Expert observers are reporting an unexpected outburst of a little-known (but historical) meteor shower, which began yesterday (December 8, 2013) and might not have peaked yet. The Geminid meteor shower is going on now, too, peaking on the mornings of December 13 and 14. So tonight might be an awesome night to go outside and watch for meteors!
The National Research Council (NRC) has released a new report that recommends the establishment of an early warning system to detect abrupt impacts from climate change. Abrupt changes in Earth’s climate system or abrupt changes in human and natural systems caused by gradual climate change could be especially detrimental given that society would have little time to adapt.
Researchers studying snake venom – with the goal of producing an anti-venom – say that snakes’ venom glands have co-opted many proteins that originally played more mundane roles elsewhere in their bodies. They studied snake venom via sequenced genomes of the deadly venomous King Cobra and the non-venomous Burmese Python, and compared the two to shed light on how each evolved. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published their work in December 2013.
This star varies because — although it looks single to the eye — it’s really a binary star, or two stars that revolve around one another. The star is called Sheliak, or Beta Lyrae. It’s a special kind of binary star system, known as an eclipsing binary. One star in the Sheliak system blocks out the light of its companion star in regular periods, as seen from our earthly vantage point. This blocking of one star by the other causes Sheliak’s brightness to dim every 6.5 days.
Snow geese flying in front of the moon at sunset
Every so often, the International Space Station (ISS) becomes visible in the night sky. To us on Earth, it looks like a bright star moving quickly above the horizon. The ISS is so bright, it can even been seen from the center of a city. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it disappears. How do you know when you can see the ISS in your night sky?
NASA has started a Spot the Station program where people from around the world can sign up to receive alerts when the ISS will be visible from your location.
Orion the Hunter is one of the most prominent constellations in all the heavens. You can’t fail to spot Orion’s Belt – three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row – if you look eastward in the evening. Many constellations have one bright star, but Orion has two: Rigel and Betelgeuse. Rigel represents the Hunter’s left foot, and Betelgeuse his right shoulder.
It seems paradoxical. At middle latitudes in the U.S. – and throughout the Northern Hemisphere – the earliest sunsets of the year come about two weeks before the solstice and the shortest day of the year. They’re happening around now for middle latitudes of the United States, and around the world.
UPDATE DECEMBER 6, 2013. As Comet ISON pulled away from the sun on November 30, it first brightened and then faded again. For many days now, it has seemed likely that Comet ISON has become little more than a traveling field of debris in space, still following the path of the original comet. Scientists originally said that – if it had not fragmented, if it had maintained its solid nucleus or core – Comet ISON would have become visible again in Earth’s skies beginning around December 3. That has not happened. We have not seen any photos of ISON taken from Earth, so far, since the comet got too close to the sun to see from Earth, in late November.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has obtained the highest-resolution movie yet of a unique six-sided jet stream, known as the hexagon, around Saturn’s north pole.