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Updated:    12 September 2019

 

BREAKING
NEWS


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Interesting research news (latest news first):


The Australian National University has joined the Giant Magellan Telescope international consortium of research organisations. The GMT is likely to be one of the first of a small number of next-generation Extremely Large Telescopes that are expected to be built in the next 20 years. The telescope's conceptual design anticipates a moving mass of 1000 tonnes and a cylindrical observatory 65 metres high. It will be built by the participating organisations at a site in northern Chile. The primary mirror will have seven circular segments each 8.4 metres across, six of these surrounding the centrally located seventh. The total light-gathering power will be nearly seven times that of the Gemini telescopes, which are the largest ones to which Australian astronomers currently have access, and the images obtained should be ten times clearer than those taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT is expected to see first light in 2022.  GMT Home page     Australia's involvement

 

NASA's powerful infrared Spitzer Space Telescope has taken an image that rivals the Hubble Space Telescope's 'Pillars of Creation' photograph taken ten years ago of part of the Eagle Nebula. Dubbed the 'Mountains of Creation', it shows huge clouds of matter undergoing intense star formation in the region W5 in Cassiopeia. These clouds, which are ten times bigger than the Pillars, are illuminated in the infrared band, but appear as dark clouds in visible light images.  Full story

 

The Hubble Space Telescope has found a disc of blue stars orbiting around a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. The disc is only one light year across, and contains 400 hot young stars orbiting the black hole at speeds up to 1000 kilometres per second. As the cores of galaxies typically contain old red Population I stars, this is quite an enigma.  Full story

 

The MAGIC Telescope is the largest and most advanced single instrument yet built to observe very-high-energy cosmic rays from the ground. Its parabolic mirror is made up of about a thousand 50 cm X 50 cm aluminium mirror panels, giving a total area equivalent to a single 15 metre diameter mirror. MAGIC is an acronym for 'Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov'.   Full story

 

The White House has forced NASA to cancel the fourth shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. It is now expected that the HST will be allowed to burn up during re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere sometime during this decade. The Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter had also been a victim of budgetary cuts and is to be postponed indefinitely.  Full story

 

The Swift Gamma-ray Observatory observed its first gamma-ray burst on January 17, two months after launch.  Full story

 

Earth's most extensive global topographic map has just been completed by NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The final section to be done included Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands. The resolution of the publicly available data is 90 metres at the Equator.  Full story

 

ESA's Smart-1 spacecraft reached its final operational orbit around the Moon in late February. The mission has been extended until August 2006.  Full story

 

Black holes use their intense gravitational fields to draw in nearby matter, which gives out tremendous amounts of radiation as it approaches the event horizon. The process has been found to be anything but smooth, however.  Full story

 

The European Southern Observatory now has the world's largest interferometer. It is the world's most advanced optical instrument, and consists of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors of 8.2m diameter and four movable 1.8m diameter Auxiliary Telescopes. The telescopes can work together, to form a giant ‘interferometer’, the ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI). It will allow astronomers to see details up to 25 times clearer than with the individual telescopes.  Full story

 

The Chandra X-ray Observatory has discovered two huge clouds of warm-hot intergalactic matter (WHIM) around our galaxy. This may be some of the missing 'dark matter' of the universe. The clouds have a temperature of about 1 million degrees K, and contain ions of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and neon.  Full story

 

Images from space of the December 26, 2004 tsunami are available  here,  here  and  here.

 

The Rosetta space vehicle launched last March by the European Space Agency (ESA) will have four planetary intercepts before it heads off to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which it will reach in 2014.  Full story

 

The newly-discovered planetoid Sedna, 1700 km across, is the reddest object in the Solar System except for Mars. It is the furthest object in the Solar System except for comets, and takes 10 500 years to circle the Sun once. Should we call it a planet or is it too small?  More information about Sedna

 

The ESA solar spacecraft Ulysses has passed through two, and possibly three comet tails.  Full story

 

The Chandra X-ray Observatory has made the first clear detection of x-rays from Saturn, and has also revealed new information about the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.   Full story

 

NASA's Genesis spacecraft completed its collection of solar wind particles last April and is now on its way back to Earth. The samples were placed into a sealed container which will be released into our atmosphere on September 8, hopefully parachuting to Earth over Utah. Helicopter pilots are being trained to snag the return capsule in mid-air.   Full story

 

The Hubble Space Telescope has provided the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever taken, with a photograph whose exposure was one million seconds long (over 11.5 days!). It shows the faintest and most distant galaxies (in time as well as distance), some of the faintest possibly being the first galaxies to emerge after the 'big bang'. Hubble's Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) is in the southern constellation Fornax. In ground-based images, the region of the HUDF is largely empty, but the Hubble Telescope has revealed 10 000 galaxies there, in an area of sky only one hundredth the area of the Full Moon.  Full story

 

 

Latest Astronomical Headlines from the IAU (International Astronomical Union):      Click  here.

 

 

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Dateline - 12 September 2019 -   A possible interstellar comet

A new comet just discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov is rocketing through the solar system too fast for the Sun's gravity to hang onto it. Indeed, it appears to be a visitor from the stars. Interstellar Comet Borisov will make its closest approach to the Sun and to Earth in December 2019. Today it is near the boundary between the constellations Cancer and Lynx, and slowly coming south. It rises at the Sunshine Coast at about 4 am, but at magnitude 18 requires a professional telescope to detect. Get the full story and observing tips on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 5 September 2019 -   The return of STEVE

Last weekend polar skies lit up brightly in response to a geomagnetic storm. But not all the lights in the sky were aurorae. STEVE ("Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement")was there, too. Purple ribbons of non-auroral light arced over many locations in Canada and the United States. New research explains what powers STEVE and why it appears alongside the mysterious "green picket fence." Get the full story on today's edition of  Spaceweather  (and see also  Dateline - 11 April 2018  below).

 

Dateline - 31 August 2019 -   Geomagnetic storm in progress

A solar wind stream blowing faster than 700 km/s lashed Earth's magnetic field on August 31. This has sparked a G2-class (moderately strong) geomagnetic storm. So far auroras have been observed in Iceland, Alaska, Finland, Wisconsin and Michigan - with more expected tonight if the storm continues.  Visit  Spaceweather  for photos and updates.

 

Dateline - 30 August 2019 -   A "super sprite" over China

This week in China, a photographer captured a rare photo of a "super sprite" - a gigantic tentacled jet leaping up from a thunderstorm in the wake of Typhoon White Deer. Remarkable for its high resolution and clarity, his photo is one of the best examples of Gigantic Jets ever recorded. Could Solar Minimum be promoting this phenonemon?  Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 29 August 2019 -   Geomagnetic storm warning

A large hole in the sun's atmosphere is facing Earth, ejecting a stream of solar wind in our direction. Minor (G1-class) geomagnetic storms are possible as early as Aug. 31st when the gaseous material arrives. This is the same large hole that targeted Earth in early August and caused auroras to be visible in multiple northern-tier US States. Visit  Spaceweather  for updates.

 

Dateline - 27 August 2019 -   Why are sunsets in the northern hemisphere turning purple ?

Around the northern hemisphere, sky watchers are noticing an unusual colour in the sunset sky: purple. The hue ranges from soft violet to vivid magenta, and is often accompanied by fine silvery streaks along the western horizon. What's going on? The phenomenon is probably a result of two volcanoes, (one in the Kuril Islands on June 22 and one in New Guinea on August 3) which recently released sulphurous gases into the stratosphere. Get the full story and observing tips at  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 24 August 2019 -   Arctic Aurora season begins

Aurorae have returned to the Arctic Circle as the Midnight Sun finally begins to fade. Sightings on August 23 and 24 confirm that green aurorae are now mixing with polar twilight. This sets the stage for a good show on August 27 when a high-speed stream of solar wind is expected to hit the Earth's magnetic field, possibly sparking G1-class geomagnetic storms. Get the full story on  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 15 August 2019 -   Amazing video of sprites

A photographer in Europe has captured high-definition video of a sprite storm over Italy. The images show a sprite's anatomy in rare detail, with enormous tentacles dangling tens of kilometres down to the thunderstorm below, dotted by balls of light the size of football fields. See the video and learn more about sprites on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 12 August 2019 -   Perseid meteor shower is under way

The Perseid meteor shower is peaking as Earth moves through the debris trail of parent Comet Swift Tuttle. Last night (August 12-13), NASA meteor cameras recorded more than 76 Perseid fireballs over the USA, with an even greater number expected tonight (August 13-14). When's the best time to look? Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for observing tips, live webcasts, and more.

 

Dateline - 12 August 2019 -   Happy 100th birthday, Margaret Burbidge

Today Margaret Burbidge, one of the 20th century's greatest astronomers, celebrates 100 years of riding on planet Earth.

In 1957 Margaret Burbidge (born in England in 1919), her husband Geoffrey Burbidge (1925-2010), William Fowler (1911-1995) and Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) presented a detailed theory showing how the stars could produce all the known elements lighter than iron by normal fusion processes in concentric stellar layers, the heaviest at the centre. In an influential paper Synthesis of the Elements in Stars, they showed how the cosmic abundances of essentially all elements except the lightest nuclides could be explained as the result of thermonuclear reactions in stellar interiors. The details were given of eight processes in nuclear physics by which elements could be synthesised. The complex paper, 108 pages long, was published in the October 1957 issue of the Reviews of Modern Physics. Soon dubbed the ‘B2FH paper, it was immediately celebrated as a monumental contribution to our understanding of the history of matter. It is available on-line.

B2FH also stated that, if the star were massive enough, the heaviest elements would be created in a further process. After building a core of iron which was very stable, the star’s fusion processes would suddenly stop as the nuclear fuel was exhausted. In a matter of minutes the star would collapse in on itself, and the outer layers would mix with the intensely hot temperatures and pressures in the iron core. The heavier nuclei would absorb more neutrons and thereby build up the heaviest elements, including radioactive ones such as uranium. The imploding material would rebound off the superdense sphere of neutrons at the core, and the star would explode as a nova or supernova. The blast would scatter the new elements into space, where they would later condense into other stars and planets. In the next generation of stars, these new elements would not take part in thermonuclear reactions, but radiation pressure would drive them out into the star’s atmosphere where their presence would be revealed by dark absorption lines in the star’s spectrum. Each new generation of stars would be more ‘metal-rich’ than the previous one. This conflicted with Gamow’s theory that all elements were created in the ‘Big Bang’, and supported Hoyle's ‘Steady State’ universe.

Margaret Burbidge is still interested in cosmological research as Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), where she has worked since 1962. She has contributed to over 370 articles on astronomical research. Her most recent work is in the field of non-standard cosmologies such as ‘intrinsic redshift’.

Many happy returns of the day, Margaret.

 

Dateline - 31 July 2019 -   Be alert for Perseid fireballs

Earth is entering a stream of debris from giant Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Forecasters say the shower won't peak until August 12-13, but already NASA cameras are catching Perseid fireballs streaking over the USA. The Perseids produce more fireballs than any other annual shower (largely due to the size of the parent comet) so your chances of seeing one are good. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for observing tips.

 

Dateline - 25 July 2019 -   Small asteroid explodes over Canada

Material from the asteroid belt landed on Earth yesterday, July 24th, when a small space rock exploded over Ontario, Canada. The resulting fireball was a bright as a full Moon and probably scattered meteorites over the countryside near the town of Bancroft, Ontario. Now the hunt is on for samples of matter from beyond Mars. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 17 July 2019 -   Cosmic Ray update - new results from the Moon

A NASA radiation sensor in orbit around the Moon has detected a doubling of cosmic rays, making 2019 one of the worst years of the Space Age for astronauts to travel into deep space. What's going on up there? The solar cycle is to blame. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 16 July 2019 -   Partial lunar eclipse tomorrow morning

On Wednesday, July 17, the full Moon will pass through the shadow of our planet, plunging 65% of the lunar disk into darkness. This partial eclipse will be visible from most of the world - almost everywhere except North America. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for a movie. Here are the details for Queensland's Sunshine Coast:

The Moon will enter the Earth's penumbra at 4:44 am, but initially the darkening of the northern hemisphere of the Moon will be hardly noticeable. The umbral phase of this eclipse will begin at 6:02 am, and this phase will be very obvious. The maximum phase (when only two-thirds of the Moon will be eclipsed) will occur at 7:39 am. The Moon will have set at 6:38 am, so only the first half-hour of the eclipse will be visible from Nambour,  and a very low west-south-western horizon will be imperative.

 

Dateline - 11 July 2019 -   Aurorae seen from the stratosphere

A solar wind stream hit Earth yesterday - and the timing couldn't have been better. NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) had just taken off from New Zealand. Astronomers onboard the specially modified Boeing 747 got an eyeful of rare auroral forms as they skimmed the bottom of the stratosphere over the Southern Ocean. Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 8 July 2019 -   A reversed polarity sunspot

A reversed-polarity sunspot has broken through the surface of the sun - the second time this month this has happened.  This latest "backwards sunspot" could mark the official beginning of new Solar Cycle 25. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  to learn more about sunspot AR2744 and the transition between solar cycles.

 

Dateline - 5 July 2019 -   New Zealand pulls out of the Square Kilometre Array consortium

The SKA is a global collaboration of nine countries which is aimed to provide answers to fundamental questions about the origin and evolution of the universe. Its headquarters are at Jodrell Bank Observatory of the University of Manchester in Cheshire, England. Of the eleven who officially joined the consortium in the beginning, eight are Member Countries (Australia, Canada, China, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom), and India is an Associate Member. Due to financial constraints, Germany withdrew from the consortium in August 2014. On 2 July 2019, New Zealand also announced its withdrawal. Click  here  for a report.



Dateline - 2 July 2019 -   Solar eclipse in South America

As this alert is being written, a total eclipse of the sun is about to begin in South America. Here are some links to live webcasts: #1, #2, #3, #4 in Spanish .
 


Dateline - 2 July 2019 -   Sunspots from the next solar cycle

Solar Minimum won't last forever. How do we know? Because this week a cluster of small sunspots from the next solar cycle bubbled up to the surface of the sun. The dark cores didn't last long, but they had the unmistakable magnetic signature of Solar Cycle 25. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for more information.

 

Dateline - 28 June 2019 -   Sunset solar eclipse in South America

Residents of Chile and Argentina are about to witness a rare total eclipse of the sun. Next week, on Tuesday July 2, the new Moon will pass across the solar disc, creating a black hole in the sky just before sunset in the two South American countries. The path of totality cuts across ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile and barely misses the centre of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Visit  Spaceweather  for timetables, animated maps, and links to live webcasts of the event.

 

Dateline - 26 June 2019 -   Anomalous noctilucent clouds over Paris

On the first night of northern summer, many Parisians were stunned when the midnight sky over the Eiffel Tower turned electric blue. It was the glow of noctilucent clouds (NLCs). The same clouds appeared in the USA a few nights later near Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles. New data from NASA's satellite-based Microwave Limb Sounder explain these anomalous sightings: As June comes to an end, the mesosphere remains unusually wet at middle latitudes, creating rare conditions for the formation of NLCs.
Visit  Spaceweather  for data and observing tips.

 

Dateline - 25 June 2019 -   Nuclear test sensors detect asteroid explosion

On June 22, sensors operated by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation detected an explosion south of Puerto Rico.  It was not, however, a nuclear bomb. A small asteroid entered Earth's atmosphere and exploded in the air like 3 to 5 kilotonnes of TNT. Weather satellites caught the space rock's fragmentation. Movies and analysis are featured on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 21 June 2019 -   The Sun is very quiet

The Sun has just passed 33 days without a sunspot, marking this the longest stretch of blank suns in the current solar cycle. This development is consistent with recent predictions that the solar cycle will reach a minimum in 2019-2020, ultimately bouncing back for a new Solar Max in the years ahead. 
Visit  Spaceweather  to learn how sunspots (or the lack of them) affect us on Earth.

 

Dateline - 7 June 2019 -   Must-see Jupiter movie

Today's edition of 
Spaceweather  highlights a unique movie of the planet Jupiter. Based on images from nearly a dozen amateur astronomers around the world, it shows the Great Red Spot, a storm system wider than Earth, apparently unraveling. The storm's sudden decay is happening as Jupiter approaches Earth for a close encounter on June 12th. Visit  Spaceweather  for observing tips.

 

Dateline - 5 June 2019 -   A daytime meteor shower is underway

Radars in the northern hemisphere are pinging with activity as one of the strongest meteor showers of the year takes place in broad daylight. The source of the shower is sungrazing Comet 96P/Machholz. Although the meteors are emerging from a radiant point near the glaring sun, it may be possible to see a few of them before sunrise on June 7.
Visit  Spaceweather for observing tips.

 

Dateline - 28 May 2019 -   Starlink satellite flares

SpaceX's newly-launched train of Starlink satellites is doing something unexpected. Many of the 60 satellites are glinting in sunlight - that is, "flaring." Sometimes the flashes of light rival the brightest stars in the night sky. Visi
t  Spaceweather  to find out how to catch the train and perhaps see the flares yourself.

 

Dateline - 24 May 2019 -   The Taurid meteoroid swarm is coming

Earth is about to have a close encounter with a meteoroid swarm. In late June 2019, the gravelly Taurid Swarm will make its closest post-perihelion approach to our planet since 1975. There's growing evidence that the swarm may be hiding large objects such as the Tunguska impactor that levelled a forest in Siberia in 1908. Astronomers plan to peer inside the swarm using large telescopes to find these hazards - if they exist.  Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.



Dateline - 21 May 2019 -   Is Jupiter's Great Red Spot unravelling ?

Amateur astronomers are reporting a strange phenomenon on the verge of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. The giant storm appears to be unravelling. Long streamers of deep-red gas are spooling away from the edge of the maelstrom. These streamers are becoming increasingly easy to see as Jupiter approaches Earth for a close encounter next month. Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 14 May 2019 -   Multiple CMEs are approaching Earth

NOAA forecasters say there is a 55% to 60% chance of geomagnetic storms on May 15 to 17 when a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) could hit Earth's magnetic field. Storm levels are expected to range between category G1 and G2.  Visit 
today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 2 May 2019 -   What are geomagnetic jerks ?

In the late 1970s, researchers realized something strange was happening to Earth's magnetic field. From time to time, without any gusts of solar wind to cause it, global magnetic fields would "jerk," suddenly accelerating in one direction or another. A big jerk in 2014/2015 prompted officials to update the World Magnetic Model years ahead of schedule. A new model of Earth's interior, just published in Nature Geoscience, may explain this phenomenon, possibly solving a 40 year mystery. Get the full story on today's edition
of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 15 April 2019 -   Sunspot radio bursts

Massive sunspot AR2738 is sending bursts of radio energy toward Earth strong enough to make audible noises in the loudspeakers of common shortwave receivers.  An amateur radio astronomer in New Mexico recorded some of the bursts this weekend - and they sound like ocean surf. Visit today's edition
of  Spaceweather  to hear the sounds and find out how you can detect them in your own backyard.

 

Dateline - 13 April 2019 -   Watch a sunspot crack up

This weekend, one of the largest sunspots in recent years is directly facing Earth. The behemoth is not producing strong flares, but it is doing something rare and interesting. A canyon of light (called a 'light bridge') is opening inside the sunspot's dark core, presaging a possible disruptive breakup. The scale of the spot makes it an easy target for amateur astronomers with properly-filtered backyard telescopes. Visit today's edition
of  Spaceweather  to learn more.

 

Dateline - 11 April 2019 -   Black hole photographed for the first time

Click 
here  for the full story and photograph.       (Contributed by Lee.)

 

Dateline - 5 April 2019 -   Space weather probes shatter GPS record

We all use GPS - to find ourselves in the back country, to navigate to the grocery store, to locate lost pets. NASA's four MMS spacecraft recently used the same system to locate themselves an astonishing 187 167 kilometres (116 252 miles) from Earth, almost halfway to the Moon. This shatters previous records and expectations of how far away GPS can work. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather
 to find out how they did it.

 

Dateline - 28 March 2019 -   Can humans sense geomagnetic storms ?

New research published by neuroscientists at Caltech shows that sudden changes in Earth's magnetic field affect human brainwaves - specifically, depressing alpha waves associated with wakeful relaxation. This raises the possibility that humans can sense geomagnetic storms. Learn more about the link between human biology and space weather on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 21 March 2019 -   Big Sunspot

Sunspot AR2736, which hurled a CME toward Earth yesterday, is growing larger and crackling with C-class solar flares. The active region now sprawls across more than 100 000 km of the solar disc and contains multiple dark cores as large as Earth, making it one of the biggest sunspots in recent years.  Visit  Spaceweather  to watch a movie of the growing spot and to find out what makes it so explosive.

 

Dateline - 20 March 2019 -    Earth-directed solar flare

A new and rapidly growing sunspot, AR2736, announced itself this morning with a C4-class solar flare. The Earth-directed explosion sent minor waves of ionisation rippling through Earth's upper atmosphere and caused a shortwave radio "brownout" over parts of Europe and Africa. Moreover, the explosion hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) into space, which might deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field later this week.  Visit  Spaceweather  for updates.

 

Dateline - 13 March 2019 -    Neutron radiation detected on commercial plane flights

Want to experience space weather? Just step on board an airliner. Flying above 30 000 feet (9144 metres) can expose passengers to potentially significant doses of cosmic rays. We have just conducted a new survey of radiation on flights over five continents and, using bubble chambers, have detected an abundance of deep space neutrons. Learn more about this biologically effective form of cosmic radiation on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 1 March 2019 -    A month without Sunspots

The Sun has just passed an entire calendar month with no sunspots. The last time this happened, in August 2008, the sun was in the nadir of a century-class Solar Minimum. The current stretch of blank suns shows that Solar Minimum has returned, and it could be as deep as the last one.   Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and current sunspot counts.

 

Dateline - 26 February 2019 -    Geomagnetic storms this week

A large hole in the Sun's atmosphere is facing Earth and sending a stream of solar wind in our direction. Minor G1-class geomagnetic storms are likely when the gaseous material arrives on February 27 - 28. Solar wind speeds could top 500 km/s (1.1 million mph), sparking auroras around the Arctic Circle and possibly even from latitude +45º north.  Visit  Spaceweather  for updates.

 

Dateline - 14 February 2019 -    The Sun is very active at present

Sunspot numbers remain very low as the Solar Minimum continues. Nevertheless, there is some big activity on the Sun today. Really big. NASA satellites and amateur astronomers are monitoring a giant filament of magnetism jutting out from the edge of the solar disc. The glowing structure is fully one-tenth of the Sun's diameter.  Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  to watch a movie of the unstable prominence. 

 

Dateline - 14 February 2019 -    Mars rover Opportunity's mission declared officially ended

Exploration of Mars by spacecraft has unaccountably suffered from a high attrition rate, with 70% of vehicles failing before completing their missions. Yet there have also been spectacular successes, as with the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity which landed on the red planet in 2004. The designed life expectancy of both rovers was 90 days and one kilometre, for it had been expected that dust would accumulate on their solar panels within a few months, preventing them from providing electricity. Serendipity played a part, for it seems that regular whirlwinds kept the panels clean and functioning normally. Although Spirit became stuck in sand and went silent after 5.3 years on Mars, Opportunity continued moving about on the surface and beaming back signals and pictures to Earth until 2018. But in mid-2018, "Oppy's" luck ran out. In June last year a severe planet-wide dust storm overtook the rover’s location and its final touching message on June 10 was “My batteries are low and it’s getting dark.” After the storm, the batteries failed to recharge and although over 1000 attempts were made over the next eight months, communication with Oppy was never restored. On February 13, 2019, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission at an end, after 14.3 years work and travelling 45 kilometres. A third rover, Curiosity, arrived on Mars in 2012 and is now in its seventh year of operation. It is nuclear-powered and does not need solar panels. It was therefore unaffected by the dust storm and is working normally. The lander InSight touched down on Mars on November 26, 2018 after the dust storm had abated. Like Opportunity, it generates electricity from solar panels, but unlike the rovers has no wheels and is therefore fixed in position. Google "Opportunity rover" for more.



Dateline - 9 February 2019 -    Trans-Neptunian comet approaches Earth


In only a few days, newly-discovered Comet Iwamoto will split the orbits of Earth and Mars, making a relatively close approach to our planet visible through small telescopes. This is a rare visit. The comet comes from the realm of Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects, a distant region of the solar system inhabited by strange objects such as "Sedna" and "the Goblin." Get the full story on  Spaceweather 

 

Dateline - 5 February 2019 -    Aurora Australis video

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) get a lot more publicity than the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) as they are seen by the populations of Northern Europe, Russia, Canada and the USA. Yet the Southern Aurora is just as spectacular (sometimes more so) but there are not many people living in those far-south latitudes to report on them. However, they are regularly seen in Tasmania, New Zealand, Chile and southern Argentina. Occasionally they can be seen from Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and South Africa, but only during the winter months and in periods of strong solar activity.

Cold-weather astrophotography pioneer Robert Schwarz has just released a new video of Southern Lights dancing over the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, taken over a period of fourteen winters. The short movie (just under 6 minutes long) is a must-see for anyone interested in aurorae and space weather. It highlights the otherworldly effect of geomagnetic activity on our planet's south polar skies with scenes unlike anywhere else on Earth. The video is featured on today's edition of  Spaceweather .  Sometimes the camera is fixed on a tripod at the South Pole itself and shows the stars wheeling around the horizon with the coloured bands and curtains of the aurora shimmering in front of them. Other sequences have the camera tracking the stars, and give a wonderful view of the Earth and the South Pole buildings rotating against the fixed background of the distant Milky Way with its rich star fields.

 

Dateline - 29 January 2019 -    Solar wind, incoming

A large hole in the Sun's atmosphere is facing Earth and ejecting a stream of solar wind in our direction. Polar geomagnetic storms are likely when the gaseous material arrives on January 31 or February 1. We've seen this hole before. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  to find out what happened the last time it lashed our planet with solar wind.

 

Dateline - 22 January 2019 -    A meteoroid slams into the Moon

During yesterday's total lunar eclipse (not visible from Australia, but listed in our
The Sky Tonight  page), a meteoroid slammed into the Moon. We know this because many amateur astronomers witnessed the explosion. The fireball was visible against the shadowy backdrop of an eclipsed Moon.  Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for images, video, and the full story.

 

Dateline - 17 January 2019 -    Earth's shifting magnetic field

Earth's magnetic field is changing so quickly that researchers have been forced to update to the World Magnetic Model ahead of schedule. Developed by NOAA and the British Geological Survey, the model is widely used for precision navigation of devices ranging from nuclear submarines to the common smartphone. Your own phone may be affected. Find out how on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 15 January 2019 -    A collision in the Asteroid Belt

Something violent just happened in the asteroid belt. Not far beyond the orbit of Mars, asteroid 6478 Gault appears to have been struck by another asteroid. The resulting stream of debris stretches more than 400 000 kilometres, which is greater than the distance between Earth and the Moon. Astronomers around the world are now monitoring the formerly unremarkable asteroid to see what happens next. Get the full story on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 10 January 2019 -    Venus and Jupiter in conjunction

Venus and Jupiter are converging for a beautiful conjunction in Ophiuchus, the unofficial "13th constellation of the zodiac." The two bright planets are easy to see even from light-polluted urban areas and are being photographed by many observers surrounded by the morning-glow of sunrise. At closest approach on January 21-22, they will be only 2.5 degrees apart, and visible even from brightly-lit cities. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for sky maps and observing tips.


Dateline - 2 January 2019 -    Historic first images of Ultima Thule

Scientists from NASA's New Horizons mission have released the first detailed images of Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored. Its remarkable appearance, consisting of two primitive spheres stuck together in the middle, is unlike anything we've seen before. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for photos and more information.
 

Dateline - 31 December 2018 -    Watch the NASA spacecraft New Horizons fly by the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule at 3:33 pm on January 1 and 2

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is now only hours away from Ultima Thule, a mysterious elongated object in the distant Kuiper Belt. At 3:33 pm AEST (Queensland time) on January 1 (today), New Horizons will swoop past Ultima Thule three times closer than it buzzed Pluto in 2015. Radio signals and data acquisition from the encounter will take about 10 hours to reach Earth, so information and pictures from the flyby will not be received until about 1:30 am on Tuesday, January 2 (our time). More information and links to live coverage are available on today's edition of Spaceweather .
 

Dateline - 28 December 2018 -    Spotless Sun sparks geomagnetic storm

Solar Minimum is in full swing. No sunspots? No problem. Last night the spotless sun produced a G1-class geomagnetic storm with bright auroras reported from Iceland to Alaska.  More lights are in the offing as a stream of solar wind is expected to buffet Earth's magnetic field for the next 24 to 48 hours. Get the full story from  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 25 December 2018 -    Noctilucent clouds blanket Antarctica

In Antarctica, Christmas lights are electric blue.  Noctilucent clouds glowing with the azure color of an electrical discharge are swirling around the South Pole, blanketing almost the entire frozen continent, according to new images from NASA's AIM spacecraft. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  to learn more about these clouds and how they may connect to winter weather in the USA.

 

Dateline - 22 December 2018 -    Is Ultima Thule surrounded by mini-Moons ?

Long range images have revealed something strange about Ultima Thule, the distant Kuiper Belt Object that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is approaching for a New Year's Day flyby. Although it is almost certainly irregular in shape, the brightness of Ultima Thule does not seem to change as it rotates in sunlight. One possible explanation: A swarm of 'mini-moons' surrounding it.  Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.
 
 

Dateline - 18 December 2018 -    The mystery of Ultima Thule

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is about to make history - again. The distant probe is less than two weeks away from "Ultima Thule," a strangely elongated object in the distant reaches of the solar system. On New Year's Eve, New Horizons will fly past Ultima Thule three times closer than it buzzed Pluto in July 2015, giving scientists their first close-up look at a small Kuiper Belt Object. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story. 

 

Dateline - 12 December 2018 -   Comet  46/P Wirtanen at perihelion today

The image below shows Comet 46/P Wirtanen near perihelion on December 12, 2018, at 00:55 am. It was faintly visible to the unaided eye, but easily visible through binoculars. Today it will move from the constellation Cetus into Taurus.

Comet 46/P Wirtanen was faintly visible to the unaided eye, but easily visible through binoculars.  The circled star has a magnitude of 15.77, and the brighter one just to its left is GSC 60:1162, magnitude 13.8. The comet is moving north-east, or to the right. Its position at the time of the photograph was RA = 3 hr 23 min 13 sec, Declination +4º 34' 31". The comet may brighten as it passes by the Earth on December 16. Width of field = 18.6 arcminutes.


Dateline - 11 December 2018 -   A Geminid meteor disintegrates next to Comet 46/P Wirtanen

The annual Geminid meteor shower is underway as Earth enters a stream of gravelly debris from 'rock comet' 3200 Phaethon. The peak night is expected to occur on December 14-15 with 60+ meteors per hour.  Last night, a photographer in Missouri caught an early Geminid disintegrating next to approaching Comet 46P/Wirtanen - a scene that could be repeated many times in the nights ahead. The video and observing tips are highlighted in today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 10 December 2018 -   Voyager 2 enters interstellar space

Today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, NASA announced that Voyager 2 has exited the sun's magnetic bubble and entered interstellar space. The 70s-era probe is now experiencing a blizzard of galactic cosmic rays as it charts the unexplored space between the stars. See the data and learn more on today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.   

 

Dateline - 7 December 2018 -   China's mission to the far side of the Moon

China is going where no one has gone before, to the far side of the Moon. Today, a Long March 3B rocket is scheduled to blast off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, propelling a lander and rover toward craters hidden from Earth that may possibly contain water and other resources. This would be important for future human exploration pf the far side. If the mission succeeds, it will catapult China into the forefront of lunar exploration with a landing that no other nation has yet attempted. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 4 December 2018 -   A comet as big as the Full Moon approaches Earth

Hyperactive Comet 46P/Wirtanen is approaching Earth for one of the closest Earth-comet encounters of the Space Age. Observers report that the comet's gaseous green atmosphere now covers a patch of sky as large as the full Moon, and it is growing larger.  Of course, the solid nucleus of the comet is much smaller, only 1.2 km across. Current predictions are that it will reach magnitude 3.9 on December 15, which means that will appear as a large, faint cloud about a degree across in the constellation of Taurus, near the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters. As this date coincides with a First Quarter Moon, the best way to observe this comet will be with binoculars or small telescope taken to a dark site well away from city lights, and observations made around midnight. Comet Wirtanen presents no danger to the Earth. Sky maps and expert observing tips are featured on today's edition of  Spaceweather  and  here .

Comet 46/P Wirtanen on November 30, 2018. This image is a stack of five exposures between 8:13 and 9:05 pm. The comet's movement over the 52 minute period can be seen, the five images of the comet merging into a short streak. It is heading towards the upper left corner of the image, and is brightening as it approaches the Sun, with perihelion occurring on December 12. The images of the stars in the five exposures overlap each other precisely. The length of the streak indicates that the comet is presently moving against the starry background at 1.6º per day. The comet at 9:05 pm was at Right Ascension = 2 hrs 32 min 56 secs, Declination = 20º 27' 20". The upper star in the yellow circle is SAO 167833, magnitude 8.31, the same one circled in the picture below but with higher magnification.  

 

Dateline - 28 November 2018 -   A hyperactive comet approaches Earth

A small but hyperactive comet named "46P/Wirtanen" is nearing Earth for one of the 10 closest approaches by any comet of the Space Age. Wirtanen's emerald green atmosphere is now larger than the full Moon, and it is an increasingly easy target for binoculars and small telescopes. Currently at magnitude 6, naked-eye viewing could be just around the corner. It will reach its closest to the Sun (perihelion) on December 12, and then head in our direction. It will pass the Earth at a distance of 11.5 million kilometres (30 times as far away as the Moon) on December 16. In the week preceding, it will be at its brightest. On the night of November 29-30, it will be near the sixth magnitude star SAO 167839, which lies near the junction of the constellations Cetus, Eridanus and Fornax. It will be 4.3 degrees north of the zenith at 9:50 pm. The comet will therefore be visible for most of the night. In the coming weeks it will head rapidly north-north-east, passing 4.7 degrees east of the second magnitude star Menkar and crossing into Taurus on December 11. It will pass between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters on the night of December 19-20, heading towards the star Capella in Auriga, which it will pass on December 24-25. This could be an exceptional flyby. Visit  Spaceweather  and  here  for more information and charts.



Comet 46/P Wirtanen was photographed on November 29, 2018 between 9:45 and 9:47 pm.  The comet's position was Right Ascension = 2 hrs 30 min 11 secs,
Declination = 21º 43' 13". The nearest star to the comet's position, just to its left, is GSC 5862:549, magnitude 14.1. The spiral galaxy near the right margin is NGC 908.

 

Dateline - 27 November 2018 -   NASA's MARS InSight mission successfully touches down on the red planet

InSight landed on Mars on November 27, 2018 at 5:52:59 am, Australian Eastern Standard Time (Queensland time). The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase began when the spacecraft reached the Martian atmosphere, about 128 kilometres above the surface, and ended with the lander safe and sound on the surface of Mars six minutes later. For InSight, this phase included a combination of technologies inherited from past NASA Mars missions such as NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. This landing system weighed less than the airbags used for the twin rovers or the skycrane used by the Mars Science Laboratory. The lean landing hardware helped InSight place a higher ratio of science instruments to total launch mass on the surface of Mars.

For more information see the  NASA report  or the  ABC News  coverage.
 


Dateline - 16 November 2018 -   The Leonid meteor shower on this weekend (just before dawn)

Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, source of the annual Leonid meteor shower. NASA cameras have already detected a number of Leonid fireballs over the USA with peak rates expected on their November 17 and 18. The weekend display is best seen at dawn alongside a new comet and a conjunction between Venus and the brightest star of Virgo (Spica). Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 12 November 2018 -   Bright new Comet C/2018 V1 Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto discovered by amateur astronomers

In modern astronomy, most comets are found by large mountaintop telescopes photographing the skies under computer control. The photographs are scanned automatically to look for any new object that is not on the databases, such as an asteroid or comet. These on-going robotic surveys discover most new comets before they are bright enough for amateur astronomers to catch them. Surprisingly, three amateur astronomers (one in Arizona, two in Japan) have just discovered a bright new comet in the constellation Virgo that somehow escaped the notice of the automated surveys. This morning it was near the magnitude 2.9 star Porrima (Gamma Virginis), and heading east through the background stars. It will be near the magnitude 3.38 star Zeta Virginis on November 18. Named Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto after the three discoverers, it is plunging toward the Sun and could brighten to naked-eye visibility later this month. It will be at its closest approach to Earth on November 27 and closest approach to the Sun on December 4. The best time to observe it from November 13 to November 18 will be from 4 am to the first light of dawn, close to the due east horizon, and a little over half a handspan to the left of Venus. As the days go by and it becomes closer to the Sun, it will become lost in the solar glare. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

This is the 12th comet discovered by Don Machholz of Arizona, who is the world's most successful living visual comet hunter. He found his 11th comet in 2010. It took 746 hours searching over eight years to capture the latest one.

 

Dateline - 3 November 2018 -   Leonids meteor swarm due in two weeks

The Leonids meteor shower is one of the richest swarms of the year. It generally averages about one meteor every three minutes, but every 33 years it is much richer than that, causing what is known as a 'meteor storm' with about 1000 meteors being seen per hour. The last 'storm' occurred in 1998, and the next will be in 2031. The Leonids will encounter the Earth in the pre-dawn hours of November 17 to 19, after the waxing gibbous Moon has set. The meteors appears to radiate from the direction of the constellation Leo the Lion, hence the name. More precisely, they come from the direction of the third magnitude star Adhafera, in the Lion's mane. These meteors are debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle.

Meteoroids are small rocky or metallic bodies in the Solar System, left over from the creation of the planets. Some are produced by impacts of asteroids with the Moon, Mars or other solid Solar System bodies. Their sizes range from about a metre to a grain of sand. If they are smaller than a sand grain they are called 'micrometeoroids' or 'space dust'. The Earth encounters thousands every day. They enter our atmosphere at a speed averaging 20 kilometres per second or 72000 kilometres per hour. Friction with our atmosphere burns them up immediately at an average  height of 70 to 90 kilometres, producing a streak of light called a 'meteor' if they occur at night. Sometimes a faint trail of smoke persists for a minute or so. The resulting dust and ash floats down to the Earth's surface and settles on the ground. Much of our topsoil contains this interplanetary material. The Earth attracts about 40 tonnes of meteoric material every day. Large meteoroids may not burn completely away and can survive to hit the ground where they can be collected. Once they are on the ground they are called 'meteorites'. Two people were struck by meteorites in the last century - both survived the experience. Meteorites are not rare and most museums have a collection. There are usually small examples for sale on ebay.

 

Dateline - 1 November 2018 -   Geomagnetic storm predicted this weekend

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is monitoring a large hole in the Sun's atmosphere, now directly facing Earth. A stream of solar wind escaping from the opening is expected to reach our planet during the early hours of November 4, possibly sparking minor G1-class geomagnetic storms over the weekend. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and updates.

 

Dateline - 19 October 2018 -   Orionids meteor shower (meteors from Halley's Comet) has started

Right now, specks of dust from Halley's comet are disintegrating in Earth's atmosphere, kicking off the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak this weekend with 20+ meteors per hour appearing to radiate from the constellation Orion. The nearly full Moon could reduce visibility, but it is possible to avoid the glare if you look at the right time. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for sky maps and observing tips.

 

Dateline - 16 October 2018 -   Coming in December, the year's best comet

Get ready for a very nice comet. In exactly two months, Comet 46P/Wirtanen will sweep past Earth, making one of the ten closest approaches of a comet to our planet since 1960. If forecasters are correct, Comet Wirtanen could become visible to the naked eye for weeks in this coming December. The small but unusually active comet will come closest to Earth just four days after its closest approach to the Sun, and it will be "up" all night long, making this an exceptional flyby. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information.

 

Dateline - 13 October 2018 -   Draconid meteor outburst

On October 8-9, European sky watchers were amazed when a flurry of faint meteors filled the sky at midnight. It was an outburst of the annual Draconids meteor shower. Turns out, that outburst was just the tip of the iceberg. Computer models show that Earth narrowly missed two streams of comet debris that would have caused significant meteor storms had they struck our planet. Visit  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 10 October 2018 -   Aurorae caught making noise

For centuries, people inside the Arctic Circle have reported hearing strange hissing and popping sounds under the Northern Lights. Evidence is mounting that at least some those auroral sounds are real. On October 7, a researcher in southern Finland recorded some during a G1-class geomagnetic storm - the latest in a series of detections by the long-running Auroral Acoustics Project. Visit today's edition  of  Spaceweather  to hear a sample "geomagnetic thunderclap."

 

Dateline - 28 September 2018 -   The chill of the solar minimum

The sun is entering a deep Solar Minimum, and Earth's upper atmosphere is responding. Data from NASA's TIMED satellite show that the thermosphere (the uppermost layer of air around our planet) is cooling and shrinking, literally decreasing the radius of the atmosphere. If current trends continue, the thermosphere could set a Space Age record for cold in the months ahead. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 22 September 2018 -   Japanese robots land on near-Earth asteroid

Yesterday, the Japanese space agency made history by landing a pair of robots on diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu. The tiny explorers are now hopping across the space rock's rugged surface and sending unprecedented pictures back to Earth. Ryugu is a near-Earth asteroid that can approach our planet closer than the Moon, so exploring it is important. Learn more on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 10 September 2018 -   Green comet makes closest approach to Earth

Today, 11 September, Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner ("21P" for short) is making its closest approach to Earth in 72 years - only 58 million kilometres from our planet. The small but active comet is easy to see in small telescopes and binoculars shining like a 7th magnitude star in the constellation Auriga. It is visible low in the north-east in the hour before the first light of dawn appears. For observing tips and charts, visit  Spaceweather . (The P in its name indicates that it is a periodic comet in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, i.e. one that makes regular appearances.)

 

Dateline - 10 September 2018 -   Geomagnetic storm predicted

NOAA forecasters have issued a watch for G2-class (moderately strong) geomagnetic storms on September 11 when a fast-moving stream of solar wind is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. During G2-class storms, aurorae can appear in the southern Australian states and New Zealand. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and updates.

 

Dateline - 25 August 2018 -   A green comet approaches Earth

The beautiful green Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is approaching Earth for a 58 million kilometre close encounter in early September, when it is expected to approach naked-eye visibility. This small but active comet is the parent of the annual Draconid meteor shower, a display that typically peaks on October 8, less than a month after the comet's 2018 flyby. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information about 21P and where to point your telescope as it approaches.

 

Dateline - 10 August 2018 -   The Parker Solar Probe - a mission to touch the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe will help scientists learn more about the solar wind, an exotic brew of magnetic forces, plasma and particles. NASA has a ScienceCast Video on this topic.

 

Dateline - 9 August 2018 -   Solar eclipse this weekend  (not visible from Australia)

The Moon is about to take a bite out of the sun. On Saturday, August 11, there will be a partial solar eclipse visible from locations around the Arctic Circle and across much of Asia. During the 3+ hour event, as much as 73% of the solar disc will be covered. Visit   Spaceweather  for more information about this event.

 

Dateline - 6 August 2018 -   Perseid meteor shower is underway

Earth is entering a stream of debris from giant comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, parent of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower is not expected to peak until next weekend, NASA all-sky cameras are already detecting dozens of Perseid fireballs every night. This early activity may be a good omen for the nights ahead, especially August 11-14 when the Earth is expected to pass through the densest part of the comet's debris zone. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and observing tips.

 

Dateline - 22 July 2018 -   A large hole in the Sun's atmosphere

A large hole has opened in the sun's atmosphere and it is spewing a stream of solar wind toward Earth. NOAA forecasters estimate a 65% chance of minor geomagnetic storms when the gaseous material arrives on July 24th. Such holes are primary sources of solar activity during solar minimum, both forming and staying open longer when sunspots are absent. Learn more on today's edition of  Spaceweather .

 

Dateline - 13 July 2018 -   A 'green flash' on Mars

Mars is approaching Earth for a 15-year close encounter on July 27. The Red Planet is now so bright, it is experiencing forms of atmospheric optics normally reserved for objects like the Sun and Moon. Yesterday, an astronomer in Sweden watching Mars witnessed a rare green flash. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for a video of the phenomenon and more information about the martian brightening. 

 

Dateline - 9 July 2018 -   Radiation hazards to airline passengers and crews from cosmic rays

On the heels of a new study showing that flight attendants have an elevated risk of cancer compared to the general population, a team including representatives of Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus recently boarded a plane in Los Angeles and flew to Brisbane carrying an array of cosmic ray sensors. During their 13 hour flight across the South Pacific, the team detected secondary cosmic rays in the passenger compartment almost 40 times stronger than on the ground below. Their "haul" of radiation included a significant number of neutrons captured in portable bubble chambers.  The radiation, which included x-rays and gamma rays, almost doubled over the Coral Sea and the approaches to Brisbane. Read today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 4 July 2018 -   Approaching green comet explodes

A comet that could become visible to the naked eye in August has exploded in brightness, suddenly increasing its luminosity 16-fold. Whatever happened on Comet PANSTARRS (C/2017 S3) on July 1 has given it an expanding green atmosphere almost twice the size of the planet Jupiter. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  and later entries for pictures and more information about this approaching comet.



Dateline - 2 July 2018 -   Planet-encircling dust storm on Mars

A martian dust storm that started in late May, silencing NASA's Opportunity rover, has now wrapped itself around the entirety of Mars, radically transforming the appearance of the Red Planet. Amateur astronomers are taking pictures of the storm through backyard telescopes, and even naked-eye observers say they can see changes in the planet's colour. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for more information and animations.

 

Dateline - 20 June 2018 -   Big sunspot alert

Yesterday, sunspot AR2715 did not exist. Today, it sprawls across more than 60 000 kilometres of solar surface with a primary dark core wider than the Earth. So far, the active region has not produced any big flares, but this could change if its development proceeds apace. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for a video of the sunspot's genesis and information about how it fits into the Solar Minimum. 

 

Dateline - 13 June 2018 -   Huge dust storm on Mars

Yesterday, NASA lost contact with the Opportunity Mars rover as a ferocious dust storm spreads around the Red Planet. Thick dust has turned day into night at Opportunity's work site in Perseverance Valley, blocking sunlight to the solar powered rover. Currently on the verge of circumnavigating Mars, the storm is so large that amateur astronomers can now see it through backyard telescopes. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for an animation of the spreading storm and more information.

 

Dateline - 8 June 2018 -   Mars now is brighter than Sirius

Mars is approaching Earth for an almost once-in-a-generation close encounter in late July. This week, the brightness of Mars surpassed that of Sirius, making the Red Planet brighter than any star in the night sky. If you are outside at 9 pm, you can't help noticing Mars as a bright, orange, star-like object low to the east-south-eastern horizon, and the show is about to get much better. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 5 June 2018 -   Small asteroid collides with Earth

A small asteroid hit Earth on Saturday, June 2, exploding in the atmosphere over Botswana before it could reach the ground. The Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona had discovered the space rock only hours earlier as it hurtled toward our planet from inside the orbit of the Moon. Sensors used to monitor rogue nuclear explosions detected the asteroid's detonation and estimated its strength to be about the same as 480 tonnes of TNT. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 14 May 2018 -   Lost asteroid returns to Earth

Eight years ago, astronomers lost a near-Earth asteroid. They just found it. The space rock, named 2010 WC9, is approaching Earth for a close encounter on Tuesday, May 15. There's no danger of a collision, but the ~100 metre wide asteroid will be near enough for amateur astronomers to photograph. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  for the full story.

 

Dateline - 11 May 2018 -   Red airglow over the Atacama Desert

Last night, the normally dark skies of Chile's Atacama Desert lit up with rippling bands of red light. It looked like the aurora borealis, but it was not. A photographer recorded the unusual apparition of red airglow, so bright that it outshined parts of the Milky Way. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  for photos and an explanation of this phenomenon.

 

Dateline - 7 May 2018 -   STEVE visits the USA

Over the weekend, a solar wind stream engulfed Earth, sparking stronger-than-expected G2-class geomagnetic storms. At the peak of the storms, STEVE appeared. The strange ribbon-like aurora travelled south and was sighted in multiple US states. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  to see pictures and learn more about STEVE (see also  Dateline - 11 April 2018  below).

 

Dateline - 2 May 2018 -   Sunspots vanishing faster than expected

So far in 2018, the Sun has been blank more than half the time. Whole weeks have gone by without a single sunspot. Although forecasters have been expecting sunspots to disappear with the approach of Solar Minimum, it is happening faster than predicted. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  to see the data and to find out what it means, here on Earth.

 

Dateline - 28 April 2018 -   Special conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter

On the night of April 30 - May 1, (next Monday night), the Moon and Jupiter will converge in the constellation of Libra for a special conjunction. Jupiter is approaching Earth for a close encounter in early May, making the giant planet a little bigger and brighter than usual. On Monday night, April 30, the Full Moon will glide past the brightening gas giant. It adds up to a display of rare brilliance in the midnight sky. Visit  Spaceweather  for sky maps and more information.

 

Dateline - 15 April 2018 -   Surprise asteroid flyby

With little warning, on Sunday, April 15, a "Tunguska-class" asteroid about the size of a football field flew through the Earth-Moon system. 2018 GE3 was discovered just the day before as it plunged inward from the asteroid belt. A quick-thinking amateur astronomer in Europe was able to record a video of the asteroid as it flew by. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  to see the movie and to learn more about this surprise visitor. 

 

Dateline - 11 April 2018 -   Rare video of STEVE

Last night in parts of Canada, dogs started barking at the midnight sky. The canines were responding to a bright purple ribbon of light - also known as "STEVE" ("Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement") The apparition, which occurred during a G1-class geomagnetic storm, was so long-lasting that at least one onlooker had time to capture rare video of the phenomenon. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather  to see STEVE in motion.



Dateline - 11 April 2018 -   Geomagnetic storm in progress

A minor G1-class geomagnetic storm is in progress on April 11th as Earth moves through a high speed stream of solar wind. This is causing bright auroras around the poles, with Northern Lights sighted as far south as the Dakotas in the USA.  The gaseous material is flowing from a wide hole in the sun's atmosphere--so wide that the stream could continue to influence our planet for the next two to three days. Visit  Spaceweather  for updates.



Dateline - 8 April 2018 -   Space lightning over Europe

Red sprites (also known as "space lightning") are dancing over thunderstorms in Europe. A dedicated observatory spotted the eerie red forms shooting up toward the Pleiades on April 4, marking an unusually early start to the northern summer season for sprites. Today's edition of Spaceweather  explores the possibility that this development is related to recent increases in galactic cosmic rays.

 

Dateline -  26 March 2018 -   Chinese Space Station to disintegrate

China's Tiangong-1 space station is about to return to Earth - as a massive fireball. Low solar activity kept Tiangong-1 in orbit longer than officials predicted, but it's finally coming down. The European Space Agency says the 8-tonne craft should re-enter sometime between March 30 and April 2, a window of uncertainty which will narrow in the days ahead. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and ground tracks.

 

Dateline -  19 March 2018 -   Surprise geomagnetic storm

On March 18, an unexpected crack opened in Earth's magnetic field, sparking a brief but potent G2-class geomagnetic storm. Bright aurorae ringed the Arctic Circle while, in Europe, the light show descended as far south as Germany. With the northern vernal equinox less than a day away, this is the time of year when such cracks tend to form. Today's edition of  Spaceweather explains the phenomenon of magnetic cracks and how you can monitor them online.


 

Dateline -  15 March 2018 -   Stephen Hawking has left us

World renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen William Hawking has died peacefully at home in Cambridge at the age of 76. He was the first to unite Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum mechanics, to produce a new theory of cosmology which included black holes and relativistic effects. With the mathematician Roger Penrose, he proposed in 1970 that the universe began as a singularity. If he had been able to support his theories by performing practical observational work, he would have been certain to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. Hawking wrote several popular science books including the best-seller "A Brief History of Time".

At the age of 22, as a student at Cambridge University, he was diagnosed with a rare form of motor-neurone disease and given only a few years to live. The illness progressed slowly and left him wheel-chair bound, and later almost completely paralysed. He was virtually unable to speak and was forced to communicate via a voice synthesiser (using one cheek muscle to operate a mobile computer). Yet he met two US Presidents, flew at zero gravity in a special plane, and fathered three children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, who said: "We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years." They praised his "courage and persistence" and said his "brilliance and humour" inspired people across the world.
 

 

Dateline -  22 February 2018 -   Earth's magnetic field is oscillating

This morning in Lofoten, Norway, a magnetic observatory picked up unusually pure low-frequency waves rippling around the Arctic Circle. Known as 'pulsations continuous (Pc)', these rare magnetic oscillations can energise particles in our planet's magnetosphere, boosting the brightness of aurorae. Indeed, strong auroras are being seen right now in Scandinavia. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  to learn what caused these Pc waves and to monitor the ongoing display.

 

Dateline -  20 February 2018 -   The roadster and the star cluster

How far away can you see a cherry red Tesla Roadster? Yesterday, a telescope in Chile spotted Elon Musk's electric car 3.7 million kilometres from Earth as it was passing by star cluster NGC 5694. Using orbital elements published by NASA, amateur astronomers are setting new distance records almost every day as they track the Roadster en route to the orbit of Mars. Visit today's edition of  Spaceweather  for updates and a movie of the Roadster and the star cluster.

 

Dateline -  19 February 2018 -   Geomagnetic storm in progress

A G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway on February 19 as Earth enters a stream of fast-moving solar wind. G1-class storms are relatively minor and have little effect on satellites or global power grids. However, they can spark bright auroras around the Arctic Circle and confuse migratory animals that navigate using magnetism at high latitudes. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information and updates.

 

Dateline -  14 February 2018 -   Sunspot explodes - hurls CME at Earth

On February 12, the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2699 exploded, for more than six hours. The slow-motion blast produced a C1-class solar flare and hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) almost directly toward Earth.  NOAA forecasters say there is a 60% chance of minor G1-class geomagnetic storms with isolated periods of stronger G2 storming when the CME arrives on February 14 or 15. Visit  Spaceweather  for more information about this event and the possible visibility of aurorae.

 

Dateline -  9 February 2018 -   Amateur astronomers photograph Tesla motor car in space:

"It's the craziest thing I've ever captured in my telescope," says amateur astronomer Raymond Kneip. Last night, he photographed Elon Musk's cherry red Roadster 430 000 kilometres from Earth, heading toward the orbit of Mars. NASA has just released an ephemeris (celestial co-ordinates) for the electric car, allowing astronomers to track and photograph the Tesla as it recedes into deep space. Pictures of the Roadster and instructions for accessing NASA's ephemeris may be found on today's edition of Spaceweather .

The first remarkable Space-X mission in which a rocket with two boosters was flown to the threshold of space can be viewed here .  Both boosters detached and returned to Earth, landing simultaneously in vertical positions, while the main rocket landed safely, also vertical, on a ship at sea. I kid you not.

 

Dateline -  5 February 2018 -   A solar minimum sunspot:

With Solar Minimum right around the corner, sunspot counts are at an almost ten year low. So it came as a surprise yesterday when a relatively large sunspot emerged near the sun's eastern limb. AR2699 has a primary dark core larger than the Earth with many smaller magnetic condensations trailing behind it, in all stretching more than 75 00 km across the sun's surface. Rare "solar minimum sunspots" are capable of intense explosions just like sunspots during more active phases of the solar cycle. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather for more information and updates.

 

Dateline -  26 January 2018 -   A long-dead spacecraft wakes up:

In 2005, a NASA spacecraft named IMAGE mysteriously went silent, abruptly ending a successful mission to study Earth's magnetosphere. Thirteen years later, it's back. On January 20, 2018, an amateur astronomer in Canada picked up radio transmissions from IMAGE, alive after all. The satellite may have been chattering away at Earth for years unheard and unnoticed. Now NASA is working to regain contact and possibly revive a key asset for space weather research and nowcasting. Visit today's edition of Spaceweather for the full story.

 

Dateline -  14 January 2018 -   Geomagnetic storm in progress:

A G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway on January 14 as Earth enters a stream of fast-moving solar wind. G1-class storms are relatively minor and have little effect on satellites or global power grids. However, they can confuse migratory animals that navigate using magnetism at high latitudes and, moreover, may spark bright aurorae around the Arctic Circle. Visit  Spaceweather for more information and updates.

 

Dateline -  11 January 2018 -   Blue comet PanSTARRS:

Beyond the orbit of Mars, an unusual blue comet is approaching the Sun. Every time astronomers look at Comet PanSTARRS (C/2016 R2), it has a different appearance. Daily images show gaseous jets waving wildly around the comet's core and dusty clouds billowing down the comet's tail. This hyperactivity comes despite the fact that the comet is located in a region of space where deep cold and feeble sunlight usually discourage such volatility. What's happening? The comet's blue colour is a crucial clue. Find the answer on today's edition of Spaceweather .

 

 

 

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