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CME STRIKE, GEOMAGNETIC STORMS: Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from a CME strike on May 24th. The glancing blow around 1800 UT sparked at least three episodes of polar geomagnetic storming (Kp=5) on May 24-25. Aurora sightings have been few, however, because of the competing glare of the full Moon. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
SUNSET PLANET SHOW: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look west. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury are aligning in the sunset sky. The triple conjunction is so bright you can see it right through city lights:
Constantine Emmanouilidi sends this picture of the planetary triangle from Thessaloniki Greece. "After many days of hazy skies because of dust blowing in from Africa, the horizon cleared and we were able to view a surpising spectacle of three planets setting in the western sky," he says.
The best is yet to come. On Sunday, May 26th, the planets will converge to form a tight triangle less than 3o wide. There won't be another triple conjunction of planets until October 2015, so don't miss this one! NASA: video, full story.
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BACTERIA FLY INTO RADIATION STORM: Three 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.
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