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Blog

Weather forecasting and analysis, space and historic events, climate information

Filtering by Category: Space Events

7:15 AM | *There is no "weather" on the moon, but there are extreme differences in temperatures*

Paul Dorian

It’s been 50 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on its surface. There were 5 subsequent Apollo missions that successfully landed humans on the moon and brought them safely back to Earth.  What kind of “weather” did these astronauts need to contend with on the moon? The moon has a very thin atmosphere so it cannot trap heat or insulate the surface.  There is no wind there, no clouds, no rain, no snow and no storms, but there is “day and night” and there are extreme differences in temperatures depending on where the sun is shining.

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7:15 AM | *An intriguing large mass found under the biggest crater on the moon*

Paul Dorian

The Moon is home to one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system known as the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin, but because it is located on the far side of the moon, it cannot be viewed directly from Earth. At 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) across, the South Pole-Aitken Basin covers nearly a quarter of the lunar surface - and there's something massive buried beneath it.  Detailed readings made using lunar orbiters indicate there is something huge enough under that crater to be causing a significant gravitational anomaly. Researchers say it could be a huge lump of metal from the asteroid that formed the South Pole-Aitken Basin. Instead of sinking down into the moon's interior, it remained buried in the moon's mantle. Computer simulations suggest that this is a plausible explanation, but other explanations have also been proposed.

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10:30 AM | *Now entering a deep solar minimum and the latest forecast for solar cycle 25 suggests it may be the weakest cycle in 200 years*

Paul Dorian

The sun continues to be very quiet and it has been without sunspots this year 62% of the time as we approach what is likely to be one of the deepest solar minimums in a long, long time. In fact, all indications are that the upcoming solar minimum may be even quieter than the last one which was the deepest in nearly a century.  In addition, there are now forecasts that the next solar cycle, #25, will be the weakest in more than 200 years.  The current solar cycle, #24, has been the weakest with the fewest sunspots since solar cycle 14 peaked in February 1906. Solar cycle 24 continues a recent trend of weakening solar cycles which began with solar cycle 21 that peaked around 1980 and if the latest forecasts are correct, that trend will continue for at least another decade or so.

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1:20 PM | *Rare noctilucent clouds – the highest clouds on Earth - have been unusually prevalent in the US in recent days*

Paul Dorian

Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds on Earth and are quite rarely seen in the US as they are primarily visible at high latitudes above +55°N.  This weekend, however, noctilucent clouds were seen across many spots in the US including as far south as Freedom, Oklahoma (+36°N) which according to spaceweather.com, may be the lowest latitude sighting ever. Research studies have shown that these clouds tend to become more prevalent during solar minimums and we are now entering into what is likely to be a deep and perhaps historic solar minimum.   

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7:15 AM | *It was during the height of the Cold War and a solar storm nearly sparked a nuclear war*

Paul Dorian

It was during the height of the Cold War and a powerful solar storm could have led to a disastrous military conflict between the US and Soviet Union if not for the early efforts of the US Air Force to monitor solar activity. On May 23rd, 1967, a solar storm took place that was so powerful, it jammed radar and radio communications in polar regions and the US Air Force actually began to prepare aircraft for war thinking the nation’s surveillance radars were being jammed by the Soviet Union.  Fortunately, space weather forecasters in the military suspected there might be another cause and they relayed information about the possibility that a solar storm could have been the reason for the disrupted radar and radio communications.  As it turned out, this information was enough to keep the planes on the ground and the US avoided a potential nuclear weapon exchange with the Soviet Union.

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7:15 AM | *Deep solar minimum fast-approaching and cosmic rays continue to rise*

Paul Dorian

The sun continues to be very quiet and it has been without sunspots this year more than half the time as we approach what is likely to be a deep solar minimum. In fact, all indications are that the upcoming solar minimum which is expected to begin later this year may be even quieter than the last one which was the deepest in nearly a century.  Solar cycle 24 has been the weakest sunspot cycle with the fewest sunspots since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906. Solar cycle 24 continues a recent trend of weakening solar cycles which began with solar cycle 21 that peaked around 1980. The last time the sun was this blank in a given year on a percentage basis was 2009 during the last solar minimum when 71% of the time was spotless.  That last solar minimum actually reached a nadir in 2008 when an astounding 73% of the year featured a spotless sun - the most spotless days in a given year since 1913.  One of the natural impacts of decreasing solar activity is the weakening of the ambient solar wind and its magnetic field which, in turn, allows more and more cosmic rays to penetrate the solar system. The intensification of cosmic rays can have important consequences on such things as Earth’s cloud cover and climate, the safety of air travelers and as a possible trigger mechanism for lightning.  

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7:15 AM | *The role of weather in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986*

Paul Dorian

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster which occurred on January 28, 1986, when the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight leading to the deaths of its seven crew members.  STS-51-L was the 25th American Space Shuttle Program flight since the program began in 1981. It was also the first mission to have a civilian on board, American teacher Christa McAuliffe. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:39 EST (16:39 UTC).  According to the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, weather conditions were likely one of the factors that contributed to the incident. Tests conducted during the subsequent investigation showed that O-rings were much less resilient at lower temperatures, but the extreme cold at the Kennedy Space Center was not the only weather factor involved with this tragedy. 

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11:00 AM | *A lunatic’s dream…total lunar eclipse meets supermoon on Sunday night*

Paul Dorian

Actually, you may have to be a lunatic to go out and observe this event on Sunday night as it’ll just be brutally cold throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.  However, if you are so inclined, there will be a total lunar eclipse and supermoon, all wrapped up into one.  The moon, earth and sun will line up late this weekend for the only total lunar eclipse of this year and next.  At the same time, the moon will be ever so closer to Earth and appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual – a supermoon.

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1:00 PM | *For the first time…a landing on the far side of the moon*

Paul Dorian

China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the moon.  Up until now, no nation had ever landed a lunar lander on the far side of the moon, a mission complicated by the fact that the moon blocks direct communications with Earth. The lunar probe known as Chang’e-4 touched down early Thursday (Beijing time) in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole Aitken Basin.  This particular crater is the largest, deepest and oldest known crater in the solar system.

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11:00 AM | *Green "Christmas Comet" makes its closest approach to Earth…better viewing opportunities next couple of nights following numerous recent cloudy nights*

Paul Dorian

Comet 46P/Wirtanen made history on Sunday, December 16th as it entered the “top 10” list of closest comet flybys to Earth in recent history.  The comet now being called the green “Christmas comet” flew past Earth at about 11.5 million km away on Sunday appearing in the constellation Taurus alongside the Pleiades cluster of stars.  This is the closest the comet has come to Earth in many centuries and the closest it will come for many more centuries. The Mid-Atlantic region has been socked in thick cloud cover for the past several nights, but there is a 50/50 chance for more favorable viewing conditions tonight and even better shot tomorrow night. There is one caveat, however, and that is the fact that the waxing moon will generate quite a bit of moonlight during the next few nights and that may act to dilute somewhat the comet’s brightness.

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