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EARLY ORIONIDS: Earth is entering the outskirts of a debris stream from Halley's comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Last night, Oct. 12th, cameras in NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network detected two bright Orionid fireballs over the United States. The shower is expected to peak this year on Oct. 21st with ~20 meteors per hour between local midnight and dawn. An almost-full Moon on peak night will sharply reduce visibility, so watch out for the early Orionids. They might be the only ones you see. Meteor alerts: text, voice.
MORSE CODE BEAMED INTO SPACE: When NASA's Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9th, ham radio operators around the world took part in a global effort to communicate with the spacecraft. Organized by the Juno mission team and JPL, the hams slowly tapped out "Hi" in Morse code: . In New Mexico, amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft was observing the heavens with his own shortwave radio telescope when he heard the transmissions:
"The patterned keying from amateur radio operators was noted clearly on my radio telescope," says Ashcraft. "In the dynamic spectrum, shown above, it is the series of horizontal 'dots' just above 28 MHz." Listening to this seven minute extract of the signal pattern sent to Juno takes patience, so Ashcraft sped up the recording by 10 times. "Here it is," he says.
Juno listened for the message using its onboard WAVES instrument, a radio and plasma wave sensor designed to study magnetic storms at Jupiter. Did Juno actually hear anything? The Juno mission team wrote this on the event's home page: "Thank you amateur radio operators. This activity is now concluded. The Juno team hopes to share the results with you soon."
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CHANCE OF FLARES: A pair of sunspots pointing almost-directly at Earth poses a threat for strong solar flares. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory photographed the two active regions, AR1861 and AR1865, on Oct. 12th:
Both sunspots have 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic fields that harbor energy for X-class solar flares. So far, sunspot AR1865 is mostly quiet, but AR1861 is crackling with lesser C-class flares, possibly foreshadowing a bigger eruption. NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of M-class flares and a 15% chance of X-flares on Oct. 12th. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
GREEN COMET ISON: Comet ISON is brightening as it approaches the sun. At the moment it is glowing like a 10th magnitude star, too dim for naked-eye viewing but an easy target for many telescopes on Earth. "This is what the comet looked like on Oct. 8th using the 0.8m (32 inch) Schulman Telescope," reports Adam Block from the University of Arizona Skycenter atop Mount Lemmon:
ISON's green color comes from the gases surrounding its icy nucleus. Jets spewing from the comet's core contain diatomic carbon (C2) and cyanogen (CN: a poisonous gas found in many comets). Both substances glow green when illuminated by sunlight in the near-vacuum of space.
"I am certain more images of Comet ISON will be coming out shortly as it increases in brightness during its dive towards the Sun," adds Block. "Here is hoping it survives that rendezvous on Nov. 28th and emerges as something spectacular on the other side!"
Although the comet is very faint, finding it is easy. Comet ISON rises alongside Mars in the eastern sky just before dawn. Amateur astronomers, if you have a GOTO telescope, enter these coordinates. Special dates of interest include Oct. 13-15 when Mars, Comet ISON, and the first magnitude star Regulus will be clustered in a patch of sky less than 3o apart. Red Mars and blue Regulus will form a beautiful naked eye "double star" in the early morning sky. Sky maps: Oct. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.
Realtime Comet ISON Photo Gallery
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