Tag Archives: Orionids

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

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY stargazing in October: The Orionids, International Observe the Moon Night,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Links: newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com

* Included this month are a reminder/announcement about Kopernik AstroFest 2017 (Oct. 13/14), International Observe the Moon Night on October 28th, and the Orionids:

The Orionids are the most prominent meteor shower in October, but ride near the bottom of the top-10 list of active showers for the year. Observers simply interested in seeing any shooting stars do benefit from the Orionids peaking at a time of year when a number of less significant meteor showers are also active, including one of the Geminids and two Taurids showers. This year, the grouping of active showers around the Orionids peak benefit greatly from the absence of the Moon during the 20th-21st peak.

* With Orion out and about at a reasonable hour, the Orion-star-finder has been brought back from the UNY Stargazing archives:

Caption:Orion can guide you around its neighborhood. Red = belt stars to Sirius and Canis Major; Orange = Rigel and belt center to Castor and Pollux in Gemini; Yellow = Bellatrix and Betelgeuse to Canis Major; Green = Belt stars to Aldebaran and Taurus; Blue = Saiph and Orion’s head to Capella in Auriga. Click for a larger view.

* The pre-sunrise mornings continue to provide excellent planetary viewing of Mars and Venus, with several notable arrangements occurring this month:

Caption:The prominent planetary groupings in the morning sky this month. Click for a larger view.

* And, finally, we finish up the circumpolar constellations with Camelopardalis before going briefly into what circumpolar constellations are in the November article:

Caption: Camelopardalis and its more prominent neighbors. (Image made with Stellarium)

A Busy Week – Comet Siding Spring On The 19th, Orionids On The 21st, Partial Solar Eclipse On The 23rd, Kopernik AstroFest On The 24th & 25th

Greetings Fellow astrophiles!

Several upcoming events of note – three of which depend on the weather, one of which is a go either way.

1. October 19th – CNYO @ Happy Valley For Comet Siding Spring

NOTE: Please contact us at info@cnyo.org, on our Contact Page, or on the Facebook Page about the event. This is event is weather-permitting and is a one-time event (no rescheduling)! Keep track of this website for updates on the 19th.

2014oct16_marscometComet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring is going to side-swipe Mars at 2:27 p.m. Eastern time at a distance 1/3 that of the Earth-Moon distance. That’s an astronomical close-call by all metrics! That’s close enough that NASA has reportedly taken steps to protect its robot fleet in Mars’ orbit.

Now, this is a rare and special event, but we’re going to miss the closest-approach by several hours (waiting for sunset at 6:15 p.m., that is, then the additional wait for the sky to get darker). The view of Mars and Siding Spring through a single eyepiece should be great, but it’s going to require a dark, dark location to see them both well. To accommodate this, Ryan Goodson will be leading a session at Happy Valley outside of Parish, NY.

Yes, THAT Happy Valley.

Odd history aside, this is a dark sky location if ever there was one in CNY. If you’ve interest in attending, we ask that you contact us via the methods listed above for directions and so we can get a head count. Mars will set around 9:00 p.m., so this session with the drive North should still get you home by 10 p.m. (Unless you decide to stick around for some additional observing).

2. Orionid Meteor Shower, Peaking The Morning Of October 21st

2014oct16_orionid_radiantThe constellation Orion is appearing earlier every evening, marking the beginning of the winter observing session (and return of some of the best objects the Night Sky has to offer the well-insulated amateur astronomer). Those staying up late (or waking up extra-early) will be treated to the first spectacle Orion has to offer in the form of the Orionids, which peak early Tuesday morning. This shower isn’t known for quantity (10 to 25/hour) but has been known for some particularly brilliant shooters. This is also a chance for those who’ve never seen Halley’s Comet to say they’ve at least seen a teeny, tiny piece of it, as this comet’s debris field is the feeder for this late-fall shower.

As with all meteor showers, dark skies = better skies. As for observing the shower itself, your best bet is to lie down with your feet pointed at Orion, then wait (patiently) as the shooters shoot over your feet and towards your head.

3. Partial Solar Eclipse, At Sunset On October 23rd

NOTE: This event is weather-permitting and can’t be rescheduled! Keep track of this website for updates on the 23rd.

We had a limited glimpse of the recent total lunar eclipse just a few weeks ago, now have a chance to see the tables turned in the form of a partial solar eclipse. This will be a small clipping of the Sun by the New Moon and will happen VERY close to sunset – close enough that we’ll miss most of the eclipse when the Sun sets below the Western horizon. Because of that, we’re still looking for an observing location that’s up high and with a low horizon. Our plan right now is to meet at the parking lot next to the Onondaga Lake Inner Harbor Amphitheater (where we ran our first-ever CNYO session) but we’re also considering the southern end of the Onondaga Lake Parkway. We will make final decision in the next few days.


We’ll have about 25 minutes (5:44 to 6:09) of partial solar eclipse if the skies hold and the horizon’s low. More details (like location) to follow as we finalize event details.

4. Kopernik AstroFest 2014, October 24th & 25th

Our friends (and, for some of us, fellow members) of the Kopernik Astronomical Society are getting ready to host their annual AstroFest, always one of the very best events of its kind in New York. Having already posted the official announcement on cnyo.org, I’ll leave you to the Kopernik AstroFest website to learn more about the Friday/Saturday festivities. Several of us are still planning on attending both days of the event and are willing to carpool down. Please drop a line to info@cnyo.org or our Facebook Page for arrangements.

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