Babe Among the Stars: Aurora Alert

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Aurora Alert

If you have never seen an aurora, now's your chance! Astronomers are on high alert due to recent Sun activity causing atmospheric interactions with the Earth. Reports are coming in as I type this, about wonderful aurorae seen in Scotland and parts of England. APOD have published an image taken on 23 January in Norway which is just mind-blowing. There was another solar flare (more powerful than the one which caused the Norweigan aurora) on 23 January, which means more chances of seeing a spectacular display of the fabled 'northern lights' (of course they appear in the Southern Hemisphere too, where they are known as Aurora Australis) in the following days. Due to the Sun's position in the solar cycle (maximum this year) we can expect more geomagnetic storms, prominences and flares during 2012, creating many aurora alerts and, hopefully, plenty of spectacular displays.

Leap Year

The Earth's journey around the Sun takes slightly more than 365 days, so every four years an extra day, a 'leap day', is added to February, making that particular year a 'leap year'. However, one extra day per four years is still slightly out. Therefore, leap days do not occur in years ending in 00, unless divisible by 400. This means that the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900, 1800 and 1700 were not. Just in case you want to know the actual figure, it takes 365.24219 rotations of the Earth per year, which in human time terms is 365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes. Roughly. Traditionally in some cultures leap year day can be utilised by a hopeful bride to propose to the man of her choice. Leap year babies born on 29 February can celebrate their birthday on either 28 Feb or 1 March in non-leap years, although some countries vary in their laws for legal purposes such as driving, obtaining the right to vote, etc.

Feb 2012 Diary Dates

If you are in the London area why not join the biggest astronomy and space convention in Europe at the Kensington Conference and Events Centre, London, UK. Held over 10-11 February: European AstroFest 2012.

  • 01: Moon passes close to M44 (The Pleiades in Taurus)
  • 02/03: Comet Garradd will skim past M92 (globular cluster in Hercules)
  • 07: Full Moon: the Snow Moon
  • 09: Venus 0.3° north of Uranus
  • 10-11: European AstroFest
  • 14: Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is here again!
  • 21: New Moon
  • 22-26: Orange Blossom Special Annual Star Party at the Withlacoochee River County Park, Dade City, Florida, USA
  • 28: Moon passes close to The Pleiades (again!)
  • 29: Leap Year Day

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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