Tag Archives: Lyrids

NASA Night Sky Notes: Mars The Wanderer

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. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in April, 2019.

By David Prosper

April’s skies find Mars traveling between star clusters after sunset, and a great gathering of planets just before sunrise.

Mars shows stargazers exactly what the term “planet” originally meant with its rapid movement across the evening sky this month. The ancient Greeks used the term planete, meaning wanderer, to label the bright star-like objects that travelled between the constellations of the zodiac year after year.

You can watch Mars as it wanders through the sky throughout April, visible in the west for several hours after sunset. Mars travels past two of the most famous star clusters in our night sky: the Pleiades and Hyades. Look for the red planet next to the tiny but bright Pleiades on April 1st. By the second week in April, it has moved eastward in Taurus towards the larger V-shaped Hyades. Red Mars appears to the right of the slightly brighter red-orange star Aldebaran on April 11th. We see only the brightest stars in these clusters with our unaided eyes; how many additional stars can you observe through binoculars?

Open clusters are made up of young stars born from the same “star nursery” of gas and dust. These two open clusters are roughly similar in size. The Pleiades appears much smaller as they are 444 light years away, roughly 3 times the distance of the Hyades, at 151 light years distant. Aldebaran is in the same line of sight as the Hyades, but is actually not a member of the cluster; it actually shines just 65 light years away! By comparison, Mars is practically next door to us, this month just a mere 18 light minutes from Earth – that’s about almost 200 million miles. Think of the difference between how long it takes the light to travel from these bodies: 18 minutes vs. 65 years!

The rest of the bright planets rise before dawn, in a loose lineup starting from just above the eastern horizon to high above the south: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Watch this month as the apparent gap widens considerably between the gas giants and terrestrial planets. Mercury hugs the horizon all month, with Venus racing down morning after morning to join its dimmer inner solar system companion right before sunrise. In contrast, the giants Jupiter and Saturn move away from the horizon and rise earlier all month long, with Jupiter rising before midnight by the end of April.

The Lyrids meteor shower peaks on April 22nd, but sadly all but the brightest meteors will be washed out by the light of a bright gibbous Moon.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov

Caption: The path of Mars between the Pleiades and Hyades in April.
Image created with assistance from Stellarium.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Upstate NY Stargazing In April: The Lyrid Meteor Shower – Posted To syracuse.com And nyup.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The April, 2018 UNY Stargazing article is up for your reading and sharing pleasure at syracuse.com and newyorkupstate.com:

Links: newyorkupstate.com & syracuse.com

There are still random listserv mentions of hosted Messier Marathons among some of the local clubs. Be sure to check your local astronomy club to see if any events are being scheduled. I wasn’t sure if the article was going to come out before or after the Tiangong-1 final descent, so kept the opening discussion of potential problems with things “up there” general. On top of some excellent planetary viewing this month, The Lyrids make their yearly return, then we continue to zodiac discussion with Gemini – perfectly placed in the western skies this evening for some strain-free scope and bino observing.

The good, the bad, and the potentially ugly things that fall from space. Micrometeorites (IFLScience.com), a SkyLab fragment (from wikipedia), and the Chelyabinsk meteor trail (Alex Alishevskikh).

When asked to list the contents of our Solar System, some stop at the Sun, planets, and moons. Others will remember comets – a list of objects that grows much longer every year. For those looking for up-to-date info, see minorplanetcenter.net – we have comfortably cleared the 4000 comet mark. Some may add the asteroid belt – a region between Mars and Jupiter which looks less like the chaotic debris field from “The Empire Strikes Back” and more like oases of larger rocks separated by vast, empty deserts of tiny particles. Don’t forget the currently 18,000-long list of NEOs, or Near-Earth Objects.

These are among the more than 18,000 reasons why the late-great Stephen Hawking and others have championed the need for colonization beyond the Earth’s surface.

Changing positions in the sky is one thing – changing elevations is very different. Occasional bright flares make the news when captured on video. Events like Tunguska and Chelyabinsk remind us that there thing in space we might miss that could level cities. We are fortunate that most of the roughly 160 tons of debris from space that hits the Earth *each day* is in the form of micrometeorites that you could start collecting with a strong magnet and a flat rooftop.

The highly-anticipated demise of the Tiangong-1 over the weekend was a reminder that we may not be able to always rely on the “dilution-solution” of handling our garbage. Our planet is large, spherical, mostly covered in water, and largely unpopulated – but the number of satellites going to space will only increase as launches get cheaper. It remains to be seen if nations will opt to address the dangers of space junk before or after something serious – and unavoidable – happens here on the ground.

Read more…

Bob Piekiel Hosts Observing Sessions At Baltimore Woods (And More!) – 2018 Observing Schedule

This event list will be added to as the year progresses. Check back often!

I’m pleased to have obtained the official schedule for Bob Piekiel’s growing observing and lecture programs for the 2018 season. For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing one of his lectures, attending one of his observing sessions, or reading one of his many books on scope optics (or loading the CD containing the massive Celestron: The Early Years), Bob Piekiel is not only an excellent guide but likely the most knowledgeable equipment and operation guru in Central New York.

Notes On Baltimore Woods Sessions:

The Baltimore Woods events calendar is updated monthly. As such, I’ve no direct links to the sessions below. Therefore, as the event date nears, see the official Calendar Page for more information and any updates on the event.


* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350

Baltimore Woods:

* January 19 (Fri.)/20 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Winter skies at their finest, The area surrounding the constellation Orion has more bright stars and deep-sky clusters than any other section of the sky. Still good views of Uranus.

* February 16 (Fri.)/17 (Sat. weather alternate), 5:30-8:30 p.m.

This is a good chance to see the elusive planet Mercury, right after sunset, plus the area surrounding Orion, one of the brightest in the sky. We have to start early to catch Mercury. We might still get a good view of Uranus.

* February 24 (Sat.)/25 (Sun. weather alternate), 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Solar viewing program – see our nearest star with specially-equipped solar telescopes, showing sunspots, flares, and eruptions.

* March 16 (Fri.)/17 (Sat. weather alternate), 6:00-9:00 p.m.

Goodbye to winter skies, but still great views of Orion. Maybe a few Lyrid meteors as well.

* April 13 (Fri.)/14 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Hello to Spring skies. Watch as the seasons change both on the ground and the starry night. Orion will be setting, and being replaced by Leo the lion.

* May 11 (Fri.)/12 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Spring skies will be in full view, plus Jupiter is at opposition, meaning it will be its closest, biggest, and brightest for the entire year. Venus will also be visible at the start of the program.

* June 22 (Fri.)/23 (Sat. weather alternate), 9:00-11:00 p.m.

It gets dark late this time of year so our best viewing targets will be bright planets and the moon. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn will be visible. When it gets dark we will begin to see some of the southern Milky Way.

* July 20 (Fri.)/21 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-11:00 p.m.

PLANETS! Venus, Jupiter, Mars (which will be at its biggest, brightest, and closest until 2035!), Saturn, and possibly a quick glimpse of Mercury at the start of the program. Plus, a good view of the first-quarter moon, and then the southern Milky Way as the moon sets and the sky gets dark.

* August 12 (Sun.)/13 (Mon. weather alternate), 8:30-11:00 p.m.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the year’s finest, the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune! There is no moon in the sky so we will have fabulous views of the summer skies and southern Milky Way. Bring a lawn chair to sit and watch for meteors.

* August 25 (Sat.)/26 (Sun. weather alternate), 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Solar program – See our nearest star close-up with special telescopes that reveal flares, sunspots, magnetic storms, and granulation.

* September 7 (Fri.)/8 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Still a good view of the lingering summer skies, and the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune!

Green Lakes:

* May 18 (Fri.)/19 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Spring skies will be in full view, plus Jupiter is at opposition, meaning will be its closest, biggest, and brightest for the entire year. Venus will also be visible at the start of the program.

* July 7 (Sat.), 7:00 p.m.

Telescope Workshop! Tentatively at the reserve shelter, but check with Green Lakes the day of to make sure they don’t move the location depending on the weather.

* July 13 (Fri.)/14 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:00-10:00 p.m.

This is the best view of 5 planets we will get for the summer: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, plus great views of the Milky Way when it gets dark.

* August 6 (Mon.), 7:30-9:00 p.m.

A special additional “telescope workshop” is being hosted due to popular request/demand at the well-attended July 13th event!

* August 17 (Fri.)/18 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:00-10:00 p.m.

The 1st-quarter moon is visible,plus and still great views of the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and maybe a peak at Uranus and Neptune. We will also have great views of the heart of our Milky Way galaxy and the many bright clusters and nebulae visible there.

* September 28 (Fri.)/29 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:00-9:30 p.m.

Still a good view of the lingering summer skies, and the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune!

Chittenango Falls:

* June 15 (Fri.)/16 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-10:30 p.m.

Bob Piekiel Returns To Chittenango Falls! Meet at the ball field by the main upper parking lot. It gets dark late this time of year so our best viewing targets will be bright planets Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. We’ll also get to see a skinny crescent moon at the start of the program. When it gets dark we will begin to see some of the southern Milky Way.

Marcellus Library:

* August 14 (Tues.)/15 (Wed. weather-alternate), 7:30-9ish p.m.

This summer we will have a view of all bright major planets in the evening sky at once, and Mars making its closest approach to earth until 2035. The moon will also be visible, along with Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.

Clark Reservation:

Awaiting 2018 scheduling.

“Upstate NY Stargazing In April” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in April: Comet Hunting and the Lyrid Meteor Shower,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2017/03/…the_lyrid_meteor_shower.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2017/03/…the_lyrid_meteor_shower.html

* We extend last month’s discussion of Messier Objects by briefly discussing the objects Messier was most keen on finding – comets. Many thanks to Brad Loperfido for the kind reprint permissions of his excellent Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak et al. catch (below).

Caption: One-hour motion of Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak (left) within Ursa Major, including M108 (the “Surfboard Galaxy”, upper right) and M97 (the Owl Nebula, lower right). (Image by NY photographer Brad Loperfido on March 22, 2017)

* We continue our look north with Ursa Minor, the second of six constellations that are always visible in the nighttime sky from our latitude (readers then can guess where the next four articles are headed).

* This month, we await the Lyrid Meteor Shower, which peaks on the early morning of April 22nd. The Lyrids peak in the presence of a sliver of a waning crescent Moon – this is excellent news for observers annoyed by the many washed-out 2016 meteor showers, as the Moon will not be bright enough to dull bright Lyrid trails.

Caption: The Lyrid Meteor Shower radiant, roughly between the bright star Vega and the southern elbow of Hercules. Pending the skies and brightness, you may even be able to see Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak between the head of Draco and arm of Hercules that night. Click for a larger view.

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.


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/