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NACREOUS CLOUD ALERT: Auroras aren't the only colors in the polar sky. Observers around the Arctic Circle are reporting vivid, iridescent nacreous clouds, which form in the stratosphere during the coldest months of northern winter. "Once seen they are never forgotten," says Marketa Stanczykova who photographed these specimens outside Reykjavik, Iceland, on Jan. 4th. Another onlooker in Reykjavik, Albert Jakobsson, describes how "the beautiful colors played in the clouds and kept going for about one and half hour after sunset."
AURORA WATCH : As expected, a solar wind stream hit Earth's magnetic field during the early hours of Jan. 7th. The impact sparked a G1-class (Kp=5) geomagnetic storm and bright auroras around the Arctic Circle. "It was just amazing," says Kjetil Skogli, who sends this picture from Tromsø, Norway:
"The display began with a faint band in the north and quickly developed into several spectacular waves with extreme high speed rays," he says.
The lights were so intense, they could be seen as far away as Northern Ireland. "The glow was faint, but definitely there," reports Martin McKenna of Maghera, Co. Derry.
High latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras as the solar wind continues to blow.
more images: from Timo Newton-Syms of Ruka, Finland; from Bernt Olsen of Tromsø, Norway; from Frank Olsen of Tromsø, Norway;
EXPLODING COMET FRAGMENTS: According to counts from around the world, the Quadrantid meteor shower peaked during the early hours of Jan. 4th with nearly 100 shooting stars per hour. The source of the Quadrantids is shattered comet 2003 EH1. During the peak, Mike Hankey watched a fragment explode just above his home in Freeland, Maryland:
"Here's a video of a Quadrantid fireball and the smoke trail it left behind," says Hankey. "It took 10 minutes for the trail to dissipate." The fireball itself produced a magnitude -9 flash, about ten times brighter than Venus.
Observers say most Quadrantids were faint, but the shower was spiced by occasional fireballs such as the one Hankey recorded. Browse the gallery for more exploding fragments:
NEW: 2011 Quadrantid Meteor Gallery
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Solar Eclipse Photo Gallery
December 2010 Aurora Gallery
[2010 Recap: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec]