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SPACE STATION FLYBYS: Sky watchers in North America might notice a bright light streaking across the evening sky this weekend. It's the International Space Station. The busily expanding station is now as luminous as Venus even when it doesn't fly directly overhead; some observers report seeing it through clouds. US and Canadian readers, find out when to look using our new Simple Satellite Tracker.
NEW CYCLE SPOT? A new sunspot is trying to emerge in the sun's northern hemisphere. It's not a big one, but it may be significant as only the second sunspot of new Solar Cycle 24. Follow the arrow in this ultraviolet image taken earlier today by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory:
The first sunspot of Solar Cycle 24 was observed on Jan. 4, 2008. More than three months have gone by without a second, but this could be it. The emerging active region is located at high solar latitude and has the correct magnetic polarity for a new cycle spot.
All that remains is for it to coalesce into a genuine sunspot. At the moment the active region lacks a sunspot's dark core. Readers, if you have a solar telescope, monitoring is encouraged.
more images: from Pete Lawrence of Selsey, West Sussex, UK; from Stephen Ames of Hodgenville, KY; from Cai-Uso Wohler of Bispingen, Germany; from Jan Timmermans of Valkenswaard, The Netherlands; from Peter Paice of Belfast, Northern Ireland;
MOONDUST IN THE WIND: Unlike Earth, the Moon has no magnetic field to ward off charged particles from the Sun. Solar wind blows directly onto the lunar surface. Researchers have long suspected that electrons in the solar wind become embedded in moondust, causing the dust to "charge up" and giving the Moon a very bad case of static cling. (continued below)
Image credit: J. Halekas, G. Delory (U.C. Berkeley), B. Farrell, T. Stubbs (GSFC)
Strange things can happen when moondust gathers charge. For example, the dust might rise up and, propelled by electrostatic repulsion, rush in a diaphanous wind across the lunar surface. Imagine, dust storms on an airless world with no weather!
But it could be even stranger than that. NASA researchers have discovered that moondust peppered with solar wind electrons gain not a negative but a positive charge. This unexpected and counterintuitive reaction makes it hard to predict what is really happening to dust on moon. Get the full story from Science@NASA.
UPDATED: April 2008 Aurora Gallery
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