Tag Archives: Perseid Meteor Shower

NASA Space Place – A Close-Up View Of Mars

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 July, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceIn July 2018, skywatchers can get an up close view of Mars—even without a telescope! In fact, on July 31, Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years.

Why is that?

Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the Sun. Earth is closer to the Sun, and therefore it races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two trips around the Sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip.

Sometimes the two planets are on opposite sides of the Sun and are very far apart. Other times, Earth catches up with its neighbor and passes relatively close to it. This is called Mars’s closest approach to Earth, and it’s happening this year on July 31. The Moon will be near Mars on that night, too!

Keep in mind that even during its closest approach, Mars is still more than 35 million miles away from Earth. That’s really far. So, Mars won’t appear as big as the Moon in the sky, but it will appear bigger than it usually does.

July and August will be a great time to check out Mars. Through a telescope, you should normally be able to make out some of the light and dark features of the Red Planet—and sometimes even polar ice. However, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring these features right now, so less planetary detail is visible.

There is another important Mars date in July: Mars opposition. Mars opposition is when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle. This event is happening on July 27 this year.

Although you may see news focusing on one of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months. For about three weeks before and three weeks after opposition and closest approach, the planet will appear the same size to a skywatcher.

From July 7 through September 7 Mars will be the third brightest object in the sky (after the Moon and Venus), shining even brighter than Jupiter. The best time to view Mars during this time is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.

Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In other sky news, there will be a partial solar eclipse on July 13, but it will only be visible from Northern Antarctica and southern Australia. On July 27 (beginning at 20:21 UTC), a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing Moon!

If you’re wanting to look ahead to next month, prepare for August’s summer Perseid meteor shower. It’s not too early to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year!

You can catch up on NASA’s missions to Mars and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption:In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

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!

CNYO Observing Log: Perseid Week @ Marcellus Library, Baltimore Woods, Beaver Lake, and Green Lakes, 11 – 14 August 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

2015aug25_two-moons-hoaxThis was, far and away, the busiest and best-attended Perseid Meteor Shower week in my history as a CNY-residing amateur astronomer, ranking third overall in public interest behind a Darling Hill Observatory session for the closest approach of Mars in 2003 (the origin of that completely useless meme about Mars and the Moon appearing the same size this (and nearly every one since 2003) August) and the Transit of Venus event held along the Armory Square Creekwalk back in 2012. I would argue that a large part of this local interest (as pertaining to CNYO events, anyway) was due to the efforts of Glenn Coin at syracuse.com in keeping science (and, specifically, space science) in the local paper/websites. His articles following the days approaching, as well as the instigation of we locals to take another shot or two at seeing anything on alternatively partly-cloudy nights, can be found at the links below:

* 6 Aug – Catch the Perseid meteor shower at Baltimore Woods viewing party (by Emily Nichols)

* 10 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: What’s the best night to see it in CNY?

* 12 Aug – ‘Amazing’ Perseid meteor shower: When, where and how to see it in Central NY

* 12 Aug – Perseid meteor shower update: CNY skies should be mostly clear for peak

* 13 Aug – Miss the Perseid meteor shower last night? Try tonight

* 13 Aug – Perseid meteor shower: Watch video of amazing display above the Finger Lakes (by Lauren Long)

Our continued thanks to Glenn Coin and syracuse.com for covering the big yearly astronomy events!

Solar Observing Session At Marcellus Free Library, August 11th

2015august25_marcellus

sunspots_1024_20150811Our Perseid week actually started in the daytime, with a Solar Observing Session run by Bob Piekiel as part of a How-To Festival at Marcellus Free Library on Tuesday, August 11. Like the Sun itself, the Sun’s importance in irradiating comets as they pass into the inner Solar System and melt enough to leave the trails of cosmic debris that become our yearly meteor showers cannot go unnoticed. This session featured Bob’s Coronado 90 mm H-alpha scope, a small Baader’ed refracting scope, and Christopher Schuck’s Coronado PST. Over the course of about 90 minutes (from the session start to the Sun slipping behind the high tree line), we had about 25 people cycle past the scopes to observe numerous medium-sized prominences and a reasonably clear Sunspot 2396 (click the image at right for a larger view from NASA/SOHO).

Besides the continuous dialog about all things solar, more than a few attempts to capture images through the scopes were had. While smartphones are not the ideal gear for accomplishing this (due to both the difficulty in proper placement and the relative sensitivity of the sensors to monochromatic light (in our cases, the dark red H-alpha band)), Chris did manage a pic that included multiple prominences, one power line, and the ever-constraining tree line (below).

Sunset08112015_1

Smartphone Coronado PST pic by Christopher Schuck. Click for a larger view.

A Three-For: Baltimore Woods (Aug. 12th), Beaver Lake (Aug. 13th), and Green Lakes (Aug. 14th)

Bob and I handled scope and lecture duties for the three peak Perseid nights, hitting well-separated locations and a few overlapping attendees. As all three sessions were nearly identical in their content and observing targets, I’ll briefly summarize the unique aspects of each event before giving the combined (and nearly identical) observing lists.

Baltimore Woods (August 12th)

With the best time for the Perseids predicted to be between the late evening of the 12th and 13th, Baltimore Woods Nature Center was predictable busy. Attendees began to arrive around 8 p.m., with total attendance maxing out at about 65 people (and the parking lot itself maxing out before that). With an introductory lecture and white light warning provided, the entire 8:30 to near-11:00 p.m. session only included three shooting stars. Two were moderately bright (and fleeting). A third, the best of all three days, hit atmosphere above a large set of clouds, yet was bright enough to light the clouds like a green-twinged lightning bolt.

2015august25_baltimorewoods

Bob Piekiel and the calm before the storm.

The evening itself turned out mostly cloudy, providing just enough open pockets of dark sky for views of Saturn, a few Messiers, some Constellation touring, one ISS pass, and the three observed meteors that graced the skies that night. Cloud cover became all-consuming just after 10:30 p.m. and we packed up and were gone by 11:00 p.m.

In the interest of trying to catch at least one Perseid by photo, I trekked out to Cazenovia Lake around 4:00 a.m. in 30 minutes of trying, I managed only a single shooter (in the image below, it looks like a white arrow (at bottom) pointing to some dim objects).

2015august25_cazenovialake

A sharp streak of a Perseid in an otherwise poorly-balanced image. Click for a larger view.

Beaver Lake Nature Center (August 13th)

CNYO’s official seasonal Beaver Lake Nature Center session was greatly simplified by having the Baltimore Woods session the night before (meaning Bob and I could attend both sessions with no overlap). With the session moved from the Beaver Lake rotunda to the overflow parking, we found ourselves in a darker, lower tree-lined, and easy to arrange location (meaning we may request that all future sessions be held in the same spot!). Beaver Lake skies were not much clearer than Baltimore Woods, but the waits between observables was shorter and our ability to cycle through objects and attendees was improved. With additional announcements on syracuse.com, the final Beaver Lake count was five meteors and about 75 people from our 8:30 introductions to 11:00 p.m. pack-up.

Green Lakes State Park (August 14th)

2015august25_greenlakes

Upcoming festivities announced during our session.

Our Green Lakes State Park session in July peaked near 120 people (some for the stars, some for the s’mores), which is quite a crowd for 3 scopes! Despite the predictions of clearer skies than previous days and generally excellent evening weather, the August session capped itself at about 70 people (with a bunch of them being young amateur astronomers who packed it in early, leaving a smaller group of about 15 to stay until our 11:00 p.m. Ending to pick off several Messiers after Saturn slid behind Green Lakes’ high southern tree line. Going solely by “ooh-and-aah” statistics, Green Lakes attendees may have seen a total of 5 Perseids (none rivaling the one from Baltimore Woods, but easily seen in the mostly clear skies above).

Observing List (More Of The Summer Same, And For Good Reason)

As has been discussed many times on this website, the importance of introducing new observers to easily observed and described objects cannot be understated. The hunt for dim NGCs and equally dim Messiers is always worthwhile with sufficient time and clear skies, but the brand new observer (arguably) benefits more from prominent views of objects such as the Moon, M13 in Hercules, Alcor and Mizar, M57 (the Ring Nebula) in Lyra, The Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the bright visible planets each evening. These objects are easily seen by anyone approaching the eyepiece and can be used to give new observers a kind of “upper limit” on their expectations of what a scope is capable of magnifying from ground level. Amateur astronomy, like chess, can become a lifelong training in subtlety. That said, the mechanics are easy to learn by slowly introducing the many kinds of players.

With two scopes and +60 attendees at each session, we were definitely limited in our observing variety simply by the lengths of the lines behind each scope. That said, we were able to give all of the patient attendees some great views of the night’s best for each Perseid session. The short list of objects is below (listed according to the order in which they’re observable as the skies get darker and darker):

* Saturn (our bright planet for the Summer and Fall)
* Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major, Albireo in Cygnus, Herschel’s Garnet Star in Cepheus
* M13 (globular cluster) in Hercules, M57 (The Ring Nebula) in Lyra
* M27 (The Dumbbell Nebula) in Velpecula
* M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy) and M32 (one of its two satellite galaxies) in Andromeda
* M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) in Canes Venatici

[envira-gallery id=”4192″]

M13, M57, and M27. Photos by Bob Piekiel. Click for a larger view.

In closing, we had an excellent week-long turnout for the sessions and are grateful to everyone who came out to make this a busy Perseid show. We hope all of the new faces on our meetup and Facebook pages keep track of upcoming events – and we hope to see your dark, featureless outlines at another 2015 session!