From Athens to Tuscaloosa — In 3 Seconds!

MSFC’s all sky meteor camera recorded this bright meteor last night (November 1st) at 9:04 pm CDT. Blazing across the sky at 40 miles per second (144,000 mph), the 1 inch visitor from space took only 3.3 seconds to go 132 miles, starting at a point just northeast of Athens, Alabama and burning up west of Tuscaloosa.

Now that’s moving!




 

 

Evaporated Comet

A meteor and the barred spiral galaxy NGC-2903 grace the top of this October 14 image of an area of space near the head of the constellation Leo. The meteor and the galaxy were purely coincidental, as it is what is not visible in the image that is important. Two telescopes operated by astronomers at the Marshall Space Flight Center just stopped scanning the skies for Comet Elenin, which began fading and breaking apart back in August. Its close approach to the Sun on September 10 apparently caused the comet to disintegrate even further, into  objects so small they are unable to be seen by ground-based telescopes like the 20″ instrument which took this picture. An anticlimatic end to the so-called “Comet of Doom”, with only empty space to mark its close approach (22 million miles) to Earth.

 

By the way, the galaxy NGC-2903 is 30 million light years distant from our own Milky Way.



 

Photo credit: Rhiannon Blaauw, Rob Suggs

 

Enjoy July's Full Moon

Take a break Friday night, step outside and gaze up at the full moon. July 15 is the full moon for this month — perhaps most commonly nicknamed the Buck Moon.

 

Image credit/copyright to Synapped. Used with permission, all rights reserved.
View large image:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotomakr/960009806/

 

According to many Native American traditions, July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer emerge from their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur — hence one of the names for the full moon.


The full moon in July also is called the Thunder Moon because of the frequency of thunderstorms during this hot, dry month.


Yet another name for the seventh full moon of the calendar year is the Hay Moon — likely no surprise to anyone living on a farm, who may have spent recent weeks cutting, baling and storing hay for the coming winter. And for those of us who suffer from summer allergies, the Hay Moon may be the most familiar moon of all.

Asteroid 2011 MD Whizzes by Earth

Discovered only a few days ago, the house-sized asteroid 2011 MD whizzed by at only 7,600 miles above Earth’s surface on June 27 at approximately 1:00 p.m. EDT. This approximately 10-yard rock came closer than many communications satellites and will rapidly recede over the next few hours and days. Rob Suggs, operating a Marshall Space Flight Center telescope in New Mexico, captured several images of the asteroid on the night of  June 26.

At the time these 30-second exposures were made, the asteroid was about 80,000 miles away from Earth. At such a close distance, the asteroid appears as a streak due to its motion relative to us, even in a short exposure.

 

Image courtesy of Rob Suggs, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

 

Spring is Fireball Season!


What are the signs of spring? They are as familiar as a blooming daffodil, a songbird at dawn, a surprising shaft of warmth from the afternoon sun. And, oh yes, don’t forget the meteors.

“Spring is fireball season,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Center. “For reasons we don’t fully understand, the rate of bright meteors climbs during the weeks around the vernal equinox.”

In other seasons, a person willing to watch the sky from dusk to dawn could expect to see around 10 random or “sporadic” fireballs. A fireball is a meteor brighter than the planet Venus. Earth is bombarded by them as our planet plows through the jetsam and flotsam of space–i.e., fragments of broken asteroids and decaying comets that litter the inner solar system.

In spring, fireballs are more abundant. Their nightly rate mysteriously climbs 10% to 30%.

“We’ve known about this phenomenon for more than 30 years,” says Cooke. “It’s not only fireballs that are affected. Meteorite falls–space rocks that actually hit the ground–are more common in spring as well1.”

Researchers who study Earth’s meteoroid environment have never come up with a satisfactory explanation for the extra fireballs. In fact, the more they think about it, the stranger it gets…

Read the Science@NASA article here:
http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/31mar_springfireballs/

The Great Fireball Network

Watching the skies is much more than a hobby with the Marshall Center’s Bill Cooke, lead of the Meteoroid Environment office — it’s an obsession.

Each morning when Cooke logs on to his computer, he quickly checks email for the daily update from the fireball camera network. Groups of smart cameras in Cooke’s new Fireball network triangulate the fireballs’ paths, and generate the report that appears in his email each morning.

Cooke’s network of cameras is currently made up of three cameras; however he is looking to add 12 additional cameras, and he’s actively seeking schools, science centers and planetariums to host his cameras. The cameras will need to be deployed in clusters of five. One group will be spread over the southeast United States; another in the Ohio and Kentucky area; and another along the Atlantic coast in the northeast. The hope is that at least one of the three regions will have clear skies at any given time.

The following criteria must be met for a location to be considered as a camera site:

  • Location east of the Mississippi River
  • Clear horizon — few trees
  • Few bright lights — none close to camera
  • Fast internet connection

Stay tuned for details on what the fireball network reports!