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:
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.
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.
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!
The first snow and winter storm of Winter 2019 finally arrive the second Saturday of January. In my experience, that’s a delay of nearly ten days from when we usually have snow or a winter storm or if nothing else bitter cold below zero temperatures and wind chills. The snow we received was wet and heavy, perfect for making a snowman but not so great for my back when I went out to shovel the driveway.
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.
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”
Yes, I’m still here. Sort of. I’ve been so busy since the first of the year, I just now came up for air, and only because I realized it had been nearly a month since I’d posted to my blog. A new year at work means a new budget cycle and all the projects that were on hold now have been given the green light and of course should have been completed yesterday. The ringing in my ears can be directly correlated to the number of hours per day I spend on conference calls. I spend so much time in fact on conference calls that the only time I have to accomplish actual work is at home during the evenings.
And for some reason, I thought it was a good idea, to take another online course, this time in Statistics. I needed one more course to finish my Associates Degree and I wanted to do something related to my core goal – Mathematics. Ironically, as I learned while reading and studying the first chapter of my textbook, Statistics is not technically considered a course in Mathematics. Math results in one right answer if you solve the problem correctly – and this is repeatable for anyone anytime. One problem = one right answer. This is not the case for Statistics.
For my commutes to and from work I switched from listening to audiobooks (for now) to following various podcasts as a sort of New Year’s resolution. Some of them are audio dramas, some of them are non-fiction, some are current tech news, some are short fiction (mostly fantasy and science fiction from various magazines) and some are just pure fun. Most of them I can complete in one day (two commutes = approximately 90 minutes) so I don’t have to worry about losing my place or losing track of the story in a long audiobook.
To prepare for last night’s Tolkien Society of Kansas City discussion of The Children of Hurin, I listened to nearly seven hours of amazing depth and insight on Chapter 21 of the Silmarillion thanks to the trilogy of episodes broadcast by the Prancing Pony Podcast. I plan a more in-depth post on my tumble down Tolkien’s tragic Turin tale. Our next group read at TSoKC is Unfinished Tales, but thankfully we’re skipping Part One (which would be yet another reading of Turin), but will start with Part Two and also read Letters 50-89 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Check our Facebook page for the date of our next meeting in February and join us if you’re so inclined. All are welcome.
This weekend will be all too short between obligatory after-hours work (ah, the joys of information technology support and maintenance), volunteering at the library (now that is pure joy) and tonight’s General Meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.
It’s the 27th day of January, 2018. I’ve flown through 7.4 percent of the year in days, nearly 8.3 percent of the months and 11 percent of the first quarter.
I knew going into Friday I would have a very long day ahead of me. I had errands I needed to run first thing in the morning, so I planned to be late to work. I stayed up past my usual bedtime, keeping my husband company. We watched the inaugural episode of the new Amazon series “The Tick”, which is a remake of the two other Tick series from the 90s and 00s. We also watched the latest episode of “Salvation,” which is shaping up nicely. Not enough science, but plenty of political and personal interactions to keep the layman interested.
I forgot to turn off my alarm but didn’t mind getting up at my normal time of half past five. I did a few minutes of exercise on our elliptical and ran myself through the shower. I avoided logging in to work so I wouldn’t distract myself from the errands I needed to complete. In honor of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I wore my commemorative T-shirt produced by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. I made sure to grab my ASKC name badge and place it in my car as I would need it for the final event on my Friday schedule.
At half past seven, I left and headed north, with a quick side trip through the car wash, which was surprisingly unbusy so early in the morning. I continued north through Lansing and most of Leavenworth until I reached the old county courthouse. I parked in the Justice Center’s parking lot and serendipitously ran into one of my book club friends on her way to work.
I walked the block back to the old courthouse and grabbed number 45 from the dispenser with about ten minutes wait time before the Treasurer’s office opened. I decided to pay the taxes and fees for my newest vehicle the old-fashioned way – in person and with a handwritten check. The number displayed as being served was 41 so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait. I made myself comfortable on the old pew-like wooden bench and continued listening to the Dreamsnake audiobook I’d recently checked out via Hoopla.
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”