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December 19, 2011 - Long and Winding Road

Long and Winding Road Floating eerily like a ghostly road to nowhere, the aurora australis (southern lights) and their northern counterparts—aurora borealis—are stunning when viewed from Earth, but nearly defy description when viewed from above. These ever-shifting displays of colored ribbons, curtains, rays, and spots occur when charged particles (ions) streaming from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field. Aurora generally occur close to the poles, but severe magnetic storms on the Sun can shift these displays toward Earth’s equator and closer to the path traveled by the International Space Station in its orbit. A geomagnetic storm in mid-2010 was the likely culprit behind this display over the Southern Indian Ocean, trailing off toward Antarctica, and captured by an observer on the ISS.

Image credit: NASA

Weekly Calendar

December 19-25, 2011

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Moon phase Monday 19

1960: MR-1A launched, first Mercury capsule
1961: CNES founded
1966: United Nations approves Outer Space Treaty
1999: STS-103 Discovery launched

Moon phase Tuesday 20

Hanukkah begins at sunset

Saturn 7° north of Moon

1904: Mount Wilson Solar Observatory founded
1972: Final M2-F3 lifting body flight
1978: Venera 12 lander lands on Venus
2009Soyuz TMA-17 launched carrying ISS Expedition 22/23 crew

Moon phase Wednesday 21

Moon at perigee

1968: Apollo 8 launched
1984
: Vega 2 launched
1988
: Cosmonauts Titov and Manarov return after spending one year aboard Mir space station
2011Soyuz TMA-03M launched carrying ISS Expedition 30/31 crew

Moon phase Thursday 22

Winter Solstice 12:30 AM ET
Mercury 7° N of Antares
Mercury 3° N of Moon

Ursid meteor shower

1966: Luna 13 launched
1966: First glide test of the HL-10 lifting body

Moon phase Friday 23

Ursid meteor shower

1672: Giovanni Cassini discovers Saturn’s moon Rhea

Moon phase Saturday 24

New Moon 1:06 PM ET

1968: Apollo 8 enters lunar orbit
1978: Venera 11 lands on Venus
1979: European Space Agency launches first Ariane rocket

Moon phase Sunday 25

Christmas Day

1642: Isaac Newton born
2003: Mars Express and Beagle 2 arrive at Mars
2004: Huygens probe separates from Cassini spacecraft

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.