Mars will reach its closest approach to earth of the current opposition on June 21, the summer solstice, the same day that a full solar eclipse takes place in the southern hemisphere. On June 30 Comet Linear C/2001 A2 makes its closest earth approach while breaking up. And there has been a sudden increase in sunspot activity, with the sunspot count reaching close to a record on June 18.
On June 10, the sun, which had been relatively quiet, suddenly blossomed with 250 sunspots. Today, June 18, the count is at 289 and earth is experiencing geomagnetic storm conditions with a G2-class geomagnetic storm under way. Two of the current sunspots, 9503 and 9506, have twisted beta-gamma magnetic fields that could unleash strong M-class solar flares in the next few days.
The highest daily sunspot count during the current solar max prior to the latest eruption took placed on March 27, when the count reached 241. The highest daily count in modern times was 342, reached on March 31, 1958.
The sun's magnetic field flipped on February 15, 2001, and the most intense period of solar activity was expected in subsequent months. On Monday, April 2, the most powerful solar flare ever recorded took place. Most of the energy from this flare missed earth, or it would have resulted in damage to power systems, some electronic equipment and satellites.
On June 30, Comet Linear C2001 A2 will pass within 22 million miles of earth and be visible in the northern hemisphere at approximately 30 degrees above the horizon. It should be possible to see the comet's twin nucleii with the naked eye and it's spectaular tail should be visible through binoculars. It could become bright enough for the whole show to be visible to the naked eye.
On June 21, Mars will be in closest opposition to earth during this orbital cycle. At that time, it will be approximately 42 million miles from earth, and will be an impressive sight in the night sky. A good pair of binoculars may even reward the viewer with some disk detail.
Also on June 21, a total solar eclipse will cross the southern hemisphere. This eclipse will be best viewed in Zambia. The shadow of the moon will first darken the South Atlantic about 250 miles east of the Uruguay coast. It will cross the Atlantic Ocean, traverse southern Africa and the island of Madagascar, and then vanish into the darkness as night falls over the Indian Ocean. You can enjoy the eclipse on the internet by going to Exploratorium.edu's excellent eclipse watch page.
NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.