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Summer 2016 meteors July 26, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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It’s meteor shower season, and The summer meteor showers are ramping up!

The Delta Aquariids are in progress now. Although the peak is expected to fall on July 28, this is a long, slow shower, worth watching for at least a week after the peak. Don’t expect to see a lot of meteors though. Even at its peak there are only 10 – 20 meteors per hour (or about 5 minutes between meteors.) The radiant is highest at around 3 AM this time of year, so that would be the best time to observe if it weren’t for the waning Moon in the last week of July. Going out around 1:30 – 2:30 on the 28th gives a good combination of reasonably high radiant and a low Moon.

While you’re out looking for delta Aquarius, watch for Perseids too. Luckily, Perseus isn’t far from Aquarius. Check out this story from EarthSky on how to tell them apart.

While the Perseids don’t peak until August 11 or 12, you should already be able to spot a few. The real show should be the early morning of August 12, and continue through the morning of the 13th and maybe the morning of the 14th. Some experts think this could be a spectacular year, with rates of 200 per hour at the peak (that’s about 3 meteors per minute!) Better still, a waxing moon means dark skies most of the early morning hours. The best time to view will be around 3 – 5AM, when the Moon has set, Perseus is high, and twilight hasn’t really started yet. Here is a map for 4:30 AM on August 11 with both radiants marked.

11Aug0430_SE_meteors.png

Meteor Shower January 4, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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I’ve come to the conclusion that I will not be able to get the January Urban Observing post written. So instead, here are some hopefully timely and very short posts.

Did Saturday feel warmer to you? That was the day the Earth was closest to the Sun. Of course the seasons are caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis, not its distance from the sun. The distance from the sun affects how fast the Earth moves and therefore how many days each season has. The closer to the sun, the faster the planet moves, so in the Northern Hemisphere, we have fewer days of winter than summer.

The Quadrantids peaked this morning (sorry…). However, it’s active until January 10, with rates of about 25 per hour, so it’s still worth looking if it’s clear tomorrow morning. And the planet line up with a comet continues.

Speaking of the comet, you’ll need binoculars or a camera for comet Catalina, but it is between Arcturus and the Big Dipper, so it should be easy to find if it’s bright enough for you skies. Here’s a map for 3 AM on January 6, 2016. 06Jan0300.png

Orionid Meteor Shower October 21, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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If it’s clear where you are, you might want to get up an hour or two early for the Orionid meteor shower. The peak is today / tomorrow (sorry I’m a little late for today), but it should be worth watching for a couple more days. Especially with the morning planets! Clear, dark skies are important for meteor watching, so you’ll need to get away from city lights.

Here in SE Michigan, the weather predictions make Friday morning look good. The Moon sets at about 3 AM, by which time Orion will be well up. However, if you wait until 5AM, you’ll get your chance to see Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. Mercury rises around 7AM, but by then twilight will have begun, which means it’s not as good for watching for meteors. The best hour is probably 5:30 to 6:30 AM.

For more information, (especially if you’re not in southeast Michigan) check out the story from Earth-Sky.

October 2015 Urban Observing October 8, 2015

Posted by aquillam in MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Special Events

Meteor showers

October begins the most active time of year for meteor showers. While few individual showers are as active as August’s Perseids, several overlapping showers make fall a great time to bundle up and get outside.

The showers actually started at the end of September with the southern Taurids. This is a low activity shower, so you’ll barely notice it’s active. However, it’s especially good for southern sky watchers, and a lot of its meteors are fireballs. It doesn’t have a district peak, but remains active in to early November.

Next up are the Orionids. They are active early October to mid November, with a peak on October 21-22. Most years this is a moderately active shower with about 20 meteors per hour. In some years it’s very active, with rates comproble to the Perseids, but at this time we don’t know how to predict if it’s an average or better than average year. Check the AMS weekly blog for the most current predictions.

Finally the Northern Taurids are a close cousin to the Southern Taurids. Like the Southern Taurids, this is an extended shower with a low rate but a high number of fireballs. It is active from mid October to early December.

If you prefer to listen to meteor showers, check out the Draconids. Because of its position in the sky, the best time to observe these is actually late afternoon and early evening. That makes this a great shower to try out the radio observation techniques.

Moon

New on October 13

Full October 26 – this is the last “super moon” of the year.

Planets

Morning planet watchers are in for several treats this month. Even if you aren’t normally in early riser, you may want to get up on October 28 for a rare three planet conjunction. Mars, Venus, and Jupiter will all be within 1° of each other on that morning.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Mercury reaches greatest Western Elongation on October 16, so the second and third week in October should be a great time to observe Mercury  in the morning.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Venus reaches greatest western elongation on October 26. It will be a good morning object for the rest of the year. However, it’s approaching a new Venus, so although it’s getting closer to us, it’s actually getting dimmer as well. It makes a tight group with Regulus and the Moon on October 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

Mars is overshadowed by the other brilliant morning planets. A thin crescent Moon passes it on October 9. It is less than half a degree from Jupiter on the 17.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17p

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17

Jupiter has fully emerged into the morning skies by the beginning of the month. If it weren’t for Venus, it would be the jewel of the morning skies. Look for it in conjunction with Venus on the 26th.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

Saturn quickly disappears into the evening twilight. Look for it with a crescent Moon at sunset on October 15 & 16.

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

If you have a telescope, October will be a great time to look for Uranus. It reaches opposition on October 11. If you can get away from the urban lights, you might even be able to catch it naked eye.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.