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.
FLYBY: Newly-discovered asteroid
2011 CA7 is going to fly past Earth on Feb. 9th
only 63,000 miles away, or 1/4th the distance to
the Moon. At closest approach around 1700 UT, the
VW-Bug-sized space rock will zip through the constellation
Orion glowing like a 17th magnitude star. [ephemeris]
ON SATURN: A vast thunderstorm
that erupted on Saturn during the closing weeks
of 2010 is still going strong. "It looks like
a comet plowing through Saturn's northern hemisphere,"
reports amateur astronomer Christopher Go. He took
these pictures on Feb. 5th using an 11-inch Celestron
telescope in Cebu City, the Philippines:
"The storm is very bright,"
says Go. "I spent a few minutes observing it
visually (through the eyepiece) and it is very prominent."
Researchers call the storm the "northern
electrostatic disturbance" because (1) it is
in Saturn's northern hemisphere and (2) it is strongly
charged with lightning.
Receivers onboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft are
picking up radio crackles each time a bolt discharges--much
like the static you hear on a car radio when driving
through an electrical storm on Earth.
The storm is stretching around much
of Saturn's northern hemisphere--and growing longer.
This means there a good chance of catching it no
matter when you look. Amateur astronomers are encouraged
to monitor developments. Saturn may be found high
in the southern sky before dawn shining like a yellow
more images: from
Efrain Morales Rivera of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico;
Dennis Put of Brielle, The Netherlands
FLARE: The Hubble Space Telescope
(HST) is famous for many reasons, but visibility
isn't one of them. On most nights, the great observatory
registers a modest +3 on the magnitude scale, making
a disappointingly faint streak as it moves among
the stars. But every now and then, Hubble flares:
"I didn't know Hubble could do this,"
says M. Raşid Tuğral of Antalya, Turkey, who took
the picture on Feb. 7th. "The HST suddenly
flared to magnitude -2, almost as bright as the
planet Jupiter." This is the kind of streak
you could see even from brightly-lit cities; in
the remote Turkish countryside, "it was dazzling."
Although not widely publicized, Hubble flares have
been observed for years by members of the satellite-watching
community. The luminous outbursts are caused
by sunlight glinting from one of the spacecraft's
flat surfaces--possibly the telescope's aperture
door or its "aft skirt." Predicting Hubble
flares is tricky because they depend sensitively
on the telescope's observing schedule. Slewing from
one galaxy to another, stopping for calibration,
detouring to a newly-reported supernova: any of
these actions could produce--or forestall--an absolute
The only way to see a Hubble flare is to take a
chance on looking. Let your cell phone be your
2011 Aurora Photo Gallery
[previous Februaries: 2010,