An Hour Before Midnight, Lion Spotted

The weather forecast for today predicted over an eighty percent chance of rain so I either needed to make my observation before midnight or wait a couple of days for cloudless skies. Fifteen minutes before my Mythgard Academy class started last night (at nine o’clock Central Time), I decided to make my first observation. I set the timer on my smartwatch for ten minutes and hung outside while my neighbors to the north decided a fire in their firepit was warranted (not helping my light pollution survey one bit). My neighbor to the south also appeared to have search lights trained on my backyard so adjusting my eyes for optimal viewing already had steep hills to climb. I somewhat patiently waited for the timer to count down.

Meanwhile, I found Venus immediately, very high and extremely bright in the west. Next, both Procyon and Sirius shown brightly in the upper and lower southwest. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the western sky still seemed dimly luminescent and I detected a very slight haze obscuring the fainter stars. My timer buzzed and I began sketching out the brightest stars and the only constellation I could identify – Orion – sinking slowly into the southwestern horizon. To the north I could just barely make out Polaris but could not find the Big or Little Dipper (mostly because the trees are starting to leaf out).

Almost directly overhead but still on the eastern side of the zenith, I could barely make out a sickle, an asterism that can be found in the constellation Leo (see diagram below). I had checked the Sky and Telescope Interactive Star Chart before stepping outside so I knew where to crane my neck in the hopes of spotting the lion. In addition to the sickle, I could also make out, barely, the triangle of stars that form the lion’s rear and tail. I could not tell where Leo ended and Virgo began as the stars were so faint I gave up.

I returned to my computer, logged into the Webinar and while I waited for it to start, I verified my sketch against the star chart. I had found Leo, but only by the very brightest of it’s stars (which aren’t that bright when you compare them to Sirius, Vega or Procyon). Fast forward two hours, where I found myself nodding off and decided I’d consumed enough First Age elven antics for one session and bailed out of the webinar (I can always watch the last 15-30 minutes via YouTube later).

I went back outside and noticed immediately the haze had disappeared. The air was crisper and I didn’t even need to wait the full ten minutes before I could clearly see the constellation Leo, now slightly west of top-dead-center overhead. My northern neighbors were still enjoying their outdoor fire but my southern neighbors had toned down the search lights to just one very bright LED porch light.

I returned inside and recorded both of my observations via the Globe at Night web site. I plan to repeat my observations each night weather permitting until the middle of next week.

How did your observations go?

Astronomical Activity and Dark Sky Awareness – the Case of the Hidden Lion

Tonight and for the next few nights, you can participate in a survey of your night sky and increase awareness of dark skies (and the converse of light pollution). While we are sheltering at home, we have vastly reduced the amount of air pollution, but have we given thought to the loss of our dark skies while we hunker down, sheltering at home? No? Well, here’s your chance to pitch in and save our night skies!


The Case of the Hidden Lion

Can you find the constellation Leo (for Northern latitudes)? For the next week, take a few minutes out of your late evening and follow these simple instructions to locate the missing lion in your night sky.

Five Easy Star Hunting Steps

  1. Use the Globe at Night website to help find your constellation in the night sky.
  2. Use the Globe at Night website to find the latitude and longitude of the location where you are making your observation.
  3. Go outside more than an hour after sunset (8-10 pm local time). The Moon should not be up. Let your eyes become used to the dark for 10 minutes before your first observation.
  4. Match your observation to one of 7 magnitude charts and note the amount of cloud cover.
  5. Report the date, time, location (latitude/longitude), the chart you chose, and the amount of cloud cover at the time of observation. Make more observations from other locations, if possible. Compare your observation to thousands around the world!:
April 2020 Campaign – Find Leo After Sunset all this week!

I’ll be making my observations either tomorrow or Friday evening around 10 o’clock Central time. I’m just one degree shy of forty degrees north latitude. We’re in the last quarter of the moon, with the new moon occurring on the 23rd so this is the best opportunity to find that missing lion!

Times for Sunset and Moonrise for Kansas City, KS:

April 16, 2020
Moonrise: 3:55am
Twi A: 5:05am
Twi N: 5:40am
Twi: 6:13am
Sunrise: 6:41am
Solar noon: 1:19pm
Moonset: 1:59pm
Sunset: 7:57pm
Twi: 8:25pm
Twi N: 8:58pm
Twi A: 9:32pm
Day len: 13h 16′
April 17, 2020
Moonrise: 4:29am
Twi A: 5:03am
Twi N: 5:38am
Twi: 6:11am
Sunrise: 6:39am
Solar noon: 1:18pm
Moonset: 2:59pm
Sunset: 7:58pm
Twi: 8:26pm
Twi N: 8:59pm
Twi A: 9:34pm
Day len: 13h 19′

Mars Slides Behind Moon This Month

In mid-February, a waning crescent Moon glides among Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in the predawn sky. For many viewers in North America, the Moon actually covers Mars on February 18th.
Sky & Telescope

It’s fitting that with my intense focus on Malacandra throughout January that upon finishing the Mythgard Academy class this week I have a major astronomical event featuring Mars to look forward to in less than two weeks.

I can take good advantage of this occultation since I live in the middle of the country just shy of 40 degrees north latitude. If I were visiting my daughter in the Pacific Northwest, I’d have a bit more dark time but might not see it as well being at a more northern latitude at 47 degrees.

Image via IOTA. See the loop at the upper right above North America? As the moon rises in the predawn hours on February 18, 2020, in this part of the world, Mars will covered over by the moon. But, later on before dawn, you can watch Mars reappear from behind the moon’s dark side. Read more.

Actually, not just Mars will be in the spotlight in mid-February. Three planets are center stage in the predawn skies starting February 18th (see first graphic above). Listen to Sky Tour courtesy Sky & Telescope for some viewing tips and other astronomical tidbits for February observing.

Sky Tour Podcast for February 2020

My only concern will be the weather, which in February in Kansas, is dodgy at best.

Keeping my fingers crossed and as always keep looking up!

Welcome to Winter Solstice Eve Morning

Good morning and welcome to the last half day before Winter. Officially, Winter begins tonight after ten o’clock (Central time)

Winter Solstice 2019 Countdown

Enjoy the shortest day of the year because I’m looking forward to the longest, darkest night of the year – every amateur astronomers dream.


Today, my son, daughter-in-law and grandson are driving here from Texas. They left before dawn and we anticipate their arrival late this afternoon.

With the help of my daughter, who arrived earlier this week, my main floor living area is mostly baby proof. And the new furniture was delivered Thursday afternoon. And Friday, Rachelle setup the Christmas tree and last night over home-made pizza we decorated (or rather she decorated because she’s the artistic one).

Rachelle and I will spend part of the day shopping, taking advantage of her Costco membership to stock up on food she can eat (corn allergy) and for the rest of the family as well. While I have a Christmas goose in the freezer, I need to plan for other meals and sides. Instead of just Terry and I to feed, I’ll have three to four times that many to provide for.

So we are ready for family gathering and making new memories until we once again scatter back to our nests for the new year.

There’s a Star in the East

Long winter nights.

Crisp clear skies.

Denser colder atmosphere.

These are a few of my favorite things during the winter months and they add up to darker skies and brighter stars.  This weekend also has a few things going for it, astronomically, and also happens to be Twelfth Night (tomorrow, January 5th) and Epiphany (the day after) commemorating the journey of the Three Wise Men guided by a Star in the East.


Observing Highlights for this Weekend (courtesy of “The Sky This Week” at Astronomy.com):

Friday, January 4
Although people in the Northern Hemisphere experienced the shortest day of the year two weeks ago (at the winter solstice December 21), the Sun has continued to rise slightly later with each passing day. That trend stops this morning for those at 40° north latitude†. Tomorrow’s sunrise will arrive at the same time as today’s, but the Sun will come up two seconds earlier Sunday morning. This turnover point depends on latitude. If you live farther north, the switch occurred a few days ago; closer to the equator, the change won’t happen until later in January.

† I’m just 68 miles south of the Kansas-Nebraska border, which juxtaposes with the 40th parallel.  Weird fact discovered this morning via Google Maps:  The Kansas Highway that is literally a block west of my house (K-7) ends at the border and turns into 666 Avenue (see map screenshot below).
Continue reading “There’s a Star in the East”

Do You Hear What I Hear?

My final astronomy discussion topic attempts to answer “Why are some wavelengths of radio emission better than others in searching for extraterrestrial civilizations?”

Plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.
Plot of Earth’s atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

 

Radio waves can travel immense distances without being significantly altered by interstellar medium.  They penetrate dust and gas and are the logical choice for interstellar communication.  Astronomers have been listening for signs of extraterrestrial life using the radio spectrum since the 1950s and 60s – long before scientists had discovered the means of detecting exoplanets.  But the sheer number of both radio frequencies and directions to search proved daunting and raised question like “Which frequencies should be used to maximize the odds of detecting an alien signal?”

Continue reading “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Universal Song Remains the Same and Beyond All the Light We Cannot See

For such a small chapter, this week’s topic on Cosmology has some large and deep concepts.  I’m attempting to delve into “How did the period of inflation cause the universe to become homogeneous and isotropic?

Definitions

Big Bang ~ Universe began as an extraordinarily hot, dense primordial atom of energy and caused expansion, just like an explosion.  Before that moment, nothing existed, not even space and time.  Rather, the explosion created spacetime, which continues to expand.  (Comins, 446)

Inflationary Epoch ~ During this epoch, the universe became so large that today we can only see a tiny portion of it and that is limited by the speed of light.  The growth and size of the observable universe occurred in a very brief time.  (Comins, 451)

Cosmic microwave background (CMB) ~ If the universe began with a hot Big Bang, then calculations indicated the energy remnants should still fill all of space today. The entire universe’s temperature should be only a few kelvins above absolute zero.  This radiation’s blackbody spectrum peak should lie in the microwave section of the radio spectrum.  (Comins, 446)

Isotropy of CMB ~ The cosmic microwave background radiation is almost perfectly isotropic – the intensity is nearly the same in every observable direction.  Isotropy isn’t just limited to observed blackbody radiation, but is also found on a large scale when exploring the number of galaxies found in different directions.  (Comins, 448)

Homogeneity ~ The uniformity with distance (the numbers of galaxies stays roughly constant with respect to both distance and direction) of the universe is homogeneous. (Comins, 449)

Fine-Tuning Big Bang

Any viable theory of cosmology, including the Big Bang, must explain the isotropy and homogeneity of the universe.  Numerous refinements have been posited and as a result the theory now provides an accurate scenario for the evolution of universe from a tiny fraction of a second after it formed and onward to today.  (Comins, 449) Continue reading “Universal Song Remains the Same and Beyond All the Light We Cannot See”

Just A Sun-Day Drive Around the Galactic Neighborhood

This week I’m tackling the subject of our Sun’s motion through the Milky Way Galaxy and approximately how long one orbit is.

The Milky Way Galaxy has two major spiral arms, named the Perseus Arm and the Scutum-Centaurus Arm.  There are also smaller less pronounced arms, including the Sagittarius Arm, the Norma Arm, The Local Arm (aka the Orion Spur) and the Outer Arm.  Our solar system resides in the Orion Spur (Local Arm), branching off from the larger Perseus Arm.  During the summer months in the northern hemisphere, we predominantly observe the Sagittarius Arm, including the galactic center, which appears as steam from the Tea Pot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius.  (Gaherty, 2016)  Over the winter, we’re looking away from the galactic center and through the Perseus Arm.  (Comins, 396)

Artist’s concept of what astronomers now believe is the overall structure of the spiral arms in our Milky Way galaxy. The sun resides within a minor spiral arm of the galaxy, called the Orion Arm. Image via NASA and Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Just A Sun-Day Drive Around the Galactic Neighborhood”

Stellar Death Blasts

This week I discuss types of supernovae, specifically relating to the scenario where “Hydrogen lines are prominent in Type II supernovae but absent in Type Ia.  Type Ia supernovae decline gradually for more than a year, whereas  Type II supernovae alternate between periods of steep and gradual declines in brightness. Type II light curves therefore have a step-like appearance.  Explain!”

Supernovae are classified as Type I or Type II depending upon the shape of their light curves and the nature of their spectra.

The question I really wanted to ask is ‘What happened to Type I or Ib?’ and the answer to that question was easily found in this chart:

Supernovae Taxonomy
Supernovae Taxonomy

Continue reading “Stellar Death Blasts”

Flashy, Bizarre, Weird Degeneracy

Just in time for Halloween, my topic this week focuses on electron degeneracy pressure specifically to delve into how “A degenerate gas does not expand when the temperature increases as an ordinary gas does.”

In 1923, Arthur Stanley Eddington derived a formula to relate the luminosity of a star to its mass, and in the same year correctly interpreted high-density, white dwarf stars as being formed of matter so dense that atomic electrons have collapsed from their orbits, a substance we now call degenerate matter. (Levy, p. 116)

Young giant stars of a certain size, between .4 and 2 solar masses, have helium rich cores squeezed by gravitational force into a crystal-like solid.  At these pressures, the atoms become completely ionized, separately into nuclei and electrons and are so closely crowded together that become influenced by the Pauli exclusion principle phenomenon.  Two identical particles are not allowed to exist in the same place and time.  As the electrons are pressed closer and closer together, the exclusion principle forces many of them to move faster and faster so they do not become ‘identical’ (meaning occupying the same space and moving with the same speed of adjacent electrons) and consequently this motion increases the repulsion between the electrons.  This state provides pressure in the core preventing it from collapsing and is referred to by astronomers as degeneracy.  Thus, low-mass giants with helium-rich cores are supported by electron degeneracy pressure. (Comins, p. 335)

Very high density matter, the structure of which is modified by the intense gravity. Particles, which must “squeeze”, create the degeneracy pressure.

If that wasn’t bizarre enough, here’s where it gets weirder:  A degenerate core’s pressure does not change with temperature.  Continue reading “Flashy, Bizarre, Weird Degeneracy”