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METEOR OUTBURST IN PROGRESS: The Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) is detecting an outburst of Andromedid meteors on Dec. 8th. "Meteor rates last night were near 20 per hour (ZHR)," reports Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The shower could increase in intensity tonight, so we hope observers (especially Europeans) will be alert for meteors." Andromedid meteoroids come from Comet Biela, which broke apart in the 19th century. The shower's radiant in Andromeda is high in the sky after sunset for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. A similar outburst of Andromedids in 2011 was rich in faint meteors. If the 2013 outburst is the same, dark skies will be required to see it. Stay tuned for updates.
GEOMAGNETIC STORMS: A high-speed solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field. When the stream arrived during the late hours of Dec. 7th, a G2-class geomagnetic storm broke out around the poles and Northern Lights spilled over the Canadian border into several US states. Christopher Griffith sends this snapshot from Pillager, Minnesota:
"The auroras were dancing lightly across the sky," says Griffith. "It was quite fantastic and fun to watch despite the temperature being -25 F."
NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of additional geomagnetic storms on Dec. 8th and 9th. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras as the solar wind continues to blow. Aurora alerts: text, voice
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
COMET LOVEJOY'S ACTIVE TAIL: Amateur astronomers around the northern hemisphere are reporting activity in the tail of naked-eye Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1). In Nagano, Japan, astrophotographer Kouji Ohnishi could see big changes in less than an hour of monitoring:
Michael Jäger saw the same "disconnection event" from his observatory in Masenberg, Austria, on Dec. 5th. The disturbance could be caused by a gust of solar wind or perhaps an episode of vigorous outgassing in the comet's core.
Comet Lovejoy is now about as bright as a 4th magnitude star. It is visible to the unaided eye from the countryside and is an easy target for backyard telescopes even in urban areas. Monitoring is encouraged. Comet Lovejoy rises in the east just before the morning sun. Sky maps: Dec. 7, 8, 9.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
THE GHOST OF COMET ISON: On Friday, Dec. 6th, leading researchers from NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC) held an informal workshop at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. One of the key questions they discussed was, Did Comet ISON survive? It might seem surprising that anyone is still asking. After all, the "comet" that emerged from the sun's atmosphere on Thanksgiving day appeared to be little more than a disintegrating cloud of dust. This movie from the STEREO-A spacecraft (processed by Alan Watson) shows the V-shaped cloud fading into invisibility on Dec. 1st:
The answer hinges on the contents of that cloud. Is it nothing more than a cloud of dust--or could there be some some fragments of the disintegrated nucleus still intact and potentially active?
A key result announced at the workshop comes from SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. According to the spacecraft's SWAN instrument, the comet stopped producing so-called Lyman alpha photons soon after its closest approach to the sun. Karl Battams of the CIOC explains what this means: "Without getting technical, Lyman-Alpha is a consequence of sunlight interacting with hydrogen, and if we are not seeing that interaction then it means that the levels of hydrogen (and hence ice) are extremely low. This is indicative of a completely burned out nucleus, or no nucleus at all."
"The evidence appears strong that at some point approaching perihelion - whether days or hours - Comet ISON likely began to completely fall apart," he continues. "What remains of ISON now is going to be either just a cloud of dust, or perhaps a few very depleted chunks of nucleus. Either way, it's not going to flare up at this point and we should assume the comet's show is over."
"However, we do need to verify this," says Battams. "Hopefully the Hubble team can come to the rescue! In mid-December, Hubble will be pointed in the direction of where ISON should be and they'll try and image something. If no fragments are surviving, or they are tiny, then Hubble will not be able to find anything, but that negative detection will tell us something: namely that ISON is indeed gone for good."
Comet ISON Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather 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 Dec. 8, 2013, the network reported 6 fireballs.
(5 sporadics, 1 Geminid)
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 December 8, 2013 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.
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