A Martian in the Sky

Tonight we will have a big and bright view of Mars thanks to its positioning and a mostly clear sky. Today is the “Opposition of Mars”, meaning that it a day when the Earth is directly between Mars and the Sun. As the sun sets in the west, look off to the east and you will find Mars slowly beginning to rise. Around midnight, look straight up! Mars will shine brightly and appear up to 10 times brighter than the brightest star in the sky. It will have a burnt orange color. If you have a telescope, it will be close enough to pick out the frozen north pole of the Martian planet. CaptureOh, and if you take any pictures, post them on our Facebook page or email us! – Greg

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This post was written by GregBobos on April 8, 2014

Northern Lights possible tonight

NORTHERNLIGHTSHey skywatchers!

Tonight may be your night to see the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis). Residents in England caught some dramatic shots of these earlier in the night. As night falls on the eastern part of North America right now, I expect to see some come in. The big question is how far south will they be?

dark-sky-03There’s a pretty decent chance of seeing them in Northern Wisconsin tonight. Here in Northern Illinois? We’ll see! Remember, in order to see the lights you must get away from the city lights and look directly north. Your proximity to a city will decrease your chance to see them because of light pollution (shown in the image to the left). You may see some greens and reds if it intensifies at all. If you see them, click on our Facebook page and let us know! Of course, if you get any camera shots, send them at once (either on Facebook or via e-mail)! space station

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on February 27, 2014

Satellite may crash to Earth next week

1107-satellite-falling_full_600Just a week or so ago I blogged about an asteroid that passed close enough to come between the Earth and the Moon. Now astronomers are watching a satellite that ran out of fuel. Because there’s nothing to keep it in orbit, the Earth’s gravity will likely bring it down sometime next week!

The satellite, named GOCE, or the European Space Agency’s “Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer,” weighs 2,425 pounds. Calculations have it falling to Earth as early as Sunday, November 10th. The problem is no one can predict where it will fall!

What’s for certain is the satellite will break up into many pieces, but some of those pieces could fall to the earth. RedPlanet.com says some could weigh as much as 200 pounds.

This satellite is at the end of its life, but is a large piece of equipment. A day before reentry, scientists hope to pinpoint the impact to a four to five hour timeframe. Since most of the Earth is covered with water, it is not likely to crash-land in a city or highly populated area. Instead, it will likely fall in a 15-20 square yard uninhabited area.

We’ll keep you updated! -Eric

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on November 8, 2013

Asteroid to come between the Earth and Moon

asteroidNew information tonight about an asteroid that will pass very close to the Earth within the next hour. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the space rock is about the size of a semi truck trailer. It will safely pass Earth October 29th around 4:45pm CDT.

According to NBC News, the rock was first observed just a few days ago, on October 25th. The path will bring it inside the orbit of the moon, which typically circles Earth from a distance of 239,000 miles. The asteroid is said to be between 39 and 89 feet wide, which means it is on the smaller end of near-Earth objects that NASA monitors as threats to our planet.

This asteroid is not expected to be visible, as it will not come in contact with Earth’s atmosphere. -Eric

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on October 29, 2013

Tips for seeing the Northern Lights

lightsEarlier this evening on the 13 Weather Authority Facebook page I gave you the heads up on possibly being able to see the Northern Lights tonight. I’ve seen a few reports from Southern Wisconsin. Before the 10pm newscast, I walked across the streets, allowed my eyes to adjust, and could see some faint green!

In order to see the lights, you must get away from the city lights and look directly north. Thankfully right now the Big Dipper is directly north. Allow your eyes to adjust by closing them completely for a minute or so. Then look north and focus on one spot. You may see some greens and reds if it intensifies at all.

Share your pics on Facebook or email to weather@wrex.com. Good luck! -Eric

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on October 8, 2013

Forecast: Small chance of Aurora Borealis next few nights

A Coronal Mass Ejection was observed on the sun early Tuesday morning. This video shows the filament, some 50 times the size of the Earth, exploding off the sun! It’s really cool to notice in the graphic below the size comparison between the Earth and the Sun.

Capture
The timing could produce a minor geomagnetic storm in the coming days. These could produce an Aurora (or Northern Lights) in the coming nights. We’ll be sure to let you know if we get to storm level! You can always check for yourself by bookmarking this link from the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on August 20, 2013

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… the I.S.S!

Tonight marks our third full moon out of four this summer (a rare occurrence) and is therefore considered a “blue moon”, but it isn’t the only reason you should look up tonight! CaptureThe International Space Station will be visible for two minutes tonight starting at 9:36PM and if you can’t make it outside tonight then you can catch it tomorrow. The space station will fly by at 8:47PM tomorrow and take 4 minutes to make its journey across the night sky. It will look similar to a shooting star but move far more slowly. The I.S.S. will track across the sky from the northwest to the southeast. -Greg

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This post was written by GregBobos on August 20, 2013

Once in a blue moon!

We’ve all heard the phrase (and maybe if we’re older than 21, popped the cap on one), but have you ever wondered what the phrase means?
CaptureA blue moon is simply the second full moon that occurs within a calendar month. But Shirley Ryan in Oregon, Illinois wants to know “If a full moon occurs every 29.5 days, how can we possibly have a second full moon in August on the 21st?” That’s because this blue moon is a “Seasonal Blue Moon,” which means it’s the fourth full moon in a season (not sticking to our traditional definition)! According to Space.com, the “second full moon in a calendar month” was a mistake from a 1940s “Sky and Telescope” article that stuck!)

Let’s go further. Since the lunar cycle is different than our calendar (which determines the length of one year as 365.25 days), we accumulate extra days within the lunar cycle!

While “traditional blue moons” occur more often than the phrase leads you to believe, a “Seasonal Blue Moon” won’t occur again until until 2016!

With the added haze in the air, the moon will take on an extra-orange look during moonrise and moonset. If you don’t live in the Rockford, Illinois area, you can use this link to find the moonrise and moonset in your area.

Who’s up for a toast to the Blue Moon with a Blue Moon? -Eric

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Posted under event, news, science, space, statistics, weather geek

This post was written by Eric Sorensen on August 19, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower peaks this weekend

CaptureGet ready for quite a light show overhead the next few nights. This example of the Perseid Meteor Shower comes to us from Mike Evans. He took this photo at Van Buren State Park in Michigan. He scheduled his family’s camping trip around the Meteor Shower! “The kids loved it and I went through many rolls of film to capture this meteor. Great thing about this picture is that most people recognize the Big Dipper and can relate to the length of the meteor’s tail. You can also see how the color changes of the meteor trail from a blue to bright orange almost white at the tip, showing how the temperature changed as the meteor entered deeper into our atmosphere.”

Mike, definitely a one in a million capture. Thanks for sharing with us! The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks Sunday. Best way to view the “shooting stars” is to get away from the city, and look up and to the northeast. NASA says there could be around 100 meteors per hour at its peak. -Eric

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on August 8, 2013

Space Emergency on the ISS tonight

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano (foreground) discusses the situation with crewmates on the International Space Station after Tuesday's aborted spacewalk.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano (foreground) discusses the situation with crewmates on the International Space Station after Tuesday’s aborted spacewalk. NASA-TV

(AP) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — In one of the most harrowing spacewalks in decades, an astronaut had to rush back into the International Space Station on Tuesday after a mysterious water leak inside his helmet robbed him of the ability to speak or hear, and could have caused him to choke or even drown.Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano was reported to be fine after the dangerous episode, which might have been caused by a leak in the cooling system of his suit. His spacewalking partner, NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy, had to help him inside after Mission Control quickly aborted the spacewalk.

No one — neither the astronauts in orbit nor flight controllers in Houston — breathed easier until Parmitano was back inside and his helmet was yanked off.

“He looks miserable. But OK,” Cassidy assured everyone.

It was the first time in years that a spacewalk came to such an abrupt halt, and the first time since NASA’s Gemini program in the mid-1960s that a spacewalker became so incapacitated. Spacewalking always carries high risk; a puncture by a micrometeorite or sharp edge, if big enough, could result in instant death.

Perilous situation
In an afternoon news conference, NASA acknowledged the perilous situation that Parmitano had found himself in, and space station operations manager Kenneth Todd promised to “turn over every rock” to make sure it never happens again.

Spacewalking is dangerous already, noted flight director David Korth. Then on top of that, “go stick your head in a fishbowl and try to walk around. That’s not anything that you take lightly,” he said. “He did a great job of just keeping calm and cool” as the amount of water ominously increased.

“Grace under pressure,” Korth said.

The two astronauts were outside barely an hour, performing routine cable work on their second spacewalk in eight days, when Parmitano reported the leak. It progressively worsened as the minutes ticked by, drenching the back of his head, then his eyes, nose and, finally, mouth. He could have choked or drowned on the floating globs of water, NASA officials acknowledged.

Between 1 and 1.5 liters (quarts) of water leaked into his helmet and suit, NASA estimated.

The source of the leak wasn’t immediately known, but the main culprit appeared to be water that is piped through the long underwear worn under a spacesuit, for cooling. The system holds nearly 4 liters, or 1 gallon. Less likely was the 32-ounce (1-liter) drink bag that astronauts sip from during lengthy spacewalks; Parmitano reported that the leaking water tasted odd.

His last words before becoming mum were: “It’s a lot of water.”

‘How much can I sweat?’
At first, Parmitano, 36, a former test pilot and Italy’s first spacewalker, thought it was sweat accumulating on the back of his bald head. But he was repeatedly assured it was not sweat. He agreed. “How much can I sweat?” he wondered aloud. It was only his second spacewalk.

The water eventually got into Parmitano’s eyes. That’s when NASA ordered the two men back inside. Then the water drenched his nose and mouth, and he had trouble hearing on the radio lines.

Cassidy quickly cleaned up the work site once Parmitano was back in the air lock, then followed him in.

The three Russians and one American who anxiously monitored the drama from inside hustled to remove Parmitano’s helmet. They clustered around him, eight hands pulling off his helmet and using towels to mop his head. Balls of water floated away.

Parmitano blinked hard several times but otherwise looked fine as he gestured with his hands to show his crewmates where the water had crept around his head.

Cassidy told Mission Control: “To him, the water clearly did not taste like our normal drinking water.” A smiling Parmitano then chimed in: “Just so you know, I’m alive and I can answer those questions, too.”

He later tweeted: “Thanks for all the positive thoughts!”

Spares in space
Mission Control praised the crew for its fast effort and hooked them up with flight surgeons on the ground. Engineers, meanwhile, scrambled to determine the source of the leak.

Spare spacesuits and equipment are on board for future NASA spacewalks.

The four remaining spacewalks planned for this year involve Russian astronauts wearing Russian suits, different from the U.S. models. They’re preparing for the arrival later this year of a new Russian lab. The year’s previous four spacewalks encountered no major snags. This was the 171st spacewalk in the 15-year history of the orbiting outpost.

There was no immediate word on when Tuesday’s undone tasks might be attempted again. None of the chores was urgent; they were simply things that had piled up over the past couple years.

It was the fastest end to a spacewalk since 2004, when Russian and American spacewalkers were ordered back in by Mission Control outside Moscow because of spacesuit trouble. That spacewalk lasted a mere 14 minutes. Tuesday’s spacewalk lasted one hour and 32 minutes.

Decades of aborted spacewalks
During NASA’s old shuttle program, spacewalks occasionally were stymied by stuck hatches and ripped gloves. By coincidence, Cassidy had to end a 2009 station-building spacewalk early because of a potentially dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide in his suit.

In 1966, two Gemini flights ended up with aborted spacewalks. Gemini 11 spacewalker Richard Gordon, was blinded by sweat. Gemini 9 spacewalker Gene Cernan breathed so heavily and sweated so much that fog collected inside his helmet visor and froze.

On the Russian side, the world’s first spacewalker, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, could barely get back into his spacecraft in 1965. He had to vent precious oxygen from his suit in order to fit through the hatch. Decades passed before his peril came to light.

This was the second spacewalk for Parmitano, a major with the Italian Air Force. He became the first Italian to conduct a spacewalk last Tuesday, six weeks after moving into the space station.

Cassidy, 43, a former Navy SEAL, is a six-time spacewalker. He’s midway through a half-year station stint.

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This post was written by Eric Sorensen on July 16, 2013