed: 555.3 km/sec
density: 1.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1526 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1520 UT Jul24
24-hr: A0
1520 UT Jul24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1520 UT

JUPITER UPDATE: Five days after it was discovered, the dark mark in Jupiter's cloudtops where an asteroid or comet hit the giant planet is still easy to see through backyard telescopes. Browse these links for recent images: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6.

Editor's note:  These are clear photos but confusing as to what they are trying to show.

 

7-23-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 497.6 km/sec
density: 3.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1555 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1545 UT Jul23
24-hr: A0
1545 UT Jul23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1545 UT

SOHO UNKNOWN

URL: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov//data/REPROCESSING/Completed/2009/c3/20090722/20090722_1218_c3_512.jpg

 

Always a pleasure to watch this one. This time it seems carefully placed. Wild!

First one showed up September 22, 1999 (looked more like a slinky than this one). NASA told us at that time that they did not know what it was and were as amazed by it as we were.
 

 

AURORA SURPRISE: Sometimes the auroras are so bright, you just can't sleep. "I was up all night on July 21st, but it was totally worth it!" says photographer Zoltan Kenwell of Chip Lake, Alberta. This is what kept him awake:

"It was a very impressive show that lasted 4.5 hours!" says Kenwell.

Forecasters did not predict this display. It began on when a seemingly minor solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field. The minor hit turned into a not-so-minor display because a crack opened in Earth's magnetic field, allowing solar wind to pour in and fuel the storm. Northern Lights descended as far south as the Dakotas, Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin. The solar wind is still blowing, but the crack has closed, bringing an end to the lights. Until next time, browse the gallery:

UPDATED:

/gallery_01jul04_page3.htm?PHPSESSID=gsddenpm0vfgigj7vun15nq7q2"> 2004, 2003]

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE: Chasing an eclipse can be a nerve-wracking experience. Just ask Alan Dyer, who on July 21st was sailing through the path of totality in the south Pacific Ocean when clouds began to gather overhead. "The early, partial stages of the eclipse were blocked," says Dyer. "We had to chase into a clear hole to catch this view of totality."

"The sight of the low-hanging Sun in eclipse was spectacular with an impressively large Sun/Moon disk caused by the 'moon illusion' effect," he says. "In the end, we were a happy ship of 300 eclipse chasers!"

 

7-22-09

Eclipse 7-22-09

TOTAL ECLIPSE: On Wednesday, July 22nd, the Moon eclipsed the midday sun over China. "The temperature dropped from 96.6 F to 88.5F at totality," reports Donald Gardner from Huangshan. "The roosters were crowing and the streetlights came on!" He took this picture of a sun-sliver beaming through lunar mountains:

Browse the gallery for more scenes from the path of totality:

UPDATED: July 22nd Eclipse Gallery
[
previous eclipses: Jan 26, 2009; Aug. 1, 2008; Mar. 19, 2007]

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 443.6 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul22
24-hr: A0
0325 UT Jul22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

AURORA SURPRISE: In the pits of the deepest solar minimum in a century, sky watchers had almost forgotten what Northern Lights looked like. Here they are last night over Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan:

"These are the first auroras I have been able to photograph in more than a year," says Tenho Tuomi. "It was a pleasant surprise."

The display was sparked by a solar wind stream which hit Earth's magnetic field on July 21st. The ensuing geomagnetic storm registered 6 on the 0 to 9 K-index scale of geomagnetic activity. "My magnetometer picked up the disturbance and I rushed outside to see the show," says Tuomi.

July 2009 Northern Lights Gallery

 

7-21-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 307.6 km/sec
density: 11.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul21
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

7-20-09 - No sunspots but major prominences have appeared

SOLAR ACTIVITY: A big show is underway on the sun today. Two massive prominences are dancing along the northwestern limb with such allure that the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has boosted its frame-rate to capture the motions. Stay tuned for movies, and meanwhile, keep an eye on the sun.

2040 UT Jul20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2040 UT

 

7-19-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 283.9 km/sec
density: 3.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul19
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

JUPITER IMPACT? On July 19th, a veteran observer of Jupiter in Australia photographed a fresh dark "scar" in Jupiter's cloudtops; the feature resembles the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of 1994.  It is possible that Jupiter has been struck anew by an asteroid or comet.  Astrophotographers around the world should train their optics on Jupiter to confirm the event and monitor its progress. 

IMPACT ON JUPITER? "Jupiter has been hit by something similar to the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts in 1994," reports astrophotographer Anthony Wesley. "There is a jet black circular impact mark near its south pole that I imaged tonight from my observatory in Murrumbateman, Australia." South is up in this snapshot of the feature:

"I have imagery of that same location from 2 nights earlier without the impact mark so this is a very recent event," he adds. "This image shows that the material has already begun to spread out in a fan shape on one side, and should be rapidly pulled apart by the fast jetstream winds. I'm sure this will generate some interest around the astronomy community, as impacts like this are rare. I recorded a lot of footage, and will be generating more images and a rotation animation."

Amateur astronomers around the world should train their telescopes on Jupiter tonight to monitor the progress of this possible impact event. Stay tuned for more images and updates.

 
COSMIC COLLISION: Evidence is mounting that something hit Jupiter no more than a few days ago. The impact site was discovered by amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley on July 19th. Using a 14.5-inch telescope at his backyard observatory in Murrumbateman, Australia, he photographed a dark scar in Jupiter's clouds. NASA astronomers rushed to confirm the find, and with this photo from the Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, they did:

The bright spot is near-infrared sunlight reflected from particulate matter floating through the top of Jupiter's atmosphere. These particulates are likely debris from something that hit the planet and exploded. "This has all the hallmarks of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of 1994," says Leigh Fletcher of JPL who gathered the infrared data along with colleague Glenn Orton.

If the impact hypothesis is indeed correct, the "scar" should become spread out by jet streams in the days ahead. Amateur astronomers can monitor events using mid-sized backyard telescopes: sky map. The spot is located near Jupiter's System II longitude 210°. For the predicted times when it will cross the planet's central meridian, add 2 hours and 6 minutes to Sky and Telescope's predicted transit times for Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

UPDATE: On July 20th, Dennis Simmons of Brisbane Australia recorded a 75-minute movie of the impact site. Click on the image to launch a gif animation:


Play the movie

"It is quite fascinating to observe the white spot (a Mars-sized storm) appearing to overtake the impact scar," notes Simmons. "To make the movie I used a 7-inch Takahashi Mewlon 180 telescope with a Vixen x2 Barlow and a DBK21AF04 ccd camera."

more images: from Antonello Medugno of Italy; from Robert Lunsford of Chula Vista, California; from Jeremy Perez of Flagstaff, Arizona; from Theo Ramakers of Social Circle, Georgia; from Anthony Wesley of Murrumbateman, Australia; from Ian Sharp of Ham, West Sussex, England, UK; from David Kolb of Lawrence, Kansas; from David Storey of Isle of Man, Great Britain; from Frank Ryan Jr of Shannon, Ireland; from Russell Hawker of Eastleigh, Hampshire; from Lars Zielke of Tvis, Denmark; <
24-hr: A1
0155 UT Jul18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT
 

7-17-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 312.5 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2347 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul17
24-hr: A0
0635 UT Jul17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

APOLLO LANDING SITES PHOTOGRAPHED: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned its first imagery of Apollo landing sites. The pictures show lunar module descent stages, scientific instruments and even 40-year-old foot trails made by astronauts walking across the dusty lunar surface: full story.

July 17th, 2009

Solar Cycle Triggers La Nina, El Nino-like Climate Shifts

Written by Anne Minard

Researchers have discovered a link between the 11-year solar cycle and tropical Pacific weather patterns that resemble La Niña and El Niño events.

When it comes to influencing Earth's climate, the Sun's variability pales in recent decades compared to greehouse gases – but the new research shows it still plays a distinguishable part.

The total energy reaching Earth from the sun varies by only 0.1 percent across the solar cycle. Scientists have sought for decades to link these ups and downs to natural weather and climate variations and distinguish their subtle effects from the larger pattern of human-caused global warming.

Co-authors Gerald Meehl and Julie Arblaster, both affiliated with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, analyzed computer models of global climate and more than a century of ocean temperature records. Arblaster is also affiliated with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

In the new paper and a previous one with additional colleagues, the researchers have been able to show that, as the sun's output reaches a peak, the small amount of extra sunshine over several years causes a slight increase in local atmospheric heating, especially across parts of the tropical and subtropical Pacific where Sun-blocking clouds are normally scarce.

That small amount of extra heat leads to more evaporation, producing extra water vapor. In turn, the moisture is carried by trade winds to the normally rainy areas of the western tropical Pacific, fueling heavier rains.

As this climatic loop intensifies, the trade winds strengthen. That keeps the eastern Pacific even cooler and drier than usual, producing La Niña-like conditions.

"We have fleshed out the effects of a new mechanism to understand what happens in the tropical Pacific when there is a maximum of solar activity," Meehl said. "When the sun's output peaks, it has far-ranging and often subtle impacts on tropical precipitation and on weather systems around much of the world."

The result of this chain of events is similar to a La Niña event, although the cooling of about 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit is focused further east and is only about half as strong as for a typical La Niña.

True La Niña and El Niño events are associated with changes in the temperatures of surface waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. They can affect weather patterns worldwide.

Although the Pacific pattern in the new paper is produced by the solar maximum, the authors found that its switch to an El Niño-like state is likely triggered by the same kind of processes that normally lead from La Niña to El Niño.

The transition starts when the changes of the strength of the trade winds produce slow-moving off-equatorial pulses known as Rossby waves in the upper ocean, which take about a year to travel back west across the Pacific.

The energy then reflects from the western boundary of the tropical Pacific and ricochets eastward along the equator, deepening the upper layer of water and warming the ocean surface.

As a result, the Pacific experiences an El Niño-like event about two years after solar maximum — also about half as strong as a true El Niño. The event settles down after about a year, and the system returns to a neutral state.

"El Niño and La Niña seem to have their own separate mechanisms," Meehl said, "but the solar maximum can come along and tilt the probabilities toward a weak La Niña. If the system was heading toward a La Niña anyway," he adds, "it would presumably be a larger one."

The study authors say the new research may pave the way toward predictions of temperature and precipitation patterns at certain times during the approximately 11-year solar cycle.

In an email, Meehl noted that previous work by his team and other research groups has shown that "most of the warming trend in the first half of the 20th Century was due to an increasing trend of solar output, while most of the warming trend in the last half of the 20th Century and ever since has been due to ever-increasing GHG (greenhouse gas) concentrations in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels."

The new paper appears this month in the Journal of Climate, a publication of the American Meteorological Society. (Sorry, it's not yet available online.)

Source: Eurekalert

Related stories on Universe Today

 

7-16-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 355.4 km/sec
density: 2.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2347 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul16
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

A solar wind stream flowing from
the indicated coronal hole should
reach Earth on or about July 21.
Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

 

7-15-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 433.3 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2145 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2145 UT Jul15
24-hr: A0
2145 UT Jul15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2145 UT

NOTE: Whether we went to the moon or not has been a big controversy, even this week, I was in several conversations about this topic.  Was it real or wasn't it?  There are proponents and adversaries on this issue. I doubt anyone wants to believe that we really didn't go and that it was all a hoax and that our government has been lying to us about it all this time.

I've done webpages on this issue myself. I've had heated arguments about it as well and listened to numerous radio shows and television documentaries. 

The truth is about to come out, thanks to Mrs. Stanley Kubrick, whose husband's company made the fake film of the moon landing in case the camera didn't work for the astronauts on the moon.  Her film is about to be brought to the public and will the answer the question once and for all.  All those men who were involved in the coverup film have already been named and all that is already in the public domain.

The only question left is,  "Did we really go?  Or is it a lie?"

  1. THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

    NASA's Dr. John Freeman reported that instruments left on the moon by Apollo ...... --Richard Nixon: President who addressed Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon ..... The Moon crash-landing was the last stage of the 16-month phase in which ...
    www.greatdreams.com/moon/darkmoon.htm

 

Wide Awake in the Sea of Tranquillity 07.15.2009

 

Neil Armstrong was supposed to be asleep. The moonwalking was done. The moon rocks were stowed away. His ship was ready for departure. In just a few hours, the Eagle's ascent module would blast off the Moon, something no ship had ever attempted before, and Neil needed his wits about him. He curled up on the Eagle's engine cover and closed his eyes.

see captionBut he could not sleep.

Neither could Buzz Aldrin. In the cramped lander, Buzz had the sweet spot, the floor. He stretched out as much as he could in his spacesuit and closed his eyes. Nothing happened. On a day like this, what else could you expect...?

Right: Neil Armstrong's footprint on the Moon.

July 20, 1969: The day began on the farside of the Moon. Armstrong, Aldrin and crewmate Mike Collins flew their spaceship 60 miles above the cratered wasteland. No one on Earth can see the Moon's farside. Even today it remains a land of considerable mystery, but the astronauts had no time for sight-seeing. Collins pressed a button, activating a set of springs, and the spaceship split in two. The half named Columbia, with Collins on board, would remain in orbit. The other half, the Eagle, spiraled over the horizon toward the Sea of Tranquillity.

"You are Go for powered descent," Houston radioed, and the Eagle's engine fired mightily. The bug-shaped Eagle was so fragile a child could poke a hole through its gold foil exterior. Jagged moonrocks could do much worse. So when Armstrong saw that the computer was guiding them into a boulder field, he quickly took control. The Eagle pitched forward and sailed over the rocks.

Meanwhile, alarms were ringing in the background.

"Program alarm," announced Armstrong. "It's a 1202." The code was so obscure, almost no one knew what it meant. Should they abort? Should they land? "What is it?" he insisted.

Scrambling back in Houston, a young engineer named Steve Bales produced the answer: The radar guidance system was pestering the computer with too many interruptions. No problem. "We've got you..." radioed Houston. "We're Go on that alarm."

And on they went. Things, however, were not going exactly as planned. The Sea of Tranquillity was supposed to be smooth, but it didn't look so smooth from the cockpit of the Eagle. Armstrong scanned the jumbled mare for a safe place to land. "60 seconds," radioed Houston. "30 seconds." Mission control was hushed as the telemetry came in. Soon, too soon, the ship would run out of fuel.

see captionRight: Mission Control during the Apollo 11 descent. [More]

Capcom later claimed the "boys in mission control were turning blue" when Armstrong announced "I [found] a good spot." As for Armstrong, his heart was thumping 156 beats per minute according to bio-sensors. The fuel gauge read only 5.6% when the Eagle finally settled onto the floor of the Sea of Tranquillity.

Houston (relieved): "We copy you down, Eagle."

Armstrong (coolly): "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Immediately, they prepared to leave. This was NASA being cautious. No one had ever landed on the Moon before. What if a footpad started sinking into the moondust, or the Eagle sprung a leak? While Neil and Buzz made ready to blast off, Houston read the telemetry looking for signs of trouble. There were none, and three hours after touchdown, finally, Houston gave the "okay." The moonwalk was on.

At 9:56 p.m. EDT, Neil descended the ladder and took "one small step" (left foot first) into history. From the shadow of the Eagle, he looked around: "It has a stark beauty all its own--like the high desert of the United States." Houston reminded him to gather the "contingency sample," and Neil put some rocks and soil in his pocket. If, for any reason, the astronauts had to take off in a hurry, scientists back on Earth would get at least a pocketful of the Moon for their experiments.

Soon, Buzz joined him. "Beautiful view!" he exclaimed when he reached the lander's broad footpad. "Isn't that something!" agreed Armstrong. "Magnificent sight out here."

"Magnificent desolation," said Aldrin.

Those two words summed up the yin-yang of the Moon. The impact craters, the toppled boulders, the layers of moondust--it was utterly alien. Yet Tranquillity Base felt curiously familiar, like home. Apollo astronauts on subsequent missions had similar feelings. Maybe this comes from staring at the Moon so often from Earth. Or maybe it's because the Moon is a piece of Earth, spun off our young planet billions of years ago. No one knows; it just is.

see caption
Above: Buzz Aldrin and the Eagle. [In stereo]

Truly, much of the scene was weird. The airless landscape jumped out at the astronauts with disconcerting clarity and, as a result, the horizon felt unnaturally close. The whole world seemed to curve, a side-effect of the Moon's short thousand-mile radius. "Distances [here] are deceiving," noted Aldrin.

The sky was equally baffling. Although the Eagle had landed on a bright lunar morning, the sky was as black as midnight. An astronomer's paradise? No. Not a single star was visible. The glaring, sunlit ground ruined the astronaut's night vision. Only Earth itself was bright enough to be seen, luminous blue and white, hanging overhead.

Armstrong was particularly fascinated by moondust, which he kicked and scuffed with his boots. On Earth, kicking dust makes a little cloud in the air--but there is no air on the Moon. "When you kick the surface, [the dust goes out in] a little fan which, to me, is in the shape of a rose petal," recalls Armstrong. "There's just a little ring of particles--nothing behind 'em--no dust, no swirl, no nothing. It's really unique."

Enough of that. It was time for work.

Almost forgotten in Apollo lore are the checklists sewn to the forearms of the spacesuits. These "honey-do" memos from NASA were jam-packed with activities--from inspecting the lander to deploying the TV to collecting samples. Some of the tasks were as detailed as bending over and reporting to Mission Control how it went. They had a lot to do.

see captionNeil and Buzz deployed a solar wind collector, a seismometer and a laser retroreflector. They erected a flag and uncovered a plaque proclaiming, "We came in peace for all mankind." They took the first interplanetary phone call--"I just can't tell you how proud we all are," said President Nixon from the Oval Office. They collected 47 lbs of moon rocks and took 166 pictures. Check. Check. Check.

Right: Buzz Aldrin totes experiments from the Eagle onto the lunar surface. [More]

Finally, after two and a half busy, exhilarating hours, it was time to go. The checklist continued: Climb back in the Eagle. Stow the rocks. Eat dinner: Beef stew or cream of chicken soup. And finally, sleep.

That was the limit. "You just are not going to get any sleep while you're waiting [for liftoff]," Aldrin said after the mission.

The Eagle was not a sleepy place. The tiny cabin was noisy with pumps and bright with warning lights that couldn't be dimmed. Even the window shades were glowing, illuminated by intense sunshine outside. "After I got into my sleep stage and all settled down, I realized there was something else [bothering me]," said Armstrong. The Eagle had an optical telescope sticking out periscope-style. "Earth was shining right through the telescope into my eye. It was like a light bulb."

To get some relief, they closed the helmets of their spacesuits. It was quiet inside and they "wouldn't be breathing all the dust" they had tramped in after the moon walk, said Aldrin. Alas, it didn't work. The suit's cooling systems, so necessary out on the scorching lunar surface, were too cold for sleeping inside the Eagle. The best Aldrin managed was a "couple hours of mentally fitful drowsing." Armstrong simply stayed awake.

When the wake-up call finally came,

"Tranquility Base, Tranquility Base, Houston. Over."

Armstrong answered with alacrity,

"Good morning, Houston. Tranquility Base. Over."

It was time to go home, to Earth, for a good night's sleep.

 

7-14-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 493.9 km/sec
density: 2.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul14
24-hr: A0
0955 UT Jul14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

NLCs INVADE THE USA: So far in 2009, noctilucent clouds (NLCs) have been seen mainly over Europe and parts of Canada, but now they are beginning to invade the continental USA. "We had a pretty good dispay in Grass Valley, Oregon, last night," reports amateur astronomer Dan Earl. "I've been looking for NLCs for the past couple of years and finally they arrived!" He took these pictures using a Canon 40D. US sky watchers should be alert for electric blue.

 

7-13-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 464.8 km/sec
density: 4.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul13
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul13
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

COLORADO FIREBALL: "A fireball of magnitude -10 (about 250 times brighter than Venus) lit up central Colorado at 2:28 a.m. MDT on July 13th," reports astronomer Chris Peterson of Guffey, Colorado. "It was very slow, lasting at least 5.5 seconds." Triangulating sightings from Colorado and New Mexico, he estimates that the meteoroid was "only 50 km high and traveling about 15 km/s. The fairly low altitude and low velocity mean this fireball might have produced meteorites." [more information]

 

7-12-09  - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 399.3 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0536 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A1
0005 UT Jul12
24-hr: A1
0005 UT Jul12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0530 UT

Earth is inside a solar wind stream
flowing from the indicated coronal
hole.
 Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

7-11-09 - - sunspot 1024 is rotating around the corner of the sun and disappearing from view

AROUND THE BEND: The biggest sunspot in two years, sunspot 1024, has rotated over the sun's western limb and is no longer visible from Earth. But that doesn't mean the sunspot has disappeared. Here it is in an ultraviolet photo taken just a few hours ago by NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft:

STEREO-A is stationed over the sun's western horizon where it can monitor sunspots no longer visible from Earth. The spacecraft will track sunspot 1024 for as much as four more days, gathering valuable data on the sunspot's rate of growth or decay. Indeed, if the sunspot can hold itself together for only two more weeks, the sun's rotation will carry it around to face Earth once again. Stay tuned for updates from around the bend.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 402.4 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A2
2335 UT Jul11
24-hr: A2
2335 UT Jul11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

7-10-09 - Sunspot 1024 is leaving view shortly

GOOD-BYE SUNSPOT 1024: The biggest, most active sunspot in two years is about to disappear. Sunspot 1024 is approaching the sun's western limb and, later today, it will go around the bend. Pavol Rapavy sends this photo from Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia:

Readers with solar telescopes should train their optics on the edge of the sun. Even minor eruptions from sunspot 1024 could hurl photogenic blobs of hot plasma high over the limb where they would shine in beautiful relief against the black of space beyond. The parting shots could be the best of all.

more images: from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from David B.V. Tyler of Buckinghamshire UK; from D. Booth, T. Emerson, J .Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from Stephen Yeathermon of Santa Fe, Texas;

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 434.7 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul10
24-hr: A4
1040 UT Jul10
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

July 9, 2009: On June 29th, neighbors of Paul Mortfield in Ontario, Canada, heard "cheers of excitement" coming from the astronomer's house. What caused the commotion?

"I had just observed NASA's LCROSS spacecraft," explains Mortfield. Using no more than a backyard telescope, he caught it zipping past spiral galaxy IC3808:

Above: LCROSS photographed on June 29, 2009, by Paul Mortfield using a remotely-operated 16-inch telescope. The spacecraft was about 480,000 km from Earth.

LCROSS is the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. It left Earth June 18th atop an Atlas V rocket on a mission to crash into the Moon. On Oct. 9th, NASA plans to plunge LCROSS headfirst into a deep crater near the Moon's south pole. Researchers hope the debris it kicks up will reveal water and other minerals of use to future lunar explorers.

Meanwhile, LCROSS is circling the Earth-moon system in a long looping orbit, and NASA is inviting amateur astronomers to help track it.

There were definitely cheers of excitement around the house when I saw it on the computer screen."

Mortfield estimates the brightness of the spacecraft to be 16th magnitude, similar to that of many near-Earth asteroids. To find it, he recommends pointing your web browser at JPL's online Horizons ephemeris system (link) and entering 'LCROSS' as the target body. The program will generate a set of coordinates you can plug into the tracking system of almost any modern backyard telescope.

Since Mortfield first caught sight of LCROSS on June 29th, others have seen it too. Portuguese amateur Paulo Lobao photographed LCROSS using a refracting telescope only 4-inches in diameter: details.

"Today's technology is truly amazing, allowing amateurs to capture images far beyond what professionals were doing just a couple of decades ago," says Mortfield.

Indeed, says Day, LCROSS is a fairly easy target for experienced amateurs, and he'd love nothing better than to recruit hundreds of observers to keep track of LCROSS in the months ahead. How does an astronomer get started? "Go to the LCROSS observer's group (link). Start reading the articles and chatting with other observers," he suggests.

The really big event comes in October when LCROSS crashes into the Moon. Amateur astronomers will be able to observe that, too.

 

7-9-09 - sunspot 1024 continues to move across the sun.


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has captured satellite images of what appears to be a UFO entering into the sun after a solar flare. The flare was part of a series that had been predicted by a crop circle. The Milk Hill crop circle evolved over three stages from June 21-30. It had a coded message predicting solar activity in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) beginning on July 6/7. The UFO is not a planet and does not have the characteristics of a comet both of which are regularly captured on SOHO images. The UFO is seen moving through a solar flare that appeared on July 9 after a CME is ejected. With the large amount of interest generated in the crop circle prediction, the UFO may have been related in some way.

SUNSPOTS FOR BREAKFAST: "Today, when I looked at sunspot 1024 through my Coronado H-alpha filter, the active region reminded me of two enormous breaking egg yokes," reports Larry Alvarez of Flower Mound, Texas. "There were long snakelike arms reaching from one yoke to the next in an egg-citing tug of war." He calls this snapshot Sunspots for Breakfast:

Breakfast is almost over. Sunspot 1024 is approaching the sun's western limb where it will disappear in 24 hours. That will bring an end to the best display of sunspots in nearly two years. Fortunately for astrophotographers, sunspot 1024 is a member of new Solar Cycle 24 and it probably heralds more to come. Solar activity is not eggs-tinct, after all.

more images: from David B.V. Tyler of Buckinghamshire UK; from K.Greene, G. Harmon and J.Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Juan Miguel González Polo of Cáceres, Spain; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, The Netherlands; from Marco Vidovic of Stojnci, Slovenia; from Steve Boyce of Sidmouth Devon, UK; from Paul Haese of Blackwood, South Australia; from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Fulvio Mete of Rome, Italy; from Stefano Sello of Pisa, Italy; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from John Nassr of Baguio, Philippines; from Ehsan Rostamizadeh of Kerman, Iran;

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 374.5 km/sec
density: 12.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2145 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1930 UT Jul09
24-hr: A0
1320 UT Jul09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2145 UT

 

7-8-09 - sunspot 1024 - growing again

RESURGENT SUNSPOT: Yesterday, sunspot 1024 took the day off; the fast-growing active region stopped growing and even decayed a little. Today, the sunspot is growing again. It now measures 125,000 km from end to end, almost as wide as the planet Jupiter. This 3-day movie from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) shows recent developments:

The size of the spot makes it a fine target for backyard solar telescopes. And it is worth watching. Sunspot 1024 is the first big sunspot of new Solar Cycle 24, and it is crackling with minor but photogenic B-class flares. By itself, this one active region won't bring an end to the deepest solar minimum in a century, but it does show that the sun's magnetic dynamo is still working--a fact some had begun to doubt. More sunspots are coming, so stay tuned.

more images: from John Nassr of Baguio, Philippines; from Ehsan Rostamizadeh of Kerman, Iran; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Steve Wainwright of Swansea South Wales, UK; from Keith Davies of Swansea, South Wales, United Kingdom; from David Leong of Hong Kong; Solar wind
speed: 318.8 km/sec
density: 5.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1707 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A2
1140 UT Jul08
24-hr: B3
0530 UT Jul08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UT

 

7-7-09 - Sunspot 1024 subsiding in intensity  -bigger than earth

Scientists and astronomers must be seeing something different in this sunspot because they don't agree: 

SUBSIDING SUNSPOT: Sunspot 1024 is experiencing some decay and solar flare activity is subsiding. Nevertheless, by recent standards it is still a behemoth. "Now approaching the western limb, the region provides a tremendous richness of detail through amateursolar telescopes," says Pete Lawrence who sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey UK:

Many readers are writing to ask if this sunspot is going to produce a major solar storm today, July 7th. Such a storm was "predicted" by a set of crop circles in England, and the solar blogosphere has been abuzz with speculation. The answer is "no." A major storm is not in the offing. Sunspot 1024 is relatively large, but it does not have the kind of complex magnetic field that poses a threat for major eruptions. Crop circles, it turns out, are not a useful tool for forecasting solar activity.

more images: from Mike Borman of Evansville, Indiana; from Stuart Thomson of Melbourne, Australia; from Fulvio Mete of Rome, Italy;from Mustafa Erol of Antalya, Turkey; from Raffaele Filannino of Barletta, Puglia, Italia; from Gary Colwell of Ardooch Ontario; from Tom Jorgenson of Neenah, Wisconsin; from Therese van Nieuwenhoven of Laukvik, Lofoten islands, Norway; from T. Emerson and J. Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia;

ASTRONOMERS are claiming that Earth is witnessing the biggest and most powerful Sunspot ever seen and the sunspot is yet to peak in intensity.

A sunspot is a magnetic storm on the surface of the sun and the area of the spot is colder than the normal surface.

The normal surface is about 5000 degrees, the temperature of a sunspot is about 3000 degrees.

The size of a sunspot varies, ranging from the size of the moon to 65 times larger than the size of earth and lasts for about a month then fades away.

This newest sunspot is thought to be 60 to 80 times the size of Earth and has occurred on the side of the sun, which is in view of Australia.

Wappa Falls Observatory head astronomer Owen Bennedick describes the sunspot shape like the letter S and thinks it to be approximately 150,000 km long and 30,000 km wide.

“It's flares have not yet been measured,” Owen Bennedick said, “but it is like hundreds of thousands of hydrogen bombs.”

The flares have been so bright that NASA has had trouble taking accurate pictures of the sunspot.

Mr Bennedick said the sunspot is still growing in intensity but predicts it could climax by today.

The sunspot will cause the Earth's atmosphere to heat up, potentially creating problems to powerlines, radio transmitters and delicate equipment such as mobile phones and computers.

Mr Bennedick suggests powerline filters be installed on computers and people should put on extra sunscreen.

Sunspots appear on the sun in cycles, occurring every 11 years, the current cycle has four years until it reaches it peak.

The last sunspot happened two years ago and was the most powerful flare yet measuring x28.

Most sunspot flares measure around x12 which is still considered powerful.

The Sunspot two years ago was 45 times larger than the earth and lasted for 45 days.

Since that sunspot, no more had been seen until Sunday, this latest one considered the most powerful yet.

The Wappa Falls Observatory is in the process of installing a new 12 inch telescope which will allow a greater view of the sky.

The new telescope was bought in honour of Kerry Mounter who recently passed away.

Mr Mounter was an inspiration to all who worked at the Wappa Falls Observatory. The telescope will be dedicated to his memory.
 

Current conditions
Solar wind
speed: 
336.4 km/sec
density: 
9.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1846 UT
X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: 
A9 
1700 UT Jul07 
24-hr: 
A9 
1700 UT Jul07 
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1840 UT

 

7-6-09 -  Sunspot 1024 continues

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 366.2 km/sec
density: 1.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A3
2035 UT Jul06
24-hr: B8
1705 UT Jul06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2345 UT

 

7-5-09 - Sunspot 1024

SUDDEN SUPER SUNSPOT: Sunspot 1024 is crackling with B- and C-class solar flares. The activity is so intense, astronomers can't seem to take a picture of the sunspot without catching a flare in action. Pete Lawrence sends this example from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK:

"Active region 1024 is putting on a fantastic show," says Lawrence. "The center of this region is incredibly bright and fluctuating."

Solar observers haven't seen an active region like this one in more than two years. It is big, complex, and rapidly growing: movie. The magnetic polarity of the sunspot, revealed by SOHO magnetograms, show that it is a member of new Solar Cycle 24. This makes sense: New research shows that solar jet streams are beginning to stimulate new-cycle sunspot production. Sunspot 1024 appears to be a sign of the process at work, heralding more to come. Monitoring is encouraged.

more images: from Anthony Ayiomamitis of Athens, Greece; from Didier Favre of Brétigny-sur-Orge, France; from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Steve Wainwright of Swansea, S. Wales UK; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, The Netherlands; from Mark Townley of Brierley Hill, West Midlands, UK; from David B.V. Tyler of southern England; from Brian Woosnam of In North Wales UK; from Lecoq Etienne of Mesnil Panneville Normandy ,France; from Florin Marc of Tirgu Mures, Romania

The Classification of X-ray Solar Flares
or "Solar Flare Alphabet Soup"

A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays. [more information]

Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness in the wavelength range 1 to 8 Angstroms. There are 3 categories: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.

This figure shows a series of solar flares detected by NOAA satellites in July 2000:


 

Each category for x-ray flares has nine subdivisions ranging from, e.g., C1 to C9, M1 to M9, and X1 to X9. In this figure, the three indicated flares registered (from left to right) X2, M5, and X6. The X6 flare triggered a radiation storm around Earth nicknamed the Bastille Day event.

 Class
Peak (W/m2)between 1 and 8 Angstroms
 
 B
 I < 10-6
 
 C
 10-6 < = I < 10-5
 
 M
 10-5 < = I < 10-4
 
 X
 I > = 10-4

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 336.4 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1825 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1250 UT Jul05
24-hr: C1
0710 UT Jul05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1825 UT

 

7-4-09 - Sunspot -1024

ceweather.com/images2009/04jul09/1024_anim.gif?PHPSESSID=ar45r7tl5v3ichc5r9f20mchv2"> movie. Sunspot 1024 has at least a dozen individual dark cores and it is crackling with B-class solar flares. This morning, amateur astronomer David Tyler caught one of the flares in action from his backyard solar observatory in England:

The magnetic polarity of sunspot 1024 identifies it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. Its rapid emergence on July 3rd and 4th continues the recent (few-month) trend of intensifying new-cycle activity. This sunspot is the best offering yet from the young solar cycle. Monitoring is encouraged.

Scientists studying recent crop circles are predicting that this sunspot will go CME on 7-7-09
 

SWIRLING SULFUR DIOXIDE: A massive plume of ash and sulfur dioxide expelled by Russia's Sarychev Peak volcano on June 12th is swirling through the stratosphere over the northern hemisphere. Europe's MetOpA satellite is monitoring the SO2, colored red in this 5-day animation spanning June 25th through 30th:

Sarychev's emissions are causing some beautiful sunsets. Here's what to look for: When the sun goes down, delicate ripples of white appear over the western horizon. The ripples are volcanic aerosols--a mixture of ash and sulfur compounds. Then, as twilight deepens, the sky turns a lovely shade of "volcanic lavender." Lavender is what you get when you mix blue light scattered by fine aerosols with ordinary red sunset rays.

Is a plume passing over your area tonight? Keep an eye on the western sky for Sarychev sunsets.

2009 Sarychev Sunset Gallery
[
See also: 2008 Kasatochi Sunset Photo Gallery]

GEO-FLARE: One night last month, Miroslav Grnja of Bratislava, Slovakia, opened the shutter of his camera (a Canon 400D) and settled back to watch the stars go by. He was looking forward to recording a nice set of star trails--but one of stars refused to move:

"At first I thought I had a hot pixel in my camera," says Grnja. "Upon closer inspection, however, I realized I had photographed a geostationary satellite." Geostationary satellites (geosats) remain fixed above one point on Earth's surface, so they do not move with the stars.

Usually, geosats are too dim to show up in star-trail photos. This one was different. "It flared," says Grnja who made a movie of the flash by stiching together consecutive 90-second exposures. "The satellite brightened to magnitude +2 as sunlight glinted from one of its flat surfaces--perhaps an antenna or a solar panel."

Which geosat was it? Grnja has narrowed the possibilities to two: "E-BIRD (27948 2003-043-A) and Intelsat 802 (26038 1997-031-A) were both in that part of the sky during my photo-shoot." Satellite observers may wish to keep an eye on these birds for future outbursts.

UPDATED: 2009 Noctilucent Photo Gallery
[
previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003]


Solar wind
speed: 371.3 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1630 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
1350 UT Jul04
24-hr: B7
0435 UT Jul04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1635 UT

 

7-3-09 - There are no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 338.1 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation |

45 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A9
2305 UT Jul03
24-hr: A9
2305 UT Jul03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

Earth at Aphelion
back to spaceweather.com

You learned it in school, astronomers say it all the time, it's The Truth: "Earth circles the Sun." Well... almost.

Earth does go around the Sun, but not in a circle. Earth's orbit is an ellipse, a lopsided curve with one end closer to the Sun than the other.

On July 4, 2008, our planet is at the distant end--a point astronomers call "aphelion." This puts us farther from the Sun than we are at any other time of year.

"All planets in our solar system travel around the Sun in elliptical orbits. It's Kepler's 1st Law," explains University of Florida astronomy professor George Lebo. "The eccentricity of Earth's orbit is 1.7%. In January when we're closest to the Sun (perihelion), the distance is 147.5 million km. In July we're 152.6 million km away--a five million kilometer difference."

A distant sun means less sunlight for our planet. "Averaged over the globe, sunlight falling on Earth at aphelion is about 7% less intense than it is at perihelion," says Roy Spencer of NASA's Global Hydrology and Climate Center (GHCC).

Then why is it so warm outside?

"Seasonal weather patterns are shaped primarily by the 23.5 degree tilt of our planet's spin axis, not by aphelion or perihelion," continues Lebo. "During northern summer the north pole is tilted toward the Sun. The Sun climbs high in the sky, and days are long. That's what makes July so hot." (Note: seasons are reversed in the two hemispheres, north and south. So July is generally cold in the southern hemisphere.)

But there's more to the story: Says Spencer, "the average temperature of the whole earth at aphelion is about 4oF or 2.3oC higher than it is at perihelion." Our planet is actually warmer when we're farther from the Sun: plot it!

Above: Earth's land-masses are concentrated more north of the equator than south. Image credit and copyright: the PALEOMAP Project.

This happens because continents and oceans aren't distributed evenly around the globe. There's more land in the northern hemisphere and more water in the south. During the month of July the land-crowded northern half of our planet is tilted toward the Sun. "Earth's temperature is slightly higher in July because the Sun is shining down on all that land, which heats up rather easily," says Spencer.

Physicists would say that continents have low heat capacity. "Consider the desert," says Bill Patzert, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "At night the desert is cold, perhaps only 60o F (16o C). When the Sun rises in the morning the temperature might jump to 100o F (38o C) or more." Such mercurial behavior is characteristic of materials like rocks and soil with low heat capacity. It doesn't take much sunlight to substantially elevate their temperature.

Water is different. It has high heat capacity. "Let's say you went sailing off Malibu Beach at noon," continues Patzert. "The offshore temperature might be 75o F (24o C) -- pretty pleasant!" What happens after sunset? "The temperature drops, but only a few degrees because the heat capacity of the ocean is so high."

All this explains why July is our planet's warmest month: Northern continents baked by the aphelion Sun elevate the average temperature of the entire globe. January, on the other hand, is the coolest month because that's when our planet presents its water-dominated hemisphere to the Sun. "We're closer to the Sun in January," says Spencer, "but the extra sunlight gets spread throughout the oceans." Southern summer in January (perihelion) is therefore cooler than northern summer in July (aphelion).

Right: Earth's orbit is eccentric but not nearly so much as the orbits of Mars or Mercury. In this diagram solid lines trace each planet's elliptical path around the Sun. The dotted lines show circular orbits with the same mean radius. For more information, please visit Bridgewater College's Interactive Planetary Orbits web site.

"Another notable difference between summers in the two hemispheres is their duration," adds Lebo. According to Kepler's 2nd Law, planets move more slowly at aphelion than they do at perihelion. As a result, Northern summer on Earth is 2 to 3 days longer than southern summer -- which gives the Sun even more time to bake the northern continents.

If you're feeling baked, take a hint from the watery southern hemisphere. Locate the nearest swimming pool and dive in; feel the water's high heat capacity. A little physics can be refreshing ....

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips

 

7-2-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 374.5 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2306 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Jul02
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Jul02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

MOONSHIP PHOTOGRAPHED: NASA's LCROSS spacecraft was 480,000 km from Earth on Monday, June 29th, when Paul Mortfield of Sierra Remote Observatories in California photographed it passing by galaxy IC3808: movie. "Amateur astronomers with mid-sized telescopes should be able to capture LCROSS during its cruising orbits over the next several months before it hits the Moon," he says. "To find it, go to the JPL ephemeris generator and enter 'LCROSS' as the target body."

http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/horizons.cgi

 

7-1-09 No sunspots today - the small sunspot that was evident on June 30 has vanished.

 VOLCANIC SUNSETS: The plume of volcanic dust and sulfur dioxide that has caused so many pretty sunsets over the USA this week has crossed the Atlantic and reached Europe. "The purple color of the sky on June 30th was unbelievable," says Rafael Gallego, who sends this picture from Carrión de los Céspedes, Spain:

Similar reports are pouring in from France, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and many US states. Here's what to look for: When the sun goes down, delicate ripples of white appear over the western horizon. Then, as the twilight deepens, the sky turns a lovely shade of "volcanic lavender."

The source of the phenomenon is Russia's Sarychev Peak volcano. It erupted on June 12th, hurling massive plumes of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other debris into the stratosphere. The white ripples that herald these sunsets are made of volcanic aerosols--a mixture of ash and sulfur compounds. Blue light scattered by fine volcanic aerosols combines with ordinary red sunset rays to produce the telltale lavender.

Earth-orbiting satellites are monitoring Sarychev's sulfur dioxide plume as it circumnavigates the globe at high latitudes, spreading the phenomenon from Russia to the USA to Europe and back again. All northern sky watchers should be alert for volcanic sunsets.

UPDATED: 2009 Sarychev Sunset Gallery
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See also: 2008 Kasatochi Sunset Photo Gallery]

ART OR SCIENCE? Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, have created an unprecedented 3D supercomputer model of a sunspot. The result is not only scientificially informative, but also a thing of beauty:

To create the virtual sunspot, researchers programmed NCAR's IBM bluefire supercomputer with the laws of magnetohydrodynamics, sprinkled in some ground-based observations of actual sunspots, and hit "go." The bluefire is capable of 76 trillion calculations per second; even so, the program took weeks to complete. The final model contains 1.8 billion points and covers a 3D domain 31,000 miles by 62,000 miles wide and 3,700 miles deep.

Physcists are now studying movies of the virtual sunspot to develop new insights into the dynamic behavior of these planet-sized behemoths. More than one onlooker has gasped in amazement when shown the surprisely lovely subsurface structure of the 'spot.

Is it art or science? You decide.


2009 Noctilucent Photo Gallery
[
previous years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003]


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