When is the best time to see auroras? Where is the best place to go? And how do you photograph them? These questions and more are answered in a new book, Northern Lights - a Guide, by Pal Brekke & Fredrik Broms.
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SPACE FENCE DISCONTINUED: The US Air Force Space Surveillance Radar or "Space Fence" has stopped transmitting. "It appears they pulled the plug at 00:00 UT (6 am Local MDT) on September 1st," reports engineer Stan Nelson, who has been monitoring the radar using an antenna in Roswell, New Mexico. The shutdown is a result of sequester budget cuts by the US Congress. The radar's final echoes came from a Russian satellite and a sporadic meteor.
GEOMAGNETIC UNREST: Earth's polar magnetic field is unsettled as our planet enters a stream of fast (~500 km/s) solar wind. The encounter is sparking the first auroras of September. This morning in Fairbanks, Alaska, photographer Ronn Murry snapped this aurora-selfie:
"It's been a long summer waiting for the auroras, but finally after months of Midnight Sun, in the early hours September 1st, the clouds and daylight gave way to the first great display of the season as we traveled back to Fairbanks, Alaska from the Arctic Circle," says Murray. "The Ice Road was muddy but the fall colors were beautiful including those in the sky!"
More auroras are in the offing. NOAA forecasters estimate a 70% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Sept. 1st when a CME (movie) is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
SWx EXPERIMENT IN RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: In March 2012, a group of high school students in Bishop, California, used a helium balloon to launch a pair of medical radiation badges to the edge of space. The goal of their experiment was to measure high-altitude radiation levels during a solar proton storm, which was underway at the time of the flight. Usually such experiments are published in academic journals, but this time Ripley's Believe it or Not! took an interest. Why? Because the students pinned the radiation badges to a rubber chicken:
Camilla the Rubber Chicken, formerly of NASA, crewed the suborbital capsule and wore the radiation badges on a hand-knit spacesuit. She reached an altitude of 128,000 feet, withstanding temperatures as low as -63o C and air pressures as little as 1% sea level during the nearly three hour flight. More information about the flight may be found on page 235 of Dare to Look!, Ripley's latest hardbound volume available from RipleyBooks.com. (Note: The same picture was selected by Time magazine as one of the most surprising photos of 2012.)
The students, who call themselves Earth to Sky Calculus, are still doing space weather research. Recent and ongoing experiments include payloads to measure the effect of solar flares on the ozone layer and to assess the ability of microbes to withstand radiation storms. You can follow their activities on Facebook and Twitter.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
MAJOR FIREBALL EVENT, UPGRADED (AGAIN): NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office has upgraded its estimates of a major fireball that exploded over the southeastern USA around 2:30 AM on August 28th. Lead researcher Bill Cooke says "the fireball reached a peak apparent magnitude of -16, about 20 times brighter than a Full Moon, and cast shadows on the ground. This indicates that the meteoroid had a mass of more than 110 kg (240 lbs) and was up to a meter in diameter. It hit the top of Earth's atmosphere traveling 25 km/s (56,000 mph)." Watch the movie, then read more about the fireball below:
"This is the brightest event our network has observed in 5 years of operation," he continues. "There are reports of sonic booms reaching the ground, and data from 4 doppler radars indicate that some meteorites may have fallen along the fireball's ground track." (Note: The city in the ground track map is Cleveland, Tennessee, not Cleveland, Ohio.)
An initial calculation of the fireball's orbit suggested it might be a fragment from a Jupiter family comet. Improved estimates of the orbital parameters point to a different kind of object: a main belt asteroid. If meteorites are recovered from the Tennessee countryside, their chemical composition will tell researchers more about the origin of the fireball.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
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Realtime Comet Photo Gallery