September 24, 2017

19.05.11: “Incoming!” Meteorite Strikes House in Polish Town.

X Marks the Soltmany Fall. (Credit: CIA World Factbook).

Ahhhh… nothing makes the astro-news like a “House-strikes-space rock” story. Amid many dubious claims of low-flying rocks heard over the Chesapeake and striking lawns in New Jersey over the past few weeks, a quiet but amazing story of a meteorite strike came our way from “across the pond…” [Read more...]

AstroEvent:The Ursa Minorids; a Meteor Shower in the Making?

A new radiant? (Created by the author in Starry Night).

The general impression that most folks have of annual meteor showers is that they are largely static in nature. Long term trends, however, would suggest that they are slowly evolving, with new streams of debris replacing faint exhausted ones. Did our prehistoric ancestors watch the Perseids every August? Are there historically unknown meteor streams out there? What’s the life span on the average shower? This week, we give you what could be a meteor shower in the making; the Gamma Ursae Minorids. [Read more...]

Review: Wonders in the Sky.

Authors Note: Yes, this week’s review touches on UFO’s in the form of unexplained aerial phenomena. We thought long and hard about reviewing this book when it arrived on our doorstep, and decided it does have merit from a historical astronomical perspective.  

Out from Tarcher Penguin Books.

Delving into the world of archeo-astronomy is always a fascinating exercise for the desktop/arm chair observer. Sifting through piles of old observations and tales from skies of yore always makes one wonder; what did they see? Is there any basis to the old myths and legends in astronomical fact? [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...]

Review: 2012 the Movie.

We were warned, indeed...

We were warned, indeed...

Okay, we asked for it. As promised, we managed to see the flick 2012 on opening day and are, well, read on. We decided to attempt to judge this disaster flick against other disaster flicks, which granted, may be a strike in and of itself. [Read more...]

03.11.09:A Mars Rock in 3-D!

Block Island in 3-D. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Block Island in 3-D. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

Break out those cheesy 3-D glasses… a few weeks back we reported on a new meteorite discovered on the surface of Mars. Opportunity spotted the out-of-place stone on July 18th of this year, and NASA engineers rerouted the rover for a closer look. Named Block Island, it isn’t the first extraterrestrial rock discovered on Mars, but weighing in at an estimated 650 pounds, its the largest found to date. Beyond looking cool, 3-D anaglyphs actually serve the purpose of allowing engineers to interpret what the rover sees. Another interesting fact gleaned from this new Mars space rock is that it suggests that the earlier Martian atmosphere had to have been thicker to cushion the incoming meteor and form the ablation pits we see today. Enjoy!

See the Orionid Meteor Shower at its Peak.

The Orionid radiant. (Credit: Stellarium).

The Orionid radiant. (Credit: Stellarium).

Meteor season is now well underway. About midway between the August Perseids and the November Leonids is an often over-looked shower; the Orionids. The good news this year is the Orionids occur around the morning of October 21st, when the light-polluting moon is only three days past new and thus safely out of the morning sky. Expect to see up to 20-30 fast moving meteors, as was generally the reported case last year. For best results, be sure to watch several hours before dawn, or about 2-5 PM local. [Read more...]

10.8.9: Will the Perseids Perform?

Are we in for a Perseid spike? (Credit: NASA/Spaceweather).

Are we in for a Perseid spike? (Credit: NASA/Spaceweather).

Set your alarm clocks; one of the best meteor showers of the year is about to gear up this week! The Perseid meteors are one of the most dependable annual showers of the summer season, with a typical zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of up towards 60-100 per hour. This year however, we could be in for a treat; there is evidence that we may intercept a fresh stream shed by progenitor comet Swift-Tuttle in 1610. We have never passed through this particular stream before; predictions are trending towards a brief ZHR of up towards 200! Don’t forget, however, that ZHR is optimal; this assumes the radiant is directly overhead and that there is no light pollution. The shower peaks morning of Wednesday August 12th, although it would be worth it to peek at the sky a few days prior to see what we might be in for. This year, the timing actually favors the North American continent! Now for the bad news; the waning gibbous Moon will be rising just before midnight in the constellation Aries, and be about 63% illuminated. If this is your chief source of light pollution, try to position yourself for observing in a way that blocks the Moon behind a hill, peak of a roof, whatever is handy. The Perseids are a true treat because they occur in the northern hemisphere summer, when its generally pleasant to lay outside. And school’s still out, to boot! Be sure not to miss this one; the only observing equipment you need is your eyes. If you can convince a friend to observe with you in the wee hours, you can collectively cover more sky. The radiant is located in the constellation Perseus (hence the name) which will be high in the north east. And don’t forget the bug spray! [Read more...]

Astro-Event of the Week: 05.04.09: The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower.

This week, the second meteor shower of the season amps up; I give you the Eta Aquarids. This shower has a broad peak over the first half of May, and diligent observers may see up to 10-30 swift moving meteors per hour in the early AM hours. The further south you are, the better.  The radiant is very near the “Y” asterism in the constellation Aquarius, near the star Sadalmelik (Alpha Aquarii) and below the Great Square of Pegasus.

[Read more...]

Astro Event of the Week: December 22nd-28th, 2008: A Christmas Meteor Storm?

The Ursids are the meteor shower that you’re not watching, but should be. A lesser shower, it typically produces around less than 10 meteors per hour right around Christmas time. This year, however, there may be two reasons to give the Ursids notice; one is that the Moon is a waning crescent, and presents less interference than its ill placed Full version during the Geminids early this month, and second, its progenitor, Comet 8P Tuttle, made a close (0.25 AU!) pass by the Earth on January 2nd of this year… could an Ursid outburst be in the offing? Reports of up to 100 meteors are not unheard of from this shower. Its peak is the night of the 22nd/23rd but of course, watching on either side of these dates may produce some surprises. Merry Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, or what ever your holiday may be and keep an eye out for this elusive shower!

The astro-term of the week is circumpolar. In astronomy, an object is circumpolar if it stays above your local horizon 24-7. At the Earth’s equator, nothing is circumpolar; at the North and South Pole, everything is. At only a few degrees from the rotational North Pole, the radiant of the Ursid meteor shower is circumpolar for observers in the northern hemisphere.

AstroEvent of the Week: December 8th-14th: the Geminid Meteors.

December is meteor shower month. Hot on the heels of last month’s Taurid and Leonids comes the biggest and one of the most predictable producers of the year; the Geminid meteor shower. Radiating from the constellation of Gemini the twins, this shower typically produces up to 100-120 meteors per hour.

[Read more...]

Astro Event of the Week; November 17th-23rd: The Leonids.

Hang on for one the biggest, baddest meteor showers of all; the Leonids are scheduled to peak this year on the morning of November 17th. radiating from the asterism known as “the Sickle” in the constellation Leo the Lion,  the Leonids are debris left over from the comet Tempel-Tuttle. Most years, the Leonids are feeble, only generating 10 meteors per hour, but every 33 years or so, (most recently the 1998-1999 seasons) this shower becomes a true meteor storm. Will the Leonids produce this year? The only sure way to tell is to keep an eye on the sky the early morning hours this week! The waning gibbous Moon may thwart some of the fainter meteors, but check it out and note what you see, none the less!

This weeks’ Astro-word of the week is Bolide. A meteor becomes a bolide (think “blow up”) when it explodes in our atmosphere… and impressive sight, indeed!

Meteor Shower Observing

Stand outside on any clear, moonless night, and watch the sky. Odds are within a few minutes a meteor will slide silently by. While most things in universe and astronomy seem to happen on geological time scales, meteors are quick and fleeting, and a meteor storm can be one of the most awesome spectacles, such as the great Leonid outburst in 1833 and 1966. [Read more...]

Astro-Event of the Week, August 5th-11th, 2008: The Perseid Meteors!

   August always meant one thing for me as a kid; the Perseid Meteor shower . Arguably one of the  best, or at least most dependable meteor showers of the year, this shower also has the advantage of occurring in the middle of the northern hemisphere summer, when conditions are conducive to laying out under the stars for long stretches of time. [Read more...]