Don't just watch shooting stars. Wear them! Authentic meteorite jewelry for Valentine's Day is now available in the SpaceWeather Store.
| || |
SUNSET PLANETS: The brightest planets in the night sky are aligning for a must-see show in late February and March 2012. You can start looking tonight. [video] [full story].
AURORA WHIRLPOOL: On Feb. 14-15, Arctic skies erupted with an unexpected display of auroras that veteran observers said was among the best in months. At the height of the event, a US Defense Meteorological Program satellite photographed a whirlpool of Northern Lights over the Bering Sea:
"A number of images from the DMSP F18 satellite captured the dramatic auroral event of the last couple nights," says analyst Paul McCrone, who processed the data at the US Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, CA.
The reason for the outburst is still not completely clear. It started on Feb. 14th when a magnetic disturbance rippled around the north pole. No CME was obvious in local solar wind data at the time; the disturbance just happened. Once begun, the display was amplified by the actions of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). The IMF near Earth tipped south, opening a crack in our planet's magnetic defenses. Solar wind poured in and fueled the auroras. Geomagnetic storm alerts: text, voice.
more images: from Göran Strand of Östersund, Sweden; from Heidi Pinkerton of Birch Lake, Babbitt, Minnesota; from Roger Schneider of Tromso, Norway; from Hanneke Luijting of Tromsø, Norway; from Peter Rosén of Abisko NP, Sweden; from Jesper Grønne of Silkeborg Denmark
SPY-SAT DISAPPEARING TRICK: US spy satellite Lacrosse 5 occasionally confounds observers by disapppearing: In a matter of seconds, it can fade more than three astronomical magnitudes. Is this a deliberate form of stealth? Most experts think not, but no one outside of classified circles knows for sure what is going on.
To investigate, French astrophotographer Thierry Legault used his satellite-tracking telescope to photograph Lacrosse 5 as it sailed 490 miles above Paris on Jan. 15, 2012, and he caught the spysat in the act of disappearing:
"During the passage, the brightness of the satellite decreased by 10 times in only 4 seconds (a loss of 2.5 magnitudes)," describes Legault. "After 33 seconds of [dark flight] it regained its original brightness. Lacrosse 5 often shows this very singular behaviour, which is called by other observers (especially Marco Langbroek) the 'disappearing trick.'"
Other Lacrosse satellites do not perform the same trick, at least not to this extent, suggesting that the design of Lacrosse 5 differs from its predecessors. The fade is likely caused by some sort of self-shadowing--e.g., maybe some part of the spacecraft such as its solar panels casts a shadow over the main body when the spysat changes attitude.
Even Legault's fine images do not reveal the answer. "The cause of the disappearing trick, as well as the precise shape of the satellite, remain unknown."
Readers, would you like to try catching the tricks of Lacrosse 5? Check SpaceWeather's Simple Satellite Tracker and Flybys App for local flyby times.
January 2012 Aurora Gallery
[previous Januaries: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004]
Comet Lovejoy Gallery
[previous comets: McNaught, Holmes, Lulin, Tuttle, Ikeya-Zhang]