Huge SDO Milestone

100 millionth image from SDO. Credit: SDO

100 millionth image from SDO. Credit: SDO

Almost hard to imagine, one hundred million images from the Solar Dynamics Laboratory!

Congraduations to the AIA team!

Yesterday, January 19, 2015, at 1749 UTC (12:49 pm ET) the AIA instrument recorded its 100,000,000th image. Here it is, an AIA 193 Å image showing coronal holes in both the northern and southern hemispheres. More information, including some favorite images from team members, is available at the NASA SDO webpage.
The AIA team at LMSAL worked hard to design and build the AIA telescopes, even overcoming a delayed start way back at the beginning of the SDO project. The team continues to operate the instrument, keeping it calibrated and listing the features seen on the Sun. The HMI JSOC team at Stanford University maintains the archive that serves the images to our large and growing number of users.

Cometary Wisps

Rosetta images the dust coming off Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko  Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta images the dust coming off Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft took this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November with the OSIRIS camera. By overexposing the comet the wisps of cometary dust is highlighted.

Rosetta has an instrument called MIDAS and its job is to capture 67P/C-G particles. About the time this image was taken MIDAS captured a particle measuring 10 micrometres, which is way larger than was expected.

From the Rosetta blog (be sure to check it out)

“This is still the beginning of the activity compared to what we expect to see in summer this year,” says OSIRIS principal investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. “From the last perihelion passage we know that the comet will evolve by a factor of 100 in activity at that time compared to now.”

Dwarf Planet Ceres

Dawn's framing camera looks at Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dawn’s framing camera looks at Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres. The framing camera onboard Dawn took this image from about 383,000 km / 238,000 miles, roughly the same distance as Earth is from our moon.

Already we can make out a little surface detail in the form of what appears to be cratering. Whether that is cratering or something else will have to wait a little longer but not much. Dawn will reach Ceres on 06 March 2015.

The image above is zoomed in version of this one.

NASA’s Dawn mission page.

Dawn is a international mission:

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington D.C. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Dawn framing cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by German Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The Framing Camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL. The Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

A Lenticular Galaxy

The lenticular galaxy NGC  6861 Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Barrington

The lenticular galaxy NGC 6861 Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: J. Barrington

Hubble gives us this spectacular view of NGC 6861. I always thought this was an elliptical galaxy. Not so, it’s a hybrid of sorts between an elliptical and a spiral called a lenticular.

Not viewable here at 45 deg North, it is a southern object.  Too bad, it’s a beauty.  I believe this galaxy is in the order of 31 Mpc distant or a little over 101 million light-years and still it is a magnitude 11 to 12.  Distances are very tough to determine so there is some room for error.

Note: My computer is failing. Should I disappear for a short time you will know why. I think I can keep it going long enough to get a replacement – still one never knows.

From ESA via the NASA site:

The subject of this image is NGC 6861, a galaxy discovered in 1826 by the Scottish astronomer James Dunlop. Almost two centuries later we now know that NGC 6861 is the second brightest member of a group of at least a dozen galaxies called the Telescopium Group — otherwise known as the NGC 6868 Group — in the small constellation of Telescopium (The Telescope).

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New Horizons Launch

New Horizon launch on 19 January 2006. After nine years the spacecraft is nearing its primary goal – Pluto.

The spacecraft is speeding along at 14.61 km/sec (relative to the sun) that’s 9 miles per second or 32,682 miles per hour. That is something like 16 times faster than a rifle bullet and as fast as that is, the spacecraft will not get to the closest point to Pluto until 18 July 2015!

We are at the first stages of the encounter and in just days we will get some of our first looks at Plutoian system. The view will be improving slowly and by May the images will be better than the Hubble can provide.




Kuiper and Asteroid belt objects compared. Credit: NASA via Space Ref


NASA produced this image as part of a televised event back on 25 August the same day New Horizons passed the orbit of Neptune and 25 years after the Neptune/Voyager encounter with Neptune in 1989.

Since Voyager we have made signifcant discoveries in the Kuiper Belt. The image shows objects from both the Kuiper and Asteroid Belts. The Asteroids include little Vesta that was examined in detail by Dawn up to the largest asteroid Ceres the asteroid where Dawn is heading to now. The Kuiper Belt objects include Pluto, the destination of New Horizons spacecraft and it’s getting very close.

NASA set the objects to scale to show how they compare to each other. I wanted to compare then to something more provincial, so if you click the image I have added the moon. I’m not saying it is exactly to scale, it is close enough to get the idea.

Have a look.

See Comet Lovejoy Tonight

A beautiful image of Comet Lovejoy from Andrew Dumont.

A beautiful image of Comet Lovejoy from Andrew Dumont.

Want to see a comet?

You can see this comet for yourself. The comet C/2014 Q2 or Comet Lovejoy is easily visible with binoculars. If you can see the constellation Orion and Taurus you should be all set.

I just used the finders chart from NASA (see it here). Stepped out on back porch and after watching a satellite pass over, found the Comet in just a couple of minutes. I did use binoculars (could not see the comet otherwise). The binoculars were nothing special so if you have a pair handy give it a try. If you have a even a small telescope this looks really cool.

Cloudy skies?  The comet will be around for a bit so don’t worry if you have to wait a short time.

Could it be visible with the naked eye?  I would think so.  I am going to try in the morning, the best skies I get.  I could not see it a while ago, too cold to be outside for too long and not be well prepared, so I can’t say for sure.

Impressive Flare

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

A beautiful shot of the Sun by the Solar Dynamics Observatory showing the rather impressive first flare of the new year. The flare was produced by the sunspot group AR2257.

I mentioned last week conditions seemed right for an aurora (from this sunspot group). While I didn’t see an aurora on that time out and an aurora is not likely from this particular flare any longer, I would expect to have other viewing opportunities over the next months as the solar cycle progresses. Flares can become more numerous as the solar cycle passes peak activity. We shall see.

This flare/sunspot group did produce a pulse of UV radiation  that ionized the upper atmosphere over Australia and the Indian Ocean. The ionization could have impacted HF radio frequencies below about 10 Mhz – being a ham operator these events are important.

Could this be the start of increased activity? Possibly and these things can happen quickly. You can be alerted when an aurora is apt to occur from a few sources. Two of my favorites is Aurora Service Europe based in Scandinavia and as always,

Here is the NASA caption released with the image:

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:24 p.m. EST on Jan. 12, 2015. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.