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Fire in the Sky


Earth-directed blast from Sunspot 1261 here August 5th

Magnetic fields above sunspot 1261 erupted this morning at 0619 UT, producing a long-duration M1-class solar flare. At the peak of the action, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a surge of extreme ultraviolet radiation around the sunspot:


Is that the Sun smiling down on us?

Our sun is apparently a happy star, according to the latest video from a NASA observatory. The video shows a pattern of sunspots that, when viewed from afar, forms a vast happy face smiling across face of the sun.

Sunspots are darker, cooler patches on the sun caused when intense magnetic activity blocks heat convection. These spots are normal, but they don't usually align to give the sun's face such character.


Heavenly Signs: Chronicle of a Busy Month (July 2011)

© Unknown
Tucked away safely down here on earth, the limits of our imagination is confined to sci-fi films, and the odd natural disaster - ok increasingly natural disasters, but sometimes we do need to be reminded we are a part of something more...

July 2011 to date has been a busy time with that something more when it comes to comets. The preoccupation with comets Elenin and Nibiru also takes away from the comet show that has been taking place since the beginning of the year, but has particularly busy in July 2011.


Comet Garradd Caught on Camera

© The Daily Post, New Zealand
Comet: Rotorua's Rolf Carstens captured this image of comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) from his back garden on Homedale St on Monday morning.

Rotorua's Rolf Carstens is a keen amateur astronomer and was up at 2.30am on Monday to capture this photo of recently-discovered comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd).

The comet was discovered by Australian astronomer Gordon Garradd at Siding Spring, New South Wales, in 2009 and can be seen in the eastern skies of New Zealand.

The comet will come closest to Earth in March 2012 but will only be seen in the North Hemisphere at that time. Scientists are still trying to work out its orbit and when it will be near Earth in the future but, according to Mr Carstens, that will be "a very long time".

Mr Carstens used a 25.4cm SCT (Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope) on a German Equatorial Mount with a camera attached to take the picture from a system remotely controlled from inside his house. He is also a member of the Rotorua Astronomical Society, which has its next meeting tomorrow from 7.30pm at the old Rotorua West Bowling Club building on Kamahi Place.

Everyone is welcome.


Intense Solar Flare Erupts From the Sun

A powerful M9-class solar flare erupted from the sun at 10:09 p.m. EDT on July 29 (0209 GMT July 30).

A powerful flare erupted from the sun this past weekend, but while the storm was not aimed directly at Earth, it was nearly the most powerful type of solar storm there is, scientists say.

The brief but strong solar flare occurred late Friday (July 29) at 10:09 p.m. EDT (0209 GMT July 30), and grew in intensity. The flare was followed by an unrelated geomagnetic storm, which was triggered by fluctuations in the solar wind, according to Spaceweather.com, a website that monitors space weather events.

As a result of the solar storm, skywatchers at high latitudes, particularly in the southern hemisphere, were alerted for potentially dazzling aurora displays.

The M9-class flare erupted from a large sunspot, officially known as AR 1261. Two large sunspot groups have emerged on the sun, reported Spaceweather.com, and the active regions are breeding grounds for weak to powerful solar flares.

"Because of its brevity, the eruption did not hurl a substantial cloud of material toward Earth," Spaceweather.com reported. "So far none of the eruptions has been squarely Earth directed, but that could change in the days ahead as solar rotation turns the sunspots to face our planet."


It Fell From the Sky: Striking Imagery of Striking Events

© Corbis
Tunguska Event
The Tunguska Event

Though it flattened all the trees in every direction for 30 miles, the airburst that took place over Siberia's Tunguska River left no crater behind. Scientists theorize that the blast, caused probably by a meteor or comet fragment that exploded a few miles over the surface of the Earth, was 1000 times as powerful as the bomb that fell on Hiroshima, Japan.


US: Action News covers fireball/UFO crash at Flagler Beach-Florida

What fell from the sky?


Trail of crumbs discovered from potentially hazardous comet

© NASA-Ames
This +2 magnitude February Eta Draconid was filmed by Peter Jenniskens with one of the low-light-level video cameras of the Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) station in Mountain View, California, February 4, 2011.
The February Eta Draconids appear to originate from a long-period comet that passes close to Earth's orbit.

The Central Bureau issued a telegram July 10 for Astronomical Telegrams of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announcing that a stream of dust from a potentially dangerous comet impacted Earth for a few hours last February 4.

"This particular shower happens only once or twice every 60 years," said Peter Jenniskens from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, Mountain View, California. "The stream of dust is always there, but quite invisible just outside of Earth's orbit. Only when the planets steer the dust in Earth's path do we get to know it is there."

Since last October, the SETI Institute has teamed up with Fremont Peak Observatory in San Juan Batista, California, and UCO/Lick Observatory just east of San Jose, California, in monitoring the night sky with low-light video cameras in an effort to map the meteor showers in the sky over the San Francisco Bay Area. They triangulate the meteor trajectories and determine their orbits in space.


A Chance of Flares?

Sunspot 1260 has developed a delta-class magnetic field that harbors energy for powerful X-class solar flares. Such an eruption today would be Earth-directed as the sunspot turns to face our planet.

Sunspot 1260 is leading a parade of big sunspots across the solar disk--one of the finest displays of solar activity in years. Even the smallest dark cores in these sunspot groups are as wide as planets, and they are crackling with C-class flares. Readers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.


Astronomical Events Coming Your Way

© Unknown
We can't make any promises about your wishes coming true, but we can help you point them in the right direction. Some beautiful stars, planets, and asteroids are going to be visible this year and your family can, at the very least, learn a little bit about astronomy while enjoying the night sky.

Below is a list of some astronomical events for the remainder of 2011. If you are a star gazing novice, SkyMaps.com offers a monthly "sky map" that can help you know where to look.

July 28, 29 - Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Delta Aquarids can produce about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower usually peaks on July 28 & 29, but some meteors can also be seen from July 18 - August 18. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. This year the thin, crescent moon will be hanging around for the show, but it shouldn't cause too many problems. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location.

July 30 - New Moon. The moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:40 UTC.