October 26, 2014

In Search of the Green Flash & More in Naples, Florida!

A Florida Gulf Coast sunset!

(All photos by author).

Sometimes, you have to go just beyond your own backyard to catch what you’ve traveled the world for and never seen. Earlier this week saw the start of our triumphant “return to the road,” and our grand tour of the U.S. southeast. We’ll be reporting on our adventures from the road weekly, and of course, you can always follow our daily escapades, musings, and ramblings on Twitter @Astroguyz, 3G willing. [Read more...]

The Universe: You Are Here in Time & Space.

Our present understanding of our expanding universe. (Credit: NASA/WMAP).

(Editor’s Note: The essay that follows is a re-bloggified version of an essay I wrote in our quest for a science teaching degree. As that quest for knowledge has changed into a quest for employment, I thought it would be a worthy exercise to place these works out where eyeballs might fall upon them once again…)

Cosmology is one of the fastest evolving fields in astronomy today. In less than a century, our understanding of the past and future evolution of our universe has gone from one largely of conjecture to a diverse study with hard observational data. [Read more...]

Death by…Gamma-Ray Burst!


An artist’s impression of a very bad day…(Credit: ESO/A. Roquette).

Sure, we’ve all seen the movies with the impending death by asteroid or comet. You might have even heard of the havoc that can be wrecked by the Sun or an errant black hole, but have you ever heard of death by… gamma ray burst? Very much outside of public consciousness, this was but one of the more exotic ways humanity could have an official bad day that was outlined in Phil Plait’s outstanding Death from the Skies! But what are these exotic beasties, and just how likely are they? [Read more...]

The Great Orbiting Observatory Series: Part III: Gamma-Ray Telescopes.

Compton is placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle Atlantis. (Credit: NASA/Art Explosion).
Compton is placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle Atlantis. (Credit: NASA/Art Explosion).

   By far, the portion of the spectrum with the coolest Science fiction-friendly name is gamma-ray. The highest end of the spectrum, this range starts at energies above 100 keV and wavelengths of 10 pico-meters (that’s tiny…) or less. Gamma ray energy from space had been suspected since the mid-40’s, but it took the advent of the space age for gamma ray astronomy to really take off.  Studies of gamma rays have revealed an entirely new universe full of exotic beasties such as supernovae, gamma ray bursts, pulsars and black holes. Some gamma ray studies are conducted from high mountain peaks such as the VERITAS array in Arizona or the RAPTOR telescope in New Mexico which looks for optical GRB transients, as well as balloon borne observatories searching for soft cosmic rays aloft. These however can suffer degradation of the signal by energy interactions with oxygen and nitrogen molecules at altitude. Hence,  if you really want to get above our gamma-ray absorbing atmosphere, you’ve got to go to space to do it.

So you want to build a gamma ray telescope? These types of exotic instruments do not use telescope mirrors or an optical configuration in a traditional sense; instead, the employment of scintillors or photomultiplier tubes and sometimes diffracting masks or grates are used. The idea is that as a highly energetic cosmic ray hits the gas or crystals embedded within, a signature flash of Cerenkov radiation is emitted. If enough high speed photomultipliers can catch a particle in the act, a path and a direction of origin can be traced. Early detectors such as Explorer 1 were no more than simple cosmic ray counters; modern observatories such as Fermi can sweep the entire sky looking to pin-point gamma ray bursts.

One of the earliest mysteries of the space age was the source of space born high energy bursts. Satellites sent aloft to monitor nuclear weapons testing were also detecting gamma rays from cosmic sources… just what phenomena in the universe could produce such high energies?

As time and the field of astrophysics marched on, we began to realize that the universe, as J.B. Haldane once said, is “stranger than we can imagine.” Bizarre beasts such as quasars and gamma ray bursters joined our lexicon of exotic objects. A chief issue with observing gamma-ray bursts is their rapid onset and disappearance in the sky. If we were to study these sources, a telescope would need to not only be able to refine a field of view at gamma ray frequencies, but also be capable of quickly swinging into action once a burst had occurred.

The first true gamma ray telescope was NASA’s SAS-2 (for the Second Small Astronomy Satellite) launched in November 1972. Its mission lasted for about six months, and was the first gamma ray astronomy dedicated satellite. Its main discovery was the pulsar Geminga.  

Some past orbital robotic greats in the field of gamma ray astronomy were…

Compton: Some great science came “straight outta Compton…” Launched April 1991 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-37, Compton was actually named after Nobel Prize winner Dr. Arthur Holly Compton. During its all too short life span, Compton provided some amazing breakthroughs, including the first gamma ray all sky survey above 100 MeV, including a thorough study of the galactic core at those energy levels. Compton also discovered the first four soft gamma ray repeaters. When GRB 990123 popped off, Compton was there, nailing down the fading afterglow of a galaxy over four giga-parsecs distant. One of the true crimes of our times was the untimely demise of this instrument; Compton was purposely de-orbited June 4th, 2000 after partial gyro-scope failure.

protngrn

Granat ready for launch. (Credit: NASA/Roskosmos).

Granat: The International Astrophysical Observatory may have been one of the greatest orbiting projects that you’ve never heard of. A joint European Russian venture, Granat was placed into geocentric orbit on December 1st 1989 and carried three x-ray, three gamma ray instruments as well as an all sky detector. During its ten year life span, Granat provided an all sky survey in the 40 to 200 keV spectrum, as well as the discovery of several new black holes and pulsars. When you see a designator in a catalog marked “GRS” that stands for GRanat Source. Other unique feats include the ‘discovery of galactic micro quasars as well as a nearly two month long (!) exposure of our galactic center at high frequencies!

Cos-B: No, this wasn’t a mid-eighties sitcom…Cos-B was a European observatory conceived in the 60’s and launched by NASA in August 1975. This was back when the European Space Agency was still known as the European Space Research Organization… (Remember?) During its six year plus mission, COS-b advanced the wealth of gamma ray data and increased the catalog of known gamma ray emitting objects in what came to be known as the 2CG catalog. COS-B also conducted the first studies of the Cygnus X-3 pulsar.

 But those pioneering observatories represented a mere beginning in the fledgling field of gamma ray astronomy. Among the orbiting telescopes currently in use are…

glastschematic

A breakdown of Fermi/GLAST. (Credit: NASA/ E/PO, Sonoma State University). 

Fermi: the telescope formerly known as GLAST, the Fermi Gamma ray space telescope is now NASA’s pioneering high energy observatory in orbit.  Fermi sports two primary instruments; the LAT or Large Area Telescope, and the GBM or Gamma Ray Burst Monitor.  The LAT collects high energy positron-electron pairs generated as photons pass through special metal sheets and funnel them into a calorimeter stack. With a FOV spanning 20 degrees of the sky, the LAT can pinpoint a gamma ray source down to several arc minutes…pretty darn good in terms of high energy astronomy. The GBM is an all-sky instrument which is made of 14 scintillation detectors. Launched in June 2008, Fermi’s credits thus far include the detection of a pulsar that exclusively emits gamma ray energy (a first). It has but also been on hand to witness the most powerful GRB so far; GRB 080916C, a GRB with the force of an estimated 9,000 supernovae! Thankfully, this burst was over 12 billion light years distant.  

HETE-2: The High Energy Transient Explorer, this was a sort of bridge between the Compton and Fermi timeline. HETE was launched in October 2000 and carried both X-ray and UV instruments; unfortunately its earlier version was to have gamma ray detection capability but was doomed by the failure of its payload separating explosive bolts on launch.

GRB061121_small

BAT energy curve of GRB 061121. (Credit: NASA/Jay Norris)

Swift: The Swift Gamma Ray Burst mission has been another high energy physics high performer since its launch in 2004. The goal of Swift is much as its name implies; detect events with its Burst Alert Telescope, pin point the source to within 1 to 4’ arc minutes within 15 seconds, then notify any ground based telescopes with a clear view to swing into action. Really, the kind of quick reaction demanded of gamma ray burst monitoring is that fast! Swift also comes equipped with X-ray, UV, and optical instruments of its own to assist in catching the afterglow. To date, Swift has performed admirably, passing the 500 GRB mark earlier this year on April the 13th, 2010.               

Curiously, a quick search does not reveal a wealth of proposed gamma ray observatories on the books; we suspect this is because of the growth of modern balloon borne technology making it easier to place instrument payloads for high energy physics on atmospheric platforms. Of course, we would love to be proven wrong…

Digging around various astronomy forums yields only one proposed future scope; the Advanced Compton Telescope, a gamma-ray platform and successor to the original Compton, still very much in the proposal stage. Orbiting observatories such as Swift and Fermi should be destined for long lives, and provide an awesome science bang for the buck. And as noted, the balloon borne platforms used for cosmic ray studies are less than “stellar” when it comes to the gamma ray portion of the spectrum. Now that we’ve gotten a real taste for gamma ray astronomy, our suspicion is that astronomers will always want an orbiting workhorse on hand.

So there you have it, a quick peek into the exciting realm of orbital gamma ray astronomy. If your favorite GRB scope didn’t make the cut (y’know, the one you pinned your PhD on) do drop us a line, or follow us via the big, garish Twitter “Follow Me” button to the right… we love to talk astrophysics!

moon_egret

 The Moon as seen in Gamma Rays by Compton’s EGRET detector! (Credit: NASA/GSFC/USRA). 

The Great Orbiting Observatories II: The Ultraviolet.

Galaxy M81 blazes with star birth in the ultraviolet. (Creidt: GALEX/NASA).

Galaxy M81 blazes with star birth in the ultraviolet. (Credit: GALEX/NASA).

 

   When we last left our installment of this saga, we covered the observatories that target the visible edge of our spectrum. This is a narrow slice; a tiny sliver of what we call the electromagnetic spectrum. This week, we move into the ultraviolet, a span of the spectrum at roughly between 10 to 320 nanometers. UV from space is almost entirely absorbed by our atmosphere, and thus, if you want to observe the universe or do UV astronomy, you have to go into space to do it. [Read more...]

Space Telescopes, Part I: Optical.

 
(Credit: NASA/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).
(Credit: NASA/ESA/S. Gallagher/J. English).
 

 Hickson Group 31 of galaxies as imaged by Hubble.

   This weeks’ expose will kick off our four part series on orbiting space telescopes. For starters, we’ll begin with the most familiar; the optical wavelength. True, we as humans are biased towards this narrow band of the spectrum; we love to see pretty pictures that we can relate to.  But beyond this, telescopes that operate in the visual wavelengths have no less than revolutionized astronomy, as well as laid promise for perhaps giving us images of exo-Earths in our lifetimes. What follows is a rapid fire list of what was, is, and what to look for up and coming in the realm of optical astronomy in space: [Read more...]

LIGO: A Quest for Gravity Waves.

LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).
LIGO, Livingston. (All Photos by Author).

We had to go there… last month’s NASA Tweetup at the Johnson Spaceflight Center saw us undertake the great American road trip from Astroguyz HQ north of Tampa, Florida, to Houston on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico and back. Ever the opportunists, we scoured the route for any astronomical pilgrimages of note. Then, like a bolt from the sky, a lone commenter drew our attention to a recent news piece we did on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory[Read more...]

12.03.10:Update: A Phobos Flyby/Martian Moons Ephemeris II.

 

(Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

(Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum).

 Mars Express scouts the proposed landing site(s) for Phobos-Grunt.

    The pictures are in: ESA’s Mars Express has performed two close flybys of Phobos in the past weeks and performed sensitive gravimetric as well as photographic reconnaissance passes of the bizarre moon. Of course, the data reveals more questions than it solves. Is Phobos solid rock, or just a loose rubble pile? Clearly, more is to be learned about this misshapen moon…we’ll have the pics up as soon as they’re in!

   The good news is, it not too late to try and spot these elusive beasties for yourself! Reader Ed Kotapish was good enough to provide us with an extended ephemeris for the eastern elongations of both Deimos and Phobos; note that on early Saturday, the 13th both moons are at their eastern most elongations within 20 minutes of each other! This curious event is favorable for U.S. viewers;

here are the greatest elongations for the Martian moons given in Universal Time through the rest of March;

12 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 2134 W

13 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0125 E
PHOBOS 0513 W
PHOBOS 0904 E
DEIMOS 0924 E
PHOBOS 1252 W
PHOBOS 1643 E
PHOBOS 2031 W

14 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0022 E
DEIMOS 0032 W
PHOBOS 0411 W
PHOBOS 0802 E
PHOBOS 1150 W
PHOBOS 1541 E
DEIMOS 1541 E
PHOBOS 1929 W
PHOBOS 2320 E

15 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0308 W
DEIMOS 0650 W
PHOBOS 0659 E
PHOBOS 1047 W
PHOBOS 1438 E
PHOBOS 1827 W
DEIMOS 2159 E
PHOBOS 2218 E

16 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0206 W
PHOBOS 0557 E
PHOBOS 0945 W
DEIMOS 1308 W
PHOBOS 1336 E
PHOBOS 1724 W
PHOBOS 2115 E

17 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0103 W
DEIMOS 0417 E
PHOBOS 0454 E
PHOBOS 0843 W
PHOBOS 1234 E
PHOBOS 1622 W
DEIMOS 1926 W
PHOBOS 2013 E

18 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0001 W
PHOBOS 0352 E
PHOBOS 0740 W
DEIMOS 1035 E
PHOBOS 1131 E
PHOBOS 1520 W
PHOBOS 1911 E
PHOBOS 2259 W

19 MAR 2010
DEIMOS 0143 W
PHOBOS 0250 E
PHOBOS 0638 W
PHOBOS 1029 E
PHOBOS 1417 W
DEIMOS 1652 E
PHOBOS 1808 E
PHOBOS 2156 W

20 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0147 E
PHOBOS 0536 W
DEIMOS 0801 W
PHOBOS 0927 E
PHOBOS 1315 W
PHOBOS 1706 E
PHOBOS 2054 W
DEIMOS 2310 E

21 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0045 E
PHOBOS 0433 W
PHOBOS 0824 E
PHOBOS 1213 W
DEIMOS 1419 W
PHOBOS 1604 E
PHOBOS 1952 W
PHOBOS 2343 E

22 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0331 W
DEIMOS 0528 E
PHOBOS 0722 E
PHOBOS 1110 W
PHOBOS 1501 E
PHOBOS 1849 W
DEIMOS 2037 W
PHOBOS 2240 E

23 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0229 W
PHOBOS 0620 E
PHOBOS 1008 W
DEIMOS 1145 E
PHOBOS 1359 E
PHOBOS 1747 W
PHOBOS 2138 E

24 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0126 W
DEIMOS 0254 W
PHOBOS 0517 E
PHOBOS 0905 W
PHOBOS 1257 E
PHOBOS 1645 W
DEIMOS 1803 E
PHOBOS 2036 E

25 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0024 W
PHOBOS 0415 E
PHOBOS 0803 W
DEIMOS 0912 W
PHOBOS 1154 E
PHOBOS 1542 W
PHOBOS 1933 E
PHOBOS 2322 W

26 MAR 2010
DEIMOS 0021 E
PHOBOS 0313 E
PHOBOS 0701 W
PHOBOS 1052 E
PHOBOS 1440 W
DEIMOS 1530 W
PHOBOS 1831 E
PHOBOS 2219 W

27 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0210 E
PHOBOS 0558 W
DEIMOS 0639 E
PHOBOS 0950 E
PHOBOS 1338 W
PHOBOS 1729 E
PHOBOS 2117 W
DEIMOS 2147 W

28 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0108 E
PHOBOS 0456 W
PHOBOS 0847 E
PHOBOS 1235 W
DEIMOS 1256 E
PHOBOS 1626 E
PHOBOS 2014 W

29 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0006 E
PHOBOS 0354 W
DEIMOS 0405 W
PHOBOS 0745 E
PHOBOS 1133 W
PHOBOS 1524 E
PHOBOS 1912 W
DEIMOS 1914 E
PHOBOS 2303 E

30 MAR 2010
PHOBOS 0251 W
PHOBOS 0643 E
DEIMOS 1023 W
PHOBOS 1031 W
PHOBOS 1422 E
PHOBOS 1810 W
PHOBOS 2201 E

31 MAR 2010
DEIMOS 0145 E
PHOBOS 0154 W
PHOBOS 0545 E
PHOBOS 0933 W
PHOBOS 1324 E
DEIMOS 1653 W
PHOBOS 1712 W
PHOBOS 2103 E

 Good luck, and again, we’d love to hear of any confirmed sightings!

An Ephemeris of the Martian Moons.

This is a quick posting of the best apparitions of the moon of Mars, Deimos and Phobos, as promised in the Mars opposition post. The tables run for a week after opposition, and are accurate to about 10 minutes or so. I hand crafted these in Starry Night after I found a lack of info about the web for this data. Obivously, we here at Astroguyz see a definite gap that those looking to spot these ellusive beasties are in need of. With Mars at opposition, the closest Full Moon of the year, and two back to back launches, its going to be a busy last week of January…. we’ll have a larger post out on tips to spy the Martian moons this weekend!

Deimos Date EST
     
Eastern Elongation 29 6:48
Western Elongation   21:33
Eastern Elongation 30 13:01
Western Elongation 31 4:00
Eastern Elongation   19:29
Western Elongation 1 10:42
Eastern Elongation 2 1:36
Western Elongation   16:22
Eastern Elongation 3 8:04
Western Elongation   22:30
Eastern Elongation 4 14:08
Western Elongation 5 5:31
Eastern Elongation   20:07
Western Elongation 6 11:20

 

Phobos

   
   Date  EST
Eastern Elongation 29 2:48
Western Elongation   6:46
Eastern Elongation   10:29
Western Elongation   14:19
Eastern Elongation   18:13
Western Elongation   21:48
Eastern Elongation 30 1:43
Western Elongation   5:37
Eastern Elongation   9:30
Western Elongation   13:10
Eastern Elongation   17:00
Western Elongation   20:55
Eastern Elongation 31 0:49
Western Elongation   4:41
Eastern Elongation   8:30
Western Elongation   12:04
Eastern Elongation   15:56
Western Elongation   19:45
Eastern Elongation   23:42
Western Elongation 1 3:30
Eastern Elongation   7:28
Western Elongation   11:10
Eastern Elongation   14:52
Western Elongation   18:47
Eastern Elongation   22:41
Western Elongation 2 2:34
Eastern Elongation   6:30
Western Elongation   10:19
Eastern Elongation   14:00
Western Elongation   17:45
Eastern Elongation   21:40
Western Elongation 3 1:30
Eastern Elongation   5:24
Western Elongation   9:11
Eastern Elongation   12:56
Western Elongation   16:42
Eastern Elongation   20:31
Western Elongation 4 12:29
Eastern Elongation   4:20
Western Elongation   8:08
Eastern Elongation   11:52
Western Elongation   15:41
Eastern Elongation   19:30
Western Elongation   23:10
Eastern Elongation 5 3:08
Western Elongation   6:58
Eastern Elongation   10:50
Western Elongation   14:40
Eastern Elongation   18:24
Western Elongation   22:10
Eastern Elongation 6 2:05
Western Elongation   6:01
Eastern Elongation   9:42
Western Elongation   13:42
Eastern Elongation   17:26
Western Elongation   21:08

12 Very Special Events for the Century.

The Moon posed to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

The Moon poised to occult Mars & Mercury in 2056! (Credit: Stellarium).

“Bizarreness” is part of our business in astronomy. We always get the top billing with the “how big, how far, how bright” records, but one thing that is hard to quantify is just how unique certain events are. Here, I present you a quick list, a baker’s dozen of astronomical oddities that are worth setting your alarm clock for in the coming century in chronological order. A sort of Astroguyz to-do list for the coming century!

-January 15th 2010: The Longest Annular Eclipse Until 3043: Coming right up after the new year is what’s billed as the longest annular eclipse of the millennium. An annular eclipse occurs when the New Moon is near apogee and the Earth is near perigee, and hence the angular diameter of the Moon is too small to fully cover the Sun. This is a direct consequence of the longest totality of this past summer, in which the situation was reversed. “Annularity” lasts for a whopping 11 minutes and 8 seconds, and the entire event spans an area from the horn of Africa to China. This eclipse is part of saros series 141.

-October 8th, 2011: A possible Draconid Outburst?: The Leonids aren’t the only shower prone to storm level outbursts. The Draconids, also known as the Giacobinids, are a little known shower that peaks around Oct 8-10th of every year and generally is of little notice to all but the most avid meteor observers. It has been prone to outbursts, most notably in the years 1998, 1985, 1933, (33′ must have been a good year for meteors!) and 1946, when the ZHR peaked at 10,000! Another date worth noting is 2018, when the debris trail we’re predicted to pass through is very close to the 1946 storm trail. The Draconids hail from comet Giabobini-Zinner.

-June 6th, 2012: A Transit of Venus: The second transit of Venus for this century and pretty much the last one for anyone currently alive (unless they perfect that putting-our-brains-in-cyborgs thing) occurs on this date. This transit favors the Pacific rim, with North America getting a sunset transit and central Asia receiving a sunrise one. Most likely, the world won’t end on this date. The next transit won’t occur for another 105 years!

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

Ganymede: New Horizons shows its stuff during a swing by of Jupiter. (Credit; NASA/JPL).

-July 14th 2015: The New Horizons Pluto Flyby: We include this as the sole mission oriented event because its the last semi-planet to be recon’d by mankind. Launched in 2006, New Horizons completed a gravitational swing-by assist of Jupiter in 2007 and is now the fastest object ever launched by mankind, and will whiz through the Pluto-Charon system on July 14th, 2015 at 14km per second. After this date, those blurry Hubble images of Pluto will be forever replaced by real pictures! What surprises await us in the denizens of the frigid outer solar system? More moons? A ring? An alien etched “Astroguyz” logo? And will the “is Pluto a Planet?” debate once again rear its ugly head?

-August 21st, 2017: A North American Eclipse: Total eclipses seem to avoid North America, Japan and Europe like the plague and hang out in places like Djibouti and Outer Mongolia. The dry spell ends in 2017, bringing an eclipse for the suburban masses. Do you live in or near Markanda, Illinois? Then you will have the distinct privilege to host two eclipses in the span of seven years, as another eclipse passes over on April 8th, 2024! expect the population of 419 to expand exponentially…(Howard Johnsons take note…)

-April 13th, 2029: The Flyby of Apophis: Will the world end on a Friday the 13th? The asteroid 99942 Apophis will indeed whiz by the Earth on such a date, within the realm of the geosynchronous satellites. Apophis carries with it the distinction of being the first, and so far the only asteroid to reach a “4” rating on the Torino scale for a short time back in 2004. Will it hit that tiny 600 meter key hole for an impact in 2036? Vegas odds are 1 in 45,000 against…viewing for the pass will favor Europe and Africa, where Apophis will appear as a swiftly moving star. Will we have the gumption by then to launch a manned mission to scope it out?

- November 19th, 2034 A Leonid Storm: I should be collecting social security just in time for this one…a meteor storm can be the event of a lifetime. The Leonids have always been a surefire bet; usually a lackluster shower of around ten meteors an hour, this stream is prone to well documented bursts in access of 1,000 ZHR every 33 years or so. The 1998 storm was still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! The years leading up to 2034…(i.e., 2030-2033) should merit your early AM attention around this date, as the peak “storm” may arrive a year early or late!

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

A tight grouping of classical planets! (Credit: Stellarium).

-September 8th 2040: A Tight Planetary Group: This evening in 2040 brings a very special view; all of the naked eye classical planets plus the waxing crescent Moon in a 9.3 degree grouping! This the tightest assemblage of these worlds visually this century!

-October 1st, 2044: An Occultation of Regulus by Venus! Naked eye occultations of planets by bright stars happen maybe a few times a century, and this is one of the best. If you find yourself in Eastern Asia or the western U.S., be sure to check this out!

-February 13th, 2056: The Moon occults Mercury & Mars at the same time. OK, now for the truly bizarre. Sure, you’ve seen the Moon occult planets and bright stars; this happens a few times a year from any given locale…but how often does the Moon occult two planets at the same time? This very event, it turns out, it rarer than a total solar eclipse during a Metallica concert… rare enough to only occur once or twice a millennium. This rarest-of-the-rare will occur over western North America in daytime afternoon skies. Venus and Jupiter will be close by.

-November 22nd 2065 Venus Occults Jupiter. Live in Panama? You just might catch a planet occulting a planet on this not so far off date. The apparent diameters of the two worlds will be 10” and 29”, respectively. The rest of the world will see a very close conjunction. For you history buffs, this is the first planet-planet occultation since 1818, also featuring Venus and Jupiter!

-August 11th, 2079: Mercury Occults Mars. This is rare, in that the worlds involved are tiny and thus generally miss each other in their apparent paths. This time the Middle East is favored to view this rare event; Mercury and Mars will be at a diameter of 5” arc seconds each and the rest of the world will again see an extremely close conjunction in the dawn skies…will we be cyber-Tweeting in our sleep by then?

-December 31st, 2099: The Aliens Invade & Become our Masters… OK, maybe they’ll be tired of the bad press they get in cheesy Sci-Fi movies and this will happen long before then…

So there you have it, twelve reasons to look up at the night sky throughout the 21st century. This list is by no means exhaustive; its just a quick pic of our faves. If your favorite, I’m-selling-my-house-and-moving-to-Panama-just-to-see-it event didn’t make the cut, drop us a line! For further astro-nerdiness, I invite you to peek at the outstanding Ultimate Almanac, as well as the wiki on planetary occultations. Its gonna be a wacky century…perhaps some budding 3-year old junior Carl Sagan out there just might live to be the first to collect them all!

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Don't miss the 2012 transit of Venus! (Credit: Jan Herold under Creative Commons).

Review: Blast! A Film by Paul Devlin.

BLAST...Astrophysics Indiana Jones Style!

BLAST...Astrophysics Indiana Jones Style!

Blast! Can be seen as a documentary that was 13.7 billion years in the making. Directed by Paul Devlin, Blast! follows the exploits of a group of astrophysicists as they break new ground with a unique balloon borne telescope. BLAST stands for Balloon-Borne, Large Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope. As reported earlier this week in our post “Antarctic Astronomy”, “Sub-millimeter” is the name loosely given to the wavelengths roughly between microwave and infra-red. [Read more...]

Astronomy at the (Bottom?) of the World.

The SPT 2007 Team. (Credit: John Kovac/GNU Free License).

The SPT 2007 Team. (Credit: John Kovac/GNU Free License).

Some astronomers literally go to the ends of the Earth in search of data. That life-giving layer we know as the atmosphere can also be a plain ol’ nuisance when it comes to visual observing, and can make viewing in some wavelengths such as sub-millimeter, infra-red and X-ray next to impossible. Sure, viewing from space alleviates the problem, but payload weight tends to go at a premium and the line is long to use such premiere space telescopes as Hubble or Chandra. The solution? Many astronomers have taken to the Antarctic in the past decades, were the air is thin, dry, and the wonders of the southern hemisphere abound. [Read more...]

To the Ends of the Earth: Chasing Eclipses.

  

   An obsession exists in the netherworlds of astronomy, and its bite is just as addictive as any; that of the secret world of total solar eclipse chasing. Not cure has yet been devised. No support group exists. (Although it might be fun to imagine such a beast in an alternate reality; “sure, I couldn’t afford that 2nd mortgage, but I told myself it was to complete saros 92…and I didn’t have a problem!) [Read more...]

An Arctic Moon?

 Everybody knows that north of the arctic circle, the sun can stay above the horizon for months at a time… but what about the Moon? Living in North Pole, Alaska, at latitude 64.5 north for four years, I know that the path of the Moon can do some bizzare things, as well! I decided to run the simulation below in Starry Night to find out;     


Arctic Moon Simulation. (Credit: Starry Night).

Note: If the above link isn’t visible in your browser, click here!

    The site setup for the above video was Alert, Canada at north latitude 82.5 north. The simulation was sped up to x3000 real time speed. Full Moon itself occurs the night of December 12th-13th, but running the Moon through simulation, it never rises or sets! In fact, “moonrise” from Alert is 10:14 AM local on the 7th of December, and “moonset” doesn’t occur until 2:40 PM local on the 17th! This is because during those two weeks, the Moon occupies roughly the same spot on the ecliptic that the Sun does during and around the summer solstice. The phenomena of the midnight sun runs down to about latitude 66.56 degrees north, (just north of Fairbanks, Alaska), but that of the “midnight Moon” runs down to  about latitude 61.42 degrees north, just north of the town of Wasilla (of Palin fame!) Alaska. This is because in addition to the tilt of the Earth, the Moon’s orbit is inclined an additional 5.1 degrees!

   In the southern hemisphere, the same is true, although at opposite times of year… also, keep your eyes out during the time lapse video for a cool occultation of the Pleiades!  

Light Pollution: Know your Enemy.

Light pollution.

An Unwanted Constellation in a Backyard Near You. Seminole, Florida. (Photo by Author).

    If there’s one cause that “lights” our fire here at Astroguyz, it’s the fight against Light Pollution. Now, with the 2nd Annual Great Star count well under way, it’s a good time to reflect (OK, another bad metaphor!) on what we’ve done to our night skies and what can be done about it. [Read more...]

Sighting Extremely Slender Moons Part II

     Earlier in April, I wrote about a challenge that came to our attention via a Sky & Telescope article here at Astroguyz. The Canadian Maritime Provences and extreme northeastern Maine had a chance at a unique record; sighting the youngest New Moon with optical aid.Moon sighting records have almost reached mythic status amongst “visual athletes.”  [Read more...]

New Moon Update

Dear loyal Astroguyz fans: Due to record flooding, the attempt at the youngest New Moon sighting has changed location. We will now be posting on Westford Hill, in Hodgdon, Maine at sunset on May 5th. If anyone is interested, leave a comment and I’ll circulate further info. And of course, pray for clear skies!

Observing Challenge: Sighting Extremely Slender Moons Part I

 

   We here at Astroguyz always love a good challenge. Maybe I’ll never climb Everest or run an ultra marathon in Death Valley, but visual observation challenges happen in our local sky nightly.  [Read more...]