Don't just watch shooting stars. Wear them! Authentic meteorite jewelry for Valentine's Day is now available in the SpaceWeather Store.
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COMET CORPSES IN THE SOLAR WIND: A paper published in today's issue of Science raises an intriguing new possibility--the presence of abundant comet corpses in the solar wind. The new research is based on dramatic images of a comet disintegrating in the sun's atmosphere last July. [full story]
WHILE WAITING FOR THE CME... An incoming CME of Jan. 19th (see below) has not yet arrived. Nevertheless, auroras are already dancing around the Arctic Circle. This was the scene last night over Chatanika, Alaska:
"My fellow Fairbanks aurora chaser, Roger Marty, is shown here shooting a corona as the display began to peak," says photographer Ronn Murray. "Perhaps we got a sneak peak of what's to come with tomorrow's expected CME from sunspot AR1401."
Indeed, it could be a preview. NOAA forecasters are estimating as much as a 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the CME arrives during the next ~36 hours. High latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
more images: from Frank Olsen of Tromsø, Norway
January 2012 Aurora Gallery
[previous Januaries: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004]
INCOMING CME: Active sunspot 1401 erupted on Jan. 19th around 16:30 UT, producing an M3-class solar flare and a full-halo coronal mass ejection (CME). The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory recorded the cloud expanding almost directly toward Earth:
Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab say strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud arrives this weekend. Their animated forecast track predicts an impact on Jan. 21st at 22:30 UT (+/- 7 hrs).
The cloud is also heading for Mars, due to hit the Red Planet on Jan. 24th. NASA's Curiosity rover, en route to Mars now, is equipped to study solar storms and might be able to detect a change in the energetic particle environment when the CME passes by.
more images: from the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project of Atlanta, GA; from Theo Ramakers of Social Circle, GA; from Jim Haklar of Edison, New Jersey; from Zach, Annissa, and Annie of The G.W. Hinckley School in Hinckley, Maine
INCREASING SOLAR ACTIVITY CLEANS UP SAT-DEBRIS: Earth's atmosphere has been puffing up in response to increasing levels of UV radiation from sunspots. This is good news for satellite operators, because a puffed up atmosphere helps clean up low-Earth orbit. "The number of cataloged debris in Earth orbit actually decreased during 2011," reports Nick Johnson in NASA's Orbital Debris Quarterly newsletter. "[The figure below] illustrates how the rate of debris reentries from the Fengyun-1C anti-satellite test of January 2007 increased during the past year."
"Even though only 6% of the total 3218 cataloged debris from the ill-advised engagement had reentered by the end of 2011, half of these debris fell out of orbit in the past 12 months," he points out. "Likewise, many debris from the 2009 accidental collision of Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33 are accelerating their departure from Earth orbit. In the absence of a new major satellite breakup, the overall orbital debris population should continue to decrease during 2012 and 2013."
Comet Lovejoy Gallery
[previous comets: McNaught, Holmes, Lulin, Tuttle, Ikeya-Zhang]