This robin dashed across the cold snow before finally reaching open ground to hunt for worms. That’s more than I can say for Comet SWAN. It made a mad dash toward the sun yesterday afternoon but never made it out the other side. Unlike December’s Comet Lovejoy, it failed to brighten in the final hours before its demise and today is little more than vapor and memory.
Take a look for yourself at this 10-hour movie compressed into 7 seconds. Notice that when the comet first appears at lower left, its head is bright and getting brighter but then quickly fades. We’re most likely seeing the SWAN’s sudden break up and vaporization as it plunges closer to the solar furnace. The coronal mass ejection (CME) seen at the end of the movie is not related to the comet but caused by yet another flare from departing sunspot group 1429, the seat of so much excitement last week.
NASA just released an atlas of the entire sky taken in infrared light by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer Mission (WISE). WISE took more than 2.7 million images of a half a billion galaxies, stars, asteroids and comets. Many of the objects – mostly stars and galaxies – have never been seen before, either because they’re intrinsically faint in visible light or hidden by dust. Dust in space absorbs regular light but is mostly transparent to infrared light. WISE took its pictures in four different “colors” or wavelengths of infrared.
A new class of faint dwarf stars and an asteroid called a “Trojan” that shares Earth’s orbit were just a couple of WISE’s discoveries. The probe also confirmed that we’ve discovered more than 90 percent of the largest, most dangerous near-Earth asteroids. In all, some 560 million objects were recorded by the mission, a data bank so rich it’s sure to lead to numerous new discoveries as scientists download and click away. If you’d like to learn more about WISE, take a look at the mission page, and if data digging is your thing, click HERE.
One last update – the Kp index, which can be a good indicator of possible auroras, has shot up to “6″ this afternoon. If that holds into the evening, skywatchers in the northern states and Canada may have a shot seeing the northern lights. Stay tuned for more if a display looks imminent.
Update: 11 p.m. CDT. No aurora visible yet from Duluth, Minn.