They came from outer space--and you can have one! Genuine meteorites are now on sale in the Space Weather Store.
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CURIOSITY AND THE SOLAR STORM: Last month, a massive solar storm launched itself toward Mars just as NASA's new rover, Curiosity, was blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the same direction. The coincidence heralds a new job for the multi-talented rover: For the next 9 months, Curiosity will monitor space weather en route to the Red Planet. [full story]
GEMINID METEOR UPDATE: Today, Earth is passing through a stream of debris from near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon, source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Often the encounter produces more than 100 Geminids per hour, but this year many of the meteors are obscured by bright moonlight. Visual rates are currently in the dozens, not hundreds.
"Last night, I spent two hours outdoors and witnessed a good shower despite the strong moonlight," reports Monika Landy-Gyebnar, who sends this picture (and others) from Veszprem, Hungary:
"I'm happy I had 2 hours of beauty among the brightening dust of the asteroid Phaethon!" she says.
Another way to enjoy the Geminids is by listening to them. The US Air Force Space Surveillance Radar is scanning the skies over the southern USA. When a Geminid flies overhead--ping!--there is an echo. This method of observing is unaffected by moonlight. Live audio from the radar is playing on Space Weather Radio.
See also: New iPhone App Helps NASA Keep Track of Meteoroids.
SIGNIFICANT COMET PLUNGES TOWARD THE SUN: A comet nearly as wide as two football fields (200m) is plunging toward the sun where it will most likely be destroyed in a spectacular light show on Dec. 15/16. Although Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) could become as bright as Jupiter or Venus when it "flames out," the glare of the sun will hide the event from human eyes. Solar observatories in space, however, will have a grand view. NASA's STEREO-B spacecraft recorded the comet's approach on Dec. 11:
"You can clearly see the comet heading diagonally through the images," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab who prepared the animation. "During the 16-hour sequence, the comet brightens from magnitude +8 to +6.5, approximately."
It will soon grow much brighter. "This comet is a true sungrazer, and will skim approximately 140,000 km (1.2 solar radii) above the solar surface on Dec. 15/16," notes Battams. At such close range, solar heating will almost certainly destroy the icy interloper,creating a cloud of vapor and comet dust that will reflect lots of sunlight. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) will have a particularly good view.
Discovered on Dec. 2nd by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia, the comet is an unusually large member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments of a single giant comet (probably the Great Comet of 1106) that broke apart back in the 12th century. SOHO sees one plunging into the sun every few days, but most are small, no more than 10 meters wide. Comet Lovejoy is at least ten times larger than usual.
more images: from Jan Ebr of Malargue, Argentina; from Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero & Nick Howes using a remote controlled telescope in Australia
Dec. 10th Total Lunar Eclipse Gallery