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WHEN AURORAS COLLIDE: A continent-wide network of all-sky cameras has photographed a never before seen phenomenon: colliding auroras that produce explosions of light. The must-see images have solved a long-standing mystery of Northern Lights. Get the full story from Science@NASA.
GREAT SUNSPOT: Sunspot 1035 is putting on a good show. There are two planet-sized cores connected by sinuous magnetic filaments more than 100,000 km long, all surrounded by a seething froth of hot plasma. "It's great," says Paul Haese, who sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Blackwood, Australia:
"This is the best spot of the new solar cycle so far," he says. "I photographed it this morning using a Coronado Solarmax 60."
On Dec. 16th, magnetic fields around the sunspot erupted and hurled a coronal mass ejection toward Earth. The billion-ton cloud is still en route. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras when it arrives on Dec. 18th or 19th.
more images: from Matt Wastell of Paddington, Brisbane, Australia; from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Fulvio Mete of Rome, Italy; from Richard Best of Lewes, Sussex, England; from A. Berry and J. Stetson of South Portland,Maine; from John C McConnell of Maghaberry Northern Ireland; from Karzaman Ahmad of Langkawi National Observatory, Malaysia;
CURIOUS EVENTS IN NEBRASKA: Earthquakes don't rock Nebraska very often. In fact, seismically speaking, it is one of the quietest places in North America. Nevertheless, on Dec. 16th at 8:54 pm CST, USGS seismographs detected a magnitude 3.5 temblor centered near Auburn, Nebraska:
Click to view earthquake details and Nebraska seismic probabilities
"It sounded like those loud grain haulers that drive by, but about five times louder," reports Laurie Riley, who lives near the epicenter. "The whole house shook. My kids came running down stairs – they were scared. It even moved my car, [which was parked outside on icy ground]."
And then the really curious thing happened.
Minutes after the quake, around 9 pm CST, lightning-like flashes lit up the skies around the area of the quake. Telephones in police departments and TV stations rang with reports of bright lights, loud rumbles and shaking ground. Sky watchers, not only in southeastern Nebraska, but also in neighboring Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, saw a "bright fireball" with "green streamers" moving from northwest to southeast.
Could these events be connected? Nebraska State Trooper Jerry Chab, an experienced amateur astronomer who witnessed the lights and was one of the first to report them, says no. "I think we have the most cosmic of coincidences: A bright [meteoritic] fireball around the same time as an earthquake." Indeed, eyewitness descriptions of the fireball are consistent with a meteoroid disintegrating in the atmosphere. On the other hand, several readers have pointed out scientific studies that associate lightning-like phenomena (including ball lightning) with earthquakes: #1, #2, #3. The fireball, they suggest, might have been a rare manifestation of "earthquake lightning."
More reports could help sort out the possibilities. Readers with photos or eyewitness accounts are encouraged to submit their observations.
Eyewitness Fireball-Quake Reports
2009 Geminid Meteor Gallery
[sky map] [meteor radar] [Geminid counts]
December Northern Lights Gallery
[previous Decembers: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2001, 2000]
Explore the Sunspot Cycle