Metallic photos of the sun by renowned photographer Greg Piepol bring together the best of art and science. Buy one or a whole set. They make a stellar gift.
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INCOMING CME: During the early hours of July 3rd, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a mild but beautiful explosion near growing sunspot group 1244. The B9-category blast hurled a faint cloud of plasma toward Earth, which could cause some geomagnetic activity when it arrives on ~July 6th. This is not a major event.
SPACE STATION vs. FIREWORKS: Just in time for the 4th of July holiday, the International Space Station is flying over the USA. It's so bright, you can even see it through fireworks:
(Can't find it? Hint: It's the only thing that's not exploding.)
Kevin Baird took the picture on July 2nd: "Fireworks were scheduled to start at 9:00 pm PDT and the ISS was due to pass overhead only 23 seconds later. Everything happened precisely on time. Breaks in the ISS's light trail are 2-second gaps between the 5-second exposures. Oh, I don't think a 24mm lens is nearly wide enough for an event like this!"
More firework-ISS conjunctions are due tonight. Check the Simple Satellite Tracker (or your cell phone) to find out when to look.
more images: from Jimmy Eubanks of Boiling Springs, SC; from Dave Dickinson of Hudson, Florida
ELECTRIC BLUE CLOUDS: When noctilucent clouds (NLCs) first appeared in the 19th century, they were a high-latitude phenomenon. You had to travel toward the poles to see their electric-blue glow. Not anymore. Just this past weekend, NLCs spilled over the Canadian border into the lower United States as far south as Denver, Colorado. Flying 33,000 feet over the Mile High City on July 2nd, Brian Whittaker snapped this picture from the window of a passenger jet:
Whittaker is a long time observer of NLCs from planes flying much further north. "I was amazed to see them at 39 degrees latitude over the USA," he says.
Another long time observer, University of Colorado atmospheric sciences professor Richard A. Keen was located just underneath the storm clouds in Whittaker's photo. "Rats!" says Keen. "I was watching for NLCs, but all I saw was rain."
During the peak of the display on July 1-2, NLCs were seen in Washington state, Oregon, Montana, North and South Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado and Kansas. Keen notes that the sightings in Colorado (lat 39.8N) and Kansas (lat 38.9N) are among the most southerly sightings ever. "The lowest-latitude sighting I know of was by Craig Coutlee in Ignacio, Colorado on June 22, 1999, the same day as my sighting near Boulder," recalls Keen. "Craig was at 37.1N latitude, just north of New Mexico."
The latest outbreak continues a trend in recent years of NLCs spreading to ever-lower latitudes. Is this a sign of climate change? Some researchers think so. Sky watchers everywhere are encouraged to be alert for electric blue just after sunset or before sunrise; observing tips may be found in the 2011 NLC gallery.
UPDATED: 2011 Noctilucent Cloud Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009]
June 2011 Aurora Gallery
[Aurora alerts: text, voice] [previous Junes: 2010, 2008, 2001]
June 15th Lunar Eclipse Gallery