Space News

 Posted 15th March 2017:

Daily Sun: 15 Mar 17
The sun is blank--no sunspots. Credit: SDO/HMI


Sunspot number: 0 
Updated 15 Mar 2017
Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 9 days
2017 total: 20 days (27%)
2016 total: 32 days (9%) 
2015 total: 0 days (0%) 
2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)

2009 total: 260 days (71%)

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Night Life in Antartica...
You'd think extreme cold in the dead of winter would keep Antarctic researchers inside. The staff of the Bharati Indian Base Station in Antarctica's Larsemann hills are an exception: "We can't stay inside," reports B. Sudarsan Patro. "The night life is just too amazing!"

Patro took this group self portrait on June 30th during a brilliant outburst of auroras. "They were so bright," he says, "the snow turned green. The sparkling display reminded us of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights."
This display shows that bright auroras can occur even when solar activity is very low. There were no sunspots, no solar flares, and no CMEs on June 30th, yet skies turned green anyway. Probably what happened is this: Earth passed through a region of space filled with negative-polarity magnetic fields


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Series on Atmospheres of the Planets of our Solar System...( Courtesy Universe Today)
Nature and the Universe has Blessed our beautiful Planet's Atmosphere as the most conducive and protective for us Humans..If only we can preserve and maintain it !
Nature does not need us, We need Nature !

C) :Mercury's Atmosphere:

Mercury is too hot and too small to retain an atmosphere. However, it does have a tenuous and variable exosphere that is made up of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and water vapor, with a combined pressure level of about 10-14 bar (one-quadrillionth of Earth’s atmospheric pressure). It is believed this exosphere was formed from particles captured from the Sun, volcanic outgassing and debris kicked into orbit by micrometeorite impacts.Because it lacks a viable atmosphere, Mercury has no way to retain the heat from the Sun. As a result of this and its high eccentricity, the planet experiences considerable variations in temperature. Whereas the side that faces the Sun can reach temperatures of up to 700 K (427° C), while the side in shadow dips down to 100 K (-173° C).


B): Venus' Atmosphere...How does the atmosphere of the Hottest Planet in our Solar System compare with ours ...Venus being our Neighbour.

Surface observations of Venus have been difficult in the past, due to its extremely dense atmosphere, which is composed primarily of carbon dioxide with a small amount of nitrogen. At 92 bar (9.2 MPa), the atmospheric mass is 93 times that of Earth’s atmosphere and the pressure at the planet’s surface is about 92 times that at Earth’s surface.

Venus is also the hottest planet in our Solar System, with a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C/863.6 °F). This is due to the CO²-rich atmosphere which, along with thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, generates the strongest greenhouse effect in the Solar System. Above the dense CO² layer, thick clouds consisting mainly of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets scatter about 90% of the sunlight back into space.

Another common phenomena is Venus’ strong winds, which reach speeds of up to 85 m/s (300 km/h; 186.4 mph) at the cloud tops and circle the planet every four to five Earth days. At this speed, these winds move up to 60 times the speed of the planet’s rotation, whereas Earth’s fastest winds are only 10-20% of the planet’s rotational speed.

Venus flybys have also indicated that its dense clouds are capable of producing lightning, much like the clouds on Earth. Their intermittent appearance indicates a pattern associated with weather activity, and the lightning rate is at least half of that on Earth.


A): The Earth's Atmosphere..How much do you know of it...How many "spheres are there ? What is the individual break up ? What is the famous Ozone Layer ?..
Earth's Atmosphere:
Earth's atmosphere, which is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide and other trace gases, also consists of five layers. 
These consists of the Troposphere, the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, the Thermosphere, and the Exosphere. As a rule, air pressure and density decrease the higher one goes into the atmosphere and the farther one is from the surface.Closest to the Earth is the Troposphere, which extends from the 0 to between 12 km and 17 km (0 to 7 and 10.56 mi) above the surface. This layer contains roughly 80% of the mass of Earth's atmosphere, and nearly all atmospheric water vapor or moisture is found in here as well. As a result, it is the layer where most of Earth's weather takes place.
The Stratosphere extends from the Troposphere to an altitude of 50 km (31 mi). This layer extends from the top of the troposphere to the stratopause, which is at an altitude of about 50 to 55 km (31 to 34 mi). This layer of the atmosphere is home to the ozone layer, which is the part of Earth's atmosphere that contains relatively high concentrations of ozone gas.
Next is the Mesosphere, which extends from a distance of 50 to 80 km (31 to 50 mi) above sea level. It is the coldest place on Earth and has an average temperature of around -85 °C (-120 °F; 190 K). 
The Thermosphere, the second highest layer of the atmosphere, extends from an altitude of about 80 km (50 mi) up to the thermopause, which is at an altitude of 500–1000 km (310–620 mi).The lower part of the thermosphere, from 80 to 550 kilometers (50 to 342 mi), contains the ionosphere - which is so named because it is here in the atmosphere that particles are ionized by solar radiation.  This layer is completely cloudless and free of water vapor. It is also at this altitude that the phenomena known as Aurora Borealis and Aurara Australis are known to take place.
The Exosphere, which is outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere, extends from the exobase - located at the top of the thermosphere at an altitude of about 700 km above sea level - to about 10,000 km (6,200 mi). The exosphere merges with the emptiness of outer space, and is mainly composed of extremely low densities of hydrogen, helium and several heavier molecules including nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxideThe exosphere is located too far above Earth for any meteorological phenomena to be possible. However, the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis sometimes occur in the lower part of the exosphere, where they overlap into the thermosphere.
The average surface temperature on Earth is approximately 14°C; but as already noted, this varies. For instance, the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 70.7°C (159°F), which was taken in the Lut Desert of Iran. Meanwhile, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was measured at the Soviet Vostok Station on the Antarctic Plateau, reaching an historic low of -89.2°C (-129°F).

From Universe Today



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Posted 9th September 2015:
The Moon, just a couple days before new phase and the upcoming partial solar eclipse, joins Venus and Mars in the dawn sky on Thursday Sept. 10. Well below the triplet, look for returning Jupiter.But if you get up early and look east, you’ll discover where the party is. Venus, Mars and now Jupiter
Source: Stellarium



Posted 28th August:

RARE GIGANTIC JETS ABOVE HURRICANE HILDA:

On 12th/13th August, a rare apparition of sprites above Hurricane Hilda was reported and shot. 
Steve Cullen, who lives in Hawaii where the storm is heading, spotted them in video from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope CloudCam atop Maunakea. A closer look at the video, however, reveals that the dancing forms were not sprites. 
See the Video here

Instead, Hurricane Hilda has gigantic jets:
Gigantic jets are lightning-like discharges that spring from the tops of thunderstorms, reaching all the way from the thunderhead to the ionosphere more than 50 miles overhead. They're enormous and powerful.

"Gigantic jets are much more rare than sprites," says Oscar van der Velde, a member of the Lightning Research Group at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. "While sprites were discovered in 1989 and have since been photographed by the thousands, it was not until 2001-2002 that gigantic jets were first recorded from Puerto Rico and Taiwan." Only a few dozen gigantic jets have ever been seen, mostly over open ocean.

Gigantic jets, and their cousins the sprites, reach all the way up to the edge of space alongside meteors, noctilucent clouds, and some auroras. This means they are a true space weather phenomenon. Indeed, some researchers believe cosmic rays help trigger these exotic forms of lightning, but the link is controversial.


Reprint from Spaceweather.

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Posted 18th August 2015...

Indian Mars Orbiter Shoots Spectacular New Images of Sheer Canyon and Curiosity’s Crater...
by Ken Kremer


The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has published a beautiful gallery of images featuring a steep and stunning Martian canyon and the landing site of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover.

This view over the Ophir Chasma canyon on the Martian surface was taken by the Mars Colour Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). Ophir Chasma is a canyon in the Coprates quadrangle located at 4° south latitude and 72.5° west longitude. It is part of the Valles Marineris canyon system. Credit: ISRO


This view over the Ophir Chasma canyon on the Martian surface was taken by the Mars Colour Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). Ophir Chasma is a canyon in the Coprates quadrangle located at 4° south latitude and 72.5° west longitude. It is part of the Valles Marineris canyon system. Credit: ISRO

Here’s an illuminating and magnificent 3D portrayal of Ophir Chasma created by Indian scientists that gives a sense of the canyons scale, sheer walls and cliffs and depth:

 3D portrayals of Ophir Chasma terrain based on images taken by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission color camera on 19 July 2015 . Credit: ISRO

 ISRO also released a delightful new image of Gale Crater and the surrounding vicinity.

Gale Crater is the landing site of NASA’s Curiosity rover. MOM took the image from an altitude of 9004 kilometers. Gale Crater is home to humongous Mount Sharp, a mountain that rises 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from the crater floor and is easily visible in the photo from MOM. The crater is 154 kilometers (96 mi) wide.




 Read More details on this here

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Posted 30th June 2015..

Photo credit: Jeff Dia of Tibet. June 27th
 

You have got to see this. Venus and Jupiter are having a spectacular close encounter in the sunset sky.
Just step outside after sunset and face west. Venus and Jupiter are less than a degree apart. Don't wait until the sky fades to black. A tight conjunction of Venus and Jupiter framed by twilight blue has a special beauty that you won't want to miss.

The night of closest approach is June 30th, when Venus and Jupiter will be only 1/3rd of a degree apart. If you have binoculars or a small telescope, point them at the planets. Both will fit in the same field of view, allowing you to see the fat crescent phase of Venus and the moons of Jupiter simultaneously. It's a great way to end the day.

 From Spaceweather.com

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Posted 1st May 2015
Watch an Enormous “Plasma Snake” Erupt from the Sun
by JASON MAJOR 



SOHO LASCO C2 (top) and SDO AIA 304 (bottom) image of a solar filament detaching on April 28-29, 2015

Over the course of April 28–29 a gigantic filament, briefly suspended above the surface* of the Sun, broke off and created an enormous snakelike eruption of plasma that extended millions of miles out into space. 

The event was both powerful and beautiful, another demonstration of the incredible energy and activity of our home star…and it was all captured on camera by two of our finest Sun-watching spacecraft.

Made from data acquired by both NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the joint ESA/NASA SOHO spacecraft, the video was compiled by astronomer and sungrazing comet specialist Karl Battams. It shows views of the huge filament before and after detaching from the Sun, and gives a sense of the enormous scale of the event.

At one point the plasma eruption spanned a distance over 33 times farther than the Moon is from Earth!
Watch a video of the event here....

from Universe today..




Posted 24th April 2015

VOLCANIC LIGHTNING:
For the first time in more than 42 years, the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile has erupted. Two blasts in 24 hours on April 22nd sent plumes of ash and volcanic gases shooting at least 33,000 feet high, well into the altitudes where planes fly. One of the eruptions occured at night and put on a spectacular display of volcanic lightning:
 

 Courtesy SpaceWeather.com

Stunning Photo of Volcanic Lightning at Volcán de Colima in Mexico...

The Colima Volcano (Volcán de Colima) pictured on March 29, 2015 with lightning arcing through the ash plume. Credit and copyright: César Cantú.

The Colima Volcano (Volcán de Colima) pictured on March 29, 2015 with lightning arcing through the ash plume. Credit and copyright: César Cantú.
The Colima volcano in Mexico is active again, and has been spewing out large plumes of ash nearly 3 kilometers into the air. Astrophotographer César Cantú captured this spectacular picture of lightning slicing through the cloud of ash.
 Courtesy Universe Today

Researchers have long known that volcanic eruptions produce strong lightning. Findings published in a 2012 Eos article reveal that the largest volcanic storms can rival massive supercell thunderstorms in the American midwest. 
But why? Vagarians, Please give your Answers to this query >>>>

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Posted 2nd April 2015

Very Interesting development for Meteorology...Must Read...

NASA’s RapidScat Ocean Wind Watcher Starts Earth Science Operations at Space Station... Read here



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Posted 19th February 2015
Catch a ‘Conjunction Triple Play’ on February 20th as the Moon Meets Venus & Mars



The first sighting opportunities for the slim waxing crescent Moon will come Thursday night on February 19th. And don’t miss the main event on Friday, February 20th when Mars, Venus and the two day old waxing crescent Moon all fit within a two degree diameter circle — about four Full Moon diameters — prior to sunset.  

You can’t miss brilliant Venus, shining at -4th magnitude as the 3rd brightest natural object in the sky next to the Sun and the Moon. The closest conjunction of Venus and Mars actually occurs just 48 hours later, when they both fit within a 30’ field of view on the evening of Sunday, February 21st.

"Universe Today"
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Posted 24th January 2015

Big Asteroid 2004 BL86 Buzzes Earth on January 26:

A lot of asteroids pass near Earth every year. Many are the size of a house, make close flybys and zoom out of the headlines. 2004 BL86 is a bit different. On Monday evening January 26th, it will become the largest asteroid to pass closest to Earth until 2027 when 1999 AN10 will approach within one lunar distance.


This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will safely pass by the Earth on January 26th. Closest approach occurs around 10 a.m (CST) that day. The asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. Click here to see an animation. 
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Big is good. 2004 BL86 checks in at 2,230 feet (680-m) wide or nearly half a mile. Add up its significant size and relatively close approach – 745,000 miles (1.2 million km) – and something wonderful happens. This newsy space rock is expected to reach magnitude +9.0, bright enough to see in a 3-inch telescope or even large binoculars.

This is a rare opportunity then to see an Earth-approaching asteroid so easily. All you need is a good map as 2004 BL86 will be zipping along at two arc seconds per second or two degrees (four Moon diameters) per hour. That means you’ll see it move in real time like a slow satellite inching its way across the sky. Cool!
 


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Posted 13th January 2015

Cloud Streets over the Black Sea

 The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite captured this image of cloud streets over the Black Sea on January 8, 2015. 

Cloud streets are long parallel bands of cumulus clouds that form when cold air blows over warmer waters and a warmer air layer (temperature inversion) rests over the top of both. The comparatively warm water gives up heat and moisture to the cold air above, and columns of heated air called thermals naturally rise through the atmosphere. The temperature inversion acts like a lid. When the rising thermals hit it, they roll over and loop back on themselves, creating parallel cylinders of rotating air. As this happens, the moisture cools and condenses into flat-bottomed, fluffy-topped cumulus clouds that line up parallel to the direction of the prevailing winds.

   


NASA Earth Observatory image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC. Caption by Adam Voiland.

Instrument(s):

    Aqua - MODIS


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Posted 24th December....

Fantastically Colorful Clouds Spotted in Arctic Stratosphere

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS:  Once seen they are never forgotten.

 (No photoshop and tampering done in any pic put up by Vagaries)

A possible outbreak of polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) is underway around the Arctic Circle. Unlike normal grey-white clouds, which hug Earth's surface at altitudes of only 5 to 10 km, PSCs float through the stratosphere (25 km) and they are fantastically colorful. Ivar Marthinusen sends this picture of the phenonenon from Skedsmokorset, Norway:


"Right after sunset on Dec. 22nd, the clouds were so bright they were uncomfortable to look at directly," says Marthinusen.

Also known as "nacreous" or "mother of pearl" clouds, these icy structures form in the lower stratosphere when temperatures drop to around minus 85ºC. Sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors by diffraction and interference. Once thought to be mere curiosities, some PSCs are now known to be associated with the destruction of ozone.
"Nacreous clouds far outshine and have much more vivid colours than ordinary iridescent clouds, which are very much poor relations and seen frequently all over the world," writes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "Once seen they are never forgotten."

From Spaceweather


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Posted 20th December 2014


Noctilucent Clouds As of Nov. 22, 2014, the season for southern hemisphere noctilucent clouds is underway. The south polar "daisy" pictured below is a composite of near-real time images from NASA's AIMspacecraft.


Posted 12th November 2014

Radiation Dose Rate 30 Times higher than Ground Levels for a Plane Cruising at 39000 feet !...And That is when the Sun is quiet...!!

RADS ON A PLANE: On Nov. 11th, Tony Phillips of spaceweather.com flew from California across the USA to attend a science communications meeting in Washington DC. As an experiment, he decided to take a radiation sensor onboard the plane. The results were eye-opening. During the apex of his flight to DC, cruising 39,000 feet above the desert between Reno and Phoenix, he recorded a dose rate almost 30 times higher than on the ground below:


There was no solar storm in progress. The extra radiation was just a regular drizzle of cosmic rays reaching down to aviation altitudes. This radiation is ever-present and comes from supernovas, black holes, and other sources across the Milky Way.
In a single hour flying between Reno and Phoenix, the passengers on Phillips's flight were exposed to a whole day's worth of ground-level radiation--or about what a person would absorb from an X-ray at the dentist's office. That's not a big deal for an occasional flyer, but as NASA points out, frequent fliers of 100,000 miles or more can accumulate doses equal to 20 chest X-rays or about 100 dental X-rays. Lead aprons, anyone?

The radiation sensor is the same one that Earth to Sky Calculus routinely flies to the stratosphere to measure cosmic rays. It detects X-rays and gamma-rays in the energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV. These energies span the range of medical X-ray machines and airport security scanners. Indeed, when the sensor passed through TSA security at the airport, it began to buzz loudly, signaling a heavy dose of X-rays in the carry-on baggage scanner. TSA agents gathered around the instrument to investigate and they were quite interested when Phillips explained its function. Several wanted to know if they themselves were exposed to radiation in the vicinity of the scanner; a quick scan of the area revealed no leaks.
After boarding the plane, Phillips monitored radiation levels closely. Dose rates tripled within 10 minutes of take-off and remained high for the duration of the flight. This simple experiment shows that space weather can touch us even when the sun is quiet. Imagine what an actual solar storm could do....

From Spaceweather..experiment by spaceweather's Tony Phillips

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Posted 17th October 2014

GREEN COMET APPROACHES RED PLANET:  
On Sunday, Oct. 19th, Comet Siding Spring will pass only 140,000 km away from Mars. For comparison, that's about 1/3rd the distance between Earth and the Moon. For a while last year, astronomers thought the comet might actually hit Mars, setting off a cataclysmic climate change experiment, but now we know it's going to be a near miss. Last night, only three days before closest approach, astrophotographer Damian Peach snapped this picture:


"The comet is presently moving against the dense star clouds of the southern Milky Way," says Peach. "Soon, however, it will reach Mars."
That's good, because when the comet arrives, the atmosphere of the comet will likely brush against the atmosphere of Mars, possibly sparking auroras on the Red Planet. MAVEN could record these alien lights. (Universe Today)



Posted 15th October 2014




Animation of Pluto and Charon showing nearly a full rotation (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Now here’s something I guarantee you’ve never seen before: a video of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon showing the two distinctly separate worlds actually in motion around each other! Captured by the steadily-approaching New Horizons spacecraft from July 19–24, the 12 images that comprise this animation were acquired with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument from distances of 267 million to 262 million miles (429 million to 422 million km) and show nearly a full orbital rotation. Absolutely beautiful!

Pluto and Charon are seen circling a central gravitational point known as the barycenter, which accounts for the wobbling motion. Since Charon is 1/12th the mass of Pluto the center of mass between the two actually lies a bit outside Pluto’s radius, making their little gravitational “dance” readily apparent.
(The same effect happens with the Earth and Moon too, but since the barycenter lies 1,700 km below Earth’s surface it’s not nearly as obvious.)

 Launched January 19, 2006, New Horizons is now in the final year of its journey to the Pluto system.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Source : New Horizons 

Posted 22nd September...
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere as never done before. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.
The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns, in which MAVEN’s periapsis, or lowest orbit altitude, will be lowered from 93 miles (150 kilometers) to about 77 miles (125 kilometers). These measurements will provide information down to where the upper and lower atmospheres meet, giving scientists a full profile of the upper tier.

India's MOM ( Mangalyan)  follows. Expected to enter Mars' orbit on 24th September...


Posted 17th August 2014

A Spectacular Dawn Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter Set For August 18th

“What are those two bright stars in the morning sky?”
Set your alarm for 30 minutes before sunrise.  Venus and Jupiter are converging in the dawn sky for a beautiful conjunction that will wake you up fast. To see it, you'll need a clear view of the east-north-eastern horizon and … that's all.  No telescope is required. These are the two brightest planets in the Solar System, and they are visible to the naked eye even from light-polluted cities.

Which is Jupiter and which is Venus?  You can tell them apart by their luminosity: Venus shines 6 times more brightly than Jupiter, a result of Venus's super-reflective cloud cover and proximity to Earth.
Auroras Underfoot (signup)
As mid-August unfolds, the conjunction improves. The best morning to look is Monday, August 18th when Venus and Jupiter will be just two-tenths of a degree apart.


Posted 27th June 2014

GIGANTIC SPRITES OVER THE USA: See Video Here..(need to Log in/Register)

With the arrival of summer, thunderstorm activity is underway across the USA. We all know what comes out of the bottom of thunderstorms: lightning. Lesser known is what comes out of the top: sprites. "Lately there has been a bumper crop of sprites," reports Thomas Ashcraft, a longtime observer of the phenomenon. "Here is one of the largest' 'jellyfish' sprites I have captured in the last four years." The cluster shot up from western Oklahoma on June 23, so large that it was visible from Ashcraft's observatory in New Mexico 289 miles away:

"According to my measurements, it was 40 miles tall and 46 miles wide. This sprite would dwarf Mt. Everest!" he exclaims.

Also in New Mexico, Jan Curtis saw a cluster of red sprites just one night later, June 24. "I've always wanted to capture these elusive atmospheric phenomena and last night I was finally successful."

Although sprites have been seen for at least a century, most scientists did not believe they existed until after 1989 when sprites were photographed by cameras onboard the space shuttle. Now "sprite chasers" regularly photograph the upward bolts from their own homes.


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Posted 9th May 2014
X1-class solar flare on March 29, 2014 as seen by NASA’s IRIS (video screenshot) Credit: NASA/IRIS/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center
it’s an image of an X-class flare that erupted from active region 2017 on March 29, as seen by NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft. It was not only IRIS’s first view of such a powerful flare, but with four other solar observatories in space and on the ground watching at the same time it was the best-observed solar flare ever.

Posted 7th April 2014
This Pic snt and taken by vagarian Salil Kawli...on 15th April


The Opposition of Mars...Mars is Getting Closer to us...Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter.A video from Science@NASA has the details. A new ScienceCast video previews the April 2014 close approach of Mars....see Video here


By the time you finish reading this story, you'll be about 1,000 km closer to the planet Mars.

Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter. As March gives way to April, the distance between the two planets is shrinking by about 300 km every minute.  When the convergence ends in mid-April, the gulf between Earth and Mars will have narrowed to only 92 million km--a small number on the vast scale of the solar system.

Astronomers call this event an "opposition of Mars" because Mars and the Sun are on opposite sides of the sky.  Mars rises in the east at sunset, and soars almost overhead at midnight, shining burnt-orange almost 10 times brighter than a 1st magnitude star.

 There are two dates of special significance:

April 8th is the date of opposition,
when Mars, Earth, and the sun are arranged in a nearly-straight line.

If the orbits of Mars and Earth were perfectly circular, April 8th would also be the date of closest approach.  However, planetary orbits are elliptical--that is, slightly egg-shaped--so the actual date of closest approach doesn't come until almost a week later.

On April 14th, Earth and Mars are at their minimum distance: 92 million km, a 6+ month flight for NASA's speediest rockets. You won't have any trouble finding Mars on this night. The full Moon will be gliding by the Red Planet in the constellation Virgo, providing a can't-miss "landmark" in the midnight sky. 

Remarkably, on the same night that Mars is closest to Earth, there will be a total lunar eclipse.  The full Moon of April 14-15 will turn as red as the Red Planet itself. 

Although these dates are special, any clear night in April is a good time to look at Mars.  It will be easy to see with the unaided eye even from brightly-lit cities.  With a modest backyard telescope, you can view the rusty disk of Mars as well as the planet's evaporating north polar cap, which has been tipped toward the sun since Martian summer began in February. Experienced astro-photographers using state-of-the-art digital cameras can tease out even more—for example, dust storms, orographic clouds over Martian volcanoes, and icy fogs in the great Hellas impact basin. The view has been described by some observers as "Hubblesque."

Update:  By the time you finish reading this story, you'll be about 1,000 km closer to the planet Mars
.

Credits:

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA


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Posted 1st April 2014


1st Images from New NASA/JAXA GPM Rainfall Measuring Satellite Capture Tropical Cyclone in 3D

by KEN KREMER on MARCH 28, 2014
“The radar can scan through clouds to create a three dimensional view of a clouds structure and evolution.”
3D view inside an extra-tropical cyclone observed off the coast of Japan, March 10, 2014, by GPM’s Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar. The vertical cross-section approx. 4.4 mi (7 km) high show rain rates: red areas indicate heavy rainfall while yellow and blue indicate less intense rainfall. Credit: JAXA/NASA
3D view inside an extra-tropical cyclone observed off the coast of Japan, March 10, 2014, by GPM's Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar. The vertical cross-section approx. 4.4 mi (7 km) high show rain rates: red areas indicate heavy rainfall while yellow and blue indicate less intense rainfall.   Credit:  JAXA/NASA
An extra-tropical cyclone seen off the coast of Japan, March 10, 2014, by the GPM Microwave Imager. The colors show the rain rate: red areas indicate heavy rainfall, while yellow and blue indicate less intense rainfall. The upper left blue areas indicate falling snow. Credit:  NASA/JAXA

An extra-tropical cyclone seen off the coast of Japan, March 10, 2014, by the GPM Microwave Imager. The colors show the rain rate: red areas indicate heavy rainfall, while yellow and blue indicate less intense rainfall. The upper left blue areas indicate falling snow. Credit: NASA/JAXA
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Weather researchers worldwide now have the ability to capture unprecedented three-dimensional images and detailed rainfall measurements of cyclones, hurricanes and other storms from space on a global basis thanks to the newest Earth observing weather satellite – jointly developed by the US and Japan.
NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have now released the first images captured by their Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite.
GPM soared to space on Feb. 27, exactly one month ago, during a spectacular night launch from the Japanese spaceport at the Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island off southern Japan.
The newly released series of images show precipitation falling inside a vast extra-tropical cyclone cascading over a vast swath of the northwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,000 miles off the coast of eastern Japan.


The GMI instrument has 13 channels, each sensitive to different types of precipitation. Channels for heavy rain, mixed rain and snow, and snowfall are displayed of the extra-tropical cyclone observed March 10, off the coast of Japan. Multiple channels capture the full range of precipitation. Credit: NASA/JAXA
The GMI instrument has 13 channels, each sensitive to different types of precipitation. Channels for heavy rain, mixed rain and snow, and snowfall are displayed of the extra-tropical cyclone observed March 10, off the coast of Japan. Multiple channels capture the full range of precipitation. Credit: NASA/JAXA

“I knew we had entered a new era in measuring precipitation from space. We now can measure global precipitation of all types, from light drizzle to heavy downpours to falling snow.”
The imagery was derived from measurements gathered by GPM’s two advanced instruments: JAXA’s high resolution dual-frequency precipitation (DPR) radar instrument (Ku and Ka band), which imaged a three-dimensional cross-section of the storm, and the GPM microwave imager (GMI) built by Ball Aerospace in the US which observed precipitation across a broad swath.
“The GMI instrument has 13 channels that measure natural energy radiated by Earth’s surface and also by precipitation itself. Liquid raindrops and ice particles affect the microwave energy differently, so each channel is sensitive to a different precipitation type,” according to a NASA statement.
On March 10, 2014 the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory passed over an extra-tropical cyclone about 1,055 miles (1,700 km) east of Japan's Honshu Island. Formed when a cold air mass wrapped around a warm air mass near Okinawa on March 8, it moved NE drawing cold air over Japan before weakening over the North Pacific.   Credit:  NASA/JAXA
On March 10, 2014 the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory passed over an extra-tropical cyclone about 1,055 miles (1,700 km) east of Japan’s Honshu Island. Formed when a cold air mass wrapped around a warm air mass near Okinawa on March 8, it moved NE drawing cold air over Japan before weakening over the North Pacific. Credit: NASA/JAXA



Posted on 12th february 2014

Possession Island, East Island, and cloud patterns


Read here for full details....

Posted on 24th Jan 2014

Water Detected on Dwarf Planet Ceres

Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres.
"This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere," said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.
splash
An artist's concept of Ceres with vaporous jets in the asteroid belt.
Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions. Data from the infrared observatory suggest that plumes of water vapor shoot up from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly.
The results come at the right time for NASA's Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.
"We've got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don't have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself," said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity."
For the last century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system's main belt of asteroids.
Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system's existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

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Mars is much colder for thermometers than for people..

Latest Thermometer readings at Gale crater (winter)-> -29 c / -114 c (Colder than Earth winters ?) .. wind speeds around 10 kmph ..

The corresponding EET (Earth Equivalent Temperatures) - > -4 c / -28 c ..
This feels like Inner Mongolia /Xinjiang/ Qinghai (all China provinces) winters ..

A)Because of rarified atmosphere on Mars transfer of heat by convection is feeble..
B)Also a Martian wind speed of 100 kmph might feel like a breeze of 10 kmph because Mars is almost vacuum ( 1% air pressure of Earth)..
from Rohit

Posted on 25th December 2013
A rare Christmas conjunction of stars..which includes our own Planet !
Unlike conjunctions of the distant past, this one includes our home planet. STEREO-B is located on the far side of the sun where it can look back and see Earth along with other worlds in the Solar System. Only NASA's twin STEREO probes, equipped with their high dynamic-range Heliospheric Imagers, can witness this kind of conjunction.
According to some scholars, the Star of Bethlehem might have been a close encounter between Venus and Jupiter. The two brightest planets in the night sky, merged, would have made a spectacle of Biblical proportions. This Christmas, NASA's STEREO-B probe is observing a conjunction of three planets--Venus, Earth and Jupiter:





Posted 14th December 2013
The Only Liquid Lakes other Than Planet Earth...a rare treat Video...see Here

Fly over the only known liquid lakes beyond Earth, courtesy of the radar aboard +NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn. 
Saturn’s moon Titan has the only known liquid lakes beyond planet Earth, and new data from the Cassini spacecraft’s radar instrument provides an intriguing 3-D flyover of these hydrocarbon lakes and seas at the north pole region.

The video starts by zooming into the southern end of Kraken Mare, the largest of Titan’s seas, and as you fly a little farther, Wall said the things that look like little islands are just noise in the radar data. Next, comes Ligea Mare, with its rugged coastline, and you’ll see that the liquid flow into the surrounding terrain, which appear like river valleys.

The “smooth” area that stretches farther from Ligea Mare is actualy not so smooth, but is just an area when the science team doesn’t have topographical data yet.
The video then continues to other smaller lakes that are nestled into valleys and rugged terrain.
The new results indicate the liquid is mostly methane, somewhat similar to a liquid form of natural gas on Earth.

. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS. And NASA Jet Propulsion Labs, Calif.



Posted 30th November 2013

First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft currently orbiting Earth prior to upcoming Trans Mars Insertion engine firing. Image is focused on the Indian subcontinent and captured from an altitude of 70,000 kilometers. Credit: ISRO
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – MOM is looking at you, kid!
And if the spectacular new image of billions of Earth’s children captured by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is any indication (see above), then we can expect absolutely gorgeous scenes of the Red Planet once the ground breaking probe arrives there in September 2014.
But despite all that’s been accomplished so far, the space drama is still in its infant stages – because MOM still needs to ignite her thrusters this weekend in order to achieve escape velocity, wave good bye to Earth forever and eventually say hello to Mars!


Posted 22nd November 2013

Super Pic of Comet Ison

Taken by Juan Carlos Casado on November 21, 2013 @ Teide Observatory, Tenerife, Canary Islands 

Posted 23rd october 2013

6 Apollo Lunar Landings Multiscreen..very interesting...see video here
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Wet Asteroid’s Remains Found In Old Star That Could Have Hosted Habitable Planets



Artist’s impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61. Credit: Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge

Remains of a water-filled asteroid are circling a dying white dwarf star, right now, about 150 light-years from us. The new find is the first demonstration of water and a rocky surface in a spot beyond the solar system, researchers say.

The discovery is exciting to the astronomical team because, according to them, it’s likely that water on Earth came from asteroids, comets and other small bodies in the solar system. Finding a watery rocky body demonstrates that this theory has legs, they said.

More intriguing, however, is researchers found this evidence in a star system that is near the end of its life. So the team is framing this as a “look into our future”, when the Sun evolves into a white dwarf .
The water likely came from a “minor planet” that was at least 56 miles (90 kilometers) in diameter. Its debris was pulled into the atmosphere of the star, which was then examined by spectroscopy. This study revealed the ingredients of rocks inside the star, including magnesium, silicon and iron. Researchers then compared these elements to how abundant oxygen was, and found that there was in fact more oxygen than expected.
The measurements were obtained in ultraviolet with the Hubble Space Telescope’s cosmic origins spectrograph. What’s more, the researchers suspect there are giant exoplanets in the area because it would take a huge push to move this object from the asteroid belt — a push that most likely came from big planet.

by ELIZABETH HOWELL
Source: University of Cambridge

Posted 4th September

Astrophoto: Aurora Dancing on the Water


An aurora seen in Norway on Aurora Borealis from September 2, 2013. Credit and copyright: Frank Olsen.

Big Bang’s Sound-Like Waves Show Up In Lab Simulation


Tracing back to the Big Bang. Image credit: Ivo Labbé

An ultracold vacuum chamber ran a simulation of the early universe and came up with some interesting findings about how the environment looked shortly after the Big Bang occurred.

Specifically, the atoms clustered in patterns similar to the cosmic microwave background — believed to be the echo of the intense burst that formed the beginning of the universe. Scientists have mapped the CMB at progressively higher resolution using several telescopes, but this experiment is the first of its kind to show how structure evolved at the beginning of time as we understand it.
The Big Bang theory (not to be confused with the popular television show) is intended to describe the universe’s evolution. While many pundits say it shows how the universe came “from nothing”, the concordance cosmological model that describes the theory says nothing about where the universe came from. Instead, it focuses on applying two big physics models (general relativity and the standard model of particle

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Posted 27th August 2013
Timelapse: Noctilucent Clouds and Aurora Together in the Sky

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=E7PQbfnErEw

Posted 25th August 2013

Just passing by: an animation of Iapetus briefly blocking a bright star in the constellation Orion. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Assembled by Jason Major.)
It’s a cosmic cover-up! No, don’t put your tinfoil* hats on, this isn’t a conspiracy — it’s just Saturn’s moon Iapetus drifting in front of the bright star Gamma Orionis (aka Bellatrix) captured on Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on August 10, 2013.
Such an event is called an occultation, a term used in astronomy whenever light from one object is blocked by another — specifically when something visually larger moves in front of something apparently smaller.


Posted 11th August 2013
Sprite Lightning Flash at 10,000 frames Per Second

Elusive sprite lightning captured from an airplane above eastern Oklahoma as part of a sprite observing campaign. Credit and copyright: Jason Ahrns.
Mysterious red sprite lightning is intriguing: sprites occur only at high altitudes above thunderstorms, only last for a thousandth of a second and emit light in the red portion of the visible spectrum. Therefore, studying sprites has been notoriously difficult for atmospheric scientists. Astro photographer Jason Ahrns has had the chance to be part of a sprite observing campaign, and with a special airplane from the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Research Aircraft Facility in Boulder, Colorado, has been on flights to try and observe red sprite lightning from the air.
Scientists say that while sprites have likely occurred on Earth for millions of years, they were first discovered and documented only by accident in 1989 when a researcher studying stars was calibrating a camera pointed at the distant atmosphere where sprites occur.
Sprites usually appear as several clusters of red tendrils above a lighting flash followed by a breakup into smaller streaks. The brightest region of a sprite is typically seen at altitudes of 65-75 km (40-45 miles), but often as high as 90 km (55 miles) into the atmosphere.
by NANCY ATKINSON 
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Posted 28th July 2013


The event is called The Day The Earth Smiled, and this is very cool for several reasons.

Hey Planet Earth! Get Ready to Smile and Wave for a Camera That’s a Billion Kilometers Away

 rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft 

July 19, 2013  In a special project, the Cassini spacecraft has taken an image of Earth, from the spacecraft’s orbit around Saturn. Specifically, Cassini is on the far side of Saturn when it snaps a picture of “us” between 21:27 to 21:42 UTC (5:27-5:42 pm EDT.) Cassini is in just the right spot that it can “see” Earth, but Saturn  blocking the glare from the Sun. There is a dramatic view of Saturn and its rings in the foreground, with Earth off in the distance. Our home planet won’t be much more than a few pixels in the image, but it will be “us, …everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was,” as Carl Sagan said about the Pale Blue Dot image taken by the Voyager spacecraft.

“It will be a day to revel in the extraordinary achievements in the exploration of our solar system that have made such an interplanetary photo session possible,” said Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute, who had the idea for this special image. “And it will be a day for all of us to smile and celebrate life on the Pale Blue Dot.”
by NANCY ATKINSON


Posted on 20th June 2013

Venus’ Winds Are Mysteriously Speeding Up to....

400 km/h (250 mph) in 2012. That’s nearly double the wind speeds found in a category 4 hurricane here on Earth!




High-altitude winds on neighboring Venus have long been known to be quite speedy, whipping sulfuric-acid-laden clouds around the superheated planet at speeds well over 300 km/h (180 mph). And after over six years collecting data from orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has found that the winds there are steadily getting faster… and scientists really don’t know why.

By tracking the movements of distinct features in Venus’ cloud tops at an altitude of 70 km (43 miles) over a period of six years — which is 10 of Venus’ years — scientists have been able to monitor patterns in long-term global wind speeds.
What two separate studies have found is a rising trend in high-altitude wind speeds in a broad swath south of Venus’ equator, from around 300 km/h when Venus Express first entered orbit in 2006 to 400 km/h (250 mph) in 2012. That’s nearly double the wind speeds found in a category 4 hurricane here on Earth!

A complementary Japanese-led study used a different tracking method to determine cloud motions, which arrived at similar results… as well as found other wind variations at lower altitudes in Venus’ southern hemisphere.

“Our analysis of cloud motions at low latitudes in the southern hemisphere showed that over the six years of study the velocity of the winds changed by up 70 km/h over a time scale of 255 Earth days – slightly longer than a year on Venus,” said Toru Kouyama from Japan’s Information Technology Research Institute. (Their results are to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.)
Both teams also identified daily wind speed variations on Venus, along with shifting wave patterns that suggest “upwelling motions in the morning at low latitudes and downwelling flow in the afternoon.” (via Cloud level winds from the Venus Express Monitoring Camera imaging, Khatuntsev et al.)
A day on Venus is longer than its year, as the planet takes 243 Earth days to complete a single rotation on its axis. Its atmosphere spins around it much more quickly than its surface rotates — a curious feature known as super-rotation.
“The atmospheric super-rotation of Venus is one of the great unexplained mysteries of the Solar System,” said ESA’s Venus Express Project Scientist Håkan Svedhem. “These results add more mystery to it, as Venus Express continues to surprise us with its ongoing observations of this dynamic, changing planet.”

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Posted on 4th June 2013

We are not the Centre of anything..not even our own Galaxy !


The sun’s newly classified neighborhood — the Local Arm, as shown in this picture — is more prominent than previously supposed. 

Some cultures used to say the Earth was the center of the Universe. But in a series of “great demotions,” as astronomer Carl Sagan put it in his book Pale Blue Dot, we found out that we are quite far from the center of anything. The Sun holds the prominent center position in the center of the Solar System, but our star is just average-sized, located in a pedestrian starry suburb — a smaller galactic arm, far from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
But perhaps our suburb isn’t as quiet or lowly as we thought. A new model examining the Milky Way’s structure says our “Local Arm” of stars is more prominent than we believed.
by ELIZABETH HOWELL

Posted on 17th May 2013

Bright Explosion on the Moon
See video here

"On March 17, 2013, an object about the size of a small boulder hit the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "It exploded in a flash nearly 10 times as bright as anything we've ever seen before."


Anyone looking at the Moon at the moment of impact could have seen the explosion--no telescope required.  For about one second, the impact site was glowing like a 4th magnitude star.
Ron Suggs, an analyst at the Marshall Space Flight Center, was the first to notice the impact in a digital video recorded by one of the monitoring program's 14-inch telescopes.  "It jumped right out at me, it was so bright," he recalls.
The 40 kg meteoroid measuring 0.3 to 0.4 meters wide hit the Moon traveling 56,000 mph.  The resulting explosion1 packed as much punch as 5 tons of TNT.
"On the night of March 17, NASA and University of Western Ontario all-sky cameras picked up an unusual number of deep-penetrating meteors right here on Earth," he says. "These fireballs were traveling along nearly identical orbits between Earth and the asteroid belt."

This means Earth and the Moon were pelted by meteoroids at about the same time.

NASA News 




Posted on 11th March

 Yesterday, March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) made its closest approach to the sun. Inside the orbit of Mercury, the comet was hit by solar rays ten times more intense than we experience on Earth. This sets the stage for a good show as Pan-STARRS, glowing brightly, moves into the night sky later this week. Dr. Fritz Helmut Hemmerich of Tenerife (Canary Islands) caught a hint of things to come on March 10th when he photographed the comet setting just behind the sun:

Visibility will improve in the nights ahead as the comet moves away from the sun. Dates of special interest include March 12th and 13th when Pan-STARRS passes not far from the crescent Moon. The tight conjunction on the 12th provides a splendid opportunity for sunset photographers.


Posted on 6th March :
seen in the Southern Hemisphere now...

On March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS makes its closest approach to the sun (0.3 AU). At that time, solar glare might make it difficult to see even as the nucleus vaporizes and brightens. 
On March 12th and 13th, the comet will reappear in the sunset sky--this time in the northern hemisphere not far from the crescent Moon;
 Light curves suggest that the comet's brightness will peak near 2nd magnitude, similar to the stars of the Big Dipper. 


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Posted on 14th Feb 2013

45 meter Asteroid to Skirt Very Near Earth on Feb 15




Our home planet is due for a record setting space encounter on Friday (Feb. 15) of this week, when a space rock roughly half a football field wide skirts very close by Earth at break neck speed and well inside the plethora of hugely expensive communications and weather satellites that ring around us in geosynchronous orbit.
“There is no possibility of an Earth impact” by the Near Earth Asteroid (NEO) known as 2012 DA 14, said Don Yeomans, NASA’s foremost asteroid expert at a media briefing. Well that’s good news for us – but a little late for the dinosaurs.
At its closest approach in less than 4 days, the 45 meter (150 feet) wide Asteroid 2012 DA14 will zoom by within an altitude of 27,700 kilometers (17,200 miles). That is some 8000 km (5000 miles) inside the ring of geosynchronous satellites, but far above most Earth orbiting satellites, including the 6 person crew currently working aboard the International Space Station.
Although the likelihood of a satellite collision is extremely remote, NASA is actively working with satellite providers to inform them of the space rocks path.
The razor thin close shave takes place at about 2:24 p.m. EST (11:24 a.m. PST and 1924 UTC) as the asteroid passes swiftly by at a speed of about 7.8 kilometers per second (17,400 MPH)- or about 8 times the speed of a rifle bullet. For some perspective, it will be only about 1/13th of the distance to the moon at its closest.



No known asteroid has ever passed so near to Earth.






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Posted on 9th February 2013
See Mercury at Sunset

Taken by Stefano De Rosa on February 8, 2013 @ Turin (Italy)

NASA has recently discovered a very strange planet.  Its days are twice as long as its years.  It has a tail like a comet. It is hot enough to melt lead, yet capped by deposits of ice. And to top it all off ... it appears to be pink.
The planet is Mercury.
From February 11th through 21st, the "pink planet" will be visible for as much as an hour after sunset.  February 11th is a date of special interest: a slender crescent Moon will appear straight above Mercury, providing guidance for novice sky watchers.

Mercury circles the sun about three times closer than Earth does, rotating just three times on its axis every two Mercury-years.  This slow-spin under the solar inferno bakes Mercury's surface bone-dry and raises its daytime temperature to 425 degrees Celsius, hot enough to melt lead.  This would seem an unlikely place to find deposits of ice, yet that is what the MESSENGER probe recently confirmed: Mercury has enough ice at its poles to encase Washington DC with a layer of frozen water two miles thick.

Ice on Mercury is possible because the tilt of planet's spin axis is almost zero -- less than one degree -- so there are pockets at the planet's poles that never see sunlight. Shadowed areas at each end of the heavily-cratered planet turn out to be cold enough to freeze and hold water.

A second planet is there, too.  Glowing faintly red, Mars is barely a degree from Mercury.  In binocular optics, Mercury and Mars form a charming little double-planet.

In some ways, Mercury itself resembles a comet with a long tail.  NASA's twin STEREO probes, on a mission to observe the sun, spotted Mercury's tail in 2008.  The MESSENGER probe has since flown through it.  The tail appears to be made of material blown off Mercury's surface by exposure to solar flares and the solar wind at point-blank range.  The pressure of sunlight pushes the tail in the anti-sunward direction, just like the tail of a comet.
With the sun currently approaching the maximum of its 11-year activity cycle, Mercury is getting hit by the stormiest space weather in years.  This is a great time for MESSENGER to study the processes that turn Mercury into a "comet-planet."

Mercury is a strange planet, indeed.  When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and see for yourself.
NASA Science News..


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Posted on 12th January 2013


AR1654 is a Monster Sunspot. (And It’s Aiming Our Way.)

Like an enormous cannon that is slowly turning its barrel toward us, the latest giant sunspot region AR1654 is steadily moving into position to face Earth, loaded with plenty of magnetic energy to create M-class flares — moderate-sized outbursts of solar energy that have the potential to cause brief radio blackouts on Earth and, at the very least, spark bright aurorae around the upper latitudes.
The image above, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory earlier today, shows the structure of AR1654 upon the Sun’s photosphere — its light-emitting “surface” layer. Stretching many tens of thousands of miles, this magnetic solar blemish easily dwarfs our entire planet.
And it’s not just a prediction that this sunspot will unleash a flare — it already has.


by JASON MAJOR



Posted on 6th January 2013

Image Caption: Photo mosaic shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover in action reaching out to investigate rocks at a location called Yellowknife Bay on Sol 132, Dec 19, 2012 in search of first drilling target. Curiosity’s navigation camera captured the scene surrounding the rover with the arm deployed and the APXS and MAHLI science instruments on tool turret collecting microscopic imaging and X-ray spectroscopic data. The mosaic is colorized. See the full 360 degree panoramic and black & white versions below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Following the Christmas season break for panoramic imaging of her surroundings, NASA’s Curiosity robot has resumed roving around the shallow depression she reached before the holidays called ‘Yellowknife Bay’ and just arrived at a slithery rock called ‘Snake River’.
The top priority is to locate a target rock to drill into – and that momentous event could at last take place in the next week or so. The drill is the last of Curiosity’s suite of ten science instruments to be fully checked out and commissioned for use.




Posted on 11th December:

Artist’s impression of an active volcano on Venus (ESA/AOES)



Are Venus’ Volcanoes Still Active?

by JASON MAJOR

Incredibly dense, visually opaque and loaded with caustic sulfuric acid, Venus’ atmosphere oppresses a scorched, rocky surface baking in planet-wide 425 ºC (800 ºF) temperatures. Although volcanoes have been mapped on our neighboring planet’s surface, some scientists believe the majority of them have remained inactive — at least since the last few hundreds of thousands of years. Now, thanks to NASA’s Pioneer Venus and ESA’s Venus Express orbiters, scientists have nearly 40 years of data on Venus’ atmosphere — and therein lies evidence of much more recent large-scale volcanic activity.








The last six years of observations by Venus Express have shown a marked rise and fall of the levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Venus’ atmosphere, similar to what was seen by NASA’s Pioneer Venus mission from 1978 to 1992.
These spikes in SO2 concentrations could be the result of volcanoes on the planet’s surface, proving that the planet is indeed volcanically active — but then again, they could also be due to variations in Venus’ complex circulation patterns which are governed by its rapid “super-rotating” atmosphere.


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Posted on 1st December

Ancient Microbes Found in Antarctic Lake



Posted on 25th November 2012
A Branching “Tree” of Solar Plasma..




A Branching “Tree” of Solar Plasma
by JASON MAJOR
Hydrogen-alpha photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman
An enormous tree-shaped prominence spreads its “branches” tens of thousands of miles above the Sun’s photosphere in this image, a section of a photo acquired in hydrogen alpha (Ha) by Alan Friedman last week from his backyard in Buffalo, NY.


The dark circle at upper left (added by photographer) shows approximately the scale size of Earth (12,756 km, or about 7,926 miles diameter.) As you can see, that particular prominence is easily six times that in altitude, and spreads out many more times wider… and this isn’t even a particularly large prominence! As far as solar activity goes, this is a non-event. 



Posted on 9th October ...
Curiosity Finds…SOMETHING…on Martian Surface
by JASON MAJOR


(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While scooping its first samples of Martian soil, NASA’s Curiosity rover captured the image above, which shows what seems to be a small, seemingly metallic sliver or chip of… something… resting on the ground. Is it a piece of the rover? Or some other discarded fleck of the MSL descent mechanisms? Or perhaps an exotic Martian pebble of some sort? Nobody knows for sure yet, but needless to say the soil samples have taken a back seat to this new finding for the time being.

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Posted on 23rd September..

Curiosity Captures a Martian Eclipse

Yes, Mars gets eclipses too! This brief animation, made from ten raw subframe images acquired with Curiosity’s Mastcam on September 13 — the 37th Sol of the mission — show the silhouette of Mars’ moon Phobos as it slipped in front of the Sun’s limb.

As a moon Phobos really is an oddity. In addition to its small size – only 16 miles (27 km) across at its widest – and irregular shape, it also orbits its parent planet at a very low altitude, only 5,840 miles (9,400 km) and thus needs to travel at a relatively high velocity in order to even stay in orbit. Phobos actually orbits Mars over three times faster than Mars rotates, appearing to rise in Mars’ western sky. And its orbit is so low that it can’t even be seen from the polar regions!


Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems. Animation by Jason Major. Inset image: Phobos as seen by Mars Express ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

by JASON MAJOR 


Posted on 14th September...

 Mars Is Earthlike As It Might Look, But Cold to the Bone !!
 The slopes of Gale Crater as seen by Curiosity are reminiscent of the American southwest (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

     “Gale Crater may look like the dusty, basaltic basins of the American southwest, but one look at the thermometer will send you running for the winter coat.”

    – Jeffrey Marlow, Martian Diaries


This fantastic images that are being returned from NASA’s Curiosity rover show a rocky, ruddy landscape that could easily be mistaken for an arid region of the American Southwest one must remember three things: this is Mars, we’re looking around the inside of an impact crater billions of years old, and it’s cold out there.

Over the first 30 sols, air temperature has ranged from approximately -103 degrees Fahrenheit (-75 Celsius) at night to roughly 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) in the afternoon. Two factors conspire to cause such a wide daily range (most day-night fluctuations on Earth are about 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit). The martian atmosphere is very thin; with fewer molecules in the air to heat up and cool down, there’s more solar power to go around during the day, and less atmospheric warmth at night, so the magnitude of temperature shifts is amplified. There is also very little water vapor; water is particularly good at retaining its heat, and the dryness makes the temperature swings even more pronounced.

In that way Mars is like an Earthly desert; even after a blisteringly hot day the temperatures can plummet at night, leaving an ill-prepared camper shivering beneath the cold glow of starlight. Except on Mars, where the Sun is only 50% as bright as on Earth and the atmosphere only 1% as dense, the nighttime lows dip to Arctic depths.

“Deserts on Earth have very extreme temperature ranges,” says Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project Scientist, Ashwin Vasavada. “So if you take a desert on Earth and put it in a very thin atmosphere 50% farther from the Sun, you’d have something like what we’re seeing at Gale Crater.”

And although the afternoon temperatures in Gale may climb slightly above freezing that doesn’t mean liquid water will be found pooling about in any large amounts. Curiosity’s in no danger from flash floods on Mars… not these days, anyway.

With atmospheric pressure just above water’s thermodynamic triple point, and temperatures occasionally hovering around the freezing point, it is likely that local niches are seeing above-zero temperatures, and Vasavada acknowledges, “liquid water could exist here over a tiny range of conditions.
“We wouldn’t expect for Curiosity to see liquid water, because it would evaporate or re-freeze too quickly,” explains Vasavada. “With so little water vapor in the atmosphere, any liquid water molecules on the surface would quickly turn to gas.”
 
by Jason Major, Universe Today.



Posted on 12th September 2012.
  It Only Happens on Mars: Carbon Dioxide Snow is Falling on the Red Planet

Observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected carbon-dioxide snow clouds on Mars and evidence of carbon-dioxide snow falling to the surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 
 

In 2008, we learned from the Phoenix Mars lander that it snows in Mars northern hemisphere — perhaps quite regularly – from clouds made of water vapor.

Now,Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data has revealed the clearest evidence yet of carbon-dioxide snowfalls on Mars. Scientists say this is the only known example of carbon-dioxide snow falling anywhere in our solar system.

“These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds,” said Paul Hayne from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead author of a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide — flakes of Martian air — and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface.”

Scientists have known for decades that carbon-dioxide exists ice in Mars’ seasonal and permanent southern polar caps. Frozen carbon dioxide, sometimes called “dry ice” here on Earth, requires temperatures of about -125 Celsius ( – 193 degrees Fahrenheit), which is much colder than needed for freezing water.

The data provide information about temperatures, particle sizes and their concentrations. The new analysis is based on data from observations in the south polar region during southern Mars winter in 2006-2007, identifying a tall carbon-dioxide cloud about 500 kilometers (300 miles) in diameter persisting over the pole and smaller, shorter-lived, lower-altitude carbon dioxide ice clouds at latitudes from 70 to 80 degrees south.

“One line of evidence for snow is that the carbon-dioxide ice particles in the clouds are large enough to fall to the ground during the lifespan of the clouds,” co-author David Kass of JPL said. “Another comes from observations when the instrument is pointed toward the horizon, instead of down at the surface. The infrared spectra signature of the clouds viewed from this angle is clearly carbon-dioxide ice particles and they extend to the surface. By observing this way, the Mars Climate Sounder is able to distinguish the particles in the atmosphere from the dry ice on the surface.”

Mars’ south polar residual ice cap is the only place on the Red Planet where frozen carbon dioxide persists on the surface year-round. Just how the carbon dioxide from Mars’ atmosphere gets deposited has been in question. It is unclear whether it occurs as snow or by freezing out at ground level as frost. These results show snowfall is especially vigorous on top of the residual cap.

“The finding of snowfall could mean that the type of deposition — snow or frost — is somehow linked to the year-to-year preservation of the residual cap,” Hayne said.
by Nancy Atkinson. Source Universe Today.


Voyager 1 becomes the farthest interstellar spacecraft to have ever gone into space..as it leaves our Solar System...


On September 5, 1977, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan-Centaur rocket. Thirty-five years later, the planetary probe is now an interstellar traveler, having traveled farther from Earth than any manmade object in history. As of September 4, 2012, Voyager 1 was 18.21 billion kilometers (11.31 billion miles) from home, or 121 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Light takes 33 hours and 44 minutes to travel the distance from the Sun to Voyager 1 and back.
Having long since passed its primary targets of Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 1 has been cruising for decades toward the edge of the solar system. In fact, researchers have analyzed data from the probe’s particle detectors, cosmic ray detectors, and magnetometer and found evidence that they have passed the termination shock and into the heliosheath—the outer edge of influence for solar wind plasma and energy from our Sun.The Voyager science team expects the spacecraft itself to pass out into that space sometime in the next year or so.


2 very interesting images from Voyager enroute..
images above were taken at a time when Voyager 1 was much closer to home. The top image of a crescent-shaped Earth and Moon was captured on September 18, 1977, when Voyager was a mere 11.66 million kilometers (7.25 million miles) from Earth
and



The lower image and inset—often referred to as “the Pale Blue Dot” image—was acquired on February 14, 1990, when the spacecraft was 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) from Earth and 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane. Earth is a mere point of light, just 0.12 pixels (picture elements) in size when viewed from that distance

Are we not a mere dot..not even a dot...in the Universe ??




Latest From Mars..Posted on 20th August


Curiosity Blasts 1st Mars Rock with Powerful Laser Zapper



Image Caption: PewPew !! – First Laser Zapped rock on Mars. This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. The composite incorporates a Navigation Camera image taken prior to the test, with insets taken by the camera in ChemCam. The circular insert highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the fist-sized rock, called “Coronation.” It is the first rock on any extraterrestrial planet to be investigated with such a laser test. ChemCam inaugurated use of its laser when it used the beam to investigate Coronation during Curiosity’s 13th day after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully blasted a Mars rock with a powerful laser beam, for the first time in history, today Aug. 19, inaugurating a revolutionary new era in planetary science with a new type of instrument that will deliver bountiful discoveries. The fist sized Martian rock zapped during the maiden laser target practice shots was appropriately dubbed “Coronation”.

The ChemCam instrument mounted at the top of Curiosity’s mast fired a total of 30 one-million watt pulses over a 10 second period at the 3 inch wide rock that vaporized a pinhead sized spot into an ionized, glowing plasma.

Each pulse lasted about five one-billionths of a second and was sufficient in energy to generate a spark of plasma to be observed with the ChemCam telescope and trio of spectrometers below deck in order to identify the elemental composition.
“Yes, I’ve got a laser beam attached to my head. I’m not ill tempered; I zapped a rock for science. PewPew,” tweeted Curiosity.
T
The NASA composite image above shows Coronation before and after the laser shots – watch out little Martians !


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Lataest Pics from Mars..Posted 0 9th August




Image Caption: Rover’s Self Portrait -This Picasso-like self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover was taken by its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover, while pointing down at the rover deck, up and straight ahead. Those images are shown here in a polar projection. Most of the tiles are thumbnails, or small copies of the full-resolution images that have not been sent back to Earth yet. Two of the tiles are full-resolution. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. 




Taken this morning (mission Sol 2) with the rover’s left Navcam, here’s a high-res panorama of Curiosity’s view at its landing site within Gale crater. The wide-angle view was assembled from two separate raw images, so while the mountainous rim of the crater is lined up horizontally there’s some distortion in alignment of objects closer to the rover due to the angle of the Navcam lens. Still, it’s a very cool view of Curiosity’s surroundings!
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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Posted on 4th August 

Curiosity Precisely on Course at T Minus 48 Hours till a ‘Priceless Asset’ Lands on Mars

At this moment the mega rover Curiosity is barely 48 hours from Mars and transformation into a “priceless asset” on the Red Planet’s surface where she’ll initiate the search for evidence for habitats of Martian microbial life – past or present.
“We are now about 1000 yards from the entry target that will bring us to the touchdown point on the North side of Gale Crater,” said Tomas Martin-Mur, MSL Navigation team chief of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., at an Aug. 2 MSL news briefing.
Curiosity is now less than 450,000 miles away from Mars, careening through space at over 8000 MPH (3576 m/s) and accelerating moment by moment due to the ever increasing pull of Mars gravity.
To put that in perspective, that’s less than twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon.



Posted on 2nd August 2012

Curiosity Landing on Mars..A Huge Event !..4 days from Mars !
Curiosity Completes Crucial Course Correction – 

Image Caption: Course correcting thruster firings on July 29 successfully placed Curiosity on target to touchdown beside Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater on Mars on Aug 6 in search of signs of a habitable environment. Credit: NASA


Now just 4 days out from landing beside a 3 mile high (5 km) layered Martian mountain in search of life’s ingredients, aiming thrusters aboard the cruise stage of NASA’s car sized Curiosity Mars Science Lab successfully fired to set the rover precisely on course for a touchdown on Mars at about 1:31 a.m. EDT (531 GMT) early on Aug. 6 (10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5).
Two precise and brief thruster bursts lasting about 7 seconds were successfully carried out just hours ago earlier today at 1 a.m. on July 29, EDT (10 p.m. PDT on July 28). The effect was to change the spacecraft’s velocity by about 1/40 MPH or 1 cm/sec as it smashes into Mars at about 13,200 mph (5,900 meters per second).
This was the fourth and possibly last of 6 interplanetary Trajectory Correction Manuevers (TCM’s) planned by mission engineers to steer Curiosity since departing Earth for the Red Planet.
If necessary, 2 additional TCM’s could be implemented in the final 48 hours next Saturday and Sunday before Curiosity begins plunging into the Martian atmosphere late Sunday night on a do or die mission to land inside the 100 mile wide Gale Crater with a huge mountain in the middle. All 6 TCM maneuvers were preplanned long before the Nov 26, 2011 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Without this course correction firing, MSL would have hit a point at the top of the Martian atmosphere about 13 miles (21 kilometers) east of the target entry point. During the preprogrammed Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) sequence the vehicle can steer itself in the upper atmosphere to correct for an error amounting to a few miles.
On landing day, MSL can steer enough during its flight through the upper atmosphere to correct for missing the target entry aim point by a few miles and still land on the intended patch of Mars real estate. The mission’s engineers and managers rated the projected 13-mile miss big enough to warrant a correction maneuver.
“The purpose of this maneuver is to move the point at which Curiosity enters the atmosphere by about 13 miles,” said Tomas Martin-Mur of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., chief of the mission’s navigation team. “The first look at telemetry and tracking data afterwards indicates the maneuver succeeded as planned.”by KEN KREMER


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Posted on 21st July
Exoplanet Gliese 581g is back, “officially” ranking #1 on a list of potentially habitable worlds outside of our solar system Orbiting a star 20 light-years away,
University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo’s Habitable Exoplanets Catalog as good places to look for Earthlike environments… and thus the possibility of life.
by JASON MAJOR


Posted on 19th July 2012

Bolt from the Blue: Giant Flash of Lightning Seen in Saturn’s Storm
by JASON MAJOR


(The circle at upper left illustrates the comparative size of Earth.)





An enormous storm that wrapped its way around Saturn’s northern hemisphere during the first half of 2011 wasn’t just a churning belt of high-speed winds; it also generated some monster flashes of lightning as well — one of which was captured on camera by the Cassini spacecraft!






Image credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute. Top composite by J. Major. Video: JPL



These images were acquired by Cassini almost two weeks later, on March 6, the first showing a bright blue flash of lightning within the storm, along the eastern edge of a large eddy. The second image, taken 30 minutes later, does not have any visible flash.

Because the flash was only visible in blue light (and there was no red channel data) the images are false color. Near-infrared replaced the visible red channel.



Based on the image resolution (12 miles/20 km per pixel) the size of the lightning flash is estimated to be about 120 miles (200 km) wide — as large as the strongest lightning seen on Earth. And like on Earth, Saturn’s lightning is thought to originate deeper in the atmosphere, at the level where water droplets freeze.



Although the 2011 northern storm was a great feature to observe, this wasn’t the first time lightning had been spotted on Saturn. Cassini had observed flashes on the ringed planet in August of 2009 as well, allowing scientists to create the first movie of lightning flashing on another planet.

Since its arrival at Saturn in 2004, Cassini has detected 10 lightning storms on Saturn — although with up to 10 flashes per second and eventually covering an area of 2 billion square miles (4 billion sq. km) the 2011 storm was by far the largest ever seen.






Posted on 13th July 2012
Swirling Aurora. Image Credit: Jason Ahrns

Mysterious Sounds Made by the Aurora Borealis..by NANCY ATKINSON

There have been legends and folktales about sounds associated with auroae, but most accounts were summarily dismissed as imagination or illusion. But researchers in Finland set up microphones in conjunction with an aurora observation site and over the past 12 years captured a “clapping” sound that occurs at certain times when the Northern Lights are ablaze in the sky.

“In the past, researchers thought that the aurora borealis was too far away for people to hear the sounds it made,” said Unto K. Laine from Aalto University in Finland. “However, our research proves that the source of the sounds that are associated with the aurora borealis we see is likely caused by the same energetic particles from the Sun that create the northern lights far away in the sky. These particles or the geomagnetic disturbance produced by them seem to create sound much closer to the ground.”



Posted on 12th June 2012


Here’s an amazing shot of a flash of lightning within storm clouds over west Africa, captured from orbit by ESA astronaut André Kuipers aboard the ISS.
Lightning is a common sight from Space Station, creating a constant light show for the astronaut and cosmonaut crew members. On average, lightning strikes the ground somewhere on Earth 100 times each second, and there are 5 to 10 times as many cloud-to-cloud flashes as there are ground strikes. That adds up to about 40 to 80 million flashes of lightning every day around the world! Considering that the ISS orbits Earth 16 times a day — and from quite a high viewpoint — it stands to reason that lightning is spotted quite often.




Posted on Monday, 23rd April
A Meteoroid the Size of a Mini-van Explodes over California....


On Sunday morning, April 22nd, just as the Lyrid meteor shower was dying down, a spectacular fireball exploded over California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. The loud explosion rattled homes from central California to Reno, Nevada, and beyond. According to Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Envronment Office, the source of the blast was a meteoroid about the size of a minivan.

"Elizabeth Silber at Western University has searched for infrasound signals from the explosion," says Cooke. "Infrasound is very low frequency sound which can travel great distances. There were strong signals at 2 stations, enabling a triangulation of the energy source at 37.6N, 120.5W. This is marked by a yellow flag in the map below."

"The energy is estimated at a whopping 3.8 kilotons of TNT, so this was a big event," he continues. "I am not saying there was a 3.8 kiloton explosion on the ground in California. I am saying that the meteor possessed this amount of energy before it broke apart in the atmosphere. [The map] shows the location of the atmospheric breakup, not impact with the ground."

"The fact that sonic booms were heard indicates that this meteor penetrated very low in atmosphere, which implies a speed less than 15 km/s (33,500 mph). Assuming this value for the speed, I get a mass for the meteor of around 70 metric tons. Hazarding a further guess at the density of 3 grams per cubic centimeter (solid rock), I calculate a size of about 3-4 meters, or about the size of a minivan."

"This meteor was probably not a Lyrid; without a trajectory, I cannot rule out a Lyrid origin, but I think it likely that it was a background or sporadic meteor."

Some people reported seeing a brilliant light streak across the sky at the same time. Sightings occurred over roughly a 600-mile line across the two states, including Reno, Elko and North Las Vegas in Nevada, and the San Francisco, Sacramento and Bakersfield areas in California.

“It made the shades in my room shake hard enough to slam into the window a couple times,” said Nicole Carlsen of the Reno area. “I kept looking for earthquake information, but (there was) nothing. I even checked the front of my house to make sure no one ran into the garage. I wish I had seen the meteor.”
Erin Girard-Hudson of Arnold, Calif., told The Union Democrat of Sonora, Calif., that the loud boom that occurred around 8 a.m. made her 2-year-old daughter, Elsie, cry.
“It knocked me off my feet and was shaking the house,” she said. “It sounded like it was next door.”




Posted on 8th March


Huge Dust Devil on Mars Captured in Action..by NANCY ATKINSON -Universe Today.





Mars orbiters, rovers and landers have all captured devils in action before. But this latest shot is a Super! The HiRISE camera (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken an image of an afternoon whirlwind on Mars lofting a twisting column of dust more than 800 meters (about a half a mile) high, with the dust plume about 30 meters or yards in diameter.

HiRISE captured the image on Feb. 16, 2012, in the Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars. Evidence of many previous whirlwinds, or dust devils, are visible as streaks on the dusty surface shown in the image.

Scientists from JPL said the active dust devil and its delicate arc were produced by a westerly breeze partway up its height.

Just like on Earth, winds on Mars are powered by solar heating. However, Mars is now farthest from the Sun, and even though the exposure to the Sun’s rays is now less, even so, the dust devils are moving dust around on Mars’ surface.

Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right.




Posted on 3rd March
Today’s Martian Weather: Partly Cloudy....


Changing seasons in Mars’ northern hemisphere brings a change in the weather, and the clouds have rolled in to cover part of the polar surface in this intriguing image from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.Mars Odyssey’s THEMIS visual imager (VIS) captured this image on Jan. 24, 2012, as it passed over the Red Planet’s northern pole during one of its 2-hour-long orbits.
Clouds on Mars have been seen before, both from orbit and from the surface. They are made up of fine water ice particles and are usually at altitudes of 10 to 15 km high.




Posted on 22nd Feb
SOLAR ECLIPSE from Space....


On Feb. 21st, the new Moon passed in front of the sun, off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse. The only place to see it was from space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) sends this picture from geosynchronous orbit approximately 36,000 km above Earth's surface:



Posted on 15th Feb

The Carrington Event
 by Anthony Watts and Taken from "Watts up with That"

While we worry about future threats like global warming, the sun’s propensity for belching out monstrous solar flares (like the Carrington event of 1859) could almost instantly create a world without modern conveniences, or even electricity.  The sun could literally “bomb us back to the stone age”.

Imagine a world without iPhones, and you’d understand why Homeland security rates New York and Seattle the highest for likelihood of major social unrest. Humans don’t do well in the dark. DHS has taken notice.



Above: A modern solar flare recorded Dec. 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense, it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture. Researchers believe Carrington’s flare was much more energetic than this one.

First some history, from NASA:

At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England’s foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory. Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw.

On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and “being somewhat flurried by the surprise,” Carrington later wrote, “I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled.” He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.

It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.

Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

“What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun,” explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


According to "Watts Up With That", it is not a matter of if, but when.

The likely outcome is a broad scale collapse of power grids, frying of satellites, and collapse of our delicate silicon based microelectronics networks. Fortunately, we may have enough warning to shutdown everything ahead of time to minimize damage, but will we do anything about it?


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Comet Lovejoy is now visible with the unaided eye… if you live in Australia,

When Comet Lovejoy was approaching the Sun, many astronomers thought that it wouldn’t survive the journey when it reached the closest point of its orbit. And so everyone was surprised when it appeared on the far side of the Sun, battered, but still intact. Again, many astronomers predicted that it would now fade away as it traveled away from the Sun.
Posted on Thursday ,22nd Dec,

Comet Lovejoy Rising by Colin Legg



Posted on 17th December
A very Rare and Spectacular Event occurred in Space Yesterday !!....


Five spacecraft witnessed something that many experts thought impossible.  Comet Lovejoy flew through the hot atmosphere of the sun and emerged intact.
Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC.  "I did not think the comet's icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us."
See a very rare video here.
the comet's tail wriggles wildly as the comet plunges through the sun's hot atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface. This could be a sign that the comet was buffeted by plasma waves coursing through the corona.  Or perhaps the tail was bouncing back and forth off great magnetic loops known to permeate the sun's atmosphere.  No one knows.
"This is all new," says Battams."There is still a possibility that Comet Lovejoy will start to fragment," continues Battams. "It’s been through a tremendously traumatic event; structurally, it could be extremely weak. On the other hand, it could hold itself together and disappear back into the recesses of the solar system."



By Tony Phiillips, Credit NASA
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Posted on Sunday, 11th December
astronomical scale picture sequences, where you go from the Earth to Jupiter to the Sun, then the Sun to Sirius – and all the way up to the biggest star we know of VY Canis Majoris.



Posted on 7th December
Total lunar Eclipse – December 10, 2011

During the evening of December 10, 2011, the Full Moon will slide through the dark shadow of our planet. For 51 minutes, the only light hitting the moon will be the reddish glow from all of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets – a Total Lunar Eclipse!
The moon will be situated in the constellation Taurus and near the most northerly point in the moon’s orbit at that time of the year. The circle is the earth shadow called the umbra.

Central and eastern Asia is where the eclipse can be best viewed and photographed.

Chandra Grahan, Total Lunar Eclipse, will take place on December 10, 2011 in India. According to NASA, Total lunar eclipse is visible in India, Dubai, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and United States. The eclipse will be taking place in India between Moonrise/6:16 PM on December 10 to 9:48 PM on December 10, 2011.

Total Lunar Eclipse - the moon is fully covered - is from 7:36 PM to 8:37 PM on December 10, 2011.

The eclipse in India begins during moonrise so the initial phase of eclipse will not be visible in most parts of India. The time is same throughout India as per NASA.

The December 10 lunar eclipse will be seen from Alaska, northern Canada, Australia, New Zealand, central Asia and eastern Asia. Viewers in most of North America and Hawaii will see the moonset still in eclipse.



For the Pacific Northwest viewers, the penumbral eclipse begins at 3:33 a.m. PST and the umbral shadow takes a small, dark bite out of the left edge of the moon starts at 4:45 a.m. PST. For 66 minutes of the partial phase, the darkness engulfs more of the moon’s disk as it slides into the shadow. The partial eclipse ends and totality begins at 6:06 a.m. PST and the point of the greatest eclipse occurs at 6:31 a.m. PST. The eclipse’s total phase will lasts for 51 minutes. The moon will be only 6.5 degrees above the north western horizon at the instant of the greatest eclipse.



Posted on 22nd November
A Must Share with Vagaries Readers...Unusual and intriguing Cloud Formation viz. "Cloud Streets"…see Space News Page

Cloud streets are long lines or bands of cumulus clouds that usually form within the lower one to three kilometers of the atmosphere, and come from eddies in the atmosphere.
Cloud streets form when cold air blows over warmer waters, while a warmer air layer—or temperature inversion—rests over top of both. The comparatively warm water of Hudson Bay gives up heat and moisture to the colder air mass above, and columns of heated air—thermals—naturally rise through the atmosphere. As they hit the temperature inversion like a lid, the air rolls over like the circulation in a pot of boiling water. The water in the warm air cools and condenses into flat-bottomed, fluffy-topped cumulus clouds that line up parallel to the wind.


NASA’s Terra satellite had a “drive by” of these clouds, observing them over Hudson Bay, Canada on November 20, 2011 at 12:25 p.m. EST (17:25 UTC). These rows of clouds stretch from northwest to southeast over the Hudson Bay.
Hudson Bay is a large body of saltwater located in northeastern Canada. Also in the image, are several snow-covered islands in Hudson Bay. The larger island to the north is South Hampton Island, and the smaller island east is Coats Island, and further east is Mansel Island.



Posted on 17th November 2011
New Evidence for Liquid Water on Europa

In a potentially significant finding in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists studying data from NASA's Galileo probe have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The water could represent a potential habitat for life, and many more such lakes might exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa’s shell, say researchers writing in the journal Nature.
The Galileo spacecraft, launched by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1989, provided scientists decades of data to analyze before the probe plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere in 2003. One of the most significant discoveries was the inference of a global salt water ocean below the surface of Europa. This ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa and contains more liquid water than all of Earth's oceans combined. However, being far from the sun, the ocean surface is completely frozen. Most scientists think this ice crust is tens of miles thick.
"This new understanding of processes on Europa would not have been possible without the foundation of the last 20 years of observations over Earth's ice sheets and floating ice shelves,” said Don Blankenship, a co-author and senior research scientist at the Institute for Geophysics, where he leads airborne radar studies of Earth’s ice sheets.
The authors have good reason to believe their model is correct. Still, because the inferred lakes are several miles below the surface, the only true confirmation of their presence would come from a future spacecraft mission designed to probe the ice shell. Such a mission was rated as the second highest priority flagship mission by the National Research Council's recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and is being studied by NASA.
NASA Science News.




Posted on 16th October 


Dust storm on Mars....Hurricane Speed Winds In Martian Dust Devils by TAMMY PLOTNER

“It’s early morning and the Sun comes out…” And from no where a huge Martian dust devil shakes its way across the red sands, flinging debris up into the atmosphere. While planetary scientists have been able to determine how fast these whirling, swirling storms travel across the arid landscape, they’ve never quite been able to tell just how fast the winds within them move. Until now…

Thanks to the work of David Choi, a postdoc at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, we’re now able to reasonably record wind speeds through the use of high resolution images taken from HiRISE onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. When lucky, the camera captures the storms as a “work in progress” – detailing small features. By pinpointing these signature marks, Choi was able to determine the wind speeds by knowing the timing between frames.

According to the news release, the winds are traveling at about 45 meters each second — what we Earthlings would consider “hurricane-force,” or above 33 meters per second. However, at other times the winds would slow to between 20 and 30 meters per second. These new findings were then compiled and Choi presented his results October 3 in Nantes, France, at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

“As a whole, they’re not like a hurricane, but there are pockets or gusts that exceed hurricane-force,” Choi says.

These storms generally appeared around 3:00 Mars Local Time and measured about 30 meters to 250 meters in diameter, and stretched upwards between 150 meters and 700 meters. Wow… “Here I am… Rock you like a hurricane!”

Original Story Source: Science News Release.


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Posted on 9th October


What is Airglow?

by JASON MAJOR


In many of the photos that we have featured recently from astronauts aboard the International Space Station, a glowing greenish-yellow band can be seen just above Earth’s limb. This is a phenomenon known as “airglow”.

A photochemical reaction that occurs high in the atmosphere, airglow is the result of various atoms, molecules and ions that get excited (chemistry-excited, that is… not “whee!”-excited) by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun and then release that energy as visible – as well as infrared – light when they return to their “normal” state. It’s not entirely unlike glow-in-the-dark toys or paint!

This light is most visible to the crew of the ISS when it is orbiting over the night side of the planet, and thus is seen in images like the one above. It appears like a thin band because viewing the atmosphere at a shallow angle – rather than directly down through it – increases the airglow layer’s relative visibility.

Most of visible airglow comes from oxygen atoms and molecules, which glow green… as commonly seen in the aurora. Other contributing elements include sodium and nitrogen. While present in the atmosphere at all layers, the region that glows visibly is typically constrained to a narrow band 85 – 95km (53-60 miles) high. The band itself is usually about 6 – 10km (4-6 miles) wide. The reason for this is that below those heights the atoms and molecules are more concentrated and collide more readily, releasing their energy sooner, and above it the density of the atoms is too low to do much colliding at all (to put it very simply.)

There are a lot of other factors involved with airglow as well, such as temperature and altitude, as well as different kinds of airglow depending on when in the day they occur. Nightglow is not exactly the same as dayglow, and then there’s even twilightglow… one could say there’s a lot glowing on in the upper atmosphere!






Posted on 22nd September

There is an oft-repeated and perhaps beautiful saying that you can’t see political borders from space. Well, it turns out that saying isn’t true; not anymore. ISS astronaut Ron Garan took this image recently which clearly shows the border between India and Pakistan. Since 2003, India has illuminated the border with Pakistan by floodlights.

This picture shows the illuminated man-made border between India and Pakistan,the line snaking through the landscape, as seen from the International Space Station on August 21, 2011. Of the hundreds of clusters lights, the largest are the capital cities of Islamabad, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India.To the left New Delhi, and the cities of Jaipur and Jodpur. At the right edge: Karachi in Pakistan Credit: NASA/Ron Garan.

“Since the beginning of human spaceflight fifty years ago, astronauts have reflected on how peaceful, beautiful, and fragile the Earth looks from space,” Garan wrote on his Fragile Oasis blog. “These reflections are not clichés that astronauts say because it feels good. It is truly moving to look at the Earth from space.”

Garan added, however, that the point here is not that we can look down at the Earth and see a man-made border between India and Pakistan. “The point is that we can look down at that same area and feel empathy for the struggles that all people face,” he said. “We can look down and realize that we are all riding through the Universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.”
Garan said he believes our world is a place where possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. “It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exist on our planet,” he said.


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Posted on 21st September

RE-ENTRY ALERT:
UARS, a NASA satellite the size of a small bus, will re-enter Earth's atmosphere later this week producing a brilliant fireball somewhere over our planet.  Best estimates place the re-entry time during the late hours of Sept. 23rd over a still-unknown region of Earth. Observers of the rapidly-decaying satellite say it is tumbling and flashing, sometimes almost as brightly as Venus.
The disintegration of UARS is expected to produce a fireball that could be visible even in broad daylight. Not all of the spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere, however; according to a NASA risk assessment, as many as 26 potentially hazardous pieces of debris could be scattered along a ground track some 500 miles long. The same report puts the odds of a human casualty at 1 in 3200



Posted on 4th September.
Mars Express Delivers Views Of Martian Lake
Holden crater is 140 km across, filling the left side of the image, while to the right is the remaining part of Eberswalde crater, with a diameter of about 65 km. They are located in the southern highlands of Mars. North is to the right of the image. The image was acquired by Mars Express at approximately 25°S / 326°E during orbit 7208 on 15 August 2009. The images have a ground resolution of about 22 m per pixel. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

In the southern highlands of Mars, Eberswalde crater to be exact, ESA’s Mars Express exploration has pinpointed an area which once held a lake. Although it may have been some 4 billion years ago, the geologic remains – called a delta – are still evident in the new images. This region of dark sediments are a shadowed reminder that Mars once had water.




Opportunity investigates Tisdale 2 rock showing indications of ancient Martian water flow 
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its front hazard-avoidance camera to take this picture showing the rover's arm extended toward a light-toned rock, "Tisdale 2," during Sol 2695 of the rover's work on Mars (Aug. 23, 2011). The composition of Tisdale 2 is unlike any rock studied by Opportunity since landing 7.5 years ago. It is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 


Scientists directing NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover gushed with excitement as they announced that the aging robot has discovered a rock with a composition unlike anything previously explored on the Red Planet’s surface – since she landed on the exotic Martian plains 7.5 years ago – and which offers indications that liquid water might have percolated or flowed at this spot billions of years ago.
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Posted on 6th August.

New Evidence for Flowing Water on Mars

NASA announced discoveries that provide additional evidence of seasonal water flows on Mars.  Using data collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the MRO team presented images of dark lines that form on slopes during the martian spring/summer and fade in winter.



McEwen based his explanation on several key facts:  First, salt lowers the freezing point of water (“plain” water would simply stay frozen on Mars)  Secondly, the temperature on Mars during these flows ranges from -23 to +27 degrees Celsius, which rules out CO2.  While there is significant evidence of flowing water, the team did state that there is no direct detection of water since it evaporates quickly on Mars.

Regarding the dark color of the flows, McEwen added, “The flows are not dark because of being wet, they are dark for some other reason.” McEwen also mentioned that researchers will need to re-create Mars-like conditions in the lab to better understand these flows, stating, “It’s a mystery now, but I think it’s a solvable mystery with further observations and laboratory experiments.”

”These dark lineations are different from other types of features on Martian slopes,” he said, “and repeated observations show they extend ever farther downhill with time during the warm season.”


Taken from Universe Today by RAY SANDERS

Posted on 2nd August:

The Voyagers are, perhaps, the best known example. Launched in the 1970s to explore the outer planets, the iconic spacecraft have zoomed far beyond their original targets to the edge of interstellar space itself, 9 billion miles from Earth and still making discoveries.

Well done, Spirit.
Against this backdrop of sweeping overachievement, we pause to salute a robot that might never move another inch.
Spirit travel route

"For the past 7 years, Spirit has been on a journey as extraordinary as any mission in NASA history," says Mars Exploration Rover project manager John Callas of JPL. "But now it may be time to say thanks and farewell."
NASA hasn't heard from Spirit in more than a year, and on May 25th, 2011, the agency sent a final transmission in its series of attempts to regain contact.

The trouble began in April 2009 when the rover trundled into a sandtrap in a place called "Troy," breaking through an apparently safe crust into soft sand below. Stuck in place, Spirit couldn't turn its solar panels squarely toward the sun; at the same time, dust accumulated on the panels, reducing sunlight even more. These impediments curtailed power just when Spirit needed power most, during the deep freeze of an approaching Martian winter.

"Where Spirit is, winter temperatures drop as low as -130 C, far colder than any place on Earth," says Callas. "Without sufficient electricity to power internal heaters and warm critical systems, Spirit went into hibernation."
Beautiful Mars Sunset pic taken by Spirit

Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004, for a mission designed to last merely three months. After quickly accomplishing its primary science goals, the rover went on to work for almost six more years. In all, Spirit has traveled almost 8 km, explored several large craters, scrutinized thousands of rocks, scraped off topsoil to reveal hidden minerals, photographed Martian dust devils and sunsets, observed the moons of Mars, and took the first picture of Earth in the night sky of another planet. Bonus-time, indeed.
Asked to name Spirit's top scientific discoveries, Callas lists three:(1) Evidence of ancient hot springs.(2) Evidence of a thick atmosphere and "sweet" water.(3) Evidence of an active water cycle.

Meanwhile, Spirit's twin rover Opportunity is halfway across the red planet, still going strong.
"Opportunity is in good health," says Callas. "The rover is about to log 30 km of distance since landing in 2004. We never dreamed of such a trek when the mission began.He cautions that Mars is a dangerous place, and the rover itself is in its senior years. At any moment, Opportunity could be engulfed in a storm, fall in a sandtrap, or simply break down due to old age.

And now, the next in line to travel the Mars Surface: Rover.Gale Crater Reported Front-Runner for MSL Landing Site.A 150-kilometer-wide hollow on Mars named Gale Crater has emerged as the front-runner for the potential landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which will head to Mars this fall.
Gale Crater, Mars.

...Summerised from article in Universe Today by NANCY ATKINSON




Posted on 1st June 2011
It's about to happen.A solar eclipse at midnight. 
It sounds like an oxymoron ?
"It might sound like a contradiction to have a solar eclipse in the middle of the night, but this is what we will see in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland on June 1st," says Knut Joergen Roed Oedegaard, an astrophysicist at the Norwegian Centre for Science Education in Oslo.When the clock strikes local midnight in northern Norway at the end of June 1st, about half of the lingering sun will be covered by the Moon.
At midnight in Norway, the bloated golden disk of the sun will be hanging low in the north. Imagine that disk transformed into a crescent, surrounded by the red and orange hues of a sunset sky.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA




Posted on 10th May 2011
Four bright planets are aligning in the morning sky.



Look east about a half hour before sunrise. If you have a clear view of the horizon, you'll see Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter clustered together in a patch of sky less than 10o wide. The view is too good.

The best morning is May 11th, when Venus and Jupiter converge to form a tight pair only 1/2o apart. Venus and Jupiter are so bright you might think you've witnessed a double supernova beaming through the morning twilight. But, no, it's just the two brightest planets in our own solar system.

Keep an eye on Venus in particular. As the sun rises and the sky fills with morning blue, the Goddess of Love does not fade away. You can actually see Venus in broad daylight if you know where to look.

May 11th is just the beginning. Throughout the month, the quartet of worlds will rearrange themselves on a daily basis, forming different shapes in the pre-dawn sky.

On May 13th, for instance, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter form a bright celestial triangle--almost equilateral. It's a geometry lesson before breakfast. On May 20th, a new triangle will appear. This time the vertices are Mars, Venus, and Mercury.

Observing tip: Mars is not as bright as the others. Binoculars may be required to help you find and fully appreciate the red planet in morning twilight.

Credit: Science@NASA



Posted on 15th April 2011..sorry for the 175 years delay..-:)

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835




Back in 1835 there was the original Moon hoax that thousands of people fell for, despite the tall tale being complete fiction. A series of articles were published in the New York Sun newspaper reporting incredible new astronomical observations of the Moon supposedly made by astronomer Sir John Herschel during an observing run at the Cape of Good Hope with his powerful new telescope. Detailed descriptions of winged beings, plants, animals and a sapphire temple increased sales and subscriptions to the fledgling newspaper.

Here’s a selection from one of the articles:

“We counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood… Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified… About half of the first party had passed beyond our canvas; but of all the others we had perfectly distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs from the top of the shoulders to the calves of their legs.”

The descriptions were allegedly reprinted from the nonexistent Edinburgh Journal of Science, and only several weeks after the articles were published did questions arise about the truth of these tales. The newspaper did not issue a retraction back then, and now, even over 175 years later has not issued a full retraction of it, either.

It is said that Herschel was initially amused by the hoax, noting that his own real observations could never be as exciting. But he became annoyed later when he had to answer questions from people who believed the hoax was serious.



Posted on 12th.April. 2011
50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (left, on the way to the launch pad) became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Newspapers like The Huntsville Times (right) trumpeted Gagarin's accomplishment.
Credit: NASA 




Posted on 18th. March 2010
Success! MESSENGER First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury

From Anne Minard

UPDATE, 9:50 p.m. EDT: NASA has abandoned all its cautionary language. MESSENGER is confirmed in orbit!

MESSENGER — which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging — launched Aug. 3, 2004 from Cape Canaveral. The orbit insertion places the spacecraft into a 12-hour orbit about Mercury with a 200 kilometer (124 mile) minimum altitude. The durable spacecraft is carrying seven science instruments and is fortified against the blistering environs near the sun.

The mission is an effort to study the geologic history, magnetic field, surface composition and other mysteries of the planet. The findings are expected to broaden our understanding of rocky planets, more and more of which are being discovered in other solar systems. One of the most compelling enigmas surrounds Mercury’s magnetic field. At a diameter only slightly larger than that of the moon (about 4,800 kilometers or 2,983 miles), Mercury should have solidified to the core. However, the presence of a magnetic field suggests to some researchers that the planet’s insides could be partially molten.

During its journey toward Mercury, MESSENGER passed the planet several times, filling in the imaging gaps left by Mariner 10. Now, the entire planet with the exception of about five percent has been observed. MESSENGER will focus its cameras on getting the best possible images of the remaining portions, mostly in the polar regions.

Source: NASA’s MESSENGER mission website and NASA TV.



Posted on 13th. March 2010
Two bright planets will shine close together low in the western twilight from Sunday to Wednesday, March 13th to 16th. Anyone can see them with the naked eye. You’ll just need a clear sky and an open view toward the west roughly 40 minutes after sunset, as twilight fades.

Credit: Sky & Telescope Magazine

Posted on 17th. Feb.2011
40 years ago this week, the Apollo 14 crew landed on the Moon. Here’s the latest look at their landing site, just downloaded from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter‘s Narrow Angle Cameras. This is a much better, crisper view of the lander and the ALSEP experiment package left of the Moon by Al Shepard and Edgar Mitchell. 

Also visible are the tracks left where the astronauts walked repeatedly in a “high traffic zone” and perhaps by the Modularized Equipment Transporter (MET) wheelbarrow-like carrier used on Apollo 14. 
Below are a couple of close-up looks at the image.
Latest view of the Apollo 14 landing site by LRO. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University





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Posted on 29th. Jan. 2011
The Sun had a fit and popped off two large events at once early today, Jan. 28, 2011. A filament on the left side became unstable and erupted, while an M-1 flare (mid-sized) and a coronal mass ejection on the right blasted into space. Neither event was headed towards Earth



Posted on 26th. Jan. 2011

Thundersto

rms Make Antimatter
Scientists using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected beams of antimatter produced above thunderstorms on Earth, a phenomenon never seen before..."These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams,...if interested, read more here..



Posted on 4th. Jan.2011

Earlier today, the new Moon passed in front of the sun, slightly off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse and a fantastic crescent sunrise over Europe. Dennis Put sends this picture from Maasvlakte, The Netherlands:



"The eclipse was absolutely stunning!" says Put. "At first some major cloud fronts threatened to hide the event. I was very pleased to meet the two peaks of the crescen Sun rising above the clouds around 9 o'clock."




Posted on 4th. December:

These tracks made by the Spirit rover early in the mission are certainly not there anymore. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
The footprints and rover tracks on the Moon will be there for millions of years, as there is no wind to blow them away. But Mars is a different story. Researchers looking at the tracks left by the two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity have found that Mars wind storms can quickly erase any evidence the rovers had been there.
“It is humbling, said Paul Geissler, lead author  on eolian — or wind — processes on Mars. “We make kilometer-long human graffiti on the surface of another planet and then Mars just wipes the slate clean for the next visitors!” 





Posted on 28th. November:
With the Sun‘s activity increasing just a bit, sky watchers have witnessed an uptick in aurorae, especially northern observers. This top image is from an *extreme* northern observer, as in way up; about 320 km (220 miles) up above the Earth.
A recent aurora as seen by astronaut Doug Wheelock on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Doug Wheelock took this image from the International Space Station, and the beautiful sight made him wax poetic:
“Aurora Borealis as I will forever paint it in my dreams,” he wrote on Twitter. “Almost time to return home… no regrets… but mixed emotions. Leonardo da Vinci was right… ‘For once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been… and there you will long to return.’”

Colorful Clouds, taken on Nov. 14, 2010 by Ole C. Salomonsen in Tromsø, Norway. Used by permission.
Describing this picture, Salomonsen said on Flickr: “With a CME expected to hit earth on Nov.14th we could still see only a faint aurora. We got frustrated and then decided to drive back towards the city where it now was reported to clear up. After 5 minutes in the car suddenly we could see a strong aurora bursting out behind the partially cloudy sky.”
Aurora over Tromsø, Norway, November 14, 2010. Credit: Ole C. Salomonsen. Used by permission
This is another gorgeous shot by Salomonsen, and on his Flickr site, he points out Ursa Major is visible in the top left, said it was just amazing how there were two rays of white and purple aurora, one moving faster than the other.
Posted on 10th. November:

A solar prominence is observed using photons at wavelength 304 Å. Credit: European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

Nowhere in the Solar System are conditions more extreme than the Sun. Every second it converts millions of tons of matter into energy to create the intense levels of heat and light we expect of our local star. Study the Sun in different wavelengths and its violent nature can really become apparent. The STEREO satellite has been studying the Sun at a wavelength of 304Å and the results support a controversial solar theory.

Coronal Mass Ejections (or CMEs) are common on the Sun and they have a very real impact to us here on Earth. The solar explosions expel trillions of trillions of tons of super hot hydrogen gas into space, sometimes in the direction of the Earth. Traveling at speeds up to 2,000 kilometers per second it takes just a day for the magnetized gas to reach us and on arrival it can induce strong electric currents in the Earth’s atmosphere leading not only to the beautiful auroral displays but also to telecommunication outages, GPS system failures and even disturbances to power grids.  by Mark Thompson












Posted on 29th. October:


Clouds on Titan seen by the Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 27. 2010. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


The Cassini spacecraft recently swooped by Saturn’s largest moon Titan and captured images of large patches of clouds. “These are some of the largest clouds our cameras on Cassini have yet seen on Titan!” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead, in an email announcing the image. “And the fact that we see them in the equatorial region is big news and may signify seasonal change is underway!”

The image was taken on September 27, 2010 and received on Earth September 28, 2010 at a distance of approximately 1,282,259 kilometers away. The spacecraft was actually at its closest approach on Sept. 24, and took a long, sustained look at the hazy moon, coming within 8,175 kilometers (5,080 miles) above the hazy moon’s surface.



Posted on 16th.October:
Marsquake causes landslide ??



McEwen,principal investigator of HiRISE, said the landslide could have been triggered by a Marsquake or a small impact event.”

Thanks to the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter and the on-board HiRISE camera, scientists are able to monitor Mars for changes taking place on the landscape. They do this by comparing older images with newer ones, and also by seeing “fresh” features — like this recent landslide in Zunil Crater. “The color and albedo patterns indicate that a landslide occurred here very recently–too recently to have been re-covered by dust,” writes Alfred McEwen, writing on the camera’s website. “Looking for changes such as this will help us to better understand active processes.”

The fact that landslides have occurred here indicates that the valley walls are not stable and the materials respond to Martian gravity with mass movements.”

Discussion among other image artists on UnmannedSpaceflight.com indicated that the blue areas could easily be patches of ice deposited from the cliff face. You can see the original image at the HiRISE website.

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Posted on 12th. October:

GEOMAGNETIC STORM: On Oct. 11th, the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth tilted south, opening a crack in Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind poured in and fueled a geomagnetic storm around the Arctic Circle. Beautiful Auroras were seen due to this natural phenomena.
Christian Schartner sends this picture (courtesy spaceweather.com) from Senja, Norway: "The lights were so bright, changing the lens on my camera was no problem!"

At its peak, the storm registered 5 on the 0-to-9 K-index scale of geomagnetic disturbances. On a global scale such storms are considered "mild," but at high latitudes some of the views were undeniably intense.

For a good report on this, read on at Akshay's blog here 



Posted on 10th. October:


Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)


Melas Chasma  cuts into the middle of Mars surface, making it an interesting place: there is abundant evidence for water having flowed here, with ancient water-cut channels visible even from orbit. Also visible are landslides that have created huge fans of rubble at the base of the cliffs. These newest images from ESA’s Mars Express show Melas Chasma, which sinks 9 km below the surrounding surface, making it one of the lowest depressions on the planet. This is just a small part of the bigger Valles Marineris, which stretches for more than 4,000 km across the surface of Mars.


Posted on 7th. October:


Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI and NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


On the left, Saturn's moon Enceladus is backlit by the sun, showing the fountain-like sources of the fine spray of material that towers over the south polar region. On the right, is a composite image of Titan. 

 The Cassini spacecraft has performed close flybys of two of Saturn's most enigmatic moons all within less than 48 hours, and with no maneuvers in between. Enceladus and Titan are aligned just right so that Cassini can catch glimpses of these two contrasting moons – one a geyser world and the other an analog to early Earth.


On to Titan:  The spacecraft went to within 1,400 kilometers (750 miles) of the surface.
Cassini will primarily be doing radio science during this pass to detect the subtle variations in the gravitational tug on the spacecraft by Titan, which is 25 percent larger in volume than the planet Mercury. Analyzing the data will help scientists learn whether Titan has a liquid ocean under its surface and get a better picture of its internal structure. The composite infrared spectrometer will also get its southernmost pass for thermal data to fill out its temperature map of the smoggy moon.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, and the second largest moon in the Solar System. It’s unique in the Solar System as the only moon with an atmosphere. In fact, scientists think that Titan’s thick atmosphere – rich in hydrocarbons – is similar to the early Earth, and could give us clues about how life got started on our planet.

Source: NASA JPL/spaceweather.


Posted on 28th.September:










Left: T43 flyby of Titan - 12 May 2008 – VIMS images a large cloud that caps the north pole of Titan (yellowish tones). Right: T63 flyby of Titan - 12 December 2009 – VIMS still observes a huge cloud system at 40°S (yellowish tones) and the north pole of Titan free of clouds, a few months after the equinox. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Nantes/ University of Paris Diderot.

Titan Weather Report for Spring: Still Cold, but Clearing Skies

The Cassini spacecraft‘s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument has been monitoring clouds on Titan continuously since the spacecraft went into orbit around Saturn  in 2004, and a team led by Sébastien Rodriguez (AIM laboratory – Université Paris Diderot) has used more than 2,000 VIMS images to create the first long-term study of Titan’s weather.

In its 30-years orbit around the Sun, Titan has seasons that last for 7 terrestrial  years. The team has observed significant atmospheric changes between July 2004 (early summer in the southern hemisphere) and April 2010, the very start of northern spring. The images showed that cloud activity has recently decreased near both of Titan’s poles. These regions had been heavily overcast during the late southern summer until 2008, a few months before the equinox.

The team has used results from the Global Climate Models (GCMs) developed by Pascal Rannou (Institut Pierre Simon Laplace) to interpret the evolution of the observed cloud patterns over time. Northern polar clouds of ethane form in the Titan’s troposphere during the winter at altitudes of 30-50 km by a constant influx of ethane and aerosols from the stratosphere. In the other hemisphere, mid- and high-latitudes clouds are produced by the upwelling from the surface of air  enriched in methane. Observations of the location and activity of Titan’s clouds over long periods are vital in developing a global understanding of Titan’s climate and meteorological cycle.

Are they ready to make a weather forecast? They say Titan’s northern hemisphere is set for mainly fine spring weather, with polar skies clearing since the equinox in August last year.

Source: European Planetary Science Conference.





Posted on 23rd.September
Artists impression of lightning storms on Venus. Credit: ESA

Lightning Storms on Venus Similar to Those On Earth
Venus is a world not for the faint of heart. On its surface you’d have to endure high temperatures and intense air pressures, plus within the thick, sulfuric acid-laced atmosphere there are actually lightning storms.
These storms are surprisingly similar to lightning storms on Earth, despite the great differences between the atmospheres of the two planets. “Venus and Earth are often called twin planets because of their similar size, mass, and interior structure,” said Dr. Christopher Russell from the University of California, “The generation of lightning is one more way in which Venus and Earth are fraternal twins.”

Scientists have known there was lightning on Venus since the early planetary missions such as the Venera and Pioneer Venus Orbiter missions, and more recently the Galileo spacecraft reported evidence for optical and electromagnetic waves from Venus that could be produced by lightning. This was also confirmed by ground telescopes capturing lighting flashes at Venus.

Now, the Venus Express spacecraft, in orbit  around Venus, has been studying Venus’ lightning in detail with its magnetometer,  at altitudes between 200 and 500 km.

When clouds form, on Earth or Venus, the energy that the Sun  has deposited in the air can be released in a very powerful electrical discharge. As cloud particles collide, they transfer electrical charge from large particles to small, and the large particles fall while the small particles are carried upward. The separation of charges leads to lightning strokes. This process is important for a planetary atmosphere because it raises the temperature  and pressure of a small portion of the atmosphere to a very high value so that molecules can form, which would not otherwise occur at standard atmospheric temperatures and pressures.

“We have analyzed 3.5 Earth-years of Venus lightning data using the low-altitude Venus Express data, which is about 10 minutes per day,” Russell said. “By comparing the electromagnetic waves produced at the two planets, we found stronger magnetic signals on Venus, but when converted to energy flux we found very similar lightening strength,” said Russell. Also it seems that lightning is more prevalent on the dayside than at night, and happens more often at low Venusian latitudes where the solar input to the atmosphere is strongest.”

Source: European Planetary Science Congress

Jupiter, at its brightest, will be visible in India (20th,21st,22nd Sept), after sunset, and throughout the night. best viewing away from city lights, and of-course cloudless skies.


Sunday, 19th.September 2010:













Look! Up in the sky!  “Jupiter is making its closest pass by Earth for the year. And this year’s pass is a little closer than any other between 1963 and 2022.”
Where do you find Jupiter? Try about 368 million miles away and (for most observers) low to the southeast after the skies get dark. The giant planet will reach its nearest point to us on the evening of September 20, 2010 – but will remain one of the brightest objects in the night through the end of the month.

Why does Jupiter appear to be more luminous now than at any other time? Although the varying distances over the years may seem marginal – about 10 to 11 million miles over a period of around 60 years – it translates into significance when it comes to magnitude factors. At its brightest, Jupiter can reach –2.94, and dimmest at -1.6. Just a 1% distance change can mean either 4% brighter or dimmer!

The mighty Jove has also undergone some cosmetic changes in the past year as well, making it an additional 4% brighter than usual.

Of course, a close pass doesn’t mean Jupiter is going to appear to be the size of the Moon – nor be as bright – but it’s certainly going to make a grand appearance on the nights of September 22 and September 23 .


















NASA has shown us Earthlings our real place in the Solar System. A small speck of dust in the Universal Ocean!











NASA helps us all take a step back to see the big picture
Such a view was recently beamed back by 
NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft.
Looking back from its orbit around Mercury, MESSENGER captured this view of Earth and the Moon on May 6, 2010. The spacecraft was 183 million kilometers (114 million miles) from Earth at the time, farther than our average distance from the Sun (150 million kilometers, or 93 million miles) because Mercury and Earth were at different places in their orbits around the Sun. 
MESSENGER is the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1974-75.


Source: NASA JPL





Thursday, 16th. September.

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