August 23, 2017

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: Venus at Greatest Elongation.

Venus earlier this year as seen from Astroguyz HQ. (Photo by Author).

Venus earlier this year as seen from Astroguyz HQ. (Photo by Author).

 

   Our nearest planetary neighbor is about to put on a brilliant dusk showing. The planet Venus reaches greatest elongation, or its maximum separation from the Sun as observed from the Earth on August 19th. From there, it will begin a long dive towards inferior conjunction with the Sun on October 28th, slendering in phase from half-lit to crescent and increasing in angular size as it does so. Venus is now the brightest object high in the west at dusk. Tonight on August 13th, a nice grouping of Venus, Mars, Saturn and the three day old Moon occurs after sunset. [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!

In Defense of the Farmer’s Almanac.

Still around in the year of our Lord 2010 A.D.!

Still around in the year of our Lord 2010 A.D.!

 

    Sometimes, astronomical information comes from the most unlikely of sources. I first started into a lifelong interest of astronomy as a kid, growing up in the backwoods of northern Maine. There, a pristine sky that would be the envy of any backyard astronomer awaited almost every night, right beyond my doorstep. But I soon found that my access to resources and information was limited; like so many subjects I became immersed in, I quickly devoured the half dozen out-dated books at my local library and desperately searched for more. I had heard of Sky & Telescope  and Astronomy magazines, but our local bookstore had yet to carry them. [Read more...]

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

29.9.9: Can you Spot the Cave in Copernicus?

The Moon at about 11 days past New. (Photo by Author).

The Moon at about 11 days past New. (Photo by Author).

I’ve got a unique challenge for you, as you brush up on your lunar geography in anticipation for next weeks’ LCROSS impact. Next time you’re viewing the waxing gibbous Moon with your friends, amaze them (or make them think your totally crazy) by issuing the off-handed remark; “Did you know that there is a ‘cave’ in the crater Copernicus? The “cave” in question is, of course, an optical illusion. Its interesting to note, however, that in the pre-Apollo era, would-be Selenographers were faced with a lunar landscape that was much less straight forward. This first came to our attention while reading a February 2003 article in Sky & Telescope written by Steven O’Meara. The cave itself rests on the northern inner lip of the crater and is elusive unless caught at the precise sun-angle of 10.7 degrees above the local lunar horizon. This generally occurs around 10-12 days of age, and I encourage you to take a look early this week. [Read more...]

Review: The Sun Kings by Stuart Clark

 

We here at Astroguyz love a good read about the “secret history” of astronomy… sure, everybody knows the exploits of Galileo and Copernicus, but how many have heard of the trials of 18th century British astronomer Richard Carrington? The Sun KingsThe Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began, by Stuart Clark  and out now by Princeton University Press is the fascinating tale of how the science of astrophysics and space weather truly began, and of how astronomers went from passively observing to truly analyzing data gleened from the universe around us. A truly rare and engaging breed of science history book, we were almost sad to finish it. It stands probably as the best read we’ve had since The Search for Planet Vulcan, and tells how these old-time astronomers operated.

The tale opens with the now infamous Halloween flares of 2003, some of the most powerful of the previous solar cycle. This represented the first time that some of our most cherished solar watch dogs, such as SOHO and the GONG  network were on hand to witness the full fury of the Sun. The shock was even felt by our vanguards elsewhere is the solar system, such as the Ulysses, Voyager 2, and Mars Odyssey spacecraft, even burning out the radiation detectors on the latter!

But as with much in science, our interpretation and understanding took a long and torturous road. The book then whisks the reader back to late 18th century England, a time when William Herschel proposed an astonishing idea; that the observed 11 year sunspot cycle was linked to Earthly agriculture and commerce. Specifically, he noted that the price of wheat tended to fluctuate in a corresponding period, with prices at their highest and supplies at their scarcest during the solar minimum and the opposite occurring at the solar max. Of course, this was seen as the delusion of an aging astronomer and roundly dismissed by his peers. Herschel had discovered Uranus and the infrared part of the spectrum, but this third contribution was largely overlooked.

Enter Richard Carrington. He stands as the kind of guy you’d always root for, an astronomer of ambition and insight whose personal life was marred by tragedy. He’s is now remembered mostly for being on hand and having the prescience to accurately record what he saw, but also made the right connections to what was going on around the environs of the Earth in late 1859.  It was interesting to note that during the height of the electromagnetic turbulence, a telegraph operator in Portland, Maine noted that his transmission system worked better utilizing solely the charge on the line, with the batteries disconnected!

Carrington’s prime ambition was to observe the Sun through the span of one complete solar cycle, but like many of us, his plan to pursue astronomy was continuously be-deviled by the pursuit of funding and that whole “personal life” thing.  Perhaps he needed a blog…

First, the death of his father left him running the family brewery. Not that the title of “Gentleman/ Brewer/ Astronomer” is a bad byline… but his romantic exploits turned sour as well, when his marriage to an under class woman turned into a love triangle that pulls him into trial and scandal. The whole affair reads like a bad Jane Austin novel… unfortunately,  the innocent Carrington took his life by overdose of chloral of hydrate mixed with alcohol shortly after the death of his wife Rosa.

As sad a fate as Carrington’s life was, his insight sparked a vigilant monitoring of the Sun. In fact, in the late 19th century, the riddle of the Sun was the topic in astronomy, as scientists turned a battery of new toys on our nearest star, such as the spectroheliograph and that new fangled device, the camera.

Hereto unknown elements such as helium  were first discovered in the atmosphere of the Sun. But the source of its enormous energy output had to remain and mystery until Einstein revealed the miracle of fusion in the early 20th century.

Enter Edward Walter Maunder, in many ways the intellectual predecessor to Carrington. From his early childhood, Maunder had been transfixed by the Sun, spying a naked eye sunspot as a boy through a low heavy fog. It must have been an astonishing sight to the young Carrington, who went on to lead an expedition to India in 1898 to photograph the elusive solar corona.

Images taken by his wife Annie, an expert astronomer in her own right,  later confirmed the connection between the tenuous streamers seen and sunspot activity. Here finally lay the mechanism by which the Sun could reach out and touch the Earth.

But its for another fascinating theory that Maunder is now known. He noted during his historical research that large spans of spotless periods corresponded with eras of dramatic global climatic cooling; a famous stretch from 1645 to 1715 now bears his name as the Maunder Minimum. During this period, the Thames river froze annually, harvests were meager, and several “years without a summer” were recorded. At first, even Maunder himself was skeptical; he believed the apparent lack of sunspots could easily be explained away by the gaps in the chronological record. However, Maunder’s research was revived by Dr. Jack Eddy in the 1970′s, who also combed through Chinese records of naked eye sunspot observations. Today, the existence of the Maunder Minimum remains hotly contested, as does the Sun’s role and measure of effect in climate change.

Of course, today it is tempting and sometimes even fashionable to link the solar cycle to everything from fluctuations in the stock market to  the cycle of global conflict over resources to the prevalence of bikinis on your local beach, and the list of dubious links could provide headlines for your favorite search engine for years to come. But Hershel was in fact finally vindicated; in 2003, Israeli scientists proved that the link between wheat prices and the solar cycle in the 17th century was real. Similar assertions for top vintage wine years beg for a similar study. Wherever you stand on the global warming issue, few can deny that the shenanigans of our Sun  are tied up in the cosmic riddle.

The author ends on an interesting coda; in 2004, large gamma-ray burst tore through our solar system two days after Christmas.  This was powerful enough to effect our upper atmosphere for several hours, and was even recorded reflecting off of our own Moon! The source; a magnetar, a bizarre sort of pulsar just recently identified, about 50,000 light years distant. This event shows the emerging realization that not only are we at the mercy of our local Sun’s whim, but that there are much meaner beasties out there that can and do reach out and touch us. We owe the beginnings of this understanding to Carrington and his ilk, who proved, often amid controversy, that we are not immune or aloof from our cosmic environs. Read The Sun Kings and marvel at this largely unknown but fascinating chapter in astronomical history!

 

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...]

Astrotunes.

Startrails.

Star Trails over Las Cienegas, Arizona. (Photo by Author).

Astronomy is often a solitary, contemplative activity. Sure, our passion for the night sky can have some communal facets, such as star parties and the like, but ultimately, we all find ourselves at one time or another alone under the skies. I believe this type of outward reflection is vital to a well rounded perspective, and necessary in today’s fast paced world. For this reason some astronomers I know abhor the idea of bringing any background music at all into the field, preferring instead to let the “music of the spheres” do the talking. [Read more...]

Convertable Gloves for Cold Weather Astronomy.

Ahhh… it’s sometimes the simple things that make all the difference in observational astronomy. Now that we are once again spending northern hemisphere winter in sunnier climes (i.e. Hudson, Florida), I reminisce about all those chilly nights in Maine and Alaska under the stars.

[Read more...]

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; November 3rd-9th: A Taurid Outburst?

Most years, the Taurid meteor shower doesn’t merit a second look; this minor shower radiating from the constellation Taurus the bull usually generates a maximum rate of less than five meteors per hour.

[Read more...]

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...]