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Lyrid meteor shower 2017 April 17, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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The first potentially big warm weather meteor shower is coming this weekend. Predictions of the peak’s timing all place the peak during daylight in the Midwest on the 22, but this shower usually has an extended peak. In fact, you may see as many meteors on the 21 or 23.

The radiant lies in Lyra, near Hercules. It’s not really high enough to observe until 2 AM, it transits the meridian around 5:30, and it starts getting light out at about 6 AM, so the best time to observe is about 4 – 6 AM local time. Here’s a map for 5 AM with the stars of the summer triangle marked:


The Lyrids are an irregular shower, usually producing a mere 10 – 20 meteors per hour, but occasionally reaching rates of around 100 meteors per hour.   This year is expected to be a pretty average year, which means waiting several minutes between meteors. If you don’t have dark skies, it may mean 10 – 15 minutes between bright meteors.


Additional resources:

American Meteor Society guide to the Lyrids

EarthSky All you need to know: Lyrid meteors


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.


Mercury and the Moon binocular challenge June 2, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Urban Observing.
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Using binoculars, and a clear ENE horizon, you can spot a very old Moon and Mercury tomorrow morning. About 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise, go out and look for the bright Star Capella in the north east. Drop your view about 5° toward the horizon, and scan to the east. With a little luck, Mercury and a very old old moon will pop into view.


Blue Moon of May May 19, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The Moon will be full on May 21, and according to some, it’ll be a blue moon. Now if you’re familiar with the common definition of a blue moon, you’ll look at that date and say “hey, that can’t be a blue moon!” That’s because the modern, common definition of a blue moon is the second blue moon in a single month. Since it takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to go through a cycle of phases, the earliest date for a blue moon is the 29th of the month.

However, there’s another definition of blue moon: the third of four full moons in a season. The seasons start on an equinox or solstice, and are 3 months long, so they normally have 3 full moons. The current season (spring) started on March 20 at 12:30 AM and the first full moon after that was on the 23rd. Spring will end on June 20 at 6:34 PM, just 12.5 hours after the moon is full. If you’re curious for more, EarthSky has the next few blue moons (of both types) and references for further reading.

If you want to observe, the full moon is just about the worst time. The bright light washes out the sky around it, and the glaring noon (on the Moon) light makes it hard to see any surface features. So much for astronomy. However,if you like atmospheric phenomena or optical illusions, it’s great. A full moon is much more likely to give you a moon-bow, arcs, or rays. And if you like the moon illusion, only the June full moon will be better at tricking your mind.