(TMU) – As the northern hemisphere enjoys the last official days of spring before the Summer Solstice on June 20, the southern hemisphere prepares for winter and regardless of which side of the equator you find yourself, the skies have some special events on offer for all of us.
This year, we have the rare occurrence of three eclipses in one lunar month (the time between two full moons). Although the previous event occurred in 2018, the next one won’t be until 2029.
Three eclipses during either a lunar or a calendar month is called an eclipse season, but they are much rarer in calendar months – the last one having occurred in July 2000 – and prior to that was in March 1904, and the next won’t happen until December 2206.
Mark the dates for this eclipse season in your diary:
June 5th, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse – was visible in most of Africa, Middle East, west and central Asia and Australia.
June 21st, 2020: Annular solar eclipse (Ring of Fire) – visible in Africa, south-eastern Europe and Asia.
July 5th, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse – Visible in North and South America, Western Europe and Africa.
What is an eclipse?
On Earth we experience two types of eclipses, solar and lunar eclipses:
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun, blocking its light completely (a total eclipse). Partially would be considered an annular eclipse. Solar eclipses are only visible when the moon passes between Earth and the Sun. Countries without visibility of the event will be experiencing night time, as the event will be below their horizon.
While watching a solar eclipse can be quite an exciting experience, please ensure you only look at the sun with specialized eclipse eye protection, failure to do so could damage the eyes and result in partial or permanent blindness.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is aligned between the Sun and the full Moon. Earth’s shadow then cuts off all or part of the sunlight reflected off the Moon. Lunar eclipses are visible during the side of Earth that is experiencing night-time.
Penumbral eclipses occur when the alignment between the Sun, Moon and Earth is not perfectly aligned, and only the outer edge of Earth’s shadow (the penumbra), is cast on the Moon. This does not create a dramatic change to the moonlight. In fact, it may be just a little darker than usual and can easily be missed.
The annular solar eclipse on June 21st, and the Summer Solstice
An annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon covers the Sun’s center and leaves just a small outer ring of the sunlight visible around the moon, forming a “ring of fire” or annulus (Latin for ring), around the Moon. The Moon is perfectly aligned between the Sun and the Earth during an annular eclipse. The eclipse will last 3 hours and 18 minutes and will peak at UTC 12:10 a.m. on June 21st.
The new moon phase starts just nine hours after the Summer Solstice on June 20th, moving straight on its path to block the sun on Sunday, June 21st, for the ‘ring of fire’ annular solar eclipse. Only a small part of the world will be able to experience the event. Unfortunately, the USA will be in darkness, with the event occurring below the horizon, as the solar eclipse happens on the other side of the globe.
Partial solar eclipse first begins: 3:46 UTC on June 21, 2020
Annular eclipse first begins: 4:48 UTC on June 21, 2020
Greatest or maximum eclipse: 6:40 UTC on June 21, 2020
Annular eclipse finally ends: 8:32 UTC on June 21, 2020
Partial solar eclipse finally ends: 9:34 UTC on June 21, 2020
The June solstice is the official start of summer and longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, while in the Southern Hemisphere winter will start in earnest.
Chinese Military Satellite Smashed by Russian Rocket in “Major Confirmed Orbital Collision”
In an incident that is likely illustrative of things to come, Chinese military satellite 1-02 was smashed after it appears to have collided into the debris from a disintegrating Russian rocket.
The collision, which occurred earlier this year, shows the increasing danger of space junk such as satellite parts and other miscellaneous jetsam littering the Earth’s orbit. An estimated 8,000 metric tons of space debris pose the risk of destroying functional equipment such as weather forecasting systems, telecoms and GPS systems – and even manned space travel missions – if the problem isn’t reined in.
The fate of the Chinese satellite was uncovered by Harvard astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.
The breakup of Yunhai 1-02 was initially reported by the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS). However, it wasn’t until recently that McDowell found out what caused the breakup.
The astrophysicist soon found that it was destroyed by space junk that originated from a Russian Zenit-2 rocket that had launched a spy satellite in 1996. On Aug. 14, McDowell found a strange entry in a database on Space-Track.org: “Collided with satellite.”
“This is a new kind of comment entry — haven’t seen such a comment for any other satellites before,” McDowell tweeted.
“A quick analysis of the TLEs show that Yunhai 1-02 (44547) and [the debris object] passed within 1 km of each other (so within the uncertainty of the TLEs) at 0741 UTC Mar 18, exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up,” he added, noting that this “looks to be the first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade.”
However, the Yunhai satellite still remains functional and is transmitting radio signals, notes Space.com.
The incident shows the growing likelihood of such collisions in the high-traffic, littered near-Earth orbital zone.
“Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit,” McDowell explained. “That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you’re going to get 100 times as many collisions.”
He added: “So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That’s just math.”
A worst-case scenario of such collisions is known as the “Kessler Syndrome,” and describes the possibility of one collision setting in motion a chain of collisions. Such a disaster was the premise of the 2013 film “Gravity.”
One hopes that things don’t reach that point.
In the meantime, however, there have been a number of initiatives meant to tackle the growing problem of space debris, such as the ELSA-d spacecraft launched in a demonstration mission earlier this year.
Scientists Find Possible New Signs of Alien Life on Saturn’s Icy Moon
A new study suggests that Saturn moon Enceladus, which is covered in an icy crust, could be a great place for life to exist.
New evidence collected by NASA’s retired Cassini spacecraft offers tantalizing details on the chemical makeup of the water plumes erupting from Enceladus.
The heavy amount of methane – a gas associated with life on Earth – suggests that underneath the icy crust of Enceladus, there could be a huge ocean of briny water potentially teeming with life.
The new study by researchers from the University of Arizona and Paris Sciences & Lettres University also found that there was a relatively high concentration of molecules of dihydrogen and carbon dioxide.
“We wanted to know: Could Earthlike microbes that ‘eat’ the dihydrogen and produce methane explain the surprisingly large amount of methane detected by Cassini?” asked University of Arizona associate professor and lead author of the study Prof. Regis Ferriere.
Scientists have long speculated that conditions on Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and sources of warmth, could be conducive to the development of living creatures.
However, one possible explanation for the chemical composition of water on Enceladus could be the existence of microbes on the Saturn moon.
“In other words, we can’t discard the ‘life hypothesis’ as highly improbable,” Ferriere noted. “To reject the life hypothesis, we need more data from future missions.”
Confirmation of the “life hypothesis” will likely remain elusive for the foreseeable future.
“Searching for such microbes, known as methanogens, at Enceladus’ seafloor would require extremely challenging deep-dive missions that are not in sight for several decades,” Ferriere said.
Stunning New Images Show Glowing Auroras on Mars
A new probe from the UAE to study the atmosphere of Mars has captured never-before-seen images of a night time aurora on the Red Planet.
The UAE’s Hope Mars mission was meant to study the Martian atmosphere over the course of the year across the totality of its layers. However, before its actual scientific mission began, it managed to snap the shots of the extremely brief phenomenon, reports Space.com.
In images released on Wednesday, the auroras stand out clearly as bright flashes against the pitch-black night sky.
The chance discovery – which wasn’t even a part of the probe’s formal mission – shows the exciting finds other nations’ space programs are capable of finding.
“They’re not easy to catch, and so that’s why seeing them basically right away with [Emirates Mars Mission] was kind of exciting and unexpected,” said Justin Deighan, the deputy science lead of the mission and a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado.
“It’s definitely something that was on our radar, so to speak, but just looking at our first set of nighttime data and saying, ‘Hey, wait a second — is that? — it can’t be — it is!’ — that was a lot of fun,” he added.
On Earth, auroras or “northern lights” are the result of electrons surfing across the electric field during geomagnetic storms, causing atmosphere particles to ionize and create the colorful and dazzling light shows.
On Mar, similar auroras seem unrestricted by the north and south poles and happen across the rest of the planet.
This is because the magnetic atmosphere isn’t aligned like a bar magnet, as it is on Earth.
Rather, the Martian magnetic more resembles a situation where “you took a bag of magnets and dumped them into the crust of the planet,” Deighan told the New York Times.
“And they’re all pointed different ways,” he said. “And they have different strengths.”
This results in solar wind particles firing off in different directions, causing interactions with molecules and atoms across the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere and triggering the aurora.
The Mars Hope team hopes the discovery can lead to fresh insights on how the planet’s atmosphere interacts with solar activity.