Category: nightsky

What’s Up – June 2018

What’s Up For June?

Jupiter and Venus at sunset, Mars, Saturn and Vesta until dawn.

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First up is Venus. It reaches its highest sunset altitude for the year this month and sets more than two hours after sunset.

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You can’t miss Jupiter, only a month after its opposition–when Earth was directly between Jupiter and the Sun.

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The best time to observe Jupiter through a telescope is 10:30 p.m. at the beginning of the month and as soon as it’s dark by the end of the month.  

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Just aim your binoculars at the bright planet for a view including the four Galilean moons. Or just enjoy Jupiter with your unaided eye!

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Saturn is at opposition June 27th, when it and the Sun are on opposite sides of Earth. It rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. Great Saturn viewing will last several more months. The best views this month will be just after midnight.

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All year, the rings have been tilted wide open–almost 26 degrees wide this month–giving us a great view of Saturn’s distinctive rings.

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The tilt offers us a view of the north polar region, so exquisitely imaged by the Cassini spacecraft.

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Near Saturn, the brightest asteroid–Vesta–is so bright that it can be seen with your unaided eye. It will be visible for several months.

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A detailed star chart will help you pick out the asteroid from the stars. The summer Milky way provides a glittery backdrop.

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Finally, Mars grows dramatically in brightness and size this month and is visible by 10:30 p.m. by month end.

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The best views are in the early morning hours. Earth’s closest approach with Mars is only a month away. It’s the closest Mars has been to us since 2003.

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Watch the full What’s Up for June Video: 

There are so many sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video series on Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

What’s Up? – May 2018

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What’s Up For May?

The Moon and Saturn meet Mars in the morning as our InSight spacecraft launches to the Red Planet on May 5!

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You won’t want to miss red Mars in the southern morning skies this month.

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InSight, our first mission to explore Mars’ deep interior, launches on May 5th with a launch window that begins at 4:05 a.m. PDT and lasts for two hours.

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Some lucky viewers in central and southern California and even parts of the Mexican Pacific coast will get a chance to see the spacecraft launch with their unaided eyes AND its destination, Mars, at the same time.

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Mars shines a little brighter than last month, as it approaches opposition on July 27th. That’s when Mars and the Sun will be on opposite sides of the Earth. This will be Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003! 

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Compare the planet’s increases in brightness with your own eyes between now and July 27th. 

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The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will be washed out by the Moon this month, but if you are awake for the InSight launch anyway, have a look. This shower is better viewed from the southern hemisphere, but medium rates of 10 to 30 meteors per hour MAY be seen before dawn.

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Of course, you could travel to the South Pacific to see the shower at its best!

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There’s no sharp peak to this shower–just several nights with good rates, centered on May 6th. 

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Jupiter reaches opposition on May 9th, heralding the best Jupiter-observing season, especially for mid-evening viewing. That’s because the king of the planets rises at sunset and sets at dawn. 

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Wait a few hours after sunset, when Jupiter is higher in the sky, for the best views. If you viewed Jupiter last month, expect the view to be even better this month!

Watch the full What’s Up for May Video: 

There are so many sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video series on Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

We Need Your Help to Find STEVE

Glowing in mostly purple and
green colors, a newly discovered celestial phenomenon is sparking the interest of scientists, photographers
and astronauts. The display was initially discovered by a group of citizen
scientists who took pictures of the unusual lights and playfully named them “Steve.”

When scientists got involved
and learned more about these purples and greens, they wanted to keep the name
as an homage to its initial name and citizen science discoverers. Now it is
STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.

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Credit: ©Megan Hoffman

STEVE occurs closer to the equator than where most aurora appear – for
example, Southern Canada – in areas known as the

sub-auroral zone. Because
auroral activity in this zone is not well researched, studying STEVE will help
scientists learn about the chemical and physical processes
going on there. This helps us
paint a better picture of how Earth’s magnetic fields function and interact with
charged particles in space.
Ultimately, scientists can use this information to better
understand the space weather near Earth, which can interfere with satellites
and communications signals.

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Want to become a
citizen scientist
and help us learn more about STEVE? You can
submit your photos to a citizen science project called Aurorasaurus, funded by
NASA and the National Science Foundation. Aurorasaurus
tracks appearances of auroras – and now STEVE – around the world through
reports and photographs submitted via a mobile app and on aurorasaurus.org.

Here are six tips
from what we have learned so far to help you spot STEVE:

1. STEVE is a very narrow arc, aligned
East-West, and extends for hundreds or thousands of miles.

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Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

2. STEVE mostly emits light in
purple hues. Sometimes the phenomenon is accompanied by a short-lived, rapidly
evolving green picket fence structure (example below).

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Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

3. STEVE can last 20 minutes to an
hour.

4. STEVE appears closer to the
equator than where normal – often green – auroras appear. It appears
approximately 5-10° further south in the Northern hemisphere. This means it
could appear overhead at latitudes similar to Calgary, Canada. The phenomenon
has been reported from the United Kingdom, Canada, Alaska, northern US states,
and New Zealand.

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5. STEVE has only been spotted so far in
the presence of an aurora (but auroras often occur without STEVE). Scientists
are investigating to learn more about how the two phenomena are connected. 

6. STEVE may only appear in
certain seasons. It was not observed from October 2016 to February 2017. It
also was not seen from October 2017 to February 2018.

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Credit: ©Megan Hoffman 

STEVE (and aurora) sightings can be reported at www.aurorasaurus.org
or with the Aurorasaurus free mobile apps on Android and iOS. Anyone can sign up, receive alerts, and
submit reports for free.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

A Total Lunar Eclipse is Coming: 10 Things to …

If you were captivated by August’s total solar eclipse, there’s another sky show to look forward to on Jan. 31: a total lunar eclipse!

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Below are 10 things to know about this astronomical event, including where to see it, why it turns the Moon into a deep red color and more…

1. First things first. What’s the difference between solar and lunar eclipses? We’ve got the quick and easy explanation in this video:

2. Location, location, location. What you see will depend on where you are. The total lunar eclipse will favor the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia on Jan. 31. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are also well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse, if not all of it.

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3. Color play. So, why does the Moon turn red during a lunar eclipse? Here’s your answer:

4. Scientists, stand by. What science can be done during a lunar eclipse? Find out HERE

5. Show and tell. What would Earth look like from the Moon during a lunar eclipse? See for yourself with this artist’s concept HERE

6. Ask me anything. Mark your calendars to learn more about the Moon during our our Reddit AMA happening Monday, Jan. 29, from 3-4 pm EST/12-1 pm PST.

7. Social cues. Make sure to follow @NASAMoon and @LRO_NASA for all of the latest Moon news leading up to the eclipse and beyond.

8. Watch year-round. Can’t get enough of observing the Moon? Make a DIY Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator that will keep all of the dates and times for the year’s moon phases right at your fingertips HERE.

Then, jot down notes and record your own illustrations of the Moon with a Moon observation journal, available to download and print from moon.nasa.gov.

9. Lesson learned. For educators, pique your students’ curiosities about the lunar eclipse with this Teachable Moment HERE.

10. Coming attraction. There will be one more lunar eclipse this year on July 27, 2018. But you might need your passport—it will only be visible from central Africa and central Asia. The next lunar eclipse that can be seen all over the U.S. will be on Jan. 21, 2019. It won’t be a blue moon, but it will be a supermoon.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

What’s Up – January 2018

What’s Up For January? 

Quadrantid meteors, a West Coast-favoring total lunar eclipse and time to start watching Mars!

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This month the new year’s first meteor shower fizzles, Mars meets Jupiter in the morning sky and the U.S. will enjoy a total lunar eclipse!

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Most meteor showers radiate from recognizable constellations. Like the Leonids, Geminids and Orionids.

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But the Quadrantids are meteors that appear to radiate from the location of the former Quadrans Muralis constellation, an area that’s now part of the constellation Bootes.

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The Quadrantids’ peak lasts for just a few hours, and sadly, this year their timing coincides with a very bright, nearly full moon that will wash out most of the meteors.

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You can look in any direction to see all the meteor showers. When you see one of these meteors, hold a shoestring along the path it followed. The shoestring will lead you back to the constellation containing the meteor’s origin.

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On the morning of January 6th, look in the south-southeast sky 45 minutes before sunrise to see Jupiter and fainter Mars almost as close as last month’s Jupiter and Venus close pairing.

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Mars is only one-sixth the apparent diameter of Jupiter, but the two offer a great binocular and telescopic view with a pretty color contrast. They remain in each other’s neighborhood from January 5th through the 8th.

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Finally, to end the month, a great total lunar eclipse favors the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii and British Columbia on January 31st. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse–if not all of it.

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Watch the full What’s Up for January Video: 

There are so many sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video series on Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.   

The Geminids Are Now Playing in a Sky Near You

The Geminids, which peak during mid-December each year, are considered to be one of the best and most reliable annual meteor showers

This month, they’re active from Dec. 4-17, and peak the evening of Dec. 13-14 for a full 24 hours, meaning more worldwide meteor watchers will get to enjoy the show. 

Below are 10 things to know about this beautiful spectacle.

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1. The forecast. 

From our resident night sky expert, Jane Jones: If you can see Orion and Gemini in the sky, you’ll see some Geminids. Expect to see about 60 meteors per hour before midnight on Dec. 13 and from midnight-3:30 a.m. on Dec. 14 from a dark sky. You’ll see fewer meteors after moonrise at 3:30 a.m. local time. In the southern hemisphere, you won’t see as many, perhaps 10-20 per hour, because the radiant—the point in the sky where the meteor shower appears to originate—never rises above the horizon.

2. Viewing tips.

Kids can join in on the fun as early as 9 or 10 p.m. You’ll want to find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared for winter temperatures with a sleeping bag, blanket, or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you’ll begin to see meteors. Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.

3. Late bloomer.

The Geminids weren’t always such as a spectacular show. When they first began appearing in the mid-1800s, there were only 10-20 visible meteors per hour. Since then, the Geminids have grown to become one of the major showers of the year.

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4. Remind me—where do meteor showers come from?

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from asteroids. When these objects come around the Sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. Every year, the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere, where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.

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5. That said…

While most meteor showers come from comets, the Geminids originate from an asteroid: 3200 Phaethon. Asteroid 3200 Phaethon takes 1.4 years to orbit the Sun once. It is possible that Phaethon is a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a “rock comet.” Phaethon’s comet-like, highly-elliptical orbit around the Sun supports this hypothesis. That said, scientists aren’t too sure how to define Phaethon. When it passes by the Sun, it doesn’t develop a cometary tail, and its spectra looks like a rocky asteroid. Also, the bits and pieces that break off to form the Geminid meteoroids are several times denser than cometary dust flakes.

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6. Tell me more. 

3200 Phaethon was discovered on Oct. 11, 1983 by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. Because of its close approach to the Sun, Phaethon is named after the Greek mythological character who drove the Sun-god Helios’ chariot. Phaethon is a small asteroid: its diameter measures only 3.17 miles (5.10 kilometers) across. And we have astronomer Fred Whipple to thank—he realized that Phaethon is the source for the Geminids.

7. A tale of twins. 

The Geminids’ radiant is the constellation Gemini, a.k.a. the “Twins.” And, of course, the constellation of Gemini is also where we get the name for the shower: Geminids.

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8. In case you didn’t know. 

The constellation for which a meteor shower is named only helps stargazers determine which shower they’re viewing on a given night; the constellation is not the source of the meteors. Also, don’t just look to the constellation of Gemini to view the Geminids—they’re visible throughout the night sky.

9. And in case you miss the show. 

There’s a second meteor shower in December: the Ursids, radiating from Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. If Dec. 22 and the morning of Dec. 23 are clear where you are, have a look at the Little Dipper’s bowl—you might see about 10 meteors per hour.

10. Endless opportunities. There are so many sights to see in the sky. Use the Night Sky Network, the Solar System Ambassadors, and the Museum Alliance to look up local astronomy clubs, and join them for stargazing events in town, and under dark skies.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

What’s Up – December 2017

What’s Up For December?

Geminid and Ursid meteor showers & winter constellations!

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This month hosts the best meteor shower of the year and the brightest stars in familiar constellations.

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The Geminds peak on the morning of the 14th, and are active from
December 4th through the 17th. The peak lasts for a full 24 hours,
meaning more worldwide meteor watchers will get to see this spectacle.

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Expect to see  up to 120 meteors per hour between midnight and 4 a.m.
but only from a dark sky. You’ll see fewer after moonrise at 3:30 a.m.
local time.

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In the southern hemisphere, you won’t see as many, perhaps 10-20 per hour, because the radiant never rises above the horizon.

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Take a moment to enjoy the circle of constellations and their brightest stars around Gemini this month.

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Find yellow Capella in the constellation Auriga. 

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Next-going clockwise–at 1 o’clock find Taurus and bright reddish Aldebaran, plus the Pleiades. 

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At two, familiar Orion, with red Betelguese, blue-white Rigel, and the three famous belt stars in-between the two.

  

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Next comes Leo, and its white lionhearted star, Regulus at 7 o’clock.

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Another familiar constellation Ursa Major completes the view at 9 o’clock.

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There’s a second meteor shower in December, the Ursids, radiating from
Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper. If December 22nd  and the morning of
December 23rd are clear where you are, have a look at the Little
Dipper’s bowl, and you might see about ten meteors per hour.

Watch the full What’s Up for December Video: 

There are so many sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video series on Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.   

What’s Up November 2017

What’s Up For November?

Dawn pairing of Jupiter and Venus, Moon shines near star clusters, meteor activity all month long!

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This month binoculars will come in handy–to view the moon, star clusters, and a close pairing of Venus and Jupiter.

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You can’t miss bright Venus in the predawn sky. This month Venus pairs up
with Jupiter on the morning of November 13th.

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The Leonids peak on a moonless November 17th. Expect no more than 10 meteors an hour around 3:00 a.m., the height of the shower.

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The Northern and Southern sub-branches of the Taurid meteor shower offer sparse counts of about 5 meteors per hour, but slow, bright meteors are common.

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The nearby November Orionids peak on the 28th. In contrast to the Taurids, the Orionids are swift. But don’t expect more than 3 meteors per hour.

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The moon glides by three beautiful star clusters in the morning sky this month, and a pair of binoculars will allow you to see the individual stars in the clusters. Aim your binoculars at the Pleiades and the moon on the 5th.

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Then aim at the Messier or M-35 cluster and the moon on the 7th and the Beehive cluster and the moon on the 10th.

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Meanwhile, at dusk, catch Saturn as it dips closer to the western horizon and pairs up with Mercury on the 24th through the 28th.

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Also, Comet C/2017 O1 should still be a binocular-friendly magnitude 7 or 8 greenish object in November. Use Polaris, the North Star as a guide. Look in the East to Northeast sky in the late evening.  

Watch the full What’s Up for November Video: 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

5 things that may surprise you about the Moon

…In honor of International Observe the Moon Night

October 28th is International Observe the Moon Night, a worldwide, public celebration of lunar science and exploration held annually since 2010 thanks to our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission team and partners. One day each year, everyone on Earth is invited to observe and learn about the Moon together, and to celebrate the cultural and personal connections we all have with our planet’s nearest neighbor.

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Here are 5 things that might surprise you about the Moon.

1. There has been a spacecraft there for 100 lunar days

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In October 2017, LRO celebrates one hundred days of collecting scientific data at the Moon. One hundred Moon days. From our perspective on Earth, one lunar day is one full phase cycle, or about 29.5 Earth days. That’s 100 opportunities to observe changes from night to day, photograph the surface at different Sun angles, measure rising and falling temperatures, study the way certain chemicals react to the daily light and temperature cycle, and increase our understanding of the Moon as a dynamic place.

2. You can still see the paths left by Apollo astronauts’ boot prints and rovers

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Much of the lunar surface is covered in very fine dust. When Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, the descent stage engine disturbed the dust and produced a distinct bright halo around the lunar module. As astronauts moved around, their tracks exposed the darker soil underneath, creating distinct trails that we know, thanks to LRO, are still visible today. The Moon has no atmosphere, so there is no wind to wipe away these tracks.

3. The Moon has tattoos!

Observations from LRO show mysterious patterns of light and dark that are unique to the Moon. These lunar swirls look painted on, like the Moon got ‘inked.’ Lunar swirls, like these imaged at Reiner Gamma by LRO, are found at more than 100 locations across the lunar surface. Lunar swirls can be tens of miles across and appear in groups or as isolated features. 

Researchers think these patterns form in places where there’s still a remnant of the Moon’s magnetic field. There are still many competing theories about how swirls form, but the primary idea is that the local magnetic field deflects the energetic particles in the solar wind, so there’s not as much weathering of the surface. The magnetically shielded areas would then look brighter than everything around them.

4. There were once active volcanoes, that shaped what we see now

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Early astronomers named the large dark spots that we see on the near side of the Moon “maria,” Latin for “seas,” because that’s what they thought they were. We now know that the dark spots are cooled lava, called basalt, formed from ancient volcanic eruptions. The Moon’s volcanoes are no longer active, but their past shapes the Moon that we see today. The Moon doesn’t have large volcanoes like ones in Hawaii, but it does have smaller cones and domes. 

Other small features derived from volcanic activity include rivers of dried lava flows, like the ones visible in this image of Vallis Schroteri taken by LRO, and dark areas formed from eruptive volcanoes that spewed fire. For many years, scientists thought the Moon’s volcanic activity died out long ago, but there’s some evidence for relatively “young” volcanism, suggesting that the activity gradually slowed down instead of stopping abruptly.

5. Anyone, anywhere can participate in International Observe the Moon Night.  

How to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night

  1. Attend an event –  See where events are happening near you by visiting http://observethemoonnight.org
  2. Host an event – Call up your neighbors and friends and head outdoors – no special equipment is needed. Let us know how you celebrated by registering your event!
  3. Don’t let cloudy weather get you down! Observe the Moon in a variety of ways from the comfort of indoors – View stunning lunar vistas through images and videos, or explore the Moon on your own with QuickMap or Moon Trek
  4. Join the worldwide conversation with #ObserveTheMoon on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook
  5. For regular Moon-related facts, updates and science, follow @NASAMoon on Twitter

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Solar System: Things To Know This Week

Weather permitting, you can observe the Moon most nights, unless it’s a new moon, when the lighted side of the Moon faces away from Earth. The Moon is by far the brightest object in the night sky and there’s plenty to see. But this week is special…

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…October 28 is International Observe the Moon Night (also known as InOMN).

Here’s all you need to know to join in and celebrate:

1. One Planet. One Moon. One Night.

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Everyone on Earth is invited to join the celebration by hosting or attending an InOMN event and uniting on one day each year to look at and learn about the Moon together.

2. What’s Up?

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October’s night skies are full of sights, from the first quarter Moon on InOMN to Saturn making a cameo appearance above the Moon October 23 and 24. Watch our What’s Up video for details.

3. Be Social

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Hundreds of events are planned around the globe. Click the top link on this page for a handy map. You can also register your own event.

4. Don’t Just Stand There

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Here are some activities for enhanced Moon watching.

5. Impress Your Friends with Moon Knowledge

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Download InOMN flyers and handouts, Moon maps and even some pre-made presentations. There’s even a certificate to mark your participation.

6. Guide to the Face of the Moon

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Almost dead center on the Earth-facing side of the Moon is the Surveyor 6 robotic spacecraft impact side. Apollo 12 and 14 are a bit to the left. And Apollo 11 – the first steps on the moon – are to the right. This retro graphic tells the whole story.

7. Moon Shots

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NASA photographers have done some exceptional work capturing views of the Moon from Earth. Here are a few galleries:

8. Walking on the Moon

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Twelve human beings walked on the face of the Moon. Here are some of the best shots from the Apollo program.

9. Moon Watch

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Our Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is up there right now, mapping the moon and capturing some spectacular high-resolution shots.

10. Keep Exploring

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Make our Moon portal your base for further lunar exploration.

Check out the full version of ‘Ten Things to Know This Week’ HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.