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Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Forget zombies – prepare for a solar storm apocalypse!

Posted by Richard on July 13, 2013

I used to visit fairly often. I liked checking out the cool photos, keeping track of the sunspot (in)activity during the recent solar minimum, and checking for good flybys of the International Space Station (ISS) on the Satellite Flybys page. That’s how I was able to watch the spectacular flyby of the ISS being chased across the sky by the shuttle Atlantis. But I got out of the habit of visiting that site.

I was reminded of it today when I saw the /. post When Space Weather Attacks Earth, which points to an interesting Washington Post science article by Brad Plumer. It discusses how vulnerable our modern electrical and electronic systems are to a solar event like the one that happened 154 years ago:

The auroras of 1859, known as the “Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. When the particles hit our magnetosphere, they triggered an especially fierce geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky and frazzled communication wires around the world. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for hours.

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue.

That’s not a lurid sci-fi fantasy. It’s a sober new assessment by Lloyd’s of London, the world’s oldest insurance market. The report notes that even a much smaller solar-induced geomagnetic storm in 1989 left 6 million people in Quebec without power for nine hours.

A coronal mass ejection, if it hits the earth, amounts to a naturally-occurring electromagnetic pulse (EMP). While the consequences wouldn’t be as bad as what’s portrayed in the J.J. Abrams series, Revolution, they could be pretty grim.

Plumer focuses almost entirely on the consequences for the Northeast United States.  I guess that’s partly because the region is especially vulnerable, but I suspect it’s also because for Washington Post writers, nothing outside of the Northeast and California really matters. Still, it’s an interesting article about a frightening possibility. Read the whole thing. You may decide to price generators and look into stockpiling food, water, gas, …

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Excellent lunar eclipse pictures

Posted by Richard on December 21, 2010

The winter solstice lunar eclipse Monday night or Tuesday morning (depending on your time zone) lived up to the hype. Here in Denver, high clouds cleared right on time, and even in the light-polluted city, the view was spectacular. The moon was positioned right above Orion, and to the left of that was a very bright Jupiter. Quite a sight.

No, I didn't take pictures. I just stared. I figured that plenty of better equipped and more skilled people would do the photographic honors. And I was right. has a nice gallery of photos. Unfortunately, they've messed up some of their links. So here's Page 1, and here's Page 2. I especially liked the shots by Jeff Berkes (on Page 2), in particular this one.

CBSDenver showed a really nice one as their "picture of the day" on tonight's newscast. It showed multiple shots of the moon at various stages from the beginning through totality to the end of the eclipse. But as of now, it's not on the website yet.

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Further explanation of spiral over Norway

Posted by Richard on December 20, 2009

The YouTube video simulation below by djellison offers a possible explanation of that incredibly cool celestial event over Norway recently. I found it pretty convincing, but judge for yourself.

[YouTube link]

It is kind of a shame, though, to see all those wonderful theories about aliens and globalist conspiracies shot down. 🙂

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Luminous spiral over Norway explained

Posted by Richard on December 11, 2009

When posted this picture yesterday, they said:

The first reaction of many readers when they see this picture is Photoshop! Surely this must be a fake. But no, many independent observers witnessed and phtotographed the apparition. It is real.

Now, according to, the Russian government has confirmed the authenticity of this and similar images and accepted responsibility. It is, in any case, one of the coolest sky pictures I've ever seen. Check it out

HT: Slashdot

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Spectacular space station flybys

Posted by Richard on November 27, 2009

Those of us in the know were treated to a rare and spectacular celestial event Thanksgiving evening. At 6:12 pm, the International Space Station appeared brightly in the WNW sky, followed 30 seconds later by the somewhat dimmer space shuttle Atlantis. The pair crossed to the southeastern horizon in about two minutes — they were really moving! Tonight, the ISS provided an even better solo performance (Atlantis had already returned to Earth), appearing even brighter and much higher in the sky. It passed very close to the moon, which was quite a sight.

So, how did I know when and where to look? Click Satellite Flybys in the right sidebar, enter your ZIP code, and they'll show you a schedule for the ISS and several satellites. The latter are significantly less bright (and less interesting, at least to me), and probably hard to spot from a metro area. But the ISS is intensely bright. Tonight's flyby was at 5 pm, with still a fair amount of light in the sky, but it shone so brightly that that was not a problem.

I also like to check out the great celestial photos at The last three days featured photos of the ISS-Atlantis duo. At other times, they have aurora borealis shots, sun dogs, and other cool stuff. Pick some dates from the archives (right sidebar) and see what turns up.

And of course, is where I keep up with current sunspot activity as we continue an unusually long and deep trough between solar cycles 23 and 24. In fact, NASA has acknowledged that we may be heading into a repeat of the Dalton Minimum (1790-1830, toward the end of the Little Ice Age).

Let's hope it's not a Maunder Minimum — that one lasted over half a century (1645-1715) and coincided with the depths of the Little Ice Age, when the Thames frequently froze over so solidly that a commercial district sprung up on it.

But we shouldn't worry about prolonged cooling. Al Gore and the climatologists charlatans at Hadley CRU have assured us that it's going to get hotter. They have computer models that "prove" the empirical data showing a cooling trend since 1998 are wrong. And they've carefully analyzed manipulated the data to show that there really was no medieval warm period.

So pay no heed to the fact that a graph that mirrors solar activity over the past 1000 years seems to closely match global temperature variations over the same period. <snark>Your SUV and lawn mower are much more powerful factors than a little thing like the sun.</snark>

UPDATE: If you want more info about the Climategate scandal, check out the links in the comments at this post.

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Liquid hydrocarbons on Titan

Posted by Richard on August 1, 2008

Scientists analyzing data from the Cassini space probe have discovered that it rains on Saturn's moon Titan, and there's at least one large lake. According to Saturn Daily, the precipitation (and thus the lake) consists of complex liquid hydrocarbons:

"We are quite certain that there is at least one large liquid-filled lake on Titan", stated Professor Ralf Jaumann of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research (DLR-Institut fur Planetenforschung) in Berlin.

"The measurements carried out with the VIMS spectrometer on board the Cassini space probe are all point in the same direction: Close to Titan's south polar region, we have discovered a lake filled with liquid ethane: The lake contains natural gas in a more or less liquid state."

It is likely that the ethane is mixed with other liquids, such as methane or other light hydrocarbons from the alkane series. The newly-discovered lake is called Ontario Lacus, in reference to the 300-kilometre long Lake Ontario near Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border, because of the similarity in shape between the two.

Complex hydrocarbons. Liquified natural gas. You can make virtually any kind of petroleum product from those raw materials.

Brings to mind a bumper sticker I've seen: "Earth First – We Can Mine the Other Planets Later" 


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Cool meteor over Denver

Posted by Richard on January 4, 2007

SkyFOX, the KDVR-31 traffic helicopter, captured some pretty cool video of an impressive meteor breaking up in the Denver sky this morning just before dawn. Check it out. Try to ignore the less than brilliant commentary.

Meteor breaking up over Denver

UPDATE: It wasn’t a meteor, it was "space junk" — part of a Russian SL-4 rocket that re-entered the atmosphere.

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