In the Sky this Week- October 17, 2017
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A wafer-thin waning crescent Moon is very close to Mars before sunrise on October 17th; there was earthshine from my location – morning drivers heading east got a real treat! The distance between Venus and Mars in the morning sky continues to grow; Venus getting lower, and Mars getting higher each day. Venus will disappear from the morning sky in Mid November. Saturn is still a good observing target after dusk in the southwestern sky, but it is getting a lit lower in the sky each day. A wafer-thin waxing crescent Moon will accompany Saturn on October 23rd. The Orionids Meteor Shower peak will occur on October 21-22; best times to view the shower are after midnight, and before dawn on October 22nd. For a second week there are no sunspots visible from Earth, but the lingering coronal hole in the Sun’s northern region has gotten its own article and video at the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website: The Inner Solar System … Continue reading

Orionids Meteor Shower 2017: Oct. 21-22
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The Orionids are a medium strength meteor shower that occasionally reaches high levels of activity. The Orionids typically 20-25 meteors per hour; 2006-2009 were exceptional years, with peak rates similar to the Perseids (50-75 per hour). The meteors will appear to radiate from a point near the constellation Orion. The Orionids meteor shower is best seen after midnight on October 22; the Moon will be a thin waxing crescent, setting shortly after sunset, so there will be no moonlight affecting the show. . Peak: October 21-22 Active from: September 23rd to November 27th Radiant: 06:20 +15.5° (see image above) Hourly Rate: 25 Velocity: 41 miles/sec (swift – 67km/sec) Parent Object: 1P/Halley Source: American Meteor Society Interactive graphic showing the particle stream from comet 1P/Halley: NASA ScienceCasts: A Meteor Shower from Halley’s Comet: … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week- October 10, 2017
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The waning gibbous Moon is high in the southern sky before dawn; The Moon will be at third quarter on the 12th, traveling eastward and a bit lower each morning, it will be a waning crescent from the 13th through the 19th. The Moon will occult the star Regulus before sunrise on Oct. 15th. For a map and timing of the occultation for your location, click this link. Venus and Mars continue to appear close together, low in the eastern predawn sky. The Moon will appear very close to Mars on the morning of Oct. 17th. On October 14th, asteroid 2012 TC14 will pass by the Earth at 0.13 Lunar Distances – that’s WELL inside Earth’s geosynchronous satellite ring; the asteroid is estimated to be 8-26 meters in diameter. Earth’s gravity will bend the orbit of the asteroid as it passes by. There are currently no sunspots visible from Earth, but the coronal hole that has been hanging around for … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week- October 3, 2017
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Venus and Mars will appear close together, low in the eastern predawn sky, all week long. As I was seeing my wife off to work early this morning, she looked up and exclaimed “Oh WOW!” It was an exceptionally clear morning, and the skies appeared crisp and bright; the winter stars of Taurus, Orion, and Canis Major shone brightly. The waxing gibbous Moon and Saturn make great observing targets in the southern sky after sunset on October 3rd. The Moon will be full on October 5th. On the morning the October 5th, Venus and Mars will be VERY close to each other in the eastern predawn sky. On the 6th, Venus will appear below Mars, and will continue a slow descent toward the horizon each morning. The Sun has a couple large sunspots; Spaceweather.com says that they all have stable magnetic fields, and are unlikely to produce strong solar flares. The Sun’s corona has several beautiful large coronal loops on … Continue reading

The Irish Leviathan: Spending Money on Space Exploration
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This past March, on the way to join the Vatican Observatory’s tour of astronomical sites in Italy, my wife and I visited Birr (Parsonstown) in Ireland.  Birr is home to Birr Castle and its great telescope, the “Leviathan of Parsonstown”—the giant mirror-based “reflector” built by William Parsons, the Earl of Rosse.  The Leviathan was the largest telescope in the world for over seventy years, from its completion in 1845 until 1917.  It was arguably the first modern telescope—the first successful effort to produce a big “Light Bucket” reflecting telescope* that could tease out details about what are today often called “deep sky objects”—the “faint fuzzies” that are galaxies and nebulae and the like.  The Leviathan was bigger than any lens-based “refractor” telescope existing at that time, and bigger than any refractor that ever would be built.  It had (and still has) a mirror of diameter 72 inches, or 6 feet, or 1.8 meters (the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mt. … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week- September 26, 2017
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Winter stars are getting higher and higher in the predawn skies; if you are an early-riser, the Orion Nebula is visible for several hours before dawn in the southern sky. Regulus, Venus and Mars aligned in the predawn sky on Sept. 26th. The waxing crescent Moon will be very close to Saturn after sunset on the 26th; the next few days will be excellent for telescope observing. The first quarter Moon will be on Sept. 27th; the Moon will still be fairly close to Saturn that evening. The Moon will almost be full by the beginning of next week; it should be a great observing target all week long. Venus and Mars will be very close to each other in the predawn on Oct. 2nd. The Double Cluster is high in the northeastern sky after sunset. The Double Cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884) is two open star clusters which appear close together in the constellation Perseus. Both visible to … Continue reading

Goodbye – Cassini’s Last Splendiferous Hurrah
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        The English language is lacking in positive affirmations glowing enough to encompass the significance of the Cassini Mission to Saturn. Side winding its way into my mind in the effort to find the right words came a memory of an old TV variety show. In the show, the host announces the artists to perform by pronouncing very large words in rapid precision. Each word is preceded by a judgemental gavel blow. The hyperbolic introductions primed the audience to welcome the splendiferous offerings of the forthcoming show. The pulchritudinous (excellent) nature of the mission has produced an abundance of most noteworthy images. The collection can spectacularly stimulate our senses to levitate our minds and souls. Cassini therefore invites us to relish the beauty of Saturn and its many moons. NASA has magnanimously offered the images videos and gifs to all who wish to enjoy the resplendent wonder of this epic mission. If the same host was to … Continue reading

A Kentucky Perspective on the 2017 Great American Eclipse
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I am pleased to have a guest blogger this week: Timothy Dowling, who is giving us his perspective on the August 21, 2017 eclipse as seen from Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  He is a professor at the University of Louisville in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His area of research is planetary atmospheric dynamics.  He and his students analyze Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and Hubble Space Telescope data of the gas giants. Dowling is the lead author of the EPIC atmospheric model, which is used by NASA and researchers around the world to model the weather on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  He has appeared in science documentaries about planetary weather on the National Geographic, Discovery and History Channels.  He is married to Prof. Beth Bradley of the UofL Mathematics Department.  They have two daughters, and are parishioners of St. Michael Catholic Church in Louisville.  Prof. Dowling and Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno have a poster presentation at the American Astronomical … Continue reading

An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy
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Now You Know Media presents a new lecture series with Br. Guy An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy In these 12 lectures, Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D. leads you on a journey through the Cosmos; you’ll learn how the stars and planets reveal the beauty of Creation, and explore Scripture, the great astronomers, and the most profound questions about the universe. Topics include: Naked Astronomy: How can we to learn the sky, to recognize its regularities and its changes, and find God in the rhythm of the stars? Dark skies: For most of human history, nightfall meant the absence of light, a daily shift of what we could and could not do. How has the ubiquitous presence of artificial light changed the way we the spirituality of preserving our view of the heavens Astronomy in the Bible: How does scripture talk about the stars? What can we learn today about the best way to appreciate the … Continue reading

In the Sky this Week – September 12, 2017
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Mercury is about as high as it’s going to get in the eastern predawn sky on the 12th, and will start getting lower each morning. Sirius is high in the sky, and the constellation Canis Major is now fully visible above the southeastern horizon before sunrise. Mercury and Mars will appear very close to each other in the eastern predawn sky on the 16th. Saturn continues to be a great observing target in the southern sky after sunset. The Moon will be in conjunction with the star Aldebaran on the morning of the 12th, and will appear between(ish) the stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse on the 13th. The eastern predawn sky on the 18th should look pretty interesting: Mercury, Mars, a sliver of a waning crescent Moon, the star Regulus and Venus will all appear in a line. Sunspot AR2680 has rotated into view; this sunspot is about the same size as AR2673 was from last week – which ballooned out and blew off … Continue reading

Become a Volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador
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NASA/JPL is looking for highly motivated volunteers to communicate the science and excitement of NASA’s space exploration missions and discoveries to the people in their communities. Each September, the volunteer NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program has a recruitment drive for new volunteers; there are currently volunteers from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands. SSAs are required to do a minimum of four events over the year, and log them on the SSA website; events can include: lectures, workshops, star/eclipse parties, hands-on activities, etc. The SSA program hosts frequent teleconferences with NASA scientists, mission specialists, and engineers covering a HUGE range of topics; presentation materials and media for each teleconference are made available for SSAs to use. When it can, the program also provides freebies; my wife and I received 1000 solar glasses and distributed them far and wide before the eclipse. Applicants that are accepted into the program are required to … Continue reading

Sun Spots, CMEs, and Solar Storms!
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Oh my! Sol apparently didn’t get the memo that it’s past solar maximum, and time to be heading towards solar minimum. There are a couple massive sunspot groups (Active Regions) on the Sun, and one in particular has magnetic fields harboring enough energy to generate X-class solar flares. AR2674 hasn’t changed much in size over the the last few days, but it is still a very active region with large coronal loops. AR2673 was an innocuous little spot last week, then over the weekend ballooned out into an area larger than the Earth, with intense magnetic fields. On September 4th, AR2673 spit out a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) towards Earth – due to hit Earth’s magnetic field today (Sept. 6th), and causing G3-class geomagnetic storms on September 6th and 7th; effects can include: GPS problems, intermittent HF radio, spacecraft surface charging, power system voltage corrections, etc… Aurora watchers may want to keep an eye on the Auroral Oval, as increased auroral activity … Continue reading