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Fire in the Sky


Meteors Set to Put on a Show

© unknown

One of the most dazzling shows of the year is upon us, but don't worry - you won't need a ticket to see it live. A front-row view is as close as your own backyard.

The annual Perseid meteor shower takes centre stage this week, painting the night sky with glowing streaks of light. The spectacle begins every year in mid-July and lasts through August, but the best time to take in the show this year is when the meteor shower peaks on Friday night and early Saturday.

Unfortunately, the glare of the full moon will make it hard to see some of the more modest meteors this year. The best viewing time is expected to be just before dawn on Saturday, when the moon will be low in the sky.

The Perseids appear to originate from a point within the constellation Perseus. The number of meteors visible in the sky tends to increase as the night wears on.

According to NASA, more than a dozen meteors per hour were already visible by Tuesday.


UK: Sonic Boom Over Norfolk

© Evening News24, Norwich
An artist's impression of a meteor over Norwich.

Mystery surrounds what made the earth tremble across Norfolk in a bizarre late-night phenomenon.

Experts and amateurs alike believe a sonic boom - triggered by a meteorite or aircraft - caused strange tremors to shake homes and spook pets.

The rattling was reported by people across the county, including Norwich, North Walsham, Gayton, Belton, Cringleford and South Lopham at about 10.30pm on Tuesday.

Jonathan Larter, from Sprowston, said: "I was just going to bed and the house started shaking and doors rumbling as if the wind was blowing through the windows, but they weren't open. I thought it was a ghost outside knocking on my door because I live near a cemetery."

Alan Sharman, from City Road, Norwich, added: "My French doors rattled rather loudly at 10.30-ish. It actually sounded like someone was trying to get in. It woke me up a bit."


Speedy Comet Honda to pass near Earth next week

It wasn't but a week ago I was observing Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, which for simplicity we'll call Comet Honda-M-P. It was very low in the southern sky in the early morning hours and a tough catch in the constellation Pisces Austrinus the Southern Fish. Using the "lure" of time, I made two observations - one around midnight and the other at 2 a.m. This way I was able to track and positively identify a faint, round hazy glow that slowly inched across the starfield over the span of two hours. Terry's photo below captures its appearance well.

© Terry Lovejoy
Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova photographed by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy on August 5.
Sure wasn't much to look at, but finding an old friend is always a pleasure. I last saw the comet back in 2001 and before that in 1995. Honda-M-P is what astronomers call a returning or periodic comet, similar to Halley's Comet but with a much smaller orbit and hence a shorter times between returns. It was discovered by Japanese amateur astronomer Minoru Honda in 1948 and seen at nearly the same time by astronomers Antonin Mrkos and Ludmila Pajdusakova.


NASA Sun-Watching Satellite Spots Comet Elenin in Deep Space

Comet Elenin as seen by NASA's STEREO spacecraft on Aug. 6, 2011.

A NASA spacecraft aimed at the sun shifted its unblinking gaze to an approaching comet last week to snap a new photo of the icy object as it flew by.

The image shows the comet Elenin as it passed within 4.3 million miles (7 million kilometers) of one of NASA's twin Stereo sun-watching spacecraft during a series of deep space photo sessions that began on Aug. 1. NASA rolled the Stereo-B satellite to give its instruments a view of the comet flyby, officials said.

From Stereo's observations, the fuzzy comet Elenin can be seen streaking across a small portion of the sky. The comet was seen by Stereo's HI-2 telescope between Aug. 1 to 5, and by the higher resolution HI-1 telescope between Aug. 6 to 12, NASA officials said. Stereo mission scientists planned to take photos for one-hour every day through Aug. 12.

"From August 15 onward, the comet enters the HI-1 telescope's nominal field of view, at which time we should enjoy continuous viewing of the comet," NASA researchers explained in an update posted to the Stereo mission website.


Perseid Meteor Shower

Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. International observers are now reporting nearly 20 Perseids per hour, a number that will increase as the shower reaches its peak on August 12-13.

After midnight on August 10th, Marco Langbroek caught this early Perseid flying over his moonlit roof in Leiden, the Netherlands:

© Marco Langbroek
Conditions were very dynamic, with fast moving cloud fields. During a clearing, I captured this Perseid (10 Aug 2011 between 01:28:40 - 01:29:00 UTC) low in the west. Canon EOS 450D + EF 2.8/24mm lens, 800 ISO, 20s exposure, Leiden town center.
On the same night in Dayton, Ohio, photographer John Chumak recorded a flurry of Perseids. "More than 3 dozen bright meteors rained down over my observatory last night!" he says. "Many were brighter than I expected, so there is still a chance for folks to see some Perseids despite the glare of the bright Moon."


Comet Collision to Come?

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, at 07:59:24 UT on February 4, 2011.
A telegram was issued on July 10th by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams of the International Astronomical Union announcing that the Earth got impacted for a few hours by a stream of dust from a potentially dangerous comet last February 4.

"This particular shower happens only once or twice every sixty years," says discoverer Dr. Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames. "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."

Jenniskens heads the Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) project in California. Since last October, the SETI Institute has teamed up with Fremont Peak Observatory and UCO/Lick Observatory 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 orbit in space.


Sun Unleashes Largest Solar Flare in Four Years

This still from a video taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the Aug. 8, 2011 solar flare as it appeared in the ultraviolet range of the light spectrum. The flare registered as an X6.9 class sun storm, the largest of the Solar Cycle 24.
An extremely powerful solar flare, the largest in over four years, rocked the sun early Tuesday (Aug. 9), but is unlikely to wreak any serious havoc here on Earth, scientists say.

"It was a big flare," said Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center. "We lucked out because the site of the eruption at the sun was not facing the Earth, so we will probably feel no ill effects."

Today's solar flare began at 3:48 a.m. EDT (0748 GMT), and was rated a class X6.9 on the three-class scale scientists use to measure the strength of solar flares. The strongest type of solar eruption is class X, while class C represents the weakest and class M flares are medium-strength events.


Sunspot 1263 Produced A Powerful X-Class Solar Flare Today

This morning at 0805 UT, sunspot 1263 produced a powerful X7-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the explosion's extreme ultraviolet flash:

The brunt of the explosion was not Earth directed. Nevertheless, a minor proton storm is in progress around our planet, which could affect satellites in high-altitude orbits. Also, radiation from flare created waves of ionization in Earth's upper atmosphere, briefly disrupting communications at some VLF and HF radio frequencies.

SOHO coronagraphs show a CME emerging from the blast site. The cloud will probably miss Earth. At this time, however, we cannot rule out a glancing blow from the flank of the CME on or about August 11th. Stay tuned for updates.


Weekend Auroras!

A widespread display of auroras erupted late Friday, Aug. 5th, when a double-CME hit Earth's magnetic field and sparked a G4-category geomagnetic storm. View a time lapse video of the event recorded by Michael Ericsson on the shores of Tibbitt Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada:

"Although not the most intense auroras I've ever seen, this one is definitely up there on my favorites list," he says.


Canada: Fire in The Sky

© Darren Mills / GFW Advertiser
A meteor, space junk, satellite or alien spacecraft? A number of people, including Harold Watkins, saw what appeared to be a fireball Monday night in Botwood. He said the object had been moving west and disappeared behind Bishop's Falls, and did not have a tail behind it. One possibility is that the object was a communications satellite with a bright reflective surface.

Whatever it was, Harold Watkins and others in Botwood were treated to the sight of what appeared to be a fireball in the sky Monday night.

"I live in an apartment off Twomey Drive, and this lady said to me, 'look, do you see that over there?' and when I looked, it seemed to be one big ball of fire going west," he said. "It was about 1,000 feet in the air. It looked very close to us."

Mr. Watkins and others had returned from Botwood Day ceremonies that evening, which had included fireworks at the Botwood Airbase. But he and the other people who had returned to outside his apartment said the fireworks had finished by the time they left the base.

"It was going west, and looked like it would have ended up in the back of Bishop's Falls," he said. "There were three of us coming back from the base and just getting out of the car. And the lady next door in an apartment next to me said 'see that in the air,' and when I looked, it was one big ball of fire and it was moving around and around."

Ron Silver, a media representative for NAV Canada, responsible for air traffic control operations across the country, said he contacted ATV at Gander International Airport after he was notified of the incident by the Advertiser.

"They didn't report anything unusual," he said.

Besides the far-fetched possibility of alien spacecraft, the most likely possibilities are space junk, such as trash from old spacecraft and decommissioned satellites and meteors, all burning up on re-entry in Earth's atmosphere.