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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Night Sky
 

Enjoy the starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor. Reduce nighttime glare. Shield your outside lights downward. Let the stars light up the night.

June 2013 night sky

—Charlie Christmann

Solar activity heats up

The sun seems to be hitting its peak. Approximately every eleven years, the sun gets very active before heading into the next lull. Through May 10, the sun has unleashed several M-class flares (mid-level in X-ray energy). On May 13 and 14, sunspot number 1748 fired off two X-class eruptions lofting two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into space. Again, spot 1748 shot another X-class flare and CME from the solar surface. A forth M-class also erupted on May 16.

The resulting CMEs rocked the Earth’s magnetic field producing northern lights as far south as Colorado the evening of May 19. While none of these flares threatened us on the surface of the Earth, such events can cause havoc with satellites, GPS, and astronauts in orbit.

As I write this article, a new sunspot is just beyond the eastern edge of the sun. We know it is there as the bright X-ray flashes from M-class flares have been observed rising above the solar horizon.

Lunar Assault

On May 17, anyone watching the Moon at the right moment could have witnessed a bright flash in Mare Imbrium. The flash was the result of a space rock, about 1.5 feet across traveling at 56,000 miles per hour slamming into the lunar surface. Impacts like that create large amounts of energy we see as a flash.

Asteroid impacts with the Moon are common, naked-eye visible impacts are not. That same evening, NASA and University of Western Ontario all-sky cameras captured several large fireballs. Current thinking is that the events are related. The calculated orbits of the meteor and fireballs match, signaling a possible unknown stream of debris along Earth’s orbit.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is on the lookout for a new sixty-foot-wide crater in the Lunar Sea.

More business in New Mexico

The Governor’s office announced that SpaceX has signed a three-year agreement to use Spaceport America for flight-testing. They plan to bring their Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing “Grasshopper” vehicle to New Mexico for more testing.

SpaceX joins Virgin Galactic at Spaceport America, pushing New Mexico deeper into the future of manned spaceflight.


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