More solstice activity

This morning at 22 minutes past midnight Universal Time, the sun reached its lowest declination of the year: minus 23.5 degrees. Astronomers call this the “winter solstice”–the first day of northern winter and the longest night of the year. This calls for traditions. In Iran for example they celebrate the long night (CHELLEH night or YALDA night) by staying up late with family members. They read Hafez poems, listen to music, eat nuts and fruits, especially pomegranate and watermelon.”

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The Aurora Borealis, also known as “northern lights”, is featured in this photograph taken by a STS-116 crew member onboard Discovery during flight day 11 activities. Image Credit: NASA

At the same time the “STS-116”-crew is returning home after a successful mission to the International Space Station. The STS-116 crew closed Space Shuttle Discovery’s payload bay doors about 12:13 p.m. EST in preparation for a 3:56 p.m. landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. If flight controllers elect to take this landing opportunity, Commander Mark Polansky will fire Discovery’s jets to begin the descent to Kennedy at 2:49 p.m.

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Three landing sites have been activated today due to forecasts of questionable weather at Kennedy and Edwards Air Force Base in California. The forecast for the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico is favorable. (New Mexico haven’t been used for Space Shuttle landing since 1982). Six more opportunities are available today if flight controllers pass on the first. The last opportunity at Kennedy is at 5:32 p.m. Three exist at Edwards – 5:27 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:36 p.m. Two are available at White Sands – 5:27 p.m. and 7:02 p.m.

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While at the station, the crew continued the construction of the outpost with the addition of the P5 spacer truss segment during the first of four spacewalks. The next two spacewalks rewired the station’s power system, leaving it in a permanent setup. A fourth spacewalk was added to allow the crew to retract solar arrays that had folded improperly.

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Discovery also delivered a new crew member and more than two tons of equipment and supplies to the station, most of which were located in the SPACEHAB cargo module. Almost two tons of items no longer needed on the station are returning to Earth with STS-116.

TODAYS SPACE WEATHER
Current Conditions, dec 22 2006 (winter solstice)

Solar Wind
speed: 646.2 km/s
density: 1.2 protons/cm3
Updated: Today at 1857 UT

Daily Sun: 22 Dec ’06
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The sun is blank and solar activity is low.
Credit: SOHO/MDI

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