Metallic photos of the sun by renowned photographer Greg Piepol bring together the best of art and science. Buy one or a whole set. They make a stellar gift.
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PHOBOS-GRUNT DESTROYED: According to the Russian space agency and the U.S. Space Command, the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft re-entered Earth's atmosphere on Jan. 15th shortly before 1 p.m. EST. So far, no photographs of the fireball or other debris have been submitted to spaceweather.com. Initial estimates of the final ground track suggest a re-entry in the south Pacific in the broad vicinity of Australia and New Zealand..
ACTIVE SUNSPOTS: Crackling with C-class solar flares, a pair of active sunspots is emerging over the sun's northeastern limb. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the pair during the early hours of Jan. 15th:
These sunspots have the potential for strong eruptions. Sunspot 1401 produced an M1-flare on Jan. 14th. Two days earlier, while it was still on the farside of the sun, sunspot 1402 produced a partially-eclipsed flare of uncertain magnitude that created waves of ionization in the atmosphere over Europe.
NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of more M-flares during the next 24 hours. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
more images: from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from Stefano Sello of Pisa, Italy; from Jo Dahlmans of Ulestraten The Netherlands; from Alexandra Hart of Cheshire, UK; from John Chumack of Dayton, Ohio; from John Stetson of Falmouth, Maine
POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: An apparition of polar stratospheric clouds is underway around the Arctic Circle. "It is almost as good as the aurora borealis," says Göran Strand, who took this picture last night from Östersund, Sweden:
Eric Schandall of Oslo, Norway, adds this report: "We have seen them for three evenings over Oslo, with the ones on Jan. 13th being the most dramatic and beautiful so far."
Also known as "nacreous" or "mother of pearl" clouds, these icy clouds form in the lower stratosphere when temperatures drop to around minus 85ºC. Sunlight shining through tiny ice particles ~10µm across produce the characteristic bright iridescent colors by diffraction and interference.
"Nacreous clouds far outshine and have much more vivid colours than ordinary iridescent clouds, which are very much poor relations and seen frequently all over the world," writes atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley. "Once seen they are never forgotten."
January 2012 Aurora Gallery
[previous Januaries: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004]
Comet Lovejoy Gallery
[previous comets: McNaught, Holmes, Lulin, Tuttle, Ikeya-Zhang]