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.
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:
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,
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
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.
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,"
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.
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
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.