Tag Archives: Transit

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

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the Upstate NY Stargazing series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in May: A Meteor Shower and Preparations for the Solar Eclipse,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

Direct Links: newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com

* With only four articles to go before the great total solar eclipse on August 21st of this year, we’ve shifted gears in the article opener from great nighttime observing to great daytime observing. You’ll be seeing more and more from all kinds of news sources as the data approaches, and CNYO is figuring out what we plan to do for the event (besides a few scheduled eclipses lectures in the CNY area in the weeks before).

For the record, amateur astronomers reserved their rooms years and years ago in all the best places – if you’ve not figured out your flight plans around the 21st already, there is a seriously good chance that you’ll be stick driving to see the best view of totality.

Caption: The transit of Venus across the Sun on June 5/6, 2012. By NASA/SDO, AIA.

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

* This month, we await the Eta Aquariid (or Eta Aquarid, or eta Aquarid… Halley’s Comet doesn’t care what you call it) Meteor Shower, which peaks on the early mornings of May 5/6. In doing the homework for the article, I found it interesting to note that we’re not entirely sure that this meteor shower originates from particles attributable to Halley’s Comet, the object we most associate with this shower. It is possible that Halley’s Comet is indirectly responsible for the particles by being directly responsible for the redirection of the debris from a different object in to the current Eta Aquariid path.

Caption: The Eta Aquariid radiant, complete with Venus, Saturn, the newly returned Summer Triangle, and one perfectly-placed 5 a.m. ISS flyover on the morning of May 6. Image made with Stellarium. Click for a larger view.

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.


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 Observers Log: Comet ISON At Highland Forest, 15 November 2013

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

One of the benefits of spending your time in the sciences is the development of a healthy skepticism for science news that makes it out to the major print and online news services. Be it new findings on vitamins or “breakthroughs” in fusion, there’s often an astronomical difference between what appears in initial reports and what actually settles as established fact in the laboratory or marketplace. As one of my favorite radio personalities puts it (about military conflicts, but the logic applies) “The first three reports are always wrong.”

Comet ISON started out early this year with such headlines as “Comet Of The Century?” (and that was NASA), “ISON May Appear Brighter Than Full Moon As It Passes Earth,” (from HuffPo, among many others), and other all-too-optimistic accolades undeserving of an object for which almost nothing was known at the time. But it sounded good in the small news snippets that passed around many astronomy email lists. This last month has finally seen some more serious scientific questions raised in the media concerning its composition, actual brightness, flaring, etc., as real data has made its way to us for analysis. The final result, so far, is far from advertised early on. But coal to the eyes of a non-observer can be gold to to the eyes of an observer, so many an amateur has found time to make it outside to take in at least one view of Comet ISON.

It is with the above in mind that I report on a facebook-announced CNYO observing session for Comet ISON held on Friday, November 15th at the most unreasonable hour of 3:30 a.m. The attendees, including Ryan Goodson, Hanh Le, and myself, braved the bitter cold for a 30 minute drive South to Highland Forest, an all-around excellent location for enjoying the Night Sky (and, I am pleased to report, a future location of regularly-scheduled CNYO events for 2014. Post to follow!).

And why the 15th? There are many factors that govern when an observer will drag their equipment outside.

* The easy one is the weather – cloudy nights, bitter cold, or hot, swampy nights (and their associated mosquito infestations) leave the intrepid amateur to hang out at home and in the discussion forums on cloudynights.com.

* The second one is the presence or absence of the Moon. As our closest natural satellite, the Moon is one of the most enjoyable (and brightest) objects to spend one’s time exploring (and, with a clear window, can be done just as enjoyably indoors). The downside is that the lit Moon washes out the dim details of many a fuzzy nebula, galaxy, or comet. If the Moon is out, many an amateur astronomer isn’t. In the case of the morning of the 15th, the Moon set just before 4 a.m. (at which point something as dim in surface brightness as a comet becomes a much more tempting target).

* The third is the timing of the object itself. While much of what’s observed in the Night Sky lasts for hours at a time every night, certain events occur over relatively narrow windows. The occultation or transit of Jupiter’s moons is one, satellite or ISS fly-bys is another. Comet ISON at its then-current window was yet another one, as it rose quite close to the beginning of sunrise (“the beginning” meaning the start of brightening skies that would wash its detail out) and wasn’t going to appear at any more convenient a time prior to its closest approach to the Sun.

* The fourth is the combination of all three. During the week of the 11th, the skies were predicted to clear only at the end of the week, Comet ISON was set to rise later every morning in the East, and the Moon was set to set later and later in the West. Combined with increased cloud cover on the 16th, the early morning of the 15th became THE WINDOW for Comet ISON.


The West and constellations from Highland Forest at 4:00 a.m. Click for full size.

The group convoy’ed out to a frosty Highland Forest and set up the scopes just to the East of the main building. As anyone who’s stopped at the building before or after a hike will know, the view from this location is remarkable, with a low tree line and steep-ish hill bracketing views of the Fenner Wind Farm towards the South and just a hint of Syracuse civilization towards the North. The Winter Constellations of Canis Major, Taurus and Orion just beginning to peak out at “reasonable hours” now were in full view to the West at 4:00 a.m. Comet ISON, while approaching uncomfortably low on the horizon for a Dob, was visible as a fuzzy 4th magnitude ball with a slight tail (most definitely an obvious object in Ryan’s New Moon Telescope Dob and my 25×100 Zhumell binos). The wind was just fast and gusty enough to keep us from finding Comet Lovejoy, which was at about 9th magnitude in the same sky (it will be a target for future observing sessions).


Ryan Goodson sneaking a low peak at Comet ISON. Click for full size.

As of this posting on 30 November, ISON has just barely survived its trip around the Sun (earliest reports saying it had disintegrated, slightly later saying it may have survived as a dark ball, now more recent reports saying something with a tail has survived) but we don’t yet know if it’s going to be observable on its “way out.” Stay tuned to future reports.