December 18, 2017

AstroEvent: The Geminids Round Out 2011.

2011 has been quite a year, both terrestrial and otherwise. This week sees the last of the big scheduled astronomical happenings of the year in the form of the Geminid meteor shower. This shower is one of the yearly standbys along with the Perseids that are always sure to produce. The Geminids have a long peak centered on the morning of December 14th when an idealized Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour may be seen. Problems will arise, however, from an 82% illuminated waning gibbous Moon in the adjacent constellation of Cancer. Rising roughly around 10PM local on the night of the peak, this makes for the worst possible Moon phase as it’ll be high and bright in the early AM hours, just as the meteor shower is getting into high gear. But as always, I wouldn’t let that stop you from looking! To use a rough sports analogy, you’ll see zero meteors if you do not try.

Moon path and position on the 14th. (Created by author is Starry Night & Paint).

This shower is also unique in that its source isn’t a comet, but an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. The first asteroid discovered by a spacecraft, namely the Infrared Astronomical Satellite in 1983, there’s a fair amount of conjecture as to exactly what 3200 Phaethon is; is it a true Palladian-type asteroid or an inactive comet nucleus? [Read more...]

Astro-Event: Catching a Good Meteor Shower on a Bad Year.

This week’s astro-event holds a special place in our lifetime of observing memories. In 1998, we deployed to Kuwait (a definite switch of scenery!) from our home station of Eielson AFB, Alaska during an escalation with Iraq that was to become Operation Desert Fox. But to this day, what has stuck in many airmen’s minds including my own was not the brush with combat, but seeing the 1998 Leonid meteors from a dark sky site. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: A possible Draconid Outburst?

Path of the Earth through the Giacobinid streams. (Graphic by Author).

A total wild car meteor shower may be just around the bend. The Draconid meteor shower is usually obscure even on a good year, with rates in the 5-10 per hour doldrums. This peak usually occurs on or around October 8th, and passes with nary a notice. This shower has, however, been prone to sporadic outbursts of storm level intensity. 2011 might just be one of those years. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: Don’t Miss the Geminids!

Looking Northeast at about 10 PM. (Photo by Author).

   This year, believe the hype; this month’s Geminid meteor shower is a sure bet. This shower is one of the few dependable ‘old faithful’ meteor showers of the year. Peaking on the night of December 13th-14th, this year’s apparition sees a well placed northern radiant rising high in the northeast as the first quarter Moon sets about midnite local. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: the Leonid Meteor Shower.

 

 

Looking East at 3 AM. (Created by Author in Starry Night).

  This week, be on the lookout for the meteor shower that can roar like a lion, but this year will probably meow like a kitten. The infamous Leonid meteors peak on the morning of Wednesday, November 17th. This shower has been known to produce storm intensity outbursts with a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) in access of +1,000 roughly every 33 years, which last happened in 1999 & 2000. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: A Wild Card Meteor Shower.

Comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner. (Credit: NASA).

Comet 21P Giacobini-Ziner. (Credit: NASA).

 

   Sure, everyone’s heard of the Leonids and the Perseids, but have you ever stood vigil for… the Giacobinids? Also sometimes referred to as the Draconids, this sporadic shower tends to go unnoticed on most years. Radiating from the circumpolar constellation Draco, the Giacobinids produce a lackluster <5 meteors per hour… so, why the fuss? Well, the Giacobinids have been known to occassionally put on a show approaching 1,000+ storm level activity, most notably on the years 1933, 1946, and most recently, 1998. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: The Perseid Meteor Shower.

 

looking Northwest at about 2AM. (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

looking Northwest at about 2AM. (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

 

   This week sees a yearly summer astronomical event that may be termed “The old faithful of meteor showers;” the Perseid meteors. Other showers are often fickle, on and off events, but the Perseids routinely perform with zenithal hourly rates around 60 per hour or about one swift moving meteor per minute. Like the Mars email hoax, the Perseids also have a knack for generating a media frenzy around August, forever disenfranchising hoards of would be astronomers with promises of “the meteor storm of the century!” every year… [Read more...]

27.06.10: Whitman’s Meteors Identified.

As the June Bootids ramp up this evening and we brave the swarms of mosquitoes for a chance fireball sighting, consider the following tale. A historical mystery concerning a unique meteor precession has been solved. Recently, the editor of Sky & Telescope Roger Sinnott teamed up with professors and students at Texas State University to solve the mystery of Walt Whitman’s meteors. Their astounding results were recently revealed in the July 2010 issue of Sky & Telescope. American poet Walt Whitman refers to the precession in his poem titled the “Year of Meteors (1859-60.)” in his landmark work Leaves of Grass. This sighting has been popularly mis-attributed to the great Leonid meteor storm of 1833, which Whitman did indeed witness. The shower, however, occurred a full 26 years prior to the mentioned date; also, Whitman, an avid amateur astronomer and sky observer himself, referred to “the strange huge meteor-procession dazzling and clear shooting over our heads,” describing a stately train and not the quick apparition indicative of early morning meteors… just what did Walt see? A major breakthrough came from the art and news reports of the day; several eyewitness accounts describe a sight similar to Whitman’s over the US Northeast on July 20, 1860. Artist Frederic Church also captured a faithful rendition (see above) of just such a meteor procession. Such an event occurs when a large meteor comes in at an oblique angle to our atmosphere, creating a bolide train that can be visible for several minutes. Just such an event was captured on video in modern times over the Teton Range in Wyoming on August 10, 1972. The event can be particularly spectacular if the meteor breaks apart, as apparently happened in 1860. We can also thank Church as a member of the Realist school for depicting the event with such stark authenticity…just think, a few centuries prior, and we would have depicted the bolide with garnishing or a trailing banner! Hats off to Sinnott and the staff and students of Texas State University for an astronomical mystery well sleuthed and solved… just how many other astro-tales are out there in art and literature, waiting to be told?

Will the Leonids Perform in 2009?

This week marks the return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to orbit for its second to last flight, as well as the peak of the Leonid meteor shower. This is the notorious shower that has produced storm level peaks in access of 10,000 per hour in 1966 and 1833. This storm emanates from material shed by comet 51P Temple-Tuttle, and generally peaks once every 33 years or so around November 17th. Most years, the Leonids are a feeble 10 meteors per hour shower barely warranting attention.

[Read more...]