Father-daughter-Jupiter Conjunction, Aurora Video And More

The thin crescent moon will pair up with Antares, the heart of the scorpion tomorrow morning at dawn. This is an ideal time to see the earthlit portion of the moon. Created with Stellarium

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

12 Responses

  1. Mike

    It was so clear last night! I was able to see two sets of belts on Jupiter with only x96 on a Dob 8in. Clearest I’ve seen it all winter, and that was from a brightly lit parking lot. But we had to go in when it started to hurt our fingers to change eye pieces, darn 5 below zero.

    1. astrobob

      Good going, Mike. Sure was cold. It hit -12 at my site. The tops of my thumbs are still numb. I also looked at Jupiter and the belts were very sharp.

  2. Lisha

    Hi Bob, I have a question which is totally off subject but I’ve seen some videos about strange noises that people have been hearing around the world, it sounds like a giant horn or trumpet.. Some say its from the magnetic poles shifting, earthquakes, volcanoes.. & the looney ones say its HAARP, Nasa, ‘aliens’, ‘2012 predictions’… I havent heard anything around my area, but can volcanoes or magnetic poles cause such noise??

    1. astrobob

      Hi Lisha,
      Real, imaginary, wishful thinking – I don’t know. I’ve recently read that similar sounds were heard and written about in the mid-1800s. No doubt odd sounds were heard or imagined long before that, too. Here’s my hunch though — the more people who report the sounds and post blogs and videos about them, the easier it will be for those who want to hear the sounds to hear them whether they’re real or not.

        1. astrobob

          Interesting Carol — at least there’s an explanation for that one. Maybe others can be explained as well.

  3. Travis Kitch


    Beautiful video on the auroras. Thanks for posting that. Speaking of atmospheric phenomena, as I looked out my chilly Moorhead window (sipping hot tea) I observed a beautiful set of parhelia (aka sundogs). Knowing that many of the geological and meteorological phenomena we experience on earth (quakes, windstorms, lightning) also occur on other bodies, do sundogs as well? I assume there would need to be the opportunity for ice crystal development in the atmospher.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Travis,
      The answer to your halo question is ‘probably’. Mars has high clouds of carbon dioxide crystals (and a small amount of ice clouds as well) which can theoretically form exotic halos different from those of Earth. Jupiter and Saturn both have cubic and octahedral ammonia crystals which could produce other kinds of halos. Even methane ice in the bitter cold atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune might be up to the job. I’ve yet to see any photos from the Martian rovers that show a solar halo.

  4. Mike Thiele

    Awesome video Bob! Thanks for posting it! -25….Please tell me again why we live in N. MN in winter? :^>

    1. astrobob

      Ooooh, that’s nippy,Mike!.We had -19 here at the house. I love extremes like these but wish my hands could handle the cold better.

  5. Debra

    Bob we have had some great clear observing nights recently in the UK had some great looks at Jupiter and Venus. I think that them noises maybe were heard at first but now there are others who are faking hearing them. I think there can be thousands of explainations for unexplained noises.

    1. astrobob

      I agree with you. It’s like many phenomena — the more you know about the world around you, the better set of rational explanations from which to choose to explain the event. Perhaps the more out of touch, the more likely you might grasp at the fantastic.

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