More Auroras, Less Dragon Spit And An Odd Shiny Object On Mars

Last night’s aurora simmers beneath the Big Dipper (left). At right is the Kp index chart showing magnetic activity high in Earth’s atmosphere. When the Kp reaches 5, a minor geomagnetic storm with accompanying auroras is in progress. Last night, it shot up to 6 (moderate storm) and stayed there well into the morning. Credit: Bob King (left) and NOAA

First let’s check in on the aurora. Last night’s display continued well into the morning hours. Our sky clouded after 11:30 p.m. but I’m not complaining. The few openings were enough to relish the lively show.

A large coronal hole (dark spot) that may lead to more northern lights. Photographed on Oct. 6 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

Chances look good again tonight and tomorrow night for at least minor storms. While the effects of the coronal mass ejection (CME) are waning, reinforcements are now coming from an Earth-directed coronal hole. The holes or openings in the sun’s otherwise zippered up magnetic field allow charged particles like electrons and protons to escape and stream outward into space at high speed. When they flow past our planet, they can sometimes stimulate auroras. Yes, Earth’s getting a pounding … and we love it! I’ll update later this evening.

How about those Draconid meteors? I never saw any. Few reports from other observers around the world have come in to confirm visually what the Canadian radar recorded yesterday. Evidently the meteors nabbed by radar were too small to leave trails bright enough for the naked eye to see. According to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, a  strand of dust shed by the shower’s parent comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1959 was responsible for the sudden and brief jump in meteors.

A photo of Curiosity’s first scoop of soil yesterday also reveals a shiny, possibly metallic object lower in the frame inside the blue circle. Loaded scoop is above center. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We won’t have to wait long for the next meteor shower, the reliable Orionids brought to us by Halley’s Comet. That one peaks on the mornings of Oct. 20-22. No moon will mar the view.

A cropped version of the picture above showing the object. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

While the Curiosity Rover jitterbugged its first soil sample to make sure the scoop free of Earth contaminants, its cameras spotted a small, shiny object embedded in the Martian soil. It could be metallic and possibly a piece of hardware or even tape that got loose and dropped to the ground. Mission controllers are suspending soil sampling for the time being as they position the rover’s cameras for a better look. We’ll have an update later today especially if it turns out to be a bolt left behind by an early Martian mechanic.

Tomorrow we’ll have times when you can watch the space station link up with the latest Dragon supply ship launched earlier this week by SpaceX.

12 Responses

  1. Richard Keen

    Looks to me like the rover driver dropped the key. Good thing there’s no snow – they’d never find it.
    Now they can continue up the hill.

  2. Robert

    Hi Bob- I hope you are able to take a bunch of good aurora photos tonight. Unfortunately, it’s been overcast in my area the last two days so I’d like to see what I’m missing. Good luck and hopefully Good aurora. Robert

    1. astrobob

      Thanks for the good wishes, Robert. We’ve got partly cloudy skies forecast late – let’s hope the aurora shows again.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Laura,
      Nice to hear from you in Scotland. Right now (23:30 Greenwich time), activity is low and you would probably not see anything. Keep an eye on the northern sky from a dark location, especially low in the north, for rays. I’ll update the blog later this evening if the aurora shows. Good luck!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Dave,
      You’re in a nice dark area. There is a minor “storm” in progress right now but it looks like it’s happening much farther north. I don’t see anything here in Duluth, Minn. yet. I’ll be keeping tabs till around midnight, so stop back then or just have a look in your northern sky.

    2. astrobob

      A small correction. There was a minor storm in progress around 7 p.m. this evening. It’s quiet for the moment. No indicators show an aurora in the northern U.S. as of 10 p.m. CDT. Still waiting.

  3. Any chance of seeing the aurora from the Minneapolis area?

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    I have been following your postings the last week. Finally up-to-date information that anyone can understand!
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