MORNING PLANETS: If you wake up early on Sunday morning, May 17th, look out the window. Jupiter and the Moon are having a close encounter in the dawn sky. There's nothing astronomically significant about the encounter; it's just a nice way to begin the day. [sky map]
SPACESHIPS IN THE SUN: Award winning astrophotographer Thierry Legault wanted to image the Hubble Space Telescope and space shuttle Atlantis traveling together around Earth. But how? The pair wouldn't fly over his hometown in France during the ongoing servicing mission. To catch the rare meeting of spaceships, he decided to do some traveling of his own all the way to Florida. On May 12th, from a location near the Kennedy Space Center, he pointed his solar-filtered telescope at the sun and voilà!--there was Atlantis:
The space shuttle's silhouette was beautifully outlined by solar fire as Atlantis passed over central Florida.
A day later, he tried again, and this time Hubble joined the show: "I took this picture of Atlantis and the space telescope transiting the sun together on May 13th. It was just before the shuttle reached out with its robotic arm to grapple Hubble," says Legault. "The two spaceships were at an altitude of 600 km and they zipped across the sun in only 0.8 seconds." He captured the split-second transit using a Takahashi 5-inch refracting telescope and a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera.
Hubble is now safely stowed inside the shuttle's cargo bay where astronauts are conducting a series of five spacewalks to repair and upgrade the telescope. So far they have installed a new camera, replaced gyros, batteries and a failed computer. These upgrades and others are expected to extend Hubble's life until 2014. [more]
STRANGE POND SHADOWS: On May 12th, Maurice Gavin bent over a turbid pond at the Minsmere bird reserve in Suffolk, UK, and saw something that surprised him. "There were radial shadows coming out of my head," he says. Here is a snapshot:
Gavin also made a video of the multi-colored ripples: click here.
Atmospheric (and underwater) optics expert Les Cowley explains the phenomenon: "The light and dark streaks radiating from Gavin’s head are a water aureole. It is a perspective effect rather like anti-crepuscular rays. Waves on the surface focus the sun into parallel cones of light pointing downwards through the water. The aureole, seen when the water is slightly cloudy, is your view of the cones apparently converging on the point opposite the sun where your shadow is also situated."
"Gavin’s colored shadows are another cloudy water effect. Small particles in water scatter sunlight like the air molecules that make the sky blue. When we see the particles side on to the light against the dark shadow background they look blue. But scattering blue light leaves sunlight reddened. These remaining 'sunset rays' make other shadow edges appear orange-red."
"Watch water carefully, it has as almost as many colorful effects as the sky!"
more images: from Tom Soetaert of Lawrence, Kansas
April 2009 Aurora Gallery
[previous Aprils: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002]
Explore the Sunspot Cycle