Stargazing: Solar flares cause problems on earth

Active spots on the sun’s surface can fire flares and coronal mass ejections — clouds of electrically charged particles —at our planet. Upon arrival at Earth, these can wreak havoc with satellite operations and even our electrical grid.
By WAYNE HARRIS-WYRICK, For The Oklahoman Published: July 1, 2014
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Unless you have a radio telescope in your backyard, daytime astronomy is pretty much limited to the sun. Our daytime star is a fascinating astronomical object. It generates sunspots and prominences, those looping arches of solar plasma carried up from the sun’s surface by its magnetic field.

Active spots on the sun’s surface can fire flares and coronal mass ejections — clouds of electrically charged particles — at our planet. Upon arrival at Earth, these can wreak havoc with satellite operations and even our electrical grid. At the least, they generate the beautiful auroral displays we call the Northern Lights. But, without proper shielding, you should never try to look at the sun.

The moon also is often visible in daylight, but generally creates no astronomical excitement. It can this Saturday.

Viewing planets by day

There actually are several other astronomical bodies besides the sun and the Moon regularly visible during daylight hours — notably Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. The problem is finding their pinpoints of light against the blue daytime sky. This is where the moon can help this Saturday.

Everything in space is brighter when higher in the sky. Around 8 p.m. Saturday, the moon and Mars will be very close together in the south, with less than the moon’s diameter separating them. And they’ll be about as high as they will be for the day. With the sun less than an hour from setting, the sky where the moon and Mars float will be dimmer than normal. The half-full moon will be easily visible and you can use it as a guide to Mars, hovering just above it. You may need to use binoculars to first locate Mars, but it should be visible with the normal human eye.

On Saturday, the moon will pass not quite as close to Saturn, but their closest approach occurs at 9 p.m., when it will be dark enough to see Saturn without the aid of the moon.

When two celestial bodies appear close together in our sky, even though they are actually separated by many millions of miles, like the moon and these two planets, astronomers call that a conjunction. Over time, the moon has conjunctions with all of our planets.