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Comets and Asteroids LIVE

Comets and Asteroids LIVE

In an introduction to a new series of shows, join Slooh’s Paul Cox to observe comets and asteroids.  We’ll watch real-time images of these intriguing and potentially deadly objects direct from Slooh’s Canary Islands observatory.

Comet panSTARRS – A simple guide on how to see it

How to see comet panSTARRS

PANSTARRS

Comet panSTARRS and the Moon March 12th 2013 (comet shape for illustration only) Credit: Meteorwatch

From the 7th of March 2013 and for the rest of the month, comet panSTARRS will be in the early evening skies of Northern hemisphere.

The comet has been visible to the naked eye in the Southern hemisphere and was bright enough to be seen in twilight skies from places such as New Zealand.

Hopefully Northern hemisphere countries such as the USA, Europe and Asia will get a chance to see one of this year’s bright comets. Read the rest of this entry »

Quadrantids Meteor Shower 2012

Originally Posted on Dark Sky Diary by Steve Owens @darkskyman on twitter

Quadrantid Meteor

On the night of 03/04 January 2012 the first meteor shower of the year will take place, the Quadrantids. This shower ranks as one of the best performers of the year, assuming your skies aren’t clouded, as they so often are in winter. If the peak of this shower occurs under ideal conditions – i.e. perfectly clear skies, free from light pollution – then you can expect to see in excess of 100 meteors every hour. The peak for this shower is very brief though, so you’ll have to catch just the right conditions at just the right time to see a display this good. This year’s peak is estimated to occur just before dawn on 04 January 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

AstroEvents- Hunting things that “Flash” in the January Sky

Credit: David Dickinsen

2012 is here, and the world shows no sign of ending as the heavens spin on their appointed rounds high overhead. But the diligent observer may be rewarded with several unique an spurious sights, both natural and manmade…

1st up is everyone’s favorite meteor shower named after an obsolete constellation; the Quadrantids peak the morning of January 4th in what is the first large meteor shower of the year. The peak is very swift, only lasting about 12 hours or so and is centered this year on 2:00 AM EST/7:00 AM UTC. This favors the U.S. East Coast in 2012, as the 79% waxing gibbous Moon will set around 2AM local the morning of the 4th for observers in mid-northern latitudes. The radiant of the shower lies at a declination of 52° degrees north at the junction of the modern constellations of Draco, Bootes and Hercules, and thus activity may be visible pre-midnite local, although the setting of the Moon and the rising of the radiant will raise sighting prospects considerably. Expect swift-moving meteors headed outward from the radiant above the handle of the Big Dipper to appear anywhere in the sky. The Quadrantids have been known since the early 1800’s, but there has been much conjecture as to the source parent body. Astronomer Fred Whipple noted in 1963 that the stream bears some resemblance to the Delta Aquarids, and that the orbital path has undergone alterations by the planet Jupiter in the last few thousand years. In 2003, SETI researcher Peter Jenniskens proposed that the source may be then recently discovered asteroid 2003 EH1, which has been tentatively linked to Comet C/1490 Y1, which approached Earth at a distance of 0.52 Astronomical Units on January 12th 1491. Be sure to keep an eye out for Quadrantids on these chilly January mornings, as we commemorate Quadrans Muralis, a constellation that is no longer! Read the rest of this entry »

Quadrantids Meteor Shower 2012: What You Might See

Originally based on Dark Sky Diary by Steve Owens www.twitter.com/darkskyman

The first meteor shower of 2012 is the Quadrantids, the peak of which falls on the night of the 03/04 January 2012. The Quadrantids shower has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all meteor showers, comparable to the two great annual showers, the Perseids and the Geminids, occurring in August and December respectively. However unlike the Perseids and Geminids, the Quadrantids peak is very narrow, occurring over just a few short hours.

The predicted Zenith Hourly Rate (see my previous post about ZHR and what it actually means here) for the Quadrantids is around 120. The narrow peak is predicted to occur some time between 2100 UT on 3 January and 0700 UT on 4 January 2011, however the radiant of the shower – the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis – is very low in the evening hours, rising higher towards dawn, and so the best viewing times are later in this run, just before dawn. Read the rest of this entry »

Geminid Meteorwatch 2011

Credit: Wally Pacholka

It’s the finale of this year’s meteor showers: The Geminids will start appearing on Dec. 7 and should reach peak activity around the 13th and 14th. This shower could put on a display of up to 100+ meteors (shooting stars) per hour under good viewing conditions.

However, conditions this year are not ideal with the presence of a waning gibbous Moon (which will be up from mid-evening until morning). But seeing meteors every few minutes is quite possible. Geminid meteors are often slow and bright with persistent coloured trails which can linger for a while after the meteor has burned up.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Geminid Meteor Shower Rounds Off 2011

2011 has been quite a year, both terrestrial and otherwise. This week sees the last of the big scheduled astronomical happenings of the year in the form of the Geminid meteor shower.

This shower is one of the yearly standbys along with the Perseids that are always sure to produce. The Geminids have a long peak centered on the morning of December 14th when an idealized Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of up to 120 meteors per hour may be seen.

Problems will arise, however, from an 82% illuminated waning gibbous Moon in the adjacent constellation of Cancer. Rising roughly around 10PM local on the night of the peak, this makes for the worst possible Moon phase as it’ll be high and bright in the early AM hours, just as the meteor shower is getting into high gear. But as always, I wouldn’t let that stop you from looking! Read the rest of this entry »

Orionids Meteor Shower 2011

Originally posted on Dark Sky Diary by Steve Owens @Darkskyman

Some time in the small hours of Friday or Saturday morning (21-22 October 2011) the Orionids meteor shower will reach its peak activity rate.  The peak occurs some time around 21 October each year, but this year it’s uncertain which day it will fall on.

The Orionid's parent Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network.

Meteor showers result from the Earth passing through the trail of dust and debris left behind by a comet. In the case of the Orionids the parent object is the most famous of all the comets – Halley’s Comet.

The peak meteor rate for the Orionids is lower than some of the more spectacular showers (the Perseids in August, the Geminids in December, and the Quadrantids in January all regularly outperform the Orionids) but it is still worth looking out for.

The meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation of Orion (hence the name) but they will streak across the sky in all directions, and so you shouldn’t confine yourself to only looking towards this one constellation.

On Thursday and Friday evenings the radiant rises in the east around 2200 BST (2100 UT)  and continues to rise to its highest in the south just before the sky starts to brighten at 0600 BST (0500 UT). The higher the radiant above the horizon the more meteors you will see. However a crescent Moon will rises in the east on both mornings, the light from which will drown out some of the fainter meteors.

This shouldn’t matter much to you if you’re observing from an urban or suburban area, as the man-made light pollution in the sky will do a far better job of obscuring the meteor shower than the Moon will, but for lucky observers in dark sites (and I’ll be one of them, as I’m spending the weekend on Sark, the world’s first Dark Sky Island) the Moon may interfere.

Here’s a table with estimated hourly rates based on dark skies / suburban / urban areas, at hourly intervals throughout the night, assuming a ZHR =40 throughout this period (It may be that the peak will fall outwith this period, e.g. in daylight hours, so these are best-case-scenario numbers).

 Time (BST) Radiant
Altitude
Radiant
Direction
Hourly Rate
Urban Site
Hourly Rate
Suburban Site
Hourly Rate
Dark Sky Site (if Moon not present)
 2200 rises  ENE  <1  <1  <1
 2300  8°  ENE  1  2  4
 0000  16°  E  1  4  8
 0100  24°  ESE  2  6  16
 0200  33°  ESE  2  8  22
 0300  40°  SE  2  9  26*
 0400  46°  SSE  3  10  29*
 0500  50°  S  3  11  31*
 0600  50°  S  3  11  31*

* the true rates, given that the Moon is causing natural light pollution, are probably half these values.

All of these timings and altitudes are based on an observer in central Scotland. For other UK observers the values in columns 2-4 may be slightly off, but not noticeably so.

Observing Advice: wrap up warm, head out before midnight, sit youself in a reclining lawn chair, and enjoy the spectacle. The rates may pick up around 0200 BST on Thursday or Friday and may stay high until dawn.

DRACONID METEOR OUTBURST

Originally posted by and full credit to Spaceweather.com

On October 8th, Earth will pass through a network of dusty filaments shed by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Forecasters expect the encounter to produce anywhere from a few dozen to a thousand meteors per hour visible mainly over Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. The meteors will stream from the northern constellation Draco–hence their name, the “Draconids.”

Peak rates should occur between 1600 UT and 2200 UT (noon – 6 pm EDT) as Earth grazes a series of filaments nearly intersecting our planet’s orbit. Analysts at the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office prepared this plot showing how the meteor rate is likely to vary:

If the maximum around 1900 UT reaches 1000 meteors per hour, the 2011 Draconids will be classified as a full-fledged meteor storm. The question is, will anyone see it? Bright moonlight over Europe, Africa and the Middle East will reduce the number of visible meteors 2- to 10-fold. The situation is even worse in North America where the shower occurs in broad daylight.

One way to enjoy the Draconids, no matter where you live, is to listen to them. The Air Force Space Surveillance Radar will be scanning the skies over the USA during the shower. When a Draconid passes through the radar beam–ping!–there will be an echo. Tune in to Space Weather Radio for live audio.

A similar system, still employing the radio reflection method displays meteors coming in on your computer in the form of a live graph – Meteor Live View

In Europe, an international team of scientists plans to observe the shower from airplanes flying at ~30,000 feet where the thin air reduces the impact of lunar glare. In Bishop, California, a team of high school students will launch an experimental helium balloon to higher altitudes, 100,000 feet or more, where the sky is black even at noon. Cameras in the balloon’s payload might catch some Draconid fireballs during the peak hours of the outburst.

Stay tuned for updates as Earth approaches the debris zone.

Meteors Streaking Across The Sky

 

Meteors streaking across the sky are an amazing sight.  Every time I see a meteor is a thrilling moment.

 

I’m not a professional astronomer or even a specialized expert.  I’ve just been watching the skies for meteors and showing others how to spot them for a long time.  I particularly enjoy helping people who have never seen a meteor before experience their first sighting.  My greatest success is watching the Perseid Meteor shower together with my kids while we were camping in the mountains together.  It is an emotional memory that we’ll share all our lives.

 

Watching meteors is special because it truly takes no special equipment whatsoever.  Telescopes or cameras just restrict your field of view – for best viewing simply lie back and enjoy the sky in front of your own eyes.

 

Meteorwatch itself is special for a lot of reasons.  It is a world-wide event of professional and amateur astronomers getting together to share the heaven’s most showy display of the year.  It’s an opportunity to collect real data that may be useful for astronomers to work with to increase our understanding of space.  For me, meteorwatch is a chance to share my excitement with others who have never seen the beauty of a meteor flashing overhead.

 

Our goal for meteorwatch is to increase the odds for everyone to find meteors.  Meteorwatch occurs August 12 through August 14 to correspond with the Perseid Meteor shower.  The Perseids are a predictable shower that comes every year.  In fact, meteors from the Perseids have been observed for about 2000 years already!  The meteors are frequent and fairly bright, so it’s likely that you’ll be able to spot one if you go out prepared.

 

The first step of being prepared is that you need to find the darkest place you can find, as far away as possible from lights that will disrupt your night vision.  If the moon is out while you’re observing, try to block it as best as you can with trees or a hill so you don’t look at it and ruin your night vision.  If your night vision does get disrupted, you will not be able to see the dimmer meteors at all, so keep your eyes up and don’t pull out your phone to tweet every few minutes.

It’s true that Perseid meteors will likely come at between one and two meteors every minute, but you won’t be able to see that many because most of them are dim and washed out by city lights.  The darker it is, the more meteors you will see!  When I’m in a reasonably dark area near the outskirts of my city I’m happy to see one meteor every five minutes or so.  If you can’t get out of the city, you may have to wait longer because you will only see the brightest meteors.  There are plenty of sightings from the heart of cities, so it’s not impossible, just more difficult.  It’s certainly worth an attempt if you can find a park without lights or some other dark area near you.

 

The second step is to make sure that you’re comfortable while waiting.  A good chair that supports your neck while you look up is helpful.  Even though the Perseids occur during summer, the nights can get quite chilly so dress warmly and bring something warm to drink.

 

The third step is to keep it an enjoyable outing.  Some people like to go out alone and listen to music while waiting.  That’s great too, but I usually tell first-timers to go out in groups.  I especially encourage people to take their kids out.  Young eyes may see phantom meteors at first, but once they get the hang of it they’ll spot meteors too dim for you or I to spot any more.  Kids are fantastic at spotting meteors and it encourages them to be interested in the world around them.  Besides, who wouldn’t appreciate a late night out once in a while?

 

The most frequent question I get asked year after year has been, “Where should I look in the sky to see the meteors?”  In the past I’ve tried to describe how to find the constellation Perseus, but it’s rather unnecessary.  Accustom your eyes to the dark, and after you’ve seen three or four meteors you should be able to figure out where Perseus is in the sky all on your own!  It’s most important to look up, be relaxed and patient, and the meteors will dazzle in front of you as long as you are willing to watch.

 

Unfortunately, we don’t all get clear skies.  Some of us are clouded out and have no chance at spotting meteors above us, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.  Follow the #meteorwatch hashtag on twitter for tips, pictures, radio observing and to share your experiences with other enthusiasts around the world.  Go to www.meteorwatch.org for news and information and be sure to follow twitter.com/VirtualAstro for fantastic coverage of the Perseid Meteor shower direct from his Astrobunker.

 

Mark Zaugg is an amateur astronomer and enthusiast who particularly enjoys introducing people to the excitement of seeing a meteor in person.  You can find him at twitter.com/Zarquil