Metallic photos of the sun by renowned photographer Greg Piepol bring together the best of art and science. Buy one or a whole set. They make a stellar gift.
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SOLAR CYCLE UPDATE: Something unexpected is happening on the sun. 2013 is supposed to be the year of Solar Max, but solar activity is lower than expected. At least one leading forecaster expects the sun to rebound with a double-peaked maximum later this year. [video] [full story]
SDO ECLIPSE SEASON BEGINS: Twice every year, around the time of the equinoxes, Earth can pass directly between the Sun and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), producing a series of beautiful eclipses from the point of view of the spacecraft. SDO's vernal eclipse season began this weekend, producing a partial blackout of the sun:
During the eclipse, which was centered around 0715 UT on March 3rd, Earth covered about half of the sun. Because these eclipses typically last for only minutes each day (maximum=72 minutes), there is still plenty of uninterrupted time for SDO to monitor activity on the sun. The ongoing eclipse season will end in approximately three weeks. Between now and then, stay tuned for some rare blackouts. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
GEOMAGNETIC DISTURBANCES: A high-speed solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field, sparking bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. The sight of the bright green lights overhead is causing some onlookers to do unusual things in the snow:
"I can honestly say I've never seen anyone do The Pyramid under the Northern Lights before," says veteran aurora photographer Ronn Murray of Fairbanks, Alaska. "[On March 1st], I headed up to the top of Murphy Dome with this incredibly fun tour group. We had a blast making portraits under the aurora. The clouds would eventually take over, but we made the most of the show while it lasted."
More auroras are in the offing. NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% to 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 2-3 as the solar wind continues to blow. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
COMET PAN-STARRS UPDATE: Comet Pan-STARRS, now visible in the southern hemispherre, is brightening as it plunges toward the sun, Amateur astronomer Ian Cooper sends this report from Glen Oroua, New Zealand: "Despite lingering evening twilight and the glare from a nearly full Moon, Comet Pan-STARRS is a 3rd-magnitude object with a fine orange dust tail visible in both binoculars and small telescopes." A 30-second exposure with his Canon 450D digital camera easily revealed the comet in the not-quite-dark sky:
In early March, the comet will pass about 100 million miles from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury. At that time it is expected to brighten another three-fold to 2nd magnitude, about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. Whether Pan-STARRS will actually be visible to the naked eye through the glow of the nearby sun remains to be seen; this NASA video explores the possibilities. Whatever happens, observers in the northern hemisphere will have a front row seat as the comet crosses the celestial equator on March 12th. Stay tuned!
More about Comet Pan-STARRS: 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]