Earth Weather / Space Weather

Mystery Cloud

By: Susie77, 12:14 AM GMT on February 25, 2014


MYSTERY CLOUD (DE-MYSTIFIED): On the night of Feb. 20/21, photographer Dennis Mammana
was stationed on Pedro Dome near Fairbanks, Alaska, in hopes of
recording the Northern Lights. "I caught this instead—a tiny and
bright cloud that rose from the western sky and spread slightly and
faded over an hour or so," says Mammana. Here is a composite of two of
his shots:

The cloud resembles a rocket fuel dump. Scientists from the University of Alaska frequently launch rockets from the nearby Poker Flat Research Range to study auroras. But on this night there were no rocket launches on Poker Flat.

Update: There was, however, a launch thousands of miles away. A Delta 4 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a GPS satellite.
Veteran satellite watcher Marco Langbroek
of the Netherlands says this is it: "The mystery object on the Mammana
photo is a fuel vent from the Feb 20 launch of GPS 2F-05 (USA 248,
20114-008A, #39533)."
"Although the satellite is
in an orbit with a 54.98 degree inclination, that does not mean it was
not visible from Mammana's location at 65N," he continues. "It is in a
very high orbit and was at an altitude of over 20,000 km at the time of
the photo. At such an altitude it is visible from 65 N, low in the west
in this case."
A sky map
prepared by Langbroek shows the position of the satellite (labeled
"Object A") in the sky above Alaska when Mammana saw the cloud. The sky
map and the photo are a good match.


Winter Circle: Brightest winter stars

By: Susie77, 3:24 PM GMT on February 11, 2014

By in

on Feb 10, 2014 The Winter Circle – sometimes called the Winter Hexagon – is a big circle of bright stars on the dark dome of a winter night. At the center of the Winter Circle, you’ll find center Orion’s bright red star Betelgeuse. Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Procyon, Sirius, Castor and Pollux are the bright stars that make up the large, circular pattern. In 2014, the planet Jupiter is in the midst of the Winter Circle. Follow the links below to learn more about this easy-to-find star pattern. The Winter Circle is an asterism, not a constellation

How to spot the Winter Circle

Best months for viewing the Winter Circle

View larger. | There are many bright stars near Jupiter in 2014.  The planet lies in the midst of what we stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere know as the Winter Circle.  This beautiful photo captured January 11, 2014 by EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh in Indiana.  Thank you, Duke.View larger. | The planet Jupiter in 2014 lies in the midst of what we stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere know as the Winter Circle. EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh in Indiana captured this beautiful photo on January 11, 2014. Thank you, Duke.
The Winter Circle is an asterism. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided on the 88 official constellations in the 1930s, but anyone is free to make an asterism.

An asterism is just a recognizable star pattern. It’s a bit like picking out a pattern in a cloud, although, if the name for the pattern is used often enough by enough people, it could become part of the stargazers’ lexicon – as has the name Winter Circle. The Winter Circle may well be the largest famous asterism in the heavens.
Photo credit: Computer Science Geek

How to spot the Winter Circle. If you’re familiar with the winter constellation Orion, note that Rigel, the brilliant star at the lower right of Orion’s Belt, resides at the southwest corner of the Winter Circle. Now draw an imaginary line going leftward through the three stars of Orion’s Belt to find the southernmost and brightest star of the Winter Circle, Sirius.The opposite direction through Orion’s Belt points to Aldebaran, the star that depicts the ruddy eye in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars in the constellation Gemini the Twins, are also found by way of Orion’s Belt. A line from the northwest (upper right) star of Orion’s Belt and through Betelgeuse escorts you to these two bright Gemini stars.Look for Procyon above Sirius and below Castor and Pollux. Procyon, Sirius and Betelgeuse by themselves make up another star pattern – another asterism – often called as the Winter Triangle.Bright Capella, the northernmost star of the Winter Circle, is found to the upper right of Castor and Pollux and the upper left of Aldebaran. For some idea of the Winter Circle’s humongous size, an imaginary arc drawn from Sirius to Capella stretches out about one-third the way across the dome of sky.When to see the Winter Circle When the winter solstice arrives on or near December 21, the Winter Circle rises high enough to be seen in your southeast sky at about 9 p.m. After rising, the Winter Circle swings westward across the sky, and is highest up in the south around 1 a.m. It appears in the southwest sky around 5 a.m. The western (right) half of the Winter Circle sets in the west before the onset of a winter solstice dawn.The Winter Circle stars rise and set some 4 minutes earlier with each passing night. Therefore, on January 21, the Winter Circle is found in the same place in the sky about 2 hours earlier than it was on the winter solstice one month before. On January 21, the Winter Circle appears in the southeast around 7 p.m., highest up in the south around 11 p.m. and in the southwest at 3 a.m. In late February and early March, the Winter Circle is found in your southern sky at nightfall and early evening.On a dark and clear moonless night, look for the soft-glowing river of stars that we call the Milky Way to meander right through the Winter Circle.Do you live by the moon? Order your EarthSky Lunar Calendar!A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky Planisphere today!Bottom line: The Winter Circle is a large circular pattern on the sky’s dome, consisting of the bright stars Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Procyon, Sirius, Castor and Pollux.


California Drought

By: Susie77, 12:28 AM GMT on February 08, 2014

California Drought

Feb. 7, 2014:   California is supposed to be the Golden State.  Make that golden brown.

The entire west coast of the United States is changing color as
the deepest drought in more than a century unfolds.  According to the US
Dept. of Agriculture and NOAA, dry conditions have become extreme
across more than 62% of California’s land area—and there is little
relief in sight.

"Up and down California, from Oregon to Mexico, it's dry as a
bone," comments JPL climatologst Bill Patzert. "To make matters worse,
the snowpack in the water-storing Sierras is less than 20% of normal for
this time of the year."
A new ScienceCast video asks, is this climate change? The answer is here
The drought is so bad, NASA satellites can see it from space. On Jan. 18th,
2014—just one day after California governor Jerry Brown declared a
state of emergency—NASA’s Terra satellite snapped a sobering picture of
the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  Where thousands of square miles of
white snowpack should have been, there was just bare dirt and rock. 

At the Jet Propulsion Lab, a group of researchers led by Tom
Painter are preparing to fly a Twin Otter aircraft over the Sierras to
investigate the situation.  Their “Airborne Snow Observatory” is
equipped with a laser radar and a spectrometer to measure the snow’s
depth and reflectivity.  From these data, it is possible to calculate
the water content of the Sierras within 5% and future snowmelt rates
with similar precision.

“The Airborne Snow Observatory was designed for times like this
when we really need to know the state of the snow pack,” says Painter.
“Our next flight will be over the Tuolumne River Basin.” The Tuolumne
watershed and its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are the primary water supply
for 2.6 million San Francisco Bay Area residents.
For updates, check the US Drought Monitor
The change in scenery is so striking, a group of high school
science students in central California have been flying high altitude
balloons to photograph it.  From the stratosphere, their home town of
Bishop looks like a settlement on the planet Mars: image, movie
"The lack of snow is really striking," says 17-year-old Amelia Koske-Phillips, president of the Earth to Sky Calculus science club. “I've never seen a winter as brown as this," adds 16-year old Carson Reid, a member of the launch team.

Bill Patzert blames the drought, in part, on the Pacific Decadal
Oscillation, or "PDO," a slowly oscillating pattern of sea surface
temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.  At the moment, the PDO is in its
negative phase—a condition historically linked to extreme high-pressure
ridges that block West Coast storms and give the Midwest and East Coast
punishing winters.

"I’m often asked if this is part of global warming," says Patzert.
“My answer is ‘not yet.’ What we’re experiencing now is a natural
variability that we’ve seen many times in the past. Ultimately, though,
climate change could make western droughts much worse.”

For more information about climate change and other Earth science topics, stay tuned to
Credits:Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASAWeb Links:All Dry on the Western Front -- Earth Observatory
NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory -- JPLEarth to Sky Calculus -- a citizen science club that has been photographing the drought from the stratosphere


Wave at the Camera!

By: Susie77, 1:23 AM GMT on February 06, 2014

Looking Backward: Curiosity gazes upon the setting Earth

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

2014/02/05 11:58 CST

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.

Carl Sagan wrote those words about a view of Earth from beyond Neptune, captured by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. No matter how far we go, Earth pulls at us, tempting us to gaze homeward. Curiosity looked skyward to photograph Earth a few days ago, on the 529th day of her mission to Mars.

I've been visiting hourly for the last few days, waiting for the full-resolution images to come down. The other amateurs at were looking for the images, too, and since the images hit the web 7 hours ago, several of them have produced their own unique takes on the data set. Here it is, as processed by Damia Bouic: a bright point of light in the twilit sky, setting toward the distant rim of Gale crater. Earth is the little isolated bright dot, left of center.

Rest of article (and more photos of US!) may be found at:


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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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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