Great Christmas Lights Display
Best wishes for the holidays to you all. May our next trip around our star bring you all good things.
Lunar Eclipse Tonight
Wishing you clear skies!
From Space dot com
Tonight's Lunar Eclipse Comes With a Rare Twist
By SPACE.com Staff
posted: 20 December 2010
06:53 am ET
A rare event not seen in 372 years will occur early Tuesday morning, when a total lunar eclipse coincides with the winter solstice. While you can't see the solstice, the eclipse promises to be an amazing spectacle.
And if that's not enough, a minor meteor shower is expected to send a few shooting stars through the darkened sky during the height of the eclipse.
Weather permitting, viewers in North and South America, as well as the northern and western parts of Europe, and a small area of northeast Asia should get a great view of the total eclipse of the moon.
On the East Coast of North America, the lunar eclipse begins half an hour after midnight on Tuesday; on the West Coast, it begins around 9:30 p.m. PST Monday. In all cases, the lunar eclipse will be observable before the moon sets in the west just as the sun is rising in the east. Maximum eclipse – the really cool part when the moon is totally in shadow – is at 3:17 a.m. EST/12:17 a.m. PST. [Complete Lunar Eclipse Guide]
How it works
During a total lunar eclipse, the Earth gets between the full moon and the sun, blocking the sun's light from bouncing off the lunar surface. A lunar eclipse can only occur at full moon, but since the three objects are not all exactly in the same plane in space, not every full moon produces an eclipse.
Monday's eclipse is particularly special because it also aligns with solstice – the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Winter solstice marks the official beginning of winter. The sun is at its lowest in our sky because the North Pole of our tilted planet is pointing away from it.
Winter solstice is also the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. That means that it should be darker Monday night than any other night this year in the Northern Hemisphere. And because of the lunar eclipse, the moon's light will be dimmed as well, meaning this night will be even darker.
Winter solstice has not coincided with a total lunar eclipse since 1638, according to NASA.
What to look for
Watching an eclipse is simple. Just go out and look up. The most interesting parts occur when the moon plunges into Earth's full shadow, called the umbra, and of course during the period of totality. See times of the 12 stages here.
Depending on how much particulate matter is in our atmosphere, the moon may turn a deep orange or even blood-red during the eclipse.
No telescopes are required to enjoy the eclipse. However, if you have one, you might take it out and enjoy a close-up view of lunar craters while you wait for the full shadow to cross the moon.
Furthermore, the eclipse is falling during the Ursids meteor shower. These underappreciated shooting stars would likely have been outshined by the glow of the full moon occurring at the same time, but since the moon's light will be dimmed by the eclipse, stargazers should get a rare glimpse of the fiery lights created when small space rock bits burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Lunar eclipses have fueled much lore and hype and have generated fear through the ages. Some ancients thought a lunar eclipse was a literal bite being taken out of the moon and that the red really was blood. During the 5th century B.C., a lunar eclipse was seen as a bad omen by the Athenians, and they delayed a planned departure of their siege of Syracuse. The result led to the Syracusans changing the course of the war.
Christopher Columbus, knowing an eclipse would occur in 1504, predicted it and thereby used it to frighten natives on Jamaica into feeding his crew.
Nowadays science tells us that eclipses are a simple result of predictable celestial alignments. Yet still many lunar myths persist. Some people swear the full moon affects their behavior, or they blame seemingly strange events on the full moon.
Many researchers have tried for decades to find statistical connections between the full moon and human biology or behavior, from epileptic seizures to psychiatric visits to menstrual cycles. Yet the majority of sound studies find no connection, while some have proved inconclusive, and many that purported to reveal connections turned out to involve flawed methods or have never been reproduced. [The Truth About Lunar Effects on You]
The full moon is beautiful, and a total lunar eclipse is wondrous, but beyond making lovers swoon, there are few if any actual physical connections between the moon and you.
Total Lunar Eclipse -- on Winter Solstice
From NASA Science
Solstice Lunar Eclipse
Dec. 17, 2010: Everyone knows that "the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow gives the luster of mid-day to objects below."
That is, except during a lunar eclipse.
See for yourself on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth's shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.
The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the "bite" to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes.
If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look - it is December, after all - choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.
A quick trip to the Moon provides the answer: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it's not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth's circumference, you're seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth's shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.
Back on Earth, the shadowed Moon paints newly fallen snow with unfamiliar colors--not much luster, but lots of beauty.
Enjoy the show.
Voyager I At Edge of Our Solar System
From BBC News
Voyager near Solar System's edge
By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, San Francisco
Voyager impression (Nasa) Voyager is approaching the edge of the bubble of charged particles the Sun has thrown out into space
Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, has reached a new milestone in its quest to leave the Solar System.
Now 17.4bn km (10.8bn miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.
These particles, which emanate from the Sun, are no longer travelling outwards but are moving sideways.
It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.
Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist, lauded the explorer and the fascinating science it continues to return 33 years after launch.
"When Voyager was launched, the space age itself was only 20 years old, so there was no basis to know that spacecraft could last so long," he told BBC News.
"We had no idea how far we would have to travel to get outside the Solar System. We now know that in roughly five years, we should be outside for the first time."
Dr Stone was speaking here at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest gathering of Earth scientists in the world.
Voyager 1 was launched on 5 September 1977, and its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, on 20 August 1977.
The Nasa probes' initial goal was to survey the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, a task completed in 1989.
They were then despatched towards deep space, in the general direction of the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.
Sustained by their radioactive power packs, the probes' instruments continue to function well and return data to Earth, although the vast distance between them and Earth means a radio message now has a travel time of about 16 hours.
The newly reported observation comes from Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, which has been monitoring the velocity of the solar wind.
This stream of charged particles forms a bubble around our Solar System known as the heliosphere. The wind travels at "supersonic" speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock.
At this point, the wind then slows dramatically and heats up in a region termed the heliosheath. Voyager has determined the velocity of the wind at its location has now slowed to zero.
"We have gotten to the point where the wind from the Sun, which until now has always had an outward motion, is no longer moving outward; it is only moving sideways so that it can end up going down the tail of the heliosphere, which is a comet-shaped-like object," said Dr Stone, who is based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.
This phenomenon is a consequence of the wind pushing up against the matter coming from other stars. The boundary between the two is the "official" edge of the Solar System - the heliopause. Once Voyager crosses over, it will be in interstellar space.
First hints that Voyager had encountered something new came in June. Several months of further data were required to confirm the observation.
"When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed," said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
"Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again."
Voyager is racing on towards the heliopause at 17km/s. Dr Stone expects the cross-over to occur within the next few years.
It's getting worse, folks
From: Science Now
NASA: 2010 Meteorological Year Warmest Ever
by Eli Kintisch on 10 December 2010, 2:44 PM | Permanent
The 2010 meteorological year, which ended on 30 November, was the warmest in NASA's 130-year record, data posted by the agency today shows. Over the oceans as well as on land, the average global temperature for the 12-month period that began last December was 14.65˚C. That's 0.65˚C warmer than the average global temperature between 1951 and 1980, a period scientists use as a basis for comparison.
The 2010 meteorological year was slightly warmer than the previous warmest year, the 2005 calendar year, when the average temperature was 14.53˚C.
In 2010, temperatures measured over land alone were also the warmest ever, with instruments showing a December-November average of 14.85˚C. Combining this warming with above-average ocean temperatures led to the global average of 14.65˚C.
November brought frigid temperatures to certain areas of Europe. But the data, compiled by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, show that, globally, last month was the warmest November ever recorded, nearly 0.96˚C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average for the month.
According to NASA climatologist and Goddard director James Hansen, the main driver for the increased warmth was the Arctic, where temperatures in Hudson Bay were "10˚C above normal" for November. That month, Hansen says, "sea ice was absent while normally that [body of water] is covered by sea ice." Water devoid of ice absorbs much more solar radiation than water covered with ice, which reflects much of the radiation back toward space.
The record temperatures occurred despite a moderate occurrence of La Niña, a phenomenon over the Pacific Ocean that tends to lead to cooler temperatures at the surface, affecting the global mean.
Can someone please explain La Nina to me?
So I have read that in a La Nina cycle, here in the Midwest we will have a warmer, wetter winter. Then the other night the local TV meteorologist said that we will have a colder, drier winter. So which is correct? Thanks in advance.
Unedited draft from Palin's new book!
[If you are humor-challenged, please move on to the next blog. Thank you.]
NASA announces new weird life form
No, it is not extra-terrestrial. But its very existence shows that we may have to rethink how we conduct our search for lifeforms on other planets.
From The Guardian
Nasa reveals bacteria that can live on arsenic instead of phosphorus
The bacteria, christened GFAJ-1, appear to incorporate arsenic into their DNA, lipids and proteins, forcing a rethink of how life might look on other planets
For the past week, websites have been buzzing with rumours that Nasa was about to unveil something big, something to do with extraterrestrial life – maybe even a real-life alien. Had they found evidence that we are not alone?
The reality is nowhere near as epoch-making, but is a fascinating discovery that if confirmed will force a rethink of life on Earth and have implications for how we identify it on other planets.
A bacterium discovered in a Californian lake appears to be able to use arsenic in its molecular make-up instead of phosphorus – even incorporating the toxic chemical into its DNA. That's significant because it goes against the general rule that all terrestrial life depends on six elements: oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. These are needed to build DNA, proteins and fats and are some of the biological signatures of life that scientists look for on other planets.
Christened GFAJ-1, the microbe lends weight to the notion held by some astrobiologists that there might be "weird" forms of life on Earth, as yet undiscovered, that use elements other than the basic six in their metabolism. Among those who have speculated is Prof Paul Davies, a cosmologist at Arizona State University and an author on the latest research.
"This organism has dual capability – it can grow with either phosphorus or arsenic," said Davies. "That makes it very peculiar, though it falls short of being some form of truly 'alien' life belonging to a different tree of life with a separate origin. However, GFAJ-1 may be a pointer to even weirder organisms. The holy grail would be a microbe that contained no phosphorus at all."
In a research paper published in the journal Science, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a Nasa astrobiology research fellow in residence at the US Geological Survey, described a bacterium she found in California's highly salty and arsenic-rich Mono Lake. It is a strain of the Halomonadaceae family of "gamma proteobacteria".
Although the microbe grew better when fed phosphorus, Wolfe-Simon successfully grew it in the laboratory on a diet that was very low in phosphorus and high in arsenic. Wolfe-Simon was surprised to find that the microbe appeared to have incorporated the arsenic molecules into its DNA, in place of phosphorus.
Davies said that GFAJ-1 "is surely the tip of a big iceberg, and so has the potential to open up a whole new domain of microbiology".
Wolfe-Simon said the discovery was about more than the contents of Mono Lake. "If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven't seen yet? Now is the time to find out."
Arsenic and phosphorus are chemically similar. In fact arsenic is toxic precisely because biological cells cannot always tell the difference. They use arsenic instead of phosphorus, but because the arsenic-based compounds are less stable in water, cells are unable to function properly and die.
Zita Martins, an astrobiologist at Imperial College London, said the research indicated the breadth of life on Earth. "The thing people have to remember is that it has been known for a long time that we have organisms we call extremophiles – organisms that live in so-called weird conditions. In that sense, life as we know it is not only the normal organisms but also organisms that live in conditions of extremely high temperature or really low temperature or acidic conditions. These are conditions you'd think that no organisms could grow. In that sense, this discovery could fit into that category ... because it is an organism that lives in conditions that are toxic."
The discovery could have implications for the way scientists look for life on other planets. "For future space missions that try to detect life, if we are just concerned about the elements we should follow, we always included carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur and phosphorus," said Martins. "Now we have one more element we should follow."
But she said that planned missions to look for signs of life, mainly to Mars, were not following individual elements but rather the more complex molecules that form the building blocks of life, such as amino acids and nucleic acids.
Some researchers are not convinced that the study proves the microbe is incorporating the toxic element into its proteins and DNA. Steven Benner, an astrobiologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Florida, told Science that this conclusion was "not established by this work".