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Fire in the Sky


Solar Eclipse over the USA

Mark your calendar. On Sunday, May 20th, the sun is going to turn into a ring of fire. It's an annular solar eclipse--the first one in the USA in almost 18 years.

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the sun, but the lunar disk is not quite wide enough to cover the entire star. At maximum, the Moon forms a "black hole" in the center of the sun.

© D. L. Mammana
"The ring of fire:" Astrophotographer Dennis L. Mammana photographed this annular eclipse behind palm trees in January 1994.
The "path of annularity" is a strip about 300 km wide and thousands of km long. It stretches from China and Japan, across the Pacific Ocean, to the middle of North America. In the United States, the afternoon sun will become a luminous ring in places such as Medford, Oregon; Chico, California; Reno, Nevada; St. George, Utah; Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas.

Outside of this relatively narrow zone, the eclipse will be partial. Observers almost everywhere west of the Mississippi will see a crescent-shaped sun as the Moon passes by off-center.

"I like to compare different types of eclipses on a scale of 1 to 10 as visual spectacles," says NASA's leading eclipse expert, Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "If a partial eclipse is a 5 then an annular eclipse is a 9."


Nova Scotia, Canada: Reports of glowing ball likely a small meteorite, expert says

People thought they saw a glowing red fireball streaked across Nova Scotia's night sky Thursday and they were likely right.

"It's probably a fireball. They're actually fairly common," Alan Strauss, with the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona, said Friday.

Strauss said the glowing ball that appeared to travel from west to east over the Halifax area was a small meteorite, which is often described as a fireball.

Often people just don't look up that much and miss these celestial wonders, said Strauss in an interview from Tucson.

Many commentators on Nova Scotia blogs have been chatting up a storm about the stunning sight, describing a glowing ball as first green, then changing to a fuchsia-coloured streak travelling across the sky around 9:30 p.m.


Bus-sized asteroid shaves Earth with one day's notice

An orbital diagram puts the orbit of asteroid 2012 BX34 in perspective, in relation to the orbits of Earth and Venus.
An asteroid about the size of a bus shaved by Earth on Friday in what space watchers described as a "near-miss," though experts were not concerned about the possibility of an impact.

The asteroid, named 2012 BX34, measured between six and 19 meters in diameter (20 to 62 feet), said Gareth Williams, associate director of the U.S.-based Minor Planet Center which tracks space objects.

The asteroid, which had been unknown before it popped into view from a telescope in Arizona on Wednesday, came within about 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) of Earth on Friday at about 1500 GMT, he said.

"It's a near miss. It makes the top 20 list of closest approaches ever observed," Williams told AFP.


"Bad Boy" Sunspot Unleashes Powerful X-Class Flare

The active region on the Sun that created all the hubbub and aurorae earlier this week put out one last shot before that area of the Sun turns away from Earth's view, and that shot was a biggie. At 18:37 UT (1:37 pm EST) today (January 27, 2012) sunspot 1402 unleashed an X-class flare, the largest and most powerful category of flares. This flare was measured as an X2, which is at the low end of the highest powered flares, but still, this is the most powerful flare so far this year.

It was not directed at Earth, but scientists from the Solar Dynamics Observatory say the energetic protons accelerated by the blast are now surrounding our planet and a S1-class radiation storm is in progress. S1-class is the lowest of 5 (S1 to S5) and has no biological impact, no satellite operations are impacted but some minor impact on HF radio could be experienced.

With all the activity from the Sun, you might need a refresher course in solar flares. Here's a guide from SDO, and what all the different classifications are:


8-Meter-Wide Asteroid Will Pass Close to Earth January 27

Orbital parameters of Asteroid 2012 BX34 from JPL's Small Body Database.

A small asteroid will pass extremely close to Earth tomorrow (January 27, 2012). Named 2012 BX34, this 8 meter- (26-foot-) wide space rock will skim Earth less than 60,000 km (37,000 miles, .0004 AU), at around 16:00 UTC, according to the Minor Planet Center. The latest estimates have it traveling at about about 500 meters/minute (1,643.17 ft/minute). 2012 BX34 has been observed by the Catalina Sky Survey and the Mt. Lemmon Survey in Arizona, and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico, so its orbit is well defined and there is no risk of impact to Earth.

Amateur astronomers in the right place and time could view this object, as it should be about magnitude 14 at the time of closest approach. Nick Howes, with the Faulkes Telescope Project said his team is hoping to observe and image the asteroid, and we hope to share their images later.


Planet looks back at northern lights

The skies are settling down after this week's big solar storm, leaving behind a gallery of green-glowing pictures as a lasting legacy.

For a time on Tuesday, the solar radiation levels registered as the highest in more than eight years, but the most significant impact came in the form of shifts in airline routes to avoid polar disruptions in communications. Strong solar storms have the potential to disrupt electrical grids and satellite operations, but no big problems were reported on those fronts this week.
© Göran Strand
Göran Strand of Östersund, Sweden, took a panoramic photo of Tuesday night's sights and wrapped it into a 360-degree composition titled "Planet Aurora.
"Conditions are now beginning to trend back toward quiet levels," the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center reported today. By Thursday, geomagnetic activity is expected to be back down to background levels.


RAF: Big bang in Grimsby, UK wasn't us

The Royal Air Force has said none of its planes were responsible for what many have called a "sonic boom" over Grimsby.

As reported, the Grimsby Telegraph received many calls from residents who had heard what sounded like a large explosion at about 7pm on Wednesday.

Initial fears that there had been an explosion were quickly allayed and theories turned to the possibility of a sonic boom from a plane.

Initially, these suggestions appeared to be legitimate when it was revealed that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is currently carrying out a low-flying operation named "Exercise Lightning Force" in the area.

However, when contacted by the Grimsby Telegraph, Squadron Leader Nikki Stacey, based at Headquarters Air Command, said the noise had not been caused by an RAF aircraft, adding there was "nothing reported" from any of the forces' "fast jet units". Gareth Stringer, deputy editor of Global Aviation Resource magazine, said: "A sonic boom occurs when an aeroplane breaks the sound barrier and the noise that you hear is the shockwave of area around the aircraft.


Meterorite Hunters: Hundreds of Meteorites Uncovered in Antarctica

A gang of heavily insulated scientists has wrapped up its Antarctic expedition, with its members thawing out from the experience, but pleased to have bagged more than 300 space rocks.

Search for meteorites program places researchers on the ice to live in base camp conditions of wind and snow.
They are participants in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program, or ANSMET for short. Since 1976, ANSMET researchers have been recovering thousands of meteorite specimens from the East Antarctic ice sheet. ANSMET is funded by the Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation.

According to the ANSMET website, the specimens are currently the only reliable, continuous source of new, nonmicroscopic extraterrestrial material. Given that there are no active planetary sample-return missions coming or going at the moment, the retrieval of meteorites is the cheapest and only guaranteed way to recover new things from worlds beyond the Earth. [Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space ]


Flights Rerouted as Massive Solar Storm Slams Earth

© Agence France-Presse/Rune Stoltz Bertinussen
An Aurora borealis is pictured near the city of Tromsoe, northern Norway.
Solar radiation from a massive sun storm -- the largest in nearly a decade -- collided with the Earth's atmosphere, prompting an airline to reroute flights and skywatchers to seek out spectacular light displays.

US carrier Delta Air Lines said it had adjusted flight routes for transpolar journeys between Asia and the United States to avoid problems caused by the radiation storm, a spokesman said.

NASA confirmed the coronal mass ejection (CME) began colliding with Earth's magnetic field around 10:00 AM (1500 GMT) Tuesday, adding that the storm was now being considered the largest since October 2003.

Radiation storms are not harmful to humans, on Earth at least, according to the US space agency. They can, however, affect satellite operations and short wave radio.

The storm's radiation, likely to continue bombarding Earth's atmosphere through Wednesday, and its possible disruption to satellite communications in the polar regions prompted the flight rerouting, airline officials said.

Atlanta-based Delta, the world's second largest airline, said "a handful" of routes had their journey adjusted "based on potential impact" of the solar storm on communications equipment, spokesman Anthony Black told AFP.


North Carolina, US: Mystery "Boom" Reported in Lenoir County

Kinston - We've received calls and Facebook messages about a loud "boom" heard shortly before noon in parts of Lenoir county, but so far officials say they aren't sure what caused the loud noise.

Some are speculating it was a sonic boom caused by a plane.

Several callers say it was so intense it shook the walls of local businesses.

According to reports, the loud noise was heard in various parts of Lenoir County including LaGrange and various parts of Kinston near Lenior Community College.

Local officials told "Nine on Your Side" they are unsure what caused the noise.