Category Archives: Observing

Hybrid Solar Eclipse This Sunday Morning, Nov. 3rd – Sunrise (6:42 a.m.) To 8:00 a.m.

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The weather forecast is, as is often the case, not on our side for this particular event, but those with solar observing equipment may be able to take in a “hybrid” solar eclipse this Sunday morning, November 3rd, from sunrise (6:42 a.m.) to 8:00 a.m.

And don’t forget that we switch our clocks back to Standard Time on Sunday. You’ve an extra hour to get your equipment ready!

The timing and placement of the Moon between ourselves and the Sun will be producing a proper total eclipse only briefly (Sky & Telescope says “seconds” for a perfectly-placed observer) and not near us, but the Sun will rise as a crescent as the New Moon takes a significant chunk out of it. I made a series of still images with Starry Night Pro below to show both how much of the Sun’s disc will be blocked by the black disc of the New Moon and how quickly the entire event will occur (6:42 a.m. being sunrise for Syracuse, NY – the entire event will be done by about 8:00 a.m.).


The hybrid solar eclipse from Syracuse (images using Starry Night Pro). Click for a larger version.

And what is a “hybrid” solar eclipse anyway? We’re all familiar with the “total eclipse,” where the Moon and Sun have the same (or nearly the same) apparent diameter in the sky – this blocking of the Sun’s surface is what allows us to see the wispy corona that is otherwise washed out by the Sun’s surface brightness. An “annular eclipse” is the lesser cousin of the total eclipse, where the Moon in its orbit is farther away from Earth than it would be in a total eclipse, meaning it appears slightly smaller in the sky – as it no longer has the apparent diameter of the Sun, the Moon does not cover it completely, producing a sharp solar ring. A “partial eclipse” is where the Moon makes a “grazing blow” of the Sun, producing solar crescents (which may be very sharp crescents or may just slide along one side of the Sun, producing rounded PacMan views).

The “hybrid eclipse” is called so because certain places on the Earth’s surface see an annular eclipse, while others see, perhaps only very briefly, a total eclipse. Timing and location are everything, making hybrid eclipses quite rare (the number I’ve seen quoted at a few sites is 5% of all eclipses are hybrid).


A map of the November 3rd Solar Eclipse. Image from Sky & Telescope.

The Sun will still be plenty bright enough to damage your eyes after sunrise – this will most definitely NOT be one of those eclipses that lets you enjoy a view of the Sun without filters or special optics. Pinhole projectors or a pair of Baader glasses will work just fine. A good how-to page for building your own pinhole solar projector can be found at

And if the weather does not cooperate Sunday morning, you can always watch the eclipse real-time thanks to the Slooh Community Observatory feed (

Several good links on the subject are below. You can be an expert to your very groggy friends on Sunday in less than 15 minutes.







Robert Piekiel’s Book Collection Now Listed At

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

I am pleased to announce that Bob Piekiel’s collection of self-published SCT books, including his new “Telescope Finders, Building And Designing” and his epic “Celestron: The Early Years” are now listed on the website at Bob has a long history in the CNY amateur astronomy community, both as a lecturer for local astronomy clubs and as the host and organizer for public viewing sessions at Baltimore Woods Nature Center and Green Lakes State Park. We are even more pleased to have him and his scopes at hosted CNYO events.


Bob can be reached directly with questions or purchase inquiries about his many books at piekielrl _at_

About The Perseid Meteor Shower (“Perseids” For Short)

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

This article has been posted in preparation for our Perseid Session and International Starry Night event at Baltimore Woods this coming Monday, August 12th (with the 13th as the weather-alternate). We might even get a view or two of the Perseids at our Thursday, August 8th Beaver Lake Nature Center lecture!

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an almost perfect combination of location and timing for amateur astronomers and the general public, as the Earth grazes a rich debris field from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle during the peak of the Northern Summer. We’ll cover the details of this confluence below so you know what makes the Perseids the most anticipated (and observed) meteor shower of the year.

One Thousand And Thirty Words (And Two Numbers)

Comedian: “Ask me what the key to comedy is.”
Assistant: “What’s the -”
Comedian: “Timing!”


The image above shows all of the important pieces of the Perseid puzzle. We find the Earth in its orbit around the Sun as it approaches a mid-August position (the 10th to the 14th, although one may see meteors at the fringe of Perseid territory several nights before and after) that finds Earth (and us) scraping against the edge of a debris field produced by Comet Swift-Tuttle on its 133-year orbit around the Sun. Last seen in our vicinity in 1995, observers will have to wait until the 2120’s for another good view of its flaring core. Fortunately, it leaves enough tiny pieces of itself as it draws close to the Sun to provide us with a brilliant reminder of its existence every mid-August.

Unlike Halley’s Comet, which passes close to Earth’s orbit on its way toward (producing the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower in early May) and away from (producing the Orionid Meteor Shower in late October) the Sun, Comet Swift-Tuttle’s eccentric orbit finds it passing close to Earth only at one point, like a snapshot capturing a hula-hoop (Swift-Tuttle’s orbit) as it touches the belt buckle (Earth) of a gyrating dancer whose waist is Earth’s orbit in circumfrence.

What’s In A Name?

We refer to this meteor shower as the “Perseids” because the meteors associated with Swift-Tuttle appear to streak across the sky from a point (known as a “radiant“) originating in the direction of the mythical constellation Perseus. The shower itself has nothing to do with the stars of the constellation Perseus, only the part of the sky that Perseus occupies on the late nights and early mornings in mid-August. One might even consider Perseus the beneficiary of this shower, as the constellation has taken on a new-found importance to astronomers over the last several millennia as the marker for this shower in the August skies.

It’s All Relative

Anyone caught driving late at night during a snow storm knows the sensation of making the Millenium Falcon’s “jump to lightspeed” as the snowflakes appear to shoot towards, then past or onto, your windshield. To the driver cruising at 65 mph on a highway, the snowflakes appear to have no motion but the one directly towards the windshield. If you were standing on a snowflake, you’d notice the very slow decent to the Earth’s surface, the rapidly oncoming car headlights, then the swift rush across the windshield as the aerodynamics of the windshield combined with the high speed of the car.


This same state of “relative observation” occurs during all meteor showers as the Earth revolves around the Sun. The meteors, themselves mostly no larger than grains of sand, are not moving rapidly towards the Earth’s atmosphere. They lie scattered about the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, a result of the comet heating enough as it approaches the Sun to lose small pieces of its surface. If Swift-Tuttle were a massive gravel delivery truck (to continue the driving analogy), these small grains would be the random pieces of rock that fall to the ground as the truck bumps over uneven pieces of highway.

Clash Of The Tinys

It is the Earth, revolving around the Sun at a dizzying 110,000 km/hour (that’s 30 km/second!), that powers the meteor shower we see on the ground. As the Earth rushes through the debris field of Comet Swift-Tuttle, these tiny grains of comet come into contact with our atmosphere at speeds so great that they ignite the air around them, causing brilliant streaks of light as the tiny grains are incinerated.

The number of meteors one can observe over a Perseid session is determined by (1) your looking at the right place at the right time (no long blinks!) and (2) the density of tiny Swift-Tuttle-ettes in the comet’s orbit as Earth passes through it. There are some meteor showers where one is lucky to see a few per hour. Because the Earth passes through a generally rich part of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, two or three per minute may not be uncommon for a “usual” Perseid session. Those outside for the 1972 Perseid Meteor Shower were treated to what many believe to be the best meteor shower in recorded history (and those outside for the 1998 Leonid Meteor Shower (a close second by all metrics) know what it’s like to see thousands per hour raining down on dark skies).

Finding Perseus

The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. For your best chance of seeing Perseid meteors, it is not your eyes that should be transfixed on the heart of Perseus. Instead, you should anchor the bottoms of your toes towards Perseus, then find a comfortable piece of ground (or reclining chair) that gives you a clear view of the sky right above you. Perseid meteors will then, with a thick patch of debris field and a bit of patience, appear to blaze across the night sky from your toes (Northeast) past your head (to the Southwest).


Perseus will appear to rise above the Northeast horizon after 9:00 p.m. Directly above the stars of Perseus resides Cassiopeia – a giant and prominent “W” in the night sky that, for many hours after sunset, will appear as a West-facing throne for this ancient Ethiopian queen. Those familiar with the many tricks amateur astronomers use to learn the Night Sky will simply find Polaris, perhaps using the two end stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper and an imaginary line along these stars in the direction of the bowl’s open face to pick out the dim North Star. Polaris does not shine with the brightness one might have imagined for the second most important star in the sky (after our own Sun), but it is in a piece of sky that contains few brighter stars, making it the most obvious member of a very modest piece of northern sky.

If you’re still too new to constellation hunting, the solution is simple! Grab a compass (or a compass app in your smart phone) and find Northeast the new-fashioned way. With luck, the Perseids will race to the Southwest at a rate of a few per minute, increasing in count, then decreasing, from around 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. local time. With the good fortunes of all the Olympian Gods, we’ll all be treated to many, many more.

Additional Information

The Perseid Meteor Shower

Comet Swift-Tuttle

Meteors And Meteor Showers