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AMPLIFIED GREENHOUSE EFFECT SHIFTS GROWING SEASONS: Vegetation growth at Earth's northern latitudes increasingly resembles lusher latitudes to the south, according to a NASA-funded study. "It's like Winnipeg, Manitoba, moving to Minneapolis-Saint Paul in only 30 years," says one of the lead researchers. [full story]
COMET PAN-STARRS UPDATE: Today, March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) is making its closest approach to the sun. Inside the orbit of Mercury, the comet is getting hit with solar rays about ten times more intense than we experience on Earth. This is causing the comet to brighten as it moves into the skies of the northern hemisphere. Last night, Paul Ostwald caught it peeking between power lines over Somers Point, New Jersey:
Photo details: Canon 40D, 300mm, 2.5 sec, ISO 400
"The comet was only about 1 degree above the horizon when I took this picture," says Ostwald. "A two and a half second exposure with my Canon 40D digital camera revealed it easily."
Ostwald's photo highlights a challenge for observers. Although this comet is bright, somewhere between 1st and 2nd magnitude, evening twilight is even brighter. Observing tip: Look low and west about 30 minutes after sunset. If you can't see Comet Pan-STARRS, try scanning the horizon with binoculars.
Visibility will improve next week as the comet moves away from the sun. Dates of special interest include March 12th and 13th when Pan-STARRS passes not far from the crescent Moon. The tight conjunction on the 12th provides a splendid opportunity for sunset photographers. Sky maps: March 12, March 13.
Check the realtime comet gallery for the latest images.
More: NASA video, 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
STEREO-B SEES COMET PAN-STARRS: On March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS passed by the sun just inside the orbit of Mercury. The close encounter brought it into the field of view of NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft. The sun, Earth, and comet are labeled in this low-resolution beacon image from STEREO-B's Heliospheric Imager:
Comet Pan-STARRS is so bright, it is actually saturating the pixels of the imager's digital camera. The comet's luminosity is mainly due to dust. Earth-based observations show that Pan-STARRS is dustier than an average comet. Comet dust reflects sunlight, so the fan-shaped tail of Pan-STARRS, chock full of it, is especially bright.
Low-resolution beacon images will be followed in a day or so by high-resolution movies. Stay tuned for a great view of Comet Pan-STARRS passing the sun.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
GREEN ICE: On March 9th, ice along the coast of Sortland, Norway, turned vivid green. Onlooker Frank Olsen photographed the phenomenon:
What caused this? The hint of purple in the lower left corner is an important clue. It's a reflection of auroras in the sky above. "I missed out on the biggest outbursts because I was driving my car with no place to stop," says Olsen. When he finally pulled over "it was pretty cold, at -16C degrees." Photographing the icy verge seemed like the right thing to do.
NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 10th. Those are the odds of more green ice tonight. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]