Astronomy

Solar news

is reporting that a new sunspot created a C-class solar flare.  Normally this would not be much to write home about, but since we’re in the middle of the deepest solar minimum in 100 years, a solar flare is a big event!

By | 2009-09-25T08:00:21+00:00 September 25th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Solar news

Are we heading into another “little ice age?”

Maybe the solar warming skeptics are on to something.  As you probably know, we are in a very deep solar minimum, with over 700 days with absolutely no sunspot activity since 2004. In fact, some scientists are beginning to speculate that :

“Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping by about 50 gauss per year,” says Penn. “If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.”

This disappearing act is possible because sunspots are made of magnetism. The “firmament” of a sunspot is not matter but rather a strong magnetic field that appears dark because it blocks the upflow of heat from the sun’s interior. If Earth lost its magnetic field, the solid planet would remain intact, but if a sunspot loses its magnetism, it ceases to exist.

Between 1645 and 1715 or so, another spotless period later became known as the  “Maunder Minimum,” and happened to coincide with the beginning of the “little ice age” that spread through Europe causing bitterly cold winters.  However, the cold spell lasted well beyond the end of the Solar Minimum period, leading many scientists to dispute the correlation.

Much of the panic over 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar also relates to the idea that this will be the year of the peak solar maximum.  If the solar cycle behaved as it was supposed to, we would be peaking during the period from 2011 to 2012.  Some scientists are predicting an even stronger peak because of the minimum.

The fact is, no one knows.  And isn’t that one of the exciting mysteries of life!

By | 2009-09-13T07:44:42+00:00 September 13th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Are we heading into another “little ice age?”

Lake shorelines seen on Mars

Increasing the evidence that Mars once held life:

Now, sub-meter-scale images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show clear, unambiguous evidence of shorelines of a lake more than 450 meters (1,476 feet) deep that formed about 3.4 billion years ago.

The study indicates that conditions favorable for flowing water and lake formation may have existed for thousands of years on Mars during the Hesperian epoch, which has been thought to be a period during which surface conditions did not allow significant hydrological activity.

Evidently this is the first photographic evidence of its kind, proving once again that the boundaries of scientific knowledge continues to shift.

By | 2009-08-12T09:31:41+00:00 August 12th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Lake shorelines seen on Mars

Perseid meteor shower at its peak!

The annual summer show of falling stars will peak tomorrow afternoon when it will be invisible, so tonight might be our best opportunity to catch the show.

The meteor shower will be somewhat difficult to see when it peaks after midnight because the Moon is still quite bright in the sky; astronomers suggest watching between 9 and 11 pm your local time.

Records observing the Perseid meteor shower date back 2000 years to ancient Chinese records of meteoric phenomenon (according to the book Meteors by Charles Olivier.  The Perseid shower was also known as the “tears of Saint Lawrence” because they occurred on the anniversary of the martyrdom of that saint.

reports that at 8:00 UT (4 am EDT) on August 12 the Earth will pass through a denser-than-usual filament of dust from the shower’s parent Comet Swift-Tuttle, and for an hour or so the rate of showers could surge to 200 per hour.

By | 2009-08-11T07:26:35+00:00 August 11th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Perseid meteor shower at its peak!

Astronomers at IAU ignore Pluto once again

The International Astronomers’ Union met again this week and some star-watchers hoped that Pluto would be under consideration to regain planetary status.  Alas, it was not to be:

Neither the pro-Pluto nor the anti-Pluto adherents have any interest in reviving the debate over planethood in Rio – and it’ll likely be a long time before the IAU gets back into planetary politics.
“There’s no discussion of dwarf planets. That has subsided,” said Lars Lindberg Christensen, who served as the IAU’s spokesman during the 2006 assembly in Prague and is filling the same role in Rio. …

read more here…

Until a Pluto transit feels like any other day, for me Pluto will remain a planet and no one can convince me otherwise!!

By | 2009-08-10T06:24:32+00:00 August 10th, 2009|Astronomy|Comments Off on Astronomers at IAU ignore Pluto once again
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