Monday, July 21, 2008

First total eclipse of the Sun in over two years top event of August

Yours truly will go to China today for two weeks to intercept the phenomenon from the headline in Xinjiang and it is not clear (yet) whether continuing to update this blog will be possible on the road. Thus the sky highlights of August 2008 come to you already today.
  • Aug. 1: Total Eclipse of the Sun in Greenland, Canada, Russia and China - there's more info here and esp. here while webcasts are/will be linked here and here and there are already blogs of folks going to Mongolia and Siberia.

  • Aug. 2: Very young Moon 4° from Venus; evening apparition of the latter get's going.

  • Aug. 5: Venus near Regulus just after sunset.

  • Aug. 12, around noonn UTC: Maximum of the Perseids (waxing Moon setting after midnight).

  • Aug. 13: Venus just 0.2° from Saturn (telescope required).

  • Aug. 15: Neptune in opposition at 7.8 mag. in Cap.

  • Aug. 16/17: Partial lunar eclipse, max. phase 81%
In other news the apparent survival of the Little Red Spot in Jupiter's clouds can be seen in images from July 18, July 17 and July 15 (lower-res views from that date here and here); a much-quoted Hubble press release on its demise was premature. More challenging Jovian sights? How about Amalthea with 80 cm?

• The light curve of Boattini is going down; also pics of d'Arrest, Lulin and Chury. • A paper on next year's Epsilon Aur campaign and how to contribute with small equipment. • How a newspaper covered a green flash, and NLCs over Iran. • The Moon transits Earth as seen by EPOXI. And an ISS movie of July 14.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2005 FY9 becomes 4th dwarf planet, named Makemake

The official list of dwarf planets now has four entries: Kuiperoid 2005 FY9 alias (136472) alias Makemake - see here for pronounciation issues with this Polynesian word - joins Ceres, Pluto and Eris and is also the 3rd official plutoid. Its naming decision seems to have been relatively uncontroversial while the third big Kuiperoid announced in 2005 still has to wait because there's a lingering question of priority over 2003 EL61. Which is also not exactly spherical but shaped like a football due to its fast rotation, a fact that might even threaten its future classification as a dwarf planet, despite its size. (This incidentally calls into question the "hydrostatic equilibrium" demand as a key criterion for both planets and dwarf planets: Even beyond a diameter of 1000 km a body can still be very un-spherical.)

In other news NASA's Wayne Hale recalls a solar flare scare on the ISS in 2006. • There is a new candidate for the brightest star in the Galaxy. • And to look at: a movie clip of 2008 BT18 near Earth, heavy image processing of comet Boattini, apparently revealing a dust tail next to the ion tail, and hi-res images of the ISS from 14 July and 13 July showing well the new Columbus and Kibo modules.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Binary asteroid - main body ~600 meters - to come within 2.3 million km today

A binary asteroid discovered last winter, 2008 BT18, will approach Earth to within 0.1509 AU or 2.26 million kilometers later today (closest approach is around 14:00 UTC): nothing to worry about but a fine opportunity for intense radar imaging a few days ago. Visual observers have a harder time: Yesterday the phase angle was around 150°, with the asteroid very close to the Sun in Mon and CMa, now its moving away from the Sun's glare but rushing South. Today it moves through Lep and Col, in a few days it'll be at -50° declination. The brightness, at least, should stay rather constant around 13th mag. as more and more of its bright side is facing Earth.

In other news we have images of the big Boattini of July 13 and July 12, little Boattini of July 11 and Lulin of July 12 and July 11. • The developments around the Great Red Spot on Jupiter can be tracked in image collections of July 13 (the Little Red Spot seems back!), July 12, July 10, July 8 and July 7 (no images of the right area were archived for July 9 and 11). • Finally a nicely edited video of the total solar eclipse of 2003 from an airplane, with many soundbites ...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Phoenix color panorama (pretty) complete - thanks to an amateur

As usual these days - with raw images from (NASA) space missions being distributed in near-real time - it was an amateur who has created the first complete panorama around the Phoenix lander in color; there are still some minor flaws, but now you know where "we" stand. • In other planetary news Jupiter images of July 11 and July 10 show only remnants of the Little Red Spot which may have been severely damaged after all when it 'collided' with the other two red storms. • Also wide-angle views of the Mars/Saturn conjunction from July 10 in Austria and earlier in Australia plus from July 9, earlier pics and the view of July 5 with a fire in California.

In other solar system news comet C/2007 W1 (Boattini) is back - though very low - for Northern observers who caught it well on July 11 (more and a wide-field view plus a visual report). • The Moon has been imaged with extreme libration, exposing the North Polar Region. • And there is no reason yet to worry about the long solar minimum.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Three storms on Jupiter converged, seem to have survived each

When a third, tiny "red spot" appeared in Jupiter's clouds this spring (mentioned here and in the Cosmic Mirror's header), it was clear from the windspeed pattern that the three would meet soon: What would that do to the smaller storms? As several hi-res amateur images collected by SpaceWeather show, the newest red one seems to have made it through inbetween the GRS and the Oval BA aka. Red Spot Junior. More images in the coming days will show whether it is 'unharmed'; meanwhile here are more and more and more images of the quadruple conjunction hailed in the last posting.

In other news the coma of one comet Boattini (W1) looks strage while the other Boattini (J1) is also elongated while Lulin is fainter again. • A newspaper covers the fun in chasing eclipses while • others take resolved images of mysterious satellites that are not listed officially yet pretty bright ...

Monday, July 7, 2008

2 planets, one moon, one star: rare quartet seen in evening skies

In the Americas this show is still ahead, in Europe, Africa, Asia & Oz it's history: On the evening on July 6, the crescent Moon joined the planets Saturn and Mars - lined up with the bright star Regulus - for a nice celestial trio: Here are pictures taken by this blogger and others in Germany a few hours ago, while in Australia the view had been quite different, and two nights ago there was no Moon. • Meanwhile Jupiter is near opposition and has been imaged frequently, e.g. on July 6, July 3 (with Callisto and its shadow on the disk), July 1 (with Io and its shadow on the disk) and June 28. • And observations of Venus 1999 to 2006 appear in a report for the BAA.

In other news here are amazing hi-res images of the Sun (no spots, just granulation details) • and of comets Lulin (more) and Boattini (light curve). • An NLC animation of 2 July is contained in this story; these super-high clouds have been quite active recently, even at 48° latitude. • Finally, do you believe that this is an image of M 57 in broad daylight? A heated debate is going on right now ...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Planets/Regulus line-up, Jupiter opposition visual highlights in July

Already low in the evening skies for Northerners, a line-up of Saturn, Mars & Regulus and various closest approaches of the three objects promise to be the main visual sky event, followed by Jupiter's opposition:
  • July 1: Mars 0.7° from Regulus
  • July 6: Moon passes Mars & Saturn
  • July 9: Jupiter in opposition (there have been great views from down under and even possible details on Ganymede imaged)
  • July 11: Mars 0.6° from Saturn
  • July 12: Venus greatest brilliance in evening sky
The current trio of bright dots may actually have been responsible for several UFO reports like this in which the visibility lasted long ...

In other news there are indications that comet Lulin may be taking off: It's now at 10.6 mag. and could put on a nice show next February. Also • a picture of Boattini from June 28, • a dramatic prominence animation and • Mike Brown setting ground rules for debating "what's a planet" ...