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Mon, 26 Jun 2017
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Strange Skies


Ring seen around the sun in eastern Virginia

While it doesn't happen every day, we are occasionally treated to a funky sky phenomenon of a halo around the sun or moon.
This ring is caused by cirrostratus clouds, which are made of ice crystals. They are found above 20,000 feet. They can get quite thick, but sun or moon light can be seen through them.

This light is refracted through the ice crystals, and this causes the halo. At times, the clouds can be very thin and hardly visible until the halo is shown.

We often see cirrostratus clouds increasing ahead of a front or storm system. Thursday afternoon's halo was caused by moisture being thrown into our area by the remnants of Tropical Depression Cindy.


'Rare' sun halo seen over the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan

© Turmush
Residents of Issyk-Kul region were able to see the spectacular sight of the halo sun, Turmush reports.

The photos were taken on June 21 at 2:30 pm local time in Cholpon-Ata and Balykchy towns.

Halo is a circle of white or colored light around the sun, moon, or other luminous body caused by refraction through ice crystals in the atmosphere.

According to specialists, a particular weather pattern typical for North and South Pole is needed for the halo effect.


Red jellyfish sprites with halo of light captured over Austria

On June 20th, a thunderstorm in Austria unleashed a spectacular display of lightning. Observers on the ground witnessed blinding flashes of crackling light. The most amazing aspect of the outburst, however, was to be found high above the clouds. 80 km high, to be exact, in the realm of the sprites:
© Martin Popek
Martin Popek photographed the display from his private observatory in Nýdek, Czechia, more than 500 km away from the storm. Such distances are ideal for seeing above the tops of towering thunderclouds:
© Space Weather
"Jellyfish sprite events like these are produced by very impulsive cloud-to-ground lightning flashes draining positive charge from the stratiform rain region in large thunderstorms," explains lightning scientist Oscar van der Velde of the Technical University of Catalonia, Spain. Somehow, in a process that researchers only partially understand, the resulting electric fields draw jellyfish forms out of the cloudtops.


Unknown, unseen object signalled by warped Kuiper Belt

© Heather Roper/LPL
A yet to be discovered, unseen "planetary mass object" makes its existence known by ruffling the orbital plane of distant Kuiper Belt objects, according to research by Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The object is pictured on a wide orbit far beyond Pluto in this artist's illustration.
An unknown, unseen "planetary mass object" may lurk in the outer reaches of our solar system, according to new research on the orbits of minor planets to be published in the Astronomical Journal. This object would be different from—and much closer than—the so-called Planet Nine, a planet whose existence yet awaits confirmation.

In the paper, Kat Volk and Renu Malhotra of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, or LPL, present compelling evidence of a yet-to-be- discovered planetary body with a mass somewhere between that of Mars and Earth. The mysterious mass, the authors show, has given away its presence—for now—only by controlling the orbital planes of a population of space rocks known as Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs, in the icy outskirts of the solar system.

While most KBOs—debris left over from the formation of the solar system—orbit the sun with orbital tilts (inclinations) that average out to what planetary scientists call the invariable plane of the solar system, the most distant of the Kuiper Belt's objects do not. Their average plane, Volk and Malhotra discovered, is tilted away from the invariable plane by about eight degrees. In other words, something unknown is warping the average orbital plane of the outer solar system.

"The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass," says Volk, a postdoctoral fellow at LPL and the lead author of the study. "According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured."

The Kuiper Belt lies beyond the orbit of Neptune and extends to a few hundred Astronomical Units, or AU, with one AU representing the distance between Earth and the sun. Like its inner solar system cousin, the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuiper Belt hosts a vast number of minor planets, mostly small icy bodies (the precursors of comets), and a few dwarf planets.


22-degree sun halo spotted in Huntsville, Alabama

© Kristen Nesmith Harris
Did you see a halo around the sun on Tuesday?

If you did, you spotted an atmospheric optical phenomenon known as a 22-degree halo.

Earthsky.org explains it very simply:
Halos are a sign of high thin cirrus clouds drifting 20,000 feet or more above our heads.

These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals.
It is called a 22-degree halo because the ring has a radius of approximately 22 degrees around the sun or moon.


Showy sun halo draws attention as it hangs over Daytona Beach, Florida

© News-Journal/Jim Tiller
The sun was attracting attention in Daytona Beach on Tuesday with a showy halo, just one day before the summer solstice and the first official day of summer. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says rings like this one form around the sun when light refracts off ice crystals in cirrus clouds.


'Fire rainbow' seen over Grand Rapids, Michigan

© Ellen Bacca
Ellen Bacca took the pic. above in downtown Grand Rapids Monday. It's a "fire rainbow" also known as a circumhorizontal arc.

It's actually not a rainbow caused by rain and you would be looking at a rainbow with the sun at your back. This occurs when sunlight passes through a band of high clouds with 6-sided crystals in the shape of plates.

The sun has to be at least 58 degrees above the horizon to see a circumhorizontal arc. That means today (one day from the Summer Solstice) you could see a circumhorizontal arc between 11:41 am and 3:50 pm and in Grand Rapids you can only see a fire rainbow from April 18 to August 23rd, when the sun climbs to 58 degrees above the horizon.

North (and south) of 55 deg. latitude, you'll never see a fire rainbow. In London, England (51.5 deg. latitude), they only have a total of 140 hours a year when the sun is high enough to see a circumhorizontal arc.


Two-month countdown to total solar eclipse that will darken U.S. skies from Oregon to South Carolina

© Reuters/Stringer/Files
The moon passes between the sun and the earth during a solar eclipse in Coyhaique, Chile February 26, 2017.
Two months before the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in a century, NASA on Wednesday is expected to detail its plans to study and promote a celestial show that will darken skies from Oregon to South Carolina.

During the Aug. 21 eclipse, the moon will pass between the sun and Earth, blocking the face of the sun and leaving only its outer atmosphere, or corona, visible in the sky.

It is the first coast-to-coast total eclipse since 1918.

Weather permitting, astronomy enthusiasts can watch as the moon's 70-mile (113-km) wide shadow crosses the country, starting at 10:15 a.m. PDT (1715 GMT) around Lincoln Beach, Oregon, and ending at 2:49 p.m. EDT (1849 GMT) in McClellanville, South Carolina.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration will discuss several solar physics and Earth science experiments to be conducted during the eclipse in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. The agency also plans live broadcasts during the eclipse from dozens of locations along the path.


Deep-space travel, colonization may rely on genetically engineered life forms

© Genetic Literacy Project
Genetic biotechnology is usually discussed in the context of current and emerging applications here on Earth, and rightly so, since we still live exclusively in our planetary cradle. But as humanity looks outward, we ponder what kind of life we ought to take with us to support outposts and eventually colonies off the Earth.

While the International Space Station (ISS) and the various spacecraft that ferry astronauts on short bouts through space depend on consumables brought up from Earth to maintain life support, this approach will not be practical for extensive lunar missions, much less long term occupation of more distant sites. If we're to build permanent bases, and eventually colonies, on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, moons of outer planets or in free space, we'll need recycling life support systems. This means air, water, and food replenished through microorganisms and plants, and it's not a new idea.

Space exploration enthusiasts have been talking about it for decades, and it's the most obvious application of microorganisms and plants transplanted from Earth. What is new, however, is the prospect of a comprehensive use of synthetic biology for a wide range of off-Earth outpost and colonization applications.

To this end, considering human outposts on the Moon and Mars, a study from scientists based at NASA Ames Research Center and the University of California at Berkeley examined the potential of genetic technology, not only to achieve biologically based life support systems, but also to facilitate other activities that must be sustained on colony worlds. Not discussed as often with biotechnology and space exploration in the same conversation, these other activities include creation of rocket propellant, synthesis of polymers, and production of pharmaceuticals. Together with the life support system, they paint a picture of the beckoning era of space activity that puts synthetic biology at center stage.

Although written specifically in the context of lunar and Martian outposts, the proposed biologically based technical infrastructure is just as applicable to a colony on less frequently discussed worlds, such as the dwarf planet Ceres or an outer planet moon, or to a colony that orbits in the Earth moon system.


Nemesis - The Sun's long-lost twin

A radio image of a triple-star system forming within a dusty disk in the Perseus molecular cloud obtained by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
Nemesis is apparently real, even if its bad reputation is undeserved.

For decades, some scientists have speculated that the sun has a companion whose gravitational tug periodically jostles comets out of their normal orbits, sending them careening toward Earth. The resulting impacts have caused mass extinctions, the thinking goes, which explains the putative star's nickname: Nemesis.

Now, a new study reports that almost all sun-like stars are likely born with companions, bolstering the case for the existence of Nemesis.
"We are saying, yes, there probably was a Nemesis, a long time ago," study co-author Steven Stahler, a research astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

But the new results don't paint Nemesis as a murderer: The sibling star probably broke free of the sun and melted into the Milky Way galaxy's stellar population billions of years ago, study team members said.