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VOLCANIC SUNSETS: South of the equator, gaseous fumes from Chile's erupting Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano are painting the sky vivid shades of purple, gold, and red. "Ash has been blown around the world to our little island, and has resulted in some spectacular sunsets," reports Jason Reilly of Launceston, Tasmania. "The red glow lasts for well over an hour after the sun sets." Volcanic ash has also grounded dozens of flights in South America and Australia. Stranded travelers can take some consolation in the fantastic view.
VOLCANIC LUNAR ECLIPSE: On Wednesday night, June 15th, there's going to be a total lunar eclipse visible from every continent except North America. The Moon will spend 100 minutes fully engulfed in Earth's shadow, making this the longest lunar eclipse in nearly 11 years. Maximum coverage occurs on Wednesday night at 20:12 UT. [details] [animated map] [webcasts: #1, #2]
Exhaust from the erupting volcano in Chile could alter the appearance of the eclipse. Scroll past the shadowed Moon for further discussion:
Above: A lunar eclipse on Dec. 21, 2010, photographed by Alan Dyer of Gleichen, Alberta. [gallery]
Atmospheric scientist Richard Keen of the University of Colorado explains the volcano-eclipse connection: "The Moon will pass deep into Earth's shadow during totality, actually passing over the center of the shadow at mid-eclipse. As such, it should be a fairly dark eclipse. Furthermore, it appears that last week's eruption of the volcano in Chile may have placed some sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The ash and sulfur plume is extensive and dense, with ash reported at least as high as 13.7 km. Particles in the southern stratosphere could cause a darkening of the southern part of the Moon during totality."
In recent years, Keen has studied the brightness of the Moon during eclipses to probe conditions in the stratosphere. When the eclipsed Moon is bright, the stratosphere is clear. On the other hand, a dark eclipse indicates a dusty stratosphere. Clear vs. dusty is important because the state of the stratosphere affects climate; a clear stratosphere lets the sunshine in to warm the Earth below. At a 2008 SORCE conference Keen reported that "the lunar eclipse record indicates a clear stratosphere over the past decade, and that this has contributed about 0.2 degrees to recent warming."
Sky watchers in the eclipse zone are encouraged to monitor the darkness.
SPACE STATION MARATHON: The International Space Station is putting on a rare "marathon" show for sky watchers in the northern hemisphere. In some places, the bright spacecraft is appearing as many as four times a night. On June 12th, Mark Humpage of South Kilworth, Leics, UK, captured two flybys in a single exposure:
"What an amazing night of multiple flybys over the UK," says Humpage. "I set up a tent and camera beside the water and watched all night as the space station flew overhead 4 times. This shot shows a double flyby at 0057 UT and 0232 UT. The ISS was nearly as bright as the moon, and a low lying mist added to the eerie breathtaking scene. Stunning."
Multiple flyby predictions for cities around the world are available from Spaceweather's Simple Satelite Tracker or on your cell phone. Enjoy the show!
more images: from Orlando Z. Gonzalez of Bayamón, Puerto Rico; from Mark Staples of Little Lake Santa Fe, Florida; from Jim Saueressig II of Burlington, Kansas
June 2011 Aurora Gallery
[Aurora alerts: text, voice] [previous Junes: 2010, 2008, 2001]
Midnight Solar Eclipse Gallery
[NASA: A Rare Eclipse of the Midnight Sun]