They came from outer space--and you can have one! Genuine meteorites are now on sale in the Space Weather Store.
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SPACE WEATHER BALLOON ON TWITTER: The students of Earth to Sky Calculus are about to launch another space weather balloon with a special cargo--alien cupcakes. Follow the launch on Twitter @Earth2SkyCalc.
CONTEST! WAVE AT SATURN, WIN A TELESCOPE: On July 19th, the Cassini spacecraft will photograph Earth through the rings of Saturn. NASA hopes people will go out and wave at Saturn during the photoshoot. How about waving at Saturn from the edge of space? Enter the Wave at Saturn Contest and your idea to commemorate Cassini's snapshot could be flown to the stratosphere on July 19th. Winners will receive free telescopes from Explore Scientific. Enter now!
SPACE WEATHER FROM THE WINDOW SEAT: Aisle or window? The next time you're making that decision at the airport, consider the following snapshots. The first, taken July 15th, comes from Tim Trepetch flying onboard a Boeing 787 Dreamliner en route from Narita, Japan, to Denver, Colorado:
"This extremely bright display of noctilucent clouds appeared while we were 39000 feet over the Bering Sea north of the Aluetian Islands," says Trepetch.
Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) are made of tiny ice crystals, which nucleate around meteor smoke 82 km above Earth's surface. Researchers say 2013 is a good year for NLCs, perhaps one of the best ever. And, indeed, northern sky watchers have been seeing displays like this for weeks.
Meanwhile on another airplane....
"I was expecting auroras when I boarded Air Canada flight 854 from Vancouver to Heathrow on the evening of July 14th--and I was not disappointed," reports photographer Yuichi Takasaka. "Above the James Bay in the northern Manitoba, the lights grew so bright that I could see them through the twilight." A 0.25 second exposure yielded this image:
"Note the colors reflected from the wing of the plane," he points out. "These were the strongest auroras I've seen from an airliner ever!"
According to NOAA forecasters the odds of a polar geomagnetic storm on July 16th are 20%, increasing to 50% on July 18th when a solar wind stream is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. Add to that the near-certainty of high-latitude noctilucent clouds and ... pick the window seat. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
SPACE WEATHER BALLOON UPDATE: Last month, a record-setting heat wave swept across the southwestern USA, with temperatures in Death Valley and surrounding areas jumping as high as 54 C (129 F). The student scientists of Earth to Sky Calculus decided to find out if the heat wave extended all the way to the edge of space. So, on June 30th when the temperature in their hometown Bishop, CA, was 42 C (108 F), they launched a research balloon to the stratosphere. An onboard cryogenic thermometer measured the temperature all the way up to 90,000 feet above sea level. This is what they found:
The heat wave did not reach into the stratosphere.
During the flight, the thermometer registered a low temperature of -64.4 C. This occured when the balloon passed through the tropopause, the boundary layer between the troposphere and the stratosphere. The tropopause is the coldest part of the atmosphere, and on the day of the heat wave it was just as cold as usual. Consider the following histogram:
Since 2011, the Earth to Sky students have flown 30 balloons and measured the temperature of the tropopause 19 times. The histogram is a summary of their thermal database, which spans all four seasons and all 12 months of the year. The temperature of the tropopause on June 30, 2013, fell right in the middle of the distribution--nothing unusual. These results show that hot air on the ground does not necessarily translate into a hot upper atmosphere.
There was, however, something unusual about the flight. Normally, air above the Sierra launch site is crystal clear, but not this time. En route to the stratosphere, the balloon encountered many thin layers of smoke and ash blown into the area from distant wildfires. Each fire, apparently, lofted its aerosols to a different altitude where winds stretched the smoky debris into a thin layer. This picture was captured while the balloon was in transit between two layers:
Note the curved blue line. That's the narrow gap between the two aerosol layers, allowing a glimpse of blue sky in the distance. (To residents of the eastern Sierra: That's Crowley Lake in the foreground.)
This was a curiosity-driven experiment conducted by high school students. Learn more about the Earth to Sky Calculus program at the group's Facebook page.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery