Caption: The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in the constellation Orion the Hunter. The belt star Alnitak is the brightest star in the image, just above the Flame Nebula. Image by Mike Selby, Andrew Chatman (member of ASRAS-Rochester Astronomy Club) and Stefan Schmidt at SC Observatory, Samphran, Thailand. Downloadable images: 3000×19566436×4196.
Anyone clicking on the link will be treated to a remarkable image of the Horsehead and Flame Nebulae, next to the belt-edge star Alnitak in the constellation Orion the Hunter. With the kind reproduction permissions from Andrew Chatman of ASRAS, I’ve included the hi-res version of the image (lonked in the caption above) for your downloading and desktop-background-ing pleasure.
The Quadrantids turned out to be a wash for CNY, but we’ve had a few crystal clear nights near the New Moon for planetary and other observing. With, perhaps, a last major focus on Orion this year, a How-To seeking guide for nearby constellations using Orion was included in the article (reproduced below with caption).
2016 has been a looooong year in many respects (and I’m not even taking about Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Hutcherson, Bley, Glass, Schulten, Minksy, and now Glenn, to name but a few), made all the more difficult by many of the most significant events happening without warning and/or adequate statistical analysis.
Amateur astronomers, on the other hand, have had thousands and tens of thousands and maybe millions of years of advanced notice that 2016 was going to stink – at least for meteor showers. The timing of Full Moons this year has meant that the Perseids, Leonids, and Geminids were all going to occur in the presence of considerable lunar glow, wiping out the quality of all but the brightest shooting stars.
So, how doe one remain optimistic in the face of physics?
I lament the lack of any mention of the Orionid Meteor Shower, which won’t be impressive anyway thanks to the Moon, but should still have been included for monthly completeness. What would have been included in the article is provided below:
Meteor showers are the result of the Earth passing through the debris field of a comet or asteroid. As these objects approach the warming sun in their long orbits, they leave tiny bits behind – imagine pebbles popping out the back of a large gravel truck on an increasingly bumpy road. In the case of meteor showers, the brilliant streaks you see are due to particles no larger than grains of sand. The Earth plows through the swarm of these tiny particles at up-to 12 miles-per-second. High in the upper atmosphere, these particles burn up due to friction and ionize the air around them, producing the long light trails we see. We can predict the peak observing nights for a meteor shower because we know when and where in Earth’s orbit we’ll pass through the same part of the Solar System – this yearly periodicity in meteor activity is what let us identity and name meteor showers well before we ever had evidence of what caused them.
The name of each meteor shower is based on the constellation from which the shooting stars appear to radiate – a position in the sky we call the radiant. In the case of the Orionids, the meteor shower radiant appears to be to the north/above of the belt and left shoulder of Orion, which rises from the east after 11 p.m. this month. The meteor shower itself is provided to us by Halley’s Comet, and is the best of the meteor showers associated with Halley’s debris field.
How to observe: Sadly, the Moon will be prominent in the late-night/early-morning sky during the days around the Orionid peak, making for a far less impressive display. The Orionids are not known for their impressive counts either, with 10 to 20 meteors per hour expected.
Orion marks the position of the meteor shower radiant, meaning the meteors themselves will seem to shoot roughly from the east to the west. To optimize your experience, lie flat on the ground with your feet pointed east and your head elevated – meteors will then appear to fly right over and around you. Counts and brightness tend to increase the later you stay out, with peak observing times usually between midnight and 4 a.m. The swarm of tiny particles is distributed broadly in orbit, meaning some people may shooting stars associated with the Orionids anytime this month.
Also, kudos to friend and fellow space trucker Prof. John McMahon for one orientational catch – the following:
Starting around mid-October, Jupiter will peak above the Western horizon just after 6:30 a.m.
Starting around mid-October, Jupiter will peak above the Eastern horizon just after 6:30 a.m.
“You know that you got to play correctly the first or second take or that’s it. He would take it anyhow. You mess up, well that’s it. You know, that’s your problem. You have to hear that all the rest of your life.”
For interested parties, this article also marks the second (and final) official mention (to the best of my knowledge) of our upcoming MOST/TACNY/CNYO hosting of International Observe The Moon Night on Saturday, October 8th. At present, the weather is looking less-than promising for even lunar observing, but plans are underway to handle the crowd either way.
If it rains Saturday night, then I recommend the following:
For interested parties, this article also marks the first official mention (to the best of my knowledge) of our upcoming MOST/TACNY/CNYO hosting of International Observe The Moon Night on Saturday, October 8th. Additional details to follow, but expect the observing to happen somewhere around The MOST itself.
Extra-special thanks to Nick Lamendola from the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (image above, taken from the grounds of my new observing stomping grounds at the Farash Center – click for a larger view) for the use of his Perseid composite as the article opener (one of the benefits of being a member of several local clubs is the listserve content – and the many fantastic images that fly by on a weekly basis).
In the interest of aggregation, quick post linking the first two in a new series of astronomy articles on newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com. There’s an old adage in academia – “You don’t really know something until you can teach it.” To that end, these articles and their associated research prep are great fun and yet another excellent excuse to go out at night and compare the planetarium apps to the real thing (for which both Starry Night Pro and Stellarium are excellent organizational proxies. I’m currently leaning on Stellarium for the imagery because others who might get bit by the astronomy bug can download it for free and follow along. That said, Starry Night Pro is still my workhorse for fine detail as Stellarium continues to develop).
When the article series was first proposed, the goal for the Syracuse Media Group folks was to provide people in upstate some basic information for what was up and about in the night sky – when you step outside, what’s there to find? My hope is to provide the non-observer and novice observer just enough information to whet the appetite, hopefully coaxing readers to take some quality looks and, if all goes well, to seek out their local astronomy club for some serious observing – and learning.
Night sky-gazing in Upstate NY: What to look for in July
The series started just in time to highlight the Perseid Meteor Shower (and get its first linking to thanks to Glenn Coin’sarticle as we approached the Perseid peak), then August was chock full of interesting planetary events. The August article was also a first exposure to the issues of episodic astronomy – how to be as minimally referential as possible in any single article to previous articles (which is not easy given how much the search for constellations historically has involved the finding of a bright one to orient observers to a dimmer one).
July hit 78 shares on newyorkupstate.com, August hit 4400 – at that rate, the whole world will see the October article.
CNYO has been anticipating our first observing session at Beaver Lake for this year, with the first of our two Spring dates (April 23rd) already clouded/snowed out. The forecast for April 30th hadn’t looked too much better based on Monday estimates, leaving us to wonder if attendees would be stuck indoors with a lecture instead of outdoors with the rest of the universe.
I woke up early on the 30th to blue skies and a very bright Sun, certainly already exceeding the expectations of the past few days. But what of the afternoon and evening?
As I am prone to do on the day of an observing session, I headed right for the CNYO Cheat Sheet, where one can find the sky conditions for a large part of Central New York in the form of several Clear Sky Charts (CSCs – and, based on the different cloud cover at different locations, even begin to piece together how the skies at your location may change). The morning’s CSCs are shown in the image below.
Caption: Comet Lovejoy imaged on January 10th by the ever-impressive CNY astrophotographer Stephen Shaner. From his CNYO Facebook Group post: Last night was the first in over three months it was clear enough to shoot, but it worked out well because Comet Lovejoy is at its peak. Here’s a quick process of about 40 minutes of exposures between 8-9 PM as it crossed the meridian. FOV is roughly three degrees. Distinct pale green coma in the eyepiece but unable to make out a tail or see it naked eye.
The 2015 skies are going to be full of comets. Well, at least six, to be exact, that will be either naked eye- or binocular-visible. That’s still quite a few to those keeping track! The amateur astronomy community has taken heroic efforts to scientifically identify and track new comets in the last, say, 400 years. The rise of, for instance, the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (or panSTARRS) as a method for finding and tracking both comets and near-earth asteroids (or, lumped together, “objects,” for which you might hear the abbreviation “NEOs”) has greatly increased the number of accounted-for fuzzy objects in our fields of view (and provided us a giant leap in our existential risk assessment infrastructure to boot). Quite simply, we’ve more + better eyes on the skies, meaning we’re bound to continue to find more and more comets and asteroids. You can even subscribe to NASA twitter feeds that announce the passing-by of these hopefully passers-by (see @AsteroidWatch and @NasaNEOCam).
Dr. Stuart Forster (a.k.a. STU – full caps) was one of the THE fixtures in the CNY amateur astronomy scene and his name still comes up regularly, often as part of some pearl of wisdom being imparted to new observers and seasoned members alike (I’ll leave you to read the top of the Stuventory page for more info about STU and to check out links to some of his images on the Syracuse Astronomical Society website). The trials and tribulations of Ryan Goodson and myself to handle the massive equipment collection we’ve come to refer to as the “Stuventory” is olde hat to local observers who’ve kept track of the process from a far. The sorting, documenting, and distribution of the Stuventory has taught us both about how very unique the hobby of amateur astronomy can be when you step beyond the 1×7 mm binoculars in your head and effort the collection of more and more photons.
The field of amateur astronomy hosts many different personalities. Some love to know anything and everything about astronomy equipment. Some prefer the study of astronomy through the ages. Some enjoy the banter around a large scope with others at midnight. Some enjoy the quiet solitude of a small dome or open field. Still others enjoy setting their equipment up in the middle of the chaos of a large group of people to show them the sights. Some take their love of outreach well past the observing field, taking it upon themselves to educate others by taking what they know (or don’t yet know) and making it accessible to the larger audience of amateurs and non-observers alike.
Amateur astronomy has seen a few key players pass this year, starting with John Dobson this past January and the noted comet hunter Bill Bradfield just a week ago. Both are noteworthy in their passing in that, amongst a large, large number of astro-hobbyists, their names are held in higher esteem because of their unique contributions to amateur astronomy. In the case of Bill Bradfield, he singly was responsible for finding 18 comets that bear his name, making him responsible for helping map part of the contents of our own Solar System from his home in Australia (reportedly taking 3500 hours to do so). In the case of John Dobson, he not only synthesized many great ideas in scope building with his own to produce the class of telescope that bears his name, but he also made it part of his life’s work to bring the distant heavens to anyone and everyone through his founding of what we call today “sidewalk astronomy.”