Friday evening (July 17, 2020) – We drove south (an hour drive) to Powell Observatory for an ASKC members only viewing of Comet Neowise plus Jupiter at opposition and glorious through the 30 inch. Clouds were an issue to our total viewing experience, but it was great to see everyone and it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. We left shortly before eight o’clock and were back home by two minutes to midnight. An excellent excursion and a nice field trip from our lock-down life at home.
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.
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.
Use the Globe at Night website to find the latitude and longitude of the location where you are making your observation.
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.
Match your observation to one of 7 magnitude charts and note the amount of cloud cover.
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!:
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:
This week I want to discuss “What might cause the closer of two identical stars to appear dimmer than the farther one?”
Apparent Magnitude: A measurement of the brightness of stars without regard to their distance from Earth.
The scale in use today starts with the star Vega and an apparent magnitude of 0.0
Objects brighter than Vega are assigned negative numbers. For example. Sirius, the night’s brightest star, has an apparent magnitude of -1.44
The scale was extended to include the dimmest stars visible through binoculars and telescopes. For example, a pair of binoculars can see stars with an apparent magnitude of +10
Ignoring distance for a moment, all other things being equal, the closer of two identical stars will appear brighter (have a smaller apparent magnitude) to us than the more distant star. When we account for the difference in distance, we use either or two measurements: absolute magnitude and luminosity.
Autumn arrived mid-week here in the Heart of America, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the weather forecast: Mid 90s and moderately high humidity. Also with the change of the seasons, I retired my FitBit Charge (or rather it retired itself by falling apart) and upgraded to a Samsung Gear Fit2. The new fitness tracker is spurring me on to be more active, although my sleep pattern hasn’t improved much. I can safely blame work (10 pm to 4 am conference call on a Saturday night/Sunday morning) and astronomy, which requires, well, dark skies, for my reduced snooze time.
I’m amazed at how much I accomplished this past weekend, especially considering my husband had major surgery less than three weeks ago.
Friday night was our first venture out on a ‘date’ since the surgery. I signed up for a free lecture and screening at the National World War I Museum and Memorial entitled “Talking Tolkien: The Two Towers.” We arrived about fifteen minutes early to enjoy some hors d’oeuvres and drinks. We retired to the auditorium and waited a few minutes. At ten minutes or so after the hour, the lecturer strolled up to the podium and gave a meandering introduction of upcoming events in a clear effort to stall. He wanted to give the people in the lobby time to finish eating.
His lecture on Tolkien’s experiences during the Battle of the Somme was quite brief and rushed, not at all what I had been hoping for. He further devolved into a montage of photographs from the Museum’s collection delivered in the manner of a television show’s “Previously on …” wrap of the Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring. You could clearly see where Tolkien (and probably Peter Jackson) got his inspiration for scenes from Middle Earth and the conflict immortalized in the Lord of the Rings. After the lecture, the screening of The Two Towers began, for which Terry and I stayed only about thirty minutes before deciding the movie viewing experience was better at home.
Once back home, I decided to break out the Celestron C8 I had recently borrowed from my astronomy club. Despite dire predictions, the sky remained perfectly clear so I looked forward to an evening of planetary observing, since all five visible planets are ripe for the plucking at this time of year. I got everything attached to the tripod and manhandled it outside to my lower patio, giving it a quick leveling and orientation north so I could get through a polar alignment swiftly. Then I just had to wait for darkness to fall enough for me to see Polaris with my naked eye. Continue reading “Grande Finale to a Grand Weekend”
Tonight is my first night this year as a volunteer of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City in our public outreach efforts to introduce astronomical observing to the public. Every Saturday night in May and through the end of October, we open up Powell Observatory to the public and provide education programs, solar observing, binocular observing and of course telescopic observing (weather and cloud cover permitting). The weather forecast for this evening couldn’t be better. See for yourself as we have our own weather station and sky cam broadcasting 24-hours a day.
• The Moon moves approximately 13° eastward relative to the starry background every 24 hours, and its motion carries it near Jupiter this evening. From North America, the two appear within 5° of each other all night. They will be in conjunction at 6 a.m. EDT tomorrow morning, when our satellite passes 2° due south of the planet. Although the best views of the pair come with the naked eye or binoculars, don’t pass up the opportunity to observe Jupiter through a telescope. The giant planet’s disk currently spans 39″ and displays a wealth of atmospheric detail. All this week, Jupiter appears high in the south as darkness falls and doesn’t set until nearly 3 a.m. local daylight time. It shines at magnitude –2.2 — brighter than any other point of light in the night sky — against the backdrop of southern Leo.
While Sky and Telescope Sky at a Glance expands on: The two brightest things in the evening sky, the Moon and Jupiter, shine high just a few degrees apart this evening, as shown here. Third brightest is Mars, low in the southeast after dark.
So for a great time this evening, head south of Kansas City down US-69 to Louisburg and join me and several hundred other people as we take in the wonders of the night sky.
And Happy Birthday to myself. I’ve crossed over. I’ve reached another dreaded milestone. Today is the first day of my fifth decade.
To make myself feel better about this dubious event, I’ve reverted to two of my favorite past times: math and astronomy.
I decided to calculate how many days I’ve been breathing air on Earth. For that I had to find a date calculator. Plugging in the relevant date (today in 1964 and 2014), the following results popped up:
From and including: Friday, October 2, 1964
To and including: Thursday, October 2, 2014
Result: 18,263 days
It is 18,263 days from the start date to the end date, end date included
Or 50 years, 1 day including the end date
Alternative time units 18,263 days can be converted to one of these units:
And the .5c I included in the title of this post? No, I’m not travelling at half the speed of light (except in my dreams). I’m merely reflecting upon reaching my half century mark.
I decided to make a four day weekend out of this auspicious occasion so I’m relaxing at home, reading and doing other none stressful activities. No parties (that I know of) and no surprises. Just Terry, me and the dogs hanging out.
Just another day in the neighborhood. Eighteen thousand two hundred sixty-three and counting.