JULES VERNE: Europe's robotic cargo carrier, ATV Jules Verne, is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station on Sept. 5th. The ATV is wrapping up a successful five-month mission, delivering supplies, reboosting the ISS, and serving as an impromptu bedroom for the ISS crew. On Sept. 29th, ESA mission controllers plan to send Jules Verne into Earth's atmosphere where it will disintegrate as a fireball over the Pacific Ocean. Stay tuned to the Satellite Tracker for viewing opportunities.
AURORA ALERT: A solar wind stream is buffeting Earth's magnetic field and causing auroras around the Arctic Circle. "Lights danced most of the night until the sky got cloudy at 2:30 a.m.," reports Yuichi Takasaka, who sends this picture from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada:
The coronal hole on the sun responsible for this activity is a broad one, which means the solar wind could blow unabated for days. NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% chance of geomagnetic storms during the next 24 hours; high-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.
September 2008 Aurora Gallery
[Past Septembers: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001]
AUGUST SUNSPOTS: Contrary to reports, August 2008 was not the first month since June 1913 without a sunspot. August did have a sunspot, and here it is:
This is a bipolar active region that appeared on Aug. 21st. Pavol Rapavy took the picture from his backyard observatory in Rimavska Sobota, Slovakia. Because the sunspot lasted a short time, NOAA did not assign it a number. Nevertheless, the solar index World Data Center in Belgium recognizes the spot with a non-zero sunspot count on Aug. 21st and 22nd.
There has been much speculation in the solar "blogosphere" about the length of the ongoing solar minimum. The sun has been mostly blank for a long time and people are wondering when the next solar cycle is going to begin. Some observers claim we're entering a climate-altering minimum of historic proportions.
There's no evidence to back up these claims. As far as anyone can tell, the ongoing solar minimum is historically normal. New cycle spots are slowly beginning to appear and, indeed, the disputed sunspot of August is one of them. Its magnetic polarity places it in Solar Cycle 24 expected to peak in 2011 or 2012. If the sun remains blank for another year, it's time to re-think our assurances, but for now, all is well.
Who knew the blank sun could be so interesting?