Aurora from space


Sun & Space Weather News 2005

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Solar activity remains very high and shows no signs of abating. Sunspot 798/808 has unleashed seven X-class solar flares since Sept. 7th. Forecasters say there's a 75% chance of more X-flares during the next 24 hours, possibly causing radio blackouts and radiation storms.

Coronal mass ejections hurled into space by these explosions could hit Earth's magnetic field in the days ahead. Sky watchers, particularly in northern places like Canada and Alaska, should remain alert for auroras. The best time to look is local midnight.

The sun's 27-day rotation is slowly turning sunspot 798 to face Earth. Explosions in the coming week will be increasingly Earth-directed, raising the possibility of geomagnetic storms and auroras over the continental United States, Europe and Australia.


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Earth-orbiting satellites detected a major X-class solar flare coming from the sun's eastern limb. The source of the explosion is probably returning sunspot 798, which sparked strong geomagnetic storms in August. Although today's flare was not Earth-directed, explosions later this week could be as the active region turns more and more toward our planet. September, like August, could turn into a good month for auroras.


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PERSEID METERORS - Don't forget, the Perseid meteor shower peaks on Friday morning, August 12th. No matter where you live, the best time to look will be during the hours before local dawn when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky. While August 12th is best, the nights before and after the 12th can be good, too. Even now, sky watchers are seeing occasional bright Perseids before dawn. Also, you can listen to the shower. Meteor radars are monitoring the skies above the USA; when a Perseid flies overhead, they record an audible "ping." Visit for live audio, plus more information about the Perseids.

10th PLANET - Astronomers have found a new world bigger than Pluto in the outer reaches of the solar system. Some are calling it "the 10th planet." Amateur astronomers can see this new world, temporarily named 2003 UB313, through large backyard telescopes. Some of their photos are displayed on


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A SUNSPOT EMERGES - As anticipated, an active sunspot group has emerged over the sun's eastern limb, and it is slowly turning to face Earth. If the spot's recent high level of activity continues, Earth-directed explosions could spark geomagnetic storms and auroras next week. Visit for more information and updates.


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SOLAR FARSIDE ACTIVITY - At any given moment, only one side of the sun faces Earth. The other side, the farside, is hidden from direct view. Nevertheless, it is possible to monitor activity "over there." In recent days the farside of the sun has been very active. One or more sunspots have been exploding, hurling coronal mass ejections (CMEs) over the sun's limb. Because the sun spins, sunspots on the farside now will be rotating around to face Earth later this week and next, raising the possibility of geomagnetic storms and auroras. Visit for more information and updates.


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SOLAR ACTIVITY INTENSIFIES - Solar activity has suddenly increased with a series of strong explosions from sunspot 786, including an X-category flare this morning. Because the sunspot is near the sun's western limb, none of the blasts was squarely Earth-directed. Nevertheless, coronal mass ejections hurled into space by these explosions could deliver glancing blows to Earth's magnetic field as early as tonight (July 14-15) and continuing through the weekend, possibly sparking geomagnetic storms and auroras. Check for movies of the explosions, more information and updates.


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SUNSPOTS GALORE - Only a few days ago the sun was completely blank, but now it is peppered with fast-growing sunspots. So far these active regions have produced no strong solar flares, but this could change if their dynamic growth continues. Visit for movies of the growing 'spots and safe solar observing tips.

REMINDER - Far from Earth, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft is about to poke a hole through the crust of Comet Tempel 1. When? July 3rd at 10:52 p.m. PDT (July 4th at 0552 UT). A plume of gas and dust emerging from the hole could cause the comet to brighten so much that sky watchers on Earth can see it through binoculars or even with the unaided eye from dark-sky sites. Observers in the western United States, Hawaii, Mexico and parts of Central and South America are favored. From those places the comet hangs in the southwestern sky after sunset on July 3rd--at the right place and time to view the impact. If the comet does brighten, it will look like a faint fuzzy smudge not far from the bright star Spica. Visit for a sky map and observing tips.


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PLANETS ALIGN - Step outside tonight at sunset and look west toward the glow of the setting sun. As soon as the sky gets dark, you'll see three planets--Venus, Mercury and Saturn--gathered close together not far above the western horizon It's a beautiful alignment. You have three chances to see them: June 25th, June 26th and June 27th. A clear view of the western horizon is key.

NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS - While you're out looking at the planets, be alert also for noctilucent clouds. They've been sighted over Europe and/or Canada almost every day for the past two weeks. Noctilucent clouds typically appear after sunset, glowing electric blue and crisscrossed by many fine ripples and waves. Visit to view sample photos and to read about the mystery of this beautiful phenomenon.


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NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS - In the middle of the night, last week, electric-blue clouds appeared over Europe. "They were glowing as if lit from within!" reports one observer. The display marks the beginning of the 2005 noctilucent cloud season. These beautiful clouds, which are something of a mystery, are usually spotted over high-northern latitudes. In recent years, however, they've been spotted as far south as Colorado and Virginia. Visit for pictures, more information, and observing tips.


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VENUS RETURNS - After many months in hiding, Venus has returned to the evening sky. You can see it at sunset; it pops into view long before the sky grows completely dark. Wednesday evening, June 8th, is an especially good time to look, because then Venus will be pleasingly close to the slender crescent Moon.

DAYTIME METEORS - The annual Arietid meteor shower peaks on June 7th and 8th. You won't see many meteors, though, because the shower is most intense when the sun is high in the sky. The Arietids are a rare daytime meteor shower. Researchers aren't certain where the Arietids come from, but they might be debris from sungrazing asteroid Icarus.


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SPECTACULAR WEEKEND AURORAS - As predicted, a coronal mass ejection swept past Earth on Saturday, May 14th, sparking a strong geomagnetic storm and spectacular auroras. "Northern Lights" were seen in the United States as far south as California and Arizona. Visit to browse a growing gallery of photos.


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THE ETA AQUARID METEOR SHOWER - Earth is about to glide through a stream of space dust trailing Halley's Comet, producing a mild but beautiful shower of meteors called the eta Aquarids. The shower is most intense over the southern hemisphere, where dark-sky observers might see one meteor every few minutes or so. Northern hemisphere rates are much lower but not zero.

When should you look? The shower's peak spans May 5th and 6th. Try the hours before local dawn on both dates.

Eta Aquarid meteors emerge from a point in the constellation Aquarius that is, coincidentally, close to the planet Mars. Mars is approaching Earth for a close encounter later this year; already it's one of the brightest objects in the pre-dawn sky. So if you wake up early in the days ahead to look for meteors, you can see Mars, too--a nice bonus.


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BIG SUNSPOT - More than four years after solar maximum, the sun continues to produce big sunspots. There's one transiting the solar disk now. It's about five times wider than our entire planet Earth--in other words, big enough to see with the unaided eye. But please do not stare at the blinding sun. Visit for safe solar observing tips, plus a movie of the growing 'spot and photos taken by amateur astronomers around the world.


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LYRID METEOR SHOWER - The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks on Friday, April 22nd, when Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris trailing Comet Thatcher. This is not an intense shower. Nevertheless, if you wake up an hour or so before dawn on Friday, and watch the sky, you might see a sprinkling of meteors emerge from the vicinity of the bright star Vega. Expect one every 5 to 10 minutes or so. (Note: This is a northern hemisphere shower; southern observers can stay in bed.)

THE MOON & JUPITER - Here's something you can definitely see: The full Moon and Jupiter will be pleasingly close together all night long on April 21st-22nd. Look for them rising in the east at sunset on Thursday. Jupiter is at its closest to Earth this month, so it's absolutely brilliant; only the Moon itself is brighter. Together they're eye-catching and beautiful. (If you're outdoors on Friday morning looking for Lyrids, you'll also see Jupiter and the Moon hovering near the western horizon--a nice bonus.)

AURORA WATCH - Earth is about to run into a high-speed solar wind stream, and that could spark a geomagnetic storm. Sky watchers in Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia should be alert for auroras on April 22nd or 23rd.


SOLAR ECLPISE - From Last week, sky watchers saw crescent sunsets, rings of fire and other strange things during a solar eclipse. See for yourself: browse the image gallery at, which includes photos from the path of totality in the remote South Pacific.


AURORAS ON SATURN - From The dancing light of the auroras on Saturn behaves in ways different from how scientists have thought possible for the last 25 years. New research by a team of astronomers led by John Clarke of Boston University has overturned theories about how Saturn's magnetic field behaves and how its auroras are generated.

Read the full press release here.
View images here.


SUNSPOT REPORT - Last week, solar physicists using a technique called helioseismic holography spied two big sunspots on the far side the the sun. Since then the sun's 27-day rotation has carried these 'spots around toward Earth where we can see then directly. Visit for images and details.

Visit for more information. The archives will
tell more about this particular event for this date.


FAR SIDE OF THE SUN - Remember giant sunspot 720? On Jan. 20th it exploded, sparking bright auroras over Europe and the most intense proton storm in 15 years. Since then the 'spot has been transiting the far side of the sun, carried around by our star's 27-day rotation.

Although sunspot 720 is on the sun's far side now, it's not out of sight. Using a technique called helioseismic holography, solar physicists can take pictures of the sun's far side--and they've seen sunspot 720 there. If the active region holds together a while longer, it could turn to face Earth again in early- to mid-February.

Visit for more information. The archives will
tell more about this particular event for this date.


THE SUN AND JUPITER'S X-RAYS - Click here to read and ariticle discussing solar control on Jupiter's equatorial x-ray emission. The article was published in Geophysical Research Letters


AURORA ALERT - Two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are heading toward Earth and they could spark strong getmagnetic storms when they arrive on January 16th-17th. Sky watchers should be on alert for auroras. The CMEs were blasted into space by M8- and X2-class explosions abouve giant sunspot 720 on Jan. 15th.

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tell more about this particular event for this date.


BIG SUNSPOT - In less than 48 hours, sunspot 720 has blossomed from an almost invisible speck into a dark behemoth 5 times wider than Earth.
Solar activity could increase if this rapid growth continues. Already the 'spot is big enough to see, but never stare at the sun. Check for safe solar observing tips.

SATURN - Today, Saturn is only 750 million miles from Earth--the closest we get to the ringed planet all year long. You can step outside tonight and see Saturn, easily, bright and golden in the eastern sky after sunset.

TITAN HALOS - Here on Earth, we sometimes see rings of light around the sun. These are called "sun halos" and they're caused by ice crystals in the air. When the Huygens probe descends through Titan's atmosphere on Jan. 14th--a big event!--the probe's cameras might see sun halos there, too. Check for details.

SOLAR WIND - Earth is inside a high-speed solar wind stream that is causing some mild geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers in e.g. Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia should be alert for auroras tonight.

Visit for more information. The archives will
tell more about this particular event for this date.


How energy is released in flares on the Sun

How Coronal Mass Ejections from the Sun erupt and propagate through the solar wind

What makes the aurora erupt globally? The substorm onset problem

The solar wind is a dynamic and complex electrified and magnetic gas.