Posts by Bob Trembley

In the Sky this Week- October 17, 2017
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A wafer-thin waning crescent Moon is very close to Mars before sunrise on October 17th; there was earthshine from my location - morning drivers heading east got a real treat! The distance between Venus and Mars in the morning sky continues to grow; Venus getting lower, and Mars getting higher each day. Venus will disappear from the morning sky in Mid November.

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Saturn is still a good observing target after dusk in the southwestern sky, but it is getting a lit lower in the sky each day. A wafer-thin waxing crescent Moon will accompany Saturn on October 23rd.

Southwestern sky at 8:00 PM, Oct. 23, 2017

Southwestern sky at 8:00 PM, Oct. 23, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Orionids Meteor Shower peak will occur on October 21-22; best times to view the shower are after midnight, and before dawn on October 22nd.

Location in the sky where the Orionids meteors seem to originate from

Orionids Meteor Shower Radiant. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

For a second week there are no sunspots visible from Earth, but the lingering coronal hole in the Sun's northern region has gotten its own article and video at the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website:

The Inner Solar System

This is the position of the planets in the inner solar system using the NASA Eyes on the Solar System app:

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 17, 2017

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

The Earth

If you click on the Earth in the NASA Eyes app, you will zoom-to the Earth, and you can see real-time positions of several Earth-orbiting satellites:

Satellites orbiting Earth - Oct. 17, 2017

Satellites orbiting Earth - Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Earth Orbiting Satellites

If you click on one of the satellites orbiting the Earth, you will zoom-to that satellite. Below is the Jason-3 satellite - which measures sea-level variations over the global ocean with very high accuracy.

Jason-3 Satellite orbing Earth

Jason-3 Satellite orbing Earth. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Stuffin.Space

To get a good idea of how much stuff is orbiting the Earth, check out: Stuffin.Space:


Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

Orionids Meteor Shower 2017: Oct. 21-22
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Location in the sky where the Orionids meteors seem to originate from

Orionids Meteor Shower Radiant. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Orionids are a medium strength meteor shower that occasionally reaches high levels of activity. The Orionids typically 20-25 meteors per hour; 2006-2009 were exceptional years, with peak rates similar to the Perseids (50-75 per hour). The meteors will appear to radiate from a point near the constellation Orion. The Orionids meteor shower is best seen after midnight on October 22; the Moon will be a thin waxing crescent, setting shortly after sunset, so there will be no moonlight affecting the show. .

Waxing Crescent Moon - 2.7%. Credit: Stellarium

Peak: October 21-22
Active from: September 23rd to November 27th
Radiant: 06:20 +15.5° (see image above)
Hourly Rate: 25
Velocity: 41 miles/sec (swift - 67km/sec)
Parent Object: 1P/Halley
Source: American Meteor Society

Interactive graphic showing the particle stream from comet 1P/Halley:

NASA ScienceCasts: A Meteor Shower from Halley's Comet:

Meteor. Credit: Creative Commons, CC BY 3.0

In the Sky this Week- October 10, 2017
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The waning gibbous Moon is high in the southern sky before dawn; The Moon will be at third quarter on the 12th, traveling eastward and a bit lower each morning, it will be a waning crescent from the 13th through the 19th.

Moon in southern sky Oct. 10, 2017

Moon in southern sky Oct. 10, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Moon will occult the star Regulus before sunrise on Oct. 15th.

Simulation of the Moon blocking the star Regulus

The Moon occults the star Regulus before dawn on Oct. 5th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Occultation OF ZC1487 (Regulus) on 15 Oct. 2017

For a map and timing of the occultation for your location, click this link.

Venus and Mars continue to appear close together, low in the eastern predawn sky. The Moon will appear very close to Mars on the morning of Oct. 17th.

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017

The Moon in the eastern predawn sky Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

On October 14th, asteroid 2012 TC14 will pass by the Earth at 0.13 Lunar Distances - that's WELL inside Earth's geosynchronous satellite ring; the asteroid is estimated to be 8-26 meters in diameter. Earth's gravity will bend the orbit of the asteroid as it passes by.

There are currently no sunspots visible from Earth, but the coronal hole that has been hanging around for the last couple weeks, now appears to have formed an island!

The Sun's Corona

The Sun's Corona - Oct. 10, 2017 - Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) 211 angstroms. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

Each year, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center creates a Solar Dynamics Observatory "best of" video, and the year 6 video is spectacular! I made the following comment to the video on YouTube: "I have never seen a better video showing the fluid-dynamic nature of the Sun's differential rotation. It's really neat to see the ">>>" patterns form (and the things IN them) as the Sun rotates. This will be included as part of my Sun lecture."

Uranus is high in the eastern sky a few hours after sunset; at the recent Astronomy at the Beach event in Michigan, a young girl commented that Uranus was the coolest thing she saw that evening!

Uranus high in the eastern sky

Uranus is high in the eastern sky after sunset. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Inner Solar System

The Inner Solar System

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 10, 2017, looking out towards Jupiter and Saturn. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Looking out towards Uranus and Neptune from the Inner Solar System

The Inner Solar System, Oct. 10, 2017, looking out towards Uranus and Neptune. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

In the Sky this Week- October 3, 2017
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Venus and Mars will appear close together, low in the eastern predawn sky, all week long.

Venus and Mars very near each other, low in the eastern predawn sky - Oct. 3, 2017

Venus and Mars, low in the eastern predawn sky - Oct. 3, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

As I was seeing my wife off to work early this morning, she looked up and exclaimed "Oh WOW!" It was an exceptionally clear morning, and the skies appeared crisp and bright; the winter stars of Taurus, Orion, and Canis Major shone brightly.

Winter stars around Orion in the morning sky Oct. 3, 2017.

Jewels high in the southern predawn sky - Oct. 3, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The waxing gibbous Moon and Saturn make great observing targets in the southern sky after sunset on October 3rd. The Moon will be full on October 5th.

The Moon and Saturn in the southern sky after sunset - Oct. 3, 2017.

Southern sky after sunset - Oct. 3, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

On the morning the October 5th, Venus and Mars will be VERY close to each other in the eastern predawn sky. On the 6th, Venus will appear below Mars, and will continue a slow descent toward the horizon each morning.

Venus and Mars close together in the sky on Oct. 5, 2017.

Very close conjunction of Venus and Mars at 6:00 AM on the morning of Oct. 5, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Sun has a couple large sunspots; Spaceweather.com says that they all have stable magnetic fields, and are unlikely to produce strong solar flares.

The Sun with sunspots on Oct. 3, 201

The Sun - Oct. 3, 2017 - Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. / Bob Trembley.

The Sun's corona has several beautiful large coronal loops on the morning of October 3rd.

Loops in the Sun's corona on Oct. 3, 2017

Loops in the Sun's Corona - Oct. 3, 2017 - Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) 171 angstroms. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

The Sky Overhead

A map of the sky overhead after sunset on Oct. 3, 2017.

The sky overhead after sunset on Oct. 3, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Inner Solar System

The planets of the inner solar system on Oct. 3, 2017

The Inner Solar System - Oct. 3, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

In the Sky this Week- September 26, 2017
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Winter stars are getting higher and higher in the predawn skies; if you are an early-riser, the Orion Nebula is visible for several hours before dawn in the southern sky.

Orion high in the sky

Orion high in the southern predawn sky - Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Regulus, Venus and Mars aligned in the predawn sky on Sept. 26th.

Conjunction in the eastern predawn sky - Sept. 26, 2017

Conjunction in the eastern predawn sky - Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The waxing crescent Moon will be very close to Saturn after sunset on the 26th; the next few days will be excellent for telescope observing.

Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn

Conjunction of the waxing crescent Moon and Saturn after sunset - Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The first quarter Moon will be on Sept. 27th; the Moon will still be fairly close to Saturn that evening.

First quarter moon and Saturn

First quarter moon and Saturn in the sky after sunset - Sept. 27, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Moon will almost be full by the beginning of next week; it should be a great observing target all week long.

Waxing gibbous moon

Waxing gibbous moon in the southeastern sky - Oct. 2, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Venus and Mars will be very close to each other in the predawn on Oct. 2nd.

Conjunction of Venus and Mars in the eastern sky

Conjunction in the eastern predawn sky -
Oct. 2, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Double Cluster is high in the northeastern sky after sunset.

The Double Cluster is high in the sky

The Double Cluster is high in the northeastern sky after sunset - Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Double Cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884) is two open star clusters which appear close together in the constellation Perseus. Both visible to the naked eye at a dark-sky site.

The Double Cluster. Credit: Creative Commons - CC BY-SA 3.0

The large coronal hole from last week has remained, and grown in size!

The Sun's Corona shown in violet, with a huge coronal hole

The Sun's Corona - Sept. 26, 2017 - Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) 211 angstroms. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

AR2673 has made the 2 week trip around the farside of the Sun, and has returned as AR2683. SpaceWeather.com says: "The formerly potent sunspot decayed while it was gone, and no longer appears to be a threat for strong flares."

The Sun's photosphere with several sunspots

The Sun - Sept. 26, 2017 - Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. / Bob Trembley.

The Solar System:

Inner Solar System, Sept. 26, 2017

Inner Solar System, Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Outer Solar System, Sept. 26, 2017

Outer Solar System, Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

In the Sky this Week- September 19, 2017
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A veritable riot of conjunctions is happening all week in the eastern predawn skies; Venus is VERY close to the star Regulus, and Mercury and Mars continue to be low in the sky before sunrise.

Eastern predawn sky, Sept. 19, 2017

Eastern predawn sky, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

These conjunctions can also be seen from the southern hemisphere; note how the position of the planets differs from the northern hemisphere.

Eastern predawn sky seen from Perth

Eastern predawn sky seen from Perth, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Saturn continues to be a good observing target in the southern skies after sunset.

Southwestern sky after sunset, Sept. 19, 2017

Southwestern sky after sunset, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The southern skies seen from Perth after sunset are something I'd REALLY like to see; visible are the two Magellanic Clouds, the Carina Nebula

Southern sky after sunset, Sept. 19, 2017

Southern sky after sunset seen from Perth, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

In the eastern sky seen from Perth at 1:00 AM on Sept. 18th we see a good example of the different orientation of constellations seen from the southern hemisphere.

Eastern sky seen from Perth at 1 AM Sept. 18, 201

Eastern sky seen from Perth at 1 AM Sept. 18, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Pleiades star cluster can be seen high in the eastern sky at 2:00 AM.

Eastern sky at 2 AM on Sept. 19, 2017

Eastern sky at 2 AM on Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Pleiades open star cluster consists of approximately 3,000 stars, and is among the nearest star clusters to Earth; the cluster is easily visible to the naked eye.

The Pleiades open star cluster. Credit: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory The science team consists of: D. Soderblom and E. Nelan (STScI), F. Benedict and B. Arthur (U. Texas), and B. Jones (Lick Obs.)

This video shows a faster-than-light trip through space to the Pleiades star cluster:

SpaceWeather.com says that "Lonely sunspot AR2680 poses no threat for strong solar flares."

The Sun's photosphere with a sunspot

The Sun - Sept. 18, 2017 - Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. / Bob Trembley.

There is a large coronal hole that can be seen in 211 angstrom s.

The Sun's Corona shown in violet

The Sun's Corona - Sept. 12, 2017 - Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) 211 angstrom s. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

The Solar System:

Inner Solar System, Sept. 18, 2017

Inner Solar System, Sept. 18, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Full Solar System, Sept. 18, 2017

Full Solar System, Sept. 18, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

A Heartfelt Farewell to NASA’s Cassini Mission to Saturn
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Cassini End of Mission

Cassini's final moments, September 15, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Cassini mission to Saturn ranks right at the top of my list of favorite space missions; this morning, on NASA TV, I watched Cassini's final moments as it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn... and I had a good cry. It's an odd juxtaposition of feelings: being overjoyed and incredibly sad at the same time.

When Cassini launched in 1997, my daughters were aged 12 and 9; my wife likes to recall the story of my phoning my eldest in 2004, then in college, to tell her that Cassini was making its orbital insertion burn! She also claims that I can be "such a geek."

Cassini Orbital Insertion Burn

Cassini Orbital Insertion Burn simulated in NASA Eyes on the Solar System.

Yesterday, I heard a story on NPR with a NASA engineer that was at the very first Cassini planning meeting - 30 years ago! For several people, this mission has been their entire career! In an interview I heard this morning, one mission specialist said that most of what's in recent science textbooks about Saturn, came from Cassini.

Cassini was a spectacular mission - start to finish; Cassini has taught us SO MUCH about Saturn and it's moons, and the data it has returned will be studied for years to come.

Cassini By the Numbers - 2016

This infographic offers a snapshot of just a few of the Cassini mission's big numbers as it heads into a final year of science at Saturn. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

Cassini has also taught us that the worlds of the outer solar system have a lot to teach us, and extended orbiter missions are the right way to do it. In interview after interview this morning, a theme I kept hearing was that "we need to go back." There's serious talk about returning to Saturn's moon Enceledus, which may have conditions in its deep sub-surface ocean suitable for life.

I'm hoping that the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey will include orbiters for Uranus and Neptune; who knows what wonders the ice giant worlds and their moons have to teach us? If the results from Saturn are any guide, the answer is: quite a lot!


Resources:

Cassini Main Site: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html
Cassini Grand Finale Overview: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grand-finale/overview/
Interactive Cassini Timeline: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/
NASA Eyes on the Solar System Cassini Feature: https://eyes.nasa.gov/eyes-on-cassini.html
Cassini Image Gallery: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/galleries/images/
The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini Ebook: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/the-saturn-system.html

An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy
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Image credit: Space Engine / Bob Trembley

Now You Know Media presents a new lecture series with Br. Guy

An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy

In these 12 lectures, Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D. leads you on a journey through the Cosmos; you’ll learn how the stars and planets reveal the beauty of Creation, and explore Scripture, the great astronomers, and the most profound questions about the universe.

Topics include:

  1. Naked Astronomy: How can we to learn the sky, to recognize its regularities and its changes, and find God in the rhythm of the stars?
  2. Dark skies: For most of human history, nightfall meant the absence of light, a daily shift of what we could and could not do. How has the ubiquitous presence of artificial light changed the way we the spirituality of preserving our view of the heavens
  3. Astronomy in the Bible: How does scripture talk about the stars? What can we learn today about the best way to appreciate the stars?
  4. Astronomy and Astrology: Why was astrology forbidden in the Old Testament? Why is it scorned by astronomers today? What are the temptations of “gnosticism” — a belief in “hidden knowledge”? And how do the Magi fit into all this?
  5. A Bestiary of Professional Telescopes: What’s out there, why they are designed the way they are, and what they’re looking for? Is it fair to compare modern observatories to medieval cathedrals?
  6. A Night at the Telescope: What do professional astronomers actually do when they observe? What is the experience like, staying up on a mountaintop studying the sky? What do we learn, both about our science and about ourselves?
  7. My Favorite Planets (and not-planets): Pluto is not a planet — it’s something better. I will describe my own personal adventures with three relatively obscure but, to me, fascinating worlds: the dwarf planet Pluto, the active moon of Jupiter, Io, and everyone’s favorite, Mars.
  8. Exploring Other Solar Systems: In the last twenty years we’ve discovered not only that other stars have planets, but in fact such planets are quite common in the universe. What do we know, how do we know it, and what does it mean about our own planet Earth and our place in the universe?
  9. Walking on Other Words: Planets are places where people can have adventures. The day is not too far off when people will be able to visit the sights on Mars with the same ease that they visit the Grand Canyon. What are some of the great things to be seen some day in our solar system?
  10. The Known Unknown – Dark Energy and Dark Matter: We’ll look into the the reasons why we think there is matter in the universe that we cannot directly detect, what current ideas exist about what might explain this, and what all of this means to the question of how well we can trust science.
  11. The Big Bang: We’ll look into the history of the people who first speculated about how the universe might have started, and then look deeper into the evidence that both convinces us we’re on the right track, and challenges us to find more detail about how it actually might have happened… including speculation about what it does, and does not, say about God’s action in Creation.
  12. The Big Questions: What are we hoping to learn in our study of astronomy? This final lesson will provide just a sampling of the fascinating things that astronomers hope to discover over the next hundred years. They are age-old questions including, how did the planets form? What is life, where do we look for it, how do we look for it, how do we know it when we see it, and what do we do then? Are there new laws of physics to be found in the extreme environments of astrophysics?

When ordering use coupon code: Guy2017 for a special VOF 10% discount - valid until the end of September!
To order from the NowYouKnow Media website, click HERE.
Available in: CD/MP3/DVD

In the Sky this Week – September 12, 2017
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Mercury is about as high as it's going to get in the eastern predawn sky on the 12th, and will start getting lower each morning. Sirius is high in the sky, and the constellation Canis Major is now fully visible above the southeastern horizon before sunrise. Mercury and Mars will appear very close to each other in the eastern predawn sky on the 16th.

6:00 AM Sept. 12, 2017 - East

Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Saturn continues to be a great observing target in the southern sky after sunset.

9:00 PM Sept. 12, 2017 - South

Southern sky at 9:00 PM Sept. 12, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Moon will be in conjunction with the star Aldebaran on the morning of the 12th, and will appear between(ish) the stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse on the 13th.

Conjunction of the Moon and Aldebaran - Sept. 12, 2017 6:00 AM

Conjunction of the Moon and the star Aldebaran on the 12th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Conjunction of the Moon, Aldebaran and Betelgeuse - Sept. 13, 2017 6:00 AM

The third quarter moon near the stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse on the 13th. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The eastern predawn sky on the 18th should look pretty interesting: Mercury, Mars, a sliver of a waning crescent Moon, the star Regulus and Venus will all appear in a line.

Conjunction of the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Regulus and Venus - Sept. 18, 2017 6:00 AM

Conjunction of the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Regulus and Venus - Sept. 18, 2017 6:00 AM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Sunspot AR2680 has rotated into view; this sunspot is about the same size as AR2673 was from last week - which ballooned out and blew off two of the largest solar flares we've seen in quite a few years... so we'll be keeping a wary eye on this sunspot.

The Sun - Sept. 12, 2017

The Sun - Sept. 12, 2017 - Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. / Bob Trembley.

AR2673 and AR2674 have rotated out of view, large coronal loops associated with AR2674 can still be seen on the limb of the Sun (right side of image below).

The Sun's Corona - AIA 171 - Sept. 12, 2017

The Sun's Corona - Sept. 12, 2017 - Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) 171 angstroms. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

This video shows a very active corona between Sept. 10-12, 2017:

The Sky Overhead - Sept. 12, 2017 9:00 PM

The Sky Overhead - Sept. 12, 2017 9:00 PM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Sky Overhead - Sept. 12, 2017 6:00 AM

The Sky Overhead - Sept. 12, 2017 6:00 AM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Solar System - Sept. 12, 2017

The Solar System - Sept. 12, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.

Become a Volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador
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NASA/JPL is looking for highly motivated volunteers to communicate the science and excitement of NASA's space exploration missions and discoveries to the people in their communities.

Each September, the volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program has a recruitment drive for new volunteers; there are currently volunteers from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands.

SSAs are required to do a minimum of four events over the year, and log them on the SSA website; events can include: lectures, workshops, star/eclipse parties, hands-on activities, etc.

The SSA program hosts frequent teleconferences with NASA scientists, mission specialists, and engineers covering a HUGE range of topics; presentation materials and media for each teleconference are made available for SSAs to use. When it can, the program also provides freebies; my wife and I received 1000 solar glasses and distributed them far and wide before the eclipse.

Applicants that are accepted into the program are required to go through an orientation program, and rigorous ethics training; SSAs are representing NASA/JPL, which is funded by the U.S. government, so you are essentially representing them. You may note the images on all my blog posts have credits - that's one of the many requirements of the program.

The 2017 application form is here - be warned, it is quite thorough, and you will have to provide references; I feel like I was almost cheating in that department: I used Br. Guy and Bill Higgins...

Being an SSA for the last several years has offered me several very rewarding experiences, a great network of contacts, and access to information and knowledge that is literally out of this world!

Map of Solar System Ambassadors across the continental U.S. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Sun Spots, CMEs, and Solar Storms!
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Oh my! Sol apparently didn't get the memo that it's past solar maximum, and time to be heading towards solar minimum. There are a couple massive sunspot groups (Active Regions) on the Sun, and one in particular has magnetic fields harboring enough energy to generate X-class solar flares.

The Sun

The photosphere from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) (left, colorized), and the corona from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) (right, composite, extreme ultraviolet/soft X-rays) - Sept. 6, 2017. Images courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams / Bob Trembley

AR2674 hasn't changed much in size over the the last few days, but it is still a very active region with large coronal loops.

AR2674 - Sept. 6, 2017

AR2674 - Sept. 6, 2017. Images courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams / Bob Trembley

AR2673 was an innocuous little spot last week, then over the weekend ballooned out into an area larger than the Earth, with intense magnetic fields.

AR2673 - Sept. 6, 2017

AR2673 - Sept. 6, 2017. Images courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams / Bob Trembley

On September 4th, AR2673 spit out a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) towards Earth - due to hit Earth's magnetic field today (Sept. 6th), and causing G3-class geomagnetic storms on September 6th and 7th; effects can include: GPS problems, intermittent HF radio, spacecraft surface charging, power system voltage corrections, etc...

CME from the Sun

CME - Sept 5, 2017. Image credit: NASA/JPL - Caltech / SOHO

Aurora watchers may want to keep an eye on the Auroral Oval, as increased auroral activity is likely.

Auroral Oval

The Auroral Oval (LIVE Image). Image credit: NOAA/Ovation

SpaceWeather.com featured this beautiful image of AR2673 on their website on Sept. 6th.

AR 2673-74 Image credit: Philippe TOSI, Sept. 5, 2017

UPDATE: At 5:10 a.m. EDT, AR2673 blasted off an X2.2 solar flare - the most powerful flare seen since 2015; then at 8:02 a.m. EDT, a mere 3 hours later, and while I was writing this post, AR2673 followed-up with an even more powerful X9.3 flare! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) says that the last X9 flare occurred in 2006.

In the Sky this Week – September 5, 2017
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Mercury and Mars make a reappearance very low in the eastern morning sky - so low in fact, you may have trouble seeing them if you have low shrubs; atmospheric turbulence and light pollution may also make them difficult to spot.

Eastern sky before sunrise, Sept. 5, 2017

Eastern sky before sunrise, Sept. 5, 2017, 6:00 AM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Over the week, Mars will not get any higher in the sky, but Mercury will get visibly higher each morning. Mercury will be very close to the star Regulus in Leo on Sept. 10th. Catch Mercury while you can - by next week, Mercury will start getting lower in the sky, and will vanish entirely by late September.

Conjunction of Mercury, Mars, and Regulus - Sept. 10, 2017

Conjunction of Mercury, Mars, and Regulus in the eastern sky before sunrise, Sept. 10, 2017, 6:00 AM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The full Moon rises in the east with the sunset on Sept. 5th; Saturn remains high in the southern sky, after sunset.

Southern sky after sunset, Sept. 5, 2017

Southern sky after sunset, Sept. 5, 2017, 9:00 PM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

Polaris, the North Star, is visible above the northern horizon before dawn. Two of Polaris' three stars can be made out in a modest sized telescope; Polaris A, the primary component of the trinary is a Cepheid variable star, ranging in magnitude from 1.86 - 2.13, with a period of roughly 4 days. Have a look at Polaris - compare its brightness with stars around it; now, do the same the next night - see if you can spot a difference.

Polaris above the northern horizon, Sept. 5, 2017

Polaris above the northern horizon, Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

This video shows the stars of the Polaris trinary and an approximation of their orbits:

There are multiple rather large sunspots on the Sun this week - grab those solar glasses and go back out and see if you can spot them - they're HUGE!

The Sun - Sept. 4, 2017

The Sun - Sept. 4, 2017 - Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. / Bob Trembley.

Sunspot group AR2673 showed dramatic growth last weekend:

Expanding Sunspot

On Saturday, Sept. 2nd, AR2673 was a typical small sunspot. On Sunday, Sept. 3rd, it grew massively. Image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.

The Sky Overhead:

The Sky Overhead: Sept. 5, 2017 10:00 PM

The Sky Overhead: Sept. 5, 2017 10:00 PM. Credit: Stellarium / Bob Trembley.

The Solar System:

The Solar System - Sept. 5, 2017

The Solar System - Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

The Solar System with Asteroids and Comets:

Solar System with small bodies - Sept. 5, 2017

Solar System with small bodies - Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Looking at the inner solar system from a vantage point behind the Earth:

The Solar System, seen from near Earth - Sept. 5, 2017

The Solar System, seen from near Earth - Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: NASA Eyes on the Solar System / Bob Trembley.

Apps used for this post:

Stellarium: a free open source planetarium app for PC/MAC/Linux.
Universe Sandbox ²: a physics-based 3D space simulator.
NASA Eyes on the Solar System: an immersive 3D solar system and space mission app - free for the PC /MAC.
Space Engine: a realistic virtual Universe you can explore on your computer - free for the PC.