Archive for the ‘Look Up’ Category
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 »
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 »
Astronomy tourism is a burgeoning field – luckily for me, as it’s how I make a living! – with city-folk now starting to make the effort to travel to places with darker skies, in the hope of seeing things that simply cannot be seen from the orange glare of a town sky.
Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, which I helped establish in 2009, has seen a lot of this dark sky tourism trade, due to its high profile in the media, but many other places around the country – Sark in the Channel Islands, and Exmoor National Park to name but two – have followed suit, hoping to attract the stargazing crowds.
And as more and more people come out of the city for a stargazing weekend under dark skies it’s becoming clear to me that there’s a real appetite for seeing the Milky Way and other elusive dark sky objects. It’s almost become something to put on your “bucket list”: see a wild lion in Africa; fly in a hot air balloon; see the Milky Way.
However there are lots of other amazing astronomical objects visible under a dark sky so here is the first installment of my top-ten “Dark Sky Bucket List”. Read the rest of this entry »
The Draconids are coming! Will this meteor shower produce a storm of observable meteors, or just a minor squall? The Draconid Meteor Show should begin on October 8, 2011 starting at dusk (roughly 19:00 BST) and continue through the evening. Peak activity of this normally minor and quiet shower is estimated to be at 21:00 BST (20:00 UT). There seems to be a wide range of predictions for this year’s shower, but some astronomers believe there could be up to 1,000 meteors per hour, making this a meteor storm!
Read the rest of this entry »
Sure, you’ve heard of the August Perseids that come blazing across the sky and are invariably trumpeted by the news as the “Meteor Shower of the Millennium!” on a yearly basis. Perhaps you’ve even heard of the Leonids, normally a feeble November shower prone to legendary outbursts roughly every 33 years. But have you ever heard of the October Draconids?
I’ll admit I hadn’t until the October 1998 issue of Sky & Telescope arrived on my doorstep. Or should I say tent-flap? You see, the last half of 1998 found me deployed with my U.S. Air Force squadron to Al Jaber, Kuwait. In those days, email (and spam) were still a hip “new thing,” giant washing-machine-like CRT monitors adorned many office desks, and we were involved with a cat-and-mouse game between Saddam and the U.N. Inspectors that eventually became the shooting war of Operation Desert Fox. A military base in the desert was also a fine place to do some causal astronomy. The Leonids put on a fine show that year approaching storm levels of 1,000 per hour from our longitude. I remember mentioning the Leonid meteors to one of our F-16 pilots, and they later briefed not to mistake the fireball flashes for Iraqi AAA (an important distinction!) Read the rest of this entry »
Win a chance to have Nick Howes (@NickAstronomer on twitter) equipment consultant for Astronomy now image your favorite object using the almost Hubble sized mirror of the amazing Faulkes Telescopes. One in Hawaii one in Asutralia…the choice is yours?
So don’t forget to tweet #meteorwatch, 1st part of your postcode, Country code and how many meteors you just saw.
Share your #meteorwatch experience and have fun
Faulkes Telescope operates a network of research class robotic telescopes. Currently there are two telescopes, one in Hawaii and the other in Australia each with mirrors nearly the same size as Hubble costing £5,000,0002011 © Copyright Faulkes Telescope Project, official partner of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network
A full Moon is set to disrupt the spectacular Perseids meteor shower when the annual display peaks on the 12 and 13 August.
The full Moon introduces natural light pollution that can be as bad the man-made glare in a city center and for the best views, star gazers are advised to escape the city lights and head out to the big open and dark skies of the countryside where the stars and meteors will be at their brightest.
The National Trust has produced a handy online guide to star gazing and listed some of its best ‘dark skies’ locations to catch a glimpse of this special and natural light show.
Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “The Perseids are always an exciting meteor shower to watch out for. Even in large cities it’s often possible to catch site of some of the brighter Perseid meteors streaking across the sky, but from a really dark site you can sometimes see dozens per hour.
“But despite this year’s Perseid shower coinciding with the full Moon it’s still well worth going out for a look. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky so try looking away from the bright Moon to maximise your chances of seeing one.
It always amazes me to think that what you’re seeing are tiny specks of dust from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle burning up high in our atmosphere. The comet left the dust behind hundreds of years ago and every August the Earth ploughs through it as it moves around the Sun. So each meteor is a little piece of evidence of the Earth’s motion through space.”
Some of the locations highlighted in the National Trust guide include the dramatic landscape around the world famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire and Mam Tor in the Peak District, high above Sheffield and only a short distance from the city of steel.
Philip Broadbent, National Trust Outdoors Programme Manager, said: “Its worth spending the time to find the perfect spot to gaze up at the stars; as once you’re there looking into the night sky it will take your breath away.
“And the best thing is that it won’t cost you a penny and this star time will always stay with you as one of those experiences that money can’t buy.”
This year the National Trust will be working with the team at meterowatch.org (twitter.com/virtualastro) to track the meteors from the Perseid shower as they appear. Tweeting the hashtag #meteorwatch on twitter, with the first part of a postcode and how many meteors seen will build an interactive map of the UK. As well as the map, meteorwatch.org is where you can find all the tips you need for observing the Perseids and lots more info.
August isn’t the only time for star gazing; its great all year round and the Trust website offers a basic introduction to astronomy, including monthly constellation guides, useful facts about the universe and where to find local astronomy groups and events.
More information can be found at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies or www.meteorwatch.org.
Notes to Editors:
The seven best National Trust sites for star gazing and see the wonders of the night sky are:
- Black Down in Sussex – Get closer to the stars on the highest point in the South Downs, just over a mile from the town of Haslemere.
- Teign Valley in Devon – Discover the stars at this Trust property within Dartmoor National Park and close to Castle Drogo.
- Penbryn Beach in Wales – Beautiful, unspoilt mile-long beach on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales, great for a bit of star gazing and a late night paddle.
- Stonehenge Landscape in Wiltshire – Step back in time and discover the ancient skies of Salisbury Plain’s chalk downlands, home to the impressive prehistoric stone monument.
- Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire – Close to historic Ely, the wild landscape of the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve offers dark skies and a wealth of nocturnal wildlife to listen out for.
- Mam Tor in Derbyshire – Escape the bright city lights of Sheffield and experience the peace and tranquillity of Mam Tor’s dark skies in the Peak District.
- Friar’s Crag in Cumbria – Surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Lake District, Friar’s Crag in Keswick juts out into the spectacular lake of Derwentwater; a restful place to contemplate the world above us.
More information about all of these sites is available by visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies
Other great sites include: Flatford and the Dedham Vale on the Essex/Suffolk border, Leith Hill in Surrey, Clent Hills in Worcestershire, Buckstones in Yorkshire, Golden Cap in West Dorset, Slindon on the south Downs, South Milton Sands in south Devon, Winchelsea in East Sussex, Goldolphin Hill and Rinsey Cliff in West Cornwall, the Quantocks in Somerset, Divis Mountain above Belfast, Knole Park in Kent and Trelissick in Cornwall.
Dr Marek Kukula is the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, which is part of the National Maritime Museum. He has 15 years’ experience of astronomy research, specialising in the study of distant galaxies and supermassive black holes. Designed by Christopher Wren, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich is home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian and one of the most important historic scientific sites in the world. Today the galleries describe the achievements of the early astronomers, explain the history of the search for longitude at sea and tell the story of precision timekeeping, as well exploring modern astronomy. The Royal Observatory also is home to the state-of-the-art Peter Harrison Planetarium (PHP), London’s only public planetarium which has a regularly updated programme of shows.
The National Trust is Europe’s biggest conservation organisation and looks after special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone. People and places are at the heart of everything it does. Over 3.8 million members and 61,000 volunteers help the Trust look after 300 historic houses and gardens, 1,100 kilometres of coastline and 250,000 hectares of open countryside. Find out more at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
Meteor showers are usually best seen a few days before and right up until their peak, so being able to plan your observing around the weather is essential.
Luckily the Met Office have developed a new interactive website: WOW Weather Observations Website, where users of the site can enter their own observations and the results will be shown on a map. Very similar to the meteorwatch meteor map.
Register and start enjoying WOW.
Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th of August 2011
From Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th of August 2011 @VirtualAstro on Twitter with the help of The National Trust, Universe Today, Royal Astronomical Society and many more, will be holding a Twitter Meteorwatch for the Perseid Meteor Shower.
Everyone is welcome to join in, whether they are an astronomer, have a slight interest in the night sky or just wonder?
As well as looking up, enjoying the night sky with us and seeing meteors, maybe for the first time? You will have the opportunity to contribute for fun with images and online, or to Science if you wish, by tweeting and seeing your results on a map, or by submitting Observing Forms if you are a more serious observer.
Use the hash tag: #Meteorwatch and get involved, ask questions, do some science, follow the event and enjoy the wonders of the night sky with us. Images and other information will be tweeted as it happens. Live!
Join in on Twitter, Facebook and Google+
The highlight of the summer meteor showers: The Perseids reach maximum around the 12th/ 13th of August and may put on a display of approximately 80 to 100 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions.
Conditions this year aren’t ideal due to there being a full moon, but the brighter meteors will be seen. Let’s hope the skies stay clear.
Perseid meteors are often bright with persistent trails which can linger for a while after the meteor has burned up. Further information on the Perseid meteor shower and how to view it, can be found here.
While you are looking for meteors, there will be other objects to look out for such as the Planet Jupiter late in the evening, the Milky Way, Summer Triangle, manmade Satellites and more.
The Twitter Meteorwatch will start at 21.00 BST on the 11th of August and will continue through to the evening of the 13th. Amateur and professional astronomers and stargazers from the US and other countries are invited to join in and take over from the UK, when the sun comes up here, helping make the event run continuously and be truly international.
Watch the awesome new trailer here….
Tonight (actually around 0130 tomorrow morning) the Full Moon will reach its highest point due south, just an hour and a half after the eclipse ends. Despite being at its highest in the sky, you’ll still struggle to see it, as it is very low down. In fact the Full Moon nearest the Summer Solstice is the lowest Full Moon of the Year
First, let’s begin with the definition of “Full Moon”. A Full Moon occurs when the Moon is diametrically opposite the Sun, as seen from the Earth. In this configuration, the entire lit hemisphere of the Moon’s surface is visible from Earth, which is what makes it “Full”. There is an actual instant of the exactly Full Moon, that is the exact instant that the Moon is directly opposite the Sun. Therefore when you see timings listed for the Full Moon they will usually include the exact time (hh:mm) that the Moon is 180° round from the Sun (we call this point opposition). Here’s a list of the times of all Full Moons between June 2011 and June 2012:
|Month||Date of Full Moon||Time of Full Moon (UT)|
|June 2011||15 June||2014*|
|July 2011||15 July||0640*|
|August 2011||13 August||1857*|
|September 2011||12 September||0927*|
|October 2011||12 October||0206*|
|November 2011||10 November||2016|
|December 2011||10 December||1436|
|January 2012||09 January||0730|
|February 2012||07 February||2154|
|March 2012||08 March||0939|
|April 2012||06 April||1919*|
|May 2012||06 May||0335*|
|June 2012||04 June||1112*|
* UK observers should add on one hour for BST As you can see from this table, the instant of the Full Moon can occur at any time of day, even in the daytime when the Moon is below the horizon. So most often when we see a “Full Moon” in the sky it is not exactly full, it is a little bit less than full, being a few hours ahead or behind the instant of the Full Moon. I’ll refer to this with “” marks, to distinguish this from the instant of the Full Moon (they look virtually identical in the sky). The Moon rises and sets, like the Sun does, rising towards the east and setting towards the west, reaching its highest point due south around midnight (although not exactly at midnight, just like the Sun does not usually reach its highest point exactly at noon). And like with the Sun the maximum distance above the horizon of the “Full Moon” varies over the year. The Sun is at its highest due south around noon on the Summer Solstice (20 or 21 June) and at its lowest due south around noon on the Winter Solstice (21 or 22 Dec) (of course the Sun is often lower than this, as it rises and sets, but we’re talking here about the lowest high point at mid-day, i.e. the day of the year in which, when the Sun is at its highest point that day, that height is lowest…) And because Full Moons occur when the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, you can imagine the Moon and Sun as sitting on either sides of a celestial see-saw: on the day when the Sun is highest in the middle of the day (in Summer), the Moon is at its lowest high point at midnight; and on the day when the Sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in Winter), the Moon is at its highest high point at midnight. This means, in practical terms, that Summer “Full Moons” are always very low on the horizon, while Winter “Full Moons” can be very high overhead. Here’s a table of the altitude of the “Full Moon” when due south. Remember the times in this table don’t match the exact time of the Full Moon, but instead have been chosen as the closest in time to that instant, and so have be labelled “Full Moon” (in quotes).
|Month||Date of Full Moon||Time of Full Moon (UT)||Time/Date of “Full Moon” due S||Time from/since instant of Full Moon||Altitude due S (degrees)**|
|June 2011||15 June||2014*||0127BST 16 June 2011||+4h13m||10° 05′|
|July 2011||15 July||0640*||0012BST 15 July 2011||-7h28m||10° 24′|
|August 2011||13 August||1857*||0126BST 14 August 2011||+5h27m||19° 19′|
|September 2011||12 September||0927*||0049BST 12 September 2011||-9h38m||31° 49′|
|October 2011||12 October||0206*||0053BST 12 October 2011||-1h13m||44° 16′|
|November 2011||10 November||2016||0005GMT 11 November 2011||-3h49m||53° 24′|
|December 2011||10 December||1436||0030GMT 11 December 2011||+9h54m||56° 03′|
|January 2012||09 January||0730||0006GMT 09 January 2012||-7h24m||53° 36′|
|February 2012||07 February||2154||0031GMT 08 February 2012||+2h37m||43° 47′|
|March 2012||08 March||0939||0000GMT 08 March 2012||-9h39m||35° 37′|
|April 2012||06 April||1919*||0145BST 07 April 2012||+5h26m||21° 45′|
|May 2012||06 May||0335*||0102BST 06 May 2012||-3h33m||15° 20′|
|June 2012||04 June||1112*||0047BST 04 June 2012||-11h25m||11° 49′|
* UK observers should add on one hour for BST ** The altitude here is based on my observing location in Glasgow, Scotland. You can find out how to work out how high these altitudes are here. As you can see from this table, the highest “Full Moon” due S this year occurs at 0030 on 11 December 2011, when the Moon will be over 56° above the southern horizon (approximately the height of the midsummer mid-day Sun which culminates at 57°34′). Compare this to the “Full Moon” this month, just after the eclipse, in the morning of 16 June, when the Moon barely grazes 10° above the horizon, and you can see just how low the midsummer Full Moon can be. In fact the closeness of summer “Full Moons” to the horizon means that this is an ideal time of year to try and observe the Moon Illusion.