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MUD ROCKET LAUNCH: NASA's SMAP satellite, designed to measure moisture in the soils of Earth, will blast off from California's Vandenberg AFB on Thursday morning, Jan. 29th. The three-minute launch window begins at 6:20 am PST. Observers from coastal Los Angeles to the Bay Area may be able to see exhaust from the Delta II rocket criss-crossing the dawn sky in the minutes after launch. Observers closer to Vandenberg could see the rocket itself. Californians, set your alarm for dawn.
ASTEROID FLYBY: On Monday, Jan. 26th, mountain-sized asteroid 2004 BL86 flew past Earth--and it was not alone. NASA radar images revealed, to the surprise of astronomers, that the space rock has its own moon. A must-see video from JPL shows the asteroid and its satellite. Another must-see movie was recorded by amateur astronomer Nick James. Click to watch the asteroid streak over his backyard in of Chelmsford, UK:
"This asteroid was moving at around 2.5 arcmin/min last night," says James. In other words, about 18,000 mph. The streaking space rock was invisible to the naked eye, but sunlight reflected from its rocky surface made it an easy target for small telescopes. More backyard photos may be found here.
At a distance of 745,000 miles, or 3.1 times the distance from Earth to the Moon, Monday's flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027.
Space Weather Photo Gallery
AURORA SURPRISE PROMPTS ROCKET LAUNCH: A geomagnetic storm erupted during the early hours of Jan. 26th, sparking a surprise display of bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Scientists took the opportunity to launch four sounding rockets from Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range to study the effect of solar storms on the upper atmosphere. Photographer Jamie Adkins created this composite shot of the rocket salvo:
Richard Collins, a principal investigator from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explains the purpose of the launches: "Recent solar storms have resulted in major changes to the composition of the upper atmosphere above 49 miles (80 kilometers), where enhancements in nitrogen compounds have been found. These compounds can be transported into the middle atmosphere where they can contribute to ozone destruction."
But do these ozone-destroying compounds actually make it down to the ozone layer? "Meteorological conditions do not always allow such transport to occur," he says. Instruments on the rockets were designed to investigate those conditions--specifically, how turbulence and diffusion might cause compounds to mix downward in the atmosphere.
Two of the rockets released trails of trimethyl aluminum (TMA) vapor, creating whitish clouds that were photographed from several ground stations. Miguel Larsen, a principal investigator from Clemson University in South Carolina says "this will help us trace turbulence in the atmosphere/space transition region, and thus, the way atmospheric properties are mixed vertically."
Browse Spaceweather.com's photo gallery for more pictures of the colorful experiment. Aurora alerts: text, voice
Aurora Photo Gallery
Comet Photo Gallery
Every night, a network
all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United
States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software
maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office
calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth
in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics.
Daily results are presented here on Spaceweather.com.
On Jan. 28, 2015, the network reported 9 fireballs.
In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]
Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs
are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that
can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the
known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet,
although astronomers are finding new
all the time.
January 28, 2015 there were 1541
potentially hazardous asteroids.
Notes: LD means
"Lunar Distance." 1 LD = 384,401 km, the distance
between Earth and the Moon. 1 LD also equals 0.00256
AU. MAG is the visual magnitude of the asteroid on
the date of closest approach.
official U.S. government space weather bureau
first place to look for information about sundogs,
pillars, rainbows and related phenomena.
call it a "Hubble for the sun." SDO
is the most advanced solar observatory ever.
views of the sun from NASA's Solar and Terrestrial
and archival images of the Sun from SOHO.
the NOAA Space Environment Center
underlying science of space weather