Hang the Transit of Venus on your wall! Hubble-quality images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory are now available as metallic posters in the Space Weather Store.
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SOLAR WIND ENERGY SOURCE DISCOVERED: Using data from an aging NASA spacecraft, researchers have found signs of an energy source in the solar wind that has caught the attention of fusion researchers. NASA will be able to test the theory later this decade when it sends a new probe into the sun for a closer look. Get the full story from Science@NASA
COMET PAN-STARRS MOVES NORTH: On March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) makes its closest approach to the sun inside the orbit of Mercury. As the comet swings by the sun it is also crossing the celestial equator, moving from southern to northern skies. First sightings of the comet are now coming in from the northern hemisphere. "At last it is visible from my latitude, 5oN," reports Veerayen Mohanadas, who sends this picture from Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia:
"Because the comet is still close to the sun, it is not yet an easy target for unaided eyes," he says. "I hope to see it more clearly in the days ahead when it climbs higgher in the western sky after sunset."
Indeed, the comet is now glowing at least as brightly as a 2nd magnitude star (like the stars of the Big Dipper); when it is framed by darker skies, it will become much easier to see. Dates of special interest include March 12th and 13th when the comet passes not far from the crescent Moon; think photo-op! Check the realtime comet gallery for the latest images.
More about Comet Pan-STARRS: NASA video, 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
AURORA WATCH: NOAA forecasters estimate a 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 8th when a solar wind stream might brush against Earth's magnetic field. Arctic sky watchers--including those on dog sleds--should be alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Dirk Obudzinski was watching the lights dance over Cripple Creek, Alaska, on March 7th when a fireball split the sky:
"A lucky catch!" says Obudzinski. "Cripple Creek, just south of the White Mountains, is one of my favorite shooting locations, and it delivered a great spectacle."
The fireball was a random meteoroid disintegrating some 80 km above Earth's surface. It appears to be below the auroras--and it is. Auroras typically occur at altitudes between ~100 km and 300 km. One makes a great backdrop for the other. Catch more lucky shots in the realtime photo gallery:
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
LUNAR TRANSIT: It's not everyday you get to see a massive spaceship transit the Moon. In Argentina, March 5th was such a day. Amateur astronomer Mariano Ribas reports: "For the first time in my life, just 90 minutes before sunrise in Buenos Aires, I had a very good chance to see and photograph from my home the International Space Station (ISS) passing exactly in front the Moon." The image below is a composite of two snapshots, showing the ISS on either side of Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Rains:
"It was an extraordinary experience," adds Ribas. "I took these images using my Canon Rebel XTi digital camera attached to my 12-inch telescope."
Lunar transits of the ISS happen fairly frequently, but they only last for a split second. You have to know precisely when to look. Transit predictions are available from CalSky.org.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
FARSIDE EXPLOSION: An active region on the farside of the sun exploded during the early hours of March 5th, hurling a bright CME into space. Cameras onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded the expanding cloud:
NASA's STEREO-Behind spacecraft is stationed over the farside of the sun, directly above the blast site. An extreme UV telescope onboard the spacecraft recorded a movie of the explosion. The responsible active region will rotate onto the Earthside of the sun in less than a week, which means geoeffective solar activity is in the offing. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]