Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Series of solar flares excites high latitudes, leaves others in the dark

Several flares and coronal mass ejections between Jan. 19 (see last time graf 2) and 27 caused a lot of excitement and managed to enhance auroral activity at high latitudes but left observers farther away - e.g. in central Europe - waiting in vain. While on Jan. 22 at least the northern British Isles got a nice show, on Jan. 24 - covered in great detail by this live-blog with maaany links - the action remained restricted to around the regular auroral oval. The proton storm the latter CME caused was the strongest since 2003, but the - aurora-relevant - geomagnetic storm never exceeded a meager G1: This made the high-latitude aurora a bit more intense perhaps but it is practically always present, as most news coverage - as confused as ever - failed to point out. Here are links about an X flare on Jan. 27 (video, coverage, more, more and more) and C flares an Jan. 26, all ineffective. Earlier why the M9 flare on Jan. 23 and its CME didn't "work" for lower latitudes, selected high latitude pictures here (from a Hurtigruten ship), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, videos here, here and here and coverage here, here, here, here, here, here and hier.

Finally the effects of the Jan. 19 flare on Jan. 22 were mostly covered in the live-blog; here are a nice picture, Norwegian videos of Jan. 22 and Jan. 21-23 - and documentation of auroral theft (the original pictured had been linked to twice in the blog) ... More solar-terrestrial links: new efforts in forecasting, an interview on space weather effects, a guide for aurora in Germany, solar wind predictions, the Kp value plotted for Jan. 22-24 (and during a real storm), the lack of solar cycle effects on climate demonstrated during the past minimum, the apparent non-role of the Sun in the Little Ice Age (blame it on volcanos; more and mehr), sunspot physics details, near-Earth electron escape and high solar activity removing space junk from orbit. • Elsewhere in the solar system Uranus has crossed the celestial equator for good and stays north for 42 years now. • Jupiter on Jan. 26 and Jan. 25, Jupiter, Moon & Venus on Jan. 29 (deep; Finland at 62.5°N) and Jan. 27 (video; Slovakia at 48.5°N) and Mars on Jan. 28 (more) and Jan. 17.

Minor planet Eros is in perigee today, the closest in decades! The parallax campaign is in full swing, with the object quick in the sky, also seen in this video and trail image of Jan. 29 - and it's changing its brightness quite a bit as the strange body rotates. • The tiny NEO 2012 BX34 came to within 60,000 km of the Earth's surface: pictures and animations here, here, here and here and stories here, here, here and here. • Plus the physics of lunar impact flashes, an Al Jazeera clip on meteorite searching in Oman - great science on TV at an unexpected place! - and a mini-paper on the Shiva crater candidate.

In the world of comets the weird story of the "shy comet" P/2003 T12 (SOHO) recovered by STEREO now. • Images of comet Garradd of Jan. 31 (just hours ago; more), Jan. 30, Jan. 29 (dito), Jan. 26, Jan. 22 (dito) and Jan. 21. • Comet Lovejoy - here's a great picture collection! - is still there, with an exceedingly faint tail: pictures of Jan. 30 and Jan. 28 - plus a very tough sighting from New Mexico, also mentioned here. • Another article on the comet near the Sun last July.

Sky highlights to be expected in February include the possibility to see all 5 bright planets in one night as Mercury begins its best evening apparition of 2012 in mid-month. There will also be a close Venus-Uranus conjunction on Feb. 9, and a star occultation by Quaoar on Feb. 17. • Finally a story on an amateur SN hunt (20 observers, 200+ successes), another analemma success, observations of a rocket fuel dump and a Yosemite timelapse movie with some astronomy from 2:20-3:20.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Decision on leap second postponed - world time & Earth rotation remain linked (for now)

A panel of the International Telecommunication Union - which these days feels responsible for defining time, something astronomers used to do - has postponed a decision to abandon the leap second for another three years as no clear majority was evident: see reports here, here, here, here, here, here, here and hier for further details, context and opinons as well as a nice Al Jazeera news clip and reports before the non-decision here, here, here and here. Perhaps the 3 years gained will now be used for an open debate involving society (and astronomers, please!) as a whole? How the differing opinions of the ITU members came to be is hard to fathom; in the U.S. the State Department was in charge, for example, and in Germany the Bundesnetzagentur. Who asked whom for input prior to the 2012 gathering is also difficult to access, e.g. the members of the American Astronomical Society were not asked for their opinion while the IAU somehow felt it had the authority to support abandoning the leap second (according to documents this blog obtained; sorry, no links). Anyway, it didn't happen, and Earth rotation and Universal Time Coordinated remain linked for the time being, with the next leap second due this June 30 anyway.

The biggest news elsewhere in the Universe is a 13 mag. supernova in NGC 3239 in Leo, SN 2012A, which is also discussed here, here, here and here. • The Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey is making headlines with its many discoveries of variable things in the sky; also more insights about and one amateur's light curve of Epsilon Aurigae's last eclipse. • On the Sun an M flare that may have terrestrial FX tomorrow (or perhaps not so much), a Jan. 2 prominence movie and magnetic measurements. • Jupiter on Jan. 15 (more), Jan. 4 (movie!), Jan. 2 (with moons & Moon) and in Nov. 2011 and Mars on Jan. 16, Jan. 15 (more), Jan. 11, Jan. 9, earlier and still earlier, plus a cool 'trailer' for the Transit of Venus.

Comet Lovejoy is still around but the tail of the - formerly 'great' - comet has faded extremely: pictures of Jan. 20, Jan. 19, Jan. 18, Jan. 18+16, Jan. 16, Jan. 15 (with a 43° tail), Jan. 14 (stark processing; at LMC; dito), Jan. 13 (over the LMC), Jan. 12 (dito), Jan. 7, Jan. 6 (dito), Jan. 5 (dito, dito), Jan. 4, Jan. 3 (dito, dito), Jan. 2 (dito, dito), Dec. 31, Dec. 29 and Dec. 28 (the latter two from the ISS), a movie covering 6 days, picture collections here, here, here, here, here, here and here, a visual report from Jan. 2, coverage of Jan. 3 (dito, dito) and early speculations (related video - and a counterview). • Also the July 2011 case of comet observed being destroyed in the sun has been analyzed: press releases here and here, corollary thoughts and coverage here, here and here.

In other comet news comet C/2010 G2 (Hill) is in outburst: pictures of Jan. 12, Jan. 10, Jan. 5, Jan. 3 and Jan. 2, plus the comet in STEREO images and during an earlier outburst. • Comet Garradd on Jan. 16, Jan. 5 and Jan. 4, Arend-Rigaux among galaxies on Jan. 19, comet C/2012 A2 (LINEAR) and many comets with Faulkes. • A reminder about the Eros Parallax Campaign beginning Jan. 28 (more and more) and detections of Eros by yours truly with a simple camera on a tripod with long and even short focal length. • Also a detection of Apophis with a 60 cm scope (not affecting the impact risk - very low anyway - much), an 'Orwellian' retraction of an asteroid and papers on asteroid activity and rotation. • A rare fall of Mars meteorites last year in Marocco is now confirmed (more, more, more, more and more) - and wine aged with a meteorite is making headlines ...

In other news the Quadrantids 2012 didn't perform that well (with a maximum ZHR of only ~80) but were nice for photographers: composite images here, here, here and here, a comparision DSLR vs. video, a video clip and picture collections here, here and here. • How to photograph the ISS crossing the Moon (more) and utter BS about the X-mas Soyuz stage reentry - sigh ... • A call for amateur radio observations (of meteors in Earth's atmosphere) in support of the LADEE mission to the Moon. • And finally another astrophotography contest and a new astrophotography blog - featuring many pictures taken from Bonn, Germany. High contrast & vivid colors despite the urban location of the 50-cm telescope employed!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lovejoy's tail still dozens of degrees long but surface brightness way down

Only under the best conditions is the long narrow tail of comet Lovejoy - still stretching for almost 40° - easily visible in the sky, elsewhere it isn't even a naked-eye object anymore: This Great Comet is only a shadow of its former self. Still photographs (exposed for several minutes) continue to show an amazing object, and the fading tail might get even longer by mid-January, though some image enhancement techniques will be necessary to bring its full length out. Some picture collections by Tabur, Garradd, Gerry, Mattiazzo and Hao (more, more, details) from Australia, pictures from Argentina and an undated one.

Selected views of Jan. 1 (more, more and more), Dec. 31 (more and more), Dec. 30 (more, more, more and more in weird projection), Dec. 29 (more), Dec. 28 (more, more, more, more and more), Dec. 27 (more, more, more, more, more, details, more, more, more, more, more, more, a rise video and an ISS view, alt.), Dec. 26 (more and Dec. 21 ... 26), Dec. 25, Dec. 23 and Dec. 22 (in an all-sky video). Also visual reports from Jan. 1 (still 39° tail), Dec. 31 (no longer naked-eye), Dec. 30 (earlier) and Dec. 27 - and coverage of Jan. 1, Dec. 31, Dec. 29, Dec. 28 (dito), Dec. 27 (down; dito, dito) and and Dec. 26. • There are also two new Boattini comets, P/2011 Y2 and C/2011 Y3.

Heavenly highlights in January 2012 - see also hier & hier - include an asteroid transit in front of Betelgeuze (with the star's disk x10 larger than the asteroid; can that be observed?) on Jan. 2, the Quadrantids peaking on Jan. 4 (more & more) and a rare Earth approach of asteroid Eros on Jan. 31: This has led to a call to capture its parallax as a reenactment of a famous technique to measure the AU; concrete details are still being planned. • For the full year 2012 some highlights, what the planets and meteors have in store and what will be occulted by the Moon and minor planets; also a list of planet occultations by the Moon in 2012 and beyond. • Finally a helpful website about the state of space weather, some results from the Eps Aur event - and a FAQ, story (more, more & more), another video, TV coverage and all kinds of stuff (later, still later) about the Dec. 24 Soyuz upper stage reentry over Europe.