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INCOMING CME BOOSTS ODDS FOR AURORAS: NOAA forecasters estimate a 30% to 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Jan. 17th when a CME is expected to hit Earth's magnetic field. The impact could spark bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
Even before the CME's arrival, auroras are already arcing across the skies of northern Scandinavia. Entitle this photo Reflections:
Rune Bjørkli took the picture on January 15th from Porsanger, Norway. "For this 60 second exposure I used an Olympus E-M5 set at ISO 1600," says Bjørkli. "The long exposure revealed the lights in the water as well as the sky."
Stay tuned to the aurora gallery for more reflections as the CME approaches.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
CHANCE OF FLARES: So far today, solar activity is low. However, that could be the calm before the storm. The magnetic field of big sunspot AR1654 has grown more complex. It is now classified as a 'beta-gamma-delta' magnetic field, which means it harbors energy for X-class eruptions. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
If there is a flare today, the blast would be Earth-directed. This sunrise shot, taken at dawn on Jan. 16th by Jan Koeman on the bank of the Westerschelde River in the Netherlands, shows how AR1654 (circled) is almost directly facing our planet:
"Sunspot complex AR1654-AR1656 was clearly visible through the clouds and mist," says Koeman. "It was a wonderful sunrise even at -8 degrees celsius."
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
COMET ISON APPROACHES: Later this year, Comet ISON could put on an unforgettable display as it plunges toward the sun for a fiery encounter likely to turn the "dirty snowball" into a naked-eye object in broad daylight. At the moment, however, it doesn't look like much. John Chumack sends this picture, taken Jan. 8th, from his private observatory in Yellow Springs, Ohio:
"Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) is currently in the constellation Gemini, moving between the heads of the twins Castor and Pollux," says Chumack. "It is still pretty faint, near 16th magnitude, but don't be fooled by that. This could become one of the best comets in many years."
Comet ISON is a sungrazer. On Nov. 28, 2013, it will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere only 1.2 million km from the stellar surface below. If the comet survives the encounter, it could emerge glowing as brightly as the Moon, visible near the sun in the blue daylight sky. The comet's dusty tail stretching into the night would create a worldwide sensation.
Comet ISON looks so puny now because it is so far away, currently near the orbit of Jupiter. As it falls toward the sun in the months ahead it will warm up and reveal more about its true character. By the summer of 2013, researchers should know whether optimistic predictions about Comet ISON are justified. Possibilities range from "Comet of the Century" to disintegrated dud. Stay tuned!
Realtime Comet Photo Gallery
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]