Troubling Satellite Gap

Whenever a major storm like Sandy develops, one of the tools that are used by scientist to follow and predict the storm’s path are the polar satellites. These satellites fly pole to pole, crossing the equator in the afternoon. The data that these satellites provide allow scientists to more accurately predict the path of the storm up to 5 days ahead. This can make it easier to prepare for disaster and get the relief to where it is needed.

There is a growing problem though these satellites are past their life expectancy and their replacements the J. P. S. S will not be ready until 2017. This will leave at least a year gap in coverage. This will make it more difficult to predict the path of a major storm. If the information coming from these satellites had not been available during the 2010 blizzard studies show that forecasters would have under estimated the storms power by half. The gap between the two system according to independent studies is a result of mismanagement, lack of funds and delays at NOAA ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association,)

Right now there is an army of utility trucks headed toward various locations on the East coast. Without these satellites and the information they provide it would have been more difficult for agencies to know where to send these trucks, possibly delaying the recovery by days. As the number of storms and their power seems to be increasing the data these satellites provide become more and more important.  We can not prevent natural disasters, but with the proper information we can limit their effect and get the relief where it is needed and that is where these satellites come in.

3 Good Sites For Skywatchers

If you love astronomy, like I do, then you are always on the lookout for cool places on the web to get information on what is going on above your head.  So, let’s take a look at three sites I frequent on an almost daily basis.

Heavens Above

Heavens Above is a great site for tracking objects.  When you first go to their site you can put in your exact location via coordinates or Google Maps.  You can then save the location and you will no longer have to do it again in the future.  You can track when objects, such as the ISS and various satellites, will pass over you location.  If you haven’t seen the ISS pass over then you really should.  It’s visible with the naked eye.  Another cool object you can get pass-over times for is Iridium satellites, which are another must-see object.

It allows you to track spacecraft leaving our solar system – namely the Voyagers, Pioneers, and New Horizon missions.  There are sky charts, current planets and comets visible, to name a few other useful items available on the site.

NOAA Auroral Activity

With solar activity on the rise and expected to continue to rise through 2012, the NOAA Auroral Activity site is something that you may want to start following now.  It gives information on the latest solar flare or CME’s and provides maps for both hemispheres showing the likelihood of aurora being visible.  As solar activity rises these auroras will become visible in more and more locations.

If you click on the link, at left, for Aurora Viewing, you find a chart that show the magnetic latitude of various major cities.  If you don’t see one that’s close by you the choose it from the drop-down list which contains hundreds of cities.  A pop-up will show the magnetic latitude of you chosen city.  You can then use this number to get a good idea of the odds of visible aurora in your area.

Space Weather

The Space Weather site is similar to the NOAA site previously mentioned.  It has more information and it’s displayed in an easier to use format, but some parts are not free.  However, the free information is more than enough for the average amateur sky watcher.  You can sign up for free email alerts of space weather phenomena.  You can also check out the latest info on solar flares, sun spots, and solar winds.  For aurora predictions they actually use the NOAA site.

If you’d like to pay a small fee ($4.95 per month) you can receive alerts for aurora, planet alignments, geomagnetic storms, asteroids, and ISS fly-bys via text message.

So there are three great sites to get started with.  There are many more great astronomy sites and free software programs available online.