SOLAR WEATHER
and some interesting moon stuff

compiled by Dee Finney

updated 12-31-08

SEE THE SPECTACULAR CME FROM 2003 - CYCLE 23 AT THE END OF THIS PAGE!

As of 8-6-08 - There were 971 tracked asteroids 
See chart on that date

On October 3, 2008 , there were 986 potentially hazardous asteroids.
See chart on that date
On 10-12-08 - there are 990 potentially hazardous asteroids.
See chart on that date
One - the size of a car exploded over the Sudan on 10-07-08

On 10-29-08 -there are 993 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On 11-6-08 - there are 996 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On 11-24-08 -- there are 999 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On 12-2-08 - there are 1002 potentially hazardous asteroids.
On 12-12-08 - there are 1010 potentially hazardous asteroids.

 

 

 

SPACE WEATHER 2009
 

12-31-08 - SUN is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 512.6 km/sec
density: 2.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1726 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1725 UT Dec31
24-hr: A0
1725 UT Dec31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1725 UT

NEW ENGLAND FIREBALL: On Dec. 29th, around 9:30 pm EST, a blue-green fireball 100+ times brighter than Venus soared over New England and exploded colorfully in mid-air. Onlookers saw the flash from at least nine US states: eye-witness reports.

Dan Linek of North Bay Shore, New York, was one of the eye witnesses. Combining his own observations with those of others, he created a hand-drawn map of sightings and the probable location of the fireball when it exploded:

12-30-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 326.6 km/sec
density: 18.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1915 UT Dec30
24-hr: A0
1050 UT Dec30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1915 UT

 

12-29-08 - no sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 295.5 km/sec
density: 0.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec29
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
 
ALIGNMENT OF THE MOON, VENUS AND JUPITER:

This is a spectacle that will repeat itself after 44 long years. So get ready and don’t miss the chance to observe the Moon, Venus and Jupiter lining up in the space.

The show begins at around 4:13 local time when the moon will join with Jupiter and Venus. But the time is before the sunset and therefore the planets will not be clearly visible from the naked eye. So take a binocular and observe the event as it takes place.

By 4:25 pm Venus will be seen with the naked eye. However Jupiter will remain obscure. 25 minutes later, as the sky turns darker, all the planets will flash like diamonds.

Another spectacular thing will take place during this time. The dark portion of the moon reflects the earthshine. Thus it will have a faint glow of a blue and green shade. Though this can be observed with the naked eye, a binocular will make it even more prominent.

This extraordinary cosmic phenomenon has already taken place in the Southern half of the world. There the event was more like a “smiley face” but in the Northern half it is expected to resemble a “frown”.

The same conjunction between Jupiter and Venus will take place in 2011 and 2012. But both times the two planets will not have the Moon with them. The next time when the trio will once again join together will be 18th November of 2052. Now that is a long time ahead.

Do not wait for that and just go on the roof and place your binocular to the southwest horizon and thrill yourself. There the crescent Moon and the two planets will form the triangle, with Venus below and Jupiter on the top of it.

Do not waste any of the minutes as the show is speculated to last for not more than a couple of hours. Then the Moon and the planets will sink below the horizon making it invisible.

However the visibility is one of the main problems for the stargazers. If the sky is clouded they are helpless. But there is not need to feel sorry for that. Because you can observe the event for the next few days as the trio will repeat their show. But of
course it will not be as bright as the first day.

 

 

12-28-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 321.3 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec28
24-hr: A0
0640 UT Dec28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

CALIFORNIA FIREBALL: A remarkable fireball blazed across Califonia on Dec. 27th around 1:50 am PST. Its brilliant blue-green light caught the attention of onlookers (some inside their homes) all the way from San Francisco Bay in the north to the Los Angeles metropolitan area in the south--a range of more than 340 miles. According to one account, the object exploded with a thunderous boom, producing a spray of golden-colored fragments

"It was as if someone had set off a rescue flare that instantly bathed the countryside in whitish blue-green light," reports Grant Bentley of Bishop, CA. "At one point, the path of the meteor went behind a cirrus-stratus cloud that it backlit in snowy green light. After a brilliant show of less than three seconds, it was gone without a trace. This was easily the most massive object I have ever seen burning up as it entered the Earth's atmosphere."

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole
should arrive on Dec. 30th or 31st.
Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

 

12-27-08 - no sunspots today
Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 321.3 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec28
24-hr: A0
0640 UT Dec28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

12-26-08 - no sunspot today Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 426.1 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0046 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Dec25
24-hr: A2
1300 UT Dec25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

LAST AURORAS OF 2008: They're coming, the last auroras of 2008. The source of the display is a coronal hole photographed earlier today by Japan's Hinode spacecraft:

Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows the solar wind to escape. A stream of solar wind flowing from this coronal hole should reach Earth on Dec. 30th or 31st. The impact could light up the Arctic Circle, punctuating the year with aurora borealis.

Although 2008 has been a year of remarkably low solar activity, polar sky watchers nevertheless have enjoyed many good geomagnetic storms. Galleries: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August September, October, November, December.
 

12-25-08 - no sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 437.0 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec25
24-hr: A2
1300 UT Dec25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

EDGE-ON FOR THE HOLIDAYS: You look through the telescope. Blink. Shake your head and look again. The planet you expected to see in the eyepiece is not the one that's actually there. Too much eggnog? No, it's just Saturn's crazy Christmas tilt:

Amateur astronomer Paulo Casquinha took the picture last night from his backyard observatory in Quinta do Anjo, Portugal. It shows how Saturn's rings are almost edge-on to Earth this holiday season. Viewed from the side, the normally wide and bright rings have become a shadowy line bisecting Saturn's two hemispheres--a scene of rare beauty.

"Everyone should take a look before the rings begin to open up again at the end of the month," says Casquinha. A nice bonus: When the rings are thin, Saturn's moons become easier to see. "Note the small spot above the rings on the right; that's Rhea."

more images: from Masa Nakamura of Otawara, Tochigi, Japan; from Koshu Endo of Tokyo Japan (note: Endo's video shows an Earth-orbiting satellite zipping by Saturn)

CHRISTMAS PROMINENCE: So, you received a solar telescope for Christmas? Perfect timing. A plume of hot gas is spewing over the northeastern limb of the sun, beckoning for attention. Take a look!

photos: from S. Billings et al of South Portland, Maine; from Mike Borman of Evansville, Indiana; from Francisco A. Rodriguez of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands; from James Screech of Bedford, England; from Peter Desypris of Athens, Greece; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky;

12-24-08  no sunspot - a sunspot developing?  No
 

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 499.4 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec24
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

NEW SUNSPOTS: This morning, Dec. 24th, NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft photographed a pair of active regions emerging in the sun's southern hemisphere. Clouds of hot glowing gas detected by STEREO's extreme UV telescope probably mask a pair of new-cycle sunspots underneath:

The clouds and spots are not yet visible from Earth. STEREO-B is stationed over the sun's eastern limb where it can see things up to three days before the sun's rotation turns them toward our planet. So, consider this a sneak preview.

 

12-23-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 537.5 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec23
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

12-22-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 422.0 km/sec
density: 4.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1915 UT Dec22
24-hr: A0
1915 UT Dec22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

12-21-08 - The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 343.6 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0006 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2350 UT Dec20
24-hr: A0
0050 UT Dec20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2350 UT

 

12-20-08 - The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 298.7 km/sec
density: 3.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0440 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2310 UT Dec19
24-hr: A0
2310 UT Dec19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

 

12-19-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 326.4 km/sec
density: 2.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec19
24-hr: A0
0135 UT Dec19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

RADIO METEORS: The Ursid meteor shower caused by Comet 8P/Tuttle peaks this year on Dec. 22nd. About a dozen meteors per hour will fly out of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) as Earth passes through the comet's debris stream. Watching these northern meteors can be a chilling experience, so why not stay inside and listen to them instead? Spaceweather.com is broadcasting live audio from the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. When a meteor passes over the radar--"ping"--there is an echo. Give it a try; feedback is welcomed.

 

12-18-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 279.7 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec18
24-hr: A0
0725 UT Dec18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

12-17-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 320.3 km/sec
density: 0.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec17
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

12-16-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 357.4 km/sec
density: 2.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec16
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SOLAR ACTIVITY: Hours ago, something on the far side of the sun exploded and hurled a massive cloud of debris (a CME) over the eastern limb. Using a coronagraph to block the sun's glare, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) photographed the cloud expanding into space:

NASA's Stereo-B spacecraft is stationed over the sun's eastern limb, but it was not taking pictures at the probable time of the eruption, so details of the blast are unknown. The CME could herald an active region (e.g., a sunspot or perhaps an unstable magnetic filament) turning to face Earth in the days ahead. Stay tuned for updates.

A Giant Breach in Earth's Magnetic Field 12.16.2008

Dec. 16, 2008: NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.

"At first I didn't believe it," says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction."

The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind. Exploring the bubble is a key goal of the THEMIS mission, launched in February 2007. The big discovery came on June 3, 2007, when the five probes serendipitously flew through the breach just as it was opening. Onboard sensors recorded a torrent of solar wind particles streaming into the magnetosphere, signaling an event of unexpected size and importance. One of the THEMIS probes exploring the space around Earth, an artist's concept. [more]

"The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself," says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data. Li's colleague Jimmy Raeder, also of New Hampshire, says "1027 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that's a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible."

The event began with little warning when a gentle gust of solar wind delivered a bundle of magnetic fields from the Sun to Earth. Like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a big clam, solar magnetic fields draped themselves around the magnetosphere and cracked it open. The cracking was accomplished by means of a process called "magnetic reconnection." High above Earth's poles, solar and terrestrial magnetic fields linked up (reconnected) to form conduits for solar wind. Conduits over the Arctic and Antarctic quickly expanded; within minutes they overlapped over Earth's equator to create the biggest magnetic breach ever recorded by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

Above: A computer model of solar wind flowing around Earth's magnetic field on June 3, 2007. Background colors represent solar wind density; red is high density, blue is low. Solid black lines trace the outer boundaries of Earth's magnetic field. Note the layer of relatively dense material beneath the tips of the white arrows; that is solar wind entering Earth's magnetic field through the breach. Credit: Jimmy Raeder/UNH. [larger image]

The size of the breach took researchers by surprise. "We've seen things like this before," says Raeder, "but never on such a large scale. The entire day-side of the magnetosphere was open to the solar wind."

The circumstances were even more surprising. Space physicists have long believed that holes in Earth's magnetosphere open only in response to solar magnetic fields that point south. The great breach of June 2007, however, opened in response to a solar magnetic field that pointed north.

"To the lay person, this may sound like a quibble, but to a space physicist, it is almost seismic," says Sibeck. "When I tell my colleagues, most react with skepticism, as if I'm trying to convince them that the sun rises in the west."

Here is why they can't believe their ears: The solar wind presses against Earth's magnetosphere almost directly above the equator where our planet's magnetic field points north. Suppose a bundle of solar magnetism comes along, and it points north, too. The two fields should reinforce one another, strengthening Earth's magnetic defenses and slamming the door shut on the solar wind. In the language of space physics, a north-pointing solar magnetic field is called a "northern IMF" and it is synonymous with shields up!  

"So, you can imagine our surprise when a northern IMF came along and shields went down instead," says Sibeck. "This completely overturns our understanding of things."

Northern IMF events don't actually trigger geomagnetic storms, notes Raeder, but they do set the stage for storms by loading the magnetosphere with plasma. A loaded magnetosphere is primed for auroras, power outages, and other disturbances that can result when, say, a CME (coronal mass ejection) hits.

The years ahead could be especially lively. Raeder explains: "We're entering Solar Cycle 24. For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north. Such a CME should open a breach and load the magnetosphere with plasma just before the storm gets underway. It's the perfect sequence for a really big event."

Sibeck agrees. "This could result in stronger geomagnetic storms than we have seen in many years."

A video version of this story may be found here. For more information about the THEMIS mission, visit http://nasa.gov/themis

 

12-15-08  - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 337.9 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec15
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

GREAT GEMINIDS: The Geminid meteor shower peaked over the weekend and "it was a great show," says NASA astronomer Bill Cooke. "On Saturday night, our all-sky recording system at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama recorded more than 80 bright Geminids in spite of clouds and bright moonlight." Click on the composite image, below, to launch a 4 MB movie:

Another NASA camera with clearer skies in Georgia recorded even more meteors including a rapid-fire flurry of three at once: movie. "This could be one of the best displays of Geminids we've ever seen," says Cooke.

Preliminary counts by the International Meteor Organization indicate that the shower peaked at 160 meteors per hour during the early hours of Dec. 14th. Earth is now exiting the Geminid debris stream and meteor rates are falling--but not yet to zero. Subsiding activity could continue for several nights to come: live updates.

UPDATED: 2008 Geminid Meteor Gallery
[
previous years: 2007, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2001]

 

12-14-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 319.4 km/sec
density: 1.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec14
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

2008 Geminid Meteor Gallery
[previous years: 2007, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2001]

 

12-13-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 394.0 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1915 UT Dec13
24-hr: A0
1915 UT Dec13
explanation | more data

A's STEREO spacecraft photographed a coronal mass ejection
(CME) billowing over the limb of the sun.

CME MOVIE http://sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil/images/p2003_sm_short.mov

Now play it again. Did you see the comet? It's just a speck among the stars and billowing debris; look for it along this ). It was discovered in May 2003 by astronomer Eric Christensen and then, as sometimes happens to new comets with poorly-known orbits, it was lost again. Comet Christensen went missing for more than five years until STEREO found it again. Spacecraft (especially SOHO) have discovered many comets, but this is the first time a spacecraft has recovered one: full story.

 

12-12-08 - no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 427.6 km/sec
density: 2.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1704 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A6
1110 UT Dec12
24-hr: A8
1045 UT Dec12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1700 UT
 
On December 12, 2008 there were 1010 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Dec. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2008 WY94
Dec. 5
3.2 LD
19
35 m
2008 WG14
Dec. 5
4.8 LD
17
49 m
2008 XK
Dec. 6
1.7 LD
17
15 m
2008 XC1
Dec. 12
4.3 LD
16
102 m
2008 XB2
Dec. 13
5.8 LD
18
47 m
2006 VB14
Dec. 14
36 LD
15
795 m
2008 EV5
Dec. 23
8.4 LD
13
435 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.

 

12-11-08 - Sunspot 1009 on far right edge of sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 418.1 km/sec
density: 2.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A1
1950 UT Dec11
24-hr: B5
0925 UT Dec11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
 
12-10-08 New sunspot 1009

New-cycle sunspot 1009 is rotating over the sun's western limb. The spot is crackling with B-class solar flares; the explosions could hurl material over the limb as the sunspot disappears. Readers, if you have a solar telescope, keep an eye on the western limb. Credit: SOHO/MDI
 

12-9-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 400.1 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0346 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Dec08
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Dec08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT


 
AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream is heading for Earth and it could spark geomagnetic storms around the arctic circle when it arrives on Dec. 11th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

 

12-8-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 425.1 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec08
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

COLOR-CODED SUNSPOTS: According to one leading solar physicist, the sun is turning blue. David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is using red and blue to tag sunspots of the old and new solar cycles. When he plots the color-coded sunspot numbers, it's clear a change is taking place.

"New Solar Cycle 24 is on the upswing while old Solar Cycle 23 is decaying," he says. The sun is still in the pits of a deep solar minimum, he points out, but the little blue bars in Hathaway's plot show that it won't last forever. An increasing number of new-cycle sunspots in the months ahead should propel the sun out of the doldrums, eventually leading to a full-fledged Solar Max around 2012.

Feeling blue? Now you know why. Stay tuned for updates

 

12-7-08 No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 521.7 km/sec
density: 0.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1854 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1810 UT Dec07
24-hr: A0
1810 UT Dec07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1845 UT

 

12-6-08  There are no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 515.9 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1226 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1225 UT Dec06
24-hr: A0
dText">
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1225 UT

MONSTER PROMINENCE: Readers, if you have a solar telescope, train it on the edge of the sun. An enormous filament of plasma is swirling over the eastern limb: SOHO image.

more images: from Hank Bartlett of Newburgh, Ontario, Canada; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky; from M. Ugro et al. of South Portland, Maine; from Roy Golisano of Milford, New Hampshire

Space Weather News for Dec. 6, 2008
http://spaceweather.com

COLORADO FIREBALL:  Last night, a fireball one hundred times brighter than the full Moon lit up the sky near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Astronomer Chris Peterson photographed the event using an all-sky video camera dedicated to meteor studies. "In seven years of operation, this is the brightest fireball I've ever recorded. I estimate the terminal explosion at magnitude -18."  Meteors this bright are called superbolides; they are caused by small (meter-class) asteroids and are likely to pepper the ground with meteorites when they explode. 

  • Camera name: Cloudbait (map)
  • Camera description: Cloudbait Observatory
  • Camera coordinates: N38.786111 W105.483611
  • Camera altitude: 2768 meters
  • Total events for this site: 15906
  • Event time: 2008-12-06 01:06:28 MST
  • Image coordinates: (0.407,0.251) - (0.516,0.179)
  • Azimuth: 79.8 - 117.9
  • Altitude: - - -
  • Approximate duration: 1.0 seconds (28 video frames)
  • Fireball: Yes

See VIDEO

In seven years of operation, this is the brightest fireball I've ever recorded," says Peterson. "I estimate the terminal explosion at magnitude -18, more than 100 times brighter than a full Moon."

Fireballs this bright belong to a rare category of meteors called superbolides. They are caused by small asteroids measuring a few to 10 meters in diameter and massing hundreds of metric tons. Superbolides trigger seismic detectors on the ground, produce waves of infrasound that can travel thousands of miles, and they are tracked by military satellites scanning Earth for nuclear explosions. Recent examples include the El Paso fireball of 1997 and the Slovenian Superbolide of 2007.

Last night's fireball is on the low end of the superbolide scale. Nevertheless, it was still a beauty and likely peppered the ground with meteorites when it exploded. Sighting reports are welcomed; they could help guide the tracking and recovery of debris.

LISTEN! 250 miles south of the fireball, radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft of New Mexico photographed the flash and recorded radio echoes from the superbolide's ion trail. Click here to listen.

 

12-5-08 There are no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 426.3 km/sec
density: 1.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1942 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1945 UT Dec05
24-hr: A0
1945 UT Dec05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1945 UT
 
12-4-08 - There are no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 383.6 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Dec04
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

GREAT CONJUNCTION: Postulate: One moon + two planets = the sky show of the year. The proof may be found in this photo submitted by Jamie Russell from the United Kingdom's Isle of Wight:

He opened the shutter of his Canon 300D on the evening of Dec. 1st moments after Venus emerged from behind the Moon. Meanwhile, Jupiter looked on from above. Together, the ensemble beamed down on St. Catherine's Lighthouse, built 170 years ago atop the Niton Undercliffe. "It was a lovely scene," he says.

All around the world, sky watchers watched with pleasure as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon gathered in one tiny patch of sky and then dispersed again. But was it really the sky show of the year? Browse the gallery and decide for yourself:

GRAND CONJUNCTION PHOTO GALLERY
 

12-03-08  - The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 450.9 km/sec
density: 1.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0145 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Dec03
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Dec03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

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

 

12-02-08 No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 295.5 km/sec
density: 3.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

solarWindUpdatedText"> 2245 UT Dec02
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Dec02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

LUNAR OCCULTATION OF VENUS: En route to last night's Great Conjunction, the Moon ran right over Venus. The event, which astronomers call a "lunar occultation," happened directly over Europe where Romanian photographer Stanescu Octavian took this picture:

I caught Venus just before it disappeared behind the dark edge of the Moon," he says. Venus remained hidden for more than an hour, then popped out again to form a spectacular triangle with Jupiter and Luna as opposing vertices. "What a very nice vision!"

Lunar occultations of Venus happen about twice a year. The next two: Feb 28, 2009, over Antarctica and Apr. 22, 2009, over North America. The North American occultation is going to be good, occuring in a lovely pre-dawn Spring sky while Mars hovers nearby. Mark your calendar.

more images: from Frank Ryan Jr at The Burren, Co. Clare, Ireland; from Erwan Henry of Saint-Rieul, Brittany, France; from Monika Landy-Gyebnar of Balatonakarattya, Hungary; from Brian Fitzsimons of Cavan, Ireland; from GĂĽnther Strauch of Borken, NRW, Germany; from James Canvin of Cullompton, Devon, UK; from Wojciech Piskorz of Gliwice, Poland; from Claudio Bottari of Sava, Italy; from Eddie Guscott of Corringham, Essex, England; from John Durston of Plymouth, UK; from Martin Campbell of Dungannon, N.Ireland; from Elias Chasiotis at the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy; from Guenter Kleinschuster of Feldbach, Styria, Austria; from John Fitzsimons of Sligo, Ireland; from Luigi Fiorentino of Bari, Italy;

Great Conjunction Photo Gallery

 

12-01-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 298.9 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2210 UT Dec01
24-hr: A0
2210 UT Dec01
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on Dec. 3rd or 4th. Credit: SOHO Extreme UV

Near Earth 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.

On December 2, 2008 there were 1002 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Dec. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2008 WY94
Dec. 5
3.2 LD
19
35 m
2008 WG14
Dec. 5
4.8 LD
17
49 m
2006 VB14
Dec. 14
36 LD
15
795 m
2008 EV5
Dec. 23
8.4 LD
13
435 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.

 

11-30-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.2 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov30
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

During the next 24 hours, Luna will continue her approach, converging with the two planets to form a spectacular sunset triangle on Monday, Dec. 1st. The bright 3-way conjunction will be visible from all parts of world, even from light-polluted cities. So pause when the sun goes down and take a look outside; you'll be glad you did. Sky maps: Nov. 30, Dec 1.

more images: from Stephen O'Meara of Kilauea, Volcano, Hawaii; from Brian Kennedy of Orlando, Florida; from John Gauvreau of Binbrook, Ontario, Canada; from Stephen McCaul on the coast of Scotland overlooking the Isle of Skye; from Claudio Bottari of Locorotondo, Italy; from Bum-Suk Yeom of Daejeon, South Korea; from Mike O'Leary of San Diego, CA; from Bill Smith of Cherry Creek, NY; from Albert Engert of WĂĽrzburg, Germany; from Marion Haligowski of Phoenix, Arizona; from Gregg Waldron of Morristown, NJ; from Joe Ricci of Rochester, New York; from Katy and John Stetson of Portland, Maine; from Adrian Guzman of San Jose, California; from Claudio Pincelli of Southampton, Massachusetts; from Thierry Demange of Erstein, Alsace, France; from Martin Mc Kenna of Maghera, Co. Derry, N. Ireland;

THE OTHER CONJUNCTION: While all eyes are on Venus and Jupiter in the evening sky, another conjunction is taking place at high noon. Mars and Mercury are having a close encounter of their own within 3o of the sun:

 

11-29-08  Sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 402.5 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1806 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1320 UT Nov29
24-hr: A0
1320 UT Nov29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1805 UT

NOT-A-SUNSPOT: A large, diffuse magnetic dipole is emerging in the sun's northern hemisphere: map. It's too spread out to form a sunspot, but it may prove interesting nevertheless. In the neutral folds of such regions, dark filaments of plasma are known to form and sometimes erupt.

SUNSET PLANETS: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look southwest. Venus and Jupiter are having a stunning close encounter in the twilight sky. Saied Bahrami Nezhad sends this picture from the Lut desert near Kerman, Iran:

"Seeing the planets so close together was a dreamy experience," says Nezhad. And it's about to get dreamier. On Nov. 30th and Dec. 1st, the crescent moon will leap up from the horizon, joining Jupiter and Venus in a three-way conjunction that some astronomers are calling "the best sky show of the year." Don't miss a single night: Nov. 28, 29, 30, Dec 1.

more images: from Zlatko Pasko of Stara Pazova, Serbia; from Patrick Boomer of Alberta, Canada; from Jens Hackmann of Weikersheim, Germany; from Mahdi Zamani of Kan, Iran; from Cindy Safina of Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong; from Alan Conrad of Liverpool,Nova Scotia; from Jim Werle of Henderson, Nevada; from Martin Mc Kenna of Maghera, Co. Derry, N. Ireland

 

11-28-08  sun is blank today - Where did yesterday's sunspot go?

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 480.9 km/sec
density: 1.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov28
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
 
11-27-08 - A new sunspot forming

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 498.6 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2241 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov27
24-hr: A0
1105 UT Nov27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

THANKSGIVING SUN: This morning Greg Piepol of Rockville, Maryland, looked through the eyepiece of his backyard solar telescope and observed a very curious sunspot:

"Happy Thanksgiving!" says Piepol. "I must have been thinking about dinner because when I did a double-take the turkey was gone." The real Thanksgiving sun is pictured here. A new sunspot is forming near the center of the sun's disk but it has not yet formed a dark turkey-core. Stay tuned for updates.

more images: from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky

 

11-26-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 637.3 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov26
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

11-25-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 514.5 km/sec
density: 7.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0816 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
0815 UT Nov25
24-hr: A0
0815 UT Nov25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0815 UT

 

11-24-08 The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 282.8 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2242 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov24
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

EXPLOSION IN PROGRESS: An explosion is underway on the sun. The source of the blast lies out of sight somewhere over the sun's western limb, but the ejecta is visible as it billows into space:

Click to view a 1 MB movie

A coronagraph onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is monitoring the progress of the expanding CME. The cloud is not directed at Earth and should cause no geomagnetic activity on our planet. It is, however, a promising "sign of life" on the sun. Slowly but surely, solar minimum is coming to an end.
 

Nov. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2008 TX3
Nov. 1
9 LD
19
45 m
2008 UT95
Nov. 2
1.5 LD
17
15 m
2008 UC7
Nov. 2
4.5 LD
20
17 m
2008 VM
Nov. 3
0.1 LD
20
4 m
2008 VA4
Nov. 4
7.7 LD
17
49 m
2008 VB4
Nov. 4
1.3 LD
18
10 m
2008 VC
Nov. 4
4.4 LD
20
18 m
4179 Toutatis
Nov. 9
20 LD
14
3.8 km
2008 WO2
Nov. 16
1.0 LD
20
5 m
2004 XK3
Nov. 18
1.8 LD
15
60 m
2008 VZ3
Nov. 22
5.7 LD
18
55 m
2008 WD
Nov. 24
6.9 LD
19
30 m
2008 WC
Nov. 26
5.1 LD
19
23 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.

 

11-23-08  the sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 267.5 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov23
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

 

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth late on Nov. 25th or Nov. 26th. Credit: Hinode X-ray Telescope

Coronal holes are places in the sun's atmosphere where the magnetic field opens up and allows solar wind to escape. In images taken by X-ray telescopes, such as the one Hinode uses, coronal holes appear dark because the hot glowing gas which would otherwise fill them has spilled out in the solar wind. A stream of gas flowing from this particular hole is heading for Earth. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when it arrives on Nov. 25th or 26th.
  11-22-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 284.4 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov22
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

11-21-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 280.2 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2242 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov21
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SASKATCHEWAN FIREBALL: A brilliant green fireball startled onlookers across western Canada on Nov. 20th (5:30 pm MST) when it split the evening sky and fragmented during a series of thunderous explosions. "The sky was lit up almost like daytime for 3 or 4 seconds," reports Gordon Blomgren of Alberta. Murray McDonnell of northwestern Saskatchewan says "my wife and I saw a brilliant flash of blue white light, like lightning. About one minute later a long rumbling sound shook the house."

Andy Bartlett video-recorded the event from a 10th-floor apartment in Edmonton, Alberta:

Click to play the video

A screen capture from an amateur video sent to Global Television Edmonton of a meteor streaking across the southeastern sky in Edmonton last Thursday, just after dusk.

"The brilliant fireball appeared to be closer than the airplane in the upper right corner of this video," says Bartlett. "I made the movie using a Canon A510."

The fireball was almost certainly a small asteroid disintegrating in Earth's atmosphere. A space rock measuring a few to ten meters wide moving at typical local-asteroid velocities would account for the fireball's speed and brightness. Reentry of manmade space junk has now been ruled out. Fragments of the impactor may have reached the ground; if so, they remain undiscovered and/or unreported.

VIDEO UPDATE: A spectacular video of the fireball was recorded by the dashboard camera of a police car on patrol in Edmonton, Alberta. Click to play.

Asteroid in prairie skies weighed approx. 10 tonnes

Researcher ID's region in western Sask. where chunks of space rock could be

TheStarPhoenix.com

Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A University of Calgary investigation of the fireball that lit up the skies of Alberta and Saskatchewan on Thursday has determined that an asteroid fragment weighing approximately 10 tonnes entered the Earth's atmosphere over the prairie provinces.

And U of C researcher Alan Hildebrand has outlined a region in western Saskatchewan where chunks of the desk-sized space rock are expected to be found.

According to a press release, the fireball first appeared approximately 80 kilometres above and just east of the border city of Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan, and traveled south-southeast towards the Battle River Valley, fragmenting spectacularly in a series of explosions. The fireball penetrated the atmosphere at a steep angle of approximately 60 degrees from the horizontal and lasted about five seconds from 5:26:40 p.m. to 5:26:45 p.m. MST with the largest explosion at 5:26:44 p.m
 

The fireball was recorded on all-sky and security cameras scattered across Saskatchewan and Alberta, in addition to being witnessed by tens of thousands of people who saw it streak across the sky, saw its arc-welding blue flash, or heard the subsequent explosions.

"Firstly, we are enormously appreciative of all the people who have volunteered information about the fireball. The public response to this fireball has been the largest that we have ever had in Canada." said Hildebrand, Canada Research chair in Planetary Science and co-ordinator of the Canadian Fireball Reporting Centre at the University of Calgary.

Hildebrand said the fireball was like a billion-watt lightbulb shining in the sky, turning night into day with a bluish white light. It illuminated the ground for several hundred kilometres in all directions, including as far south as Vauxhall, Alberta.

"Thanks to everyone's help we are now beginning to delineate the trajectory of the fireball, so that its prefall orbit can be determined. We have also outlined an area where its meteorites may have fallen, although we will have more precise predictions to come," Hildebrand added.

11-29-08

Scientists find asteroid debris

Canadian scientists say they have located debris from a 10-ton asteroid that exploded in the skies over Canada's Prairie provinces earlier this month.

Dr. Alan Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley found several fragments late Thursday near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

They are searching for what they say could be thousands of fragments strewn over a 20-square-kilometer (seven-square-mile) area near the Battle River.

Residents of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were delighted by the huge fireball that lit up the night sky on November 20.

 


 

Solar Wind Rips Up Martian Atmosphere

11.21.2008

Nov. 21, 2008: Researchers have found new evidence that the atmosphere of Mars is being stripped away by solar wind. It's not a gently continuous erosion, but rather a ripping process in which chunks of Martian air detach themselves from the planet and tumble into deep space. This surprising mechanism could help solve a longstanding mystery about the Red Planet.

"It helps explain why Mars has so little air," says David Brain of UC Berkeley, who presented the findings at the 2008 Huntsville Plasma Workshop on October 27th.

Billions of years ago, Mars had a lot more air than it does today. (Note: Martian "air" is primarily carbon dioxide, not the nitrogen-oxygen mix we breathe on Earth.) Ancient martian lake-beds and river channels tell the tale of a planet covered by abundant water and wrapped in an atmosphere thick enough to prevent that water from evaporating into space. Some researchers believe the atmosphere of Mars was once as thick as Earth's. Today, however, all those lakes and rivers are dry and the atmospheric pressure on Mars is only 1% that of Earth at sea-level. A cup of water placed almost anywhere on the Martian surface would quickly and violently boil away—a result of the super-low air pressure.

Above: An artist's concept of ancient Mars with abundant air and water. [Larger image]

So where did the air go? Researchers entertain several possibilities: An asteroid hitting Mars long ago might have blown away a portion of the planet's atmosphere in a single violent upheaval. Or the loss might have been slow and gradual, the result of billions of years of relentless "sand-blasting" by solar wind particles. Or both mechanisms could be at work.


NOTE:  The Chinese recorded watching Venus go past Mars and rip it's atmosphere off - so there is a discrepancy between what science is telling us and what the Chinese reported.

Brain has uncovered a new possibility--a daily ripping process intermediate between the great cataclysm and slow erosion models. The evidence comes from NASA's now-retired Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft.

In 1998, MGS discovered that Mars has a very strange magnetic field. Instead of a global bubble, like Earth's, the Martian field is in the form of magnetic umbrellas that sprout out of the ground and reach beyond the top of Mars' atmosphere. These umbrellas number in the dozens and they cover about 40% of the planet’s surface, mainly in the southern hemisphere.

For years, researchers thought the umbrellas protected the Martian atmosphere, shielding pockets of air beneath them from erosion by the solar wind. Surprisingly, Brain finds that the opposite can be true as well: "The umbrellas are where coherent chunks of air are torn away."

Above: Solar wind blowing against Mars tears atmosphere-filled plasmoids from the tops of magnetic umbrellas. Credit: Graphic artist Steve Bartlett. [Larger image]

Addressing his colleagues at the Workshop, he described how he made the discovery just a few months ago:

Brain was scrolling through archival data from Global Surveyor's particles and fields sensors. "We have measurements from 25,000 orbits," he says. During one of those orbits, MGS passed through the top of a magnetic umbrella. Brain noticed that the umbrella's magnetic field had linked up with the magnetic field in the solar wind. Physicists call this "magnetic reconnection." What happened next is not 100% certain, but Global Surveyor's readings are consistent with the following scenario: "The joined fields wrapped themselves around a packet of gas at the top of the Martian atmosphere, forming a magnetic capsule a thousand kilometers wide with ionized air trapped inside," says Brain. "Solar wind pressure caused the capsule to 'pinch off' and it blew away, taking its cargo of air with it." Brain has since found a dozen more examples. The magnetic capsules or "plasmoids" tend to blow over the south pole of Mars, mainly because most of the umbrellas are located in Mars' southern hemisphere.

Above: Dave Brain of UC Berkeley presented this slide at the 2008 Huntsville Plasma Workshop to explain in cartoon fashion how plasmoids carry air away from Mars. [Larger image]

Brain isn't ready to declare the mystery solved. "We're still not sure how often the plasmoids form or how much gas each one contains." The problem is, Mars Global Surveyor wasn't designed to study the phenomenon. The spacecraft was only equipped to sense electrons, not the heavier ions which would make up the bulk of any trapped gas. "Ions and electrons don't always behave the same way," he cautions. Also, MGS sampled the umbrellas at fixed altitudes and at the same local time each day. "We need to sample many altitudes and times of day to truly understand these dynamic events."

In short, he told the audience, "we need more data."

Brain is pinning his hopes on a new NASA mission named MAVEN. Short for "Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution," MAVEN is an upper atmosphere orbiter currently approved for launch to Mars in 2013. The probe is specifically designed to study atmospheric erosion. MAVEN will be able to detect electrons, ions and neutral atoms; it will be able to measure both magnetic and electric fields; it will travel around Mars in an elliptical orbit, piercing magnetic umbrellas at different altitudes, angles, and times of day; and it will explore regions both near and far from the umbrellas, giving researchers the complete picture they need.

If magnetized chunks of air are truly being torn free, MAVEN will see it happening and measure the atmospheric loss rate. "Personally, I think this mechanism is important," says Brain, "but MAVEN may yet prove me wrong."

Meanwhile, the Mystery of the Missing Martian Air is shaping up to be a ripping good yarn

From: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/21nov_plasmoids.htm

 

11-20-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 301.4 km/sec
density: 1.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov20
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

MYSTERIOUS COSMIC RAYS: An international team of researchers has discovered a puzzling surplus of high-energy electrons bombarding Earth from space. The source of these cosmic rays is unknown, but it must be close to the solar system and it could be made of dark matter: full story.

 

11-19-08 -The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 296.5 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2229 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov19
24-hr: A0
1605 UT Nov19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

CONVERGING PLANETS: "The anticipation builds as Venus and Jupiter approach each other for their spectacular conjunction with the Moon on December 1st," says astronomy professor Jimmy Westlake of Colorado Mountain College. "In the meantime, the view of the sky's two brightest planets set against the star clouds of the Milky Way isn't half bad, either!"

He took the picture last night from the dark countryside near Stagecoach, Colorado. "Dusk's fading light, wispy clouds, and aircraft headed for parts unknown combined to make a dramatic night scene," he says.

Not everyone has skies so dark and starry. Fortunately, you don't need dark skies to witness the ongoing convergence of Jupiter and Venus. The two bright planets beam through clouds, twilight and even urban light pollution. Step outside at sunset and take a look.Sky maps: Nov.19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Dec 1.

more images: from Doug Zubenel at Kill Creek Park near De Soto, Kansas; from Tyler Burg of Omaha, Nebraska; from Bill Davis of Albuquerque, New Mexico; from Katy Giorgio of Boston, Massachusetts; from Val Germann of Columbia, Missouri;

 

11-18-08 - The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 330.8 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1805 UT Nov18
24-hr: A0
1805 UT Nov18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
 
11-17-08 sunspot 1008 slides over the NE edge of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 382.3 km/sec
density: 1.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1835 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1835 UT Nov17
24-hr: A0
1835 UT Nov17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1835 UT

LEONID OUTBURST: Just as predicted, the Leonid meteor shower surged during the early hours of Nov. 17th. "Earth passed through a filament of debris shed by parent comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle in the year 1466," says forecaster Jérémie Vaubaillon of Caltech. The result was a sharp flurry of meteors numbering almost 90 per hour. "In Slovakia, we saw many bright and quick Leonids during the peak," reports Roman Piffl.
 

11-16-08 - sunspot 1008 on the NE edge of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 450.4 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov16
24-hr: A0
0500 UT Nov16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

11-15-08  sunspot 1008 is going around the corner toward the back of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 313.0 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0626 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0 0625 UT Nov15

24-hr: A0
0625 UT Nov15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0625 UT

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been doing this trick for years. Every day the spacecraft beams back coronagraph images of our own sun, revealing stars, planets, comets and asteroids that would otherwise be lost in the glare. Today's image captured Mars and Mercury:

The two planets are converging on the Sun and next week, during the days around Thanksgiving in the USA, the trio will gather inside a circle less than three degrees in diameter. Looking up at noon, you'd never

Click here for live images from SOHO.

 

11-14-08 sunspot 1008 on the edge of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 335.0 km/sec
density: 0.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov14
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

11-13-08  sunspot 1008 on the upper NE corner of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 286.3 km/sec
density: 3.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov13
24-hr: A2
0645 UT Nov13
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE MOON: It's that time of year, basketball season, and if you don't believe it, just look at tonight's full Moon. Etched in moondust and hardened lava, there's a game in progress:

These images come from P. Edward Murray of Yardley, Pennsylvania: "Last May, I was looking at a National Geographic map of the Moon (left) when suddenly I saw the Basketball Player in the Moon," he says. "Later, I sketched him onto a photo of a full Moon (right) I took using a 4.25-inch Astroscan telescope. My discovery was published in the August 2008 edition of The Lunar Observer, a monthly publication of ALPO. The basketball player can be seen a few days before full Moon and after."

Only one question remains: Which basketball player is it?

LunaBron James, of course.

more images: from Doug Zubenel of De Soto, Kansas; from Becky Ramotowski of Tijeras, New Mexico;

 

11-12-08  sunspot 1008 is growing

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 332.1 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2230 UT Nov12
24-hr: B1
0010 UT Nov12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SUNSPOT GROUP 1008: November is a cloudy month in South Wales, so this morning when Steve Wainwright of Swansea saw the sun shining through clear skies, he couldn't resist a smile. When he looked at the sun through his backyard solar telescope, the sun was smiling back:

"The sun is waking up and winking at us today," says Wainwright.

The "smile" is a filament of plasma connecting the two magnetic poles of sunspot 1008. Magnetograms of the active region reveal a N-S polarity characteristic of Solar Cycle 24: this is a new-cycle sunspot. The appearance of 1008 continues a recent trend of increasing new-cycle sunspot counts, which began in Oct. 2008. Solar activity is on the rise; if you have a solar telescope, take a look!

more images: from B. Shelzi and J. Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Paul Haese of Blackwood, South Australia; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, the Netherlands; from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong;

 

11-11-08

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 342.2 km/sec
density: 2.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A1
2105 UT Nov11
24-hr: A2
0835 UT Nov11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SUNSPOT GROUP 1008: A new group of sunspots is growing rapidly in the sun's northern hemisphere. The active region, numbered 1008, contains no fewer than seven dark cores. Pavol Rapavy sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia:

Using an H-alpha filter tuned to the red glow of solar hydrogen, Pete Lawrence of Selsey UK witnessed "the formation of a lovely magnetic filament" connecting opposite ends of the sunspot group: photo.

Judging from its high latitude, active region 1008 is a member of new Solar Cycle 24. The appearance of 1008 continues a recent trend of increasing new-cycle sunspot counts, which began in Oct. 2008. Solar activity is on the rise; tf you have a solar telescope, take a look!

more images: from Franck Charlier of Marines, Val d'Oise, France; from David Leong of Hong Kong; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland; from Denis Joye of Boulogne, France; from Catalin M. Timosca of Turda, Romania;

 

11-10-08 - Sunspot 1008 appeared today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 407.2 km/sec
density: 2.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0226 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
2030 UT Nov10
24-hr: B2
2030 UT Nov10
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

SOLAR CYCLE UPDATE: "Solar minimum is behind us," declares NASA sunspot forecaster David Hathaway. He bases the assertion on a flurry of new-cycle sunspots in October 2008. For the first time, active regions from new Solar Cycle 24 are outnumbering active regions from old Solar Cycle 23. Solar activity remains generally low, but the sun is showing signs of life.

November is picking up where October left off with the formation of yet another new-cycle sunspot, provisionally numbered 1008. It appeared today at the location circled in this SOHO UV image of the sun:

Inside that bright nest of magnetic loops, a dark sunspot is rapidly coelescing. Howard Eskildsen photographed it from his backyard observatory in Ocala, Florida. Readers, if you have a solar telescope, now is your chance to watch sunspot genesis in action.

more images: from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky; from Adrian Guzman of San Jose, California;

 

11-9-08 sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 460.4 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2034 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov09
24-hr: A0
1245 UT Nov09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SUNSET-FLAVORED JELLO: "Every time I go to watch a Pacific sunset I feel like I'm going out on my very first date," says Mila Zinkova of San Francisco, California. "Tonight (Nov. 6th) my date was oh-so entertaining. A green rim and green flashes danced on the top and the sides of the sun for almost a minute as it descended into the Pacific. The green color was as deep as the ocean itself." She captured the scene in a series of photos:

"It reminds me of jello," says atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "Near the horizon the sun always sports a slender green rim. Our sphere-shaped atmosphere acts as a lens to lift the sun's image. The blue and green 'suns' are lifted more than the red one, but we rarely see the blue rim because blue light is mostly scattered away to form the sky color above us. The mirage conditions here have distorted the sun and vertically magnified the green rim to generate mini green flashes."

"The California Coast with its cold ocean currents overlaid by warm winds from the land is ideal for seeing sights like these." Sunset jello: another reason to go to the beach!
 
AURORA WATCH: On Nov. 9th, flying photographer Brian Whittaker was 35,000 feet over the Arctic Circle when he looked out the window of his airplane and saw this:

"For several hours I had experienced a good display of dynamic green auroras," says Whittaker. "The best view was when we neared the coast of Greenland. Snow-capped peaks and glaciers were easily visible in the bright moonlight while auroras danced overhead."

It's time to book another flight. On Nov. 24th or 25th, a solar wind stream will hit Earth and probably spark a new round of Northern Lights. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

 

11-8-08  sun has no hotspots today, but solar wind is picking up

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 570.3 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2243 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Nov08
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Nov08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

11-7-08  Sunspot 1007 sliding around the corner to the back of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 482.1 km/sec
density: 3.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2244 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A1
2245 UT Nov07
24-hr: A1
2245 UT Nov07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

GREAT PROMINENCE: "The sun left two gifts on my doorstep this morning," says Alan Friedman of Buffalo, New York. "There was a gorgeous solar prominence and a glorious warm November day that allowed me to observe it in shirtsleeves!" This was the view through his backyard solar telescope:

Other observers saw it, too: Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky, called it "a real WOWser!" Jan Timmermans of the Netherlands measured the prominence and found it surging "four times higher than Earth itself. It was huge." John Boyd of Santa Barbara, California, said "it was the biggest prominence I've seen in a long time. I'm glad the sun is getting active again."

Indeed it is. The month of October brought four new-cycle sunspots, doubling the total of the previous nine months. For the first time in 2008, new-cycle active regions are outnumbering their old-cycle counterparts. Solar Cycle 24 is definitely picking up steam and this fiery prominence may be a further sign of things to come.

Readers, if you have a solar telescope, take a look at the increasingly active sun.

more images: from David Leong of Hong Kong; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, the Netherlands; from Steve Irvine of Big Bay, Ontario, Canada; from Adrian Guzman of San Jose, California;

 

11-6-08 - sunspot 1007 is going around the corner to the back side of the sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 296.7 km/sec
density: 14.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data


24-hr: A9
1135 UT Nov06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

 

11-5-08 - sunspot 1007 heading for the edge of the sun

A solar wind stream flowing from this coronal hole
could reach Earth on Nov. 6th or 7th.
Credit: Hinode X-ray Telescope

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 295.6 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1650 UT Nov05
24-hr: B3
1255 UT Nov05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
On November 6, 2008 there were 996 potentially hazardous asteroids.
Nov. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2008 TX3
Nov. 1
9 LD
19
45 m
2008 UT95
Nov. 2
1.5 LD
17
15 m
2008 UC7
Nov. 2
4.5 LD
20
17 m
4179 Toutatis
Nov. 9
20 LD
14
3.8 km

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.

 

11-4-08 sunspot 1007 is heading for the edge today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 325.9 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2040 UT Nov04
24-hr: B9
0330 UT Nov04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 
11-3-08 -  sunspot - 1007

  

SUNSPOT 1007: Over the weekend, sunspot 1007 grew into a substantial active region with two planet-sized cores connected by dark magnetic filaments thousands of kilometers long. The ensemble bears a curious resemblence to the pipe of Sherlock Holmes: "It's filamentary, my dear Watson!" says Alan Friedman who sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Buffalo, New York:

The high latitude and magnetic polarity of sunspot 1007 identify it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. This is the fourth new-cycle sunspot to breach the sun's surface in the past month. In a year of almost no sunspots, four is significant. It means that the sun is beginning a slow ascent out of solar minimum to a more active phase of the sunspot cycle. Solar minimum is not a permanent condition! Readers, if you have a solar telescope, train it on sunspot 1007 to witness a sign of things to come.

more images: from Larry Alvarez of Flower Mound, Texas; from Stephen W. Ramsden of Atlanta, Georgia;

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 409.7 km/sec
density: 1.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1236 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B8
1120 UT Nov03
24-hr: B8
1120 UT Nov03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1235 UT

 

11-2-08  Sunspot 1007 developing - see photos above

SOLAR ACTIVITY: New-cycle sunspot 1007 is growing again and moreover it is developing a mixed-polarity magnetic field that harbors energy for solar flares. Already, Earth-orbiting satellites have detected a series of minor B-class eruptions. Readers, if you have a solar telescope, point it at this crackling active region.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 401.2 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: B2
2015 UT Nov02
24-hr: B4
1505 UT Nov02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
On November 6, 2008 there were 996 potentially hazardous asteroids.
Nov. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
Nov. 1
9 LD
19
45 m
2008 UT95
Nov. 2
1.5 LD
17
15 m
2008 UC7
Nov. 2
4.5 LD
20
17 m
4179 Toutatis
Nov. 9
20 LD
14
3.8 km
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.

 

 

11-1-08  sunspot 1007 - photos above

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 424.7 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A3
2010 UT Nov01
24-hr: A3
2010 UT Nov01
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth 10.30.2008

 

Oct. 30, 2008: During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.

"It's called a flux transfer event or 'FTE,'" says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn't exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible."

Indeed, today Sibeck is telling an international assembly of space physicists at the 2008 Plasma Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, that FTEs are not just common, but possibly twice as common as anyone had ever imagined.

Right: An artist's concept of Earth's magnetic field connecting to the sun's--a.k.a. a "flux transfer event"--with a spacecraft on hand to measure particles and fields. [Larger image]

Researchers have long known that the Earth and sun must be connected. Earth's magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet's magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun's atmosphere.

"We used to think the connection was permanent and that solar wind could trickle into the near-Earth environment anytime the wind was active," says Sibeck. "We were wrong. The connections are not steady at all. They are often brief, bursty and very dynamic."

Several speakers at the Workshop have outlined how FTEs form: On the dayside of Earth (the side closest to the sun), Earth's magnetic field presses against the sun's magnetic field. Approximately every eight minutes, the two fields briefly merge or "reconnect," forming a portal through which particles can flow. The portal takes the form of a magnetic cylinder about as wide as Earth. The European Space Agency's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft and NASA's five THEMIS probes have flown through and surrounded these cylinders, measuring their dimensions and sensing the particles that shoot through. "They're real," says Sibeck.

Now that Cluster and THEMIS have directly sampled FTEs, theorists can use those measurements to simulate FTEs in their computers and predict how they might behave. Space physicist Jimmy Raeder of the University of New Hampshire presented one such simulation at the Workshop. He told his colleagues that the cylindrical portals tend to form above Earth's equator and then roll over Earth's winter pole. In December, FTEs roll over the north pole; in July they roll over the south pole.

Right: A "magnetic portal" or FTE mapped in cross-section by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft. [Larger image]

Sibeck believes this is happening twice as often as previously thought. "I think there are two varieties of FTEs: active and passive." Active FTEs are magnetic cylinders that allow particles to flow through rather easily; they are important conduits of energy for Earth's magnetosphere. Passive FTEs are magnetic cylinders that offer more resistance; their internal structure does not admit such an easy flow of particles and fields. (For experts: Active FTEs form at equatorial latitudes when the IMF tips south; passive FTEs form at higher latitudes when the IMF tips north.) Sibeck has calculated the properties of passive FTEs and he is encouraging his colleagues to hunt for signs of them in data from THEMIS and Cluster. "Passive FTEs may not be very important, but until we know more about them we can't be sure."

There are many unanswered questions: Why do the portals form every 8 minutes? How do magnetic fields inside the cylinder twist and coil? "We're doing some heavy thinking about this at the Workshop," says Sibeck.

Meanwhile, high above your head, a new portal is opening, connecting your planet to the sun.

 

10-31-08 - sunspot 1007

NEW-CYCLE SUNSPOT: A sunspot is emerging in the sun's northern hemisphere and it appears to be a member of new Solar Cycle 24. Sunspot 1007 is located at high latitude, as new-cycle sunspots always are, and it has the magnetic polariity expected of a Cycle 24 active region:

This is the fourth time in October that a new-cycle sunspot has breached the sun's surface. (The previous three occasions were Oct. 4th, 11th and 17th.) In a year of almost no sunspots, four in a single month is a large number, and their association with the new solar cycle is significant. It is a sign that the sun is beginning a slow ascent out of solar minimum to a more active phase in the months and years ahead. Solar minimum is not a permanent condition!

Readers, if you have a solar telescope, train it on sunspot 1007 to witness a sign of things to come.

more images: from J. Fairfull and J. Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland; from Pavol Rapavy of Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky;

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 547.5 km/sec
density: 0.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct31
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-30-08  The sun is blank today:

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 667.9 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
2325 UT Oct30
more data
Updated: Today at: 2325 UT

 

10-29-08  The sun is blank today-

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

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 669.8 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Oct29
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Oct29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT
 

COLORADO FIREBALL: Multi-station observations of last night's Colorado fireball reveal its nature: it was a natural meteoroid and not the reentry of manmade space junk. "This image was taken by my all-sky camera in Guffey, Colorado, and shows the meteor passing directly overhead," reports astronomer Chris Peterson. "The meteor had a ground path about 170 miles long, and traveled from east to west at 34 km/s (76,000 mph)." As bright as a full Moon, the fireball cast shadows through windows more than 300 miles away, as described in this report from Thomas Ashcraft near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Click to view videos of the fireball

On Oct. 28th at 7:29 pm Mountain Daylight Time, a random meteoroid hit Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated with the luminosity of a full Moon. The impact, which could've happened anywhere, took place directly above an all-sky video camera in Guffey, Colorado.

"I've received more than 100 eyewitness reports," says astronomer Chris Peterson, who operates the camera as part of a nightly fireball monitoring program. Combining the data at hand, he estimates that "the meteor had a ground path about 170 miles long and traveled from east to west at 34 km/s (76,000 mph)."

"I was lucky enough to see it myself from inside my house through a window," adds Thomas Ashcraft. What's amazing about that is he was located 300 miles away in New Mexico. "It was brilliant turquoise and green and lasted more than nine seconds." Ashcraft is an amateur radio astronomer and his receivers picked up echoes of distant TV transmitters bouncing off the fireball's ionized trail: listen.

Using a computer model of Earth's meteoroid environment, Bill qa3n3uvdbktfc4pmr5u0"> that fireballs this bright come along once every five months or so. Rarely, however, are they witnessed. About 70% of all fireballs streak over uninhabited ocean while half appear during the day, invisible in sunny skies. To catch one in the crosshairs of a meteor camera on a dark albeit cloudy night is good luck indeed.

 

AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream hit Earth last night, sparking brief but intense Northern Lights over Alaska. Lance Parrish took this picture from Skiland, a small town 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks:


Photo details: Nikon D3, ISO 1600, 3 secs

"The auroras were very fast moving and trimmed with pink edges," he says. "Some of the lights went directly overhead."

Gusts of solar wind continue to buffet Earth's magnetic field and this could spark another round of geomagnetic storms tonight. High latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

Oct. 2008 Aurora Gallery
[
Previous Octobers: 2007, 2006, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000]

Asteroids near earth on these dates.
 
2005 VN
Oct. 29
4.1 LD
15
116 m
2008 TX3
Nov. 1
9 LD
19
45 m
4179 Toutatis
Nov. 9
20 LD
14
3.8 km

 

10-28-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 525.9 km/sec
density: 2.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct28
24-hr: A0
0215 UT Oct28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-27-08 - The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 347.7 km/sec
density: 0.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2244 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2025 UT Oct27
24-hr: A0
2025 UT Oct27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SOLAR EXPLOSION: On  October. 27th, something exploded on the far side of the sun. The blast hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) over the sun's western limb where the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory caught it in flight:

Click to launch a 0.3 MB movie

The CME was not aimed at Earth (for the record, it is heading in the general direction of Saturn), so there will be no space weather consequences for our planet. What caused the explosion? Possibilities include a farside sunspot or a collapsing magnetic filament. Whatever the source, it was a break from the relentless calm of recent months. The sun is alive, after all.

ORIONID METEORS: Photographing Orion in late October can be tricky. The problem is, meteors keep getting in the way. Just last night, Oct. 26th, German photographer Jens Hackmann was wrapping up a 33 minute exposure when an orange meteor flashed by the Hunter's shoulder:

Hackmann's camera, a Canon 40D, caught a piece of Halley's Comet hitting Earth's atmosphere. Every year around this time, Earth crosses a stream of debris from Halley and the encounter creates a meteor shower called the Orionids. This year's display was not only strong (a maximum of 40 meteors/hr on Oct. 21st) but also persistent: The shower lasted for five days and is only now subsiding. Browse the gallery for more meteors "getting in the way":

2008 Orionid Meteor Gallery
[IMO meteor counts] [2006 Orionids]

 

10-26-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 390.6 km/sec
density: 2.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1900 UT Oct26
24-hr: A0
1900 UT Oct26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-25-08  The sun is blank today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 290.6 km/sec
density: 0.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct25
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-24-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 373.5 km/sec
density: 1.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0836 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
0830 UT Oct24
24-hr: A0
0830 UT Oct24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0830 UT

AURORA FORECAST: A solar wind stream is heading for Earth and it could spark a geomagnetic storm when it arrives on Oct. 28th. Sky watchers around the Arctic Circle should be alert for auroras.

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on or about Oct. 28th. Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

FLASHBACK: One year ago today, on Oct. 24, 2007, Comet 17P/Holmes shocked astronomers when it suddenly exploded, brightening a million-fold to naked-eye visibility. Within three days of the blast, the comet was bigger than Jupiter, and within three weeks it was larger than the sun itself. Spanish photographers Vicent Peris and José Luis Lamadrid recorded this view on Nov. 1, 2007, using little more than a 7-inch telescope:

What happened to Comet Holmes? Just-released observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope define the mass and velocity of the explosion: "The energy of the blast was about 1014 joules and the total mass was of order 1010 kg," says Bill Reach of Caltech. In other words, Holmes exploded like 24 kilotons of TNT and ejected 10 million metric tons of dust and gas into space. These numbers fit a model favored by Reach in which a cavern of ice some hundred meters beneath the comet's crust changed phase, from amorphous to crystalline, releasing in transition enough heat to cause Holmes to blow its top.

Holmes has exploded twice in recorded history--in 1892 and 2007. Two caverns down, how many to go? No one knows. Browse the gallery for a preview of what the next blast might look like:

Comet Holmes Photo Gallery
[JPL press release] [Night Sky Cameras]

Also see:  http://www.greatdreams.com/comets/comets-2007.htm

 

10-23-08  No sunspots today

 Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 373.9 km/sec
density: 2.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2248 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct23
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

ORIONID OUTBURST: The 2008 Orionid meteor shower put on a surprisingly good show. At maximum on Oct. 21st, observers around the world counted 40+ meteors per hour, about twice the usual rate. A fireball monitoring station at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recorded this flurry:


Click to view a larger movie (2 MB gif)

In the movie, the "floodlight" arcing slowly across the sky is the Moon. "Lunar glare should have spoiled the show, but the shower was so bright, we saw it despite the Moon's interference," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

The source of the Orionid meteor shower is Halley's Comet. Every year in October, Earth's crosses a stream of Halley-dust, and meteors fly out of the constellation Orion. The extra Orionids of 2008 probably came from a denser-than-usual filament of dust. This is the third October in a row Orionids have surged, suggesting a trend. Maybe next year's outburst won't be such a surprise!

UPDATED: 2008 Orionid Meteor Gallery
[IMO meteor counts] [2006 Orionids]

 

10-22-08 -  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 422.6 km/sec
density: 1.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1745 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1745 UT Oct22
24-hr: A0
1745 UT Oct22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1745 UT

ORIONID OUTBURST: The 2008 Orionid meteor shower put on a surprisingly good show. Observers around the world counted 40+ meteors per hour, about twice the usual rate. The display included a substantial number of fireballs and exploding meteors, like this one over Sedona, Arizona, on Tuesday morning, Oct. 21st:

"The explosion left a bubble of glowing debris that expanded for at least 15 minutes," says photographer Marsha Adams. She took pictures at one minute intervals and assembled them to show the aftermath of the blast.

Orionid meteors are specks of debris from Halley's Comet. The extra Orionids of 2008 probably came from a denser-than-usual filament of comet dust crossing Earth's orbit. This is the third October in a row this has happened, suggesting a trend. Maybe next year's outburst won't be such a surprise!

 

10-21-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 380.0 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct21
24-hr: A0
0100 UT Oct21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

LONG-RANGE FORECAST: Approximately nine days from now, a solar wind stream will hit Earth. That's a long-range forecast made possible for the first time by NASA's Stereo-B spacecraft. The stream is flowing from a coronal hole photographed this morning by the spacecraft's extreme ultraviolet telescope:

In years past, the longest-range forecasts of solar wind streams amounted to six or seven days. Stereo-B has extended the range to eight or nine days. It does this trick by looking over the sun's eastern horizon to find coronal holes before they can be seen from Earth. The orbit of Stereo-B is similar to Earth's, yet it lags 38o behind our planet, giving it an "around-the-bend" view of the sun.

Arctic sky watchers should be alert for auroras at the end of the month. A Halloween storm could be brewing.

 

10-20-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 405.4 km/sec
density: 1.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2135 UT Oct20
24-hr: A0
2135 UT Oct20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

AURORA SURPRISE: No geomagnetic storm was predicted for Oct. 19th, but one happened anyway. "We had an outburst of beautiful auroras here in Finland," reports Sauli Koski. He recorded the green skies behind moonlit trees using his Nikon D3:

What happened? The interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth tipped south, opening a crack in our planet's magnetic defenses against the solar wind. Solar wind poured in and fueled the display.

"The clouds cleared just in time for some heavy auroras," says Thomas Hagen of Tromsø, Norway. "[It's] the greatest show on Earth!"

 

10-19-08

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 355.6 km/sec
density: 0.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct19
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SOLAR ACTIVITY: It pays to keep an eye on the sun. Yesterday, with little warning, an enormous prominence surged into view. "It was the biggest I'd ever seen," says longtime observer Emiel Veldhuis of the Netherlands. Here is the view through his Personal Solar Telescope:

Held aloft by solar magnetism, the cloud of glowing hydrogen stretched more than 20 Earth diameters from end to end. It curled backwards over the sun's horizon and for a while seemed to promise days of unfolding entertainment. Then it collapsed. All that's left today is smooth horizon.

more images: from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Thierry Legault of Paris, France; from Kristian Molnar of Senec, Slovakia; from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from Denis Joye of Boulonge, France; from James Screech of Bedford, England; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky; from Alan C Tough of Elgin, Moray, Scotland

 

10-18-08 - No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 280.2 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct18
24-hr: A6
1200 UT Oct18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

MONSTER PROMINENCE: Readers, if you have a solar telescope, train it on the sun. A prominence is surging over the sun's northeastern limb and "it's a monster," reports Pete Lawrence. He sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK:

"It's so big that I couldn't fit it all in one frame--a stunning arch of plasma that now appears to be reaching back towards the surface at the other end," he says.

more images: from Emiel Veldhuis of Zwolle, the Netherlands; from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from Denis Joye of Boulonge, France; from James Screech of Bedford, England; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky;

 

10-17-08

Tiny fading sunspots 1005 and 1006 are both members of Solar Cycle 24.
Credit: SOHO/MDI

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 286.0 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0231 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1845 UT Oct17
24-hr: A3
0110 UT Oct17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT
 
10-16-08  Sunspot - still visible - see photo below
 

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 311.0 km/sec
density: 1.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct16
24-hr: A0
0500 UT Oct16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SOLAR HOT SPOTS: NASA's Stereo-B spacecraft is monitoring a string of hot spots where magnetic fields are poking through the solar surface. All four are located at high latitude, a sign that they belong to new Solar Cycle 24:

Stereo-B enjoys a unique view of the sun. Because it lags 38o behind Earth in its orbit, Stereo-B is able to look down on a broad swath of sun invisible from our planet. The spacecraft's "over-the-horizon" view clearly reveals the line of active regions.

Does this mean Solar Cycle 24 is picking up steam? Probably, yes, but only a little. Just one of these active regions is a full-fledged sunspot (numbered 1005), while the others are merely "proto-sunspots" without a dark sunspot-core. It beats another blank day on the sun! Stay tuned for developments

 

10-15-08  Sunspot 1005 moving across sun

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 365.2 km/sec
density: 2.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2244 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct15
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

ORANGE SEAS: The Moon is more than just shades of gray. Lunar seas are suffused with blue, purple, orange and other colors--you just can't see them at first glance. Last night, Catalin Timosca of Turda, Romania, took a picture that revealed the hidden palette of the Hunter's Moon:

The colors are real. Blue hues reveal titanium-rich areas while orange and purple colors show regions that are low on iron.

For the record, she used a Nikon D40X digital camera, but it wasn't the camera that did the trick. Careful but straightforward processing in Photoshop can turn almost any digital photo of the full Moon into a mineral map. Astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope use similar techniques to find valuable ores for future lunar settlements.

Look at the Moon tonight. Does it really seem so gray?

moon photos: from Piotr Majewski of Torun, Poland; from Mohammad Soltanolkottabi of Esfahan, Iran; from Thad V'Soske of Grand Valley, Colorado; from P-M Hedén of Vallentuna, Sweden; from Elias Chasiotis of Markopoulo, Greece; from Martin Mc Kenna of Maghera, Co. Derry, N. Ireland; from Tamas Ladanyi of Veszprem, Hungary; from C.J. Wood of Ridgely, Maryland; from Mila Zinkova of San Francisco, California; from Hunter Outten of Frankford, Delaware; from Edmund E Kasaitis of Manchester, Maryland; from Don Poggensee of Ida Grove, Iowa;

 

10-14-08 - Sunspot 1005 moving across sun

 Current conditions

explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2115 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct14
24-hr: A1
1220 UT Oct14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-13-08  Sunspot 1005 appears

NEW-CYCLE SUNSPOT: A "new-cycle" sunspot belonging to Solar Cycle 24 has emerged near the sun's northeastern limb. Sunspot 1005 has a two dark cores (one of them busily fragmenting) and a simple bipolar magnetic field that poses no threat for solar flares. "It's a lovely little group of spots," says Pete Lawrence, who sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK:

   

This is the third time in as many weeks that a new-cycle sunspot has interrupted the year's remarkable run of blank suns. The accelerating pace of new-cycle sunspot production is an encouraging sign that, while solar activity remains very low, the sunspot cycle is unfolding more or less normally. We are not stuck in a permanent solar minimum.

more images: from Mike Borman of Evansville, Indiana; from Alan Friedman of Buffalo, NY; from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK; from Wouter Verhesen of Sittard, The Netherlands; from J. Fairfull and J. Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Greg Piepol of Rockville, Md; from Tibor Horvath of Hegyhatsal, Hungary;

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 523.8 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1322 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
0735 UT Oct12
24-hr: A0
0735 UT Oct12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1325 UT
10-12-08 sunspot 1005 appears - see photos above

NEW-CYCLE SUNSPOT: A "new-cycle" sunspot belonging to Solar Cycle 24 has emerged near the sun's northeastern limb. Sunspot 1005 has two fast-growing dark cores wider than Earth and a simple bipolar magnetic field that poses no threat for solar flares. Alan Friedman sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Buffalo, New York:

This is the third time in as many weeks that a new-cycle sunspot has interrupted the year's remarkable run of blank suns. The accelerating pace of new-cycle sunspot production is an encouraging sign that, while solar activity remains very low, the sunspot cycle is unfolding more or less normally. We are not stuck in a permanent solar minimum. Readers with solar telescopes should train them on the sun this weekend to observe sunspot genesis in action.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 523.8 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1322 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
0735 UT Oct12
24-hr: A0
0735 UT Oct12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1325 UT
On October 12, 2008 there were 990 potentially hazardous asteroids.
Oct. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2008 QS11
Oct. 2
11 LD
14
470 m
2008 SH148
Oct. 4
5.8 LD
19
26 m
2005 GN59
Oct. 6
20 LD
15
1.4 km
2008 TC3
Oct. 7
IMPACT
-13
3 m
2008 TZ
Oct. 10
5.3 LD
18
37 m
1999 VP11
Oct. 16
72 LD
17
860 m
2001 UY4
Oct. 18
74 LD
17
1.1 km
Comet Barnard-Boattini
Oct. 22
75 LD
16
unknown
2008 TT26
Oct. 23
3.6 LD
15
70 m
2000 EX106
Oct. 23
69 LD
18
1.1 km
2005 VN
Oct. 29
4.1 LD
15
116 m
4179 Toutatis
Nov. 9
20 LD
14
3.8 km
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.

 

10-11-08  NEW SUNSPOT: 1005 -see above  A  "new-cycle" sunspot belonging to Solar Cycle 24 is emerging near the sun's northeastern limb. This is the third time in as many weeks that a new-cycle sunspot has interrupted the year's remarkable run of blank suns.  The accelerating pace of new-cycle sunspot production is an encouraging sign that, while solar activity remains very low, the sunspot cycle is unfolding more or less normally.  We are not stuck in a permanent solar minimum.  Readers with solar telescopes should train them on the sun this weekend to observe sunspot genesis in action.

MAGNETIC STORM: A solar wind stream hit Earth on Oct. 11th, sparking the strongest geomagnetic storm of 2008. The disturbance registered 7 on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of geomagnetic activity. Bright auroras spread across Finland, where Sauli Koski took this picture:

Finally some good auroras and no clouds!" he says. Bright moonlight added beauty to the scene by illuminating the landscape. Koski made a series of exposures using a Nikon D3 digital camera, opening the shutter for 6 seconds at 800 ASA.

High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras as the solar wind continues to blow.

  Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 534.9 km/sec
density: 1.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct11
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT
 
10-10-08 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 331.6 km/sec
density: 10.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct10
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct10
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-09-08 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 303.8 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2218 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct09
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

Click to launch a 1.4 MB movie

NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft recorded this spectacular prominence on Sept. 29th. No sunspot was involved. A magnetic filament snaking around the sun's north pole suddenly became unstable and erupted, disgorging a cloud of hydrogen large enough to swallow a hundred Earths.

How and why prominences erupt is a topic of ongoing research. The blasts are unpredictable, which is why today's sun is so full of promise: image. By the standard of prominences, solar activity is looking up.

 

10-08-08 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 321.2 km/sec
density: 1.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct08
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

(Updated Oct. 15th)  Last week when asteroid 2008 TC3 entered Earth's atmosphere over Sudan, "classified assets" were watching. Without naming names, the US government has released a summary of what they saw: "Sensors aboard US satellites detected the impact of a bolide over Africa on 7 October 2008 at 02:45:40 UT. Initial observations put the object at 65.4 km altitude at 20.9o N, 31.4o E. The object detonated at an altitude of approximately 37 km at 20.8 o N, 32.2o E. The total radiated energy was approximately 4.0X1011 joules, equivalent to ~0.1 kilotons of TNT."

(Updated Oct. 8th) On Oct. 7th, asteroid 2008 TC3 hit Earth and exploded in the atmosphere over northern Sudan. An infrasound array in Kenya recorded the impact: map. Dr. Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario has inspected the data and he estimates that the asteroid hit at 0243 UTC with an energy between 1.1 and 2.1 kilotons of TNT. The explosion was imaged by the weather satellite Meteosat 8:

"The explosion was visible in all 12 of the satellite's spectral channels, covering wavelengths from 0.5 to 14 microns," says Jiri Borovicka
of the Czech Academy of Sciences, who is analyzing the data. "The satellite takes pictures every five minutes; the fireball appeared at 0245 UTC and had faded away by 0250 UTC."

So far, no ground pictures of the fireball have been submitted; the impact occurred in a remote area with few and possibly no onlookers capable of recording the event. The only report of a visual sighting comes from Jacob Kuiper, General Aviation meteorologist at the National Weather Service in the Netherlands:

"Half an hour before the predicted impact of asteroid 2008 TC3, I informed an official of Air-France-KLM at Amsterdam airport about the possibility that crews of their airliners in the vicinity of impact would have a chance to see a fireball. And it was a success! I have received confirmation that a KLM airliner, roughly 750 nautical miles southwest of the predicted atmospheric impact position, has observed a short flash just before the expected impact time 0246 UTC. Because of the distance it was not a very large phenomenon, but still a confirmation that some bright meteor has been seen in the predicted direction. Projected on an infrared satellite image from Meteosat 7, I have indicated the position of the plane (+) and the predicted impact area in Sudan (0)."

2008 TC3 was discovered on Oct. 6th by astronomers using the Mt. Lemmon telescope in Arizona as part of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey for near-Earth objects. Asteroids the size of 2008 TC3 hit Earth 5 to 10 times a year, but this is the first time one has been discovered before it hit.

BONUS: 2008 TC3 was so close to Earth, different observers around the globe saw the asteroid trace different paths among the stars. This effect, called parallax, is beautifully illustrated in a compilation of 566 published observations prepared by Matthias Busch: image.
 

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 368.0 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1700 UT Oct07
24-hr: A0
1700 UT Oct07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

Nasa scientists at Ames Research Center in Mountain View say scientists did something Monday night that they've never been able to do before. They were able to predict where and when an asteroid would enter the earth's atmosphere.

The asteroid was about the size of a car and entered the atmosphere over the African country of Sudan going about eight miles a second.

So far there are no reports of damage. It is believed that the space rock burned up before reaching the ground, although small pieces could have made it to the ground.

Scientists said space rocks of that size usually enter the earth's atmosphere about once or twice a year.

But this time, they were able to predict the impact 12 hours in advance. David Morrison, of the NASA Lunar Science Institute, said "Our Spaceguard telescopes, the telescopes looking up and doing a catalog of asteroids happened by good luck to see this just one night before it hit."

Morrison added that the Spaceguard Project began ten years ago, but until now had never been able to forecast an asteroid collision. "The earth orbits the sun in a kind of celestial shooting gallery and we are certainly hit by all size objects. If you think about the surface of the moon, all those craters, the earth would be just as heavily cratered."

An asteroid collision with earth has been a subject of science fiction for many years. In reality, it's happened in the past and will likely happen again in the future. "If it's big enough to get through the atmosphere, it hardly slows down. It hits the ground 3 or 4 seconds after it enters the atmosphere, and there's just an explosion. It's like a big bomb going off," said Morrison.

In Arizona, there is a meteor crater measuring about one mile across. Scientists say that was made by an asteroid the size of a ten story building some 50,000 years ago.

Some people believe the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago because a space rock ten miles across smashed into the earth.

The impending arrival of an asteroid doesn't bother some people, but others are concerned. Blair Hardee of Mountain View said, "It worries me because if a small asteroid like that can come into the atmosphere then a bigger one definitely could too." Al Lewis also of Mountain View countered, "That's something I really can't worry about so I try to worry about the things I can do something about."

Nasa's David Morrison sees a practical application. "If you predicted the impact with just a few days or weeks warning, you could at least evacuate. If you have decades of warning then we have the space technology to go out with a space craft and actually deflect it, so it misses the Earth a little bit."

Scientists say it is just a matter of time. Copyright 2008 by KTVU.com


ASTEROID 2008 TC3:  A small, newly-discovered asteroid named 2008 TC3 is approaching Earth and chances are good that it will hit. Measuring only a few meters across, the space rock poses no threat to people or structures on the ground, but it should create a spectacular fireball, releasing about a kiloton of energy as it disintegrates and explodes in the high atmosphere.  At least one expert estimates that atmospheric entry will occur on Oct 7th at 0246 UTC over northern Sudan. 
 

10-06-08  no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 412.6 km/sec
density: 0.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct06
24-hr: A5
0250 UT Oct06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-05-08 No sunspots today - the previous 1002 and 1003 have faded away

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 446.8 km/sec
density: 0.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1504 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1505 UT Oct06
24-hr: A5
0250 UT Oct06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1505 UT

Earth is exiting the solar wind stream that caused the display, but another stream is on the way. Sky watchers around the Arctic Circle should be alert for auroras when it arrives on Oct. 8th or 9th.

 

10-04-08 - sunspot 1003

NEW SUNSPOT: Magnetic fields are punching through the solar surface and coalescing to form a sunspot near the sun's southeastern limb. This SOHO magnetic map of the sun shows the region's location and polarity:

The high southern latitude of the active region means it is probably a member of new Solar Cycle 24. The sun has been relentlessly blank for most of 2008, signifying a deep and sleepy minimum of the solar cycle. This tiny spot, and other recent ones like it, show that the sun is awakening again, albeit very slowly.

 

10-03-08 - No sunspots today

  Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 621.9 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1425 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1420 UT Oct03
24-hr: A0
0820 UT Oct03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1420 UT

HOW ROUND IS THE SUN? Scientists using NASA's RHESSI spacecraft have measured the roundness of the sun with unprecedented precision, and they find that it is not a perfect sphere. During years of high solar activity the sun develops a rough "cantaloupe skin" that increases the sun's oblateness

The crinkles, shown here in a July 2005 photo taken by astrophotographer Gary Palmer, brighten and fatten the "stellar waist," adding more than 10 milli-arcseconds to the sun's equatorial angular diameter. Solar physicists have long known about these crinkles, which are made of magnetism and trace bubbling "supergranules" on the sun's surface, but only now has RHESSI revealed their unexpected effect on the sun's global shape. This research has far ranging implications for solar physics and theories of gravity: full story

 

10-02-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 697.2 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2135 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct02
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

10-01-08 No sunspots today

SPOTLESS SUN: Astronomers who count sunspots have announced that 2008 has become the "blankest year" of the Space Age. Sunspot counts are at a 50-year low, signifying a deep minimum in the 11-year cycle of solar activity. Get the full story from Science@NASA.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 591.7 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Oct01
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Oct01
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

Earth is inside a solar wind stream flowing
from the indicated coronal hole.
Credit: Hinode X-ray

9-30-08 -  Two proto sunspots are emerging

 

PROTO-SUNSPOTS: Magnetic fields are poking through the sun's surface and struggling to form a pair of new sunspots. Their locations are indicated on this morning's SOHO magnetic map of the sun:

The magnetic orientation of the northern hemisphere proto-spot identifies it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. The other spot near the equator may be a member of old Solar Cycle 23. During the long transition from one solar cycle to the next, it is not unusual to see members of both cycles on the sun at the same time.

Readers, if you have a solar telesscope, monitoring is encouraged.

more images: from Pavol Rapavy of Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 474.5 km/sec
density: 6.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2142 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2335 UT Sep30
24-hr: A0
2335 UT Sep30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2335 UT

 

9-29-08 - no sunspots today

A solar wind stream flowing from
the indicated coronal hole should
reach Earth on Oct. 1st or 2nd.
Credit: SOHO Extreme UV

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 364.7 km/sec
density: 1.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2255 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep29
24-hr: A0
0835 UT Sep29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

GREAT PROMINENCE: A prominence of rare beauty is dancing along the sun's southern rim.

"That was the view through my Coronado PST on Sept. 28th," says Jerome Grenier of Paris, France. "What a great prominence!"

A prominence is a cloud of hot gas held in the grip of solar magnetic fields. With that in mind, watch the movie again. The motions you just witnessed are a major puzzle for solar physicists. No one understands why the top of the prominence cascades down as fast as it does; the "magnetic diffusion coefficient" of the medium shouldn't allow it. At the same time, swirls and vortices indicate an exquisite degree of magnetic control so far impossible to duplicate in Earth laboratories. How does the sun do these things? It's a beautiful mystery. If you have a solar telescope, take a look.

more images: from Jack Newton of Osoyoos, British Columbia; from Wouter Verhesen of Sittard, The Netherlands; from Larry Alvarez of Flower Mound, Texas; from Didier Favre of Brétigny-sur-Orge, France; from Robert Arnold of Isle of Skye, Scotland; from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from P-M Hedén of Vallentuna, Sweden; from Steve Wainwright of Swansea, South Wales; from Les Cowley of the UK; from Emiel Veldhuis of Zwolle, the Netherlands; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky; from Adrian Guzman of San Jose, California;

 

9-28-08 No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 357.5 km/sec
density: 3.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep28
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-27-08 No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 342.7 km/sec
density: 3.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep27
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

A solar wind stream flowing
from the indicated coronal hole
should reach Earth on or about
Oct. 1st. Credit: Hinode X-ray Telescope

 

9-26-08 No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 330.2 km/sec
density: 2.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep26
24-hr: A0
0935 UT Sep26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-25-08 - No sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 336.3 km/sec
density: 6.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1650 UT Sep25
24-hr: A0
1650 UT Sep25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-24-08 - Sunspot 1002 fades

The real excitement about the active region was not its size or duration, but rather its polarity. The orientation of the sunspot's magnetic field identified it as a member of new Sunspot Cycle 24. Because the year 2008 has brought so many blank suns, some observers have wondered if we are ever going to climb out of the ongoing deep solar minimum. Sunspot 1002 is an encouraging sign that the 11-year solar cycle is indeed progressing, albeit slowly.

more images: from Alan Friedman of Buffalo, New York; from N. Hebert et al. of South Portland, Maine

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 297.4 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep24
24-hr: A0
1050 UT Sep24
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-23-08  See sunspot 1002 below in closeup 

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 290.0 km/sec
density: 3.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT <{>
X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep23
24-hr: A0
0020 UT Sep23
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

This is a closeup of sunspot 1002

Solar Wind Loses Power, Hits 50-year Low

Sept. 23, 2008: In a briefing today at NASA headquarters, solar physicists announced that the solar wind is losing power.

"The average pressure of the solar wind has dropped more than 20% since the mid-1990s," says Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "This is the weakest it's been since we began monitoring solar wind almost 50 years ago."

McComas is principal investigator for the SWOOPS solar wind sensor onboard the Ulysses spacecraft, which measured the decrease. Ulysses, launched in 1990, circles the sun in a unique orbit that carries it over both the sun's poles and equator, giving Ulysses a global view of solar wind activity:

Above: Global measurements of solar wind pressure by Ulysses. Green curves trace the solar wind in 1992-1998, while blue curves denote lower pressure winds in 2004-2008. [Larger image]

Curiously, the speed of the million mph solar wind hasn't decreased much—only 3%. The change in pressure comes mainly from reductions in temperature and density. The solar wind is 13% cooler and 20% less dense.

"What we're seeing is a long term trend, a steady decrease in pressure that began sometime in the mid-1990s," explains Arik Posner, NASA's Ulysses Program Scientist in Washington DC.

How unusual is this event?

"It's hard to say. We've only been monitoring solar wind since the early years of the Space Age—from the early 60s to the present," says Posner. "Over that period of time, it's unique. How the event stands out over centuries or millennia, however, is anybody's guess. We don't have data going back that far."

Flagging solar wind has repercussions across the entire solar system—beginning with the heliosphere.

The heliosphere is a bubble of magnetism springing from the sun and inflated to colossal proportions by the solar wind. Every planet from Mercury to Pluto and beyond is inside it. The heliosphere is our solar system's first line of defense against galactic cosmic rays. High-energy particles from black holes and supernovas try to enter the solar system, but most are deflected by the heliosphere's magnetic fields.

"The solar wind isn't inflating the heliosphere as much as it used to," says McComas. "That means less shielding against cosmic rays."

In addition to weakened solar wind, "Ulysses also finds that the sun's underlying magnetic field has weakened by more than 30% since the mid-1990s," says Posner. "This reduces natural shielding even more."

Unpublished Ulysses cosmic ray data show that, indeed, high energy (GeV) electrons, a minor but telltale component of cosmic rays around Earth, have jumped in number by about 20%.

These extra particles pose no threat to people on Earth's surface. Our thick atmosphere and planetary magnetic field provide additional layers of protection that keep us safe.

But any extra cosmic rays can have consequences. If the trend continues, astronauts on the Moon or en route to Mars would get a higher dose of space radiation. Robotic space probes and satellites in high Earth orbit face an increased risk of instrument malfunctions and reboots due to cosmic ray strikes. Also, there are controversial studies linking cosmic ray fluxes to cloudiness and climate change on Earth. That link may be tested in the years ahead.

 

9-22-08

 

NEW SUNSPOT: For the first time in months, a significant sunspot is emerging on the sun.  It is a fast-growing active region with two dark cores, each larger than Earth.  The magnetic polarity of the sunspot identifies it as a member of new Sunspot Cycle 24.  Because the year 2008 has brought so many blank suns, some observers have wondered if we are ever going to climb out of the ongoing deep solar minimum.  Today's new sunspot is an encouraging sign that the 11-year solar cycle is indeed progressing, albeit slowly.  

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 313.6 km/sec
density: 4.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1705 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1255 UT Sep22
24-hr: A0
1255 UT Sep22
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1705 UT

 

9-21-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 296.4 km/sec
density: 2.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2256 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2145 UT Sep21
24-hr: A0
2145 UT Sep21
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 SOLAR ACTIVITY: By the standard of sunspot counts, solar activity is low. Maybe there should be another standard:

"The face of the sun was pretty bare today, but the limb was a different story. There was a really big prominence," says Larry Alvarez of Flower Mound, Texas. "It looked like a raging 'wire of fire.' I took the picture using my Coronado 90mm solar filter and a homemade ccd camera."

FOOTBALL-SHAPED PLANET: The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has just named the solar system's fifth dwarf planet, Haumea, after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility. Located just beyond Pluto, Haumea spins so rapidly that it has been elongated like a football approximately 2200 km long. The strange planet has two moons, Hi'iaka and Namaka: IAU press release.

 

9-20-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 327.6 km/sec
density: 2.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep20
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep20
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-19-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 363.3 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep19
24-hr: A0
0800 UT Sep19
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

MICKEY MOUSE EARS: Ultraviolet photos taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) reveal the a strange pair of "Mickey Mouse" ears on the sun. They've been sighted many times in recent weeks and are especially prominent today:

What are they? Coronal cavities--regions of low density, high temperature gas contained by loops of magnetic field. Coronal cavities are where prominences are born. Indeed, there is a prominence inside the righthand cavity; look for it in the red image, above, also from SOHO.

There's more to this story. The two ears appear to be two distinct cavities. In fact, they are one. The actual cavity is a collosal ring encircling the north pole of the sun. Geometrically, it is similar to the auroral ovals of Earth. The two ears are cross-sections of the translucent ring, distinctly visible because they hang out over the edge of the solar disk.

The ring-shaped cavity is also known as the sun's "polar crown" and it spawns some truly beautiful prominences. The polar crown is easiest to see during solar minimum when the sun is not cluttered with spots--so now is the perfect time. Look for the ears in daily images from SOHO.

 

9-18-08  No sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 357.2 km/sec
density: 1.4 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2257 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2250 UT Sep18
24-hr: A0
2250 UT Sep18
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2250 UT

LUNAR TRANSIT: Last night, photographer John Stetson drove to Goosefair Bay in Maine, set up his camera, and waited for a winged form to flit across the Moon. Right on time, it appeared:

"It's the International Space Station," says Stetson. "The ISS was 233 miles above Goosefair Bay when it passed directly in front of the 89% illuminated Moon." Because the ISS was in Earth's shadow at the time of the overpass, it made a dark-as-night silhouette against the gray lunar surface.

An even better time to see the ISS is when it is out of Earth's shadow. Sunlight striking the behemoth space station turns it into one of the brightest objects in the night sky, second only to the Moon and sometimes Venus. Its easy to spot if you know when to look.

more images: from Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands; from Thomas Dorman of Horizon City, Texas; from Mike Salway of Central Coast, NSW Australia; from John C McConnell of Maghaberry Northern Ireland;

 

9-17-08\ - no sunspots today - no black corona holes either Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 383.3 km/sec
density: 2.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0042 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Sep17
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Sep17
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

NOT-SO-BLANK SUN: Yes, the sun is utterly blank--no sunspots.
But the featureless sun is still a good target for photography, provided your neighbors have trees:

\\

Yesterday, I was testing the focus on my H-alpha scope as the sun was rising,"
says Stephen W. Ramsden of Atlanta, Georgia. "By accident I got this weird
shot of tree limbs in my neighborhood in front of the violent solar disc."

Hundreds of miles away in Flower Mound, Texas, photographer
Larry Alvarez reports that, while "the sun has hit rock bottom,"
 trees are not required for a good shot. "The sun is still pure gold for the solar imager."

more images: from James Kevin Ty of Manila, Philippines;
from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky;
from Alan Friedman of Buffalo, NY;
 from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany;
 from N. Hebert, J. Fairfull and J. Stetson of South Portland, Maine

 

9-16-08  No sun spots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 524.3 km/sec
density: 0.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1815 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1815 UT Sep16
24-hr: A0
0920 UT Sep16
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1815 UT
 
9-15-08  no sun spots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 551.9 km/sec
density: 1.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep15
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep15
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

JULES VERNE: Two weeks from now, on Sept 29th, ESA's Jules Verne spacecraft will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate as a fireball over the south Pacific Ocean. Until then, the doomed ship is circling Earth in plain view of sky watchers. This movie of Jules Verne gliding by Polaris (the North Star) was recorded on Sept. 10th by Kevin Fetter of Ontario, Canada. People in North America and Europe are favored with plenty of similar passes in the week ahead. Check the Simple Satellite Tracker for viewing times.

more images: from Thomas Dorman of Horizon City,Texas; from John C McConnell of Maghaberry, Northern Ireland.

AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field and causing geomagnetic storms around the Arctic Circle. "The auroras were visible tonight (Sept. 14) in spite of twilight and bright moonlight," says Bjorn Jorgensen, who sends this picture from Tromso, Norway:

 Also in Tromso, Martin Ratcliffe reports activity lasting more than two hours "with a five minute period of especially intense curtains dancing across the entire sky."

More storms are in the offing as the solar wind continues to blow. Sky watchers from Alaska to Scandinavia should be alert for auroras.
 

9-14-08 no sun spots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 390.5 km/sec
density: 14.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep14
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-13-08 - No sunspot today - yesterday's sunspot disappeared again.

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 285.6 km/sec
density: 3.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0546 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
0545 UT Sep14
24-hr: A0
0545 UT Sep14
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 0545 UT

 

9-12-08 -  sunspot 1001 just appeared - its very small

EMERGING SUNSPOT: A new sunspot is emerging near the sun's equator. "
Finally!" says Pavol Rapavy who sends this picture from Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia.
Readers with solar telescopes, take a look.

Lesson on sunspot numbers

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 322.1 km/sec
density: 1.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2317 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2315 UT Sep12
24-hr: A0
1630 UT Sep12
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2315 UT

HARVEST MOON: This weekend's full Moon (Sept. 14/15) has a special name--the Harvest Moon. It's the full moon closest to the northern autumnal equinox (Sept. 22). In years past, farmers depended on the light of the Harvest Moon to gather ripening crops late into the night. Post-Edison, we appreciate it mainly for its beauty. Be alert in the nights ahead for Harvest Moon halos, coronas and 'dogs.  
9-11-08 no sunspot today
  Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 361.5 km/sec
density: 3.6 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep11
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep11
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-10-08 no sunspot today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 434.0 km/sec
density: 2.2 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep10
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep10
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

CORONAL HOLE: Japan's Hinode spacecraft is monitoring a dark hole in the sun's atmosphere--a coronal hole:

Coronal holes are places where the sun's magnetic field opens up and allows the solar wind to spill out. A stream of solar wind from this hole will hit Earth on Sept. 13th, possibly sparking geomagnetic storms. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend.

 

9-9-08 0 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 477.3 km/sec
density: 4.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2231 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Sep09
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Sep09
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

FIREBALL OUTBURST: Yesterday, Sept. 9th, with no warning whatsoever, a flurry of bright fireballs lit up the skies of North America. "Our SENTINEL all-sky camera picked up 25 bright meteors in a shower that began at 0620 UT and lasted approximately 4 hours," reports NASA astronomer Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This video "frame-stack" shows the outburst at a glance:

"Most appear to have a radiant near Perseus (3.3h, +43o), leading us to hypothesize an outburst of the September Perseids," says Cooke. The September Perseids come from an unknown comet and typically produce no more than a handful of dim meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Sept. 8th and 9th. This is the first time they have been caught bursting in this fashion. Most of the meteors recorded by the NASA camera were magnitude -2 or brighter, i.e., as bright as Jupiter or Venus.

Ongoing analyses of this outburst may reveal the orbit of the meteoroids, the location of the parent comet (if a comet is indeed the parent), and whether more outbursts are in the offing. Stay tuned for updates.

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole
 should reach Earth on or about Sept. 13th.
Credit: Hinode X-ray Telescope
 

9-8-09 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 534.3 km/sec
density: 2.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2242 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep08
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep08
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

9-7-08 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 549.2 km/sec
density: 2.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2241 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Sep07
24-hr: A0
0200 UT Sep07
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

Earth is inside a solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole. Credit: Hinode X-Ray Telescope
 

PILLARS OF FIRE: "In Greek mythology, Hercules built pillars to hold up the sky and thus freed Atlas the Titan. I used to think it was just a beautiful legend," says Mila Zinkova of San Francisco, California, "until I witnessed the pillars myself." She found them beneath the setting sun on Sept. 1st:

Photo details: Canon XTI, 300 mm; 1/4000s, f/10, ISO100

"The sun held up by pillars?" asks atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "We might say 'Nonsense, it's only a mirage.' But which is the mirage and which is the real sun? Layers of different temperature air have distorted the sun's rays and produced several solar images. All of them are illusions. Even the top bright one is raised up in the sky and flattened."

FIND THE PLEIADES:
When in Iceland, where do you look for the Pleiades? Scan the photo for hints as you scroll down for the answer:

Through a gap in the Northern Lights, of course. Click here.

Sean Scully took the picture on Sept. 6th just outside of Akureyri, Iceland. "The sunsets are now early enough that the sky is dark after 10 p.m. and we can see the auroras again." This display was caused by a solar wind stream buffeting Earth's magnetic field.

Good news: the solar wind is still blowing and more auroras are possible tonight. Sky watchers in Alaska, Canada, Iceland and Scandinavia should be alert for Pleiades peeking through the green.

 

9-6-08 no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 594.8 km/sec
density: 3.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep06
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep06
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

AURORA WATCH: This morning (Sept. 6th) in Alaska, "the whole sky lit up with strong auroras directly overhead," reports Lance Parish who sends this photo from Skiland, not far from Fairbanks:

The source of the display was a solar wind stream, now buffeting Earth's magnetic field for the third day in a row.
NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of continued geomagnetic activity tonight.
Sky watchers in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia should remain alert for auroras.

 

9-5-08  no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 522.3 km/sec
density: 3.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep05
24-hr: A0
0700 UT Sep05
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

NASA to Explore "Secret Layer" of the Sun

A "SECRET LAYER" OF THE SUN: NASA researchers are preparing to launch an experimental telescope that can see a "secret layer" of the sun thought to be the birthplace of space weather.

09.05.2008

Sept. 5, 2008: Next April, for a grand total of 8 minutes, NASA astronomers are going to glimpse a secret layer of the sun.

Researchers call it "the transition region." It is a place in the sun's atmosphere, about 5000 km above the stellar surface, where magnetic fields overwhelm the pressure of matter and seize control of the sun's gases. It's where solar flares explode, where coronal mass ejections begin their journey to Earth, where the solar wind is mysteriously accelerated to a million mph.

It is, in short, the birthplace of space weather.

Researchers hope it is about to yield its secrets.

Right: Not far above the surface of the sun lies the "transition region" where magnetic fields seize control of solar gases.

 

Photo credit: NASA/TRACE.

"Early next year, we're going to launch an experimental telescope that can measure vector magnetic fields in the transition region," explains Jonathan Cirtain of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Previous studies have measured these fields above and below the transition region—but never inside it. "We hope to be the first."

The name of the telescope is SUMI, short for Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation. It was developed by astronomers and engineers at the MSFC and is currently scheduled for launch from White Sands, New Mexico, in April 2009.

SUMI works by means of "Zeeman splitting." Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman discovered the effect in the 19th century. When a glass tube filled with incandescent gas is dipped into a magnetic field, spectral lines emitted by the gas get split into two slightly different colors—the stronger the field, the bigger the splitting. The same thing happens on the sun. Here, for instance, are some spectral lines from gaseous iron being split by the magnetic field of a sunspot:

see caption

Above: Zeeman splitting of spectral lines from a strongly-magnetized sunspot. [more]

By measuring the gap, astronomers estimate the strength of the sunspot's magnetic field. Furthermore, by measuring the polarization of the split line, astronomers can figure out the direction of the magnetic field. Strength + direction = everything you ever wanted to know about a magnetic field!

This trick has been applied to thousands of sunspots on the solar surface, but never to the transition region just a short distance above.

Why not?

"Just bad luck, really," says Cirtain. "Gas in the transition region doesn't produce many strong spectral lines that we can see at visible wavelengths." It does, however, produce lines at UV wavelengths invisible from Earth's surface.

see caption"That's why we have to leave Earth."

SUMI will blast off inside the nose cone of a Black Brant rocket on a sub-orbital flight that takes it to an altitude of 300 km. "We'll be above more than 99.99% of Earth's atmosphere," says Cirtain. About 68 seconds into the flight, payload doors will open, affording SUMI a crystal-clear view of the UV sun. "From that moment, we've only got 8 minutes to work with. We'll target an active region and start taking data."

Right: A Black Brant sounding rocket of the type that will carry SUMI above Earth's atmosphere.

SUMI's "vector magnetograph" is tuned to study a pair of spectral lines: one from triply-ionized carbon (CIV) at 155 nanometers and a second from singly-ionized magnesium (MgII) at 280 nanometers. "There's nothing special about those ions," notes Cirtain. "They just happen to produce the best and brightest lines at temperatures and densities typical of the transition region."

Cirtain anticipates how it will feel to have his precious instrument hurtling 300 km above Earth at 5,000 mph: "Eight minutes of terror." He'll start breathing again when the payload doors close and SUMI begins its descent back to Earth. Cirtain ticks off the stages: "Reentry into the atmosphere. Open parachutes. Landing back at White Sands. Recovery."

The short flight probably won't lead to immediate breakthroughs. "But it will demonstrate the SUMI concept and show us if it's going to work." A successful flight would lead to more flights and eventually to a SUMI-style magnetograph permanently installed on a space telescope.

"That's the dream," he says. Transition region, prepare to yield...

FROM: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/05sep_sumi.htm

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

AURORA WATCH: "Last night's Northern Lights were by far the most incredible I've seen this year," reports Remi Boucher in Dawson City, Yukon. "They were bright and moved very quickly." He took this picture looking straight up:

Similar displays could appear tonight. A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, causing intermittent geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia should be alert for auroras.

 

9-4-08 - no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 557.9 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep04
24-hr: A0
1310 UT Sep04
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT  
 
9-3-08 - The sun is blank - no sunspots

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 479.9 km/sec
density: 5.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0315 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Sep03
24-hr: A0
2355 UT Sep03
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

AURORA WATCH: A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field and causing auroras around the Arctic Circle. "Lights danced most of the night (Sept.2-3) until the sky got cloudy at 2:30 a.m.," reports Yuichi Takasaka, who sends this picture from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada:

The coronal hole on the sun responsible for this activity is a broad one, which means the solar wind could blow unabated for days. NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% chance of geomagnetic storms during the next 24 hours; high-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

 

On September 3, 2008 , there were 977 potentially hazardous asteroids.

Sept. 2008 Earth-asteroid encounters:
Asteroid
Date(UT)
Miss Distance
Mag.
Size
2003 WT153
Sept. 7
5.8 LD
23
11 m
1996 HW1
Sept. 12
53 LD
12
3.7 km
2003 SW130
Sept. 19
8.6 LD
23
7 m
1998 UO1
Sept. 26
25 LD
18
2.0 km

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.

 

9-2-08 - no sun spots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 317.9 km/sec
density: 5.0 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep02
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep02
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

LUNAR PERSEIDS: Amateur astronomers watching last month's Perseid meteor shower saw meteoroids hitting not only Earth but also the Moon. The impacts, which they recorded using backyard telescopes and off-the-shelf video cameras, are featured in today's story from Science@NASA.

KASATOCHI MOON: Colorful sunsets caused by the August eruption of Alaska's Kasatochi volcano are still underway in the United States and Europe. Last night, however, "the crescent Moon stole the show," says Edmund E Kasaitis, who sends this picture from Manchester, Maryland:

Compared to previous nights, "the sunset colors and rays seem to have subsided a bit," notes Kasaitis. This could be a result of east winds in the stratosphere carrying Kasatochi's aerosols away from the United States and toward Europe. Indeed, last night in Vallentuna, Sweden, P-M Hedén witnessed an advance of strange high clouds and a new wave of volcanic colors: photos. "It was a lovely sight!"

No matter where you live, look west at tonight's sunset. The crescent Moon is out again and, if the winds are willing, it might be a Kasatochi Moon.

more images: from Bill Jamison of San Diego, CA; from Kevin Jung of Grand Rapids, Michigan; from Christian Pierson of North Ridgeville, Ohio; from Doug Zubenel near De Soto, Kansas; from Adam Kraft of Jackson, Michigan; from Andrew Catsaitis of Peats Ridge, NSW, Australia; from Rick Gens at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois; from Jeffrey Berkes at the Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland; from Tom Soetaert of Lawrence, Kansas; from Karen Webb of Ridgecrest, California; from Scott Sparrow of Pasadena, CA; from David Smoyer of Truckee, CA;

 

9-1-08 - no sunspots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 322.6 km/sec
density: 2.5 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2247 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Sep01
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Sep01
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole
should reach Earth on Sept. 3rd or 4th. Credit: SOHO Extreme UV Telescope

 

8-31-08 - no sunspots - very small coronal hole - see photo below

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 355.2 km/sec
density: 4.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2006 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2000 UT Aug31
24-hr: A0
2000 UT Aug31
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2000 UT

 

8-30-08 - no sunspots

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 305.6 km/sec
density: 3.9 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

2245 UT Aug30
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

EARLY WARNING: NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft follows Earth around the sun, lagging behind our planet by 33o ("B" stands for "behind"). This allows the spacecraft to see a portion of the sun we on Earth cannot. Here is an example:

The sprawling coronal hole, photographed this morning by STEREO-B, is only partially visible from Earth. STEREO-B thus provides an early warning system: The coronal hole is spewing a solar wind stream that will eventually reach our planet. STEREO-B reveals the hole's location, its full extent, and the likely dates of solar wind impact: Sept. 3rd - 5th. High latitude sky watchers, mark your calendar for auroras.

 

8-29-08 - no sun spots stoday

There are no coronal black holes either

Solar wind
speed: 344.0 km/sec
density: 11.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1425 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1405 UT Aug29
24-hr: A0
1405 UT Aug29
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1420 UT
 
8-28-08 - no sun spots today

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 332.4 km/sec
density: 2.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2245 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Aug28
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Aug28
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

SOLAR ACTIVITY: Warning. This story contains material that may make you feel very small.

For the past two days, a colossal prominence has been dancing along the northwestern limb of the sun. "Here's a photo from Aug. 27th," offers Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UK. "The Earth has been added for scale."

"It does makes you feel small, doesn't it?"

Lawrence's photo frames a towering sheet of hydrogen gas stretched 75,000 km high by solar magnetic fields. The foreground is filled by a "shag carpet" of spicules--Texas-sized jets of gas that shoot up from the sun's surface and fall back again on 10 minute time scales. Spicules are the smallest thing in the photo and they're as big as Texas. Have you ever driven across Texas?

The prominence is still active today and makes an easy target for backyard solar telescopes. Take a look, that is, if you can reach the eye piece.

more images: from J. Fairfull and John Stetson of South Portland, Maine; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, Kentucky; from James Kevin Ty of Manila, the Philippines; from Roger G. Williams of Kalamazoo, Michigan; from B. Atkins et al of South Portland, Maine; from Pavol Rapavy of Rimavská Sobota, Slovakia

 

8-27-08 No sun spots today
 
Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 312.1 km/sec
density: 4.7 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Aug27
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Aug27
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

PROMINENCE ALERT: For the second day in a row, astronomers are monitoring a lively prominence
on the sun's northwestern limb. It is at least five times taller than Earth and an easy target for backyard solar telescopes.

 

8-26-08 - The sun is blank again
 
Solar wind
speed: 320.5 km/sec
density: 3.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 0414 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2355 UT Aug26
24-hr: A0
0635 UT Aug26
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2355 UT

SOLAR ACTIVITY: How many gigantic dancing, spinning magnetic eruptions can a person watch at one time?
Click on the image below and start counting:

Movie formats: 4 MB Quicktime, 7 MB mpg, 31 MB Quicktime

If you counted fewer than four, play it again. In the movie, made by NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft on August 15 and 16, every quadrant of the sun has at least one magnetic prominence surging over the limb. Prominences are clouds of hydrogen held aloft, twisted and sheared, and ultimately hurled into space or pulled back into the inferno by solar magnetic fields. It's a form of solar activity that continues even when sunspots are scarce. The sun: this is as "quiet" as it gets.

 

8-25-08  No sunspots today
  Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 286.9 km/sec
density: 4.3 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Aug25
24-hr: A0
1550 UT Aug25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 2245 UT

 

8-24-08

 PROTO NEW-CYCLE SUNSPOT: For the second time this month, a new-cycle sunspot is struggling to form. SOHO magnetograms of the sun's surface reveal a planet-sized magnetic dipole with the telltale polarity of Solar Cycle 24:

Last week, these magnetic fields briefly coelesced into a pair of dark cores, then subsided. The apparition was too ephemeral to be included in official daily sunspot counts. For now, put this active region in the category of "struggling proto-sunspot."

Sometimes the ongoing solar minimum seems like it will never end. This proto-sunspot, as well as a similar one in early August, offers hope to observers that the solar cycle is actually moving forward. The calm won't last forever.

more images: from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Michael Buxton of Ocean Beach, California

Current conditions Solar wind
speed: 297.3 km/sec
density: 1.8 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 1346 UT
X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
1345 UT Aug25
24-hr: A0
1345 UT Aug25
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at: 1345 UT

 

8-23-08  - sunspot not pictured yet

Current conditions

Solar wind
speed: 333.1 km/sec
density: 8.1 protons/cm3
explanation | more data
Updated: Today at 2246 UT

X-ray Solar Flares
6-hr max: A0
2245 UT Aug23
24-hr: A0
2245 UT Aug23