There’s no place like home on Earth Day

Ice still clings to a wall along the Caribou River north of Duluth yesterday. Water in all its forms makes Earth special among the known planets. Photo: Bob KIng

What’s a guy gotta do to get a clear night around here? We were cloudy overnight in Duluth for the annual Lyrid meteor shower. I haven’t heard what the counts were like, but I hope some of you had clear skies and ventured out for a view. While the shower peaked Sunday morning and activity typically drops off quickly, you may still see a few Lyrids per hour over the next several nights.

Next up are the Eta Aquarids on May 7. This shower produces about 30 meteors per hour for observers in the southern hemisphere; northerners will only see a third as many.

Northern hemisphere observers will have to wait until the Delta Aquarids of late July and Perseids of mid-August for a significant show. That’s OK. There’s plenty to keep us occupied until then including an eclipse of the sun (May 20), partial eclipse of the moon (June 4) and a rare transit of Venus on June 5. Busy times ahead!


Five minutes of short time-lapse videos of Earth seen from the International Space Station. The firecracker thunderstorms rock. For a cool video of stars rising over the Pacific Ocean, click HERE.

Today is Earth Day, when we celebrate and appreciate our living planet. Though the focus of this blog is the sky, it’s really always been about Earth. We cock our heads in wonder at the firmament from this big, blue mobile observatory. Everything we learn about the vastness of the universe and the heartless vacuum of space tells us how good we have it here where our feet touch the ground. As Dorothy repeated over and over in the Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

The sun photographed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory earlier this morning. Lots of spots could mean additional aurora-creating solar flares this week. Credit: NASA

Clouds in the neighborhood also mean no sunshine today. Too bad. At least five good-sized sunspot groups dot the sun’s face, many of them cooking up modest flares over the past few days. If you have a telescope with a safe solar filter take a look at all the action. With this many groups spread out far and wide, you can also easily follow the sun’s day to day rotation.

Since the sun is not a solid body like the Earth but a sphere of hot gas,  it rotates differentially – faster at the equator and slower at the poles. It takes 27 days for a complete rotation at the equator and 31 days for the polar regions. Jupiter and Saturn also consist mostly of  gas – cold gas – and like the sun their rotation rate varies with latitude. Jupiter’s equatorial zone spins around in 9 hours 50 minutes, the polar regions in 9 hours 55 minutes.

The western sky tonight about 35 minutes after sunset. Once you've spotted the moon, look below it for Jupiter. Created with Stellarium

So did you think like me that Jupiter had disappeared from the evening sky to leave Venus shine in solo splendor? Well, think again. A super thin day-old crescent moon might be enough to drag you out for one last look at the solar system’s biggest planet.

If you face west a half-hour to 45 minutes after sunset tonight, the moon will lie about a fist held at arm’s length above the horizon. Below it, fighting for its life in the bright twilight, Jupiter begs to be noticed one more time. Take along binoculars in case your sky is hazy. Good luck in your attempt.

PS. For lots more great videos and stills of Earth from space, stop by the Gateway of Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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