SOLAR WEATHER
and some interesting space stuff

2009

compiled by Dee Finney

updated     10-31-09

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 10 - OCTOBER 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.
On August 31st, there are 1068 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On September 21, there are 1069 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On October 18, there are 1078 potentially hazardous asteroids.
 
Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.

Sept. 2009 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2009 QC35
Sept. 2
2.9 LD
17
35 m
2009 RY3
Sept. 11
1.9 LD
15
50 m
2009 RR
Sept. 16
2.8 LD
18
33 m
2009 RG2
Sept. 21
9.1 LD
19
31 m
2009 SN103
Sept. 28
1.2 LD
17
13 m
2009 HD21
Sept. 29
22.9 LD
15
1.0 km
1998 FW4
Sept. 29
8.6 LD
14
550 m
2009 SH2
Sept. 30
2.8 LD
17
49 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.
 
Oct. 2009 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2001 CV26
Oct. 8
9.8 LD
13
2.2 km
2009 TJ
Oct. 13
10.8 LD
18
130 m
2009 TM8
Oct. 17
0.9 LD
17
10 m
2009 TF8
Oct. 17
7.6 LD
19
20 m
2009 TH8
Oct. 19
4.5 LD
18
45 m
2009 UE
Oct. 19
2.5 LD
19
40 m
2009 UD
Oct. 20
2.0 LD
17
17 m
1999 AP10
Oct. 20
29.7 LD
13
2.7 km
2009 TO8
Oct. 21
7.4 LD
19
27 m
2009 UJ
Oct. 22
6.8 LD
19
25 m

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

CURRENT SPACE WEATHER DATA
CURRENT SOLAR X-RAY DATA
LASCO IMAGES
SOHO IMAGES
 
ALL ABOUT THE MOON BOMBING
 
10-31-09  Sunspot - 1029 issues a CME as it moves out of sight

PARTING SHOT: On its way over the sun's western limb on Oct. 31st, sunspot 1029 unleashed a C-class solar flare and a coronal mass ejection (CME). The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory photographed the billion-ton CME billowing past Mercury:

The blast reinforces sunspot's 1029's position as the most active sunspot of 2009. Last week alone, the sunspot produced ten C-class solar flares, more than tripling the number of flares in the previous 10 months. Sunspot 1029 is a member of long-overdue Solar Cycle 24. Is it also a herald of more active times to come? 

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 333.9 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0319 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
2105 UT Oct31
24-hr: C1
0935 UT Oct31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0315 UT

 

10-30-09 - Sunspot 1029 heading for the rim of the sun

 Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 350.7 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
2045 UT Oct30
24-hr: B2
0025 UT Oct30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-29-09 - Sunspot 1029 - leaving us soon

BIG SUNSPOT: After five days of non-stop growth, sunspot 1029 has become the biggest active region of the year and a beautiful target for backyard solar telescopes. Amateur astronomer Lecoq Etienne sends this picture from Mesnil-Panneville, France:

The sunspot's large dark core is about the size of Earth, while the entire sunspot group stretches about 50,000 km from end to end. The behemoth has been crackling with magnetic activity, producing 10 C-class solar flares in the past few days. That more than triples the number of C-flares (3) previously detected in all of 2009. According to NOAA forecasters, there is a 5% chance of an even stronger M-class flare during the next 24 hours. Stay tuned for solar activity!

more images: from Dave Gradwell of Near Birr Ireland; from Jimmy Eubanks of Boiling Springs, South Carolina; from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland; from John C McConnell of Maghaberry, Northern Ireland.

HERE IS WHAT THE SUN LOOKED LIKE IN 2008

THE SUN'S SNEAKY VARIABILITY: It might not be obvious to the naked eye, but the sun is a variable star. A sensor slated for launch onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory will probe the sun's "sneaky variability" with better time and spectral resolution than ever before. Science@NASA.

A Twisted Solar Eruptive Prominence
Credit: SOHO Consortium, EIT, ESA, NASA

Explanation: Ten Earths could easily fit in the "claw" of this seemingly solar monster. The monster, though, visible on the lower left, is a huge eruptive prominence seen moving out from our Sun. The above dramatic image taken early in the year 2000 by the Sun-orbiting SOHO satellite. This large prominence, though, is significant not only for its size, but its shape. The twisted figure eight shape indicates that a complex magnetic field threads through the emerging solar particles. Differential rotation inside the Sun might help account for the surface explosion. Although large prominences and energetic Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are relatively rare, they are occurred more frequently near Solar Maximum, the time of peak sunspot and solar activity in the eleven-year solar cycle.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.9 km/sec
density: 6.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B1
2240 UT Oct29
24-hr: B1
2240 UT Oct29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-28-09  Sunspot 1029 - biggest ever

BIG AND ACTIVE: Sunspot 1029, the biggest and most active sunspot of 2009, continues to put on a good show. Pete Lawrence sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK:

"The 'snake pit' of activity next to the main spot showed lots of intricate changes including the development of several intense star-like points," he says.

The sunspot has been crackling with minor C-class solar flares since it emerged a few days ago. Magnetic fields around the spot have been growing more complex, making stronger eruptions increasingly likely. NOAA forecasters estimate a 5% chance of an M-class flare in the next 24 hours. Stay tuned for solar activity!

sunspot images: from John C McConnell of Maghaberry, Northern Ireland; from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from Athanasios Georgiou of Filyro, Thessaloniki, Greece; from Roman Vanur of Nitra, Slovakia; from Paul Haese of Blackwood, South Australia; from Marco Vidovic of Stojnci, Slovenia; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy;

 

INDONESIAN ASTEROID: Picture this: A 10-meter wide asteroid hits Earth and explodes in the atmosphere with the energy of a small atomic bomb. Frightened by thunderous sounds and shaking walls, people rush out of their homes, thinking that an earthquake is in progress. All they see is a twisting trail of debris in the mid-day sky:


Click to view an Indonesian news report

This really happened on Oct. 8th around 11 am local time in the coastal town of Bone, Indonesia. The Earth-shaking blast received remarkably little coverage in Western press, but meteor scientists have given it their full attention. "The explosion triggered infrasound sensors of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) more than 10,000 km away," report researchers Elizabeth Silber and Peter Brown of the Univ. of Western Ontario in an Oct. 19th press release. Their analysis of the infrasound data revealed an explosion at coordinates 4.5S, 120E (close to Bone) with a yield of about 50 kton of TNT. That's two to three times more powerful than World War II-era atomic bombs.

The asteroid that caused the blast was not known before it hit and took astronomers completely by surprise. According to statistical studies of the near-Earth asteroid population, such objects are expected to collide with Earth on average every 2 to 12 years. "Follow-on observations from other instruments or ground recovery efforts would be very valuable in further refining this unique event," say Silber and Brown.

INDONESIAN ASTEROID: Earlier this month, with no warning, a ~10-meter wide asteroid hit Earth's atmosphere above Indonesia and exploded. The break-up was so powerful, it triggered nuclear test ban sensors thousands of kilometers away. A just-released analysis of infrasound data shows that the asteroid detonated with an energy equivalent of about 50 kton of TNT, similar to a small atomic bomb. This significant impact has received relatively little attention in Western press. Details are available today on http://spaceweather.com.
 

SPACE WEATHER
Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 365.4 km/sec
density: 7.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2155 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
1920 UT Oct28
24-hr: C1
0050 UT Oct28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2155 UT
 
10-27-09 - Sunspot 1029

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 387.8 km/sec
density: 1.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B4
2020 UT Oct27
24-hr: C1
0925 UT Oct27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

MYSTERY OBJECT: Yesterday, astronomers in Arizona, New Mexico and Spain, all hunting for near-Earth asteroids, discovered a "mystery object" orbiting Earth. Temporarily named "9U01FF6," it is small and in an elongated, 31-day orbit. Experts say it is probably a piece of an Apollo-era Moon mission. We'll get a closer look on Oct. 29th when it zips past Earth about 82,000 km (0.2 lunar distances) away. Advanced amateur astronomers can find it using this ephemeris.

 
10-26-09 - Sunspot 1029

GROWING SUNSPOT: The sun is showing signs of life. Sunspot 1029 emerged this weekend, and it is crackling with B- and C-class solar flares. This movie from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) chronicles the sunspot's rapid development from Oct. 23rd through 25th:

The sunspot's magnetic polarity identifies it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. If its growth continues apace, sunspot 1029 could soon become the biggest sunspot of 2009. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.

sunspot images: from Mike Borman of Evansville, Indiana; from Emiel Veldhuis of Zwolle, the Netherlands; from Vahan Yeterian of Lompoc California; from Fabio Acquarone of Genova, Liguria, Italy; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, The Netherlands; from Paul Haese of Blackwood, South Australia; from Richard Best of Lewes, East Sussex. UK; from Bruno Nolf of Otegem, Belgium

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 402.5 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0414 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A9
1800 UT Oct25
24-hr: C1
0225 UT Oct25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

 

10-25-09 - Sunspot 1029

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 404.1 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A9
1800 UT Oct25
24-hr: C1
0225 UT Oct25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-24-09 

NEW SUNSPOT: A new sunspot numbered 1029 is emerging in the sun's northern hemisphere. Magnetic maps of the spot identify it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. Readers with solar telescopes, now is the time to see sunspot genesis in action.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 415.3 km/sec
density: 1.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B3
2115 UT Oct24
24-hr: B3
2115 UT Oct24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT
 
10-23-09 - Sunspot 1029 forming

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 391.8 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct23
24-hr: A0
0450 UT Oct23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

GEOMAGNETIC ACTIVITY: High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for Northern Lights. A sharp gust of solar wind hit Earth on Oct. 21st, and the Arctic Circle is still ringing with geomagnetic activity. "[We had a] stunning display of active auroras last night," reports Thomas Hagen, who sends this picture from Tromsø, Norway:

"The entire sky turned green and stayed green for much of the night," adds Fredrik Broms of Kvaløya, Norway.

The solar wind gust that sparked the display is interesting because it likely originated with a spotless explosion in the Sun's southern hemisphere on Oct. 17th: movie. The blast hurled a faint coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. Normally, CMEs reach Earth in only 2 or 3 days, but this one took a leisurely 4 days to cross the Sun-Earth divide. Why so long? Since solar minimum began in ~2007, solar physicists have noticed that CMEs have been moving in slow motion. They take a long time to get here, and they don't hit very hard when they arrive. Nevertheless, this one managed to spark some nice auroras. Browse the gallery for more.

October 2009 Northern Lights Gallery
[
previous Octobers: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001]

 

10-22-09 - Sunspot 1028 disappeared

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 371.5 km/sec
density: 3.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct22
24-hr: A0
0455 UT Oct22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

These black areas is what causes the magnetic auroras on earth several days later

Solar wind streams flowing from the indicated coronal holes could reach Earth on Oct. 23rd or 24th. Credit: SOHO Extreme UV
 

10-21-09 - Sunspot 1028 appears

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 279.1 km/sec
density: 0.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1226 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1255 UT Oct21
24-hr: A0
0625 UT Oct21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1255 UT

ORIONID METEOR SHOWER: The Orionid meteor shower is underway. According to the International Meteor Organization, observers are counting 35 Orionids per hour--a rate which could increase when the shower peaks on Wednesday, Oct. 21st. To see the show, set your alarm for 3 am, wake up and watch the sky during the dark hours before dawn.

The shower is caused by dusty debris from Halley's Comet, which litters the October portion of Earth's orbit. Earlier today, a fragment of Halley cut across the skies of New Mexico where amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft operates an all-sky camera and forward scatter meteor radar.

The eerie sound you hear is a radio echo--a distant TV signal reflected from the meteor's ionized trail. Ashcraft records the reflections at 61.250 MHz and 55.250 MHz using a VHF antenna co-located with his all-sky camera. He says he'll be updating his radio fireball gallery as the shower intensifies.

Meanwhile at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Alabama, NASA astronomers have been monitoring Orionid activity using a two-station observatory with cameras separated by more than 100 miles. When a meteor is captured by both cameras, triangulation yields the meteor's height, direction and speed. "We find that most Orionids are hitting the atmosphere at about 140,000 mph," says lead researcher Bill Cooke.

This high speed accounts for the rapidity with which Orionids flit across the sky. "They are very fast meteors," he says.

For the past three years, Orionid rates have been unusually high, with reports of 60 or more meteors per hour. Researchers believe this is a result of some very old and rich debris from Comet Halley drifting across Earth's orbit. Computer models suggest that this debris is still nearby, so the trend of "good Orionids" should continue in 2009.

UPDATED: 2009 Orionid Photo Gallery
[full story] [sky map] [previous years: 2006, 2008]

 

10-20-09 -  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 287.3 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct20
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Oct20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

METEORS FROM HALLEY'S COMET: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Halley's Comet, and this is causing the annual Orionid meteor shower. If forecasters are correct, the shower will peak on Wednesday morning, Oct. 21st, with dozens of meteors per hour. The best time to look is during the dark hours before local dawn.

For the past three years, Orionid rates have been unusually high, with reports of 60 or more meteors per hour.  Researchers believe this is a result of some very old and rich debris from Comet Halley drifting across Earth's orbit.  Computer models of the debris suggest that it is still in the neighborhood, so the trend of "good Orionids" could continue in 2009.
 

10-19-09 - No sunspots today

EARTH-DIRECTED ERUPTION: On Saturday, Oct. 17th, starting around 18:24 UT, a spotless active region in the sun's southern hemisphere erupted, hurling a faint coronal mass ejection (CME) in the general direction of Earth. SOHO's extreme UV telescope recorded this movie of the blast. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Oct. 19th or 20th when the CME arrives

LUNAR IMPACT PLUME: There was a plume after all. Observers on Earth had their doubts after LCROSS and its Centaur booster rocket hit the Moon on Friday, Oct. 9th. The twin lunar impacts failed to produce visible plumes of debris, prompting speculation that something had gone wrong. On the contrary, members of the LCROSS science team are now calling the experiment "a smashing success."

Fifteen seconds after the Centaur hit the shadowy floor of crater Cabeus, the LCROSS spacecraft flying 600 km overhead took the following picture of a plume measuring 6 to 8 km wide:

"There is a clear indication of a plume of vapor and fine debris," says LCROSS principal investigator Tony Colaprete of NASA/Ames. "The ejecta brightness appears to be at the low end of our predictions and this may be a clue to the properties of the material the Centaur hit."

Nine cameras and spectrometers on LCROSS captured every phase of the Centaur's impact: the intial flash, the debris plume, and the creation of the Centaur's crater. "We are blown away by the data returned," says Colaprete. "The team is working hard on the analysis and the data appear to be of very high quality."

But did the impact reveal any water at the bottom of Cabeus? The LCROSS team isn't ready to say yet. Combining their data with those of other observatories and analyzing the full dataset could take weeks. According to NASA, "any new information will undergo the normal scientific review process and will be released as soon as it is available."

For more information, read NASA's Oct. 16th press release and browse the gallery of images.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 303.8 km/sec
density: 0.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0455 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Oct18
24-hr: A0
0815 UT Oct18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

 

10-18-09 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 303.1 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct18
24-hr: A0
0815 UT Oct18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-17-09  CME HEADING DIRECTLY FOR EARTH

"On Saturday, Oct. 17th, starting around 18:24 UT, a spotless active region in the sun's southern hemisphere erupted, hurling a faint coronal mass ejection (CME) in the general direction of Earth. SOHO's extreme UV telescope recorded this movie of the blast. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Oct. 19th or 20th when the CME arrives."

Small Asteroid Will Pass Between Earth And Moon Tonight 
 
 
Saturday, Oct 17, 2009 @03:08pm CDT
A 30-foot-wide asteroid discovered just last night will zip past the Earth just before midnight, Eastern time, tonight.

"USA Today" reports NASA estimates the object will pass within 216-thousand miles of Earth, or slightly closer than the orbit of the moon. There's no danger of the asteroid hitting the Earth.

Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says, quote, "if the object is of typical density, it would create a four-kiloton explosion in the Earth's atmosphere if it were to hit, which of course it won't." He adds scientists expect occasional objects of this size to fly within the orbit of the moon every few days or so.

(Copyright 2009 by VERTEXNews/Newsroom Solutions)
10-16-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 361.2 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct16
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Oct16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

GIANT RIBBON DISCOVERED AT THE EDGE OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM: For years, researchers have known that the solar system is surrounded by a vast bubble of magnetism. Called the "heliosphere," it springs from the sun and extends far beyond the orbit of Pluto, providing a first line of defense against cosmic rays and interstellar clouds that try to enter our local space. Although the heliosphere is huge and literally fills the sky, it emits no light and no one has actually seen it. Until now.

NASA's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft has made the first all-sky map of the heliosphere and the results have taken researchers by surprise. The map is bisected by a bright, winding ribbon of unknown origin:

"This is a shocking new result," says IBEX principal investigator Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute. "We had no idea this ribbon existed--or what has created it. Our previous ideas about the outer heliosphere are going to have to be revised."

The two Voyager spacecraft (labeled V1 and V2 in the figure) have spent decades traveling to the edge of the solar system for in situ inspection of whatever might be there--but ironically both spacecraft missed the ribbon. "It's like having two weather stations, but missing the big storm that runs between them," says Eric Christian, IBEX deputy mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

At the moment, theorists are "working like crazy" to understand this discovery and how the ribbon might affect the ability of the heliosphere to shield us from cosmic rays. Science@NASA has the full story.

HERE IS THE FOLLOWUP STORY:

Giant Ribbon at the Edge of the Solar System: Mystery Solved? 01.15.2010

 

January 15, 2010: Last year, when NASA's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft discovered a giant ribbon at the edge of the solar system, researchers were mystified. They called it a "shocking result" and puzzled over its origin. Now the mystery may have been solved.

"We believe the ribbon is a reflection," says Jacob Heerikhuisen, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. "It is where solar wind particles heading out into interstellar space are reflected back into the solar system by a galactic magnetic field."

Heerikhuisen is the lead author of a paper reporting the results in the Jan. 10th edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Right: An artist's concept of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX).

"This is an important finding," says Arik Posner, IBEX program scientist at NASA Headquarters. "Interstellar space just beyond the edge of the solar system is mostly unexplored territory. Now we know, there could be a strong, well-organized magnetic field sitting right on our doorstep."

The IBEX data fit in nicely with recent results from Voyager. Voyager 1 and 2 are near the edge of the solar system and they also have sensed strong* magnetism nearby. Voyager measurements are relatively local to the spacecraft, however. IBEX is filling in the "big picture." The ribbon it sees is vast and stretches almost all the way across the sky, suggesting that the magnetic field behind it must be equally vast.

Although maps of the ribbon (see below) seem to show a luminous body, the ribbon emits no light. Instead, it makes itself known via particles called "energetic neutral atoms" (ENAs)--mainly garden-variety hydrogen atoms. The ribbon emits these particles, which are picked up by IBEX in Earth orbit.

see caption

Above: A comparison of IBEX observations (left) with a 3D magnetic reflection model (right). More images: data, model.

The reflection process posited by Heerikhuisen et al. is a bit complicated, involving multiple "charge exchange" reactions between protons and hydrogen atoms. The upshot, however, is simple. Particles from the solar wind that escape the solar system are met ~100 astronomical units (~15 billion kilometers) away by an interstellar magnetic field. Magnetic forces intercept the escaping particles and sling them right back where they came from.

"If this mechanism is correct--and not everyone agrees--then the shape of the ribbon is telling us a lot about the orientation of the magnetic field in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy," notes Heerikhuisen.

And upon this field, the future may hinge.

The solar system is passing through a region of the Milky Way filled with cosmic rays and interstellar clouds. The magnetic field of our own sun, inflated by the solar wind into a bubble called the "heliosphere," substantially protects us from these things. However, the bubble itself is vulnerable to external fields. A strong magnetic field just outside the solar system could press against the heliosphere and interact with it in unknown ways. Will this strengthen our natural shielding—or weaken it? No one can say.

Right: An artist's concept of interstellar clouds in the galactic neighborhood of the sun. [more]

"IBEX will monitor the ribbon closely in the months and years ahead," says Posner. "We could see the shape of the ribbon change—and that would show us how we are interacting with the galaxy beyond."

It seems we can learn a lot by looking in the mirror. Stay tuned to Science@NASA for updates.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

more information and footnotes
 

IBEX home page -- (NASA)

IBEX mission page -- (SWRI)

Footnote: * The strong interstellar fields mentioned in this story measure about ~5 microgauss. A microgauss is one millionth of a gauss, a unit of magnetic field strength popular among astronomers and geophysicists. Earth's magnetic field is about 0.5 gauss or 500,000 microgauss. Magnetic fields pervading interstellar space tend to be much less intense than planetary magnetic fields.

Credits: The IBEX spacecraft was launched in October 2008. Its science objective was to discover the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system. The Southwest Research Institute developed and leads the mission with a team of national and international partners. The spacecraft is the latest in NASA's series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers Program. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.


 

 

10-15-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 420.5 km/sec
density: 5.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct15
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Oct15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

LUNAR IMPACT: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has pinpointed the wreckage of a spacecraft that crashed into the Moon. No, it wasn't LCROSS, which hit the floor of crater Cabeus last week. This crash site is much older:

Thirty-eight and a half years old, to be exact. The crater was formed on February 4, 1971, by the impact of Apollo 14's Saturn IVB booster rocket. NASA intentionally guided the rocket into the lunar surface to provide a signal for seismometers deployed by Apollo astronauts. The experiment yielded new information about the Moon's interior structure.

Over the years, NASA and other international space agencies have peppered the Moon with dozens of spacecraft--usually on purpose, although not always--and by doing so gained considerable experience with the results of lunar impacts. Researchers tapped into that experience when they predicted bright flashes and debris plumes for the crash of LCROSS. Imagine their surprise when the flashes and plumes failed to materialize! To the human eye, LCROSS and its Centaur booster rocket simply disappeared into the inky depths of Cabeus with no obvious evidence of impact.

The solution to this mystery probably lies in data beamed back to Earth by LCROSS in the last minutes before impact. Scientists are crunching the numbers, and it may be days or weeks before results are known. Stay tuned.

 

10-14-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.4 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0234 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Oct13
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Oct13
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

NETHERLANDS FIREBALL: This evening in the Netherlands, at approximately 16:56 UT, a fireball nearly as bright as the full Moon streaked across the twilight sky. "It was red-orange in color and broke apart into 5 or 6 pieces as I watched it from the village of Ermelo," says eye-witness Koen Miskotte. Other observers report sonic booms, low rumbles and shaking windows. A lucky shot by photographer Jan de Vries caught the meteor in mid-flight. Stay tuned for updates.

 

10-13-09 - No sunspots today

SOLAR ACTIVITY: NASA's STEREO spacecraft and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are monitoring an active region about to emerge over the sun's southeastern limb: image. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to keep an eye on the region for signs of a possible sunspot.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.1 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct13
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Oct13
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

MYSTERY OF THE MISSING PLUMES: NASA scientists are grappling with a mystery. Where did the debris go? Last Friday morning, Oct. 9th, the water-seeking LCROSS spacecraft and its Centaur booster rocket crashed into the floor of crater Cabeus near the Moon's south pole, on time and on target. But the debris plumes that were supposed to issue from the impacts failed to materialize. Consider this image recorded 15 seconds after the Centaur impact by the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale telescope:


Click to view a 12-minute mpg movie.

Cabeus crater is located in the center, behind the large bright mountain. Plumes of shattered spacecraft and lunar soil should have emerged into sunlight from the shadows, but even Palomar's sensitive adaptive optics system registered nothing.

The absence of debris plumes does not mean LCROSS was a failure. On the contrary, by offering up the unexpected, LCROSS is teaching us something new about the lunar surface and the products of lunar impacts. That makes it, by definition, a successful experiment. All that remains is to figure out what the new information is. Researchers will be announcing their findings in the days and weeks ahead.

 

10-12-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 379.5 km/sec
density: 3.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2343 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct12
24-hr: A1
1125 UT Oct12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-11-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 421.2 km/sec
density: 2.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1825 UT Oct11
24-hr: A0
1435 UT Oct11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-10-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 246.0 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1427 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1420 UT Oct10
24-hr: A1
0455 UT Oct10
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1420 UT

NASA PHOTO

LUNAR IMPACT--DUD OR MUD? NASA's water-seeking LCROSS spacecraft and its Centaur booster rocket hit the floor of crater Cabeus on Friday morning, Oct. 9th, but they did not make the kind of bright flashes many observers hoped for. Some people went so far as to call the event "a dud." In Sacramento, California, amateur astronomer Ed Lomeli had his telescope trained on Cabeus and he recorded nothing but static lunar terrain:

"I was a little disappointed not seeing a flash and a plume. Maybe LCROSS hit mud!" he laughs. "I hope the spacecraft's cameras saw something we missed."

Indeed they did. When the Centaur hit the crater floor, infrared cameras onboard the LCROSS mothership recorded a flash of heat and spectrometers detected sodium in the debris cloud. The appearance of sodium was a surprise--perhaps the first of many to come from this unprecedented experiment. Mission scientists have not yet had a chance to fully examine the LCROSS spectra for signs of water, but "we will be working on this feverishly today," said mission leader Tony Colaprete at a post-impact NASA press conference.

The low brightness of the flash did not dim the enthusiasm of thousands of people around the world who stayed up late for lunar impact parties. At the Sci-Quest science museum in Huntsville, Alabama, about a hundred kids and parents gathered to watch the show. "We donned our party hats, blew our noise makers and waited for the impact," says science writer Dauna Coulter. NASA photographer David Higginbotham documented the scene:

 

10-09-09 - No sunspots today

What happened to the L-Cross impactor?  The camera showed nothing except the crater getting closer and closer. It didn't  show the impactor throw up dust -  it showed nothing and then went blank.  It'll be interesting to hear the disinfo coming from NASA in the next few hours.

LUNAR IMPACT! NASA's LCROSS spacecraft and its Centaur booster rocket have hit the lunar surface. The impact flash from the Centaur booster rocket was not bright--it has been described "a dud" visually--but mission scientists say that could be good news, indicative of an impact in loose, relatively water-rich regolith. Mission scientists will share first images and results aer in tandem with other human beings.  They are not claiming that the L-Cross impactor itself was a success. On the NASA feed, the scientists are making excuse after excuse that we didn't see anything, including that they didn't look at it themselves yet.

The scientist says he is happy with the images of the camera, and he is proud of the camera.

Whoopee!  $79 million dollars to be proud of a camera.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 272.9 km/sec
density: 0.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1414 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1410 UT Oct09
24-hr: A0
0615 UT Oct09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1410 UT

 

10-08-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 288.3 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2205 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2040 UT Oct08
24-hr: A0
2040 UT Oct08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2200 UT

LUNAR IMPACT: NASA has updated the time of Friday morning's lunar impact. The LCROSS booster rocket will plunge into crater Cabeus at 4:31 am PDT (11:31 UT) followed by the LCROSS mothership four minutes later. Tune into NASA TV for live coverage of the event beginning at 3:15 am PDT (10:15 UT).

This morning, amateur astronomer Pete Lawrence photographed the impact site from his backyard observatory in Selsey UK. The red dot marks the spot:

"I used NASA's pointing chart to find target crater Cabeus," says Lawrence.

NASA hopes many amateur astronomers will be watching on Friday. "The more eyes the better," says LCROSS team member Brian Day of NASA/Ames. "We've never done this before and surprises are possible." US sky watchers west of the Mississippi river are favored with darkness and good views of the Moon at the time of the impacts.

To observers on Earth, the initial flashes of light marking the destruction of the two spacecraft will be hidden by crater walls. The debris plumes, however, should be visible in 10-inch class telescopes as they rise 10 km high above the rim of Cabeus. Note the shadows behind the red dot in Lawrence's image. The sunlit plumes will be highlighted by that dark backdrop: observing tips.

The impacts are designed to excavate frozen water from the cold and shadowy floor of crater Cabeus. Moon water is valuab money for future thirsty colonists. H2O also can be split into O2 for breathing and H2 for rocket fuel.

Evidence of water will be sought in the plumes of debris that billow out of Cabeus. The Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and several great telescopes on Earth will monitor the plumes for spectral signs of water (H2O) or water fragments (OH). Some results could be available only hours after the impacts, so stay tuned.

Lunar Impact Resources:

GREAT SOLAR ACTIVITY: NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft are stationed 150 million miles apart on nearly opposite sides on the sun. Because of their opposing points of view, the two spacecraft normally see different things. The events of Sept. 26th and 27th, however, were not normal. A magnetic filament reared up from the surface of the sun so large that both spacecraft were able to watch it unfold for a whopping 30 hours. Click here
http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/img/stereoimages/movies/Filament_both_ed_best.mov

to launch a 28 MB Quicktime movie:

In the movie, STEREO-A's view appears on the right, STEREO-B's on the left. From one side, the filament appears dark and shadowy, backlit by the fiery surface of the sun below. From the other side, the filament itself appears fiery, outlined by the dark backdrop of space beyond the sun. Astronomers have never seen solar activity in this way before, and there is much to be learned from the increasingly complete view STEREO provides. More images may be found in the STEREO Selects photo gallery.

 

10-07-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 264.9 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2322 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct07
24-hr: A0
2340 UT Oct07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

Spitzer Discovers Saturn's Largest Ring10.07.2009

October 7, 2009: NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous and previously unknown infrared ring around Saturn.

"This is one supersized ring," says Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "If you could see the ring in the night sky, it would span the width of two full Moons."

Verbiscer is co-author of a paper about the discovery to be published online tomorrow by the journal Nature. The other authors are Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland and Michael Skrutskie of the University of Virginia.

Above: An artist's concept of the newly-discovered infrared ring around Saturn. [more]

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the voluminous ring. One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

The ring is tenuous, consisting of widely-dispersed particles of ice and dust. Spitzer's infrared eyes were able to spot the glow of the cool dust, which has a temperature of only about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit).

The discovery may help solve an age-old riddle of one of Saturn's moons. Iapetus has a strange appearance — one side is bright and the other is really dark, in a pattern that resembles the yin-yang symbol. The astronomer Giovanni Cassini first spotted the moon in 1671, and years later figured out it has a dark side, now named Cassini Regio in his honor.

Saturn's supersized ring could explain how Cassini Regio came to be so dark. The ring is circling in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's moons are all going the opposite way. According to the scientists, some of the dark and dusty material from the outer ring moves inward toward Iapetus, slamming the icy moon like bugs on a windshield.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides [the missing link]."

Saturn's moon Iapetus. One side of the moon is darkened as the moon plows through the dust of Saturn's newly-discovered infrared ring. [more]

Verbiscer and colleagues used Spitzer's longer-wavelength infrared camera, called the multiband imaging photometer, to scan through a patch of sky far from Saturn and a bit inside Phoebe's orbit. The astronomers had a hunch that Phoebe might be circling around in a belt of dust and, sure enough, when the scientists took a first look at their Spitzer data, a band of dust jumped out.

The ring would be difficult to see with visible-light telescopes. The relatively small numbers of particles in the ring wouldn't reflect much visible light, especially out at Saturn where sunlight is weak.

"The particles are so far apart that if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn't even know it," said Verbiscer. "By focusing on the glow of the ring's cool dust, Spitzer made it easy to find."

For additional images relating to the ring discovery and more
information about Spitzer, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu.

 

Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

 

10-06-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.0 km/sec
density: 0.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1155 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1145 UT Oct06
24-hr: A0
1145 UT Oct06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1145 UT

FINDING GROUND ZERO: If you plan to watch this Friday's lunar impact through a backyard telescope, start practicing now. Pinpointing Cabeus among so many other craters around the lunar south pole isn't easy. David Evans of Coleshill, UK, found the impact site on Oct. 3rd using his Meade 8-inch telescope:


 

One way to know you've found the right crater: It'll be the one with an fluffy plume on Friday morning. Mission scientists expect debris from the double-impact of LCROSS and its booster rocket to rise about 7 kilometers over the rim of Cabeus. There will be two plumes, one from the booster rocket (4:30 am PDT) and another from the LCROSS mothership (4:34 am PDT). Each is expected to linger in sunlight for 60 to 90 seconds before falling back into the shadowy depths of Cabeus. The surface brightness of the plumes should be similar to that of surrounding sunlit terrain.

More Lunar Impact Resources:

October 5, 2009: Just imagine. A spaceship plunges out of the night sky, hits the ground and explodes. A plume of debris billows back into the heavens, leading your eye to a second ship in hot pursuit. Four minutes later, that one hits the ground, too. It's raining spaceships!

Put on your hard hat and get ready for action, because on Friday, Oct. 9th, what you just imagined is really going to happen--and you can have a front row seat.

A computer visualization of LCROSS hitting the Moon on Oct. 9th. Credit: NASA/Ames

The impact site is crater Cabeus near the Moon's south pole. NASA is guiding the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite ("LCROSS" for short) and its Centaur booster rocket into the crater's floor for a spectacular double-impact designed to "unearth" signs of lunar water.

There are two ways to watch the show.

First, turn on NASA TV. The space agency will broadcast the action live from the Moon, with coverage beginning Friday morning at 3:15 am PDT (10:15 UT). The first hour or so, pre-impact, will offer expert commentary, status reports from mission control, camera views from the spacecraft, and telemetry-based animations.
 

The actual impacts commence at 4:30 am PDT (11:30 UT). The Centaur rocket will strike first, transforming 2200 kg of mass and 10 billion joules of kinetic energy into a blinding flash of heat and light. Researchers expect the impact to throw up a plume of debris as high as 10 km.

Close behind, the LCROSS mothership will photograph the collision for NASA TV and then fly right through the debris plume. Onboard spectrometers will analyze the sunlit plume for signs of water (H2O), water fragments (OH), salts, clays, hydrated minerals and assorted organic molecules.

"If there's water there, or anything else interesting, we'll find it," says Tony Colaprete of NASA Ames, the mission's principal investigator.

Above: The lunar south pole as it will appear on the night of impact. Photo Credit - NMSU / MSFC Tortugas Observatory.

Next comes the mothership's own plunge. Four minutes after the Centaur "lands," the 700 kg LCROSS satellite will strike nearby, sending another, smaller debris plume over the rim of Cabeus.

The Hubble Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), and hundreds of telescopes great and small on Earth will scrutinize the two plumes, looking for signs of water and the unexpected.

And that brings us to the second way to see the show: Grab your telescope.

"We expect the debris plumes to be visible through mid-sized backyard telescopes—10 inches and larger," says Brian Day of NASA/Ames. Day is an amateur astronomer and the Education and Public Outreach Lead for LCROSS. "The initial explosions will probably be hidden behind crater walls, but the plumes will rise high enough above the crater's rim to be seen from Earth."

The Pacific Ocean and western parts of North America are favored with darkness and a good view of the Moon at the time of impact. Hawaii is the best place to be, with Pacific coast states of the USA a close second. Any place west of the Mississippi River, however, is a potential observing site.

 The side of Earth facing the Moon at the time of impact. [larger image] [observing tips]

When the plumes emerge from Cabeus, they will be illuminated by sunshine streaming over the polar terrain. The crater itself will be in the dark, however, permanently shadowed by its own walls. "That's good," says Day. "The crater's shadows will provide a dark backdrop for viewing the sunlit plumes."

In an earlier stage of mission planning, scientists hoped to strike a crater closer to the Moon's limb so that the plumes would billow out against the dark night sky, providing maximum contrast for observers on Earth. However, recent data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Japan's Kaguya spacecraft and India's Chandrayaan-1 probe altered those plans.

"We've just learned that Cabeus may contain relatively-rich deposits of hydrogen and/or frozen water," says Colaprete. "Cabeus is not as close to the lunar limb as we would have liked, but it seems to offer us the best chance of hitting H2O."

The LCROSS team hopes many people—amateurs and professionals alike—will observe and photograph the plumes. "The more eyes the better," says Day. "Remember, we've never done this before. We're not 100% sure what will happen, and big surprises are possible."

Public Viewing Events List

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LCROSS/impact/event_index.html

Veteran amateur astronomer Kurt Fisher has prepared a 13 MB slideshow to help fellow amateurs locate and witness the plumes: download it . There is also an online LCROSS observer's group where novices can read introductory articles and chat with other observers.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for citizen scientists to join NASA in the process of discovery," says Day, who urges observers to submit their images to the LCROSS Citizen Science Site. "It's a great adventure, and anyone can participate."

Imagine that.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

 

10-05-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 353.2 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2347 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct05
24-hr: A1
0305 UT Oct05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

Inspecting an asteroid that hit Earth

Body looked like a loaf of bread, contained amino acids and may have been blasted off a larger object By Ron Cowen

Pre-crash landingScientists have recreated what the asteroid 2008 TC3 looked like just before it slammed face-first into Earth on October 7, 2008. An artist’s illustration shows, in 12-second intervals, only the flattened part of the asteroid that faced Earth as it fell. The horizontal line at top shows actual observations of the asteroid. P. Scheirich, P. Jenniskens

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico — Planetary scientists have reported a slew of new findings about the first asteroid ever spotted before pieces of it fell to Earth. The space rock contained a number of amino acids, had a flattened shape and appears to have been blasted off the surface of a larger body, researchers reported October 5 at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. 

The asteroid, 2008 TC3, first came into the limelight in 2008 when researchers spotted the body just 19 hours before it broke apart in Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into northern Sudan. Planetary scientists tracked the intact asteroid as it fell to the ground as meteorites (SN: 4/25/09, p. 13).

As observed through a telescope during the last two hours of its journey to Earth, the small asteroid appeared only as a flickering point of light. But by analyzing the variations in brightness of the rock as it tumbled through space, along with information culled from fragments on the ground, Peter Scheirich of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Ondrejov and his colleagues have now reconstructed what the asteroid would have looked like up close. The space rock resembled a flattened loaf of bread, Scheirich reported.

Further analysis of the shape of the asteroid, along with estimates of the asteroid’s mass and the reflectivity of the recovered meteorites, could reveal whether the rock is solid through and through or porous, like a loosely held rubble pile, he adds.

The rock entered Earth’s atmosphere “like the Apollo space capsule, flat face forward,” says Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., who led an effort to recover some 300 meteorites in Sudan in October 2008. 

Structures in the meteorites — pores lined with fine-grained crystals of a mineral called olivine — suggest that the asteroid was blasted off the surface of a larger rock, reported Michael Zolensky of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. That means it should be relatively easy to use the properties of these meteorites to understand the properties of thousands of observed asteroids in space, which only reveal clues about their surfaces through telescope images and spectra, he says.

Other studies, also reported October 5, reveal that the meteorites contain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that must have come from 2008 TC3, reported Michael Callahan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The meteorites belong to a rare type called ureilites, which contain microscopic diamonds. “To my knowledge this is the first report of amino acids in any ureilite-type meteorite,” said Daniel Glavin of NASA-Goddard, who collaborated with Callahan and other colleagues on the analysis. 

The researchers identified 18 amino acids, including alpha-aminoisobutyric acid and isovaline. Because they are uncommon on Earth, Glavin said, “it is highly likely that these two amino acids were formed in space.”

“The discovery of amino acids in [2008 TC3] provides additional support for the idea that organic matter delivered by asteroids could have seeded the early Earth with the raw ingredients for life,” he noted. At the same time, the presence of the amino acids is puzzling, Glavin added. 

Evidence suggests that 2008 TC3 was heated to temperatures as high as 1,300˚ Celsius billions of years ago, yet amino acids are destroyed at temperatures above 500–600˚C, Glavin said. Other researchers, including Richard Zare, Amy Morrow and Hassan Sabbah of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., reported that they had found common components of soot known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the meteorites. This soot is interspersed with amino acids, Zare said. 

“The big mystery now is how did these complex organic compounds survive such high temperatures?” notes Glavin.

One possibility is that the amino acids or their precursors were incorporated into the asteroid’s parent rock during its formation and survived the heating and melting that would have occurred when the parent rock was blasted into pieces.  Another possibility, he notes, is that amino acids formed inside 2008 TC3 itself much later on, after it cooled to temperatures below 500–600˚C.

To help settle these and other questions, Jenniskens plans to return to Sudan  this December to pick up more specimens.
 

10-04-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 400.6 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2344 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A3
1800 UT Oct04
24-hr: A3
1800 UT Oct04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

 

10-03-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 304.4 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2347 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2320 UT Oct03
24-hr: A0
2320 UT Oct03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

Sun prominence dancing along the edge of the sun

MEANWHILE ON THE SUN: Astronomers are monitoring an arch-shaped prominence dancing along the limb of the sun. "It is several times wider than Earth," notes Greg Piepol of Rockville, Maryland, who recorded this view through his Coronado SolarMax90:

Michael Buxton of Ocean Beach, California, has made a must-see movie of the prominence. "It was quite large and very pleasing to view as it danced in the chromosphere. The movie shows 1 hour and 45 minutes of action."

Readers with solar telescopes, train your optics on the sun's northwestern limb.

more images: from John Minnerath of Crowheart, Wyoming; from Mike Borman of Evansville, Indiana; from Steve Riegel of Santa Maria, California; from Fabio Mariuzza of Biauzzo - Italy; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland; from Mark Townley of Brierley Hill, West Midlands, UK; from Fabio Mariuzza of Biauzzo - Italy

 

10-02-09 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 342.2 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2347 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2340 UT Oct02
24-hr: A5
0300 UT Oct02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

BIG(FOOT) DISCOVERY: NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has made a stunning discovery. Bigfoot is an extraterrestrial! His tracks have been found on Mercury:

MESSENGER took the picture during a flyby of Mercury on Sept. 29th. The giant paw print was just one of many wonders MESSENGER's cameras saw imprinted on thousands of square kilometers of previously unseen terrain. In this case, a cluster of small craters--"toes"--were by chance arranged in an arc above a stack of larger, partially overlapping craters--the "heel." MESSENGER also photographed a happy crater, a double crater, and a crater splash.

Although early results from the flyby are dominated by pictures of craters, the spacecraft also made new measurements of Mercury's magnetic tornadoes and its comet-like tail. Mission scientists are still analyzing those data, which are more complicated than crater-snapshots and potentially much more interesting. Stay tuned for updates.

 

10-1-03

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 350.7 km/sec
density: 1.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2345 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A2
1815 UT Oct01
24-hr: B6
0250 UT Oct01
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2340 UT

COSMIC RAYS HIT SPACE AGE HIGH: NASA spacecraft are measuring record-high levels of cosmic rays--a side-effect of the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. This development could have implications for the amount of shielding astronauts need to take when they explore deep space. Science@NASA has the full story.

MERCURY FLYBY: NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is receding from Mercury after a Sept 29th flyby that put smiles on the faces of mission scientists. MESSENGER is beaming back images of thousands of square miles of previously unseen terrain, including this cheerful crater:

The arc-shaped depression in the crater's floor is a "pit crater." A few of these have been seen on Mercury, and they are probably volcanic in nature. Pit craters may have formed when subsurface magma drained away and left a roof area unsupported, leading to collapse and the formation of the pit. In this example, the southern area of the pit appears to have two or more floor levels. The discovery of multiple pit-floor craters adds to a growing body of evidence that volcanic activity was widespread in Mercury's past.

Stay tuned for more happy discoveries.

 

 

SPACE DATABASE ON THIS SITE

DREAMS OF THE GREAT EARTHCHANGES - MAIN INDEX