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VERY QUIET SUN: All of the sunspots on the Earthside of the sun are quiet. NOAA forecasters put the odds of a significant eruption today at no more than 1%. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
DAYLIGHT ALIGNMENT OF PLANETS: Venus, Mars and Uranus are gathering for a remarkable alignment. But don't bother looking for the conjunction; it is happening in the daylight sky within a few degrees of the glaring sun. Using an opaque disk to block the glare, coronagraphs onboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are able to track the planets:
Venus and Uranus will cross paths within 1.5 degrees of the sun on March 27-28. Mars and Venus have their own very close encounter on April 6-7. Mars will be so close to the sun throughout the month of April that it will limit NASA's contact with the Mars rovers and orbiters.
According to a NASA press release, "Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun [as seen from Earth]. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during the near-alignment. To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are preparing to suspend sending any commands to spacecraft at Mars for weeks in April. Transmissions from Mars to Earth will also be reduced." Mars will be at its closest to the sun, a slim 0.4 degrees on April 17th.
The ongoing dance of the sun and planets is invisible to the human eye, but coronagraphs can see the show. Join SOHO for a ringside seat.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
FOUR HOURS IN A FEW MINUTES: On March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field, sparking shamrock-green auroras around the Arctic Circle. Many photographers were exhausted from staying up all night to record the display. Göran Strand of Frösön, Sweden, kept working, though. "I've spent the last five days processing the images I recorded." Click to view four hours of Northern Lights in only a few minutes:
"The time lapse consists of 2464 raw images totaling 30 gigabytes," he says. "The photo of the Sun in the movie is a hydrogen-alpha mosaic I made from ten images captured on March 16th, the day before the storm. That one was 10 gigabytes. So, all in all, this movie contains over 40 gigabytes of data."
A similar display tonight is unlikely. No CMEs are en route to Earth, and the solar wind is calm. NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 5% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 24th. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
TIPS FOR OBSERVING COMET PAN-STARRS: Comet Pan-STARRS is fading as it recedes from the sun. In recent nights, several experienced observers put its magnitude near +2.3, only about half as bright as last week. Time is running out for easy spotting and photography.
Below, astrophotographer John Chumack of Dayton, Ohio, offers "some tips for capturing your keepsake photo." Follow his recipe to take a picture like this:
"Find a low west-northwest horizon," he advises. "Be ready before sunset, so you can mark the horizon where the sun set as a reference to find the comet. A digital camera with manual settings is all you need to photograph Pan-STARRS. Try 1 to 30 second exposures at ISO settings ranging from 400 to 1600, about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset. The twilight fades fast, so increase your ISO and exposure time to compensate." Click here for additional details.
Using procedures similar to Chumack's, photographers have recently captured Comet Pan-STARRS over the Grand Canyon, Stonehenge, Greek monuments, Lake Superior, and many other scenic locations.
More: NASA video, 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
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