A Photo of the Canaries wins Tournament: Earth 2014

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite  on June 15, 2013

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013

Every year NASA holds a competition to chose the best photo of Earth. The Canary Islands won this year’s Tournament: Earth is again. (Last year’s winner was a photo of the submarine eruption off El Hierro.)

The Canary Islands sit in the trade winds and the Canary current, both of which come from the north east. This photo, taken by NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013, shows long shiny areas of sea stretching downwind and downstream from each island. This is because the sea is either rougher or smoother (probably smoother) on the leeward of the islands.

You can also see a long trail of cloud coming off Tenerife, looking like smoke from a cigarette. That’s caused by Mt Teide, which is 3,718-metres (12,198 ft) high.

Our Solar System, to scale

Josh Worth has created what he calls a “tediously accurate scale model of the Solar System: If the moon were only 1 pixel

There’s lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of empty space out there.

A Supernova near Ursa Major

Galaxy M82 before (above) and after (below)  SN2014J.

Galaxy M82 before (above) and after (below) SN2014J. The bottom image was taken at 19:20 UT, 21st January 2014 using the automatic 35 cm telescope of the University of London Observatory.
Credit: UCL/University of London Observatory/Steve Fossey/Ben Cooke/Guy Pollack/Matthew Wilde/Thomas Wright

A new supernova has been spotted just 12 light years away in M 82, the Cigar galaxy, which is between Ursa Major (the Great Bear or Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor. It’s a type 1a supernova, which is what happens when a white dwarf sucks gas from a companion red giant, until the white dwarf reaches 1.4 solar masses (the Chandrasekhar mass) when the core becomes hot enough to fuse carbon, which starts a runaway reaction, and the whole star goes FOOM!

Since this is the 10th supernova spotted this year, its official name is SN 2014J (SN for supernova, 2014 for the year, and then the first supernova of the year is SN2014A, etc.). On Monday night it was magnitude 11 (easily visible through a small telescope), and it should reach maximum brightness on about January 31st. It might be visible through binoculars by then.

An astrophotography exhibition

The winners of the La Palma astrophotography competition getting their prizes in the island's museum

The winners getting their prizes

Every year La Palma holds an astrophotography contest, and the winning entries from the 2013 contest are now on display in the island’s museum. The inauguration was held on Friday night, and the winners received their prizes.

It’s well worth a visit, because the photos are wonderful, and the rest of the museum is interesting too.

The museum (and the exhibition) is open from 10 am – 8 pm Monday – Saturday, and 10 am – 2 pm on Sundays. The exhibition will be there until March 17th.

Invitation to the inauguration of the astrophotography exhibition

Invitation to the inauguration

Snow at the Observatory today

The MAGIC telescope this evening, with snow on the ground

The MAGIC telescope this evening

A new moon for the New Year

The thin crescent of the  new moon setting on January 2nd

The new moon setting on January 2nd

Happy new year.

We started 2014 with a new moon. Here it is setting on January 2nd from La Palma.

Merry Christmas 2013

GTC wearing a Santa hat

Merry Christmas from La Palma

Have a wonderful Christmas, (or whatever else you celebrate). I hope 2014 brings you whatever you most hope for.

Schrödinger’s comet

As far as I can tell, Comet ISON is neither alive not dead, but in some stage in-between. Something came out from behind the sun. Watch this space.

R.I.P. Comet ISON (probably)

Comet ISON as seen by the Stereo space telescope. Credit NASA

Comet ISON as seen by the Stereo space telescope. Credit NASA

It looks like comet ISON has broken up.

I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. The comet’s closest approach was just 1,165,000 km (724,000 mi) from the surface of the sun. This is not a safe place for a snowball.

The image above shows just how close it got. The black disc in the centre of the picture is called a cronograph. It covers up the sun so that you can see less-bright things nearby.

ISON formed some 4,500,000,000 million years ago with the rest of the Solar System. As far as we can tell, it’s spent all that time a very long way from the sun in the Oort cloud where it’s cold. Then gravitational nudges sent it falling into the inner Solar System. As it got closer to the sun, it warmed up of course, and the various ices started to boil off. That’s what forms the part you see – the original snowball of ISON was only ever 2 km across.

If NASA are wrong about this, and the comet has survived, it will put on a marvellous show in December, because it’ll be close to the Earth. I hope so – I got up early three times to try to see the comet, and every time there was one small cloud in front of it. I did at least get a nice view of Mercury and Saturn.

Path of comet ISON in December (if it survives) in the Northern hemisphere

Path of comet ISON in December (if it survives) in the Northern hemisphere

Comet ISON is visible to the naked eye

Comet ISON & Mt. Fuji photographed by Cochrane (@Sol1001) on Nov 16

Comet ISON & Mt. Fuji photographed by Cochrane (@Sol1001) on Nov 16

As comets approach the sun, they warm up and the head and tail grow bigger and brighter. ISON is now visible, in the constellation Virgo, near the bright star Spica. That’s in the east before dawn.

There’s a finder chart at http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/2012S1/2012S1.html
and more informationa at Phil Plait’s blog.

Please excuse the rush. I’m trying to finish a book of children’s stories about La Palma’s amazing night sky.