Monday, December 14, 2009


AFTER THE STORM: Last week, a powerful blizzard paralyzed parts of the US midwest. Mike Hollingshead of Blair, Nebraska, walked outside after the storm and this is what he saw;
Sunlight shining through ice crystals had produced a bright pair of sundogs and a vivid circumzenithal arc. "These tend to appear on the backside of a storm's clearing line as ice crystals blow through the air," notes Hollingshead. "It's a beautiful sight but not a ton of fun to photograph at 5o F with winds blowing 40 mph."


Early this morning (Dec. 14th), Bjørnar G. Hansen photographed a Geminid fireball streaking through the Northern Lights over Kvaløya, Norway:

"I took the picture using a Nikon D3," says Hansen. "It is a 30 second exposure."
Robin Busscher sends this report from the Netherlands: "Between midnight and 2 am, we saw a big show of Geminids with as many as 5 meteors in only 10 seconds. That's a lot more than the predicted maximum of 140 per hour!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Wednesday morning, Dec. 9th,

people in arctic Norway were stunned when a gigantic luminous spiral formed in the northern sky.

"We are used to seeing lots of auroras here in Norway, but this was different," says Nick Banbury of Harstad who witnessed the phenomenon on his way to work "between 7:50 and 8:00 a.m. local time."

Jan Petter Jorgensen took this photo:
The first reaction of many readers when they see this picture is Photoshop! Surely this must be a fake.

But no, many independent observers witnessed and phtotographed the apparition. It is real.
Banbury continues: "It consisted initially of a green beam of light similar in color to the aurora with a mysterious rotating spiral at one end.

This spiral then got bigger and bigger until it turned into a huge halo in the sky with the green beam extending down to Earth.

According to press reports, this could be seen all over northern Norway and must therefore have been very high up in the atmosphere to be seen hundreds of km apart."
HYPOTHESIS: Evidence is mounting that the phenomenon was caused by a malfunctioning suborbital rocket, possibly a
Bulava ICBM launched from a Russian submarine in the White Sea.

A Navtex no-fly alert was issued for the White Sea on Dec. 9th, and photographers have recorded what appears to be the initial boost phase of a launch beneath the spiral (see inset). A rocket motor spinning out of control could indeed explain the spiral pattern, as shown in this video of a Trident II missile launched from a US submarine in 2007.


The Russian Defense Ministry has confirmed the launch and subsequent failure of a submarine-based missile

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Forty years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon for the first time ever.

The historic Apollo 11 Mission landed at the Sea of Tranquility, a large, dark basaltic lava flow

They returned to earth with samples of lunar rocks, sand, and dust

so scientists could search for clues to the origin of the moon and its geologic development

Since that time, microscopes have been greatly improved,

allowing us to see moon dust in ways that were not possible 40, 20 or even just a few years ago.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Hand of God
An X-ray nebula, spanning 150 light-years, swirls around a pulsar in a color-coded image captured by the Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite and unveiled April 3. The pulsar spews out blue-colored streams of particles that collide with a neighboring gas cloud, sparking orange-colored emissions. The blue streams have taken on the appearance of a hand with fingers and a thumb, and that has led some to nickname this image "the Hand of God."

Green space
Starlight illuminates parts of the Orion Molecular Cloud with greenish light in this April 19 image, based on data from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The image is part of a survey charting a star factory in the constellation Orion. Energetic jets punch through the cloud and can be seen as a multitude of tiny pink-purple arcs, knots and filaments. The young stars that drive the jets are usually found along each jet and are colored golden orange.


One smooth galaxy
This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, showing the spiral galaxy known as NGC 2841, is helping astronomers solve one of the oldest puzzles in astronomy: Why do galaxies look so smooth, with stars sprinkled evenly throughout? An international team of astronomers has discovered that rivers of young stars flow from their hot, dense stellar nurseries, dispersing out to form the large, smooth distribution that we see in spiral galaxies like this one.


Parting shot
This beautiful picture of the planetary nebula Kohoutek 4-55, taken on May 4, was the last image delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the instrument credited with saving the once-troubled observatory. Spacewalkers from the shuttle Atlantis replaced the 16-year-old camera with a new instrument.

Hi, neighbor!
This image, released April 28, blends the Galaxy Evolution Explorer's ultraviolet view of the galaxy M33 and an infrared view from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. M33, one of our closest galactic neighbors, is about 2.9 million light-years away in the constellation Triangulum, part of what's known as our Local Group of galaxies.

Message from Mercury
New observations from NASA's Messenger spacecraft reveal never-before-seen portions of Mercury, including a giant impact crater that spans a length equivalent to the distance between Washington and Boston. This imagery was acquired in 2008 and published in the May 1 issue of the journal Science.


Cosmic accelerator
Cosmic rays from our Milky Way galaxy are accelerated efficiently in the remnants of an exploded star, as shown in this June 25 imagery from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. Researchers studied the color-coded emissions from the supernova remnant RCW 86, which is 8,200 light-years from Earth, to learn how such "super-accelerators" work. They found that the shock wave created by the stellar explosion moves at 1 to 3 percent of the speed of light.


Soap bubble in space
Informally known as the "Soap Bubble Nebula," this planetary nebula in the constellation Cygnus (officially known as PN G75.5.7) was discovered by amateur astronomer Dave Jurasevich in 2008. This image was obtained with the Kitt Peak Mayall 4-meter telescope on June 19, 2009.


Galaxies collision

A pileup on an intergalactic freeway
There are freeway pileups, and then there are pileups such as the one shown in this composite image from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory,
Hubble Space Telescope and Hawaii's Keck Observatory. The picture reveals a massive collision of four separate clusters of galaxies along a 13 million light-year-long stretch of intergalactic highway known as a filament, filled with galaxies, gas and dark matter. As the clusters plow into each other, they release heat, giving the pileup in the filament one of the highest temperatures ever seen in such a system, scientists noted.

Galactic collision reveals dark matter
Evidence for the existence of dark matter, a mysterious and invisible substance that is thought to make up most of the mass in the universe, was revealed when astronomers watched two giant galaxy clusters collide. The observation, made with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and other
telescopes, shows how the collision separated the dark matter from ordinary matter. In the image, the pink color represents ordinary matter from the collided galaxies. The blue is the dark matter, which passed right through the galactic wreckage and is inferred by the effect its gravity has on light from more distant galaxies.

Jets blast from galactic black hole
This composite radio, X-ray and visible-light image shows lobes and jets of electrons screaming out from a supermassive black hole at the center of Centaurus A, a giant elliptical galaxy about 13 million light years from Earth. The black hole has a mass equal to 100 million suns. The jets are emitted as matter is sucked into the massive black hole, and they travel at about half the
speed of light. When the jets slam into the surrounding gas, they create a shock wave – the bluish x-ray emissions seen most prominently in the lower right lobe.

Black hole rips apart a star
For some black holes, star gas apparently isn't enough sustenance: They go for the whole thing. This artist's rendering shows how a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy called RX J1242-11, located about 700 million light years away, likely ripped apart a star the size of our sun. The gravitational tug of the black hole stretched the star apart. Only about 1 percent of the star was actually consumed by the black hole, scientists told reporters in a news briefing. The rest was flung off into the galaxy by the momentum of the interaction.

Stellar explosion sends out jet of gamma rays
A stellar explosion in a galaxy 7.5 billion light years away was powerful and bright enough to be seen with the naked eye on Earth. Astronomers picked up more detailed observations of the explosion, called a gamma ray burst, with NASA's Swift satellite. Then they conducted follow-up observations with ground- and space-based
telescopes around the world. The pile of data drew the best picture yet of the poorly understood gamma ray bursts and showed that Earth was in the near direct path of a jet that shot out of the star. Had the explosion happened in our galaxy, astronomers said, it would have spelled big trouble for life on Earth. The illustration here shows how the gamma ray burst may have appeared up close.


View from space
Astronauts aboard the international space station snapped this picture from 230 miles above Earth as the shadow of the moon fell on the planet during a total solar eclipse on March 29, 2006. Visible near the shadow are portions of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of Turkey.

Red sky at morning
The new moon covers up part of the sun during an eclipse seen from a fishing spot on the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 21, 2001.

Solar streams
The sun's corona is a tenuous outer atmosphere composed of streams of energetic charged particles, but it is seen easily from Earth only during a total solar eclipse. This 1991 image of totality from atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, provides a fleeting glimpse of the corona's intricate structures and streams.

A total solar eclipse darkens the skies in Chongqing municipality in China.


Clouds of creation
A molecular cloud known as Cepheus B sparkles with newborn stars in this Aug. 12 image, which combines data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope. Star formation in Cepheus B, which is 2,400 light-years from Earth, appears to be mainly triggered by radiation from one bright, massive star outside the cloud.


This all-around view of the sun and its surroundings was created from three perspectives. The sun itself was imaged by the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO. The inner corona was recorded by Williams College observers during the July 22 total solar eclipse. The outer view of the corona was produced using SOHO's Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph.


Crab Nebula reloaded
A star's spectacular death in the constellation Taurus was observed on Earth as the supernova of the year 1054. Now, almost a millennium later, a super-dense neutron star left behind by the explosion is seen spewing out a blizzard of high-energy particles into the expanding debris field known as the Crab Nebula. This composite view, released Nov. 23, combines imagery from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (shown in blue) with visible-light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red and yellow) and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (purple).

A galaxy's leftovers
This near-infrared image from the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope in Chile, released Nov. 20, shows the giant cannibal galaxy Centaurus A eating a smaller spiral galaxy. The dark brown, parallelogram-shaped band of material represents "leftovers" from the galaxy that was gulped down 200 to 700 millon years earlier. Centaurus A is an elliptical galaxy 11 million light-years from Earth in the southern sky.

Martian lessons in the layers
Different layers of rock stand out in this color-coded picture of the Martian region known as Arabia Terra, acquired by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and released Nov. 18. Scientists think the picture may show how different beds of sediment were laid down during climatic cycles on Mars.

Power-packed Pinwheel
This Hubble Space Telescope image, released Nov. 11, shows a detailed view of starbirth in the spiral galaxy M83, 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid rate of starbirth in this famous "grand design" spiral galaxy, known as the "Southern Pinwheel.

Milky Way Marathon
A new panoramic image of the full night sky — with the Milky Way as its centerpiece — has been made by piecing together 3,000 individual photographs.

Dark dunes
Martian sand dunes seem to glow a deep violet in this image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The picture, acquired Aug. 24 and released Oct. 28, is actually color-coded to reflect subtle variations in surface composition.

Red Planet blobs
A close-up from the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released Oct. 28, provides a rare look at different layers in the carbon dioxide ice near Mars' south pole.

Chaos on Mars
This mosaic of images from Europe's Mars Express orbiter, released Nov. 6, provides a spectacular view of the chaotic terrain at the boundary between Kasei Valles and Sacra Fossae. The area shown is roughly half the size of the Netherlands. The rim of the crater seen at far right was likely eroded in ancient times by flowing water.

Polar patterns
Carbon dioxide ice makes weird patterns in Mars' south polar region, as seen in this picture from the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released Nov. 18. High-standing smooth material is broken up by semicircular depressions and linear, branching troughs that look like fingerprints.

Milky Way: Some like it hot...
This spectacular image uses different colors to chart the Milky Way's central region in visible light (yellow) as well as infrared (shown in red) and X-ray light (blue and violet). The Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes all contributed to the picture, which was released Nov. 10. Telescopes that detect infrared and X-ray wavelengths can see through obscuring dust and reveal the intense activity near the galactic core.

Sunny day in space
The sun greets the International Space Station on Nov. 22, as seen from the Russian section of the orbital outpost. The photo was taken by a visiting member of the shutltle Atlantis' crew.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


SALT LAKE CITY -- A fast-moving meteor lit up the night skies over most of Utah just after midnight Wednesday. Moments later, the phones lit up at KSL as people across the state called to tell us what they saw and ask what it was.
Scientists are calling it a "remarkable midnight fireball." The source of all the excitement was basically a rock, falling from space.



As forecasters predicted, the Leonid meteor shower peaked during the late hours of Nov. 17th, favoring sky watchers in Asia with an outburst of 100+ meteors per hour.

Just as the outburst was dying down, an even bigger event took place over the western USA.
Something hit Earth's atmosphere and exploded with an energy equivalent of 0.5 to 1 kiloton of TNT. Witnesses in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and elsewhere say the fireball "turned night into day" and "shook the ground" when it exploded just after midnight Mountain Standard Time. Researchers who are analyzing infrasound recordings of the blast say the fireball was not a Leonid. It was probably a small asteroid, now scattered in fragments across the countryside. Efforts are underway to measure the trajectory of the asteroid and guide meteorite recovery efforts.
A remarkable midnight fireball that "turned night into day" over parts of the western United States last night was not a Leonid. Infrasound measurements suggest a sporadic asteroid not associated with the Leonid debris stream. The space rock exploded in the atmosphere with an energy equivalent to 0.5 - 1 kilotons of TNT.
Approximately 6 hours later, observers in Utah and Colorado witnessed a twisting iridescent-blue cloud in the dawn sky. Debris from the fireball should have dissipated by that time, but the cloud remains unexplained; we cannot yet rule out a connection to the fireball event. Stay tuned for further analysis

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Lines in the ice
A high-resolution image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, captured in April and released in September, shows a sawtooth pattern in the Red Planet's carbon dioxide ice.


Lines in the (Martian) sand
Whirlwinds have left behind subtle dark tracks that are visible in this orbital image of a Martian dune field. The picture was taken by a high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in August and released on Sept. 16.


Dance of the galaxies
An arrangement of galaxies known as Stephan's Quintet sparkles in a Hubble Space Telescope image released on Sept. 9. Four of the galaxies are interacting in a gravitational dance - but the fifth galaxy, at upper left, is actually much closer to us and just happens to be in the same line of sight.


Butterfly in space
Colorful jets stretch out into space from the planetary nebula NGC 6302, also known as the Butterfly Nebula or the Bug Nebula. The image, captured on July 27 and released on Sept. 9, was one of the first taken by the Hubble Space Telescope since its overhaul in May