Mid-January. It’s cold here in northern Minnesota. While I wouldn’t pass up a cozy hour next to the wood stove, I’m drawn outside on even the bitterest of clear nights for yet another look at the winter stars. Jupiter’s still high in the southwestern sky and you can’t beat Orion charging up from the east. Shoot a line through his three belt stars toward the horizon and you’ll run right into the sky’s brightest star, Sirius.
Last night, while I peered through the telescope under a dark, rural sky, my daughter called me from downtown Minneapolis. Her sky was clear too, though orange and sapped of starlight. We shared the only “star” the two of us could both see at the same time – Jupiter. Like a communications satellite, the planet connected us across the miles.
Tomorrow morning there’s a nice conjunction of the thin crescent moon and Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. Only a sliver of moon will be lit by sunlight. The remainder – the dusky, gray disk – glows from twice-reflected sunlight called earthshine. Some of the light reflected from our shiny planet bounces off into space, is picked up by the moon and then reflected back to our eyes.
Because the moon returns reflected rather than direct sunlight, earthlight has a dim, ghostly quality. All you need is an open view to the southeast around 6-6:30 a.m. at the start of morning twilight and the willpower to stand out in the cold to see it. I wake up very quickly when I step out the door in January. Coming back inside a warm house never felt better after you’ve gazed at the winter sky.
Time lapse sequences of photographs taken with a special low-light 4K-camera
by the crew of expedition 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from
August to October, 2011. Credit: Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
NASA Johnson Space Center
I’ve posted aurora videos taken by the astronauts on the International Space Station before, but they’ve typically been brief. This one is five minutes long and features not only the quivering lights but cool flybys of cities and flashing thunderstorms. If you’re more in the mood to stay indoors tonight, this is for you. In order of appearance on the video are:
1. Aurora borealis pass over the U.S. at night
2. Aurora borealis and eastern U.S. at night
3. Aurora australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at night
6. Aurora australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora borealis and the U.S. at night
17. Aurora australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at night