This was the NASA Image of the Day. The aurora as seen from the ISS over the Pacific Northwest. I was outside about the right time and saw no sign of an aurora, but I DID see the planetary line-up and it was excellent, will be looking this morning too.
NASA’s image caption:
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and ESA astronaut Tim Peake shared a series of aurora photographs taken from the International Space Station on Jan. 20, 2016. Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) wrote, “#goodmorning #aurora and the Pacific Northwest! #YearInSpace” and Peake (@astro_timpeake) followed up with, “Getting a photo masterclass from @StationCDRKelly – magical #aurora”
The dancing lights of the aurora provide spectacular views on the ground, but also capture the imagination of scientists who study incoming energy and particles from the sun. Aurora are one effect of such energetic particles, which can speed out from the sun both in a steady stream called the solar wind and due to giant eruptions known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs.
Try to get outside before sunrise and have a look at a fabulous planetary line-up! The line-up will last for a number of days so hopefully you will get a chance.
About an hour before your local sunrise you will be able to see the following planets all lined up: Venus, Saturn, Mars, Spica (dwarf planet), and Jupiter.
The image above will show which planets are which to make it easier for you. Click the image for a large version. Ignore the time stamp on the image that is for my time zone, just look before daylight. You might even get to see a few satellites, the ISS and the HST if you are lucky.
Happy Solstice! This of course the December solstice. The Sun’s rays are directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. As the Earth continues on its journey around the direct rays of the Sun will move north until the June solstice.
Watch where the Sun sets once a week for a while and and you will see the point move. You can do this at sunrise too. After the June solstice you will see the sunset point start moving in the opposite direction.
Time of the December Solstice: 04:49 UTC on 22 December 2015
Tomorrow, 17 November, the Leonids meteor shower peaks. You will see probably 20 meteors an hour from this storm. Not huge numbers but good to see just the same.
I will add that I am biased a little. Many years ago, on 16 November my dog got wrapped around something outside. It was cold and naturally I had to go get her. I saw the most amazing fireball I have ever seen and the reason I can remember the details. I got to see it come in from the east and break apart — it was spectacular!
For quite a while I was calling it a Leonid fireball, because it happened after all at the Leonid peak. I have since decided it was more likely a Taurid. Firstly because the Taurids are known for fireballs and they are still around, and secondly, the Leonids have the constellation Leo as a radiant. Leo does’t rise that early, closer to midnight in fact. The best viewing time is between midnight and sunrise, nice dark skies and the moon won’t be much of an issue this year.
If you look towards morning you will be treated to a beautiful line up of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. They will point the way to the Leonids radiant just follow the line up.
The image above (made with Stellarium) shows the location the planets and the Leonid radiant at around 04:50 your local time on 17 November, but I’m also going out right now.
Don’t forget to look for the Taurids meteor shower if you can. You could catch a few, it’s been cloudy since they started last week, actually before. November is the cloudiest month of the year around these parts.
Finding the radiant, the point where the meteors seem to come from is pretty easy. See this finders chart, a few hours after the sun goes down Taurus is in the eastern sky, it is always followed by the constellation Orion. If you can see Orion look a bit in front of and above him.
If you don’t happen to see any meteors, you can look for the star Aldebaran, in the finders chart it looks like any other star, but it isn’t. Aldebaran is a very bright orange colored star having used up hydrogen and is now burning helium (in reality there is some hydrogen fusion occurring in a shell around the helium core). It has a radius 44 times larger than our sun and is only 20 parsecs away (65 light years).