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SLIM CHANCE OF FLARES: NOAA forecasters estimate a slim 10% chance of M-class solar flares today. None of the sunspots on the Earthside of the sun has the kind of complex magnetic field that harbors energy for strong eruptions. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.
POLAR FILAMENT ERUPTION: Not every eruption requires a sunspot. On April 1st, a magnetic filament snaking some 800,000 km around the sun's north pole rose up and erupted, hurling part of itself into space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) recorded the event:
Watch the movie again and pay attention to the southern hemisphere. Another filament erupted there in apparent sympathy with events in the north. Coincidence? Probably not. Invisible threads of magnetism connect widely separated parts of the sun, so an explosion in one place can trigger another explosion very far away. SDO has observed many such chain reactions--the iconic example being the global eruption of August 2010.
Much of the northern filament remains intact, which means more eruptions are possible in the days ahead. Stay tuned.
Realtime Space Weather Photo Gallery
COMET-GALAXY ENCOUNTER: Comet Pan-STARRS is heading for the Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31). On the nights of April 2nd through 5th, the bright comet will pass so close to the pinwheel star system that they will be visible as a tight pair in the fields of view of wide-field telescopes and digital cameras. Asko Aikkila of Kuusamo, Finland, photographed the convergence on April 1st:
"It was a beautiful sight in very clear skies," says Aikkila.
At closest approach on April 3-4, the comet will be just a few degrees from the galaxy. Deep exposures might even show the comet's tail touching Andromeda's outermost spiral arms. In fact, no physical contact will occur; the comet is still in the solar system while Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away.
Both the comet and the galaxy are barely visible to the unaided eye as faint fuzzy patches in the western sky after sunset. To find them, scan the sky with binoculars or set your GOTO telescope to "Andromeda."
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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