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.
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 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.