Looking at the Sun

stamps

It has been a very hot week across the U.S.  To launch summer, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps with NASA views of the Sun from their Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which was a spacecraft launched in 2010. It has been collecting science data and its two imaging instruments provide complementary views of the Sun. (If you’re wondering about the colors shown here,  see the video at the bottom.)

More than a decade of SDO observations has provided hundreds of millions of images of our neighboring star as it orbits Earth.

The stamps feature 10 images from SDO and most of these images are in extreme ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes.

Here are a few images in motion that are used on the stamps.

The bright flash on the Sun’s upper right is a powerful solar flare. Solar flares are bursts of light and energy that can disturb the part of Earth’s atmosphere where GPS and radio signals travel.

This golden view of the “active Sun” highlights the many active regions that are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields on the Sun – linked to sunspots – that are prone to erupting with solar flares or explosions of material called coronal mass ejections.

This cool-toned image shows a dark area capping the northern polar region of the Sun. This is a coronal hole, a magnetically open area on the Sun from which high-speed solar wind escapes into space. Such high-speed solar wind streams can spark magnificent auroral displays on Earth when they collide with our planet’s magnetic field.

Stick some Sun on your mail this summer.

We Are Tilted at 23.5 Degrees

solstice Stonehenge
A solstice at Stonehenge

Summer solstice 2021 in Northern Hemisphere arrives today. In the Eastern time zone, it arrives precisely at 11:31 PM. That seems odd to me. It thought it usually seems to occur early morning or during the day, so summer coming in darkness feels odd. But it still arrives.

Though the solstice is the first official day of summer, many of us in this hemisphere have been feeling like it has been summer for a few weeks. Flowers are blooming. I have been to the Atlantic Ocean and sat on a beach along the Jersey shore, as I have every summer of my life.

In the northern part of the world going back to much older times, the solstice was celebrated as midsummer. Some people believed that some plants had magical properties today. Fairies, ghosts, and spirits were thought to be especially active today. Mr. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays off many of those beliefs which were not considered true in his time. But those things were certainly known to his audience and there were certainly people then (and now) that weren’t so sure it was all just a “fairy tale.”

In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces.

The Druidic name for the Summer Solstice is Alban Hefin, which means ‘The Light of the Shore” or ‘Light of Summer.” In pre-Christian Ireland and England, the movements of the sun formed the calendar and were based around the high-, mid- and low- points of the sun. Equinoxes and solstices were measured and celebrated at monuments around the island. Stonehenge is the most famous place but there were others throughout the land.

Of course, this is the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and that idea never ceases to amaze me even though I know it is all about the Earth being tilted on its axis. It is not a huge tilt – 23.5 degrees – but that is what makes the difference between winter and summer.

Now, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, receiving more direct radiation for longer periods of time each day. For me in Paradelle and others in the north, this will be the longest day(light) of the year and tonight will be the shortest night.

Celestial things don’t always seem logical. As a child, I would have said that summer meant we were closer to the Sun. Wrong. We are about 3 million miles farther away than we are in winter.

These days Midsummer’s Eve is still celebrated sometime between June 21 and June 24, especially in Scandinavia, Latvia, and other locations in Northern Europe. I am told it is right behind Christmas on the holiday list.

If I was feeling my ancestors from Northern Europe more strongly today I might have made this weekend more of a holiday and danced around maypoles and burned straw witches in a bonfire. I did bring some fresh flowers into the house and I could light up the fire pit. It’s no Stonehenge but then again it is 2021.

A Faint Eclipse on the Mourning Moon

Mourning Moon

The Full Moon for November is late, arriving tomorrow (the 30th) at 09:30 UTC, because the last Full Moon was on the last day of October. Here in Paradelle, the Moon will be full at 4:30 AM EST appearing opposite the Sun.

But the Moon always appears full for about three days around this time, so from Saturday night through Tuesday morning, it seems to most people that there is a Full Moon.

There will also be a very faint penumbral lunar eclipse. It will be nearly imperceptible, so you probably won’t see anything when you look up at that Full Moon even while it is happening.  I suppose a really careful observer, maybe with a telescope in a dark place, might see a subtle shading on the Moon

This celestial event made me think of the poem by Billy Collins, “As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse” from his collection, Nine Horses.

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin…

That poem reminds me of  a solar system model that was in a number of my school classrooms where you could move the planets around the Sun which made me, like Collins, feel like “a benevolent god presiding / over a miniature creation myth.”
What you will be able to see in the night sky near the Moon during the eclipse is a reddish star called Aldebaran. That star is the Eye of the Bull in Taurus. The tiny dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster (which is used in the Subaru emblem) will be nearby.

The November Full Moon has many names. In the past, we have used many of these names, especially those that apply to Paradelle nature signs, such as the Beaver Moon, Fog Moon, Moon of the Falling Leaves, Frost Moon, and Snow Moon.

In some pagan traditions, this is the Mourning Moon. Though many of us reflect on the year and make personal changes in our lives with the new year, this Full Moon can be seen as a time to let go of the past. If there is a bad habit, fears or emotions that are weighing you down, you are supposed to send them off as the moon rises Monday morning. A morning Mourning Moon for 2020 – a year many of us are quite willing to let go.

Missed Meteors and Getting Closest to the Sun

meteorI missed the first major celestial event of 2020 – The Quadrantids meteor shower which peaked Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Murphy’s Law of Astronomy around here made it rainy and cloudy again. That’s a shame because the Quadrantids are short-lived and known for bright fireball meteors with long, glowing tails.

Poor old constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant hence the meteors’ name) is one of the former constellations that was demoted, but the meteors continue to shoot out of that quadrant.

sunrise sunset

The second event is unobservable with your eyes. Earth will reach its closest point to the sun for the whole of 2020 on January 4 or 5 (depends on your time zone). It happened today, January 5, at 07:48 UTC (2:48 a.m. Eastern Time) while I was sleeping.

This is what astronomers call perihelion – Greek peri meaning near and helios meaning sun. Shouldn’t it feel warmer if the Sun is “only” 91,398,199 miles (147,091,144 km) away?  Nope. That elliptical orbit has nothing to do with seasons.

In fact, in early July 4, 2020, when the Earth reaches aphelion (most distant point), it will be much hotter here in Paradelle though the Sun will be 94,507,635 miles (152,095,295 km) away from us.

Being 3 million miles closer to the sun today doesn’t seem to make a big difference in our lives – though it seems like it should. It does affect seasonal lengths because right now Earth is moving fastest in its orbit around the Sun. That makes my Northern Hemisphere winter and someone else’s Southern Hemisphere summer the shortest seasons.

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Does the Sun Feel Closer Today?

Does the Sun feel any closer to you today? I don’t mean does it feel warmer – though you might assume that to be true if it was any closer. Tonight, January 2, 2019, Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun for this entire year.

The moment of this special point in our orbit is called perihelion, a word we get from the Greek roots peri (near) and helios (sun).  The actual moment of perihelion will be 11:20 p.m. CST tonight.

Don’t expect to feel anything. Like most celestial occurrences, we don’t feel the effects immediately (like the change of seasons) or at all (like perihelion).

How close is close for the Sun? Earth will be 91,403,554 miles (147,099,761 km) from the Sun. Still, pretty far away. But in six months when we are farthest away (aphelion) and is most distant, the distance will be about 3 million miles (5 million km) further away.

Are you surprised that when we are farthest away from the sun in early July, it will be summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere.

Friday the Thirteenth Solar Eclipse

Remember all the hoopla about the total solar eclipse we witnessed in August of last year? There is another partial one today. This Friday the 13th solar eclipse will quite small and be visible mainly over the Southern Ocean area between Australia and Antarctica, so no media coverage here in the U.S.

My thoughts go back to ancient times and what we would now see as strange responses to solar eclipses. How terrifying must this have been to them?

In American Eclipse, there is the story of a Roman emperor who witnessed a total solar eclipse in A.D. 840 and was so upset by this “omen” that he stopped eating and eventually starved to death. Rome went into a civil war.

The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They’d try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.

One more positive reaction occurred in the sixth century B.C., during a battle in Asia Minor between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse stopped the battle and it was believed that the eclipse was a sign for them to stop the fighting,

Certainly, ancient people looked at the eclipse and had their eyes damaged or were blinded. That certainly added to the fear. Don’t look into the face of God or the gods.

If you were a believer in 13 as an unlucky number and Friday being an unlucky day (more about that aspect here), then adding a solar eclipse made a trifecta of bad luck.

Also take note that solar and lunar eclipses always come in pairs, with one following the other in a period of one fortnight (approximately two weeks).

This is a New Moon supermoon today and is the first Friday the 13th solar eclipse since December 13, 1974. I won’t be blogging about the next one on Friday September 13, 2080..