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WEEKEND AURORAS: A weak solar wind stream is brushing against Earth's magnetic field this weekend. In response to the encounter, NOAA forecasters put the odds of a polar geomagnetic storm on April 7 at 30%. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
DAYLIGHT CONJUNCTION: There's an alignment of planets today, but don't bother looking because the conjunction is happening in broad daylight. Venus and Mars have converged only 1o apart in close proximity to the sun:
The image above comes from SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO is able to monitor the encounter using coronagraphs to block the sun's blinding glare.
Mars and Venus will begin to separate later today. Venus will move away from the sun, while Mars will move in even closer. This could cause problems for NASA when it tries to contact Mars rovers and orbiters. According to a NASA press release, "The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions during the near-alignment. To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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
OMG: On April 4th, in the western sky at sunset, Comet Pan-STARRS made a photogenic flyby of the Andromeda galaxy. Amateur astronomer Pavel Smilyk of Syktyvkar, Russia, photographed the pair at the hour of closest approach:
"This is a 27 x 2 minute guided exposure I made using a Canon 1100Da digital camera," says Smilyk. "We had very clear skies."
In this deep exposure, the comet's dusty tail appears to touch the galaxy's outermost spiral arms. In fact, no physical contact occured; the comet is still in the solar system while Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away.
The comet and galaxy are parting now, but slowly, so they will remain a close pair for cameras and wide-field telescopes for several nights to come. Browse the gallery for more close-up images of the ongoing conjunction.
More about Pan-STARRS: NASA video, 3D orbit, ephemeris, light curves.
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
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