Observing Announcement: Spectacular Grazing Occultation Of Aldebaran On 4 March 2017

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The following came in from Brad Timerson of ASRAS and the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). We had a few posts back in 2014 about an occultation of the star Regulus by asteroid Erigone (on what turned out to be an overcast March 20th. For information about the event and the observing process, see the original CNYO occultation post.

Local observing path for the lunar occultation of Aldebaran on March 4th.

Folks in Rochester and between Syracuse and Binghamton are ideally placed to not only observe the occultation, but also to take data to provide to the IOTA. Information about the occultation, including links to how you can help with the observations, is provided in Brad’s original email below:

I want to alert the membership about this great opportunity (if the weather cooperates!) of seeing a lunar grazing occultation involving a bright star, Aldebaran, along the northern edge of the nearly first quarter moon on the evening of March 4, 2017. In small telescopes, it should be a spectacular sight.

IOTA (International Occultation and Timing Assoc.) has prepared a webpage outlining this event. If you scroll down the page, you will find a section for the Rochester area with a couple of static maps as well as a Google Map for the area. Graze events are dependent on distance from the predicted graze limit as well elevation above sea level. So, the Google Map has been created for the elevation in the Rochester area. (100 feet either way makes little difference)

Main webpage for event: occultations.org/aldebaran/2017march/

Direct link to Google map for approximate elevation in Rochester area: occultations.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/500ft.htm

Zoom in to see path through your area. Set the line A to a value of +0.2 km (enter value in box and then press “Click here”). Set line B to –0.1 km. This will produce 2 gray lines, one just north and one just south of the green line. These 2 lines (with the green line in the middle) will mark the best locations for an observing site.

A grazing informational image from the IOTA page.

Based on recent grazes, it appears that you will want to be exactly on the green line shown on the Google map or just barely south of it to see the maximum number of events. Many of the events will be gradual or partial (the star not completely disappearing) because Aldebaran is a large star and at the moon’s distance, won’t be completely covered for some locations.

I plan on observing the graze from a store parking lot (after getting permission) along Rt. 96 near Clifton Springs, NY. Anyone near this area is welcome to join me. I will have more details on my location as the date approaches. I will be videotaping the event using a special camera and video time inserter so that important details of the lunar limb and, possibly, the star, can be determined.

Profile maps of the Aldebaran occultation from the IOTA page.

Central graze time for the Rochester area is 11:17:57 pm on the 4th. You’ll want to be setup well ahead of this time with a clear western horizon. The moon will be about 18° above the horizon. You may see events occur for up to a minute before and after this central graze time. Below is a profile of the lunar limb showing the predicted graze limit as well as a dotted line at about 0.2 km south of the limit. The gray bar graph at the left shows the number of events that can be expected to occur. Time is along the bottom with 11:17:57 pm centered.

Please email me individually (btimerson [_at symbol_] rochester.rr.com) if you’d like information about a specific site along the graze path. Include the latitude, longitude, and elevation of your site taken from Google Earth of the Google map. Also, any other questions you might have can be directed my way.

Here are links to the pages summarizing observations made at the last two grazes. Many observations have YouTube videos available so you can see what to expect.

* www.asteroidoccultation.com/observations/AldebaranGraze_29July2016/
* www.asteroidoccultation.com/observations/AldebaranGraze_19October2016/

Brad Timerson
Newark, NY

Distant Worlds: What We Know About Extra-Solar Planets And Their Potential For Habitability

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

I’m pleased to announce that CNYO is co-sponsoring a lecture with the Cazenovia College Science Cafe Committee on one of the great achievements in observational astronomy in the last decade – the discovery and characterization of extra-solar planets (exoplanets). If so inclined, feel free to RSVP on our meetup.com event page. Details below:

Distant Worlds: What We Know About Extra-Solar Planets
And Their Potential For Habitability

Speaker: Dr. Leslie Hebb, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Date: March 1, 2017

Time: 6:30 to 8:00 pm

Parking: Free on campus after 6:00 p.m., available on Lincklaen, Seminary, Sullivan, and Nickerson Streets

Location: Morgan Room, basement of Hubbard Hall, Cazenovia College

Since the first extra-solar planet was discovered around the star 51 Pegasi, there has been an explosion of research aimed at discovering and characterizing planets around other stars. With the launch of NASA’s Kepler mission, the number of known exoplanets has grown to nearly 5000 including almost 500 multi-planet “solar systems”. Through these and other discoveries, we have learned that exoplanets are ubiquitous throughout the Galaxy, and many planetary systems look very different than our own Solar System. This research has radically transformed our thinking about how our own Solar System in particular and solar systems in general form and evolve. I will discuss how exoplanets are detected and characterized, the current exoplanet census, and our current understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve. I will also discuss how we identify potentially habitable worlds and what future missions are designed to identify and characterize habitability.

NASA Space Place – Solar Eclipse Provides Coronal Glimpse

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in February, 2017.

By Marcus Woo

2013february2_spaceplaceOn August 21, 2017, North Americans will enjoy a rare treat: The first total solar eclipse visible from the continent since 1979. The sky will darken and the temperature will drop, in one of the most dramatic cosmic events on Earth. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime show indeed. But it will also be an opportunity to do some science.

Only during an eclipse, when the moon blocks the light from the sun’s surface, does the sun’s corona fully reveal itself. The corona is the hot and wispy atmosphere of the sun, extending far beyond the solar disk. But it’s relatively dim, merely as bright as the full moon at night. The glaring sun, about a million times brighter, renders the corona invisible.

“The beauty of eclipse observations is that they are, at present, the only opportunity where one can observe the corona [in visible light] starting from the solar surface out to several solar radii,” says Shadia Habbal, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii. To study the corona, she’s traveled the world having experienced 14 total eclipses (she missed only five due to weather). This summer, she and her team will set up identical imaging systems and spectrometers at five locations along the path of totality, collecting data that’s normally impossible to get.

Ground-based coronagraphs, instruments designed to study the corona by blocking the sun, can’t view the full extent of the corona. Solar space-based telescopes don’t have the spectrographs needed to measure how the temperatures vary throughout the corona. These temperature variations show how the sun’s chemical composition is distributed—crucial information for solving one of long-standing mysteries about the corona: how it gets so hot.

While the sun’s surface is ~9980 Fahrenheit (~5800 Kelvin), the corona can reach several millions of degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers have proposed many explanations involving magneto-acoustic waves and the dissipation of magnetic fields, but none can account for the wide-ranging temperature distribution in the corona, Habbal says.

You too can contribute to science through one of several citizen science projects. For example, you can also help study the corona through the Citizen CATE experiment; help produce a high definition, time-expanded video of the eclipse; use your ham radio to probe how an eclipse affects the propagation of radio waves in the ionosphere; or even observe how wildlife responds to such a unique event.

Otherwise, Habbal still encourages everyone to experience the eclipse. Never look directly at the sun, of course (find more safety guidelines here: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety). But during the approximately 2.5 minutes of totality, you may remove your safety glasses and watch the eclipse directly—only then can you see the glorious corona. So enjoy the show. The next one visible from North America won’t be until 2024.

For more information about the upcoming eclipse, please see:

NASA Eclipse citizen science page: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/citizen-science

NASA Eclipse safety guidelines: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety

Want to teach kids about eclipses? Go to the NASA Space Place and see our article on solar and lunar eclipses! spaceplace.nasa.gov/eclipses/

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: Illustration showing the United States during the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, with the umbra (black oval), penumbra (concentric shaded ovals), and path of totality (red) through or very near several major cities. Credit: Goddard Science Visualization Studio, NASA

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With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!