SATELLITE FLYBYS APP: Turn your iPhone or iPod into a field-tested satellite tracker! Spaceweather.com presents the Satellite Flybys app.
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FINAL NIGHT LAUNCH OF THE SHUTTLE: On Feb. 7th at 4:39 am EST, space shuttle Endeavour will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission (STS-130) to the International Space Station. It will be the final night launch of NASA's soon-to-be-retired shuttle program. After STS-130, only four missions remain and all of them will leave Earth in broad daylight. Readers, if you are ever going to travel to Florida to witness a launch, Feb. 7th would be a good choice.
SOLAR ACTIVITY: Today has brought an uptick in solar activity. Sunspot 1040 (a.k.a. old sunspot 1035) is crackling with minor solar flares and seems to be gathering itself for something more. Just hours ago, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured this C1-class eruption:
Backyard astronomers with solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor developments.
a movie: "The plasma crawling around inside AR1040 made me think of the head of Medusa. It was exciting to watch!" says amateur astronomer Michael Buxton of Ocean Beach, California. "I made this time-lapse movie at 1 minute intervals from 2045-2215 UT on 8 Jan. 2010."
more images: from Alcaria Rego of Almada, Portugal; from Brian Woosnam of North Wales, UK; from Emiel Veldhuis of Zwolle, the Netherlands; from Robert Arnold of Isle of Skye, Scotland;
ISLAND SNOW: Last week when NASA's Terra satellite orbited over Europe, it saw something very unusual. The normally temperate British Isles were completely covered by snow. From an altitude of 420 miles, Terra's MODIS (Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) camera snapped this picture:
It's not only Britian. Heavy snowfall and record-low temperatures have spread across Europe, closing schools, paralyzing airports, and downing power lines. Much of North America and parts of Asia are experiencing the same brutal cold.
The cause of the phenomenon could be the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The AO is a seesawing strengthening and weakening of semi-permanent areas of low and high atmospheric pressure in the Arctic and the mid-latitudes. One consequence of the oscillation’s negative phase is cold, snowy weather in Eurasia and North America during the winter months. The extreme negative dip of the Arctic Oscillation Index in December 2009 was the lowest monthly value observed for the past six decades.
On the bright side, these conditions are ideal for many forms of atmospheric optics and fantastic patterns of frost on the ground and other surfaces. Browse the links below for examples of what to look for.
more images: from Peter Rosén of Stockholm, Sweden; from Andrew Greenwood of Kerridge on the edge of the Peak District, UK; from Evan Ludes of Omaha, Nebraska; from Tyler Burg of Omaha, Nebraska; from Dan Bush of Albany, Missouri; from Doug Zubenel of De Soto, Kansas; from Julia Ponce of Papillion, Nebraska; from Kyle George of Omaha, Nebraska;
UPDATED: January Northern Lights Gallery
[previous Januarys: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2001]