Check out this geomagnetic activity plot from our astronomer Dan Joyce

The astronomical community has been abuzz for some time regarding the remarkably low level of solar activity (sunspots) in recent months. Our astronomer Dan Joyce says the situation is truly abnormal–especially in a period in which the sun should be cycling into a more active phase as a new 11 year solar maximum approaches. This geomagnetic plot back to 2000 underscores just how anomalous the low level of solar activity has been. The sun is in a less energetic state when sunspots are so limited and there are some in meteorology and astronomy who believe this can have an effect on earth’s weather. It’s a situation which is going to be interesting to follow. Our thanks, as always, to Dan Joyce for his insight and expertise on this subject and for sending us this geomagnetic activity plot.
Tom Skilling
Graph courtesy of astronomer Dan Joyce, Cernan Earth and Space Center, Triton College

A spectacular view of Jupiter from our astronomer Dan Joyce and his colleague Don Parker in Florida

Our intrepid astronomer Dan Joyce has forwarded this spectacular shot of Jupiter,
photographed by his colleague Don Parker. As Dan e-mailed to us:
“Jupiter is dominating the southern sky this summer. Anyone can see it in a clear
sky to the southeast before midnight and in the south thereafter for the rest of the
season. The interesting feature is that the Great Red Spot has been joined by two little
red spots nearby. The GRS, for scale, extends almost two-and-a-half earth diameters
and is a centuries old anti-cyclonic storm system with winds measured by the Voyager
I spacecraft at nearly 350 miles per hour. Jupiter itself weighs about 318 times the

Thanks Dan!
-Tom Skilling

International Space Station visible from Chicago

The International Space Station rises in the southwest then passes overhead Wednesday
night between 9:40 and 9:47 pm
Thanks to e-mailer BobK who alerts us to Wednesday night’s pass of the International
Space Station between 9:40 and 9:47 pm. Here’s additional information Bob has been
kind enough to forward to us:
Weather permitting, the best viewing of the International Space Station flying
overhead in quite a while will be this Wed May 21 at 9:40pm. The space station will fly
directly overhead between 9:40pm and 9:47pm, making it a very long and bright event.
(Of course, it will still be just a very bright moving “star” in the sky).
Here is a map of its path (Note: This is designed to be printed out and held overhead, so
that the compass directions are correct) It will rise in the south-west around 9:40pm,
pass overhead at approximately 9:44pm, and finally set in the north-east around 9:47


The Comet Holmes as viewed from northern Illinois last Friday night

Sheldon Faworski has forwarded us this photograph of the core of Comet Holmes taken last Friday night (11/9/2007). Comet Holmes, still faintly visible on clear nights, appears about 40-degrees above the northeast
horizon just after sunset, our astronomer Dan Joyce tells us, then transits (moves) nearly directly overhead by about 1:30 a.m. Early risers may see it about 45-degrees above the northwest horizon just
before sunrise. The comet has led to e-mails from many of you who monitor the night skies. Dan reports it exploded with no advance warning in late October, turning much brighter in the process. Though visible to
the naked eye, as what Dan terms a “softly focused planet”, it can be seen more clearly through the use of binoculars or a telescope.
This photo from Dan’s friend and astronomical colleague Sheldon Faworski, offers us a view of the comet with fascinating detail. Sheldon wanted us to know that our Dan Joyce produced the mirrors used in his telescope and that he (Sheldon) actually constructed the telescope through which this photo was taken. Thanks to both Dan and Sheldon for alerting us to the Comet Holmes and for the wonderful photo.
Tom Skilling
Photo courtesy: Sheldon Faworski

Spectacular view of this morning's (8/28/2007) lunar eclipse as viewed from the Illinois State Water Survey/Midwestern Regional Climate Center grounds in Champaign

Samuel Shea, service climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center in Champaign, shares this amazing collage of images from this morning’s lunar eclipse. In his e-mail to me, Sam tells us:
“…the weather could not have been any more perfect here. The images were captured in the lawn of the Illinois State Water Survey/Midwestern Regional Climate Center.”
Sam tells us he has other pictures online from various times during the eclipse if you click on this link:
Thanks SO MUCH for sharing these with us, Sam, and please pass along our best wishes to all of your colleagues at the Illinois State Water Survey and the Midwestern Regional Climate Center!
Tom Skilling
Photo courtesy: Samuel Shea

Time exposures of Wednesday evening's International Space Station/Space Shuttle Atlantis pass over Chicago at 9:52 p.m.

Michael Durr of Westmont, Illinois has sent us these marvelous time exposure photographs taken from his backyard in Westmont of the International Space Shuttle and the Space Shuttle Atlantis passing over the Chicago area. He took these photos at 9:52 pm Wednesday evening, June 20, 2007 and e-mailed us that “it’s amazing to think about people flying over us at that height and speed.”
How true! Many thanks for sharing these with us Michael! They are spectacular!
-Tom Skilling
Photo Courtesy: Michael Durr