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INCOMING CME: A magnetic filament connected to sunspot AR1450 erupted on April 2nd, hurling a faint CME in the direction of Earth. A weak impact is expected sometime on April 4th. NOAA forecasters estimate a ~25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the cloud arrives. Aurora alerts: text, phone.
CATCH THE CONJUNCTION! When the sun sets tonight, go outside and look west. The planet Venus is in conjunction with the Pleiades star cluster. This only happened once every eight years, so don't miss it!
Last night in Puławy, Poland, photographer Kamila Mazurkiewicz was determined to catch the meeting:
"Venus and the Pleiades were like diamonds in the sky," says Mazurkiewicz. "It was a beautiful sight."
Although the conjunction may be seen with the unaided eye, it is even more beautiful through a small telescope, binoculars, or the lens of a camera. Regard this magnificent close-up from David A. Harvey of Tucson, Arizona. His camera settings are available for readers who wish to try a similar composition.
Connecting the dots, the brightest stars of the Pleiades resemble a tiny dipper. Tonight, April 3rd, Venus will brush the bottom of the dipper's bowl--a very close encounter indeed. Enjoy the show!
more images: from Alan Dyer of Gleichen, Alberta; from Gary A. Becker of Coopersburg, PA; from the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project of Atlanta, GA; from Daniel J. Linek of Oneonta, NY; from Joe McBride of Grand Rapids, MI; from Aaron Top of Shallow Lake Ontario Canada; from Chris Pruzenski of Hemlock, NY; from John Stetson of Falmouth, Maine
SPRITE SEASON BEGINS: The first sprites of summer are starting to appear in the skies of North America. The strange thing is, summer is almost three months away. "Sprite season is beginning early this year," says Thomas Ashcraft, who photographed these specimens on March 30th from his observatory in New Mexico:
"At precisely two minutes and twenty-six seconds after midnight March 30, 2012 there was an incredibly powerful bolt of lightning in the vicinity of Woodward, Oklahoma that spawned these red sprites," says Ashcraft. "I could see them from two states away!" He also recorded VLF and shortwave radio emissions from the cluster, which you can hear as the soundtrack to this video.
Sprites are electrical discharges that come out of the top of thunderclouds, opposite ordinary lightning bolts which plunge toward Earth. Sprites can tower as high as 90 km above ground. That makes them a form of space weather as they overlap the zone of auroras, meteors, and noctilucent clouds.
Because they are associated with lightning, sprites are most often seen in summer months, "but in the past few days sprites have been reported in Texas (particularly near the Mexican border) as well as here in New Mexico," notes Ashcraft.
So if there's lightning where you live, be alert for sprites.
February 2012 Aurora Gallery
[previous Februaries: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2003, 2002]