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CHANCE OF FLARES:
NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% chance of M-class
solar flares, and a 5% chance of X-flares
today. The probable source would be big sunspot
AR1654, which is squarely facing Earth.
Solar flare alerts: text,
AURORAS BY SATELLITE:
A solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field on
Jan. 13th, igniting bright auroras around the Arctic
Circle. A US Department of Defense meteorological
satellite photographed the luminous tendrils winding
Mark Conner of the Air Force Weather
Agency prepared the image using data from a low-light
camera onboard the DMSP-18 satellite. It shows not
only the auroras, but also the city lights of northern
Europe and the glow of gas flares from oil rigs
in the North Sea. The auroras were every bit as
bright as the manmade lights below. The
view from the ground proves the comparison.
More auroras are in the offing. NOAA
forecasters estimate a 15% chance of polar geomagnetic
activity as the solar wind continues to blow.
Aurora alerts: text,
Aurora Photo Gallery
BIG SUNSPOTS IN THE
MORNING: Sunspot AR1654 is so large,
people are starting to notice it with their naked
eyes when the sun is dimmed by clouds or mist. This
morning, Jan. 14th, Göran Strand photographed the
behemoth at sunrise over Frösön, Sweden:
"The weather was very cold, -20
degrees Celsius and there was a light mist that
made it possible to shoot right at the Sun without
any filters," says Strand. "In the foreground
you can see the downpipes on my neighbor's house."
To take the picture, Strand set his
Nikon D800E digital camera as follows: 510mm/f4.8,
ISO 400, 1/6000 sec. Sky watchers who wish to photograph
the spot should take note of those settings, but
be careful. Even when the sun is dimmed, viewing
it through unfiltered optics is every dangerous.
One stray beam of magnified sunlight can blind you.
Use the digital viewfinder to safely align the camera.
Space Weather Photo Gallery
COMET ISON APPROACHES:
Later this year, Comet ISON could put on an unforgettable
display as it plunges toward the sun for a fiery
encounter likely to turn the "dirty snowball"
into a naked-eye object in broad daylight. At the
moment, however, it doesn't look like much. John
Chumack sends this picture, taken Jan. 8th,
from his private observatory in Yellow Springs,
"Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is currently
in the constellation Gemini, moving between the
heads of the twins Castor and Pollux," says
Chumack. "It is still pretty faint, near 16th
magnitude, but don't be fooled by that. This could
become one of the best comets in many years."
Comet ISON is a sungrazer. On Nov.
28, 2013, it will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere
only 1.2 million km from the stellar surface below.
If the comet survives the encounter, it could emerge
glowing as brightly as the Moon, visible near the
sun in the blue daylight sky. The comet's dusty
tail stretching into the night would create a worldwide
Comet ISON looks so puny now because
it is so far away, currently near the orbit of Jupiter.
As it falls toward the sun in the months ahead it
will warm up and reveal more about its true character.
By the summer of 2013, researchers should know whether
optimistic predictions about Comet ISON are justified.
Possibilities range from "Comet
of the Century" to disintegrated
dud. Stay tuned!
Comet Photo Gallery
Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003,