Solar Minima

May 29, 2009

Way back in 2006 I brought (lugged) my telescope to my youngest daughter’s Grade One class to give the kiddies a close-up look at the sun.  Bear in mind, without proper filtration, looking at the sun is extremely dangerous (if you want to retain your vision, at all).

With the right gear, however, the sun shows itself to be a beautiful orb with darker patches called “sunspots” traversing its brilliant surface.  These spots are always a treat for people to see, in part because they reveal texture and depth to what we normally think of as simply a bright blob in the daytime firmament, and, they are often about the size of the Earth, so they offer a direct and proportional example of our size relationship with the center of our solar system. 

Sunspots increase with activity, and it was fortunate that a few were present for all the burgeoning astronomers anxious to peer at the engine that drives all light and life on our planet.

The interesting thing is, since that time, our sun has gone into it’s predictable 11 year Solar Minimum, with less activity, and therefore fewer sunspots.

But this Solar Minimum seems different.  It’s lasting longer, and has been a bit deeper than previous Solar Minima.  2007 was in the bottom 10 of spotless years for the 20th century, 2008 was even more sparsely spotted, and now 2009 has taken that trend even further!

Is THIS why in the Northeast USA we’re near June, and still consistently reaching temps only in the 60’s?  Is this why Las Vegas recorded snowfall later in the year than ever before?  Is this why our European skiers were recently so giddy?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But beyond the anecdotal experience, one wonders what would happen if we were at the threshold of a modern Maunder Minimum.

Check out Spaceweather.com  It’s a cool site, and great portal.

Then, when you have time, look up Maunder Minimum.

Then rent or buy the IMAX film, “Solar Max”.

Oh, and don’t put away your sweaters just yet.


Mars as BIG as THE MOON? WRONG!

May 5, 2009

Once again an email circulates, with pictures, saying:  “The Red Planet is about to be spectacular.  Earth is catching up with Mars for the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history!  On August 27th, to the naked eye, Mars will look as big as the Moon…”

Wrong.

It was wrong in 2003 when this garbage first got traction (because of poor media reporting and a confusion between size and brightness).  It’s still wrong today.

Only today, not only is it wrong, it’s dangerous.

Why?

First off, if Mars ever looks to your naked eye as big as the Moon, and you’re not in a spacecraft a few days away from making a landing on the Red Planet, then start praying, fast.  Either that, or just lay off the hallucinogens.

Apart from a telescope, or a serious, and fatal change in solar orbits, Mars WILL NEVER look to earthlings as big as our own Luna.  Never.  Never has.  Never will.

NOW HERE’S THE DANGEROUS PART…  This August, looking from Earth, Mars will be situated in the sky somewhat near to the Sun.  If an unsuspecting soul tries to see Mars in the daytime by using a telescope, should they pan the sky a bit and hit the Sun, they may very easily, and immediately, suffer permanent blindness.

So either aggressively use the DELETE button on your email, or use the REPLY ALL option if you care to set this one right, and simply type in “WRONG”.