Apr 04 2012

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Sprites Seen on March 30th – Showing Up Early This Year

Thursday, Apr. 5, 2012

INCOMING CME: A magnetic filament connected to sunspot AR1450 erupted on April 2nd, hurling a faint CME in the direction of Earth. A weak impact is expected sometime on April 4th. NOAA forecasters estimate a 15% to 25% chance of polar geomagnetic storms when the cloud arrives. Aurora alerts: text, phone.

EIGHT SISTERS: For one more night, the Seven Sisters are actually Eight. Look west after sunset to see Venus on the outskirts of the Pleiades star cluster, temporarily adding its bright light to the cluster’s delicate luminosity. Amateur astronomer Doug Zubenel photographed the conjunction last night from DeSoto, Kansas:

“The view of Venus, an eighth sister among the Pleiades framed by branches bearing freshly opened oak leaves, was nothing short of mind-blowing!!” he says.

Tonight, Venus exits the cluster, so this is your last chance to see a meeting that occurs only once every 8 years. Don’t miss it.

more images: from Fred Espenak of Portal, Arizona; from Kamila Mazurkiewicz of Puławy, Poland; from Jimmy Westlake of Steamboat Springs, Colorado; from Efe Tuncel of Ankara, Turkey; from Fritz Helmut Hemmerich of Tenerife (Canary Islands); from Marion Haligowski of Phoenix, Arizona; from Aaron Top of Shallow Lake, Ontario; from Marek Nikodem of Szubin, Poland; from M. Raşid Tuğral of Ankara, Turkiye; from Ugur Ikizler of Mudanya – Bursa / Turkey; from Gadi Eidelheit of Givat Shmuel, Israel

SPRITE SEASON BEGINS: The first sprites of summer are starting to appear in the skies of North America. The strange thing is, summer is almost three months away. “Sprite season is beginning early this year,” says Thomas Ashcraft, who photographed these specimens on March 30th from his observatory in New Mexico:

“At precisely two minutes and twenty-six seconds after midnight March 30, 2012 there was an incredibly powerful bolt of lightning in the vicinity of Woodward, Oklahoma that spawned these red sprites,” says Ashcraft. “I could see them from two states away!” He also recorded VLF and shortwave radio emissions from the cluster, which you can hear as the soundtrack to this video.

Sprites are electrical discharges that come out of the top of thunderclouds, opposite ordinary lightning bolts which plunge toward Earth. Sprites can tower as high as 90 km above ground. That makes them a form of space weather as they overlap the zone of auroras, meteors, and noctilucent clouds.

Because they are associated with lightning, sprites are most often seen in summer months, “but in the past few days sprites have been reported in Texas (particularly near the Mexican border) as well as here in New Mexico,” notes Ashcraft.

So if there’s lightning where you live, be alert for sprites.

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