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THE DECAY OF PHOBOS-GRUNT (UPDATED): Russia's malfunctioning Mars probe, Phobos-Grunt, is sinking back into Earth's atmosphere. Taking into account the current space weather forecast and the area-to-mass ratio of the spacecraft, Ted Molczan estimates the time of re-entry: Jan 16 @ 18:00 UTC +/- 1.2 days. The window of uncertainty is still too large to pinpoint exactly where the fireball will occur. "The exact hour of decay will be known with certainty only a few hours before the fact," notes Molczan. Check Spaceweather's Satellite Tracker for last-chance sighting opportunities.
AURORA WATCH: A quickening solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, sparking auroras around the Arctic Circle. Ashton Seth Reimer sends this picture taken during the late hours of Jan. 10th from Longyearbyen, Norway:
"We decided to go for a hike and were surprised by a sudden burst of aurora that lasted for roughly 45 minutes," says Reimer, who is attending classes at the University Centre in Svalbard. "What a fantastic evening in the high arctic! I spent some time laying in the snow on my back marveling at the beautiful light show."
NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% to 20% chance of more geomagnetic storms during the next 48 hours as the solar wind continues to blow. Storm alerts: text, voice.
January 2012 Aurora Gallery
[previous Januaries: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004]
TWISTED MAGNETIC FIELDS: Sunspots store energy in the high-tension twists and turns of their magnetic fields. During the late hours of Jan. 9th, the magnetic field of sunspot 1395 untwisted. The result was a C2.6-class solar flare and this movie from the Solar Dynamics Observatory:
The eruption did not produce a significant CME. Nor did the flash of UV radiation make big waves of ionization in Earth's atmosphere. It was not a geoeffective event.
Having untwisted, the magnetic field of AR1395 is now temporarily relaxed. Solar activity remains low and AR1395 is unlikely to break the quiet. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
BE ALERT FOR MOON HALOES: With the Moon nearly full, this week is a good time to see a Moon halo. Ruslan Ahmetsafin photographed this speciman over Aykhal, Russia, on Jan 8th:
"The taiga was awash in moonlight, while the full Moon itself was surrounded by a bright ring," says Ahmetsafin. "The air temperature was 37 degrees below zero--very cold!--but it was worth it to see such a beautiful scene."
Moon haloes are caused by ice crystals in cirrus clouds 5 to 10 km above the ground. Crystals catch the light of the Moon and bend its rays into a luminous ring. Because the air is always freezing 10 km above the ground, these haloes may appear at any time of year, over any part of Earth. Nevertheless, they tend to favor northern winter. So look up from the snow (if you have any) to see what the ice might be doing in the air overhead.
more haloes: from Ken Scott of Suttons Bay, MI; from Dr Salvador Aguirre of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico; from Tanner Schaaf of Hutchinson, Minnesota; from Riccardo Rossi of Cognento (MO) - Italy; from Colin Chatfield of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; from Paul Beebe of Upsala, Ontario, Canada;
New: Comet Lovejoy Gallery
[previous comets: McNaught, Holmes, Lulin, Tuttle, Ikeya-Zhang]