Tag Archives: Mercury

Session Announcements: Bob Piekiel’s Summer 2016 Observing Schedule (With Event Links)

UPDATE: Saturday, July 9th, 5:00 p.m. – There’s supposed to be an open pocket of clear sky tonight, so Bob is going ahead with the Clark Reservation session. As a bit of advanced warning, Bob was informed late yesterday that Clark Res may be charging a $5 admission fee to the park for the event (due to the +75 people we had last year).

UPDATE: Friday, July 8th, 4:00 p.m. – Tonight’s Clark Reservation session has been rescheduled to tomorrow (Saturday, July 9th) due to cloud cover. Update to follow Saturday afternoon.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

In the interest of a little more advanced notice for scheduled events, this page is meant to help you get your own schedules synchronized with upcoming nighttime and solar sessions hosted by Bob Piekiel (with his fellow CNYO’ers serving as wing-observers). Pending additional announcements, the list below fills out his Summer Roster (now with meetup.com and Facebook Events included).

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The attending crowd at last summer’s Clark Reservation session.

For the record, seven sessions in two months counts as a whole lot of fantastic CNY astronomy outreach!

July 8/9 – Bob Piekiel @ Clark Reservation, 8:00 – 10:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* nysparks.com/events/event.aspx?e=126-16053.0
* facebook | meetup.com

Planets, stars, and a crescent moon! The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

July 22/23 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 9:00 – 11:00 p.m.

* 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
* facebook | meetup.com

Summer skies at their finest, with the many rich star clusters and nebulae visible in the direction of the heart of our Milky Way galaxy. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible.

July 29/30 – Bob Piekiel @ Green Lakes, 8:00 – 10:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

The summer skies are at their finest, when we can look directly into the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and see it’s many rich star clusters and nebulae. The Delta Aquarids meteor shower peaks that night, and Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will be visible. We might even get a peek at Mercury.

August 12/13 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 8:30 – 11:00 p.m.

* 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
* facebook | meetup.com

The annual persied meteor shower, one of the year’s finest. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to recline on while not looking through a telescope. Great views of the summer Milky way, with the planets Mars Jupiter, Venus and Saturn visible.

August 13/14 – Bob Piekiel @ Clark Reservation, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

Solar program! Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the Sun!

August 26/27 – Bob Piekiel @ Green Lakes, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.

* Free and open to the public
* facebook | meetup.com

Summer skies again, Plus a stunning conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the west on those nights, and Mars and Saturn also.

August 27/28 – Bob Piekiel @ Baltimore Woods, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

* 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
* facebook | meetup.com

SOLAR VIEWING PROGRAM. Using special telescopes, come and see solar flares, prominences, sunspots, and magnetic storms on our nearest star, the sun!

Transit Of Mercury Session @ Baltimore Woods – Monday, May 9th, 8 a.m. To 10 a.m.

Greetings, fellow astrophiles –

There will be no next-day reschedule of this event! Our hemisphere is being treated to the third Transit of Mercury this century, and Bob Piekiel is hosting an official observing session at Baltimore Woods to mark the event and to give keen viewers a sight of our (now) smallest planet.

2016may5_mercury-transit-2016-timing

This NASA graphic depicts the time and location of Mercury as it crosses the face of the sun during the May 9, 2016 Transit of Mercury event. – From NASA

For those new to the phenomenon, a transit occurs when one small body passed in front of another larger body relative to the observer’s position. If you’ve ever been in the left lane of a three-lane highway, had a big truck in the right lane, and had a motorcycle pass in the middle lane at some blistering speed, you’ve witnessed a (kind of) transit. From our Earth-centric perspective (and sticking to one definition of a transit), transits occur when the inferior planets (which just means their between us and the Sun) Mercury or Venus pass between us and the Sun. Once we’re living on Mars, transits will occur when the inferior planets Mercury, Venus, or Earth pass between us (there) and the Sun. And you get the idea.

2016may5_orbital_angles_q4O5UNow a little math – Mercury revolves around the Sun once every 87.9 days – what we call its sidereal period. Because the Earth revolves as well, the time it takes for Mercury to hit the same basic spot between us and the Sun is 115.9 days (its synodic period). If all of the planets of the Solar System were in a perfect flat plane, that would mean we’d get a Mercury Transit every 116-ish days and the phenomenon would be a little less impressive. Because all of the planets are at slight tilts with respect to Earth’s orbit, we don’t always get clean passes – the Sun is huge overall, but still a small target at an Astronomical Unit, so the slight angles of Mercury and Venus matter when it comes to the proper lining-up needed for transits to occur.

Click the map to make directions to Baltimore Woods.

The next Mercury Transit (from an Earth viewing location, that is) won’t occur until 11 Nov 2019, then there’s a loooong wait until 13 Nov 2032. If you can get a free block in the morning, I highly encourage you to make the trip out to Baltimore Woods. The two Venus Transits I witnessed definitely “clicked” something in me about how the Solar System works (and the size of Venus against the Sun was a very impressive sight!).

The text from Bob’s official announcement is below:

Rare Transit of Mercury Across the Sun. The planet Mercury will move directly between the Earth and the Sun. Viewers with telescopes and approved solar filters will be able to observe the dark disk of the planet Mercury moving across the face of the Sun. This is an extremely rare event that occurs only once every few years. There will be one other transit of Mercury in 2019 and then the next one will not take place until 2039. (Venus will also be visible right near the sun as well).

If you can’t make it out but still want to see it, the good news is that your tax dollars are being put to good use – NASA will be live streaming the transit. For details, see www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-to-provide-coverage-of-may-9-mercury-transit-of-the-sun

CNYO Spring 2016 Observing Session At Beaver Lake Nature Center On Thursday, April 28th (Raindate: May 5th)

FINAL UPDATE: 4 May – 2:00 p.m. – The weather for tomorrow night is predicted to be lousy for observing, so we’re making the official call early to CANCEL tomorrow night’s event at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Stay tuned for an event announcement about The Mercury Transit happening on May 9th!

UPDATE: 28 April – 2:00 p.m. – Sadly, the cloud cover is not agreeable for observing tonight (as also reported by Glenn Coin at syracuse.com), so we are pushing the observing session off to next Thursday, May 5th. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: 28 April – 10:00 a.m. – The sky conditions for tonight are not looking good for observing. We’ll make a final call around 2:00 p.m. and, if necessary, plan for next Thursday instead.

H/T to Glenn Coin for posting the announcement to syracuse.com (and various related pick-up CNY sites).

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The time has come again to make our seasonal Thursday night trek [beaver lake announcement; meetup.com event] to the Beaver Lake parking lot for views of the Nighttime Spring Sky. For 2016, we’ve the added bonus of having prime planetary viewing for the entire session, featuring Mercury to our West just after sunset (and even before if Bob Piekiel’s GOTO scope is ready) and Jupiter, biting at the feet of Leo the Lion, in the sky throughout – having reached opposition in early March.

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Views from the 2006 Transit of Mercury. Photo from nationalgeographic.com

Mercury will be giving us a double-dose of observing in the next few weeks as we approach its Transit on the morning of May 9th (for which Bob Piekiel is hosting a special (and unusually early!) event at Baltimore Woods from 8 to 10 a.m. On Monday, May 9th – event notice to follow!). For those who managed a view of the Transit of Venus in 2012, this is your chance to say you saw the only two planetary Transits you can from Earth – you’ll then have to move to Mars to try to make any kind of inferior planet trifecta.


Google map for Beaver Lake Nature Center. Click to get directions.

LeoTripletHunterWilsonThe Thursday session at Beaver Lake will be our last chance to see any sign of the Orion Nebula (and it will be heroic observing at that, given how close to the tree line it may be by the time it’s dark enough), but M13 in Hercules, the Leo Triplet (shown at right – and they will not look this good from Beaver Lake! Image from wikipedia.org), several other notable Messier Objects, and whatever satellites happen to fly over will be on hand to keep the observing and conversation going.

By the usual ending time for the event, the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra will just be rising above the Northeastern skyline, striking the chord to herald the soon-approaching return of Summer Skies and our views into the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Bob Piekiel Hosts A Mercury/Jupiter-Centric Observing Session At Baltimore Woods, Friday – 15 April 2015

UPDATE: FRIDAY, APRIL 15 – The Baltimore Woods observing session is A GO for tonight! Dress accordingly and come enjoy some excellent views of Mercury, Jupiter, and the Moon!

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

2016apr13_bobmercury

The view at 8:00 p.m., Friday, April 15th. Click for a larger view.

The temperature’s spiked up just in time for Bob Piekiel’s monthly observing session at Baltimore Woods.

A quick note from Bob about the session:

My program highlight is Mercury, which is at greatest elongation. I’m actually listing the program with a 6pm start time (the Sun will still be up!) because we will also have the Moon and Jupiter as easy targets, and with my NexStar GPS I can lock on them and find Mercury very early. I don’t think it’s necessary to get there much before 6:30, but Mercury does drop below the tree line during twilight.

A Note About Baltimore Woods

Part of Baltimore Woods’ support for their facility and programs comes from event fees – take in some keen sights and keep the place going at the same time!

* 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

NASA Space Place – How Will We Finally Image The Event Horizon Of A Black Hole?

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 December, 2015.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceOne hundred years ago, Albert Einstein first put forth his theory of General Relativity, which laid out the relationship between spacetime and the matter and energy present within it. While it successfully recovered Newtonian gravity and predicted the additional precession of Mercury’s orbit, the only exact solution that Einstein himself discovered was the trivial one: that for completely empty space. Less than two months after releasing his theory, however, the German scientist Karl Schwarzschild provided a true exact solution, that of a massive, infinitely dense object, a black hole.

One of the curious things that popped out of Schwarzschild’s solution was the existence of an event horizon, or a region of space that was so severely curved that nothing, not even light, could escape from it. The size of this event horizon would be directly proportional to the mass of the black hole. A black hole the mass of Earth would have an event horizon less than a centimeter in radius; a black hole the mass of the sun would have an event horizon just a few kilometers in radius; and a supermassive black hole would have an event horizon the size of a planetary orbit.

Our galaxy has since been discovered to house a black hole about four million solar masses in size, with an event horizon about 23.6 million kilometers across, or about 40 percent the size of Mercury’s orbit around the sun. At a distance of 26,000 light years, it’s the largest event horizon in angular size visible from Earth, but at just 19 micro-arc-seconds, it would take a telescope the size of Earth to resolve it – a practical impossibility.

But all hope isn’t lost! If instead of a single telescope, we built an array of telescopes located all over Earth, we could simultaneously image the galactic center, and use the technique of VLBI (very long-baseline interferometry) to resolve the black hole’s event horizon. The array would only have the light-gathering power of the individual telescopes, meaning the black hole (in the radio) will appear very faint, but they can obtain the resolution of a telescope that’s the distance between the farthest telescopes in the array! The planned Event Horizon Telescope, spanning four different continents (including Antarctica), should be able to resolve under 10 micro-arc-seconds, imaging a black hole directly for the first time and answering the question of whether or not they truly contain an event horizon. What began as a mere mathematical solution is now just a few years away from being observed and known for certain!

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

Astronomers have detected the largest X-ray flare ever from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, known as <a href=

Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This event was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from Sgr A*. The main portion of this graphic shows the area around Sgr A* in a Chandra image where low, medium, and high-energy X-rays are red, green, and blue respectively. The inset box contains an X-ray movie of the region close to Sgr A* and shows the giant flare, along with much steadier X-ray emission from a nearby magnetar, to the lower left. A magnetar is a neutron star with a strong magnetic field.” width=”640″ height=”640″ /> Astronomers have detected the largest X-ray flare ever from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This event was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from Sgr A*. The main portion of this graphic shows the area around Sgr A* in a Chandra image where low, medium, and high-energy X-rays are red, green, and blue respectively. The inset box contains an X-ray movie of the region close to Sgr A* and shows the giant flare, along with much steadier X-ray emission from a nearby magnetar, to the lower left. A magnetar is a neutron star with a strong magnetic field.

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