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DEEP SPACE CLIMATE OBSERVATORY: For years, space weather forecasters have worried about the aging ACE spacecraft, which provides early warnings of CMEs and other solar storms bearing down on Earth. Launched in 1997, ACE could fail at any moment, leaving us blind to incoming storms. On Feb. 11th, NOAA, NASA and the US Air Force launched a replacement--the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).
DSCOVR blasted off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday at 6:03 p.m. EST atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Shortly after liftoff, an American Airlines flight en route from JFK to San Juan flew past the area. Passenger Tim Leavitt pointed his iPhone out the window and captured some remarkable shots of the rocket's exhaust:
"What an amazing vantage point--and a lucky shot," says Leavitt.
The spacecraft is now on its way to the L1 point where it will monitor the solar wind one million miles upstream from Earth. NOAA says DSCOVR is in good health. Its solar arrays have deployed and it is communicating with the ground. Approximately 150 days after launch, DSCOVR will replace ACE as our primary warning system for solar magnetic storms.
In addition to monitoring the solar wind, DSCOVR will also look back at Earth. The spacecraft's EPIC camera has ten filters for photographing our planet at wavelengths ranging from UV to visible light. True-color images of the full sun-facing side of Earth will be publicly available approximately 24 hours after they are taken. The first images will be posted approximately six months after launch. EPIC's observations will be used to measure ozone and aerosols, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth. Another instrument onboard, called NISTAR, measures solar energy reflected from the sunlit face of Earth. This will help climate scientists track changes in Earth's radiation budget caused by human activities and natural phenomena.
Got pictures of the launch? Submit them here.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
SUPER SOLAR FILAMENT: It is, arguably, the second biggest thing in the solar system. A filament of magnetism almost 1,000,000 km long is stretching across the face of the sun. Only the sun itself is bigger. Yesterday in the Canary Islands, Frank A. Rodriguez used a Lunt Solar Telescope to photograph the super structure:
This is a solar filament, a tendril of plasma held suspended above the surface of the sun by magnetic forces. Filaments appear on the sun all the time, but this one is unusually large, 5 to 10 times longer than ordinary filaments. If it becomes unstable and erupts, it could hurl parts of itself into space. Pieces of the filament falling back to the solar surface would explode upon impact, sparking a Hyder flare.
Astronomers with backyard solar telescopes are encouraged to monitor the structure in the days ahead. A photogenic explosion may be in the offing.Solar flare alerts: text, voice
DON'T FORGET COMET LOVEJOY: Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is receding from Earth and fading. But good news: It is not fading as quickly as forecasters expected. "In fact," says Jan Curtis of Santa Fe, New Mexico, "if you know where to look you can still see it with the unaided eye." Curtis created this composite image showing Lovejoy on 5 consective nights under "near-perfect" New Mexico skies:
The comet's brightness is currently near 5th magnitude--barely above the threshold for human visibility. "Its close transit past 2nd magnitude star Almach in Andromeda helped me find it," says Curtis. "In binoculars, Lovejoy's tail was visible but considerably shorter than these 20 minute daily exposures reveal. "
The current spate of moonless nights sets the stage for good photography of this relatively bright comet. Lovejoy is currently passing through the constellation Andromeda, high in the northern sky after sunset. Finder charts from Sky & Telescope will help you find it. For pinpoint guidance of telescopes, use this ephemeris from the Minor Planet Center.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Every night, a network of NASA 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 Feb. 12, 2015, the network reported 10 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 ones
all the time.
On February 12, 2015 there were 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.
| ||The official U.S. government space weather bureau |
| ||The first place to look for information about sundogs, pillars, rainbows and related phenomena. |
| ||Researchers call it a "Hubble for the sun." SDO is the most advanced solar observatory ever. |
| ||3D views of the sun from NASA's Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory |
| ||Realtime and archival images of the Sun from SOHO. |
| ||from the NOAA Space Environment Center |
| ||the underlying science of space weather |