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Wed, 21 Feb 2018
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Fire in the Sky


New Comet: P/2011 VJ5 (LEMMON)

Cbet nr.3010, issued on 2012, February 03, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude 18.5) by R. E. Hill on CCD images obtained on February 01.4, 2012 taken with the Catalina Sky Survey's 0.68-m Schmidt telescope. The new comet has been designated P/2011 VJ5 (LEMMON).

T. Spahr, Minor Planet Center, noted that this object appears identical to an apparently asteroidal object discovered by the Mount Lemmon Survey on Nov. 3 (observer R. Kowalski; discovery observations tabulated below) and then designated 2011 VJ5.

We performed some follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 8 R-filtered exposures, 30-sec each, obtained remotely, from the Haleakala-Faulkes Telescope North on 2012, Feb.1.6, through a 2.0-m f/10.0 Ritchey-Chretien + CCD, under good seeing conditions, shows that this object is a comet: compact coma nearly 3" in diameter with a sharp central condensation, and a tail about 20" long in PA 292.

Our confirmation image below.

Comet Lemmon
© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2012-C14 assigns the following preliminary orbital elements to comet P/2011 VJ5: T 2011 Dec. 8.7; e= 0.55; Peri. = 315.12; q = 1.50 AU; Incl.= 3.97


US: Texas Fireball

Last night, a spectacular fireball appeared in the skies of eastern Texas and Oklahoma. As is often the case for unexpected night-sky phenomena, few pictures are available. The best so far comes from a police dash-board camera in the small town of Little River-Academy, TX:

One wonders if the officer looked up from writing the ticket to witness the spectacle above.

According to Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, this was probably a natural object--a small asteroid about the size of a car or bus--not a decaying satellite or other manmade space debris. The fireball, which disintegrated in the general vicinity of Dallas-Fort Worth, was bright enough to be seen on NASA cameras located in New Mexico more than 500 miles away. "It was about as bright as the full Moon (astronomical magnitude -13)," estimates Cooke, who is still analyzing data and sighting reports in hopes of calculating the object's orbit. He might yet figure out where the Texas fireball came from. Stay tuned for updates.

Comment: Here's a closer view of the fireball:


2012 BX34: Behind the scenes in the discovery of a near Earth asteroid

Several blockbuster movies, television shows and commercials have depicted the discovery of an asteroid heading towards Earth and usually, somehow, impending doom is averted. But how do the discoveries of Near Earth Objects really happen? Asteroid 2012 BX34 buzzed by Earth last week, and even though this small asteroid was never considered a threat to Earth, its discovery still piqued the interest of the public.
© Alex Gibbs, Catalina Sky Survey/University of Arizona
The images in which asteroid 2012 BX34 was discovered. Images are from Jan. 25, 2012 10:30 UT.
It was discovered by Alex Gibbs, an astronomer and software engineer from the Catalina Sky Survey. Universe Today asked Gibbs to share his experiences of being an asteroid hunter and what it was like to find this latest NEO that made the Top-20 list of closest approaches to Earth.


Rare ring of fire eclipse to appear over North America May 2012

Get out your calendar and make a big exclamation point on May 20. That's when an annular solar eclipse will turn the sun into a glowing ring of fire. This is the first solar eclipse visible from the United States in about 18 years, according to NASA. We've had our share of lunar eclipses in recent years, but solar eclipses happen when the moon passes in front of the sun, obscuring it from view.
© Reuters/China Daily
The "ring of fire" effect will be visible as far north as Medford, Oregon and as far south as Lubbock, Texas. Throughout the zone - called the "path of annularity" - sky watchers will see the sun transformed into a a bright doughnut-like object.


US: Meteor hurtled over Texas on Wednesday night

Witnesses spotted it from Oklahoma City to south of Waco

At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, a meteor zipped across the sky over Dallas, then burst into a streaking flame before burning out.

WFAA received more than 200 reports, and a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman confirmed that it was likely a meteor or meteorite. Sightings extended from as far north as Oklahoma City to south of Waco. Some heard a boom. On its Wednesday night broadcast, CBS 11 described it as an "electrophonic" meteor -- one that can be heard as it burns.

Comments on WFAA's Facebook page came from The Colony, Rockwall, and beyond, each describing it slightly differently: as a "large blue and green ball with a orange tail," as "bright green," and as "real bright blue with a long fire trail behind it."

I actually saw it as it burned out. In what was undoubtedly an optical illusion, it looked like it was coming from south of downtown Dallas and moving in a northeast direction, as if headed for White Rock Lake. I happened to be watching a performance online by Bjork from Tuesday night's The Colbert Report. She sang "Cosmogony," a song from her new album Biophilia and I was trying to figure out the lyrics.


Comet Garradd to Make Closest Approach to Earth in March

Astrophotographers, ready your cameras. On Friday morning, February 3rd, Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1) will pass approximately 0.5 degrees from globular cluster M92 in Hercules. Last night, Rolando Ligustri took this picture of the converging pair using a remotely-controlled 106mm telescope in New Mexico:

Comet Garradd
© Rolando Ligustri
New image of the comet Garradd, ever closer to the globular cluster M92. In this case, I have worked with a greater resolution in such a way as to able to appreciate all the dozens of small galaxies present in the photo. apo 106/530 STL11000 L=600s in bin 1 RGB=60s each in bin2.
The ten minute exposure shows the comet's fan-shaped dust tail, which roughly traces the comet's orbit, and its pencil-thin gas tail, which points almost directly away from the sun due to the action of the solar wind.

The star cluster and the comet are both located in the constellation Hercules, high overhead in northern hemisphere skies before sunrise. Sky and Telescope offers a sky map of the comet's path. Observers with computerized GOTO telescopes can track the comet by plugging in orbital elements from the Minor Planet Center.

At the moment, Comet Garradd has an astronomical magnitude of +6.5, invisible to the naked eye but an easy target for backyard telescopes. Forecasters expect it to brighten by a factor of ~2 in the weeks ahead as the comet approaches Earth for a 1.3 AU close encounter in early March. This could be a good time to invest in a Comet Hunter.


German art dealers trying to steal El Chaco meteor from Argentina


El Chaco meteorite in the midst of a Moqoit ceremony
An unlikely alliance between the native Moqoit people and leading Argentine scientists has thwarted plans to ship the world's second largest meteorite to Germany as a prestigious art exhibit.

The 37-ton space rock crashed to Earth as part of a meteor shower between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, forming a giant 48,000 square kilometer crater field in northeastern Argentina known as Campo del Cielo, or Field of the Sky.

Named El Chaco after the province it fell into, the meteorite is central to the world view of the native Moqoit people, many of whose legends, passed down from generation to generation, are based on the meteor shower.

The Moqoit First Nation was decimated following the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and today there are only about 15,000 natives left, living mainly in far northeastern Argentina.

A controversy erupted when the Chaco provincial legislature in December approved a request by a pair of Buenos Aires-based artists to ship the meteorite to Germany to feature in the Documenta modern art exhibition.


Canada: Halifax 'fireball' probably a meteor


File photo
An expert on astronomy says the glowing fireball that some Halifax residents saw streaking through the sky Thursday night was probably a meteor.

Alan Strauss at the Mount Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona says these spectacular fireballs are quite common.

However, Strauss says people often miss them because they just don't look up that much.

Comment: That or they just have incredibly short memories. This is from January 2009:

Canada: Halifax, Nova Scotia - Ball of Fire

The fiery object appeared to travel from west to east over the Halifax area at around 9:30pm.


South Carolina, US: More Questions than Answers in Mysterious South Congaree Boom

South Carolina - In a quiet little town like South Congaree, when something happens, everybody knows about it. Even if they don't exactly know what it was.

"People are curious," said Betty Fairbanks, a resident. "We'd like to know what went on what it was."

The incident happened Sunday morning around 8:00am when the sleepy town was shaken out of bed by some kind of loud boom.

"At first we thought a big tree limb had fallen on the house," said Fairbanks. "It shook the house."

Police Chief Jason Amodio says calls came in from a 4 mile radius, but no reports of damage or injury. But, most importantly, no cause.

"We've talked to several people about it we even called the Cayce quarry, but there's no indication of any kind of quarrying going on that time of day or that would even be loud enough to be heard in the town if it was," said Amodio.


USGS monitors Earth's magnetic field to prepare citizens for magnetic storms

The arc of light heading towards the earth is a coronoal mass ejection, which impacts the earth's magnetic field (shown in purple), causing magnetic storms.
Everyone is familiar with weather systems on Earth like rain, wind and snow. But space weather - variable conditions in the space surrounding Earth - has important consequences for our lives inside Earth's atmosphere.

Solar activity occurring miles outside Earth's atmosphere, for example, can trigger magnetic storms on Earth. These storms are visually stunning, but they can set our modern infrastructure spinning.

On Jan. 19, scientists saw a solar flare in an active region of the Sun, along with a concentrated blast of solar-wind plasma and magnetic field lines known as a coronal mass ejection that burst from the Sun's surface and appeared to be headed for Earth.

When these solar winds met Earth's magnetic field, the interaction created one of the largest magnetic storms on Earth recorded in the past few years. The storm peaked on Jan. 24, just as another storm began.

"These new storms, and the storm we witnessed on Sept 26, 2011, indicate the up-tick in activity coming with the Earth's ascent into the next solar maximum," said USGS geophysicist Jeffrey Love." This solar maximum is the period of greatest activity in the solar cycle of the Sun, and it is predicted to occur sometime in 2013, which will increase the amount of magnetic storms on Earth.

Comment: There may be several reasons why scientists are studying earth's magnetic field: New Sott Report: Strange Noises in the Sky: Trumpets of the Apocalypse?