SHUTTLE REPLACEMENT TAKES FLIGHT: For the first time in 30 years, a new rocket has launched from the Kennedy Space Center. The Ares I-X, slated to replace the space shuttle in 2015, completed a successful 6-minute suborbital test flight that provided valuable data for designers of the space agency's next generation of space vehicles. Get the full story from nasa.gov.
launch photos: from Kelley Dragon of Melbourne, FL
INDONESIAN ASTEROID: Picture this: A 10-meter wide asteroid hits Earth and explodes in the atmosphere with the energy of a small atomic bomb. Frightened by thunderous sounds and shaking walls, people rush out of their homes, thinking that an earthquake is in progress. All they see is a twisting trail of debris in the mid-day sky:
Click to view an Indonesian news report
This really happened on Oct. 8th around 11 am local time in the coastal town of Bone, Indonesia. The Earth-shaking blast received remarkably little coverage in Western press, but meteor scientists have given it their full attention. "The explosion triggered infrasound sensors of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) more than 10,000 km away," report researchers Elizabeth Silber and Peter Brown of the Univ. of Western Ontario in an Oct. 19th press release. Their analysis of the infrasound data revealed an explosion at coordinates 4.5S, 120E (close to Bone) with a yield of about 50 kton of TNT. That's two to three times more powerful than World War II-era atomic bombs.
The asteroid that caused the blast was not known before it hit and took astronomers completely by surprise. According to statistical studies of the near-Earth asteroid population, such objects are expected to collide with Earth on average every 2 to 12 years. "Follow-on observations from other instruments or ground recovery efforts would be very valuable in further refining this unique event," say Silber and Brown.
BIG AND ACTIVE: Sunspot 1029, the biggest and most active sunspot of 2009, continues to put on a good show. Pete Lawrence sends this picture from his backyard observatory in Selsey, UK:
"The 'snake pit' of activity next to the main spot showed lots of intricate changes including the development of several intense star-like points," he says.
The sunspot has been crackling with minor C-class solar flares since it emerged a few days ago. Magnetic fields around the spot have been growing more complex, making stronger eruptions increasingly likely. NOAA forecasters estimate a 5% chance of an M-class flare in the next 24 hours. Stay tuned for solar activity!
sunspot images: from John C McConnell of Maghaberry, Northern Ireland; from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy; from Andy Yeung of Hong Kong; from Athanasios Georgiou of Filyro, Thessaloniki, Greece; from Roman Vanur of Nitra, Slovakia; from Paul Haese of Blackwood, South Australia; from Marco Vidovic of Stojnci, Slovenia; from Pavol Rapavy of Observatory Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia; from Gianluca Valentini of Rimini, Italy;
October Northern Lights Gallery
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