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)
All last week, I looked forward to the weekend as a chance to get some astronomical observing accomplished. The weather forecast seemed too good to be true: Sunny and clear, highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 50s, with dew points in the upper 40s and lower 50s. My astronomy club hosted a club star party, but I did not want to lug the scope to Louisburg and share the observing grounds with a previously scheduled private party. Continue reading “Backyard Observing”
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.
I volunteer as part of Team 2 (one of several teams staffed by members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City). I’m looking forward to meeting many new people and introducing them to the many wonders of the night sky.
More Powell Observatory Information:
The observatory is staffed by ASKC volunteers and is open to the public every Saturday night from the beginning of May through the end of October. The Star Bright Saturday Night Programs begin at dusk and include program presentations on astronomy, tours of the observatory, and (if the skies are clear) viewing through the various telescopes of the moon, planets, stars, star clusters and more! A donation of $6 per adult and $4 per child is suggested to help support the observatory and allow it to continue operations open to the public.
Hope to see you tomorrow night and always keep looking up!