July 28, 2014

Astro-Events: Of Comets and Meteor Showers.

Locating the Orionid radiant; (Photo/graphic by Author).

Early October saw one for the record books, as the obscure Draconid meteors put on a show for northern hemisphere observers topping a zenithal hourly rate of 338 ±15 per hour centered on October 8th, 20:04 UT. While not quite approaching storm levels, that’s the most impressive showing we’ve had from any meteor shower yet this century… the Draconids may produce once again in October 2018, and then we’ll have to wait ‘til the early 2030’s for the Leonids to ramp up again… incidentally, the Leonids, Draconids and the long defunct Andromedids are some of the only meteor showers that have historically approached storm intensity, usually informally defined as a ZHR ?1,000. [Read more...]

October 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

A recent personnal 1st; an ISS Solar Transit!

(Photo by Author).

October is one of our favorite months, crowned as it is by a holiday that sees suburbanites re-enact pagan ancient Cross-Quarter festivities. We’re talking Halloween, Samhain, All Hallows Eve, whatever your household preference. Now is a good time to roll out the ‘scope, put on some H.G. Wells War of the Worlds rebroadcasting, and show the neighborhood hob-goblins the wonders of the night sky. What follows is a rundown of the witchery that we’re brewing up here at Astroguyz HQ;

Coming to a Sky Near You: Comet C/2010 X1 Elenin was to break naked eye visibility this month as it climbs through the constellation Leo in the 1st part of October, but of course now all bets are off since the comet disintegrated last month into tinier fragments. (No, Bruce Willis wasn’t the cause). Elenin will safely pass 0.23 AU from the Earth on October 16th, and reach a northerly declination in the dawn skies of +30.9 degrees on October 28th. The surprise wild card event, however, *may* be the peak of the Draconid meteors on the 8th. Also sometimes known as the Giacobinids, this usually obscure shower generally rates nary a second thought most years but has been known for storm level outbursts of over a 1,000 meteors per hour or more. There is some buzz in the meteor modeling community that 2011 may be just such a year…but those rates may be diminished by the Moon reaching Full on the 11th, which is also visually smallest Full Moon of the Year. On the 21st, the Orionid Meteors peak, a less dazzling but more dependable shower with a ZHR=20-30. On the 29th asteroid 1036 Ganymed (largest Amor asteroid) reaches opposition at magnitude +8 after a series of stellar occultations in the Cassiopeia-Perseus-Andromeda region. Finally, on the 28th occultation of Mercury by the 2 day old Moon occurs low in the dusk for Australian and New Zealand viewers, (The rest of us will just see a close conjunction), and on the 29th, the planet Jupiter reaches opposition.

This Month in Science: This month, we dig into some our favorite reads as we review Magick, Mayhem, & Mavericks, a look at the messy history of the realm that is physical science. Also this month we look at Falling to Earth, the biography of an Apollo 15 astronaut, and review Science Illustrated, a bi-monthly science magazine. Another gem has hit our inbox in the form of Miss Leavitt’s Stars, a fascinating biography of astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Finally, the star party is on at Starkey Park in New Port Richey on the 22nd, although we “may” be missing in action that night because of the following…

This Month in Science Fiction: The Necronomicon, Central Florida’s premiere science fiction convention, occurs on October 21-23 in Saint Petersburg Florida, and yours truly will be a humble member on a panel or three. Come out, dress like a Klingon, join the fun, and peek through our telescopes. We’ll be setting up for both solar and night-time viewing, and its sure to be more fun than a barrel of Ewoks! Also, in our we’ve-been-towing-it-around-for-years-and-now-we’re-finally-reading-it file, we’ll be reviewing  Alpha Centauri by William Barton and Michael Capobianco. Hot off the pre-release press we’re also furiously reading Hearts of Smoke and Steam, Book 2 of the Society of Steam series due out in November from Pyr Books!

Launches in October: This month, all eyes will be on the Russian Soyuz and the hoped for “Return to Space” after their loss of an unmanned Progress vehicle this summer. Not that the pressure is on, or anything…the first Soyuz mission to watch is the Galileo IOV aboard the 1st Soyuz launch out of Kourou French Guiana on the 20th. This will be followed by a Delta 2 launch with the NASA-NPP spacecraft plus accompanying Tweetup out of Vandenberg AFB 25th. Also on tap is a Proton with the Glonass satellite out of Baikonur 25th. To Be Determined launches to watch include a manned Soyuz to headed to the ISS, a Proton with ViaSat 1, Soyuz with Globalstar, and Zenit rocket carrying 3SLB/Intelsat 18, all from Baikonur. Follow us @Astroguyz on Twitter for all the updates!

Astro-Atta-Boy: We finally caught Clash of the Titans, the 2010 remake, not the cheesy 1980’s take on the mythological tale that depicts a bunch of miniatures flying around. Say what you will about this adaption of the Perseus myth from Greek mythology, it does have a pretty good depiction of a total solar eclipse as part of the plot line, probably one of the best on screen we’ve seen since the film Lady Hawke, and way better than Mel Gibson’s eclipse in Apocalypto. Do I sense a blog post on eclipses in film and fiction in the works?

Astro Bloopers: Alright, when the rumors hit the cyber-sphere that George Lucas was once again tweaking the Star Wars saga for Blu-Ray release, we thought to ourselves; could it be that he’s finally going to correct the hoary old “parsec” error from episode IV: A New Hope? After all, it is kind of an embarrassing thing for such a seasoned sky-pilot as Han Solo to say… but alas, it wasn’t to be. No sooner than we made light mention of the possibility, than the self-appointed trolls that guard the flame of all that is Lucas attempted to defend the quip with several ill-conceived ad hominem attacks. Sorry guys, we may not know every world and creature in the Star Wars pantheon, but we do know science. A parsec is a measure of distance, and saying that “it made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs…” is a nonsensical statement, akin to “I went from here to New York in 12 miles…” and what’s more, a parsec is an Earth-based measure of distance, hardly fitting for a “galaxy far, far away…” George really missed his chance on this one…

Astro Quote of the Month: “I have seen the dark universe yawning where the black planets roll without aim; where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge, luster, or name.”

-HP Lovecraft, Nemesis, 1918

 

AstroEvent: The Tail(s) of Two Comets.

As the Moon begins its inexorable wane after passing Full phase this weekend, we’d like to turn you attention to two decent comets currently gracing opposing hemispheres.

First up is the tongue twisting comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková. This Internet search-defying comet currently shines at about magnitude +8 and is actually a circum-polar object for New Zealand viewers this month. [Read more...]

July 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

July means lightning photography season at Astroguyz HQ…(Photo by Author).

Ah, the seventh month of the calendar year is upon us. July brings our home-world of Earth to aphelion, the start of a new saros, and a look at a fascinating asteroid… and oh yes, the end of a certain low-Earth orbit delivery system. What follows is a sneak peak of what’s up in the July sky and coming to an astro-blog near you;

Coming to a Sky near You: July 1st sees a remote partial solar eclipse and the start of a new saros #156… but will any obsessed eclipse chaser be on hand off the shores of Antarctica to witness it? The 4th sees our planet Earth at aphelion and its farthest point from the Sun, a fact that ameliorates our northern hemisphere climate somewhat during the current epoch. We’ll also take a look at the fascinating close double star Porrima this month, a star that’s been getting a fair amount of telescopic attention as it pairs with Saturn. And by some celestial reckonings, the 12th is the planet Neptune’s “Birthday” as it completes one full orbit since it was first spotted in 1846. [Read more...]

24.03.11: Comet Elenin: A Great Show, But No Need for Bruce Willis.

The path of Comet Elenin through the inner solar system. (Created using the NASA/JPL Ephemeris Generator).

There’s a scene in the otherwise fairly decent 1990’s disaster flick Deep Impact where the President played by Morgan Freeman reveals that a cover-up has been ongoing for about a year to keep an impending inbound doomsday comet a secret. Such drama makes most backyard observers chuckle inside; we know that on any given night, legions of observers are looking skyward, hoping to find a body that could immortalize our efforts. By day and on cloudy evenings, we’re at our keyboards, sharing data and computing orbits. Our tools are homemade observatories, sometimes housing instruments that would make some universities blush. It’s extremely unlikely that the “Big One” would slip by the worldwide astronomical community. That’s why I got a brief chortle this morning out of a message board post suggesting that one only need conduct a brief (insert favorite search engine here) scouting of the ‘Net for C/2010 X1 Elenin. The name was familiar to me and observers everywhere; This comet may put on the summer’s best show of the year as it passes perihelion on September 10th at 0.45 A.U. from the Sun and moves into the predawn sky, well positioned for northern hemisphere viewers. Then, in October, Elenin will pass within 0.3 A.U. (about 28 million miles, or 112 lunar distances) from the Earth… Yes, Elenin will probably put on a fairly decent show. One key indicator for this is that it was first spied about 4 A.U. from the Sun; this means that it’s fairly large and intrinsically bright, much like Hale-Bopp. The geometry of the pass is also very similar to the passage of comet McNaught in 2007, which means we may be in for a decent show as Elenin unfurls its dust tail on its way out of the inner solar system. But let’s just dispel some of the gathering Woo out there and state that there is ZERO chance that Elenin will impact the Earth. This is just one cosmic cat that even the likes of Morgan Freeman couldn’t keep in the bag. And no, myself and the legions of astronomers behind me are NOT in cahoots with Big Brother in hushing things up, as we have yet to receive one single pay off, and do our debunking on a pro bono basis.  And, much like comet Halley in 1910, Elenin will unfurl its tail in our direction, but remember, a cometary tail is mostly composed of… nothing! We’re talking a vacuum many orders of magnitude better than what can be done in a laboratory. Yes, nasties such as cyanide have been detected in the spectra of comets, but we aren’t due for a cyanogen bath this summer. Will Elenin sprout the hysteria seen in 1910? You’d think we’d have learned in a centuries time… but as Mark Twain once said, “A lie can travel ‘round the world while the truth is just puttin’ on its shoes…” and that paradigm is never more true than in today’s wired-in world. At very least, “Comet Pills” may be only an E-bay order away this time…