Here is what the prominence looks like through the telescopes of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory: image.
The size of the structure makes it an easy target for backyard solar telescopes. "Some prominences move at very high speed, but this one appears to be a relatively steady target for solar observers," says Stetson. "It is worth a look."
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
NOT AURORAS: For the past week, solar wind has been buffeting Earth's magnetic field, turning skies around the Artic Circle beautiful shades of green. But not every green sky is caused by the aurora borealis. Last night, for example, pilot Brian Whittaker was flying 34,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean when he witnessed verdant hues caused by a completely different phenomenon--airglow. Here is the picture he took from the cockpit window:
"A dark and moonless night away from all lights allowed a great view of this textured patch of airglow," says Whittaker. "The illumination was faint, but it could be seen especially in contrast to the dark ocean abyss below!"
Although airglow resembles the aurora borealis, its underlying physics is different. Airglow is caused by an assortment of chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere. During the day, ultraviolet radiation from the sun ionizes atoms and breaks apart molecules. At night, the atoms and molecules recombine, emitting photons as they return to normal. This process produces an aurora-like glow visible on very dark nights.
Because the Moon is new on Sept. 15th, tonight is a good night to spy this phenomenon. Get away from city lights, if you can, and take a look!Pretty close... I said the 17th..
PLASMA RAIN: The sun hasn't been flaring much lately, but there's more to solar activity than flares. For instance, on Saturday amateur astronomer Michael Buxton of Ocean Beach, CA, witnessed a dynamic episode of "plasma rain" on the sun's western limb. Click on the arrow to set the shower in motion:
The movie, which Buxton assembled from a series of 1 minute exposures taken over a 2 hour period on Sept. 15th, shows Moon-sized "droplets" of plasma swirling and falling along magnetic field lines from the sun's atmosphere to the sun's surface. That's how it rains on the sun.
This storm cloud, aka "prominence", has since rained out. The western limb is clear and sunny again.
AUTUMN LIGHTS: Northern autumn is only days away, and that means aurora season is underway. For reasons researchers don't fully understand, equinoxes are the best times to see Northern Lights--especially around the Arctic Circle. Aurora tour guide Chad Blakley photographed this first sign of autumn from Abisko National Park on Sweden on Sept 14th:
"The auroras were in the sky as soon as the sun went down, and they continued to glow well into the morning," says Blakley. "It was another great night in Abisko."
More autumn lights are in the offing as three solar wind streams are expected to buffet Earth's magnetic field, one after another, between Sept. 18th and 22nd. The long-range forecast includes a 15% chance of severe geomagnetic storms around the Artic Circle. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
AUTUMN LIGHTS: The onset of northern autumn means it's aurora season. For reasons researchers don't fully understand, equinoxes are the best times to see Northern Lights. And, right on cue, the Arctic Circle is glowing. Casey Thompson sends this picture from Chatanika, Alaska:
"The auroras beamed right through the clouds over Chatanika on Sept. 21st," says Thompson. "Open water doesnt last long in the interior of Alaska, so it is always nice to find a place to get some reflections of the beautiful Lights along with a staple in Alaska history, the gold dredge."
The solar wind velocity this weekend is low, but at this time of year it only takes a gentle gust to ignite bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. High latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
SEASON IN A BEER CAN: Jan Koeman of the Netherlands has captured an entire season in a single beer can. On June 21st, Koeman assembled a solargraph--a simple pinhole camera consisting of a beer can lined with photographic paper--and throughout the summer of 2012 he used it to record the sun's daily motion across the Dutch sky. On Sept. 21st, he removed the photo-paper for inspection:
"As you can see, the summer wasn't too bad at all!" says Koeman. "There was lots of sunshine in the backgarden of my parents in Middelburg."
Next up: Autumn in a beer can. Stay tuned.
FARSIDE EXPLOSION: An active region on the farside of the sun exploded on Sept. 23rd, hurling a bright coronal mass ejection over the sun's eastern limb. Orbiting at the L1 Lagrange Point, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded the expanding cloud:
The cloud is not heading for Earth. Nor is any other planet in the line of fire. In a few days, however, the sun's rotation will turn the blast site toward Earth. After that, eruptions could become geoeffective.
You can monitor farside explosions and track this active region on your smartphone or iPad: Download the 3D Sun, courtesy of NASA's Heliophysics Division.
AUTUMN LIGHTS: The onset of northern autumn means it's aurora season. For reasons researchers don't fully understand, equinoxes are the best times to see Northern Lights. And, right on cue, the Arctic Circle is glowing. Marianne Bergli sends this picture of auroras shimmering directly above Storfjord, Norway:
"Last night it was difficult to select [which part of the sky to photograph]. The auroras were dancing everywhere," says Bergli. "Eventually I was just lying on my back looking up. It was absolutely, unbelievable wonderful."
As the week begins, the solar wind velocity is low (~350 km/s), but at this time of year it only takes a gentle gust to ignite bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
They came from outer space--and you can have one! Genuine meteorites are now on sale in the Space Weather Store.
EERIE EARTHSONG: A NASA spacecraft has recorded eerie-sounding radio emissions coming from our own planet. These beautiful "songs of Earth" could, ironically, be responsible for the proliferation of deadly electrons in the Van Allen Belts. [video] [audio]
INCOMING SOLAR STORM CLOUD: Magnetic fields around sunspot 1577 erupted on Sept. 28th, hurling a coronal mass ejection (CME) almost directly toward Earth. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded the cloud as it raced away from the sun faster than 2.2 million mph:
NOAA forecasters estimate a 50% chance of strong geomagnetic storms around the poles on Sept 30th when the cloud reaches Earth. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras, which might be intense enough to see in spite of the full moonlight. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
HARVEST MOON: This weekend's full Moon is the Harvest Moon, the full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox. Before electric lights, farmers working after sunset relied on the light of the Harvest Moon to help them gather ripening autumn crops. Now it's just a pretty sight. Look east for the Harvest moonrise on Saturday night.
Photographer Göran Strand sends this picture of a "Harvest Moon halo" from Frösön, Sweden:
The 22-degree halo was caused by harvest moonlight shining through ice crystals in the high, thin clouds over Frösön. "It was a beautiful halo, very intense," says Strand.
More pictures of the Harvest Moon may be found in the realtime gallery:
SUNSPOTS: Earth-facing sunspots 1579 and 1582 are so large, sky watchers are noticing them without the assistance of a solar telescope. When the low-hanging sun is dimmed by clouds and haze, the two spots can be seen punctuating the sunset:
Lauri Kangas took this picture on the evening of October 2nd from Fort Frances, Ontario. " The sun was easy to photograph safely without any protective filters due to the clouds and smoke from forest fires in northwestern Ontario," says Kangas.
Although these sunspots are large (each one is wider than Earth) they are not very active. Their magnetic canopies contain are simply organized, containing no unstable structures that pose a threat for flares. NOAA forecasters say there is less than a 5% chance of M-flares and a 1% chance of X-flares today.Caution: Do not look at the sun through unfiltered optics. Even when the sun is low and dim, focused sunlight can damage human eyes. When photographing sunsets, use your camera's LCD screen, not the optical viewfinder.
ISS CROSSING THE HARVEST MOON: Two nights ago, Bill Reyna of Sussex County, New Jersey, went outside to see the Harvest Moon (the full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox) when a winged shadow flitted across the lunar landscape. It was the International Space Station:
Reyna captured the station's silhouette backlit by the Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) using a Canon 7D digital camera snapping pictures in HD video mode. "With the ISS moving at 4.6 miles per second at a range of 321 miles, it crossed the lunar disk in only .45 seconds," he says. "I knew exactly when to video-record the transit thanks to predictions from Calsky." ISS flyby alerts:text, voice_____________________________________________________Those were just too beautiful for words
Listen: Tune into Space Weather Radio to hear live Draconid radar echoes.
CME HITS EARTH'S MAGNETIC FIELD, SPARKS AURORAS: As expected, a coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 8th at approximately 0500 UT. The impact sparked a moderate (Kp=6) geomagnetic storm and Northern Lights in the USA as far south as Kansas, Utah and Colorado. In New Auburn, Wisconsin, photographer Justin Phillips recorded this rare self-portrait backlit by auroras:
"I went outside at 3:30 am and caught the peak of the storm," he says. "It was maybe the best show I've ever seen."
Although the storm is subsiding, high-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras as Earth's magnetic field continues to reverberate from the CME strike. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
SOLAR FLARE: This morning, Oct. 8th at 1117 UT, a solar flare erupted on the northeastern edge of the sun's disk. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash:
The explosion heralds the arrival of a farside active region, which will turn toward Earth later this week. Amateur astronomers with solar telescopes should train their optics on the NE limb, and stay tuned for action.
AURORAS AND DINOFLAGELLATES: On Oct 7th, Frank Olsen went to the beach outside Sortland, Norway to photograph the colors of aurora borealis in the sky. He also found some strange colors at his feet. The beach was aglow with bioluminescent dinoflagellates:
"I was photographing the auroras when the Noctilucales washed up on the beach," says Olsen. "The moonlight was a nice bonus."
There is an interesting link between the auroras and the dinoflagellates. Both use oxygen to create their glow. In the case of the marine organism, a chemical pigment (luciferin) reacts with oxygen to create light. Meanwhile up in the sky, charged particles from the solar wind rain down on the atmosphere, colliding with oxygen molecules to create the telltale green hue of auroras.
Realtime Aurora Photo GallI put these here as a running record and a source of comparison for my predictions, but these are also just too beautiful to let get shuffled under the stack.
ADVANCING SUNSPOTS: For the past two weeks, solar activity has been relatively low. Now, a change is in the offing. The farside of the sun is peppered with sunspots, and some of them are beginning to turn toward Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed this pair of active regions advancing over the eastern limb during the early hours of Oct. 11th:
Underlying each nest of glowing magnetic loops is a dark sunspot that poses a threat for solar flares. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of M-class solar flares and a 5% chance of X-flares during the next 24 hours. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
SATISFACTORY LIGHTS: A coronal mass ejection hit Earth's magnetic field on Oct. 8th, sparking a dramatic display of Arctic lights that is only now subsiding three days later. Hugo Løhre photographed the auroras over Lekangsund, Norway, on Oct. 10th:
"I was testing my new Nikon digital camera when these auroras appeared," says Løhre. "I am satisfied."
More lights like these could appear on Oct. 14-15. That's when a stream of solar wind spewing from a hole in the suns atmosphere (a "coronal hole") is expected to reach Earth, possibly sparking geomagnetic storms when it arrives. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
WEEKEND AURORAS: A solar wind stream buffeted Earth's magnetic field over the weekend, igniting a G1-class geomagnetic storm that lasted more than 15 hours. Auroras with rare pulsations, colors, and cloud-piercingluminosity were sighted all around the Arctic Circle. In Lofoten, Norway, the lights formed an exquisite green butterfly:
If this picture confuses you, turn it sideways to see it the same way photographer June Grønseth did. "I took more than 400 pictures last night," says Grønseth. "The butterfly and the heart were my favorites."
NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of continued storms tonight as solar wind effects begin to wane. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
INCOMING ACTIVE REGION: An active sunspot located just over the sun's northeastern limb exploded during the early hours of Oct. 14th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed a bright loop of hot plasma twisting over the blast site:
The eruption hurled a coronal mass ejection into space: SOHO movie. The cloud will not affect Earth because our planet was not in the line of fire. Future eruptions, however, might be geoeffective. The sun's rotation is about to bring the sunspot onto the Earthside of the sun where we could become targets for future flares. Stay tuned. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
RADIO STORM ON JUPITER: On Oct. 12th, there was a storm on Jupiter--a radio storm. Amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft recorded the event using a shortwave radio telescope located in New Mexico. Click on the dynamic spectrum (a plot of intensity vs. frequency vs. time) to hear the whooshing, crackling, popping sounds that emerged from his telescope's loudspeaker:
Dynamic spectrum courtesy of Wes Greenman, Radio Alachua Observatory
"Listen to the recording in stereo," advises Ashcraft. "I recorded the audio from two separate radios at 21.1 MHz and 20.9 MHz, so there is a stereo spatial effect from the frequency drift of the emissions."
Jupiter's radio storms are caused by natural radio lasers in the planet's magnetosphere that sweep past Earth as Jupiter rotates. Electrical currents flowing between Jupiter's upper atmosphere and the volcanic moon Io can boost these emissions to power levels easily detected by ham radio antennas on Earth. Jovian "S-bursts" and "L-bursts" mimic the sounds of woodpeckers, whales, and waves crashing on the beach. Here are a few audio samples: S-bursts, S-bursts (slowed down 128:1), L-Bursts
Now is a good time to listen to Jupiter's radio storms. The distance between Earth and Jupiter is decreasing as the giant planet approaches opposition on Dec. 3rd; the closer we come to Jupiter, the louder it gets. NASA's Radio Jove Project explains how to build your own receiver.
BAY AREA FIREBALL: Last night, Oct. 17th, many people near San Francisco saw a slow-moving fireball exploding in the sky around 07:45 pm PDT. Witnesses report bright flashes of light and sonic booms that shook houses. Using a wide-field camera, Wes Jones caught the meteor disappearing behind the trees in the city of Belmont:
"We don't know yet if the end point [of the meteor's flight] was over land or water," says meteor expert Peter Jenniskens of the NASA Ames Research Center. Jenniskens operates a network of Cameras for All-sky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) near the Bay Area. "Data from the CAMS system should give us an answer [about landfall]. We're analyzing the data now." Stay tuned.
Note: Although Earth is nearing a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, source of the Orionid meteor shower, this fireball was probably not an Orionid. The timing and direction of the meteor do not seem to match the Orionids.
GROUND AND SKY CURRENTS: A medium-speed (~500 km/s) solar wind speed is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, igniting auroras around the Arctic Circle. Last night at the Polarlightcenter in Lofoten, Norway, the reverberating magnetic field induced electrical currents in the ground. "When we saw the currents on our monitors, we rushed outside to see the auroras," says Jan Koeman, who took this picture:
"It was a beautiful display," says Koeman. NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% chance of geomagnetic storms around the Arctic Circle tonight in response to the waning solar wind stream. However, based on Koeman's experience--"This was our sixth night in a row with clear skies and auroras," he says--the odds of a light show seem even higher. Arctic sky watchers should remain alert for auroras on Oct. 18-19, especially during the hours around local midnight. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
SUN HALOS: As the northern hemisphere heads deeper into autumn, and ultimately winter, icy clouds become more commonplace. In other words, 'tis the season for sun halos. Charles Yeager photographed this specimen over Cleveland, Minnesota on Oct. 15th:
"This halo looked extremely large over the farm land of southern Minnesota," says Yeager.
In fact, it was 22 degrees in radius. That's how much hexagonal ice crystals in cirrus clouds bend the light of the sun overhead. Related crystals can also create sun pillars, sundogs, and a variety of other luminous halos. Look around the sun; you never know what you might see.
Radiation from the flare created waves of ionization in the upper atmosphere over Asia and Australia (the daylit side of Earth) and possibly HF radio blackouts at high latitudes. The blast did not, however, produce a significant coronal mass ejection (CME). No auroras are expected to result from this event.
This is the 4th significant flare from AR1598 since it emerged over the southeastern limb only three days ago. This means more flares are probably in the offing, and they will become increasingly Earth-directed as the sunspot turns toward our planet in the days ahead. Stay tuned for updates. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
ORIONID METEOR UPDATE: Most observers would say that the 2012 Orionid meteor shower was underwhelming. Even during the peak on Oct 21st meteor rates never climbed much above 20 per hour. Sometimes, however, one is enough:
"This was a very bright Orionid fireball," says photographer Maciek Myszkiewicz. "It was brighter than the full Moon."
Orionid meteors are pieces of Halley's Comet, which has left behind a stream of dusty debris in the inner solar system. Earth hits the stream twice a year producing a pair of meteor showers, the eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October. According to international meteor counts, Earth is still in the outskirts of the Orionid portion of the stream. Enthusiasts should therefore remain alert for pieces of Halley's Comet in the pre-dawn sky until further notice. [gallery] [video] [meteor radar] ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________There it is folks! I think I actually predicted this for the 25th or 27th, but that's not too far off. I recall this was supposed to be a big one and it was. Next month Too!!!
BRIDE, GROOM, AURORAS: Space weather can have a big influence on human affairs--and we're not just talking about radio blackouts and power outages. Last night, photographers Ronn Murray and Marketa Stanczykova were married under the Northern Lights in Alaska, and according to the groom, it was space weather that brought them together:
"Marketa Stanczykova and I met after a she looked me up from Iceland when she found this image on the cover of spaceweather.com 1 year and 21 days ago," explains Ronn. "We became friends on Facebook and after shooting auroras together in Alaska we fell in love. So, we gathered a small group of friends and headed up to the University of Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range where the aurora is studied. Last night we said 'I do' in front of the AuroraCam for all the world to see." (continued below)
"This is a self portrait of the Aurora and wedding photographers celebrating their own love under the magnificent lights."
"The sky was dark and aurora activity was non existent until we pulled up to the observatory. As if by magic, the sky came alive and we were able to say our vows with a select group of incredible friends, the amazing aurora that brought us together, and the Aurora Cam as our witnesses. It was a day none of us will forget!"
MAGNETIC FROTH: Sunspot AR1598 has quieted down since unleashing an X1-class solar flare on Oct. 23rd. It might be the calm before the storm. The sunspot is still large and apparently potent, as shown in this image captured by amateur astronomer Sergio Castillo of Inglewood,California:
Castillo used a telescope capped with a "Calcium K" filter tuned to the light of ionized calcium atoms in the sun's lower atmosphere. Calcium K filters highlight the bright magnetic froth that sometimes forms around a sunspot's dark core. AR1598 is very frothy indeed.
CANYON OF FIRE: A filament of magnetism snaking around the sun's southeastern limb erupted on Oct 26th. The blast created a "canyon of fire" in the sun's lower atmosphere. Click on the circle to animate the event:
The glowing walls of the canyon are formed in a process closely related to that of arcade loops, which appear after many solar flares. Stretching more than 250,000 km from end to end, the "canyon" traces the original channel where the filament was suspended by magnetic forces above the stellar surface.
As erupting magnetic filaments often do, this one launched a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. The Solar and Heliospheric Observary recorded the expanding cloud: movie. The CME does not appear to be heading for Earth or any other planet.
A COMET IN TROUBLE? Amateur astronomers have been keeping a close eye on Comet 168P/Hergenrother since October 1st when it suddenly brightened 500-fold, from 15th to 8th magnitude. At the time, the comet was making its closest approach to the sun (1.4 AU). Some observers speculated that solar heating caused the fragile comet to break apart. On Oct. 26th, a group of astronomers found evidence to support this idea. "Using the Faulkes North (F65) telescope," writes Ernesto Guido et al., "we detected a fragmentation in Comet 168P."
"Our images, taken on Oct. 26th, reveal the presence of a secondary nucleus, or fragment, about two arcseconds away from the main central condensation of comet 168P." This is probably a chunk of rocky ice emerging from the haze of gas and dust that surrounds the main nucleus, still hidden inside. Comets are notoriously fragile, so its no surprise that Comet 168P/Hergenrother is breaking apart in this way.
The only question is, what happens next? Will the comet spit in two, with two heads and two tails, one tracking the fragment and the other tracking the parent? Or is this the prelude to a more complete disintegration? Amateur astronomers are encouraged to monitor developments while the comet remains bright enough to see through backyard telescopes. Here are the comet's coordinates. For best results, we recommend the Comet Hunter Telescope.
BE ALERT FOR MOON HALOS: The Moon is waxing full and the northern hemisphere is experiencing the deepening chill of autumn. That means it's time to be alert for Moon halos. Martinsh Taube photographed this specimen last night in Valmiera, Latvia:
"We were on a late night walk through the city when we saw it," says Taube.
Moon halos are caused by ice in high clouds. Moonlight passing through six-sided crystals is bent into a luminous ring 22o in radius; the fuller the Moon, the brighter the halo. The Moon will be nearly full on Oct. 28th and completely full on Oct. 29th, so those are good nights to look. More specimens may be found in the gallery:
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