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A Sunspot popped up, and they're on the Sun right now.
What a wonderful week to be out under the stars! The nights are cool and clear, and there will be many enjoyable astronomy things to do. As we lead up to next week's total lunar eclipse, the Moon is a highlight in the night sky. But be on watch all week as Orionid meteor activity will be up. Here's what's up day by day from October 18 to 24!
On October 11, solar Astronomers saw something they haven't seen on the Sun in six years... nothing. Not a single sunspot. Within a couple of days, of course, a Sunspot popped up, and they're on the Sun right now. This is a clear indication to Astronomers that the Sun is on its way to the low point of its 11-year cycle of activity, called the "solar minimum". During the solar minimum, the Sun can be without spots for days or even weeks, and solar flares subside. Astronauts will breath a sigh of relief; it's a safer time to be out in space.
NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and will now be prepared for its launch. If everything goes as planned, Deep Impact will lift off on December 30 atop a Delta rocket and then journey towards Comet Tempel 1. Its "impactor" spacecraft will smash into the Comet on July 4, 2005, at a speed of 37,000 kph (23,000 mph), blasting out a crater hundreds of metres across. At the same time, its "flyby" spacecraft will record the event so scientists back on Earth can analyze the excavated material and get a better sense of what's inside a comet.
The European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft fired its ion thruster nearly continuously last week to set itself up to be captured by the Moon's gravity on November 13. The spacecraft launched just over a year ago, and it's been using its ion engine to make larger and larger orbits around the Earth. Once it gets captured, it'll use the thruster to decrease its orbit until January 15, 2005 when it will get as close as 300 km to the Moon. The probe will then spend another six months making a comprehensive survey of chemical elements on the lunar surface.
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