Debris from an obscure comet could light up the sky with 100 or more meteors per hour the night of May 23/24.
Astronomers expect the shower to peak sometime between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. EDT the morning of May 24 (11 p.m. to 1 a.m. PDT). This timing works perfectly for observers in the United States and southern Canada. For the best views, find an observing site far from city lights. Light pollution brightens the sky and washes out fainter meteors, lessening the shower’s impact.
The weather forecast for Lansing is dismal. Cloudy Friday and Saturday, thunderstorms predicted. Unless I want to take a long long drive somewhere, I won’t get a chance to see this new meteor shower.
Hope you have better luck in your neck of the woods!
My husband is a night owl. Ironic, since I’m the one with the astronomy bug, but can’t seem to keep my eyes open after nine o’clock. Saturday evening, Terry went over to a friend’s house to watch the latest UFC pay-per-view fight. I looked forward to an evening of quiet, watching a movie, reading a book and making sure Apollo got extra dog treats. Before Terry left, though, I asked him to wake me up after midnight, preferably between two and four in the morning, so I could take advantage of the dark of the moon and a meteor shower. He remembered and got me out of bed at 3:30 a.m.
I shook myself awake and staggered outside in my flip-flops. I drug the folding chair to a better location on the patio, and leaned back, stretching out my legs in front of me so my head rested comfortably on the chair back, allowing me to see nearly all the sky overhead. My eyes immediately spotted Vega, the brights star in the constellation Lyra. As I mentioned in Friday’s blog post Meteors After Midnight, this weekend’s meteor shower appears to originate from the constellation Lyra, hence the name “Lyrid Meteor Shower.”
Within ten minutes, I spotted a meteor. I decided I needed a sweater or a blanket, so I went back inside to find something to keep my upper body warm and protected from the wind. I settled back into the chair and gazed around the night sky, trying to connect the dots and recognize and memorize some constellations. I easily spotted Scorpius (aka Scorpio) almost due south of me. I could not see my own birth month constellation, Libra, directly west (right) of Scorpio because the stars that form the scales are too faint to be seen from my backyard. Another interesting bit of trivia about my husband: He’s a Scorpio, whom Libras are never supposed to marry. According to Chinese astrology, Terry and I went supposed to marry either. In eight days, we celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary. Go figure. But back to Scorpius. The bright star, Antares, flashed red or green, probably due to the atmosphere and it’s proximity to the southern horizon.
At four o’clock, I went back inside to steep a mug of tea. I boiled some water in the microwave and selected Irish Blend loose leaf tea (my favorite). Another five minutes later, I had a piping hot perfect blend of tea and sugar to take outside with me. While I waited for my tea to steep, I tried to memorize the constellations displayed on the ‘Guide to the Stars’ wheel I purchased recently for Terry. I set it to the appropriate time of night and month/day so I could identify the stars and constellations I saw above the roof of my house. No matter how hard I tried, though, I could not find the constellations Ophiuchus or Hercules, which should have been easily spotted between Lyra and Scorpius. I guess I just couldn’t see enough of the stars to connect the dots and learn those two new constellations.
At one point, a large bird flew directly overhead, barely skimming over the roof of my house. Once the bird cleared my roof and flew over the court, the lights from the houses ringing our cul-de-sac lit the undersides of its wings. I think it might have been an owl, but I can’t be entirely sure. My eyes were focused farther away, watching for falling meteors, than a few feet above my head.
I saw two more meteors before I decided to call it quits and go back to bed. I gave up at 4:30 a.m. I had hoped for a few more than just three total for the night. The ‘forecast’ for the meteor shower claimed upwards of twenty per hour, but I saw only a sprinkling. Adding the ones I saw last night to the two I saw Friday night at the star party, I observed a total of five meteors this weekend. Clouds have moved in from the north today (Sunday), so I doubt I’ll get a chance to try again tonight. Besides, it’s a work night which means I need to be asleep by nine o’clock.
Even though Friday dawned overcast and gloomy, by noon, I could see bits of blue among the dissolving puffs of grey and white. I received an early confirmation e-mail from ASKC announcing the ‘go live’ time for the astronomy club’s star party at Powell Observatory in Louisburg, Kansas. I had already invited Dad to come as my guest and not only because Terry already had plans. The weather forecast predicted clear skies, but cold temperatures, reaching mid-40s by midnight on the observing field.
I left work at the usual time and retrieved all my riders, returning them safely home without delay. Not even the race activities at the Kansas Speedway slowed me down when I dropped off my first rider, who lives within spitting distance of that facility. We all could hear the cars racing around the track, not for a race, but more likely for practice or qualifying.
I got home and realized I had forgotten to print a map with directions from Lansing to Louisburg and wrangled Terry into printing one for me. While I was waiting on the printout, my Dad arrived, bringing me a beautiful rose from his garden. He placed it smack dab in the center of my table, but I didn’t notice it until I knocked over the vase with my camera bag. Then, I mistakenly thought Terry had stolen a rose from one of our neighbors. Dad had a hard time not laughing himself silly, especially since he tried to let Terry take the credit for the impromptu flower appearance. I thanked Dad for the gift while I mopped up the spilled water with a spare towel.
I changed clothes, grabbed a sweater with a hood, my scarf, my gloves, a gallon of water, my water bottle, my camera bag and tripod and my purse. Dad already had the rest of the gear in his trunk. We rolled south out of Lansing by a quarter to six. We stopped briefly in Bonner Springs for a quick supper and continued down K-7 to Shawnee Mission Parkway, then to I-435 and eventually US-69. Louisburg is less than twenty miles south of Overland Park, so once we rounding the curve where I-35 crosses I-435 (where the mile markers for I-435 start at zero (0) and end at eight-three (3), we had less than a half hour of driving to reach the observatory. We pulled into the park just a bit after seven o’clock in the evening.
The star party organizer for the ASKC was already on site. He greeted us and we all began debating where to setup on the observing field around Powell. He was concerned about a baseball game or practice that appeared to be occurring on a ball field just northwest of the site. He drove over and asked the participants if they planned to turn on the field lights. He returned to confirm the lights would be on until 9:30 p.m. Thus, all of us decided to setup on the east side of the Powell Observatory building, letting it block the lights to help protect our night vision.
Dad and I unpacked the gear and hauled it across the observing field to a spot just southeast of the dome. I setup my camera and tripod to take a couple of photos of the sunset.
As predicted, the lights lit up the field, and competed with the glow of Kansas City sufficing the northern horizon. Dad and I waited patiently (him more than me) for enough stars to pop forth to attempt an alignment of the telescope. While we waited, I took a few more photos of the western horizon, mostly to capture the very bright Venus.
Soon after we spotted Venus, Sirius made its appearance in the southwestern sky. Once Arcturus crested over the trees in the northeast, we used both those stars for an alignment of the ETX-90 via the Autostar device. We did a quick tour of the four visible planets, starting with Venus. Even though Venus is a thinning crescent (as it moves towards us and between the Earth and the Sun), it is almost too bright to look at. Without adding a filter to the eyepiece, I couldn’t look directly at it for more than a few seconds. Next we caught Jupiter before it set in the west. I spotted all four moons, but only for the first few minutes. As it sunk closer and closer to the horizon, the haze and humidity obscured all but the planet itself from visibility.
Next we swung the telescope back to the southeast, but nearly directly overhead (about ten or eleven o’clock above us) to view Mars. While I debated internally what higher magnification eyepiece to insert, the star party organizer joined Dad and I at our telescope. He commented that he had owned a similar scope in years past and affirmed it was a good scope for planetary and lunar observing. He took a quick look through the eyepiece at Mars and moved on to the next person on the field. One of my goals for the evening was to decide if the small ETX-90 would allow me to view any deep sky objects (galaxies in particular).
Our final planetary tour stop landed on Saturn, which crested over the trees soon after we finished observing Mars. I easily found Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, but could not discern the gap(s) between the rings, even after adding the two times Barlow to the 25mm eyepiece I prefer to use.
Orion had his left foot on the western horizon as I swung the scope back to the southwest for a quick peak at the Great Orion Nebula. As far as I could tell, it looked similar to what I had seen from my back yard in late March. At that time, Orion’s Sword appeared much higher in the sky and I looked through less atmosphere (but had more light pollution in Lansing). But the combination of less light, yet more atmosphere gave me basically the same observing experience.
At this point, I took a break to spare my aching feet and sat in one of the chairs Dad had brought along. The north wind had died off by this time, but I couldn’t seem to get my toes enough circulation. The rest of me, my head, hands, upper body and legs, were fine. But my toes continued to be a distraction and eventually a source of chilling pain. I used my red flashlight to review several star charts in my pocket sky atlas, searching for a deep sky object that would be (hopefully) visible via my small scope. I settled on the Whirlpool Galaxy found near the first star (Alkaid) in the handle of the Big Dipper. As you can see in the chart above, just below and to the right of Alkaid is where you should find the Whirlpool Galaxy. Even with a red dot viewfinder to help, neither Dad nor I could locate the galaxy. It only has a magnitude of 8.4, and I fear the increasing glow from Kansas City to our north and the rising humidity as the temperature dropped to the dew point conspired against our efforts.
Before I could pick up my pocket sky atlas to find some other deep sky object to try, the star party organizer returned, asking us if we wanted to see the Leo Triplet, three galaxies visible all at the same time. While not as clear as the photo at the left, I did see all three galaxies through his telescope in one field of view. Amazing! Once I returned to my scope, I directed it to find Mars (which still hovers near Leo) to confirm the alignment and then told it to find M65 (one of the two galaxies on the right hand side of the photo above. I believe I saw a grey smudge or two, but not the third fainter elongated galaxy (on the left above). Since Leo still appeared directly overhead, and Louisburg to the southeast does not sport nearly as much light as Kansas City to the north, I had good conditions for seeing such faint objects (magnitude 9 and 10).
At this point, I could barely stand on my aching chilled feet any longer. I sat for a few minutes, letting my eyes wonder around the sky in hopes of seeing a few meteors. I did see two. I asked Dad if there was anything else he wanted to observe. I think he returned to Saturn for a final look at the ringed giant. After that, we dismantled the equipment and packed it back up (all in the dark with a dying red flash light). We made several trips across the observing field to the car.
As Dad started up the car (and I turned the heat for the passenger side all the way up to red hot), the clock on the dash flashed 11:00 p.m. We pulled out of the parking lot with only our parking lights on (to minimize light for those still observing) and stopped at McDonalds so I could buy a mocha. All three convenience stores in Louisburg had closed (not extremely convenient for us obviously). We retraced our route up US-69, through Overland Park, to I-435 and took Parallel Parkway back to K-7 and arrived back in Lansing just after midnight.
After this excursion, I believe I need to start saving my pennies for an upgrade. I still plan to use the ETX-90 to observe the Transit of Venus. The small scope is actually a boon for observing our closest star, Sol and our sister planet, Venus. I just need the solar filter film, currently on back order, to prevent damage to my eyes and the scope.
I am setting my alarm for three a.m. tomorrow morning (that’s Sunday, April 22nd). Unless, of course, I can’t sleep, then I’ll just stay up late, past midnight, and relax in my backyard, gazing overhead to catch the Lyrid Meteor shower. Luck smiled upon us this year, since the new moon occurs today (Saturday), leaving only cloudy skies (not forecasted for northeastern Kansas tonight) to interfere with observing the shower, which can produce up to twenty meteors per hour. And the best part of this amateur astronomy observing event happens to be that no equipment is required. Just my eyes. And clear, dark skies!
I returned to work, as did everyone else in the vanpool, including the latest addition. First commute in the van since late summer when all but one seat was occupied. We left a few minutes earlier to accommodate the earlier work schedule of our new addition, yet everyone was on time for all their retrievals.
I ordered Rachelle’s contacts based on her new prescription. I also contacted the mail-order pharmacy we use for our most expensive prescriptions to update the credit card information on file for the auto-refill ones. Just a bit frustrating that I had to spend several minutes on hold, only to be told to call another number, which also placed me on hold for several minutes to accomplish what should have been available via the pharmacy website. I suppose I should be grateful that I spoke to an American and guaranteed his continued employment.
On the drive home, I realized the sunset would be quite beautiful, but by the time I arrived home (around a quarter after five), the sun had mostly set. I snapped a few photos with my cell phone’s camera, two of which I’ll post below:
I continue to explore the Wii Fit Plus options. I setup a customized routine to do every other day that includes a half dozen Yoga positions and seven strengthening exercises. All the Yoga stuff is new to me, although some of the stretches I’ve done in other fitness classes in years past (just not knowing they were Yoga-based). By the time I finished my routine, I was tired and a bit shaky.
I will definitely be too tuckered out to get up at three o’clock in the morning to watch for the Quarantid meteor shower. A shame really, since this shower can produce more than sixty meteors per hour. Of course, if I did wake up at that time, the clouds that covered the sky at sunset would (with my luck) still be obscuring the stars (and meteors). If I stay in bed, other astronomers may have better luck viewing the shower since the skies will be clear (provided I’m not planning on observing).
I plan to doze off while reading shortly. So I will wish you all a very good night.
I got a strange call this afternoon from my daughter’s boyfriend. I let it go to my voice-mail because I happened to be in the middle of a meeting at that time. When I got a chance to listen to his voice-mail, I nearly laughed out loud. I always fear the worst when I get calls out-of-the-blue from my kids (or their significant others), but this time he just wanted to let me know he had heard a blurb on NPR about the peak viewing opportunity tonight for the annual Geminid meteor shower. I called him back to thank him for the heads up, but I already had at least four other feeds (from various astronomy magazines, clubs and websites) keeping me up-to-date on all things astronomincal. My biggest hurdle to viewing anything in the night sky this week is the non-stop rain and overcast huddled over Kansas. Check out tonight’s hourly forecast for my viewing area:
So just like what happened last month with the Leonids, I guess I’ll be missing the Geminids this year. I sure hope 2012 allows me better viewing opportunities for meteor shows, comets and the planets. I remember May being especially disappointing with overcast skies nearly every weekend. I finally gave up in August and stored the telescope in the basement because the weather just wouldn’t cooperate with my observing goals and schedule. I almost retrieved it for last weekend’s lunar eclipse, but since the eclipse coincided with moonset and sunrise, I decided looking through the hazy atmosphere with my camera’s telephoto lens would be sufficient.
Parking Temporarily Returns
Last week I reported my home town Public Works Department had installed a ‘no parking’ sign in my court (and twelve other cul-de-sacs spread across the city). This afternoon when I turned into my driveway, I noticed the sign had been removed from the pole. Terry will need to let the band members know they can park in the usual locations for tomorrow night’s weekly rehearsal. I’m just happy I won’t be juggling cars tomorrow or worrying about where to put them, especially since the wet yard would rut if I had to park some of them off the street. I doubt my previous blog post could have caused so much fervor that it necessitated the complete removal of the sign by the City. I know they planned to add an addendum to the ‘no parking’ sign to indicate only during snow, but I assumed a second sign would be attached below the first one. Apparently, something else is planned and I will keep an eye on the sign post for the next few days to see what develops.
Tips and Teaks
I continue to experiment and enjoy the enhancements of the Nook Color software update 1.4.1 released yesterday. I encountered some diminished functionality from a couple of websites I frequented. After trying the usual things (clearing cache, cookies and history and powering the device off), I chatted with a customer service representative at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t agree with his proposed solution and while he went seeking advice from a higher power (second tier tech support), I stumbled upon a solution. I updated yesterday’s blog post to include my findings.
Continued Prayers Please
My husband saw the specialist today and a biopsy is scheduled for three days before Christmas. Your continued prayers for healing, strength, understanding and patience are greatly appreciated.
Although this week has been chock full of fantastic sunrises and sunsets, the wind and clouds have hampered my ability to view the famed Leonid meteor shower. With the sun rising and setting during my daily commute, I have few safe opportunities to snap a successful photograph. So I just enjoy the eye candy while avoiding the cars around me as I drive into the sun (except for the first or last ten miles of my commute which is along a north-south corridor between Bonner Springs and Lansing, Kansas).
On a whim, last night after meeting my dad at a local eating establishment for a quick birthday dinner (not the official one, but a quickly arranged one to get his freshly baked bread into his hands), I stepped out into my backyard and looked up (as you’ll recall from my earlier post, I always look up when I exit a building). Much to my surprise and delight I saw a prominent shooting star streak across directly overhead from east to west, leaving a trail like a laser beam across the sky for a second or so. I immediately ran in the house and told Terry what I’d seen, then cranked up the laptop to see if I still had hope of seeing more of the Leonid meteor shower that night.
I logged onto Astonomy magazine‘s website and found a nice graphic that confirmed I still had time to view some more meteors. I tried to force myself to stay awake until the moon rose, but read myself to sleep (again) around 11:30 p.m. My husband woke me up in the middle of the night, but the swiftly scudding clouds obscured all but the glow of the moon. No sight of Mars, Regulus, Denebola or any shooting stars seemed likely. Naturally, I fell back asleep, dreaming of clear, dark skies next year.
Next week, as early as the night of the 13th, the Geminid meteor shower returns. A week later, and just in time for the longest night of the year, a total lunar eclipse is visible from four continents and the only total lunar eclipse for 2010.
Saturn and Venus are visible in the early morning hours (before dawn), and Saturn’s rings have returned from a two year hiatus hiding on edge.