June 26, 2017

17.06.10: Living with Solar Cycle #24.

The beginnings of solar activity earlier this year. (Photo by Author).

The beginnings of solar activity earlier this year. (Photo by Author).

 

     As our local star gets underway into solar cycle #24, all eyes, orbiting and ground based, are keeping a close watch. The very concept of space weather is coming very much into vogue, and the activity over the next several year span may test the underpinnings of our technological civilization like never before. This past June 8th, scientists, authorities and civic planners met in Washington D.C. at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum at the National Press Club to discuss what if anything can be done to protect ourselves from the tempestuous throes of the Sun. This next cycle got off to a sputtering start but is forecast to be a rough one; keep in mind, while the solar cycle lasts 11 years, technology as per Moore’s law has been doubling exponentially once every 18 months. Ask yourself, what would you have read this on 11 years ago? And a really nasty flare such as the Carrington event in 1859 would do more than simply put your cell on the fritz; increasingly, everything from emergency services to navigation to commerce depends on technology. Heck, knocking out the power grid on a humid summers’ day might spell death for hundreds… with this apocalyptic setting in mind, the National Academy of Sciences built a report two years ago entitled Severe Space Weather Events- Societal and Economic Impacts, which outlined the possibilities of a really massive solar flare and efforts to minimize its impact. This year’s meeting marks the fourth symposium on the subject. It been suggested by the study that a century class storm could have the impact of Katrina twenty fold, but it is also true that there is simply no precedent for such an event. On the frontlines of the space weather wars are Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, and Thomas Bogdan, director for the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Along with ground based networks such as GONG (The Global Oscillation Network Group), three key elements stand at the ready in their Sun monitoring arsenal;

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). It’s no coincidence that NASA’s premiere solar observing platform took to orbit at the start of the solar cycle; SDO will be able to monitor solar activity with unprecedented detail and resolution.

STEREO: The Solar Terrestrial RElations Observatory, STEREO is actually a pair of satellites, one Earth-leading and one Earth-trailing. This will allow us to peer around the backside of the Sun to see if anything nasty is rotating our way.

But one of the most vital instruments may be the one you’ve never heard of; ACE, or the Advanced Composition Explorer. ACE was launched in 1997 and samples the near Earth solar environment from its upwind position and gives scientists a 30 minute warning before an event begins interacting with our planet.

So what can be done if the big one is on the way? In many instances, equipment can be saved simply by disconnecting transformers or placing satellites in safe mode…but one thing is for certain, we can no longer afford to think that our daily lives are somehow separate from the space environment. Like it or not, we are now a space faring culture, with all that entails. Be grateful that NASA and the NOAA are on continued solar vigil!

23.04.10-SDO Unveiled.

(Credit: NASA/SDO).

(Credit: NASA/SDO).

An SDO Original!

    Cool images Alert: NASA’s recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has released some fairly mind-blowing pics and videos this week. The video below is but a small sampling of the capabilities showcased by this Sun-monitoring spacecraft. “We’ve seen prominences before, but not like this!” states Alan Title of Lockheed Martin. SDO was launched on February 11th, 2010 and studies the Sun from a polar inclined geosynchronous orbit. Equipped with high definition cameras and a 4096x 4096 –pixel array, you haven’t seen the Sun the way SDO has revealed it. Part of NASA’s Living With a Star program, SDO will provide a continuum in solar astronomy started by the ESA’s SOHO satellite in the 1990’s. One can only hope that SDO’s data will be as easily accessible and provide real time access to the public as SOHO has done. Not only will SDO have the capability to monitor the Sun in ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet, but it also possesses an Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) and a Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager. But beyond pretty pictures, SDO also promises to give us a unique insight into the inner workings of our Sun. And with sunspot cycle #24 just gearing up, this capability may have come none too soon!

Astro-Event: An Asteroid Occults a Bright Star.

Anastasia occ

The path of 824 Anastasia the morning of April 6th. (Created in Google Earth).

One of the best occultations of a bright star occurs this week for observers along a line from western Canada down the U.S. west coast. At around 10:00 UT, on the morning of April 6th, 14th magnitude asteroid 824 Anastasia will occult, or pass in front of, the bright +2.5 magnitude star Zeta Ophiuchi for up to 8.6 seconds. This is a rare event in that the occulted star will be visible with the naked eye! Stellar occultations give us the rare opportunity to profile the shape of an asteroid; if enough folks are lined up along the graze line and make and submit accurate observations, a chord map of the “shadow” of the asteroid can be plotted. Binary asteroids have even been discovered by amateur astronomers using this method! Anyway, if you’re located anywhere along the predicted path and the sky is clear, don’t miss this rare event! [Read more...]

Event of the Week: A New England Occultation.

Can you see the star? An occultation of Antares as seen last summer from Astroguyz HQ! (Photo by Author).

Can you see the star? An occultation of Antares as seen last summer from Astroguyz HQ! (Photo by Author).

 Lunar occultations are always cool events; now you see a star or planet, now you don’t. The way they “wink in” and “wink out” with an improbable abruptness reminds us of the colossal velocity of the Moon about our planet. But beyond being just plain cool, they also still have scientific value; close double stars have been discovered this way, as they “wink out” in a step wise fashion. If enough observers are placed along the graze line, an accurate profile of the limb of the Moon can even be ascertained. [Read more...]

21.9.9 Will Kepler spot “exo-moons?”

A chart of Kepler's 4-year stare. (Credit: NASA/Software Bisque).

A chart of Kepler's 4-year stare. (Credit: NASA/Software Bisque).

Let the staring begin… the Kepler spacecraft has its shutters open and is now ready for business. Just out the gate, the results have been astounding. First, there was the discovery of HAT-P-7b, a transiting exo-planet that was spotted last month, complete with atmosphere. Now, calculations have shown that Kepler may be sensitive enough during the span of its four year mission to detect another first; exo-moons, or Earth-mass moons orbiting Saturn-mass planets. Kepler is in an Earth trailing orbit and sports a 0.95 meter 95 mega pixel (that’s an array of 42 2200×1024 pixel each CCDs!) aperture camera that will stare at the star-rich Cygnus-Lyra region looking for tiny dips in the apparent brightness of over a 100,000 stars. Expect the tally of new exo-planets to climb in the coming months!

14.9.9:U Scorpii:A Nova in Waiting?

A Cataclysmic Variable Star. (Image credit & copyright Mark A. Garlick and has been used with permission. Please do not use this image in any way whatsoever without first contacting the artist).

A Cataclysmic Variable Star.

(Image credit & copyright courtesy of Mark A. Garlick; used by permission.

Please do not use this image in any way whatsoever without first contacting the artist).

Recurrent novae are among the rarest of beasts. While one-off galactic nova come and go throughout the year, recurrent novae are among those very few stars that have been known to exhibit nova-like flares multiple times. This week, I turn your attention towards U Scorpii, a known recurrent nova in the head of the constellation Scorpius. As the bright Moon is currently out of the evening sky, now and next month is the time to peek at this unique star before it slides behind the Sun. First discovered in 1863 by English astronomer N.R. Pogson during an outburst, U Scorpii stands as one of the fastest recurrent nova known, [Read more...]

Join Forces with the Great Star Count!

Good news; its time to take action in the fight against light pollution!

Star Count.

A Distribution of North American Participants. (Credit: Windows on the Universe).

   On October 20th, 2008, Windows on the Universe will be launching the 2nd Annual World Wide Star Count  as part of its citizen sciece based initiative. The premise is dirt simple; look outside your particular locale and report what you see. Last year, we participated in the first annual star count, to much success! [Read more...]

When You Wish Upon a Star: the Truth About Star Naming.

    We have a pet peeve here at Astroguyz. Every great once in a while, most astronomers get asked by a well meaning member of the public to locate a particular star. This is not a problem, even without the benefit of a “Goto” mount; right ascension, declination, and maybe a crude star map is all that is required. [Read more...]

View your own Star of Bethlehem.

    Over the years, much ink (real and cyber) has been spilt over the astronomical origins of the Star of Bethlehem. Biblical references are scant in regards to what the wise men may have seen; we know that the star “went before them…” every morning until it lay over the manger; the rest was history. But what was it?

[Read more...]