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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SIGNS OF LIFE FROM MARS PROBE: Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, launched on a mission to Mars on Nov. 8th, has been stuck in Earth orbit for the past two weeks after its main engines failed to fire. Moreover, ground controllers have not been able to contact the $165 million probe. Today, for the first time, signals were received from Phobos-Grunt, raising hopes of saving the mission. News reports: #1, #2, #3.
CHANCE OF FLARES: Earth-facing sunspot 1356 has developed a "beta-gamma" magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% chance of such an eruption during the next 24 hours. Solar flare alerts: text, phone.
ERUPTION: A magnetic filament wrapping around the sun's NW limb rose up and erupted today. Click on the arrow to play the movie recorded by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:
The eruption hurled a cloud of plasma (a "CME") into space but not toward Earth. Because of the blast site's high-northern location on the sun, the cloud flew up and out of the plane of the solar system; no planets will be affected.
NORTHERN LIGHTS: After a stunning October, the Northern Lights of November 2011 have been mostly subdued. Earth hasn't been hit hard by any CMEs this month. Nevertheless, some auroras have been sighted dancing around the Arctic Circle. Eric Rock was on a wildlife photography expedition on Nov. 21st when this curtain appeared over Churchill, Manitoba:
"We end-of-the-season polar bear watchers were rewarded with a spectacular display," says Rock.
There was a similar apparition last night over Russia: image.
These displays are not caused by major solar activity; indeed, the sun has been mostly quiet for weeks. Instead, they are prompted by small magnetic fluctuations in the solar wind. The interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) near Earth tips south, partially cancelling Earth's north-pointting magnetic field. Solar wind pours in, oh so briefly, to excite the Northern Lights.
ANTARCTIC SOLAR ECLIPSE: On Nov. 25th the Moon will pass in front of the sun, slightly off-center, producing a partial solar eclipse visible from Antarctica, Tasmania, and parts of South Africa and New Zealand. An animated map created by graphic artist Larry Koehn shows the eclipse unfolding across the southern end of our planet:
Maximum coverage occurs about 100 miles off the coast of Antarctica where the sun will appear to be a slender 9% crescent. Observers in the eclipse zone should be alert for crescent-shaped shadows and sunbeams. The sun-dappled ground beneath leafy trees is a good place to look. Of course that won't work in Antarctica where trees are scarce. Observers there should use safe solar filters to witness the crescent sun itself.