Earth Weather / Space Weather

Great Horned Owl

By: Susie77, 11:29 PM GMT on February 21, 2009

I am a volunteer at the World Bird Sanctuary. Today we were lucky enough to be able to release a great horned owl back into the wild. My children and grandchildren came along for the release. This month marks the fourth anniversary of my husband's passing to the next realm. Owl is his spirit guide. My coworkers at the WBS granted me the gift of being able to release this little guy in Rich's memory.

The day dawned cold and windy, with spits of snow. I thought: "Oh dear, what an awful day to get out of jail." A couple of hours later, however, the clouds began to break. Eventually the sun came out, although it remained quite blustery.

I picked up the little owl at WBS and drove him to a state park near our home. I thought that it was interesting in our ride to the park that his eyes never strayed from me. I was sitting in the back seat by his carrier. I can only think that he was worried about my intentions. However, once we entered the park, I was forgotten. He could see the bare trees silhouetted against the sky so that is where he focused. It is tempting to assign human feelings to animals. In this case, I would have to say that his expression was longing -- longing for what he knew was the familiar -- the deep woods of home.

Here is the owl in the animal carrier, preparing to return to the world.

I have taken him out of the crate here.

Close up of his handsome face and huge eyes.....

And his very large feet.... He was banded shortly before release for future identification.

My granddaughter Maddy and I with the owl. He watched her every movement. What was he thinking? "Hmm, is that food?" "Is that thing going to eat me?"

The owl flies free again, going home, going home.

If you enjoyed these pictures and the little story, I hope you will visit the WBS link posted, and learn more about these beautiful raptors. If you live in the St. Louis, MO area, I hope you will come by in person to visit us. Thanks for viewing this blog!
To view this blog as a web page (with more text and music), please visit Great Horned Owl Release.

Updated: 8:26 PM GMT on March 07, 2009


Beautiful Saturn

By: Susie77, 1:14 AM GMT on February 20, 2009

Earthly February is a time of weather change for both northern and southern hemispheres. This year, it has also been a busy month in outer space -- lots of interesting things going on, from Comet Lulin to an interesting view of Saturn, its rings, and some of its moons:

From Science at NASA:

Spectacular Photo-op on Saturn


February 19, 2009: Something is about to happen on Saturn that's so pretty, even Hubble will pause to take a look.

"On Feb. 24th, there's going to be a quadruple transit of Saturn's moons," says Keith Noll of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute. "Titan, Mimas, Dione and Enceladus will pass directly in front of Saturn and we'll see their silhouettes crossing Saturn's cloudtops—all four at the same time."

Hubble won't be the only one looking. Amateur astronomers will be able to see it, too. The timing favors observers along the Pacific coast of North America, Alaska, Hawaii, Australia and east Asia.

On Feb. 8th, astrophotographer Christopher Go of the Philippines got a preview when Titan transited Saturn all by itself. He recorded this movie using an 11-inch telescope:

[see web site for video -- Sue]

"I woke up at one o'clock in the morning to photograph Titan's passage across the disk of Saturn," says Go. "The sky was overcast, but I was fortunate to see the end of the transit through a break in the clouds. The emergence of Titan was really stunning because it gave the moon a 3D appearance!"

Transits like these are rare. "They only happen every 14 to 15 years when the orbits of Saturn's moons are nearly edge-on to Earth," says Noll. In 1995-96, the last time the geometry was right, Hubble photographed two (Titan and Tethys) and three (Mimas, Enceladus, Dione) moons transiting Saturn. This will be the first time the great telescope captures four.

The event begins on Tuesday morning, Feb. 24th at 10:54 UT (2:54 a.m. PST) when Titan's circular shadow falls across Saturn's cloudtops. About forty minutes later, the ruddy disk of Titan itself moves over the clouds.

"Titan is so big, you can see it just by looking through the eyepiece of a small telescope—no special camera is required," says Go.

One by one, the smaller moons Mimas, Dione and Enceladus will follow Titan. At 14:24 UT, all four satellites and their shadows will simultaneously dot Saturn's disk

"To photograph the smaller moons, you'll need a mid-sized backyard telescope equipped with a good CCD camera," notes Go.

Hubble's observations are part of the Hubble Heritage Project, a 10-year outreach effort aimed at producing images of exceptional beauty for the general public. "Only 0.5% of Hubble's observing time is devoted to Heritage work," says Noll, one of the project's leaders, "so we're picky about our targets." He thinks the quadruple transit could rank among the best planet-shots in Hubble's archive.

The images could yield hard science, too.

"The transit of Titan will be of particular interest," says Noll. "Researchers plan to use Saturn as a backlight to probe the size and transparency of the giant moon's atmosphere." Hubble will also capture a rare view of the rings almost edge-on, a point of view that can reveal ring-warps, undiscovered satellites, and new information about the reflectivity of ring particles.

"Hard science can be beautiful."

Stay tuned to Science@NASA for snapshots.

Editor's note: To find Saturn on Feb. 24th, look southwest before sunrise. The planet is easy to see shining like a golden first-magnitude star in the constellation Leo: sky map. By cosmic coincidence, Feb. 24th is also the date Comet Lulin makes its closest approach to Earth--and the comet is right beside Saturn! Using a small telescope you can catch a comet, a ringed planet and a quadruple transit; it's a nice way to begin the day.


Comet Lulin Update, and the Sky is Falling (again)

By: Susie77, 12:35 AM GMT on February 19, 2009

Space Weather News for Feb. 18, 2009

COMET LULIN UPDATE: Comet Lulin is approaching Earth and brightening rapidly. Observers say it is now visible to the naked eye as a faint (magnitude +5.6) gassy patch in the constellation Virgo before dawn. Even city dwellers have seen it. Backyard telescopes reveal a vivid green comet in obvious motion. Just yesterday, amateur astronomers watched as a solar wind gust tore away part of the comet's tail, the second time this month such a thing has happened. Lulin's closest approach to Earth (38 million miles) is on Feb. 24th; at that time the comet could be two or three times brighter than it is now. Browse the gallery for the latest images:

SATELLITE DEBRIS: More than a week has passed since the Feb. 10th collision of Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 over northern Siberia, and the orbits of some of the largest fragments have now been measured by US Strategic Command. Today's edition of features global maps showing where the debris is located. Only 26 fragments are currently plotted, but that number will grow as radar tracking of the debris continues. Check back often for updates.


Great Balls of Fire!

By: Susie77, 10:07 PM GMT on February 16, 2009

Space Weather News for Feb. 16, 2009

WEEKEND FIREBALLS: A daylight fireball over Texas on Sunday, Feb. 15th, triggered widespread reports that debris from a recent satellite collision was falling to Earth. Those reports were premature. Researchers have studied video of the event and concluded that the object was more likely a natural meteoroid about one meter wide traveling more than 20 km/s--much faster than orbital debris. Meteoroids hit Earth every day, and the Texas fireball was apparently one of them.

There's more: On Friday, Feb. 13th, people in central Kentucky heard loud booms, felt their houses shake, and saw a fireball streaking through the sky. This occurred scant hours after another fireball at least 10 times brighter than a full Moon lit up the sky over Italy. Although it is tempting to attribute these events to debris from the Feb. 10th collision of the Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 satellites, the Kentucky and Italy fireballs also seem to be meteoroids, not manmade objects. Italian scientists are studying the ground track of their fireball, which was recorded by multiple cameras, and they will soon begin to hunt for meteorites.

Videos, eye-witness reports and more information about these events may be found at


Smash-Up in space

By: Susie77, 2:05 AM GMT on February 13, 2009

Space Weather News for Feb. 12, 2009

COLLIDING SATELLITES: Experts are calling it an "unprecedented event." Two large satellites have collided in Earth orbit. Kosmos 2251 crashed into Iridium 33 on Tuesday, Feb. 10th, approximately 800 km over northern Siberia; both were destroyed. The resulting clouds of debris contain more than 500 fragments, significantly increasing the orbital debris population at altitudes where the collision occurred. The Air Force Space Surveillance Radar is monitoring the clouds as they pass over the radar facility in Texas. We, in turn, are monitoring signals from the radar and you may be able to hear debris "pings" by tuning in to our live audio feed. This is a story that will unfold in the days ahead as researchers study the evolution of the debris clouds and piece together the details of the collision. Stay tuned to for full coverage.


Redoubt gets ready to rumble!

By: Susie77, 12:43 AM GMT on February 11, 2009


The last time an Alaskan volcano blew its top (Kasatochi in August 2008), about a million tons of ash and sulfur dioxide flooded the stratosphere, causing fantastic sunsets around the northern hemisphere and possibly reducing Earth's temperature by a fraction of a degree. With each seismic tremor, Redoubt brings us closer to another blast of SO2. Stay tuned for updates.


Update on Approaching Green Comet - Lulin Loses Tail!

By: Susie77, 1:09 AM GMT on February 06, 2009

Space Weather News for Feb. 5, 2009

COMET TAIL: Comet Lulin (C/2007 N3) is approaching Earth and putting on a good show for amateur astronomers. Yesterday, Feb. 4th, observers witnessed a "disconnection event." A gust of solar wind tore off part of the comet's tail in plain view of backyard telescopes. Photos of the event are featured on today's edition of Activity in the comet's tail and atmosphere will become even easier to see in the weeks ahead as Lulin nears closest approach on Feb. 24th. At that time the comet will lie only 38 million miles from Earth and it should be visible to the naked eye. In the meantime, please note that Feb. 5th-7th, is an especially good time to find Comet Lulin in the pre-dawn sky. The comet is gliding beautifully close to the naked-eye double star Zubenelgenubi. Just point your binoculars at the double star and the comet will materialize right beside it. Visit for photos, sky maps and more information.


Green Comet on its Way to Earth

By: Susie77, 1:09 AM GMT on February 05, 2009


NASA [ ]

Green Comet Approaches Earth


February 4, 2009: In 1996, a 7-year-old boy in China bent over the eyepiece of a small telescope and saw something that would change his life--a comet of flamboyant beauty, bright and puffy with an active tail. At first he thought he himself had discovered it, but no, he learned, two men named "Hale" and "Bopp" had beat him to it. Mastering his disappointment, young Quanzhi Ye resolved to find his own comet one day.

And one day, he did.

Fast forward to a summer afternoon in July 2007. Ye, now 19 years old and a student of meteorology at China's Sun Yat-sen University, bent over his desk to stare at a black-and-white star field. The photo was taken nights before by Taiwanese astronomer Chi Sheng Lin on "sky patrol" at the Lulin Observatory. Ye's finger moved from point to point--and stopped. One of the stars was not a star, it was a comet, and this time Ye saw it first.

Comet Lulin, named after the observatory in Taiwan where the discovery-photo was taken, is now approaching Earth. "It is a green beauty that could become visible to the naked eye any day now," says Ye.

The comet makes its closest approach to Earth (0.41 AU) on Feb. 24, 2009. Current estimates peg the maximum brightness at 4th or 5th magnitude, which means dark country skies would be required to see it. No one can say for sure, however, because this appears to be Lulin's first visit to the inner solar system and its first exposure to intense sunlight. Surprises are possible.

Lulin's green color comes from the gases that make up its Jupiter-sized atmosphere. Jets spewing from the comet's nucleus contain cyanogen (CN: a poisonous gas found in many comets) and diatomic carbon (C2). Both substances glow green when illuminated by sunlight in the near-vacuum of space.

In 1910, many people panicked when astronomers revealed Earth would pass through the cyanogen-rich tail of Comet Halley. False alarm: The wispy tail of the comet couldn't penetrate Earth's dense atmosphere; even it if had penetrated, there wasn't enough cyanogen to cause real trouble. Comet Lulin will cause even less trouble than Halley did. At closest approach in late February, Lulin will stop 38 million miles short of Earth, utterly harmless.

To see Comet Lulin with your own eyes, set your alarm for 3 am. The comet rises a few hours before the sun and may be found about 1/3rd of the way up the southern sky before dawn. Here are some dates when it is especially easy to find:

Feb. 6th: Comet Lulin glides by Zubenelgenubi, a double star at the fulcrum of Libra's scales. Zubenelgenubi is not only fun to say (zuBEN-el-JA-newbee), but also a handy guide. You can see Zubenelgenubi with your unaided eye (it is about as bright as stars in the Big Dipper); binoculars pointed at the binary star reveal Comet Lulin in beautiful proximity. [sky map]

Feb. 16th: Comet Lulin passes Spica in the constellation Virgo. Spica is a star of first magnitude and a guidepost even city astronomers cannot miss. A finderscope pointed at Spica will capture Comet Lulin in the field of view, centering the optics within a nudge of both objects. [sky map]

Feb. 24th: Closest approach! On this special morning, Lulin will lie just a few degrees from Saturn in the constellation Leo. Saturn is obvious to the unaided eye, and Lulin could be as well. If this doesn't draw you out of bed, nothing will. [sky map]

Ye notes that Comet Lulin is remarkable not only for its rare beauty, but also for its rare manner of discovery. "This is a 'comet of collaboration' between Taiwanese and Chinese astronomers," he says. "The discovery could not have been made without a contribution from both sides of the Strait that separates our countries. Chi Sheng Lin and other members of the Lulin Observatory staff enabled me to get the images I wanted, while I analyzed the data and found the comet."

Somewhere this month, Ye imagines, another youngster will bend over an eyepiece, see Comet Lulin, and feel the same thrill he did gazing at Comet Hale-Bopp in 1996. And who knows where that might lead...?

"I hope that my experience might inspire other young people to pursue the same starry dreams as myself," says Ye.


Even though he is just a puppy, he inspires my old soul too. :)



By: Susie77, 3:05 PM GMT on February 01, 2009

Cue desperate attempt to make this weather-related.... lol.

We have finally had a *real* winter here. The Mississippi is frozen in several stretches, open water to be found only below the Locks. As a consequence, we have eagles, beaucoup eagles! And turistas who follow them... sometimes more people than birds. Eagle-spotting has become a popular winter weekend past time.

Back in October, I started volunteering for the World Bird Sanctuary. Some of our programs involve going out into the community to present educational info on birds of prey. Here is a photo from last week of Liberty, a bald eagle, and some of us staff/volunteer folks, at the Alton (Illinois) Visitors Center.

Liberty is 17 yrs. ago. He has been in a couple of Rose Bowl parades, and also on the David Letterman show.

Here's me in a close encounter with a great horned owl. She had suffered a broken wing and is in the process of being restored, hopefully to fly free again on her great silent wings:

I hope if you live in or visit the St. Louis area, you'll come by and see us. WBS is open seven days a week from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. And it's free!


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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Earth Weather / Space Weather

About Susie77

Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.

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