A fiery meteor streaked across the morning skies in southern Mississippi yesterday on April 27, 2022.
More than 30 eyewitnesses in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi reported seeing a bright fireball at 8:03 a.m. CDT. The sighting was soon followed by numerous reports of loud booms heard in Claiborne County, Mississippi, and surrounding counties.
Approximately 22,000 miles out in space, NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLM) onboard the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) 16 and 17 detected several bright flashes associated with the fragmentation’s of this bolide, or exceptionally bright meteor, which was first spotted 54 miles above the Mississippi River near the Mississippi town of Alcorn.
The object – thought to be a piece of an asteroid about a foot in diameter with a weight of 90 pounds – moved southwest at a speed of 55,000 miles per hour, breaking into pieces as it descended deeper into Earth’s atmosphere. It disintegrated about 34 miles above the swampy area north of Minorca in Louisiana.
The fragmentation of this fireball generated an energy equivalent of 3 tons of TNT (trinitrotoluene), which created shock waves that propagated to the ground, producing the booms and vibrations felt by people in the area.
At its peak, the fireball was over 10 times brighter than the Full Moon.
“What struck me as unusual was how few eyewitness reports we had given the skies were so clear,” said Cooke. “More people heard it than saw it.”
Skywatchers, you have the opportunity to see not just one, but two planetary conjunctions during the month of April 2022!
A conjunction is a celestial event in which two planets, a planet and the Moon, or a planet and a star appear close together in Earth’s night sky. Conjunctions have no profound astronomical significance, but they are nice to view. In our Solar System, conjunctions occur frequently between planets because the planets orbit around the Sun in approximately the same plane – the ecliptic plane – and thus trace similar paths across our sky.
The first planetary meet up occurs on the mornings of April 4 and 5 before sunrise and includes Mars and Saturn, with Saturn being the brightest. These two planets will come together, appearing as almost a single point of light. However, if you grab your binoculars, you’ll easily see the scene with the planets switching positions on each morning.
We will also see a bright Jupiter ascend quickly in the morning twilight, heading towards Venus in the final week of April. Catch a great view of the planets on the morning of April 27, which will include a waxing Moon.
Jupiter and Venus will then meet in conjunction during the morning of April 30 – appearing to nearly collide into each other. Due to the glare from both planets, observers will see them merge into one very bright, spectacular glow!
Venus’s orbit is closer to the Sun than the Earth’s, and Jupiter’s orbit is much farther away, so the proximity is an illusion, occurring only because Earth, Venus, and Jupiter happen to be approximately aligned. This celestial event will continue on the morning of May 1, but the positions of the planets, Jupiter and Venus, will be reversed.
If you want to know what else is in the sky for April, check out the latest “What’s Up” video from Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
Enjoy all this month has to offer as you watch the skies!
Did you know our planet has two types of seasons? They are meteorological and astronomical. What’s the difference?
“Meteorological seasons” follow the changing of the calendar, month to month, and are based on the annual temperature cycle – seasonal temperature variations modified by fluctuations in the amount of solar radiation received by Earth’s surface over the course of a year. For instance, the meteorological season of spring begins each year on March 1 and will end on May 31.
However, “astronomical” seasons happen because of the tilt of Earth’s axis (with respect to the Sun-Earth plane), and our planet’s position during its orbit around the Sun.
The March equinox – also called the vernal equinox – is the astronomical beginning of the spring season in the Northern Hemisphere. Seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere where it will be autumn, also known as fall. These simultaneous seasons will occur March 20, 2022, at 15:33 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) or 10:33 a.m. CDT (Central Daylight Time).
The Sun will pass directly above the equator, bringing nearly equal amounts of day and night on all parts of Earth. At the equator, an equinox results in about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.
Equinoxes and solstices are caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and the ceaseless motion it has while orbiting the Sun. Think of them like events happening as our planet make its journey around the Sun.
North of the equator, the March equinox will also bring us earlier sunrises, later sunsets, softer winds, and budding plants. With the reversed season, those south of the equator will experience later sunrises, earlier sunsets, chillier winds, and dry, falling leaves.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, watch the Sun as it sets just a bit farther north on the horizon each evening until the June solstice – when the Sun reverses directions, moving back to the south. Also, get outside to enjoy the warmer weather and extended daylight!
In meteorology, Earth’s winter season for the Northern Hemisphere and summer season for the Southern Hemisphere began on Dec. 1, 2021. However, the December solstice brings in the astronomical winter and summer seasons, respectively, for the two hemispheres of our planet. This will happen on Dec. 21 at 15:59 UTC, which is 9:59 a.m. CST in the United States.
Solstices come twice a year. For the Northern Hemisphere, the summer (June) solstice occurs around June 20-21, and the winter (December) solstice happens around Dec. 21-22. At the solstice, the Sun’s path appears farthest north or south, depending on which half of the planet you’re on. Seasons change on Earth because the planet is slightly tilted on its axis as it travels around the Sun.
Earth’s axis may be imagined as an imaginary pole going right through the center of our planet from “top” to “bottom.” Earth spins around this pole, making one complete turn each day. That is why we have day and night.
Although the tilt of the Earth as compared to the plane of its orbit around the Sun is more or less constant (23.5˚), at the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives the most indirect sunlight, causing cooler temperatures. The Southern Hemisphere receives the most direct sunlight, causing warmer temperatures, so it is summer there. At the June solstice, this effect reverses and the Northern Hemisphere receives the most direct sunlight, causing warmer temperatures, and the Southern Hemisphere receives the most indirect sunlight, causing cooler temperatures.
The December solstice brings the shortest day and longest night of the year for locations in the northern half of the globe, like the U.S., while the southern half of the globe is experiencing its longest day and shortest night. Therefore, all locations north of the equator see daylight shorter than 12 hours and all locations south see daylight longer than 12 hours.
After the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will get longer and the nights shorter until the summer solstice on June 21, 2022, when things reverse. The March equinox on March 20, 2022, will mark the beginning of the astronomical spring season and the September equinox on September 22, 2022, will mark the beginning of astronomical fall.
The ancient cultures knew that the Sun’s path across the sky, length of daylight, and location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. Additionally, people built monuments, like Stonehenge in England and the Torreon in Machu Picchu, Peru, to follow the Sun’s annual progress and predict its movements.
Today, we have even more information about the universe, and we celebrate the solstice as an astronomical event caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the Sun.
No matter where you are on Earth’s globe – this is your time to celebrate this seasonal change!
Every December we have a chance to see one of our favorite meteor showers – the Geminids. The shower is currently active until Dec. 17 and will peak on the night of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14, making those hours the best time for viewing the meteor shower.
The Geminids are caused by debris from a celestial object known as 3200 Phaethon, whose origin is the subject of some debate. Some astronomers consider it to be an extinct comet, based on observations showing some small amount of material leaving Phaethon’s surface. Others argue that it has to be an asteroid because of its orbit and its similarity to the main-belt asteroid Pallas.
Whatever the nature of Phaethon, observations show that the Geminids are denser than meteors belonging to other showers, enabling them to get as low as 29 miles above Earth’s surface before burning up. Meteors belonging to other showers, like the Perseids, burn up much higher.
The Geminids can be seen by most of the world. Yet, it is best viewed by observers in the Northern Hemisphere. As you enter the Southern Hemisphere and move towards the South Pole, the altitude of the Geminid radiant – the celestial point in the sky where the Geminid meteors appear to originate – gets lower and lower above the horizon. Thus, observers in these locations see fewer Geminids than their northern counterparts.
Besides the weather, the phase of the Moon is a major factor in determining whether a meteor shower will have good rates during any given year. This is because the moonlight “washes out” the fainter meteors, resulting in sky watchers seeing the fewer bright ones. This year, the Moon will be almost 80% full at the peak of the Geminids, which isn’t ideal for our highly regarded meteor shower. Nevertheless, that bright Moon is expected to set around 2:00 a.m. wherever you are located, leaving a couple of hours for meteor watching until twilight.
“Rich in green-colored fireballs, the Geminids are the only shower I will brave cold December nights to see,” said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA will broadcast a live stream of the shower’s peak Dec. 13-14 via a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, (if our weather cooperates!), starting at 8 p.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.
Meteor videos recorded by the All Sky Fireball Network are also available each morning to identify Geminids in these videos – just look for events labeled “GEM.”
Learn more about the Geminids below:
Why are they called the Geminids?
All meteors associated with a shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.”
How fast are Geminids?
Geminids travel 78,000 mph (35 km/s). This is over 1000 times faster than a cheetah, about 250 times faster than the swiftest car in the world, and over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet!
How to observe the Geminids?
If it’s not cloudy, get away from bright lights, lie on your back, and look up. Remember to let your eyes get adjusted to the dark – you’ll see more meteors that way. Keep in mind, this adjustment can take approximately 30 minutes. Don’t look at your cell phone screen, as it will ruin your night vision!
Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky. Avoid watching the radiant because meteors close to it have very short trails and are easily missed. When you see a meteor, try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid.
Observing in a city with lots of light pollution will make it difficult to see Geminids. You may only see a handful during the night in that case.
When is the best time to observe Geminids?
The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13/14. Sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere can go out in the late evening hours on Dec. 13 to see some Geminids, but with moonlight and radiant low in the sky, you may not see many meteors.
Best rates will be seen when the radiant is highest in the sky around 2:00 a.m. local time, including the Southern Hemisphere, on Dec. 14. The Moon will set around the same time. Therefore, observing from moonset until twilight on Dec. 14 should yield the most meteors.
You can still see Geminids on other nights, before or after Dec. 13-14, but the rates will be much lower. The last Geminids can be seen Dec. 17.
How many Geminids can observers expect to see Dec. 13/14?
Realistically, the predicated rate for observers in the northern hemisphere is closer to 30-40 meteors per hour. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere will see fewer Geminids than those in the northern hemisphere – perhaps 25% of rates in the Northern Hemisphere.
Although this year’s conditions are not the best for viewing the Geminid meteor shower, it will still be a good show to catch in our night skies.
And, if you want to know what else is in the sky for December, check out the video below from Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s monthly “What’s Up” video series:
LAUNCH UPDATE: NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is now scheduled to lift off Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 3:04 a.m. CST (4:04 a.m. EST) aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. Get more details here.
Have you ever witnessed one of NASA’s launches? It’s definitely a sight to see when a rocket takes to the sky, soaring beyond our atmosphere into space.
If you haven’t, you’ll have another chance soon with the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which will continue NASA’s exploration of laser communications to support future missions to the Moon and throughout our solar system.
LCRD is scheduled to launch Dec. 5 aboard an Atlas V551 rocket from Cape Canveral Space Force Station in Florida with a two-hour launch window that opens at 3:04 a.m. CST (4:04 a.m. EST).
Live coverage of the launch begins on NASA Live at 2:30 a.m. CST (3:30 a.m. EST), with countdown commentary on NASA Television, the NASA app, and NASA social media.
Register as an LCRD virtual guest to experience NASA’s journey to the LCRD launch. Along with participating online in the launch, you’ll also gain access to curated launch resources, mission information, interaction opportunities, and schedule updates. Following launch, virtual guests will receive a stamp for their virtual guest passport!
Like technology demonstrations that have come before it, LCRD is a giant step towards making operational laser, or optical, communications a reality.
But just how much data can NASA transmit at once with laser communications? To give you an idea, sending a high-resolution map of Mars would take around nine weeks with spacecraft’s current onboard radio systems, but as little as nine days with laser communications. That kind of data rate is much more appealing for future human exploration and science missions.
With the mission operating for at least two years, LCRD will start off “talking” with ground stations in California and Hawaii to test the invisible, near-infrared lasers. Engineers will beam data to and from the satellite – located more than 22,000 miles above Earth – to study and enhance the technology’s performance for an operational mission. LCRD will also help NASA update how astronauts communicate to and from space.
As NASA goes back to the Moon, laser communications can empower sustainable communications and help us prepare for a human presence on Mars.
Developed and led by Goodard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, LCRD is funded by the Technology Demonstration Missions program, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Additionally, it’s funded by the Space Communications and Navigation program, also at NASA Headquarters.
We have a rare opportunity to witness the longest partial lunar eclipse in nearly 600 years. If the weather permits, it will grace our sky on the night of Nov. 18 and early in the morning Nov. 19 across all of the United States.
A lunar eclipse happens when the Sun, Earth, and Full Moon form a near-perfect lineup in space. A partial lunar eclipse occurs when only a portion of the Moon passes through the Earth’s darkest shadow. During this type of eclipse, a part of the Moon will darken to a dim orange or red as it moves through the Earth’s shadow.
The upcoming eclipse will be visible throughout much of the globe where the Moon appears above the horizon during the eclipse, including North and South America, Eastern Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Region. North America will have the best location to see the entirety of the eclipse.
The partial eclipse will begin a little after 1:00 a.m. CST on Nov 19 (11:00 pm PST on Nov 18.), reaching its maximum at 3:00 a.m. CST. Depending on your local time zone, it’ll happen earlier or later in the evening for you. It will last 3 hours and 28 minutes, making it the longest partial eclipse of this century and the longest in 580 years.
This is a remarkably deep partial eclipse as up to 97% of the Moon’s diameter will be covered by Earth’s darkest shadow. Only a thin slice of the Moon will be exposed directly to the Sun at maximum eclipse. Expect to see the rest of the Moon take on the orange-reddish colors, appearing as an “almost” total lunar eclipse.
You won’t need any special glasses to see the partial lunar eclipse, unlike when viewing a solar eclipse. Just wake up, get out of the bed, and go outside to see the last lunar eclipse of 2021!
Learn more about eclipses here and enjoy this spectacle as you watch the skies!
Everyone, everywhere, every year is invited to celebrate with fellow Moon enthusiasts around our planet for International Observe the Moon Night – a worldwide public event encouraging observation, appreciation, and understanding of the Moon and its connection to NASA exploration and discovery.
Join NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Oct. 16, 2021, for the Virtual Observation Party at 6:00 p.m. CDT via the Facebook event page.
This virtual event is brought to you by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Additionally, it will include a planetarium show and interviews with planetary and citizen scientists. There will also be an interview about the Artemis missions. So, don’t miss out on this fun, informative program!
It’s a great time to celebrate the Moon with people all over Earth as excitement grows about NASA returning to our nearest celestial neighbor with the Artemis missions. Artemis will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore areas of the lunar surface that have never been discovered before.
Since 2010, the celebration has occurred annually in September or October when the Moon is around first quarter – a great phase for excellent viewing opportunities.
Whether it’s outdoors, at home, online, or wherever you may be, you are encouraged to be a part of International Observe the Moon Night. Please remember to follow your local health and safety guidelines.
Learn more and find other events here. Enjoy the celebration!
In meteorology, the fall season begins on Sept. 1, however, the September (or fall) equinox gives us the green light to welcome the astronomical fall season in the Northern Hemisphere (and astronomical spring season in the Southern Hemisphere). This happens Sept. 22, 2021, at 19:21 UTC, which is 2:21 p.m. CDT for us in North America.
Along with marking the beginning of astronomical fall, the Sun will be exactly above Earth’s equator, moving from north to south, making day and night nearly equal in length – about 12 hours – throughout the world.
At the North Pole, over the upcoming days, the Sun will sink below the horizon for a kind of twilight from now until sometime in October when it will be completely dark, according to NASA solar scientist Mitzi Adams. Spring twilight at the North Pole begins a few weeks before the vernal, or spring, equinox in March, when the Sun rises above the horizon again.
This only happens twice in Earth’s year-long trip around the Sun. The rest of the year, the Sun shines unevenly over the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. That’s because Earth’s axis is tilted with respect to the Sun-Earth plane. But on these special days – the spring and fall equinoxes – the Sun shines almost equally on the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
In the Northern hemisphere, the September equinox marks the start of a period bringing us later sunrises and earlier sunsets. We will also feel cooler days with chillier winds, and dry, falling leaves.
The people of ancient cultures used the sky as a clock and calendar. They knew that the Sun’s path across the sky, length of daylight, and location of sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year. Additionally, earlier civilizations built the first observatories, like Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, and the Intihuatana stone in Machu Picchu, Peru, to follow the Sun’s annual progress.
Today, we celebrate the equinox as an astronomical event caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the Sun.
Enjoy the new season – whichever side of the globe you’re on!
This month we’ll get to see a Full Moon on Aug. 22, 2021, known by some early Native American tribes of the northeastern United States, as the Sturgeon Moon. The name was given to the Moon because the large sturgeon fish of the Great Lakes, and other major lakes, were more easily caught at this time of year. But that’s not all! We also get to see a Blue Moon!
We’ve all heard the phrase “once in a Blue Moon,” which usually refers to something that rarely happens. Blue Moons do sometimes happen in Earth’s night sky, giving rise to this phrase. But what is a Blue Moon?
Well, we have two kinds of Blue Moons – monthly and seasonal.
A monthly Blue Moon is the second Full Moon in a calendar month with two Full Moons. Then, there’s a seasonal Blue Moon – the third Full Moon of an astronomical season that has four Full Moons.
In astronomy, a season is the period of time between a solstice and equinox, or vice versa. Each season – winter, spring, summer or fall – lasts three months and usually has three Full Moons, occurring about 30 days apart. Because June’s Full Moon came just a few days after the June (Summer) solstice, we will see four Full Moons in the current summer season, which ends at the September equinox on Sept. 22.
The third Full Moon – our seasonal Blue Moon – will happen on Aug. 22. All Full Moons are opposite the Sun, as viewed from Earth, rising fully illuminated at local time around sunset and setting around sunrise.
Perhaps you’re wondering if the Moon ever actually takes on a blue color. Well, Blue Moons that are blue in color are extremely rare and have nothing to do with the calendar or the Moon’s phases; they don’t have to be Full Moons either. When a blue-colored Moon happens, the blue color is the result of water droplets in the air, certain types of clouds, or particles thrown into the atmosphere by natural catastrophes, such as volcanic ash and smoke. Also, blue-colored Moons in photos are made using special blue filters for cameras or in post-processing software.
In 1883, an Indonesian volcano called Krakatoa produced an eruption so large that scientists compared it to a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. Ash from the Krakatoa explosion rose as high into the atmosphere as 80 kilometers (50 miles). Many of these ash particles can be about 1 micron in size, which could scatter red light and act as a blue filter, resulting in the Moon appearing blue.
Blue-colored Moons appeared for years following the 1883 eruption. Many other volcanoes throughout history, and even wildfires, have been known to affect the color of the Moon. As a rule of thumb, to create a bluish Moon, dust or ash particles must be larger than about 0.6 micron, which scatters the red light and allows the blue light to pass through freely. Having said all of that, what we call a Blue Moon typically appears pale grey, white or a yellowish color – just like the Moon on any other night.
Generally, Blue Moons occur every 2 to 3 years. Our last Blue Moon was on Oct. 31, 2020 – the night of Halloween. Mars was red and very large, since it was closer to Earth, and it was seen in the sky near the Blue Moon. Coincidently, this year’s Blue Moon will appear near planets again, but this time Jupiter and Saturn! We won’t see another Blue Moon until August 2023.