A new sunspot group calls our attention today. Region 1476 rotated around the sun’s eastern limb this weekend and it’s already large enough to see through a safe solar filter with the naked eye. Just how big is it? Try about 62,000 miles or nearly 8 Earths lined up side by side.
The group’s been sputtering away with M-class flares, none of which is directed toward Earth, but so long as the group grows and its complicated magnetic field persists, we may be in for some fireworks later this week. The sun’s rotation will carry the group into a better lineup with Earth by mid-week. Strong flares that release high speed volleys of electrons and protons could then travel our way and spark displays of northern lights. Timing is good. Sunspots and solar activity have been in the doldrums the past couple weeks, and the moon will be out of the evening sky by Wednesday. Bring it on!
The NOAA space weather forecast calls for a small chance of aurora tonight through tomorrow due to a coronal mass ejection that departed the sun on May 5. I’ll update as needed here if any good storms are imminent.
NASA announced last week that the Mercury Messenger spacecraft, which entered orbit around the planet Mercury on March 18, 2011, snapped its 100,000th photo of that hot little world. It represents a real milestone for the team with more images already in the pipeline. Many of the photos show craters similar to those on the moon. While the moon’s impact holes are named after philosophers, scientists, cosmonauts and the like, Mercury’s craters are named after deceased artists, musicians, painters and authors who’ve made outstanding contributions in their field.
A look through the latest list reveals that Beethoven, Andy Warhol, John Philip Sousa and even Dr. Seuss have recently taken up residence there. If you’re interested in how features are named on the different planets, moons and asteroids, you’ll enjoy skimming the International Astronomical Union’s Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.