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Fire in the Sky


Now in the Night Sky: Comet Garradd

© Peter Lake
Comet Garradd on Aug. 1. 2011 as seen from Australia.
If you haven't already, it's time to start looking for Comet Garradd! This comet, with the nomenclature C/2009 P1, is now coming into small telescope/binocular view so here's your chance to see the brightest comet in the current night sky. You can find it in the late evening sky in the constellation Pegasus. Viewing it now, Garradd is just coming out the "fuzzball" stage, and its tail is just coming into view.

Some say it's much better looking than that other comet, Elenin, that has been needlessly grabbing some headlines. Comet Garradd was discovered two years ago by Gordon Garradd from the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, and is currently visible through a small telescope at about magnitude nine.

Above is an image of Comet Garradd from Peter Lake (aka Astroswanny) from Australia.


New Zealand: Loud Noise Heard in Niue Thought to be Caused by a Meteor

© Unknown

The Niue police chief says a large bang heard around the island late on Tuesday night sounded like thunder but may have been a meteor exploding.

Mark Chenery says the island has been abuzz about the loud noise and inquiries made at Wellington's Carter observatory suggest it was probably caused by a meteor detonating about 20 kilometres above Niue.

Mr Chenery says he initially thought a boat had blown up down at the wharf.
"There was a large, a huge clap of thunder but it was its normal starry night outside. People have described seeing a white light, like a flare, shooting across the sky. Niue is 64 kilometres around and it was heard in Lakepa in the north west down to Avasele in the south east, so it was certainly heard island wide."
Mark Chenery says there have been no reports of damage.


For the Third Day in a Row - Active Sunspot 1261 Has Unleashed A Significant M-class Solar Flare

The latest blast at 0357 UT on August 4th registered M9.3 on the Richter Scale of Flares, almost crossing the threshold into X-territory (X-flares are the most powerful kind). The number of energetic protons around Earth has jumped nearly 100-fold as a result of this event.

The eruption propelled a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. Click on the image to view a movie of the expanding cloud recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory:

Moving at an estimated speed of 1950 km/s, this CME is expected to sweep up two earlier CMEs already en route. Analysts at the GSFC Space Weather Lab say the combined cloud should reach Earth on August 5th at 13:55 UT plus or minus 7 hours: "The impact on Earth is likely to be major. The estimated maximum geomagnetic activity index level Kp is 7 (Kp ranges from 0 - 9). The flanks of the CME may also impact STEREO A, Mars and Mercury/MESSENGER."


Another Solar Flare Today From Sunspot 1261 Heading Our Way

Sunspot 1261 unleashed another strong solar flare this morning--an M6-class flash at 1348 UT. Like yesterday's eruption from the same active region, this explosion propelled a CME in the general direction of Earth. ETA: August 6th. Stay tuned for additional analysis.


The Incoming Cloud From Sunspot 1261

Yesterday's M1-class eruption from sunspot 1261 was observed by three spacecraft: SOHO, STEREO-A and STEREO-B. Using data from those three points of view, analysts at the GSFC Space Weather Lab have made a 3-dimensional model of the CME now en route to Earth. Click HERE to launch a computer-generated movie of the expanding cloud:

According to their work, the CME left the sun traveling 900 km/s and should reach Earth (denoted by a yellow dot in the simulation) on August 5th at 0300 UT plus or minus 7 hours. Another cloud produced by today's M-flare may be right behind it; stay tuned for movies of that one, too. Mild to moderate geomagnetic storms are possible when these CMEs arrive on August 5th and 6th.


Meteorite and Explosion Over South-Western France

© David Néel
This photo was taken 20 km from Clermont-Ferrand (Isserteaux) - the meteor's trajectory was a westerly direction.
Several people reported seeing a green object with a yellow or white tail yesterday (August 2nd) at 3.35am in the skies above Toulouse, France.

"It was 3. 35am on Tuesday morning. I had just looked at my watch as I was heading out to do my round when I looked up at the dark sky and, for about 3 seconds, saw a large, silent green object with a light trailing behind it. About 30 seconds later I there was an loud explosion as if something had hit the ground", says Alexandre, a security agent working at the Toulouse military airport. "It wasn't a plane. I know well that there are no flight paths in the area of the sky where I saw it. It looked like a firework, but silent and a a lot bigger. A colleague who was outside smoking a cigarette saw it too." he added.

Alexandre has 4500 'friends' on Facebook. He reported his sighting on the social networking site. One of his 'friends' sent him a message: "She was unable to sleep last night and saw the same thing as me, with a white light. Another person from Albi saw it too. For me, it looked like a meteorite", explained the security agent.

Yesterday afternoon, Le Geipan, an unidentified aerospace phenomena study and information group, which collects all information on UFOs in France, received two other eyewitness accounts of the same phenomenon at the same time.


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.