Occasionally I read an astronomy story or see an outer space image that makes me go, “Wow! Really?”
And when I do, I want to share them with the world, that blue marble in space that is our Earthly abode of life.
I’ve had a couple of those “Wow! Really?” moments lately, and I’ve asked The Loafer Editor to please use a couple fantastic images. His reply, as always: “Keep the copy short!” Which, I admit, is not always easy to do. But in this case, I want you to see several spacey surprises that just might make you react…well, with amazement.
First up is Jupiter’s Red Spot. Holy Cow! The recent closeup by NASA’s orbiting Juno spacecraft shows a huge, rouge pallet of pure hurricane at an interplanetary scale. And it is beautiful with the surrounding tumultuous atmospheric zones giving images a surreal feel, like a Van Gogh painting. Snapped from 8,600 miles away in July 2017, Juno’s photos made a splash on social media with curious minds loving the detail. We’ve seen it many times from spacecraft before, but never this close.
Jupiter’s Red Spot has been seen from Earth shortly after the first quality telescopes were trained on it in the 1640s. Every amateur astronomer wants to see the Red Spot. And in its 400 years of circling the giant Jupiter’s cloud bands once every 10 hours, it has sometimes faded in color but not from sight, only to rebound in its bright red, which is what has been going on the past few years. Just say “Great Red Spot” and lots of non-stargazers know what you mean. Even the cheapest backyard telescope will show Jupiter’s Red Spot, which at 10,000 -plus miles across is larger than Earth. The great planet is the brightest “star” in our Summer 2017 sky. Just look to the western skies and it’ll be there in its golden glory, along with white star Spica to its left, both in the constellation Virgo the Virgin.
The other “Wow! Really?” moment recently for me was reading the description of what atmospheric scientists have determined causes a rare and beautiful twilight phenomenon of “noctilucent clouds,” or NLCs in their jargon.
“NLCs are, essentially, clouds of frosted meteor smoke.” Wow! Really? Well that’s what researchers say on one of my favorite spacey websites, Spaceweather.com. “They form when wisps of summertime water vapor rise toward the top of Earth’s atmosphere. Water molecules stick to the microscopic debris of disintegrated meteoroids, assembling themselves into tiny crystals of ice that glow beautifully in sunlight at the edge of space.”
I didn’t know that. Nor did thousands of others of stargazers who found noctilucent clouds a rare and interesting unknown about Earth’s weather. We’ve all been following photos on a Spaceweather.com gallery of these wispy, blue-electric clouds that are simply beautiful. NLCs are maybe 50 miles above all other clouds and seasonally appear over the lands close to the Arctic Circle. I’ve never seen them, but want to. The past 20 years of digital cameras have helped people capture images of the often-eerie clouds glowing in the deep twilight, looking like neon-blue cirrus clouds.
What causes noctilucent clouds has been debated for years. A team of atmospheric scientists put a satellite in orbit to investigate, and their findings have been announced with some beautiful photos from space.
Frosted meteor smoke, huh? Now THAT’s why I love stargazing. And the big ‘ole, beautiful Red Spot!