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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CME STRIKE, GEOMAGNETIC STORM: As expected, a CME propelled into space by the M5-class explosion of May 22nd delivered a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field on May 24th around 1800 UT. A polar geomagnetic storm is in pregress as a result of the strike. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras shining through bright moonlight. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
BACTERIA FLY INTO RADIATION STORM: Two days ago, high school students in Bishop, California, using a suborbital helium balloon launched a petri dish full of extreme-loving halobacteria into the strongest radiation storm of the year. They wanted to know how the extremophiles would fare when peppered with protons at the edge of space. Here is a picture of the sample 108,000 feet above Earth's surface:
The radiation storm was sparked by an M5-class solar flare on May 22nd. Students launched their microbes in the immediate aftermath of the flare when the highest energy protons (E > 100 MeV) were peaking in intensity. In addition to solar protons, the bacteria experienced air pressures only 1% that of sea level on the Earth below, temperatures as low as -65 C, and 70 mph winds. A student recovery team collected the payload from a remote desert in Nevada on May 23rd. Now they are culturing the bacteria to see if they survived.
The students, who call themselves Earth to Sky Calculus, have been launching research balloons for more than two years. Their projects include studies of high-altitude biology, measurements of the effects of solar flares on the ozone layer, and stratospheric photography of meteor showers.
How do they afford all this? To fund their activities, they have started a business called "Edge of Space Advertising." For a fee, they'll fly your banner, card, cow, running shoes, president or other object to the edge of space and send you the video. Contact Earth to Sky Calculus mentor Dr. Tony Phillips for details.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
SUNSET PLANET SHOW: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look west. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury are converging to form a bright triangle in the sunset sky. The best evening to look is May 26th, when the planets will fit within a circle less than 3o wide. Petr Horálek photographed the convergence over the Czech republic on May 24th:
There won't be another triple conjunction of planets until October 2015, so don't miss this one! Science@NASA has the full story.
Realtime Planet Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
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