September 21, 2017

Review: Earth Girl by Janet Edwards.

Out in March!

You can’t go home again as the old cliché says, but what if you were trapped there permanently? We’re uniquely adapted for life on our tiny blue-green planet, but one often wonders if our space-faring descendants might see it as otherwise. Would a living on the Earth be seen as a blessing or a curse?

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14.02.11: Sol Unleashes A Powerful Radio Flare.

Our nearest star unleashed the most powerful solar flare of 2011 thus far yesterday, and amateur and professionals alike were on hand to bear witness to the event. On Sunday, February 13th at approximately 1738 Universal Time, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory detected the burst emanating from the large Earthward facing sunspot group 1158. Likewise, radio amateur astronomers detected a large simultaneous spike in the 19 to 21 MHz frequency range.

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27.01.11: A Surge of Sungrazers.

A January 2010 sungrazer. (Credit: ESA/SOHO).

A curious event closed out the year 2010. From December 13th to the 22nd, astronomers studying the Sun noticed an unprecedented upswing in the number of sun diving comets. In fact, researchers spied no less than 25 comets in ten days, a record rate. The data comes from the European Space Agencies (ESA) Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) which has stared at the sun since its launch in 1996. [Read more...]

29.03.10-Machholz Bags his 11th!

Looking low to the northeast about a half-hour before sunrise. (Created in Paint & Starry Night).

Looking low to the northeast about a half-hour before sunrise. (Created in Paint & Starry Night).


   It’s encouraging to know that comets can still be found the old fashioned way. While robotic surveys scan the skies down to the nth magnitude, Don Machholz of Colfax, California recently made his 11th comet discovery by patiently sweeping the dawn skies visually with his 18” reflector. Comet Machholz C/2010 F4 was confirmed by the Minor Planet Center on March 27th, four days after Machholz initially sighted the cosmic interloper. At 11th magnitude, the comet is now low to the east and a good target for moderate sized apertures. The waning gibbous Moon will begin to interfere with observations later this week, so the window to spot this one is short. Currently in Pegasus, C/2010 F4 most likely evaded automated detection because of the time it spent along the star-rich galactic plane. After it disappears in the dawn sky, watch for the comet in the LASCO 3 camera of the SOHO satellite as it reaches perihelion on April 5th…congrats, Don, you give all us would-be comet chasers hope!

29.10.09:Is Solar Activity on the Upswing?

Sunspot group #1029. (Credit: Global Osillation Network Group).

Sunspot group #1029. (Credit: Global Oscillation Network Group).

Our characteristically dormant Sun has shown signs of awakening from it’s year plus long slumber this week. Specifically, a new sunspot group has formed on the Earthward facing side, and is now rotating towards the limb. This is definitely part of the new solar cycle #24, as characterized by its reversed polarity. Thus far, this solar cycle has been off to a sputtering start, at best. All amateur scopes, be they hydrogen Alpha, Calcium K, or safely filtered white light are encouraged to watch as this “monster” sunspot rotates around this Sun’s limb. The group already shows the envelopment of a fine dark umbra embedded in a pale penumbra, and will hopefully throw some looping prominences up through the chromosphere as it rotates from view. If you do not have optical means, you can still follow the action via SpaceWeather (the link above) or the Solar Heliocentric Observatories’ (SOHO) website! Enjoy!

17.9.9: A Farside Sunspot Group?

STEREO-B UV light image showing possible active area at the 7 o'clock position. (Credit: NASA/STEREO).

STEREO-B UV light image showing possible active area at the 7 o'clock position. (Credit: NASA/STEREO).

Activity on the Sun may be finally picking up. Specifically, a new sunspot group has been “seen” up forming on the farside of the Sun. That’s right; astronomers can now model the goings-on within the Sun with such precession, thanks largely to satellites like SOHO and the GONG network, that we can now predict with some confidence whats going on on the side of the Sun turned away from us! This is mostly due to a growing sub-branch of astronomy known as helioseismology. The Sun itself rotates at about once every 25 days, although this varies by latitude because the Sun is essentially a big rotating gas ball. The twin Stereo spacecraft are also slowly inching their way out into leading and trailing orbit(s), providing us with a good “peak” around the limb. If you own a solar scope, the next week or so might be good cause for increased monitoring; the new solar cycle #24 might just be ready to put on its first show!

Death by Superflare?

An enormous sunspot group in 2001 that produced the largest flare seen in 25 years! (Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO).

An enormous sunspot group in 2001 that produced the largest flare seen in 25 years! (Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO).

A close runner-up in the pantheon of cosmic catastrophes is a killer flare courtesy of our Sun. While this may not be as lethal as a giant space rock, its also much more likely over the span of our short lifetimes. But what is the exact potential hazard posed by this threat? What has happened in the past? And what can be done about it? [Read more...]

Astro-Event of the Week:03.23.09:Can you spot Venus at Inferior Conjunction?

Warning: Do not attempt this weeks’ astro-feat unless the Sun is properly blocked, preferably just below the horizon! Sweeping the area near the Sun with optical equipment introduces the very real possibility of momentarily pointing at the Sun, which can cause optical damage!

This week’s observing challenge is a unique attempt, and will put you in league with a handful of skilled observers that even realize this is possible. It is not generally appreciated that Venus’s orbit is tilted 3.4 degrees in relation to our own, as represented by the ecliptic.

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