Tag Archives: international space station

Night Sky May 30, 2016 – Mars, ISS and Aurora

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – May 30 will be a great night to go stargazing! There is a slight chance for aurora overnight on May 30/May 31, and Mars will shine brightly red as it is at it’s closest to Earth in 13 years. If you are lucky enough to be in the Northeast united states, there will also be a terrific International Space Station (ISS) pass just after sunset.

Aurora

A coronal hole was directed towards Earth three days ago and the high speed solar wind stream that it generated should be arriving this afternoon. As the high speed winds arrive, they will push on the Earth’s magnetosphere making aurora possible. This is a weak coronal hole, and so it is unlikely to produce a strong light show. Nonetheless, the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G1 geomagnetic storm watch indicating KP could exceed 5. Here’s an image of the coronal hole from Thursday.

Coronal hole in AIA 211 from the SDO from 5/26/2016..
Coronal hole in AIA 211 from the SDO from 5/26/2016..

SWPC also publishes a 30-75 minute lead time alert indicating what the KP will be based on data coming from the DSCOVR satellite. That feed drives NLN’s live KP chart, but it has been returning bad data since Thursday. Given that it is a holiday in the United States, we aren’t anticipating that it will be functional until at least tomorrow. That means aurora hunters will be flying blind! You can see the current solar wind data from ACE here. Your best bet is to go out and hope there is a show.

Mars

Also in the May 30th sky, Mars is at it’s brightest in the Earth sky in 11 years. The red planet is in the closest position it gets to Earth (known as “opposition”) which happens about once every 2 years and 2 months. This approach is actually the closest since 2003, when NASA sent the Opportunity and Spirit rovers to Mars. It will visible as a bright red “star” rising right around sunset. It will be easy to find in the southeastern (Northeastern for our southern followers) sky in the hours just after sunset. If you go out stargazing tonight, keep an eye out it.

Infographic from EarthSky showing the location of Mars relative to the moon.
Infographic from EarthSky showing the location of Mars relative to the moon.

This great article from EarthSky explains in detail that tonight Mars will be 46.8 million miles from Earth, and why this is the best viewing year in the last 11 years. Well worth the read.

ISS

If you are in the Northeast States in the United States, there’s yet another reason to be out stargazing tonight. At about 9:12, the International Space Station will make a very bright flyby. It will be moving from the Southwest sky to the Northeast. It should be visible for some people for almost 6 minutes. Use the Astroviewer Observation web page to find the exact time for your location.

ISS will pass directly over Burlington, and be visible to most people in the Northeast May 30 starting around 9:12pm
ISS will pass directly over Burlington, and be visible to most people in the Northeast May 30 starting around 9:12pm

Happy Hunting!

Twitter Time-Lapse from March 2016 Northern Lights

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – Aurora hunters from Europe to Central North America were treated to aurora as the result of a G3 Geomagnetic storm On March 6-7 2016. Images of aurora filled Twitter, as photographers who stay up late snapping pictures of the night sky shared their success stories. In addition to the photos, several tweeters shared their time lapse photography. NLN has compiled some of the best time lapse in this post. Enjoy!

Astronaut Tim Peake kicked off the evening’s Aurora time-lapse with this “Aurora photobomb” from the International Space Station:

Mac The Hat posted this tweet from the Beauly Firth near North Kessock in the highland of Scotland. In case you were wondering, a firth is a estuary or inlet from the sea:

In N. Ireland, Daragh McDonough (@DaraghDonegal) posted a realtime northern lights capture from a Canon6D from Donegal on the Northwest Coast:

In Maine, the aurora lasted long enough to put on a nice show at Sugarloaf mountain:

Sam Cornwell (@Samcornwell) Shared this wonderful Youtube video he created from images taken in Hawick on the Scottish Borders of the March 2016 storm:

For Hargi (@hargi_) the clouds added texture to the northern lights making a very interesting and lovely time lapse.

Thank you to all he intrepid aurora hunters who brave the cold and dark to share these images with the rest of the world!

Happy Hunting

International Space Station Flyover Visible to Millions on February 3, 2016

Share Button

Northern Lights Now – The International Space Station (ISS) will be visible to as many as 80 million Americans on the East Coast Wednesday evening, February 3rd, starting at 6:17PM in Charlotte, NC and continuing until it passes into the Earth’s shadows for viewers in Portland, ME at 6:24PM. Along the way, viewers up and down the East Coast in Richmond, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston should have optimal views. The pass will be visible to viewers as far west as Chicago (Briefly), Pittsburgh, and NLN’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Infographic showing ISS viewing timeline for East Coast Cities

Images above come from astroviewer.net, where you can enter your location and find your exact time to expect to see the ISS. According to Astroviewer, this pass will have a brightness magnitude of -3.3 for locations where it is passing directly overhead. For reference, that is slightly brighter than Jupiter appears when Jupiter is at it brightest. However, the ISS is much easier to see than Jupiter because it appears much bigger and it will be moving quickly across the sky. At any point in the transit, the Sun could glint off the solar panels producing a “flare” that could be reach magnitude -8 for a couple seconds.

The ISS appears so big that with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, it should be possible to make out the shape of the station and see the identify the components of the craft. Here’s an image captured in England in April of 2015 by astrophotographer Roger Hutchinson.

ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016
ISS captured from Earth by Astrophotgrapher Roger Hutchinson in April 2016

The flyby will be a terrific opportunity to spur the interest of brand new stargazers. This pass will be easily accessible due to the time in the evening and because it will be a 5-6 minute pass with nearly a full arc for most people in the viewing zone. For more experienced stargazers, check out this video from the BBC on how to photograph the space station that features the photo above.

Skies should be very dark while ISS traverses the sky. The Moon will be a waning crescent and will not rise until well after midnight. For best viewing, find a dark location away from city lights and skyglow. However, even in cities, it should be possible to spot the satellite as long as there’s a open horizon to horizon view.

As is always the case with night sky viewing, clouds obstruct the view. As of this writing, 9 days out, the weather is somewhat dicey. There is a storm system predicted for the east coast Wednesday. If it is overcast where in your viewing location, you will not have a chance to see this pass. It is still early in the forecast cycle so the storm’s predicted arrival could easily be moved forward or back in the forecast between now and Wednesday, or it may not materialize at all. Any of those scenarios could leave clear skies for viewers on the East Coast.

Here’s the current GFS model run for 7:00pm EST on Wednesday Feb 3:

As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover
As of 1/26, the GFS long range model predicts a storm for the eastern US at during the flyover

Update (1/29/2016):

There is still likely to cloudy in the Northeast for this flyover. However, the models have been showing this storm faster with each successive run. If the trend continues, the storm may clear out in time for the skies to clear up for most viewers. Here’s the latest model run showing fewer clouds than there were in the original post:

1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies
1/29 GFS model run shows the storm may move fast enough to provide many viewers with clear skies