AURORA ALERT: Did you sleep through the northern lights? Next time get a wake-up call: Spaceweather PHONE.
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BIGGEST FULL MOON OF THE YEAR: The biggest full Moon of 2009 is coming this weekend. It's a perigee Moon as much as 30% brighter than lesser moons we'll see in the months ahead. Get the full story from Science@NASA.
APPROACHING COMET: Comet Lulin (C/2007 N3), discovered in 2007 by a Strait-bridging team of astronomers from Taiwan and China, is swinging around the sun and approaching Earth. Astronomer Karzaman Ahmad sends this picture taken Jan. 7th from the Langkawi National Observatory in Malaysia:
"I used the observatory's 20-inch telescope for an exposure of 24 minutes," he says. "The image shows the comet's bright tail and an anti-tail."
Right now, Comet Lulin is gliding through the constellation Libra in the southeastern sky before dawn: sky map. It glows like an 8th magnitude star, so a mid-sized backyard telescope is required to see it. Visibility will improve in February as the Earth-comet distance shrinks. At closest approach (0.41 AU) on February 24th, the comet should brighten to about 5th magnitude--dimly visible to the unaided eye and an easy target for binoculars: ephemeris.
Surprises are possible. The near-parabolic orbit of Comet Lulin suggests this could be the comet's first visit to the inner solar system. How it will react to increasing sunlight is anyone's guess. Stay tuned for updates in the weeks ahead.
more images: from Babak Tafreshi in the Alborz Mountains of Iran; from Riccardo Di Nasso of Pisa, Italy
RECIPE FOR BEAUTY: Start with one bright Moon. Add seven mythical sisters. Mix in a splash of floating water droplets and voilà!--last night's sky over Auburn, Alabama:
"It was pretty cool," says photographer Jonathon Stone. "A bright lunar corona appeared as these clouds drifted in front of the Moon. I didn't know the Moon would be so close to the Pleiades--but there they were."
The nights ahead could be filled with scenes like this. The Moon is waxing full and shining through northern winter clouds, painting the sky with lunar coronas, moon halos, pillars and 'dogs. Look up after dark!
Jan. 2009 Aurora Gallery
[Previous Januaries: 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2001]