August 23, 2017

Astro-Event: Prospects for the 2012 Leonids.

Looking northeast at 2AM local.

(Created by the Author in Starry Night).

There’s one yearly meteor shower that’s always worth watching out for. This weekend, the Leonid meteors are set to peak on November 17th. The bad news is: this is a bad year for this shower; although the Leonids can reach storm levels of +1,000 per hour as last happened in 1998 & 1999, this year the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) isn’t expected to top 15. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: A Total Solar Eclipse “Down Under!”

(Animation credit: A.T. Sinclair/NASA/GSFC).

All hail the saros… eclipse season 2 of 2 is upon us for 2012. This coming Tuesday as the Moon reaches its ascending node along the ecliptic also represents the only total solar eclipse of the Sun for 2012. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: Scouting out a Dusk Comet.

Discovery image of 2012 F1 (LINEAR)

(Credit: the Remanzacco Observatory).

2012 S1 (ISON)2011 L4 PanSTARRS… 2013 is already ramping up to be a great year for astronomy, with the promise of no less than two bright comets. This year came in with the surprise survival of Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy past the Sun and saw two decent binocular comets in Garradd C/2009 P1 and a surprise outburst recently of Comet 168P/Hergenrother last month. These icy visitors are fickle beasts, and any comet that rises above +10 magnitude officially piques our interest.

[Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Haunting the “Ghost Double.”

The “Ghost of Gamma…” (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

Sometimes, the new and the unexpected lies just inside the field of view of the familiar. This week, we’d like to turn your attention to a hidden double star in the field of a star party favorite.  Halloween means sidewalk astronomy season, as we show off the delights of the universe to high-fructose corn syrup-filled suburbanites. Hey, it’s wonderful that a pagan Cross Quarter tie-in holiday (as in a celebration approximately midway between the equinox and the solstice) gets some play in this day and age. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: A Possible “Taurid Swarm?”

A Taurid meteor streaks through an All-Sky Cam. (Credit: NASA).

A relatively obscure meteor shower may be on the upswing in the coming month, starting this week. The Northern Taurids are usually a minor shower, of little note on most years. Generating a maximum zenithal hourly rate just a little above the background sporadic level of about 5 per hour, the Northern Taurids go unnoticed on most years. Active from October 20th through December 10th with a broad peak centered on November 12th, the radiant drifts across the border from the constellation Aries into northern Taurus just below The Pleiades (M45) open star cluster.

The path of the radiant of the Northern Taurids. (Photo & Graphic by Author).

Fred Whipple’s analysis of the radiant of the Northern Taurids in the early 1950’s revealed a path wandering from a Right Ascension of 3 Hours 00’ and a declination of +19° degrees in the constellation Aries in mid-October into Taurus very near the Pleiades at a R.A. of 4 Hours and 7.7’ and a declination of 24.5° degrees on December 1st.

In fact, researchers in the mid-20th century discovered that the two Taurid streams are tangled up with two other faint streams, known as the Autumn or Northern & Southern Arietids.

So, what’s so significant about a minor meteor shower? Well first off, the Northern Taurids are known to produce a disproportionate amount of bright fireballs. The Moon reaches Full phase on October 28th at 3:49PM EDT/7:49 PM UTC, but that shouldn’t be a hindrance for any bright fireball sightings. General meteor velocities for the Northern Taurids are about 29 kilometres per second, lending themselves to long, graceful meteor trails. This has also lent the nickname “The Halloween Fireballs” to the Northern Taurids over the years.

Both the Southern and Northern Taurids emanate from debris shed by that most famous of ultra-short period comets, Comet 2P/Encke. The Southern Taurids have a radiant that runs roughly parallel though the southern portion of the constellation Taurus with a ZHR=5 and are also currently active from September 10 – November 20th. In fact, it may be tough to disentangle the source radiant of the two, as they only lie about 10° degrees apart. Comet Encke has the shortest orbital period of any known comet at 3.3 years, and there’s some thought that the streams of all four showers converge on points 4,700 and 1,500 years ago, hinting at a large breakup and discharge of material around those times.

The Northern Taurids have seen a recent upswing in activity on the years 1995, 1998, 2005 and 2008. Current modeling suggests that we encounter a “swarm” of Taurid fireballs once every 61 years, as last occurred, you guessed it, 61 years ago in 1951. In fact, it was the “Taurid fireball swarm of 1951” that solidified the stream as a true meteor shower in the first place. Of course, this shower has only been monitored for less than a century, and it’s to be seen if the 61 year hypothesis holds true.

Just only this year, the International Astronomical Union raised the number of established meteor showers from 64 to 95. To be sure, there are lots more streams out there, and clumps of debris in known showers that we’ve yet to encounter. There’s already talk of a possible new mid-December radiant dubbed the “46/P-ids” that may becoming active, along with a return of the defunct Andromedids in early December and a possible meteor storm from Comet 209P/LINEAR in May of 2014. Incidentally, that last one will hail from the constellation Camelopardalis, perhaps giving birth to… wait for it… the Camelopardalids! That’ll be a fun one for the non-science media to explain!

Do keep a watch on the sky for Taurid fireball activity over the next few weeks. The radiant rises to the northeast just after sunset and will be high overheard by local midnite for mid-northern latitude observers through November. Watch those all-sky cameras for activity as well. Will we witness a “Great Taurid Swarm of 2012?” remember, you won’t see any if you don’t try!

Astro-Event: The Red Planet Meets the “Anti-Mars.”

All hail the “Anti-Mars!”

No less than two astro-events mark the passage of Astronomy Day on October 20th, a day so cool, we repeat it twice! The other Astronomy Day on the calendar for 2012 was on April 28th. (Hey, the sky changes, y’know?)

First up, the planet Mars meets the bright star Antares (a.k.a. Alpha Scorpii), passing just over 3° degrees to its north on the 20th. Mars has added an appreciably different look to the constellation since passing into Scorpius and sliding by Delta Scorpii on October 10th. Coincidentally, now is a good time to compare Mars and its astronomical antithesis. [Read more...]

The Scarlet Hues of TX Piscium.

U Camelopardalis, a carbon star with the same fate as TX Piscium.

(Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble).

Oh, pretty! Is a frequent exclamation surrounding that rarity of celestial beasts, the carbon star. Fans of this space will recall our exploits tracking down such favorites as Hind’s Crimson Star, UU Aurigae, and V Hydrae. These ruddy stars come as a welcome surprise in the often monotone universe and can serve as a star party “secret weapon” when every other ‘scope is pointed at Albireo. This week, we’ll look at just such a treat that is well placed for fall viewing for the northern hemisphere. And October is an ideal time to look for it, as Mercury, Mars, and Saturn huddle low in the dusk, Jupiter hasn’t yet reached its evening prime time, and Venus remains high in the dawn. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: A Spectacular Dawn Appulse.

Venus versus Regulus: the view on October 3rd.

(All simulations created by the Author in Starry Night).

It’s a question we have posed before, worthy of a sequel to Arthur Upgreen’s alternate astronomy book Many Skies; what would Venus look like if it had a moon? As a kid, I remember a science book on the solar system looking back at the Earth-Moon system from Venus, assuming that you could get above the cloud tops. At greatest elongation, Earth’s Moon would be 9’ arc minutes from the planet’s -3.6 magnitude disk this month and would itself shine at +0.5 magnitude… what a view that would be! [Read more...]

Astro-Event(s): Scoping out the Outer Solar System Action.

All Hail the Harvest Moon!

(Photo by Author).

It’s great to have bright planets lined up in the dusk sky. With the start of school star party season, it gives us diligent ‘scope operators something bright to aim at, even from the most light-polluted of school basketball courts. [Read more...]

AstroEvent(s): Hunting the Lunar V & More.

An uber-thin crescent from September 2011.

Take heart, residents of the northern hemisphere; Fall and hopefully cooler climes and darker nights are almost upon us. Growing up in northern Maine, autumn was always our favorite season of the year. It’s the season without the aggravations of all the others; lacking the chill of winter, the mud of spring and the bugs of summer, Fall is the best. If we ever find an exoplanet with a climate that resembles a perpetual New England Fall, I propose that a multi-generational ark be constructed immediately… [Read more...]

Astro-Event: A September Occultation Bonanza.

Jupiter & the Moon the morning of September 8th as seen from Central Florida.

(All graphics unless otherwise noted where created by the author using Starry Night).

I love the term occultation. Use it around the astronomically uninitiated, and it just confirms every suspicion they’ve ever had that you’re REALLY a secret astrologer, further confusing the pseudoscience with astronomy in their minds. I sometimes think that even many astronomers feel a bit odd using the term, as it hints at astronomy’s astrological roots before it became a respectable science. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: The Craters of Apollo 11.

The region of the Apollo 11 craters (see below).

Photo by Author.

Recently, we wrote about the “Stars of Apollo 1” and how those astronauts who perished in the fire on Pad 34 were memorialized in the sky by their own hand. This week, we thought we’d draw your attention moonward and bring you next week’s astro-event a few days early to honor the passing of a hero. We’ve wanted to write on the craters named after the Apollo 11 astronauts for some time. Located in the southwestern corner of the Mare Tranquillitatis (The Sea of Tranquility), these three craters named Aldrin, Collins, & Armstrong sit in the general area that Neil Armstrong took his footsteps on the Moon, the first human being to do so on July 20th, 1969. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: What’s in a Name? Black & Blue Moons through 2020.

The August 2011 Full Moon rising as seen from Astroguyz HQ.

(Photo by Author).

(Note: This week’s lunar-related event is a fitting tribute to the life of astronaut hero and legend Neil Armstrong, who passed away this weekend. As the second Full Moon of the month approaches, don’t forget to look skyward and remember when the first man walked on the Moon in 1969. Next week’s special Astro-Event will be Apollo 11 related as well. This one’s for you, Neil!) [Read more...]

Review: The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean.

On sale now!

Thank your genes that you’re here. One of the greatest revelations of the 20th century was not only the role of genetics, but the unraveling of the inner workings of DNA. This culminated in the Human Genome Project completed in 2003 which provided another blow courtesy of science to our collective egos as we realized that we possessed far less genes than oh, say, a potato. [Read more...]

Astro-Event(s): Lunar/Planetary Action & Hunting Triton.

Mars, Saturn & Spica the night of MSL’s Landing. (Photo by Author).

We’re swiftly losing the evening planetary action this month, as Jupiter, Mercury and Venus occupy the dawn skies and Saturn and Mars slide ever lower into the dusk. It’s interesting to watch as Mars appears to “pass” the Spica & Saturn pairing in the constellation Virgo as its orbital motion struggles to keep up with Earth. [Read more...]

Astro-Event-Perseid Weekend: “It’s Raining Meteors!”

How ‘bout that sky-crane landing Curiosity made on Mars, huh? Over a ton of the finest in human science engineering all moving from 3.6 miles per second to stationary on the surface of Mars in seven minutes flat. It must’ve truly lit up the Martian atmosphere for any would-be Martians on the ground… [Read more...]

Astro-Event: “Occupy Mars!”

Curiosity at Gale… (Artist concept. Credit: NASA/JPL).

It’s not every day that Earthlings land embassaries on another world. This weekend, NASA will go for an eighth landing on the Red Planet as Curiosity touches down in Gale Crater. We were lucky enough to attend our 3rd #NASATweetup for the launch last November, seeing off the Mars Science Laboratory enroute to Mars. And now the big day is finally here. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: The Dog Days of Summer 2012.

Can you feel the heat? The first half of 2012 was a hot one for the record books. And the bad news is, we haven’t even reached the month of August! Here at Astroguyz HQ in central Florida, having any chance of clear skies in the summertime means rising early in the AM. And the first week of August sees an ancient observation that is fun to try and replicate; the heliacal rising of the star Sirius. At magnitude -1.46, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky as seen from our Earthly vantage point of 8.6 light years distant. [Read more...]