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SOLAR SAIL STUNNER: In a stunning reversal of fortune, NASA's NanoSail-D spacecraft has unfurled a gleaming sheet of space-age fabric 650 km above Earth, becoming the first-ever solar sail to circle our planet. Get the full story from Science@NASA.
NORRSKEN: "I stepped outside to walk my old black lab tonight, Jan. 24th, when I heard a friend yell norrsken! (Swedish for aurora)," reports Chad Blakley of Abisko National Park, Sweden. "I ran inside to grab my camera, but I needn't have hurried because the lights danced and played for more than two hours." He took this picture using his Nikon D7000:
"It was another great night of Northern Lights here in Abisko!" adds Blakley. "I guess I owe these shots to my dog."
The sun helped a little, too. The display was caused by an episode of "south-pointing Bz." The interplanetary magnetic field near Earth tipped south, opening a hole in Earth's magnetosphere; solar wind poured in to fuel the display. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert as Bz continues to favor polar auroras on Jan. 25th.
More Jan. 24th photos: from Sylvain Serre of Salluit, Nunavik, Quebec, Canada; from Therese van Nieuwenhoven of Lofoten islands, Norway; from Beate Kiil Karlsen of Ibestad, Norway
January 2011 Aurora Photo Gallery
[previous Januaries: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004]
SUNSPOT SUNRISE: Sunspot complex 1147-1149 is so big, people are beginning to notice it without the aid of a solar telescope. Stefano De Rosa "spotted" the twin cores at sunrise on Jan. 23rd:
"The sun was climbing a hill by the Basilica of Superga," says De Rosa. "[Because the low-hanging sun was so dim], we could see the sunspots above the treeline."
Caution: Even when the sun is dimmed by clouds or low altitude, it is still dangerously bright. Direct sunlight beaming through the optics of cameras can instantly damage your eyes. If you attempt to photograph the sun using a digital camera, do not peer through the viewfinder. The LCD screen is a safer place to look. The links below are safest of all; browse and enjoy.
more images: from Jim Saueressig II of Burlington, Kansas; from Francois Rouviere of Mougins, France; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Julius Jahre Sætre of Vestfold, Norway; from Francois Rouviere of Mougins, France; from John Nassr of Baguio, Philippines; from Matteo Medeghini of Sant'Ilario d'Enza, Reggio Emilia, Italy
Solar Eclipse Photo Gallery
[NASA: Hinode Observes Annular Solar Eclipse]