Wednesday, October 03, 2012

webspotting 27 - Spaceweather

As published in the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. The article was revised before publishing to take care of the very stale context. Republished here with permission.


With all the talk of the Sun and things on the Sun  and things in front of the Sun, I thought I'd make sure that you knew about the awesome web site. I consider this web site one-stop shopping. 

First and foremost, there is lots of information about, you guessed it, the Sun. In the left banner, they show the current conditions for our home star, including updates on solar flares. There's a little thumbnail image of the Sun with the current sunspots labelled. A bit further down they show the auroral oval for the northern hemisphere, specifically over North America. And below that is the Planetary K-index, a good quick indicator of potential aurora borealis activity.

The main panel of the home page invariably features a photograph by an amateur astronomer. You might see interesting solar flares, dramatic sunspots, colourful aurora, the International Space Station silhouetted against the Sun, etc. Links in the copy will take you to large versions of these wonderful images, to the photographer's web site, where you can find more of their work, or of the particular event. 

I also like the area below the headline article: the Near Earth Asteroids section. What did Phil Plait call his book? 'Death from the Skies.' Here you'll find a table noting Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (or PHAs). The table notes the object name, when it is due, what the "miss" distance will be (typically measured in Lunar Distances or LD), and finally the size of the object. Uh huh. The 12 metre objects within 0.5 LD or 200 000 kilometres might not make you nervous, but 5.7 km objects might. They use colour codes (red is bad) so you can quickly ascertain if you should start packing or not.

The archive menu is useful too, to identify sunspots you sketched in your log book last week but forgot to identify. They also have a satellite flyby tool, although I still prefer Heavens Above for that. 

Normally, humans, before heading out for work in the morning, worry about if they should pack an umbrella or not. watches what's up there, in the solar system, near our planet, and keeps you up-to-date on incoming phenomena. If you haven't visited lately, be sure to check out their Transit of Venus information, with impressive photos and video.

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