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.
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SOLAR ACTIVITY PICKS UP: Dec. 25th began with a pair of magnetic filaments erupting in the sun's northern hemisphere followed by a sequence of C-flares from sunspot 1385 in the sun's southern hemisphere. Both halves of the sun are rocking on Christmas: SDO movie. Coronagraph images from SOHO and the twin STEREO probes suggest a possible Earth-directed CME. Stay tuned for updates.
RUSSIAN RE-ENTRY: The body of a Russian rocket that propelled a Soyuz spacecraft toward the International Space Station on Dec. 21st fell back to Earth on Christmas Eve. Roman Breisch sends this picture of the re-entry from Erdweg, 20 miles west of Munich, Germany:
"This is what the Christmas star looks like in the 21st century," says Breisch. " The decaying rocket was spectacular look as it wove over the night sky from West to the East, getting brighter and brighter and splitting up into hundreds of shiny pieces."
A video of the re-entry is being widely viewed on Youtube.
Meanwhile, the three astronauts (Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers) who rode this rocket to Earth orbit are settling in comfortably on the International Space Station. Don Pettit's return to the ISS is welcomed by readers of Spaceweather.com, who look forward to new episodes of Saturday Morning Science and Pettit's trademark astrophotography.
COMET LOVEJOY FROM ORBIT: Veteran astronaut Dan Burbank has seen many amazing things. Once, he even flew through the aurora borealis. So when Burbank says "[Comet Lovejoy] is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space," it really means something. Currently serving onboard the International Space Station, Burbank photographed the sungrazing comet on Dec. 21st, an experience he describes in this NASA video:
Burbank describes the tail of Comet Lovejoy as a "green glowing arc at least 10 degrees long." He saw it just before orbital sunrise emerging from Earth's limb, which was "lit up as a bright sliver of blue and purple."
After plunging through the sun's atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface on Dec. 16th, and improbably surviving, Comet Lovejoy has become the finest comet since Comet McNaught in 2007. Its orbit is carrying it through the skies of the southern hemisphere where sunrise sky watchers are seeing the comet almost as clearly as Burbank did. One wonders if Burbank was looking out the window on Dec. 24th when Carlos Caccia took this picture of the ISS transiting Lovejoy's tail over Intendente Alvear, Argentina:
"The ISS passed through the Southern Cross, continued parallel to the Milky Way, and finally arrived at the tail of Lovejoy with its typical golden color," says Caccia. "What a lucky shot!"
The visibility of Comet Lovejoy should continue to improve in he mornings ahead as the comet moves away from the sun into the darker skies before dawn. Sky watchers should set their alarm for an early-Christmas treat. [finder chart]
more images: from Scott Alder of Senic Lookout, Newcastle NSW Australia; from MENDONÇA JR of Caiobá Paraná Brazil; from Joe Perulero of Port Kembla NSW Australia; from Ben & Vic Levis of Perth Observatory, Bickley, Australia; from Rob Carew of Melbourne, Australia; from Mariano Ribas of Rawson, Argentina; from David Finlay of Kiama, NSW, Australia; from Eric Schmitt of Bauru, SP, Brasil; from Yuri Beletsky of Santiago, Chile; from Shane Ocean of Whitsundays, Australia; from Hernán Stockebrand of Vicuña, Chile; from Giovanni of Paysandù Uruguay; from Andy Dodson of Huirangi, New Zealand; from Rodolfo Chiaramonte of Vera Cruz, São Paulo, Brazil; from James Tse of Christchurch, New Zealand; from Emilio Lepeley of Vicuna, Chile; from Rogerio Marcon of Campinas SP Brasil; from Stephen Chadwick of Himatangi Beach, New Zealand; from Kosma Coronaios of Louis Trichardt, Limpopo Province, South Africa; from Paulo Morales Valdebenito of San Francisco de Mostazal, Chile; from Willian Souza of Sao Paulo, Brazil; from Grahame Kelaher of Perth, Western Australia; from Minoru Yoneto of Queenstown, New Zealand;