Author's Note: The "Upstate New York Stargazing" series ran on the newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com websites (and limited use in-print) from 2016 to 2018. For the full list of articles, see the Upstate New York Stargazing page.
Stargazing in Upstate NY: Where to find solar eclipse parties
Updated: Aug. 11, 2017, 3:25 p.m. | Published: Aug. 11, 2017, 2:25 p.m.
By Damian Allis | Contributing writer
This summertime weekly summary for planetary, satellite, constellation, and other observing opportunities covers the second full week of August. As of this publishing, there are 10 days left until what has been branded as the "Great American Eclipse." While you are encouraged to take some time on Aug. 21 to go outside with your solar-safe glasses and view the partial eclipse we New Yorkers will see from our latitude, local amateur astronomers are already awaiting the official "real deal" that will make its way across upstate New York on April 8, 2024.
The Sun-Earth-Moon geometry results in a partial or total solar eclipse somewhere on the Earth roughly twice a year, although there are some special years when as many as five solar eclipses can occur – the last special year being 1935 and the next one way out in 2206. If the Aug. 21 eclipse whets your appetite, there are many eclipses you can chase coming up, with three partial eclipses spread about the globe in 2018 alone. For upstate New Yorkers, however, totality will eventually come to many of us just by walking out our front doors. Those in Rochester will need only drive a few minutes west to be directly underneath the middle of the next continental-U.S. total eclipse path, while those in Buffalo will be right under the middle of the path.
If you cannot make it south to the total eclipse in 2017, just skip the second dessert, add a few more minutes to your daily jog, and keep in good enough shape to wait out the return of the next equally "Great American Eclipse" in 2024.
Reminder: In last week's article, we discussed solar safety and the presence of unsafe solar glasses in the market. If you bought or were given a pair, please read the NASA News press release on how to know your glasses are safe to use. In a nutshell: If you doubt – throw them out.
Many local libraries have already obtained solar-safe glasses for the eclipse, and I encourage you to check with your local branch to see if and when they'll be made available.
Below is a list of scheduled lecture and observing opportunities around Upstate New York for the eclipse – this list will be reproduced in the following articles and will hopefully be added to as other locations announce events. If you know of an event not listed, please send an email with details. As always around here, we can only hope for clear skies!
Solar Eclipse Calendar
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||1:22 – 3:56 PM||email, website|
|Cazenovia Public Library||Cazenovia||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 16||7:00 – 8:30 PM||315-655-9322 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||11:30 AM – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Liverpool Public Library||Liverpool||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-457-0310 website|
|Marcellus Free Library||Marcellus||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-673-3221 website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||NOPL North Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 14||6:30 – 8:00 PM||315-458-6184 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Jamesville||Lecture & Solar Eclipse @ DeWitt & Jamesville Library||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-446-3578 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Hazard Branch||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-435-5326 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Paine Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-5442 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ White Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-3519 website|
|Skaneateles Library||Skaneateles||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 12||1:00 – 2:00 PM||email website|
Lectures And Observing Opportunities In Upstate/Central New York
New York has a number of astronomers, astronomy clubs, and observatories that host public sessions throughout the year. Announced sessions from several respondent NY astronomy organizations are provided from the third week to the end of August so you can plan accordingly. As wind and cloud cover are always factors when observing, please check the provided contact information and/or email the groups a day-or-so before an announced session, as some groups will also schedule weather-alternate dates. Also use the contact info for directions and to check on any applicable event or parking fees.
Astronomy Events Calendar
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 18||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 21||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Night Sky Adventure||Aug. 15||8:00 – 9:30 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||AAAA Meeting||Aug. 17||7:30 – 9:00 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Octagon Barn Star Party||Aug. 18||8:00 – 10:00 PM||email, website|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||Observing At The Strasenburgh||Aug. 12||8:30 – 10:30 PM||Jim S., 585-703-9876|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12/13||8:30 – 11:00 PM||email, website|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Solar Observing||Aug. 26/27||1:00 – 3:00 PM||email, website|
|Green Lakes State Park||Fayetteville||Bob Piekiel & Summer Skies||Aug. 18/19||8:00 – 10:00 PM||315-637-6111 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 11||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12||8:00 PM – 12:30 AM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 18||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 25||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Public Stargazing @ Waterville Library||Aug. 26/27||8:30 – 11:30 PM||email, website|
ISS And Other Bright Satellites
Satellite flyovers are commonplace, with several bright passes easily visible per hour in the nighttime sky, yet a thrill to new observers of all ages. Few flyovers compare in brightness or interest to the International Space Station. The flyovers of the football field-sized craft with its massive solar panel arrays can be predicted to within several seconds and take several minutes to complete.
This will be a long few weeks for ISS watchers, with a pass on the evening of the 11th, one on the 13th, then no flyovers until August 31st. If you follow the August 11th flyover far enough, you'll see the ISS pass very close to Saturn, will within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars. On the 13th, the ISS will fly exceptionally close to Jupiter and past the bright Spica in the constellation Virgo. Properly equipped members of the amateur radio community can even add audio to their visual experiences by listening to transmissions from the ISS – see ariss.org or issfanclub.com for details.
|Date||Brightness||Approx. Start||Start Direct.||Approx. End||End Direct.|
|11-Aug||very||9:30 PM||W/NW||9:34 PM||S|
|13-Aug||moderately||9:23 PM||W/SW||9:25 PM||S/SW|
|Third Quarter:||New:||First Quarter:||Full:|
|Aug. 14, 9:14 PM||Aug. 21, 2:30 PM||Aug. 29, 4:12 AM||Sept. 6, 3:02 AM|
The Moon's increasing brightness as Full Moon approaches washes out fainter stars, random meteors, and other celestial objects – this is bad for most observing, but excellent for new observers, as only the brightest stars (those that mark the major constellations) and planets remain visible for your easy identification. If you've never tried it, the Moon is a wonderful binocular object. The labeled image identifies features easily found with low-power binoculars.
Items and events listed below assume you're outside and observing most anywhere in New York state. The longer you're outside and away from indoor or bright lights, the better your dark adaption will be. If you have to use your smartphone, find a red light app or piece of red acetate, else set your brightness as low as possible.
Evening Skies: The two most prominent shapes in the sky are the Big Dipper and the Summer Triangle, with the Sagittarius Teapot highlighted in several previous articles. Whether or not you can see the Teapot, another very distinctive shape is as high as it will get in the southern sky right now just to the west. The body of Scorpius, easily identified by the bright red-orange star Antares and now residing below Saturn in the nighttime sky, hooks down and back up around the southern tree line at our latitude in a shape that nearly every civilization has recorded as being a celestial scorpion. Like the Teapot, the Scorpion tail is between us and the galactic center – a scan with binoculars will reveal a number of objects that do not come into focus like their surrounding stars.
The Big Dipper is a bright and easy guide for finding Polaris, the north star. From its handle, you can "arc" down to Arcturus. Jupiter, which stands out soon after sunset, is close to the bright star Spica in Virgo and to the southwest of bright Arcturus in Bootes. Saturn is also visible soon after dusk, rising soon after the bright orange star Antares in Scorpius.
Morning Skies: Venus is unmistakable in the early morning sky, second only to the Moon in brightness before sunrise. The Moon is approaching Venus this week, coming into closest approach on the 19th. As dawn approaches, Venus and the bright stars Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Capella may be the last few celestial objects you see.
Mercury: Mercury is very low on the horizon and awash in scattered sunlight soon after sunset, making it an unsafe observing target for the next few weeks. For the patient, Mercury becomes a good early morning target with Mars in late August/early September.
Venus: Venus remains unmistakable in the early morning and even into sunrise, rising just before 3:30 a.m. all week. With good, steady binoculars, you should be able to see that Venus is currently more than half-lit – and you can follow the changing phases of Venus as it and the Earth make our way around the Sun. Venus flies quickly through Gemini this week, having spent last week with Castor and this week with Castor's twin Pollux before striking the heart of Cancer the Crab at month's end.
Mars: Mars will not return to our pre-midnight skies until this time next year, but will become a morning target in late August/early September.
Jupiter: If you look southwest soon after sunset, Jupiter will be the brightest object you can see. Jupiter is setting earlier every night but is gaining back some of its observing time now that we're past the summer solstice. Low power binoculars are excellent for spying the four bright Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – and several online guides will even map their orbits for you. Jupiter is to the west of the bright star Spica in Virgo, roughly a full fist-width if you measure with your arm fully-extended. On August 13th, the ISS makes a very close Jupiter pass, then continues to graze the other bright object, the star Spica, in that part of the sky.
Saturn: Still on the western edge of the brightest part of the Milky Way, Saturn is going to spend the next 17 months making its way to the eastern edge above the teapot of Sagittarius, all the while giving us an excellent observing target until next autumn. If skies are agreeable on August 11th, observers will even be treated to a very close flyby of the ISS just before 9:34 p.m.
As a refresher from the June 30th to July 7th article, those looking in the direction of Saturn with binoculars are treated to a host of Messier ("M") Objects – all residing between ourselves and the center of the Milky Way galaxy above the spout of the Sagittarius teapot. A good star chart and some guide stars will help you determine just which object you're looking at.
The Perseid Meteor Shower, Peaking Aug. 12
The Perseids are arguably the best, and best-timed, meteor shower of the year, with long-night observing sessions made all the easier by reasonable temperatures and not having school the next day. If you saw an image announcing "the greatest meteor shower in human history" on social media these past few weeks, you may end up being quite disappointed in the quality of the show this year – and hopefully a little more skeptical on August 13th of the veracity of the claims made on shared, unattributed images. The quality of the Persieds this year will be greatly diminished by the presence of the Moon before 11 p.m. on the 11th and its presence during the peak on the morning of the 12th, which will wash out much of the splendor of any meteor trails you might see. That said, the Persieds are a very widely-spread shower, with activity from the end of July to the end of August. If you're out and observing under a clear, dark sky right now, you may see a few bright Perseid streaks regardless.
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 Perseids, the meteor shower radiant appears to be just off the head of Perseus, which rises from the northeast just after 9 p.m. this month. The meteor shower itself is provided to us by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which last made its dramatic pass in 1992 and which will return again to replenish the debris field in 2126.