February 18, 2020

3.10.9: NASA teams up with the NWS.

Did you know that rain drops flatten as they fall to Earth? NASA has been putting some of its high tech toys to use, aiding in the battle for accurate and timely local weather prediction. The University of Alabama in Huntsville has paired the National Weather Service with NASA’s Short term Prediction Research and Transition team, or SPoRT, to combat fast evolving weather. Physically co-located in the Nation Space Science and Technology Center, SPoRT provides real time analysis and assessment of the weather situation. This can be critical, from monitoring hurricanes and tornadoes to counting lightning strikes and the intensity of hail storms. For instance, traditional radar can only profile a shower in the horizontal direction. NASA’s Dual Polarimetric Doppler radar, however, can provide a 3D analysis, differentiating hail from rain and measuring water content to warn of potential flooding. Further tools, such as the GOES-R next generation weather satellite will give forecasters a powerful new tool when its launched in 2015. Coupling with NASA will also mean better weather forecasts for a clear night sky near you!


10.8.9: Will the Perseids Perform?

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!

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