ATTENTION SKYGAZERS: The Orionids Arrive Tonight!

Waking up before sunrise is a good way to get a head start on the day. On Oct. 21st, waking up before sunrise could stop you in your tracks.

Blame Halley’s Comet.  Every year in mid-to-late October, Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from Comet Halley, and the pre-dawn sky can light up with a pretty display of shooting stars. 

SkymapOrionid meteors fly out of a radiant near the shoulder of Orion, the Hunter.  In this sky map, the radiant is denoted by a red dot. Although the meteors emerge from a single point, they can appear anywhere in the sky. Image credit: Dr. Tony Phillips

"We expect to see about 20 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Tuesday morning, Oct 21st," says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.  "With no Moon to spoil the show, observing conditions should be ideal."  

Because these meteors streak out of the constellation Orion, astronomers call them "Orionids."

"The Orionid meteor shower is not the strongest, but it is one of the most beautiful showers of the year," notes Cooke.

The reason is its setting: The shower is framed by some of the brightest stars in the heavens. Constellations such as Taurus, Gemini and Orion provide a glittering backdrop for the display.  The brightest star of all, Sirius, is located just below Orion's left foot, a good place to point your camera while you're waiting for meteors.

Jefferson-Teng1An Orionid meteor streaks over the city lights of Shanghai in 2009. Credit: Jefferson Teng 

To see the show, Cooke suggests going outside one to two hours before sunrise when the sky is dark and the constellation Orion is high overhead. Lie down on a blanket with a broad view of the heavens.  Although Orionids emerge from a small area near the shoulder of Orion, they will spray across the entire sky.

"Be prepared for speed," he adds.  "Meteoroids from Halley’s Comet strike Earth's atmosphere traveling 148,000 mph.  Only the November Leonids are faster."

Speed is important because fast meteors have a tendency to explode.  Occasionally, Orionid fireballs will leave incandescent streams of debris in their wake that linger for minutes. Such filaments of "meteor smoke" twisted by upper atmospheric winds into convoluted shapes can be even prettier than the meteors themselves.

"It really is a wonderful morning to be awake," says Cooke.  "Just don't plan on going anywhere in a hurry." 

Information Courtesy NASA



Weatherwise, sky conditions look to cooperate with only a few clouds early tomorrow.  You will need a coat though and maybe gloves too as temps look to drop well down into the 40's by morning.


As always the case with meteor showers, it's best to get away from sources of light pollution for best viewing.

Good luck! 

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell


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A Super Solar Flare: The 1859 Carrington Event!

At 11:18 AM on the cloudless morning of Thursday, September 1, 1859, 33-year-old Richard Carrington—widely acknowledged to be one of England's foremost solar astronomers—was in his well-appointed private observatory. Just as usual on every sunny day, his telescope was projecting an 11-inch-wide image of the sun on a screen, and Carrington skillfully drew the sunspots he saw.

6938834194_b152500b87_o1Sunspots sketched by Richard Carrington on Sept. 1, 1859.

On that morning, he was capturing the likeness of an enormous group of sunspots. Suddenly, before his eyes, two brilliant beads of blinding white light appeared over the sunspots, intensified rapidly, and became kidney-shaped. Realizing that he was witnessing something unprecedented and "being somewhat flurried by the surprise," Carrington later wrote, "I hastily ran to call someone to witness the exhibition with me. On returning within 60 seconds, I was mortified to find that it was already much changed and enfeebled." He and his witness watched the white spots contract to mere pinpoints and disappear.

It was 11:23 AM. Only five minutes had passed.

Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii. 

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

"What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun," explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Now we know that solar flares happen frequently, especially during solar sunspot maximum. Most betray their existence by releasing X-rays (recorded by X-ray telescopes in space) and radio noise (recorded by radio telescopes in space and on Earth). In Carrington's day, however, there were no X-ray satellites or radio telescopes. No one knew flares existed until that September morning when one super-flare produced enough light to rival the brightness of the sun itself.

"It's rare that one can actually see the brightening of the solar surface," says Hathaway. "It takes a lot of energy to heat up the surface of the sun!"

Flare_sxi_strip A modern solar flare recorded Dec. 5, 2006, by the X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite. The flare was so intense, it actually damaged the instrument that took the picture. Researchers believe Carrington's flare was much more energetic than this one.

The explosion produced not only a surge of visible light but also a mammoth cloud of charged particles and detached magnetic loops—a "CME"—and hurled that cloud directly toward Earth. The next morning when the CME arrived, it crashed into Earth's magnetic field, causing the global bubble of magnetism that surrounds our planet to shake and quiver. Researchers call this a "geomagnetic storm." Rapidly moving fields induced enormous electric currents that surged through telegraph lines and disrupted communications.

"More than 35 years ago, I began drawing the attention of the space physics community to the 1859 flare and its impact on telecommunications," says Louis J. Lanzerotti, retired Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories and current editor of the journal Space Weather. He became aware of the effects of solar geomagnetic storms on terrestrial communications when a huge solar flare on August 4, 1972, knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois. That event, in fact, caused AT&T to redesign its power system for transatlantic cables. A similar flare on March 13, 1989, provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station in Canada, blacking out most of the province and plunging 6 million people into darkness for 9 hours; aurora-induced power surges even melted power transformers in New Jersey. In December 2005, X-rays from another solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes. That may not sound like much, but as Lanzerotti noted, "I would not have wanted to be on a commercial airplane being guided in for a landing by GPS or on a ship being docked by GPS during that 10 minutes."

TransformerPower transformers damaged by the March 13, 1989, geomagnetic storm.

Another Carrington-class flare would dwarf these events. Fortunately, says Hathaway, they appear to be rare:

"In the 160-year record of geomagnetic storms, the Carrington event is the biggest." It's possible to delve back even farther in time by examining arctic ice. "Energetic particles leave a record in nitrates in ice cores," he explains. "Here again the Carrington event sticks out as the biggest in 500 years and nearly twice as big as the runner-up."

These statistics suggest that Carrington flares are once in a half-millennium events. The statistics are far from solid, however, and Hathaway cautions that we don't understand flares well enough to rule out a repeat in our lifetime.

And what then?

Lanzerotti points out that as electronic technologies have become more sophisticated and more embedded into everyday life, they have also become more vulnerable to solar activity. On Earth, power lines and long-distance telephone cables might be affected by auroral currents, as happened in 1989. Radar, cell phone communications, and GPS receivers could be disrupted by solar radio noise. Experts who have studied the question say there is little to be done to protect satellites from a Carrington-class flare. In fact, a recent paper estimates potential damage to the 900-plus satellites currently in orbit could cost between $30 billion and $70 billion. The best solution, they say: have a pipeline of comsats ready for launch.

Humans in space would be in peril, too. Spacewalking astronauts might have only minutes after the first flash of light to find shelter from energetic solar particles following close on the heels of those initial photons. Their spacecraft would probably have adequate shielding; the key would be getting inside in time.

No wonder NASA and other space agencies around the world have made the study and prediction of flares a priority. Right now a fleet of spacecraft is monitoring the sun, gathering data on flares big and small that may eventually reveal what triggers the explosions. SOHO, Hinode, STEREO, ACE and others are already in orbit while new spacecraft such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory are readying for launch.

Research won't prevent another Carrington flare, but it may make the "flurry of surprise" a thing of the past.

Information provided by NASA


It is worth noting that according to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences, a repeat of the Carrington Event would cause “extensive social and economic disruptions” due to its impact on power grids, satellite communications and GPS systems. The potential price tag? Between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

Let's hope we won't have to deal with anything like that anytime soon.  

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell


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Weather Blog: Double Rainbow Photos Today

From Jude Redfield...

    It was the perfect timing...sunrise + rain = rainbow extravaganza!  Here are a few of the beautiful photos from this morning. Plenty more to look at on our facebook and twitter pages. -Jude-





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Our Sun Emits X-Class Flare! More To Come??

At approximately 1 AM ET this morning (October 19, 2014), our Sun unleashed an X class (highest class of solar flares) solar flare along it's eastern limb.  

A pulse of ultraviolet and X-radiation from the flare caused a wide area blackout of HF (high frequency) radio communication for about an hour over portions Asia, Australia and Indonesia.


See video of the X 1.1 blast here.

The X1.1 solar flare was the strongest of its kind in several months and follows a period of heightened solar activity over the last couple of weeks.  


The source from this mornings blast is a rather large sunspot, AR2192, that was detected a couple days ago as it first appeared over the sun's eastern limb.   

Despite the magnitude of the event, the giant flare was not accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME).


Big sunspots tend to produce large flares and AR2192, which is several times larger than the earth, is no exception and this area will continue to be monitored closely as it slowly rotates towards the earth in the coming days.  

This means that more big flares could be coming this week.  NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center has released a 5 day outlook for this week that includes a good chance of daily M class flares and a good chance that the AR2192 could fire off more X class flares this week!


The increased risk of strong flares will increase the chance of a geomagnetic storm here and the risk of more radio black outs.  

Stay tuned.

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell


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Watch A Hornet Get Cooked Alive By Bees...

The Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) is a subspecies of the world's largest hornet. It can grow to be more than 4.5 centimetres (1.8 in) long, with a wingspan greater than 6 centimetres (2.4 in). Scissor-like teeth allow them to kill up to forty honeybees a minute. Don't put your money on the hornet just yet! These honeybees have developed a clever stradegy to protect their colony. They swarm the hornet and begin vibrating in order to raise their body temperature to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. Japanese giant hornets can't handle the heat and literally get cooked alive! See for yourself in the video below...


Video Courtesy: Brian Taylor


-Rick DeLuca





Frost Possible Tonight!

Tonight is shaping up to be one of the coldest so far this season for much of the region.  Frost Advisories and Freeze Warnings have been issued for much of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.  


Locally, Lawrence, Jackson and Jennings Counties are included in the Frost Advisory that goes into effect at 3 AM ET tonight and remains in effect thru 9 AM ET Sunday.


So just how cold will it get?  

That will depend largely on cloud cover.  The current satellite is showing the low clouds that have plagued the area for most of the day are beginning to break up.  This trend looks to continue overnight allowing temps to drop.


Although this isn't expected to be a killing frost, the latest hi-res model data suggests that with temps falling into the middle 30's for parts of the area, a light scattered frost can be expected across portions of Southern Indiana.  

At temps

After a cold start, temps look to improve into the upper 40's and low 50's for most of the area by noon with plenty of sunshine.

At temps1

Despite the sun, afternoon highs will be limited to the upper 50's across most of Kentuckiana.  

At temps2

How long will the unseasonably cool weather last? 

The latest models continue to indicate that our weather will be controlled by a trough of low pressure that looks to get hung up over the Eastern US through the middle of the week.

Jet stream

Finally, this pattern looks to break down during the second half of the week allowing a gradual warming trend as we head towards next weekend.

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell


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We Could See A Sunset Solar Eclipse Next Week!

Sunsets are always pretty.  One sunset this month could be out of this world. On Thursday, Oct. 23rd, the setting sun across eastern parts of the USA will be red, beautiful and … crescent-shaped. 

"It's a partial solar eclipse," explains longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak.  In other words, the New Moon is going to 'take a bite' out of the sun.


Video Courtesy: ScienceAtNASA

A total eclipse is when the Moon passes directly in front of the sun, completely hiding the solar disk and allowing the sun's ghostly corona to spring into view. A partial eclipse is when the Moon passes in front of the sun, off-center, with a fraction of the bright disk remaining uncovered.

The partial eclipse of Oct. 23rd will be visible from all of the United States except Hawaii and New England.  Coverage ranges from 12% in Florida to nearly 70% in Alaska.  Weather permitting, almost everyone in North America will be able to see the crescent.

The eclipse will be especially beautiful in eastern parts of the USA, where the Moon and sun line up at the end of the day, transforming the usual sunset into something weird and wonderful.

"Observers in the Central Time zone have the best view because the eclipse is in its maximum phase at sunset," says Espenak. "They will see a fiery crescent sinking below the horizon, dimmed to human visibility by low-hanging clouds and mist".

Warning: Don't stare. Even at maximum eclipse, a sliver of sun peeking out from behind the Moon can still cause pain and eye damage. Direct viewing should only be attempted with the aid of a safe solar filter.

During the eclipse, don't forget to look at the ground. Beneath a leafy tree, you might be surprised to find hundreds of crescent-shaped sunbeams dappling the grass. Overlapping leaves create a myriad of natural little pinhole cameras, each one casting an image of the crescent-sun onto the ground beneath the canopy. When the eclipsed sun approaches the horizon, look for the same images cast on walls or fences behind the trees.

Here's another trick: Criss-cross your fingers waffle-style and let the sun shine through the matrix of holes. You can cast crescent suns on sidewalks, driveways, friends, cats and dogs—you name it. Unlike a total eclipse, which lasts no more than a few minutes while the sun and Moon are perfectly aligned, the partial eclipse will goes on for more than an hour, plenty of time for this kind of shadow play.

A partial eclipse may not be total, but it is totally fun. 

See for yourself on Oct. 23rd.  The action begins at approximately 6 pm on the east coast, and 2 pm on the west coast. 


Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA


-Rick DeLuca




A Frost Advisory Has Been Posted In Indiana...



-Rick DeLuca





WATCH LIVE VIDEO as Hurricane Gonzalo Bears Down On Bermuda...

FROM THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER...DANGEROUS HURRICANE GONZALO BEARING DOWN ON BERMUDA...DAMAGING WINDS AND A LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE EXPECTED IN A FEW HOURS...Hurricane Gonzalo is now a category 3 with sustained winds of 125 mph! Bermuda will have to deal with hurricane-force winds for at least six hours along with tremendous amounts of rain. In addition, the storm surge could exceed 10 feet, swallowing coastal areas and causing entensive damage. Only 4 other MAJOR hurricanes on record have ever come this close to Bermuda. Gonzalo will be the 5th and you can watch it happen live by clicking on the link below...






-Rick DeLuca





Weather Blog: Chilly Change For The Weekend & Beyond

From Jude Redfield...

    Get ready to take the cool air plunge for the weekend.  Saturday isn't going to be as sunny as today with low clouds rolling through at times. Even though it will be cloudy at times tomorrow our rain chance is only 10%. A spotty shower can't be ruled out.  As clouds scatter and winds relax Saturday night we set the table for areas of frost early Sunday morning.  Our rain chance is only 30% on Monday so odds favor not much rain through next Friday. Get the wood ready for the fire pit!!!

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