Tag Archives: Comet

NASA Space Place – Where The Heavenliest Of Showers Come From

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 November, 2014.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceYou might think that, so long as Earth can successfully dodge the paths of rogue asteroids and comets that hurtle our way, it’s going to be smooth, unimpeded sailing in our annual orbit around the sun. But the meteor showers that illuminate the night sky periodically throughout the year not only put on spectacular shows for us, they’re direct evidence that interplanetary space isn’t so empty after all!

When comets (or even asteroids) enter the inner solar system, they heat up, develop tails, and experience much larger tidal forces than they usually experience. Small pieces of the original object—often multiple kilometers in diameter—break off with each pass near the sun, continuing in an almost identical orbit, either slightly ahead-or-behind the object’s main nucleus. While both the dust and ion tails are blown well off of the main orbit, the small pieces that break off are stretched, over time, into a diffuse ellipse following the same orbit as the comet or asteroid it arose from. And each time the Earth crosses the path of that orbit, the potential for a meteor shower is there, even after the parent comet or asteroid is completely gone!

This relationship was first uncovered by the British astronomer John Couch Adams, who found that the Leonid dust trail must have an orbital period of 33.25 years, and that the contemporaneously discovered comet Tempel-Tuttle shared its orbit. The most famous meteor showers in the night sky all have parent bodies identified with them, including the Lyrids (comet Thatcher), the Perseids (comet Swift-Tuttle), and what promises to be the best meteor shower of 2014: the Geminids (asteroid 3200 Phaethon). With an orbit of only 1.4 years, the Geminids have increased in strength since they first appeared in the mid-1800s, from only 10-to-20 meteors per hour up to more than 100 per hour at their peak today! Your best bet to catch the most is the night of December 13th, when they ought to be at maximum, before the Moon rises at about midnight.

The cometary (or asteroidal) dust density is always greatest around the parent body itself, so whenever it enters the inner solar system and the Earth passes near to it, there’s a chance for a meteor storm, where observers at dark sky sites might see thousands of meteors an hour! The Leonids are well known for this, having presented spectacular shows in 1833, 1866, 1966 and a longer-period storm in the years 1998-2002. No meteor storms are anticipated for the immediate future, but the heavenliest of showers will continue to delight skywatchers for all the foreseeable years to come!

What’s the best way to see a meteor shower? Check out this article to find out: www.nasa.gov/jpl/asteroids/best-meteor-showers.

Kids can learn all about meteor showers at NASA’s Space Place: spaceplace.nasa.gov/meteor-shower.

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

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Caption: Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / W. Reach (SSC/Caltech), of Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3, via NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, 2006.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “What Killed The Dinosaurs, And How Do We Know?”

Saturday – November 15, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology – Syracuse, NY


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What killed the dinosaurs? The question remains as fascinating as ever, conjuring fantastical images of death and destruction. Most kids these days will tell you the answer – an asteroid or comet killed the dinosaurs. But how do we know this? What are the lines of evidence that scientists have amassed over the years to convince us of what sounds like science fiction? We will discuss the different pieces of the puzzle that together paint a picture of a huge extraterrestrial impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and three quarters of all other life on earth, 65 million years ago.

People interested in learning more about dinosaurs are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, November 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing jrcafe@tacny.org by November 12, 2014.

Presenters

37784_paleo_people_image1_9_originalLinda Ivany is Professor of Earth Sciences at Syracuse University. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and was a Society Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for 3 years before moving to Syracuse in 2000. Prof. Ivany’s research is in the fields of paleontology and paleoclimatology. She works mostly on marine fossils, and often uses their chemistry to understand life history, ecology, seasonality, and environment in Earth’s ancient past. Field research has taken her to Antarctica, Australia, and the US Gulf Coast, and her work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society. She has served as Member and President of the Board of Trustees for the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, and Councilor-at-Large for the Paleontological Society. She lives in Erieville, NY, on a farm with a multitude of animals.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique, a program for middle-school students founded in 2005, features discussions about topics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an informal atmosphere and seeks to encourage students to consider careers in these areas. Students must be accompanied by an adult and can explore the MOST at no cost after the event.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit www.tacny.org.

CNYO Observing Log: Clark Reservation State Park, 29 August 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Central New York is a reasonably reasonable place for the reasonably active amateur astronomer. A 10 minute drive away from the center of downtown Syracuse puts one far enough away from enough of the city lights to make bright clusters and galaxies visible, although not necessarily impressive. A 15 to 25 minute drive in the right direction provides skies dark enough to keep any keen amateur occupied for a long evening of Messiers. Those willing to meander their way through a 40 to 50 minute excursion can find some tremendously dark skies fit for subtle NGCs and non-CCD comets. And those of us who host sessions along the Creekwalk know it’s perfectly reasonable for the Moon, Sun, and bright planets (and, if the big globular clusters aren’t out, not much else).

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First setup at Clark Reservation. Click for a larger view.

Clark Reservation State Park leans very much in the near-downtown category, lying about 10 minutes to the Southwest of the Salt City. A two-hour session hosted by Bob Piekiel and assisted by Christopher Schuck and myself revealed Clark Res to be a great harbor for new amateur astronomers wanting to get their feet wet but not ready to be thrown eyepiece-first into the deep abyss offered by Dark Sky locations. Bright constellations are obvious, the planets jump right out, the crescent Moon is a busy structure of mountains and valleys, and the brightest Messier objects are “obvious” to observers looking through the eyepiece, all while the sky is streaked by bright shooting stars and crisscrossed by satellites too numerous to keep track of.

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Summer Triangle panorama. Click for a larger view.

Setup commenced around 7:00 p.m. with Bob, Chris, and I initially spaced in an equilateral-ish triangle to try to maximize the amount of “different” observables. The clear field just west of the main parking lot offered a remarkably open view of the sky, with several large clearings between trees to really let one get low to the horizon for last-look viewing. My initial proposal to Chris to catch the Moon, Saturn, and Mars between one of these South-most clearings seemed reasonable until we stepped over to Bob’s East-most setup – a change of only 50 feet completely opened up the Western Sky. What started as a Summer Triangle then turned into Triangulum, leaving me with dominion over the Eastern Sky and all of the constellations and Messiers Autumn will offer at our zenith.

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Maybe a 4? The light pollution from Clark Res (lower number = better). For Deep Sky objects, not good. For learning the major constellations, not bad. From stellarium.org.

Despite the brightness of Syracuse (and some of the Clark Res safety lights), the sky wasn’t “that bad.” It was certainly a great starting point for new observers who’d only ever recognized the Big Dipper in the late-Summer sky. It was very easy to point out – then reinforce – the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Pegasus, Cygnus, Lyra, Cassiopeia, the Summer Triangle, and Hercules. The Messiers through my scope were limited to M13, M57 (which was a stretch for the newbies, no doubt about it), and M31/M32 (which, despite the location, looked excellent in a 26mm Nagler), leaving Saturn, Mars, and the Moon to Bob and Chris – this on account of a good-sized group (about 20) who kept in constant rotation between our three scopes. We did have ourselves a prominent Iridium Flare, 6 confirmed meteors, and a host of satellites (which made a few people’s day).

Final pack-up started a little before 10 p.m., requiring bright flashlights and small mops (was quite a damp evening). All in all, Clark Reservation is a good spot for those who want to get their bearings without having to drive too far from home (a nice starter spot for that 10-minute range), and I found myself spending more time with a green laser pointer and some mythology than I did looking through the eyepiece. Attendees didn’t seem to mind, and we all got home by bedtime.