CURRENT MOON

Archive for the ‘Perseids’ Category

Night Sky Guide August 2012

Constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight’s Sky, Highlights of the August Sky Read the rest of this entry »

The Perseid Meteor Shower 2012

Raining Perseids

Image Credit :- Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Perseids are one of the most prolific and best-known of the meteor showers and can be seen in late July and through August each year, with the maximum activity on or around 12/13 August. One advantage of the Perseids shower is that it happens in the warmer weather of Summer, which makes it ideal for anyone interested in seeing their first meteor. You can see a meteor at any time of year but, for a day or so around the date of maximum, there may be a ten times better chance of seeing one. Read the rest of this entry »

Perseid Meteor Photographed from the International Space Station (ISS)

Credit: NASA @Astro_Ron

What a “Shooting Star” looks like from space Taken yesterday during Perseid Meteor Shower by @Astro_ron on board the International Space Station

#Meteorwatch Competition

Faulkes Telescope

WINNER @bethlovescake

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?

He will even process the image and submit it to the Astronomy Now magazine gallery.

For every Perseid meteor spotted and tweeted over the next two nights for the Meteor Map, each tweet will be entered into the #meteorwatch competition and the winner randomly selected.

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 🙂

Robotic Telescopes

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 £5,000,000

2011 © Copyright Faulkes Telescope Project, official partner of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

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

 

 

The 2011 Perseids: A Survival Kit

Perseid Credit: science1.nasa.gov

A classic summer astronomical standby may be in trouble this year, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking. That’s right, we’re talking about the Perseids, that “old faithful” of meteor showers which sees northern hemisphere residents getting bundled up to camp out under the summer stars every mid-August.

Some of our earliest astronomical memories come from watching this very shower under the dark northern Maine skies of our 1970’s childhood… yes, the Perseids are public crowd-pleaser and even an occasional Yahoo-trending fave that can even knock the likes of Brittany & friends down to the number 2 slot for a 12 hour period… so, what’s this news of the Perseids being “troubled?” They haven’t been threatened by irate pop stars, have they?

Unfortunately, this year’s menace is a more inviolate force; the Full Moon. Yes, this year’s Perseid meteor shower peaks the morning of August 13th, mere hours before the Moon reaches Full status on the same day at 14:57EDT/18:57UTC. Instead of the usual respectable zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of around 100 meteors per hour, observers can only expect to see a paltry few of the very brightest fireballs…

But all is not lost. With a little planning, a few factors can work in YOUR favor this year. Keep in mind that the Perseids have a very broad peak, and the radiant near the head of the constellation Perseus lies above the horizon all night for observers north of 32° latitude. Plus, this month’s Full Moon (known as a Sturgeon Moon) has a southerly declination of about -11° degrees; your best bet for catching Perseids this year may lie with watching several mornings prior, in the window of time between the setting of the waxing gibbous Moon and the beginning of local twilight… and yes, you CAN still watch a meteor shower during a Full Moon and see an occasional Perseid.

Generally speaking, the farther north in latitude you are located, the more likely you’ll be able to take advantage of these twin factors. Finding as dark a site as possible and putting something physically between yourself and the bright Moon is the key. A building or a hill makes an excellent “Moon-block.” Perseids are swift movers with an atmospheric entry velocity of about 61 km/sec.

The meteors are tiny grain-like debris shed by the comet Swift-Tuttle, and the shower occurs as the Earth intersects the path of the comet every mid-August. The Perseids are also famously known as the “Tears of Saint Lawrence” who was martyred on August 10th, and are probably the most well known of all meteor showers because of their annual dependability and their timely occurrence with the northern hemisphere summer vacation and holiday season.

Historic ZHR rates have always hovered around 60, but the past several years have seen an enhanced ZHR of +100. This shower is also infamous for sparking “Meteor Shower of the Millennium!” headlines annually, Although I have yet to see the same occur this year… a shower that MAY be a contender for said headline is the Giacobinids (or do you say Draconid?) meteors in early October 2011, an obscure shower that may dazzle this year… more on this to come in October.

Wonder what that the above graphic has to do with anything astronomical? You are looking at what is known as a nomogram, a graphical device that is a neat way to show interrelationships between factors. (Hey, how do you spend your weekend?) The graphic above was adapted from a nomogram featured in the November 2002 issue of Sky & Telescope; it shows the interrelationship between the two biggest factors that affect the zenithal hourly rate; namely, the radiant’s elevation above the horizon, and the limiting magnitude of your sky. (For a way “math-y-ier” dissertation on nomograms and the ZHR, click here).

This device will be your indispensible friend and secret weapon as you plot your meteor observing adventures for this or any shower. The ZHR is a theoretical limit; it assumes that you have absolutely perfect skies with a radiant directly overhead and an unwavering 360°degree view. Unrealistic, right? Well, it’s something to strive for. As you can see after playing around with the graphic a bit, the biggest killer of how many meteors you’ll see is how dark a sky you are under.

Even when the Perseid radiant is half way (45° degrees) in altitude towards the zenith, a limiting magnitude of +4 (as is typical around a Full Moon) means you’ll see roughly 10% of the zenithal hourly rate, i.e. 6-10 meteors per hour instead of 60-100. Yes, light pollution, both natural and manmade, is a real meteor shower buzz-kill. And keep in mind, other factors can conspire to lower that rate even further, such as obstructions on the horizon and the fact that a sole observer can only cover a limited swath of the sky visually. Still, the sight of a well placed fireball can be unforgettable and just plain pure magic to witness.

Do get out there on days leading up to this week’s Perseid meteors, and be sure to follow and report the magic via #meteorwatch on Twitter; they’re worth setting an early alarm for!

David Dickinsen

www.astroguyz.com

http://twitter.com/Astroguyz

The World’s Unluckiest Stargazer! – Fingers Crossed For The Perseids?

I am the dead albatross on your boat.

I am the peacock feather in the house.

I am horseshoe carelessly nailed upside down so all the good luck falls out down a grid.

If you ever see me coming to stand next to you at a star party, meteor shower, or eclipse, you have permission to make the cross sign with your fingers and run backwards as fast as you can.

That’s because, for my 33 and a half years of sky gazing, I have managed to cause cloudy skies and inclement weather at every single major event I have attended.

Just for the record, I’m a keen amateur astronomer without a telescope. I follow as many Twitter astro accounts as I can, avidly retweeting the latest data from Cassini, and following lonely Mars landers as they bump across rusty rocks. I cried the first time I saw the ISS, and as a child, I used to stand in the garden with a compass, straining hard to see the northern lights. I never did.

My bad luck began in earnest when I went to Cornwall for the eclipse. A boyfriend and I spent a small fortune hiring out a dank, uncomfortable cottage in the middle of nowhere. I was so excited that I woke up at 6.30am every morning, causing us to be grey faced and exhausted for the whole pitiful ‘holiday.’ And of course, on the big day, there was 100% cloud cover and it was so cold we had to wear gloves.

One night, me and the chap were out in Sefton Park, Liverpool, admiring a wonderful conjunction of several planets dancing around a new moon like fairy lights. Flushed with happiness, we went in and congratulated ourselves for figuring out how to use a planisphere.  Next morning we were mortified to find out aurora had been visible ten minutes after we went in.

And indeed, only last week, I was photographing some incredible clouds where I live in Bristol, only to be told a short while later that even more aurora had decided to shimmy their way on to the sky’s stage while I had my back turned.

I travelled to America last year, and on my first night, I was so jetlagged that I shut the blind to keep out an incredibly bright moon. Mr Moon was very cross at my ignorance, and proceeded to turn bright red with rage, causing me to miss a spectacular lunar eclipse.

But the thing I have had the LEAST luck with…is meteor showers. I have stood out in back gardens and dark fields trying to catch a glimpse of these fleeting sky streaks at least three times a year from the age of 15. And guess what? Except for ONE Leonid I saw, cutting through soupy orange cloud two years ago, I have not had ANY luck. Truly disheartening.

That is, if you forget about last year. I was in Portland, on the west coast of America. Through a set of remarkable coincidences, which really do make me wonder if we are being pulled through our lives by twinkling cosmic threads, I ended up meeting some wonderful people who shared my love of all things that require tipping your chin up to 90 degrees to observe.

They took me out to a pitch-black nature reserve, bundled up with blankets and deckchairs, as bullfrogs boomed in the blackness, and baby racoons cavorted in the undergrowth.

On that magical, starry, starry night, we counted several hundred Perseids, each one causing me to gasp and grip the arm of my chair. One of the most memorable experiences of my life and one I long to repeat.

So. Will I be turning my head skywards for the Perseids this year? Of course I will. But judging from past form, I’d say, chances are, Bristol is not going to enjoy clear skies. I just seem to have that unfortunate effect on the sky over my head.

So if there are any astronomers in the Bristol area hoping for a good viewing, you may want to drive me out of town with planks and pitchforks. Either that, or take a trip to Inverness.

Follow me for further antics on twitter, I am @RadioVicky

Meteor Watch – Catching Perseids On Camera

Credit: Mark Humpage

Meteor Watch, 2011. Well it’s that time of the year again. The air is warm, days are long, Noctilucent are departing, which can mean only one thing – Meteorwatch is back.

There are many subjects within our night sky that are fascinating to watch and equally challenging to capture on camera. However, there really is something quite exciting and magical about spotting balls of fire streaking across a star filled sky. Maybe my affinity with severe weather and, in particular, lightning was the catalyst for fascination, or perhaps the fact that objects the size of a grain of sand can ironically put on such a grand fireworks display. History, in the form of a meteor shower 200 years ago is said to have inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lines from his famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s amazing to think that distant evening, when Coleridge was walking along the Somerset coast witnessing the upper air burst into life, would inspire others as we once again prepare for showers.

Whilst there are many displays throughout the year, the most visible meteor shower is the Perseids which light up the skies around mid August each year and offer peak shows of more than 1 meteor every minute – a perfect viewing event. The moon cycle can invariably weaken the viewing event (depending on phase) but even so the challenge of course is not necessarily to witness but to capture on camera. With this in mind, let us look at some useful pointers which will help camera owners increase their odds of pulling off a meteoric masterpiece over the coming weeks.

Credit: Mark Humpage

Firstly, what Camera Equipment is required? Let’s not pull any punches. To capture a decent meteor image will require a good quality camera. Shooting a subject in low light or darkness will require a camera that allows full manual control of the settings and interchangeable lenses. In this respect a dslr fits the bill perfectly. Talking of lenses, my ideal selection would a choice of two (or both). A wide angle, something in the range of *7-14mm (14-28mm 35mm equivalent) together with a lens to get a bit closer, such as the *12-60mm (24-120mm 35mm equivalent). I’ll talk about why I suggest these two lenses a bit later within the technique section. Another pre-requisite piece of equipment is a tripod. This will give stability for those long exposures, and prevent motion blurring. Finally, I would recommend using a cable release or remote method of triggering the camera shutter. Combined with a tripod for steadying this will minimise camera vibration – you would be surprised how much vibration is created by simply pressing the shutter release button with your finger!

Camera Settings – It’s important not to forget our camera subject which is essentially a fast moving bright object visible for a very short period of time. Successfully capturing a meteor with a short exposure time, in darkness, is near on impossible because timing will be down to luck (extremely low odds) and the foreground (for wide angle shots) will be too dark. In this respect, and to increase our odds of a successful capture we need to use a long exposure time. To do this firstly set the camera to manual mode (M). Now set the exposure time to between 15s and 30s (15s for continuous and 30s for single shooting – I will explain this more in the technique section) and shutter speed to the lowest setting (a good quality lens should get down to F2.8). Set the ISO to 500. This will be good starting point for most cameras. Bear in mind that camera systems and models vary tremendously depending on the technology inside, such as the sensor and processing engine. Personally, I have found 15s-30s is sufficient to capture the duration of a single meteor. Combined with a mid value ISO of around 500 will provide sufficient light to deliver a pleasing image of both foreground and subject whilst keeping noise (grainy effect) to a minimum.

Camera Technique. I must reinforce the fact there is a great element of luck in capturing a meteor on camera. One can advise on the optimum camera equipment and settings but there is never any guarantee of success. The key is not success but rather improving ones odds of success. I can certainly increase your odds and results by using the following techniques, based around lens choice. Firstly and desirably find a location away from populated areas and light pollution. Set up the camera with a Wide Angle Lens and try to position an on object in the foreground, such as a tree or man made structure. This will add perspective or scale to an image. Position the camera/lens to cover the north east skyline keeping a small portion of land in the bottom third or quarter of the frame. Ensure focus is set manually to infinity. Using a 15s exposure time and remote cable (set to lock) pop the camera into sequence shooting and hit the shutter release button (If you don’t have a remote cable simply keep the finger pressed on the shutter release button, although it will get numb quickly!). This effectively primes the camera to take continuous frames until you switch the camera off (or the battery runs out). What you will end up with here is as many (or little) images as desired and which can be imported into stacking software. A final composite image could be as long as the night combining a star trail effect with hopefully a meteor or two. If using this technique a good tip, to improve composition, is choose a foreground subject with something of interest and paint it with light. This can be done simply by setting off a few rounds of flash remotely whilst the camera is shooting or waving a lit torch around the foreground.

Pros – Excellent success rate of meteor capture with good image composition.

Cons – Captured meteors will appear small, with little detail against a wide angle frame.

The second technique involves using a lens with greater focal length or Zoom. The far end of a mid level zoom range would suffice (60mm or 120mm 35mm equivalent) or, if available, a high end zoom lens allowing anything up to 200/300mm (400/600mm 35mm equivalent).

Once again manually set the focus to infinity and use a 30s exposure time. Train the camera/lens on an area of sky alone and fire away as and when you feel. To start, concentrate on an area of north-east sky near the Perseids radiant (see Perseids section) but do vary the location all around the sky.

Pros – Captured meteors will fill the frame with great detail (and colour).

Cons – Low success rate of meteor capture (due to small area of sky concentration)

In addition, do experiment by adopting the 15s continuous shooting technique with a zoom lens. This will also increase capture odds. Personally, I shoot with two cameras using both these techniques to really maximise the odds of capture, composition and detail.

The Perseids are meteors which appear to originate from a point within the constellation of Perseus in the north-eastern sky. This point, known as the shower’s radiant is a good starting point for aiming the camera lens. Do note that one might see a meteor anywhere in the sky but the direction of motion, when traced back, will point to the radiant. A meteor that does not point back to the known radiant for a given shower is not considered part of that shower. Locating the Perseids’ radiant is very simple and situated in the constellation Perseus, just below the familiar ‘W’ of the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Finally, it is worth making a quick point about Iridium Flares. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between an Iridium flare and a meteor. (See top photo). Iridium Flares are common communication satellites which illuminate when the sun reflects off their bright antennas. Usually the brightness, colour and trajectory are a giveaway (noticeably brighter in the center and dimmer at its ends). Iridium flares can also be accurately predicted (http://www.heavens-above.com) and which is the best indicator for confirming, as long as you note the time, direction and elevation.

May all you showers light up!

Mark Humpage July 2011

* based upon  Olympus E-system 4/3 sensor camera

Credit: Mark Humpage

 

Imaging Perseids with an iphone

ISS with an iphone

Between the 11th & 13th August the perseid meteor shower will once again be visible. This will peak on Friday night when you can expect to see many metors burn up in the upper atmosphere. Its an impressive sight, and one that you can not only see, but capture on your camera, in fact you can get some great shots with only an iPhone!

You’ll need an iPhone 3G along with the Slow Shutter Cam app from Cogitap Software, its 69p and well worth it. This allows the shutter to remain open for a longer period of time, and hopefully catching a meteor. Just open App Store on your phone and download! (I’m sure that there are similar apps for Android phones too)

To take full advantage of this app I would recommend getting your iPhone set up on a tripod. I have been using an adapted generic (cheap) car windscreen mobile phone holder. I sourced the correct sized nut and glued it to the holder. I can then attach it to any tripod, although normally use a jobby gorilla grip on it.
These elements are all you need to use your iPhone to shoot great shots!

The settings I have been using to catch the ISS are
Capture Mode = Light Trail
Shutter speed = B (Bulb)
This should work for the meteors..
I would also recommend you enable the Screen Shutter function that allows you to tap anywhere on the screen to take a shot..

ISS with an iphone

Perseids and the Weather

One of the biggest factors when observing meteor showers or not in some cases, is the weather.

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.

This new tool, will be excellent for planning your meteorwatch, Astronomy, or any other weather dependent activity.

Register and start enjoying WOW.