You’re not all going to turn your backs on the aurora just yet, are you? Some of us were disappointed that the expected storm didn’t arrive. Even today, there’s no evidence of its arrival. Either it missed us, delivered a much softer blow than anticipated or is still on its way.
Aurora forecasting resembles ordinary weather forecasting in many ways. Forecasters gather the latest information and then use computer modeling to determine a a storm’s track, arrival time and how severe it will be. We’re all familiar with the possible outcomes: meteorologists either nail it, get the idea right but err on the particulars or prove utterly wrong. We must learn to forgive, since nature always has the trump card. To learn more about the sun’s affects on Earth, including the aurora, I think you’ll enjoy this brief primer on space weather.
Auroral storms are still expected today through tomorrow, so it always pays to keep watch. I’ll post an update later today.
The planets have been a big part of the night sky landscape the past few weeks. Venus and Jupiter dominate the western sky, ruddy Mars is high up in the southeast by mid-evening and Saturn shows up next to Spica in Virgo around 11 o’clock. That used to be 10 o’clock, but no thanks to daylight-saving time, we have to stay up an hour later now to see Saturn.
Not to fret. Earth’s revolution around the sun will conspire to raise the planet in the east 4 minutes earlier each night. In just two weeks that will shave a total of 56 minutes or nearly an hour off its rising time, and we’ll be back to where we started.
Last night I was excited to see how Comet Garradd’s been doing, so I grabbed my 10×50 binoculars and found it just beyond the Bowl of the Big Dipper in the tail of Draco the Dragon. Since we did our last update, the comet has moved from the morning sky to a very convenient viewing spot right up next to the Dipper. This slow-moving, rather distant but large comet has been hanging around since last summer. All the while, it’s brightness has changed little, remaining around magnitude 6.5. That’s just below the naked eye limit. Garradd was closest to Earth on March 5 at 118 million miles.
In case some of you are wondering why I’m always talking about this comet, it’s the only one in recent months bright enough to enjoy in a small telescope or see in binoculars. The rest are faint.
Last night through binoculars it was a dim, misty patch about 2/3 the size of the moon with a brighter center. Through a 15-inch telescope, Garradd has a bright, fuzzy coma with a small, intense star-like core or nucleus. Two faint, diffuse tails sprout from its head. To see these, you’ll need at least a 6 to 8-inch telescope and dark skies. Garradd will slowly fade through March and April but remain well-placed for viewing. Give it a try now that the moon’s out of the sky.