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


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

This post was written by qni_it 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


Posted under space

This post was written by qni_it 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.


Posted under space

This post was written by qni_it on July 16, 2013

Northern Lights forecast

While it’s not likely we’ll see the aurora borealis here in Northern Illinois tonight, there’s a chance for folks 100-200 miles north of here. Ever wonder how far south the aurora will go? Here’s how it works:

This is the graph that shows the KP-Index. (It’s an auto-update image so this will be accurate at any time.) The higher the level, the better likelihood of seeing auroras further south into North America. Of course, your best chance of seeing the lights are in northern latitudes (Canada and Alaska). Here’s a look at some Midwestern cities and what KP-Index level is needed to see the aurora borealis. You don’t need me to remind you that you’ll only be able to view them when the sky is clear, you’re looking north, and there’s no light pollution nearby (orange glow from cities).

KP-7 Rockford, Illinois
KP-7 Chicago, Illinois
KP-6 Milwaukee, Wisconsin
KP-6 Madison, Wisconsin
KP-5 Green Bay, Wisconsin
KP-6 Grand Rapids, Michigan
KP-7 Detroit, Michigan
KP-5 Marquette, Michigan
KP-6 Rochester, Minnesota
KP-5 Minneapolis, Minnesota
KP-5 Duluth, Minnesota
KP-8 St. Louis, Missouri
KP-8 Indianapolis, Indiana
KP-7 Toledo, Ohio
KP-7 Des Moines, Iowa


Posted under science, space, weather geek

This post was written by qni_it on July 10, 2013

International Space Station Viewing

I gave a heads up that tonight was perfect for watching the ISS. Didn’t hear it? Become a 13 Weather Authority fan on Facebook by clicking here and you’ll get it next time.

Many folks thought it was cool enough to see again (and a few missed my post in time). So here you go! And if you’re wondering, the ISS is in orbit more than 200 miles above the surface of the earth, traveling at a smidge over 17,000 mph. -Eric 

Click here to find other dates and times for other locations.


Posted under space

This post was written by qni_it on June 18, 2013

Solar Forecast: Extremely Hot with a Chance of Rain?

Check out this amazing NASA video of a solar flare that occurred in July 2012. Accompanying the flare was a phenomenon known as coronal rain. Coronal rain is actually hot plasma, which cools and condenses in the strong magnetic fields produced by solar flares. The plasma is eventually pulled back toward the surface of the sun. The magnetic fields help create a visual illusion that allows the plasma to appear in patterns similar to rain, fountains, or even fireworks. -Joe


Posted under science, space, sunlight, weather geek

This post was written by qni_it on March 8, 2013

Ten years ago…

…I lived about a thousand miles away from home, forecasting the weather for East Texas on KLTV. February 1, 2003 became a day I will never forget.

It was a Saturday, a day I was off of work. My pup, Theo, was just about three years old and slept every night on the foot of my bed. He was a deep sleeper (as was I) but awoke abruptly that morning. Usually, if someone knocked on the door, he ran to the door to announce the arrival of a visitor. This time, he stood on top of the bed barking loudly, for no apparent reason. I calmed him down but within a minute there was a loud knocking on my front door. I scratched my head, threw on some shorts and opened the door. My next door neighbor Harrison, out of breath, was describing the sound of an explosion. We looked in all different directions in the sky and down Grande Boulevard, expecting to see a plume of smoke from a car wreck or something. In my calmer state, I assured him everything was alright and he needed to get back to the morning routine (of sleep). We were both in our 20s and 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday was not the time to be bushy-tailed and bright-eyed.

I got back into my warm bed and within another minute my phone rang. It was my mom calling from Illinois. Her first words were “Eric, are you watching CNN?” My first instinct was 9/11 as we both watched on TV what was happening to our country while talking on the phone. I went into the living room, turned on the TV to find the banner “Breaking News: Communication with Columbia Lost.” It took me a while to grasp the severity of the situation. When the news anchors showed the flight path from Texas to the landing site in Florida, I began to piece the events of my morning together.

A vivid sight in the sky was captured by a Tyler, Texas doctor February 1, 2003.

The loud “explosion” my neighbor heard (and that woke Theo) was the sound of the Space Shuttle Disaster. I told my mom I would call her back later and then ran next door to tell Harrison (now back in bed) what had happened. He immediately grabbed his camera and we jumped into my car. My first instinct was that of the shuttle sitting nose-first into a field nearby. At that time, we didn’t know it broke up on entry. I thought there might have been a mechanical failure that caused it to literally crash.

As we exited the gates of my apartment community, I remember the wail of emergency vehicles in all different directions. It was surreal as I had never heard that before. We drove southwest on Texas 155 toward Palestine as that’s where CNN said some of the crash debris had been located.

Because it was a February Saturday in East Texas, we noticed there were fires burning in fields as we left town. It was nothing out of the ordinary as farmers and ranchers typically did that sort of thing on weekends. Later in the day we found out the fires were that of burning debris that had been strewn over hundreds of square miles of East Texas.

I remember seeing pieces of twisted metal on the shoulders of Texas 155. Again, I didn’t think twice about it since it was a fairly busy highway and trucks lose their loads a lot and cars have fender-benders occasionally. Later that day, it became obvious to me that the debris was in fact from Columbia.

After being gone about 45 minutes, we decided we weren’t going to see anything and if there was something to see the authorities wouldn’t let us anywhere near it.

I called the KLTV newsroom to see if there was anything I could do but our assignment manager said that they were calling everyone in, except for the Meteorologists. I went back and watched the coverage for hours, not knowing what emotions I was supposed to feel. KLTV’s coverage lasted for days…literally, days. Our coverage revolved around Columbia as we became Ground Zero for our nation’s new tragedy. I remember how wonderfully the team came together. One of my dear friends Dana Dixon, a reporter for KLTV, was sent to Nacogdoches where NASA had set up a command post. She had the daunting task of reporting on the recognizable remains of the shuttle and its occupants. I remember she broke up a few times on the air as any true reporter sometimes does during significant events. She held it together day in and day out providing the latest information to me, our viewers, and the nation during national news cutins. That Saturday turned every employee of KLTV into a true journalist, all of which I was proud to work with. Heck! The TV station’s slogan was and still is “Proud of East Texas.”

Space Shuttle Columbia memorial at Arlington National Cemetery (Taken by 13News Anchor Eric Wilson two weeks ago)

I remember where I was during the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and on 9/11 and felt many of the same emotions ten years ago today. Just yesterday, I read an article that NASA knew there could be problems on re-entry, due to broken heat shield tiles on Columbia’s wing. Because another Shuttle wasn’t ready to be launched and Columbia’s mission was far removed from the International Space Station, they could either notify the crew and keep them in space (rapidly losing oxygen) or try to bring them back to Earth. I believe NASA made the right decision not to communicate their fears to the crew. Instead of potentially dying in space, gasping the last available breaths of air, they died in a few seconds on re-entry as heroes…modern-day pioneers. The risks they took along with their final sacrifice should never be forgotten, whether it is the 10th anniversary or the 11th, or the 200th!

For me, I remember more from Saturday February 1, 2003 than I do six days ago. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be an astronaut when I was really young. But most likely it was because it hit so close to home.



Posted under aviation, news, safety, space

This post was written by qni_it on February 1, 2013

The comet of the century?

As a kid, I vividly remember the awe and wonder surrounding Halley’s Comet which floated through the sky in 1986. I had posters, special commemorative Matchbox cars, and tons of magazines. The thought I would get to see a comet, not visible for another 75 years fueled that wonder.

Now, a new group of astronomers have discovered a comet that some say could be brighter than the moon! Here’s what “Ison” looked like in September…barely noticeable! It’s still very far off, beyond the orbit of Jupiter. But by November 2013, it will be close enough to possibly become the brightest thing in the night sky!

Ison will pass 1.1 million miles from the sun’s surface. As it buzzes through, the comet’s chunks of rock and ice will be heated, reflecting the light from the sun. By late autumn, Ison will be viewable in the sky in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. There’s a chance Ison could break up and burn apart as it nears the sun, but if it doesn’t, it could illuminate our sky into January 2014.

If Ison wasn’t enough to spark your comet-interest, another comet called “2014 L4” was discovered in 2011. It could light up the skies in March and April.

(sources: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/brighter-than-a-full-moon-the-biggest-star-of-2013-could-be-ison–the-comet-of-the-century-8431443.html http://earthsky.org/space/big-sun-diving-comet-ison-might-be-spectacular-in-2013)

Comet Lovejoy is reflected in the water near Perth, Australia on December 21, 2011. Image Credit: Colin Legg.


Posted under science, space

This post was written by qni_it on December 28, 2012

Geminid Meteor Shower peaks Thursday Night

Tonight: Mostly Clear. Lows around 30.
Thursday Night: Mostly Clear. Lows around 29.
Friday Night: Cloudy with Rain. Lows around 36.

Get ready for one of the most stunning displays of shooting stars of the year! According to NASA, the Geminid meteor shower this year lasts from Dec. 10-16, with Thursday night, Dec. 13, anticipated to be the peak time for viewing. There could be more than 50 meteors per hour. But get ready for even more per hour since there is debris left over from Comet Wirtanen which could add another 30-50 meteors per hour! That would be specatcular!

The Geminids are debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. NASA said Phaethon was long thought to be an asteroid but is now classified as the rocky remnant of an extinct comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun.

In order to get your best glimpse of the Geminids, get out of the city, away from the lights. Give your eyes time to relax and get used to the dark sky. Then, look up. Most Geminids usually fall shortly after midnight, centered around 2am local time. The time holds true, no matter what time zone you’re in.

Enjoy! And be sure to let us know what you’re seeing! -Eric



Posted under space, weather geek

This post was written by qni_it on December 12, 2012

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…….

If you have ever gazed up at the night sky and tried to envision distant planets in unexplored depths of space, tonight you will be able to catch a glimpse of one of those very planets. As the sun sets this evening, find the moon in the early night sky. You’ll find it in the north northeast and you also should notice something else just as bright. A slightly smaller, but equally impressive “star-like” body will be near the moon all night long. That apparent star is actually the planet Jupiter. The moon is over 1,500 times closer to the Earth than Jupiter is so it will appear to move throughout the night and Jupiter will remain stationary. It will be easily visible with the naked eye, however if you happen to own a telescope you are in luck. Through the weekend, especially on Sunday night, the rings and moons of Jupiter will be incredibly visible by telescopes and even binoculars. Check out the view that is out of this planet! -Greg


Posted under First Look, space

This post was written by qni_it on November 29, 2012