Eclipse at 44,000 feet
This photo is beyond words, but I’ll try anyway! While many awesome eclipse photos floating around the interwebs are fake (like this one), I assure you this otherworldly scene is 100% real.
It’s incredible for not only what it shows, but how ridonkulously difficult it was to take in the first place:
Last weekend’s solar eclipse (as seen here from space) was a short one, and it traced much of its inky path over the Atlantic ocean, meaning that, unless you were a particularly astronomically-minded whale, you didn’t get to see it first-hand.
That didn’t stop the folks behind this photo. Ben Cooper and his team chartered a jet out of Bermuda and set off to intercept the eclipse over the open ocean.
Here’s where it gets tough. Their plane was flying at 500 mph, aiming perpendicularly (north-south) across the path of the eclipse. The moon’s shadow, crossing in front of the sun, was traveling across the Atlantic at 8,000 mph. From their longitude, the eclipse was only set to last 10-15 seconds. They had to essentially hit a bullet with another bullet, in a ten second window, and take a picture of it to boot.
And what a picture they got! Just an instant after totality the sun is beginning to creep out from behind the moon, creating a “diamond ring” effect. The plane and the clouds below are bathed in darkness, while billows along the horizon glow, still bathed in non-eclipsed light. Wow.
If you need me, I’ll be staring at this for a few hours.
Sunspots Throughout History
These “dark” spots are still quite bright, and their temperature is still quite hot. Only when they reside next to the unblemished photosphere do they appear as blotches on the solar surface (thanks to the mathematical relationship between temperature and black body luminosity). They are sites of intense magnetic activity, disrupting the flow of plasma on the sun’s surface and often associated with massive solar flares.
Since Big Bear Solar Observatory recently captured the clearest image of a sunspot yet (top), I thought it would be fun to look at our observations of sunspots throughout history.
From the top, L-R: Big Bear Solar Observatory’s Sauronesque new image. John of Worcester sketched his crude interpretation in 1129. Galileo was among the first to correctly ascribe the spots to the sun, and not a passing planet, in 1612. Fizeau and Foucault took the first daguerrotype of a sunspot in 1845. And Samuel Pierpont Langley sketched a sunspot worth a spot in a museum in 1845.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if astronauts got to go up to space only to see no stellar beauty?
While it’s true that astronauts often can’t see stars from orbit, it doesn’t have to do with whether or not there’s an atmosphere. It’s actually pretty simple, and it’s the same reason you can’t see stars in the middle of the day: That dang sun.
If the sun is out, it reflects a massive amount of light off Earth’s surface, far more light than any stars (other than our sun) are giving off. On Earth, the molecules in the atmosphere scatter the sun’s light and make our sky blue and starless in the day time. To an astronaut on the day side of Earth, there’s no atmosphere to scatter a blue sky, but the effect on the stars is equally obfuscating.
Staring into the void, an astronaut’s eyes don’t have the dynamic range to see tiny, dim dots of light when there’s other sources of illumination around. It’s similar to how it’s hard to look out a window into the dark of night when you’re in a lit room.
The same thing happens on the moon. That’s why Apollo pictures are so brilliantly lit, but the sky above them is devoid of stars.
If an astronaut is on the night side of Earth, and there’s no light from the moon, then they can definitely see stars. Here’s some gorgeous video proof:
Loops of plasma on the Sun, four times wider than Earth.
This is like staring at those arcs of iron filings you’d put up next to a bar magnet when you were a kid, curved around an unseen field and subject to the mysterious forces of of magnetism, only made of brilliantly hot plasma that could melt our planet in the blink of an eye.
In other words, awesome.
The very first photo of the moon, taken by John William Draper in 1839.
Draper immigrated to the United States from England and became a chemistry professor at NYU. This daguerreotype print was the first of a series of silver platinum plates he shot using a telescope. Draper was also the first person to shoot a portrait in America, a photograph of his sister Dorothy-Catherine . In 1864, he became chairman of the American Photographic Association.
Pair with Ordering the Heavens, a visual history of humanity’s quest to depict the cosmos before telescopes.
Curious how it was done before we had fancy space telescopes? I recommend this slideshow from National Geographic: Milestones in Space Photography, featuring the first shot of the sun, taken by Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault in 1845:
Happy Manhattanhenge 2013!!
I’ll let Neil deGrasse Tyson set this up:
What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year …
Today is one of those special days, when the setting sun lines up perfectly with Manhattan’s street grid. Look to the west at sunset TONIGHT, May 28, and you’ll see a show that would make Stonehenge’s Druids bow to their sun god. So get outside and go experience the coincidental alignment of manmade structures with solar phenomena!! Don’t worry if you’re stuck at your desk tonight, it will happen again on July 13, 2013 as the sun makes its way south in the sky after the summer solstice.
The sun will touch the horizon at 8:16 PM ET, so get those cameras ready! It sounds like the weather kind of sucks today, but maybe you’ll get lucky.
Special note to New Yorkers: Here’s some good streets to aim for. If anyone would like to share their photos (assuming you can see anything through the clouds) from tonight’s Manhattanhenge, feel free to email them to itsokaytobesmart at gmail.com or tweet me. Or send me a message on Tumblr! I even accept carrier pigeon?
More about the images above: The sketched tribute to Manhattanhenge was drawn by Dr. Tyson himself! Read more about it at Brain Pickings. The rest are courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons: asterix611, @NYCphotos, 4rilla, Randy Le’Moine)
The star at the heart of our solar system has released three X-class solar flares (the most powerful class of flares) and their associated waves of charged particles in the past 24 hours. Luckily for us, they have been pointed away from Earth, as seen in the upper left of the video above from NASA.
NASA’s SDO and SOHO satellites captured the explosive magnetic arcs and bursts of plasma in stunning form in the video, which is full-screen worthy. By viewing the sun through different wavelength filters (the colored angstrom filters you see above) we can zoom in on activity happening at different temperatures and involving different ionized elements from hydrogen to iron.
This happens as the sun ramps up for its predicted 11-year solar maximum later in 2013. Wear your sun(plasma)block!
Don’t you wish there was sound in space so you could hear these things? Sigh.