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

From the Faith & Science Pages: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Story of ‘g’
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Have you noticed the little ads for the Vatican Observatory Foundation’s “Faith & Science” resource?  It is a collection of articles, videos, book excerpts, selections from this blog, and even whole books that pertain to faith and science.  One thing you will find there is an article from the magazine Physics Today, written by Yours Truly, on Fr. Giovanni Battista Riccioli, S. J., and his experiments regarding gravity.  The story is fascinating.  Fr. Riccioli was the first person to try to conduct experiments to accurately measure gravity.  He did his experiments in the 1640’s, using various towers in Bologna, Italy (all of which are still there, by the way).  He used some very ingenious techniques to measure time in these experiments.  He got all sorts of fellow Jesuits to help him.  He obtained very accurate results for the value of the downward acceleration caused by gravity, or ‘g’ (students in introductory physics classes everywhere do experiments to measure ‘g’), all … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Clouds of witnesses
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This column first ran in The Tablet in September, 2016 Scientists communicate with images. We want to know not simply one value, but how each value compares with other values measured in other situations: other times, other samples, other planets. Picturing our data as spots on a grid is worth a thousand numbers. At the 2016 meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Berlin, every paper relied on images with specks of many colors (each color also a different shape, for the the color-blind) representing different sets of data. No number is perfect; no single measurement is perfect. We repeat each measurement tens, hundreds, thousands of times. If you were to plot each measurement you’d get a cloud of dots and hope that the truth is somewhere within that cloud. The better your precision, the tighter your cloud, the better you can guess where the truth may lie. Instead of plotting all the thousands of individual measurements, though, it’s usually sufficient 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

Climate in Kurzynski Country
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I’m sorry to report that a terrific scientific and educational resource, the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN), is fading away.  A couple of years back the USHCN stopped updating its database—the last data available are from December 31, 2014.  Moreover, the USHCN recently reported that it was going out of business, so to speak, as of the end of this month.  Nothing lasts in the digital world. In honor of the USHCN’s fine run, and in hopes that it will stick around under some other guise, I present an analysis, based on USHCN data, of the climate in the southern Wisconsin stomping grounds of Fr. James Kurzynski, priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and fellow blogger on The Catholic Astronomer.  Fr. Jim’s posts reflect an ongoing interest in ecology, and in ministering to and communicating with people who may have diverse views on the subject of climate science.  Fr. Jim and I are “team-posting” here.  I did … Continue reading

A Heartfelt Farewell to NASA’s Cassini Mission to Saturn
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The Cassini mission to Saturn ranks right at the top of my list of favorite space missions; this morning, on NASA TV, I watched Cassini’s final moments as it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn… and I had a good cry. It’s an odd juxtaposition of feelings: being overjoyed and incredibly sad at the same time. When Cassini launched in 1997, my daughters were aged 12 and 9; my wife likes to recall the story of my phoning my eldest in 2004, then in college, to tell her that Cassini was making its orbital insertion burn! She also claims that I can be “such a geek.” Yesterday, I heard a story on NPR with a NASA engineer that was at the very first Cassini planning meeting – 30 years ago! For several people, this mission has been their entire career! In an interview I heard this morning, one mission specialist said that most of what’s in recent science textbooks about … 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

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Under Cerulean Skies
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Hopkinsville, Kentucky billed itself as Eclipseville—it was the closest town of any size to the “point of greatest eclipse”.  And on Monday, August 21 it was Eclipseville indeed. In the later afternoon of Sunday, August 20, I was putting together my last post prior to eclipse day, and wondering whether the weather would be OK, because the forecasts were mixed.  I got the post up on The Catholic Astronomer, and then my wife Tina and I went for a walk around central Hopkinsville to get some exercise in advance of Br. Guy’s talk at Sts. Peter & Paul church there.  (If you are visiting The Catholic Astronomer for the first time, Br. Guy Consolmagno is Director of the Vatican Observatory, and The Catholic Astronomer’s Blogger-in-Chief.) The program at Sts. Peter & Paul began with introductory remarks by Fr. Richard Meredith, who expounded upon the words of Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Just a few Tidbits for Now
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The weather in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for yesterday’s eclipse was perfect.  I will have a full post for The Catholic Astronomer regarding Vatican-Observatory-related Hopkinsville eclipse stuff, but not today; it will take time to write that all up and to assemble all the pictures.  In the meantime, here are a few tidbits to tide things over until the full post is written. Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin was in the area, and was tweeting during the eclipse… …and thanks to that tweeting I have this nice photo of totality: The photo Bevin tweeted captures something of what we saw during totality (I say “something” because a photo does not do justice to the real thing).  The sun’s corona struck me as having a “three-pointed” shape, which does appear in this photo.  However, that shape seemed both larger and more striking in person than in this photo, probably because the human eye is better with slight variations in brightness than is a camera, … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Will the Weather Hold?
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For the past week you have been seeing lots of posts about tomorrow’s eclipse and about Hopkinsville, Kentucky, the town at the point of greatest eclipse (or, to be precise, near that point): Click here for Monday’s post on the eclipse. Click here for Wednesday’s. Click here for Friday’s. Click here for Saturday’s. Hopkinsville is also the place that Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno is visiting for the eclipse. Of course, not everyone can make it to south-western Kentucky to see this eclipse. If you are unable to make it into the path of totality, you might be able to see totality “virtually”, because Hopkinsville has a live camera mounted up high to give a continuous view of the area. Check it out below: Of course, there will not be much to see of this eclipse if the weather is not good. As can be seen from the Monday-Saturday posts, the forecast for the eclipse has gone this way and … Continue reading

The Great KENTUCKY Eclipse of August 21, 2017: Reading the Signs
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Two days from the eclipse and I am in Hopkinsville. Anyone passing through, even if they did not know that there was an eclipse here, would know that a Big Event is taking place. The signs are everywhere. Some of those signs are the busy-ness of landowners along Kentucky State Highway 91 into town. The path traced by the moon’s shadow will move toward the South-East into Hopkinsville, roughly following KY-91. While driving KY-91 into town earlier today, my wife and I saw lots of farms preparing for the influx of people—some setting up to welcome visitors (“Eclipse parking $50” near the point of greatest eclipse), some seeking to keep visitors from tromping all over their crops (“POSTED: No Trespassing. Private Property.”) Another clear sign of a Big Event are all the streets that are closed off, and the many tents and vendors set up, right in central Hopkinsville. There are also a lot of actual signs pertaining to the … Continue reading