Monday, December 28, 2015

Solar flare and Earth-directed CME

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 28, 2015:

SOLAR FLARE AND CME: Big sunspot AR2473 erupted on Dec. 28th, producing an M1.9-class solar flare, a minor radio blackout in the southern hemisphere, and a coronal mass ejection (CME) that appears to be heading directly for Earth.  This explosion sets the stage for possible geomagnetic storms later this week when the CME reaches our planet.  Visit for more information.

POLAR STRATOSPHERIC CLOUDS: For the second time this month, Arctic sky watchers are reporting a rare outbreak of super-colorful polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs).  Photos and observing tips are featured on today's edition of

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Big Picture Science for Monday December 28, 2015 - You Think; You’re So Smart

Big Picture Science - You Think; You’re So Smart

ENCORE: Sure you have a big brain; it’s the hallmark of Homo sapiens. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve cornered the market on intelligence. Admittedly, it’s difficult to say, since the very definition of the term is elusive. Depending on what we mean by intelligence, a certain aquatic mammal is not as smart as we thought (hint: rhymes with “caulpin”) … and your rhododendron may be a photosynthesizing Einstein.

And what I.Q. means for A.I. We may be building our brilliant successors.


This encore podcast was first released on March 19, 2014

Download episode at:

You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Growing Sunspot Crackles with Flares

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 23, 2015:

CHRISTMAS FLARES:  A new sunspot (AR2473) is growing rapidly in the sun's southern hemisphere, more than quadrupling in size in the past 24 hours. Crackling with M-class solar flares, the sunspot has already caused several minor shortwave radio blackouts, mainly south of our planet's equator. More flares and radio blackouts are in the offing as the growing sunspot turns toward Earth. Visit for more information.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Big Picture Science for Monday December 21, 2015 - Skeptic Check: Fear Itself

Big Picture Science - Skeptic Check: Fear Itself

Shhh.  Is someone coming? Okay, we’ll make this quick.  There are a lot of scary things going on in the world.  Naturally you’re fearful.  But sometimes fear has a sister emotion: suspicion.  A nagging worry about what’s really going on. You know, the stuff they aren’t telling you.  Don’t share this, but we have evidence that both our fear response and our tendency to believe conspiracy theories are evolutionarily adaptive.

A sociologist who studies fear tells us why we’re addicted to its thrill when we control the situation, and how the media exploit our fear of losing control to keep us on edge.  Plus, we examine some alien “cover-ups” and discover why it’s not just the tinfoil hat crowd that falls for outrageous plots.

It’s Skeptic Check …. but you didn’t hear it from us!


Download episode at:

You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

CME Impact Could Spark Auroras this Weekend

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 19, 2015:

CME IMPACT: As expected, a CME hit Earth's magnetic field on Dec. 19th, and a second CME may be approaching.  NOAA forecasters estimate a 70% chance of geomagnetic storms in response to the potential double-blow.  This is not a major space weather event, but it could produce bright auroras around the Arctic Circle before the weekend is over.  Visit for updates.

Strange Clouds Sighted over the Poles

Source - Space Weather News for Dec 17, 2015:

STRANGE CLOUDS:  Sky watchers around the Arctic Circle are reporting an outbreak of rare Polar Stratospheric Clouds--super-colorful clouds that sometimes form in the ozone layer above the North Pole. Almost simultaneously, NASA's AIM spacecraft is seeing electric-blue noctilucent clouds floating over the South Pole. The simultaneous apparition of these strange clouds, poles apart, may be a complete coincidence--or not.  Visit for more information.

GEMINIDS PHOTOGRAPHED FROM THE STRATOSPHERE:  When the Geminid meteor shower peaked earlier this week, a snowstorm was in progress over the mountains of central California.  Using a helium balloon, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a low-light camera to photograph the shower high above the obscuring clouds. To see what Geminids look like from the stratosphere, please visit

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Big Picture Science for Monday December 14, 2015 - Look Who’s Not Talking

Big Picture Science - Look Who’s Not Talking

We may be connected, but some say we’re not communicating.  The consequences could be dire.  A U.S. Army major says that social media are breaking up our “band of brothers,” and that soldiers who tweet rather than talk have less cohesion in combat.

What’s the solution?  Maybe more connectivity to jump start conversation? The makers of Hello Barbie say its sophisticated speech recognition system will engage children in conversation.  But an alternative strategy is to go cold turkey: sign up for a device-free camp (for adults) or stuff a NoPhone in your pocket, and wean yourself from the real thing.

But MIT’s Sherry Turkle says there’s only one solution: more face-to-face time.  Without it, we are in danger of losing our empathy.


Download episode at:

You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 13, 2015:

GEMINID METEOR SHOWER: The annual Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight, Dec. 13-14, as Earth passes through a stream of gravelly debris from "rock comet"  3200 Phaethon. Dark-sky observers in both hemispheres could see as many as 120 meteors per hour during the dark hours between local midnight and sunrise on Dec. 14th. Last night, Dec. 12-13, NASA's all-sky meteor network detected 15 Geminid fireballs over the USA. That number will surely increase tonight when the shower peaks. Visit for more information.

MAGNETIC STORM ON A COMET: Earth isn't the only place with geomagnetic storms. Comets can have them, too. Such a storm appears to be underway in the sinuous blue ion tail of Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10).  Observers with backyard telescopes are monitoring the event with photos highlighted on today's edition of

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Daytime Occultation of Venus on Dec. 7th

Space Weather News for Dec. 6, 2015

DAYTIME OCCULTATION OF VENUS: On Monday, Dec. 7th, sky watchers in North America can see the Moon pass in front of Venus in broad daylight--no telescope required. Visit for observing tips and more information.

SOLAR WIND SPARKS AURORAS: Earth is entering a stream of solar wind flowing from a broad coronal hole on the sun.  In response, auroras are dancing around the Arctic Circle.  More lights are in the offing as Earth moves deeper into the stream.  NOAA forecasters estimate a 55% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on Dec. 7th and 8th. Aurora alerts are available from (text) and (voice).

Big Picture Science for Monday December 07, 2015 - Cosmic Conundra

Image for Big Picture Science weekly radio show
Big Picture Science - Cosmic Conundra

Admit it – the universe is cool, but weird.  Just when you think you’ve tallied up all the peculiar phenomena that the cosmos has to offer – it throws more at you. We examine some of the recent perplexing finds.

Could massive asteroid impacts be as predictable as phases of the moon?  Speaking of moons – why are some of Pluto’s spinning like turbine-powered pinwheels?  Plus, we examine a scientist’s claim of evidence for parallel universes.

And, could the light patterns from a distant star be caused by alien mega-structures?

  • Mike Rampino -  Professor of biology and environmental studies at New York University
  • Mark Showalter  - Senior research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California
  • Ranga-Ram Chary - Astronomer, U.S. Planck Data Center, California Institute of Technology

This postcast will be released this coming Monday at:

You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Blog Picture Science, the companion blog to the radio show.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Interplanetary Spacecraft to Buzz Earth Dec. 3rd

Source - Space Weather News for Dec. 2, 2015:

SPACECRAFT TO BUZZ EARTH: Japan's Hayabasa 2 spacecraft will buzz Earth on Dec. 3rd in a slingshot maneuver designed to propel it to Asteroid Ryugu.  Hayabasa 2 is an amazing mission which, if all goes as planned, will drop as many as four landers on the asteroid and return samples of the space rock to Earth for analysis. The mission, and observing tips for amateur astronomers, are highlighted on today's edition of

QUIET SUN: Solar activity is low, and likely to remain so for the next 3 days.  NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 5% chance of M-class flares on Dec. 2nd/3rd waning to no more than 1% on Dec. 4th. Stay tuned for quiet.