OTHERWORLDLY SOLAR ECLIPSE: For the first time, a spacecraft from Earth has captured hi-resolution video of a solar eclipse while orbiting another world. Get the full story from Science@NASA.
DOOMED SATELLITE: NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) blasted off from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Feb. 24th around 1:55 in the morning Pacific Time. An all-sky camera in nearby Santa Barbara captured the early stages of what would prove to be a doomed flight:
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"We photographed the launch using an AllSky-340C mounted on our roof," says Matt Thomas of Santa Barbara Instrument Group. "It monitors the sky 24/7, and you can see live images here."
Unfortunately, OCO never made it to Earth orbit. After the satellite left the field of view, above, it failed to separate from its Taurus XL launch vehicle. The stuck-together pair splashed down in the icy waters near Antarctica. Climate scientists are calling the loss a "serious setback" in their efforts to identify our planet's carbon sinks and solve the mystery of missing carbon--the 30% of human-produced carbon dioxide that disappears into unknown places. A NASA panel has been convened to investigate the mishap.
COMET LULIN UPDATE: Comet Lulin is now receding from Earth, but observers say the comet is still bright enough to see with the unaided eye from dark-sky sites. It looks like a faint patch of gas near Regulus, a 1st magnitude star in Leo: sky map.
Australian astrophotographer Joseph Brimacombe took this picture using a remotely-controlled telescope in New Mexico on Feb. 22nd:
"The image is a median stack of 50 three-minute exposures," says Brimacombe. "What an endlessly surprising and beautiful comet Lulin has turned out to be."
Note: Yesterday we suggested that the gaseous ion tail of Comet Lulin had been torn away by a solar wind gust on Feb. 23rd. That may be, but another phenomenon is at work, too. The ion tail is at least partially hidden behind the comet's head as the comet swings past Earth. Rapidly changing geometry will soon bring the unruly tail back into view--if indeed it is there. Stay tuned.
UPDATED: Comet Lulin Photo Gallery
[Comet Hunter Telescope] [Sky maps: Feb. 27, 28]
February 2009 Aurora Gallery
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