Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A lot of noctilucent cloud activity over Europe in recent days

The top story for the past three weeks is not entirely cosmic but nearly so: it's noctilucent clouds (NLCs) at over 80 km altitude, just where space is about to begin. This phenomenon (also good for a headline :-) has made news and even today's APOD and is filling up numerous picture galleries. Here are some selected reports and pictures from the evening of June 23 in Germany (also see the following pages; more), June 20 onwards, the morning of June 18 in the UK (more), the evening of June 17 in the UK (more and more), the evening of June 16 in Germany (more, more and more), Austria and the UK (more) and the morning of June 16 in the UK (more).

In planetary news there is a possible new red spot on Jupiter (seen also on June 23), we have a hi-res pic of Ganymede in front of it and further mutual event observations of June 10 (video and lightcurve) and June 2. Meanwhile the rings of Saturn have faded quite dramatically. • Constellation-wise here are on June 21 the Moon on June 21 from the U.S., the Moon and Mercury from Oz and the Moon and Pleiades from NZ, on June 20 up to three planets and the Moon from the U.S., from Germany (more), India (more and more) and Oz and June 19 the view from Canada (great pic!) and Oz. Also a Moon/Antares conjunction and an occultation - though in 2005.

Meteor-, small-body- and impact-wise news came about a fireball in Arizona on June 23, one in New Mexico on June 19 (more) and probably another one over the UK on June 15 (though initial reports were rather confusing). Also a fine fireball picture - and a vague prediction of a meteor superstorm in 2022, caused by comet SW3 which is to be found on this site. • The UK will get a telescope to hunt for NEOs while early-warning satellite data of bolides are no longer available to astronomers (who not all say it's a major blow, by the way).

• Some real meteorite stories regarding Camp Verde and Barringer - and then there was an obvious hoax story about a German boy being hit by a meteorite which then caused a crater in a road: The newspaper responsible for breaking (pun intended) the story has since quietly deleted it from its website but it lives on here (as does a sidebar), but by then it was big international news. Some individual stories here (from a German tabloid), here, here, here and here and online discussion here, here, here, here and here. Staying on the fringe, here, here, here and here we have a discussion of the likelyhood that a meteorite hits a plane in mid-air.

• A new comet named P/2009 L2 (Yang-Gao) is another Chinese amateur discovery: Here are a great pic of June 17 with a DSO and pics of June 21 and June 23. Just as in Feb. 2008 (see here and the preceding posts) the Chinese made the discovery public even before the comet was official - and the response from around the world was swift: Within hours picture after picture after picture after picture after picture after picture came in. • Other interesting current comets: Borrelly on June 12, Garradd on June 22 and June 16 and with a DSO and Christensen on June 21, June 20 (also an animation), June 18, June 15, June 14 and June 13.

In other news it has come out that Spica is an eclipsing binary, the Epsilon Aurigae campaign is making news here, here, here and here, the proper motion of Barnard's Star has been imaged over just 3 years, and we have amateur photometry of exoplanets TrES-3b (more) and CoRoT-2b. • There are now two spots on the Sun (also a prominence on June 13 and more June Sun pics), here are 30 great aurora pics, the aurora from space, an amazing picture of a sprite and a nice green flash. • The AMA has (see p. 52-3) accepted light pollution as a medical problem! • And finally a record-size lunar mosaic, an interview with D. Malin the astrophoto genius, 5 great telescopes for amateurs, an amateur's journey of 5 years, observing with a 30" telescope - and how astronomy is like sailing ...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Venus/Mars conjunction main attraction in June - and yet another lunar orbiter bites the dust

There are not many "planned" sky highlights in June which sees Saturn retract from the evening skies and Jupiter slowly entering them: see these, these, these, these, these, these and these previews. Throughout the month be on the look-out for noctilucent clouds which have already been sighted in several places since late May. One may further highlight
  • June 5: Venus in greatest Western elongation, 46° from the Sun.

  • June 10, 18:26 UTC: Impact of Kaguya on the Moon, a prelude to the impact of LCROSS in early October.

  • June 10, late UTC: Five moons of Saturn line up on the East of the planet.

  • June 13: Mercury in greatest Western elongation, 23½° from the Sun. Will stay invisible for Northerners, others should have the best view around June 20. And on June 21 the near-by lunar crescent may help finding it.

  • June 19: Venus 2° from Mars which slowly begins ins apparition; Moon nearby.

  • June 23: Dwarf planet Pluto in opposition, at 13.9 mag. in Sgr.
Recent sky pictures show Venus & Jupiter on May 31 (and in hi-res on June 1), Jupiter & Neptune on May 25, the crescent Moon on May 26 from the U.S. and Netherlands, on May 25 from the U.S. (again), Germany (a better pic), Austria, Romania and Turkey (more pics here and here); also hi-res pics of Mercury from April. • There has been more advertising for mutual events of Jovian moons, with new successes in Germany and Australia, with another resolved video.

In other news a substantial Potentially Hazardous Asteroid has been discovered by amateur astronomers: The uncertain initial orbit based on few data gave 2009 KD5 a size of about 1 km, as of today the PHA list has it at 18.2 absolute mag. which suggests a size of roughly 600 meters. • Asteroid-wise there are also a performance simulation of future sky surveys for NEO detection, a wire story with little merit about perfectly ordinary main-belt discoveries - and a strange company "selling" asteroid names which are of no merit whatsoever. • A meteorite that fell in India is now being investigated, other meteorites hit the auction block or yield new insights, namely the Tagish Lake specimens. • Two German TV stories on the Lolland fall are now also on YouTube, while a camera in Yuba, CA, is seeing many bolides.

• On the Sun the AR 1019 displayed a moderately complex sunspot group - which was gone on June 4th already. • Sun-related also some space storm physics and aurora prediction ideas, the benefits of the STEREO mission, ongoing daily solar drawing work on Mt. Wilson, a news collection on the upcoming July 22 TSE and a commentary on the solar minimum. • Finally some articles on amateur astronomers and CCDs vs. DSLRs, a nice photo demonstration of precession over 1/4 century, the constancy of Shedir, a veeery deep image of M 51 and another sighting of Herschel in deep space. And early impressions from the international lunar parallax project; this is what was needed.