The Sun’s Forever Blowing Bubbles

A huge bubble of high speed solar wind called a coronal mass ejection or CME leaves the sun at many miles per second yesterday morning July 17. Click photo to see a movie. Photo taken by SOHO’s C3 coronagraph. Credit: NASA’/ESA

Yesterday around 11 o’clock my wife and I were driving to Minneapolis to help move our older daughter. Little did we know that when we stopped to pick up pastries along the highway, the sunspot group that delighted us with auroras last week had just unleashed another significant flare. As we paid the clerk and walked out the door, the coronal mass ejection from the explosion was already ballooning Earth’s way.

Because the bubble is off to one side of the sun and not directly aimed at our planet, the blizzard of electrons and protons will only graze us. A small chance of auroras is possible when it arrives on Friday July 20.

The sky this evening, with the atmosphere removed, so you can see the position of the sun in Gemini and the moon just a few degrees below it. In New Moon phase, we can’t see the moon because it’s too close to sun and invisible in the glare of day. Created with Stellarium

Not far from the sun in the sky a much quieter event is happening. The moon will be in New Moon phase at 11:24 p.m. (CDT) tonight July 18.

If the sun, moon and Earth were exactly lined up in that order, we’d see a total eclipse of the sun, but because the moon’s orbit is tipped relative to Earth’s, it passes a few degrees south of the sun tonight. At other new moons, it passes to the north.

No one gets to see a new moon because it’s much too close to the sun and completely invisible in the solar glare. During a solar eclipse like this past May’s, many of us got to see our first new moon in years as its black silhouette carved the sun into a thick crescent.

Nova Sagittarii #4 photographed on July 16. Thanks and credit to: Bill Gucfa

Nova watchers – not the TV show, but that’s worth watching too – I’ve got good news for you. You can still catch Nova Sagittarii #4 in a small telescope. You might recall that this “new star” was discovered by Japanese amateurs earlier this month in the Teapot constellation Sagittarius.

It’s shining at about magnitude 9.0 and visible in any small scope. You can use the charts from my earlier blog and the photo at left to help you find it. I’ve added magnitudes from the AAVSO (American Assn. of Variable Star Observers) to Bill’s photo if you’d like to estimate the nova’s brightness on your own.

4 Responses

  1. Will Moylan

    Your photos are amazing! Is it possible to purchase a high-res print from you suitable for framing?
    I am especially taken with the photo with caption “The aurora saved its most colorful act for dawn, when the moon – along with Jupiter (top) and Venus – rose over Lake Superior as seen from Duluth’s Brighton Beach. ”
    Thanks for sharing your awesome work!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Will,
      I appreciate your kind words about the photos. You can buy a copy of that picture by going to, scrolling down to the blue Quick Clicks box and clicking on the “Buy a Photo” link there. Again, thank you!

Comments are closed.