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Fire in the Sky


Black Friday's Secret Solar Eclipse

© Hinode/XRT
Annular solar eclipse observed by the Hinode spacecraft on Jan. 6, 2011.

While many in the U.S. will be recovering from Thanksgiving day meals and looking for ways to stretch their holiday shopping dollars at (hopefully local) retailers' "Black Friday" sales, the face of the Sun will grow dark as the Moon passes in front of it, casting its shadow over the Earth. But it won't be visible to American shoppers - or very many people at all, in fact... this eclipse will be hiding in the southern skies above Antarctica!

On Friday, November 25, an annular eclipse will occur, reaching a maximum coverage at 06:20:17 UT of magnitude .905. It will be the largest - and last - partial eclipse of the year.

But its visibility will be limited to the most southern latitudes... outside of the Antarctic continent, only New Zealand, Tasmania and parts of South Africa will have any visibility of the event.

An annular eclipse is similar to a total eclipse, except that the Moon is at a further distance from Earth in its orbit and so does not completely cover the disc of the Sun. Instead a bright ring of sunlight remains visible around the Moon's silhouette, preventing total darkness.


Australia: Large Shooting Star Dazzles Southeast Queensland

© redOrbit
A blazing object blasted through the Earth's atmosphere over Queensland on Sunday night, leaving some witnesses startled by its size.

Reports of a slow-moving double-headed meteor with an orange tail have been reported from Redcliffe to the Gold Coast on an astronomy blog.

But others think it was more likely man-made space junk.

Donna O'Kearney had been driving north from Canungra on the Gold Coast when about 7:37pm she saw a huge flaming object soaring through the sky.

"I thought it was a plane coming down and I couldn't understand why there was no noise," she said, saying it looked as big as a 747.

"All I could see was a blinding white light at the front going back to orange.

"You just couldn't take your eyes off it, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

She said it took as long as 10 seconds to make its way across the sky before burning out in the distance.

Meteors are not uncommon sights in Australia, with more than 500 being found on our soil in the past 40 years and even more passing overhead, but the massive size of last night's one was an unusual sight for many.


Snap! Erupting Filament

For the past few days, astronomers around the world have been monitoring a dark filament of magnetism sprawled more than 1,000,000 kilometers across the face of the sun. Make that 750,000 km. On Nov. 14th the filament snapped and flung a fraction of itself into space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action:

© SpaceWeather
Click here to watch a 3Mb movie.

The eruption hurled a cloud of plasma into space, but not toward Earth. The only effect on our planet would be to disappoint observers hoping for a longer filament.

Meanwhile, a wall of plasma towering over the sun's SE limb is seething with activity and may be poised to erupt as well. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.


Remarkable Solar Activity

There haven't been any strong solar flares in days. Nevertheless, some impressive activity is underway on the sun. For one thing, an enormous wall of plasma is towering over the sun's southeastern horizon. Stephen Ramsden of Atlanta, Georgia, took this picture on Nov. 11th:

© Stephen W. Ramsden
Image taken: Nov. 12, 2011
Location: Atlanta, GA
"Solar forums all over the world are buzzing with Sun-astronomers proclaiming this to be the biggest prominence that many of them had ever witnessed," he says.

Remarkably, though, this is not the biggest thing. A dark filament of magnetism is snaking more than halfway around the entire sun: SDO image. From end to end, it stretches more than a million km or about three times the distance between Earth and the Moon. If the filament becomes unstable, as solar filaments are prone to do, it could collapse and hit the stellar surface below, triggering a Hyder flare. No one can say if the eruption of such a sprawling structure would be Earth directed.

"I cant help but wonder what could possibly come next since we are still over a year away from the forecasted Solar Maximum," adds Ramsden. "There's never been a better time to own a solar telescope than now!"


Scientists spot strange structures on surface of asteroid as it passes by

An asteroid that is 400m (1,300ft) wide has passed by Earth, much to the delight of astronomers.

Although invisible to the naked eye, scientists said they spotted strange structures on its surface as it spun past at 30,000mph (48 280.32 km/h).

Asteroid 2005 YU55's was the closest an asteroid has been to Earth in 200 years, according to Nasa.

It is also the largest space rock fly-by Earth has seen since 1976; the next visit by a large asteroid will be 2028.

The aircraft-carrier-sized asteroid was darkly coloured in visible wavelengths and nearly spherical, lazily spinning about once every 20 hours as it raced through our neighbourhood of the Solar System.

Comment: The above video is not the BBC's of course, it's taken from this YouTube channel.

We think that image is far too grainy to tell if we're looking at 'a structure' (in the sense that it's 'unnatural').

The narrator does make a good point however about the poor quality images they made available to the public. They can take fabulous photographs of other galaxies, but can't do better than this for "the closest asteroid fly-by in 200 years"?

It could be that by "strange structures", they meant naturally occurring structures they weren't expecting to see, such as the clear signs of electrical arc discharges on comets Wild 2 and Tempel 1 (which completely discounted the 'dirty snowball' theory of comets, by the way).

Then there's this:

Asteroid Vesta Has Mountain Three Times as Tall as Everest

And then, if we put our conspiracy-minded hats on for a minute, it could be that they're deliberately feeding the 'comets and space rocks as UFOs and motherships' disinformation.

Arrow Up

US: Another mystery rumble felt in Hampton Roads, Virginia

Boom, it happened again.

Residents at the Oceanfront reported hearing a strange explosion around 9 p.m. Wednesday that rattled windows, shook foundations and startled babies out of their sleep.

It was the second time this year coastal residents have flooded emergency lines and online social networking sites after hearing and feeling ... well, something.

As with a previous mystery disturbance in May, nobody seems to know what happened, yet theories abound.

It wasn't another earthquake like the one that shook the East Coast in August, according to geologists. A NASA scientist said it could have been caused by a meteor crashing through the atmosphere, but there's no way of knowing without photographic proof. And military officials said don't blame them.

Comment: Sounds like yet another meteor exploding overhead.


US: Dalton, Georgia Reacts to 2.7 'Tremor' - 'explosion, came from the air'

A 2.7 magnitude quake rocked the Dalton area just before noon Wednesday. While some people in Dalton were pretty sure the rumble was an earthquake, others were convinced it was something else.

"Chances are it might have been an earthquake, but maybe it was some big monster outside that's coming to get us all," Jonathan Marks jokes about the magnitude 2.7 quake, but he wasn't the only one who was curious about what caused the ground to shake beneath his feet. The US Geological Survey didn't officially deem the shake, a quake until 2 hours after people say they felt the ground rattle and heard a loud boom in the air.

"I thought it was kind of like a huge explosion or a sonic boom because there was a little noise at first and then a loud explosion and I felt it right between my shoulders it was like it came from the air," said Mary Ellen Gurley, an employee at Dalton State College.

Comment: Sounds more like another meteorite exploding in the atmosphere overhead.


Colorful Conjunction - Mars and Regulus

The red planet Mars and the blue star Regulus have gathered together in the pre-dawn sky for a close conjunction that will be at its best on the morning of Friday, Nov. 11th. Wake up early, look east, and behold the colors.

© Brendan Alexander
Conjunction of Mars and Regulus

On November 10th, Brendan Alexander from Killygordon, Co. Donegal, Ireland writes:
A Colourful Pair: Perhaps the highlight of the month for casual observers will be provided by the red planet. Mars is putting on a pre-dawn show along with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo the Lion. The pair rise in the east from 01:00 onwards and will be at their highest in the south before Sunrise. Regulus is a distinctive blue-white colour, while the planet Mars sports a striking red hue. This coming together gives stargazers an opportunity to compare and contrast the stunning colours these two heavenly bodies display. The colour difference was obvious to the naked eye and binoculars will further enhance my views of the pair. Mars approached Regulus from the west at the start of the month and makes its closest approach to the tomorrow morning (11 November). However, in case cloud interfered, I grabbed the shot this morning as the pair look equally stunning from the 8th to the 14th of November.


Incoming Coronal Mass Ejection? Full Halo CME blasts off the Sun, impacting Earth Friday or Saturday

Yesterday, Nov. 9th around 1330 UT, a magnetic filament in the vicinity of sunspot complex 1342-1343 erupted, producing a M1-class solar flare and hurling a CME into space. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the progress of the expanding plasma cloud:

Although the eruption was not squarely aimed at Earth, the CME is likely to deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field on Nov. 11th or 12th. This could add to the impact of another CME already en route. The earlier cloud was propelled by a filament eruption (movie) on Nov. 7th and is also expected to deliver a glancing blow on Nov. 11th.

Analyses of these events are still preliminary, and the forecast may change. For now it is safe to say that high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Nov. 11-12. SOHO movie.


Two fireballs seen over Poland on successive nights, including very bright one observed from Berlin to Czech Republic

© PKiM
On Sunday a record-breaking fireball appeared over Poland. Its visible trail was as long as 254 km, reports the Polish Fireball Network (PFN - PKiM in Polish).

This phenomenon took place on 6 November at 5:38:19 p.m. local time. The fireball flew nearly directly south from the region of Poznan toward the Czech Republic. It reached its maximum brightness over a village of Lukova in the Czech Republic. Average brightness was of -3 magnitude and in outbursts it reached up to -5.5. The meteor appeared at an altitude of 130 km and burnt up at 95 km. Its flight lasted almost 4 seconds.

It was a sporadic meteor of cometary origin and was travelling very fast. Its velocity was up to 65 km/sec.

The phenomenon was registered by the Polish Fireball Network in Chelm, Otwock, Twardogora, Urzedowo and Krakow.

© PKiM
Nov 6, 16:38:19 UT, first report came from Tomasz Krzyzanowski, observatory station Podgorzyn, PFN 38