Slow-Moving Meteor Paints the Night Skies

Early on the morning of Jan. 3, 2012, a beautiful meteor was seen traveling across the skies over Huntsville, Ala. Moving slowly at “only” 18.9 km/s — or 42,000 mph — the meteor was recorded at approximately 10:34:16 UTC in an allsky camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center. It started 88.5 km/55 miles up and was last detected at 79.8 km/50 miles up. The meteor had a mass of 22 grams and was about an inch in diameter — fairly big for a meteor — and its orbit went out to the asteroid belt.

The view below shows the meteor’s path captured by an allsky color camera, also located at the Marshall Center.

Image credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environments Office/Bill Cooke and Danielle Moser

Geminid Over Las Cruces

Hazy skies did little to dim the brightness of this Gemind meteor, which graced the skies over southern New Mexico on the night of Dec. 14 around 7:28 p.m. MST. Moving at 80,000 mph, the 3/4 inch meteor — a piece of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon — flared brighter than the planet Venus before burning up 47 miles above the U.S./Mexico border.

Image credit: Marshall Space Flight Center, Meteoroid Environments Office, Bill Cooke

A Shadow on the Moon

The next full moon is known as the Cold Moon, the Long Night Moon, or the Moon Before Yule. The moon will be “opposite” the sun at 9:38 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 10. The moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from the evening of Thursday, Dec. 8 through the morning — and possibly the evening — of Sunday, Dec. 11.

On Dec.10, the moon will be so “opposite” the sun from the Earth that it will pass through the shadow of the Earth. The Earth’s shadow will begin to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the moon at about 6:34 a.m. EST, but the U.S. East Coast will not be able to tell that the moon appears dimmer before it sets at 7:08 a.m. EST. The full shadow of the Earth (called the umbra) does not start to fall on the moon until about 7:46 a.m. EST, well after the moon has set for the U.S. East Coast. Even for the U.S. West Coast, the eclipse will be near moonset, making this a difficult eclipse to view. The extended period with reduced sunlight, including 51 minutes in the full shadow of the Earth, presents a challenging environment for spacecraft at the moon (LRO, the twin GRAIL spacecraft) that rely upon sunlight for heat and solar power. Because the two ARTEMIS spacecraft are in highly elliptical orbits around the moon, it is not clear if or how they will be impacted.

Europeans call the December full moon the Moon before Yule. Yule is an old northern European winter festival that is now associated with Christmas. The Native American names for the full moon in December — as reported in the Farmer’s Almanac — are the Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon. The Cold Moon gets its name because December is the month when it really starts to get cold, although our coldest average temperatures are in January. The Long Night Moon gets its name because the full moon in December occurs near the solstice, which has the longest night of the year. The full moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low sun, so the moon will be above the horizon longer than at other times of the year.


A full moon over Earth, seen by astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station. (NASA)

A Shadow on the Moon

The next full moon is known as the Cold Moon, the Long Night Moon, or the Moon Before Yule. The moon will be “opposite” the sun at 9:38 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 10. The moon will appear full for about three days around this time, from the evening of Thursday, Dec. 8 through the morning — and possibly the evening — of Sunday, Dec. 11.

On Dec.10, the moon will be so “opposite” the sun from the Earth that it will pass through the shadow of the Earth. The Earth’s shadow will begin to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the moon at about 6:34 a.m. EST, but the U.S. East Coast will not be able to tell that the moon appears dimmer before it sets at 7:08 a.m. EST. The full shadow of the Earth (called the umbra) does not start to fall on the moon until about 7:46 a.m. EST, well after the moon has set for the U.S. East Coast. Even for the U.S. West Coast, the eclipse will be near moonset, making this a difficult eclipse to view. The extended period with reduced sunlight, including 51 minutes in the full shadow of the Earth, presents a challenging environment for spacecraft at the moon (LRO, the twin GRAIL spacecraft) that rely upon sunlight for heat and solar power. Because the two ARTEMIS spacecraft are in highly elliptical orbits around the moon, it is not clear if or how they will be impacted.

Europeans call the December full moon the Moon before Yule. Yule is an old northern European winter festival that is now associated with Christmas. The Native American names for the full moon in December — as reported in the Farmer’s Almanac — are the Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon. The Cold Moon gets its name because December is the month when it really starts to get cold, although our coldest average temperatures are in January. The Long Night Moon gets its name because the full moon in December occurs near the solstice, which has the longest night of the year. The full moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite to the low sun, so the moon will be above the horizon longer than at other times of the year.


 A full moon over Earth, seen by astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Leonids Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight!

The annual Leonid meteor shower is expected to reach peak activity tonight, November 17, at about 10:40 p.m. EST. Leonid meteor showers occur when the Earth runs into a stream of small icy debris left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle as it moves about the Sun.

The best viewing opportunity is tonight after midnight, when the constellation Leo rises above the eastern horizon. Leonids can be viewed any place on Earth except Antarctica — given the sky is clear.

“The moon is going to be a major interference, but we could see a rate of about 20 per hour,” said Bill Cooke, Lead of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

For best meteor viewing Cooke suggests going to a location away from city lights, dressing warmly, and lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special viewing equipment needed —  just your eyes.

The Leonids occur each year in November.
 
 

At 1:45 am MST on November 17th,  NASA’s all sky camera at the New Mexico State University caught this image of a Leonid meteor streaking through the skies.

Images of Rare Aurora in Southern Tennessee

 
The colors of emitted light within an aurora depend on the initial energy of the charged particles (mostly electrons) cascading into Earth’s atmosphere.  Electrons with higher initial energies are able to penetrate deeper into the atmosphere, whereas those with lower initial energies lose all their energy at higher altitudes. The blue aurora emitted from low-altitude molecular nitrogen is most commonly seen at higher latitudes, such as in Canada and Alaska, where high-energy electrons are more common. Red aurorae mostly result from lower-energy electrons reacting with atomic oxygen at high altitudes, which can occur at lower latitudes (<50 degrees) during extremely strong geomagnetic storms — such as is seen in images here.  The auroral electrons that make it into the low-latitude atmosphere usually do not have enough energy to reach molecular nitrogen.  This is why low-latitude aurorae are almost always red.


Credit: Jeremy Myers, NASA Marshall Engineer
 

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!




 

 

Northern Lights Travel South

On Oct. 24, 2011, the Northern Lights glowed over North Alabama, visible even though the skies were bright from city lights.

 

Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, are unusual so far south — the colorful, 20-minute display was a rare sighting caused by a recent solar storm. This video was captured by the color allsky camera at the Automated Lunar and Meteor Observatory, or ALaMO, at the Marshall Center in Huntsville, Ala.



One Night, Five Meteor Showers

On the night of Oct. 15-16, NASA’s All-sky camera network saw meteors from five different meteor showers! October is known to be a busy month in the world of meteor showers, but even five is an unusually high number.


 


 The last meteor seen in the early morning skies over Huntsville, Ala., on the night of the Oct. 15-16.

 

To see videos of these meteors, and others, go to fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov and select 20111016 on the left panel. In addition to those five shower meteors, eight sporadic or background  meteors were detected. The five showers were: Delta Aurigids, or DAU, October Ursa Majorids, or OCU, Chi Taurids, or CTA, Orionids , or ORI, and Eta Geminids, or EGE. See the list at the end of this post for more information on each shower.

 

The only shower mentioned above that would be worth observing for yourself is the Orionids. The Orionids peak this Friday evening — the night of Oct. 21-22 — and are best viewed anytime after midnight. They are one of the last showers of the year that may have favorable weather to lie outside all night. If you are in Northern Alabama, October evenings are still quite pleasant for stargazing. Luckily for you the moon won’t be too much of a problem. Only a small fraction of the moon is illuminated, unlike many major meteor showers this year whose rates were considerably hampered because the light from a full moon washed them out.

 

Delta Aurigids, or DAU: Active from Sept. 20 — Oct. 16, peaking on Oct. 3 with only two meteors per hour. Velocity of 143,000 miles/hour. The Delta Aurigids are not a well-known shower thus any observations refine the information we know about them.

 

October Ursa Majorids, or OCU: Active from Oct. 12-19, peaking on Oct. 15. Velocity of 119 miles/hour. This is a very minor shower rates of less than one per hour. Radiant — where the meteors appear to come from — is in Ursa Major.

 

Chi Taurids, or CTA:  Active from Oct. 10 — Nov. 10, peaking on Nov. 3. Velocity approximately 94,000 miles/hour. This is also a shower that has very little known about it. It was recently discovered in a survey to find minor meteor showers using a meteor radar (Brown et al, 2010).

 

Orionids, or ORI: Active from Oct. 2 — Nov. 7, peaking on Oct. 21 with rates up to 25 per hour. Velocity of 150,000 miles/hour. Radiant is in the constellation Orion.

 

Eta Geminids, or EGE:  Active from Oct. 14-27.  Peaking on Oct. 18 with rates of three per hour. These are fast-moving meteors that average at 157,000 miles/hour. Eta Geminids are often confused with Orionids since their velocity and peaks are similar.

 

Brown, P., Wong, D.K., Weryk, R.J., Wiegert, P.

A meteoroid stream survey using the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar II: Identification of minor showers using a 3D wavelet transform

Icarus 207 (2010) 66–81.

 

 

Credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office/Rhiannon Blaauw, Bill Cooke

 

Bright Meteor Lights Up Atlanta Skies

The video and images below show a very bright meteor that streaked over the skies of Atlanta, Ga., on the night of Aug. 28, 2011.

View from all sky camera in Cartersville, Ga., operated by
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
 › View linking/embed version of video


Some stats on the meteor:

Initial speed: 23.6 km/s (52,800 mph)
Start location: 84.131 W, 33.981 N, Altitude 104.6 km (65.0 miles)
End location:  84.109 W, 33.524 N, Altitude 41.3 km (25.7 miles)

 


View from all sky camera located at Huntsville, Al.



View from all sky camera located at Tullahoma, Tenn.



 
View from all sky camera located at Cartersville, Ga.

The meteor was too bright for the all sky camera in Cartersville, Ga., to accurately determine the center of light, so manual analysis will be required to determine a more accurate end point. Results will be posted here on the blog as they become available.

 

 

Video and image credits: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment Office