Casual Astronomy, Spaceflight News and Lower California Weather

Binocular Comet in the Early AM

By: LowerCal, 12:09 AM GMT on September 11, 2007

What is "Casual Astronomy"?
Cool Astronomy Links
(Scroll down for future dates, farther down for past dates.)

The Incredible Expanding Comet (Thanks SouthernLady!)

Comet 17P/Holmes by akoutso Saturday October 27, 2007


October 24 - ?
Binocular Comet
Update November 18
With the first quarter moon in the sky Comet Holmes is now very difficult to spot from suburban/urban locations even with binoculars. It can still be spotted after moonset. Moonset tonight is about 2 AM. By then Comet Holmes will be very high in the NW-NNW.

Up to date info:
SkyandTelescope.com - Observing Blog - Comet Holmes Beckons Skygazers Worldwide
"BEWARE THE JELLYFISH" at SpaceWeather.com

Photos:
SpaceWeather.com - Comet 17P/Holmes Photo Gallery
SkyandTelescope.com - Sky Events - Comet Holmes: November 7 to Present
Astronomy.com - Picture of the Day

Charts, Maps and Directions:
SkyandTelescope.com - Homepage Observing - See Comet Holmes Tonight! (has directions to find it in the evening sky + Northern Hemisphere maps).
Astronomy.com - Comet 17P/Holmes (view from 35-45N Latitude)
SpaceWeather.com skymap (view from 30-40N Latitude)

More great info, photos and charts at tomruen's "Comet Holmes" and "Comet Holmes' future" blogs.


*****Past Dates*****

September 18
Vandenberg Launch
See the latest September 18 comments.


September 19
Seeing in the Dark,
at 8pm E/P (but check your schedule) on PBS, is a film on stargazing and the universe. Don't miss the images, animation, soundtrack and highly diverse collection of stargazers. (Among the featured stargazers is Robert Smith, a first-round pick in the 1993 NFL draft and record setting running back.)
Seeing in the Dark | PBS


September 22
September 23

Equinox (Exact at 5:51am EDT)
The sun will be in your eyes if you have an east/west commute this day. Some of you noticed this problem before the 22nd 23rd but this will be the worst day before it starts getting better.

The sunrise/sunset illumination of the equinoxes is an inconvenient coincidence in modern cities. In prehistoric times humans built structures to put this light to sacred use. One example is the illumination of the passage and chamber inside the tomb Cairn T at Loughcrew, Ireland.


Moon by Rusmwood Tuesday September 25, 2007


September 26
Harvest Moon (Full at 3:45pm EDT)


September 26
Dawn Launch window: 7:25-7:54am EDT

Dawn's launch day has been delayed 24 hours to Sept. 27. Weather prevented technicians from completing the loading of fuel on the Delta rocket's second stage.
More details can be found at the two links below.
September 27
Dawn Launch window: 7:20-7:49am EDT
Dawn is a mission to to shed light on the early solar system by investigating two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt (one is even currently designated a "dwarf planet"). The launch can be viewed via the NASA TV link on the Dawn Mission Home Page. Ongoing updates and more mission info can be found at Spaceflight Now | Dawn Mission Status Center.


The World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness

image credit: P. Cinzano, F. Falchi (University of Padova), C. D. Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder). Copyright Royal Astronomical Society. Reproduced from the Monthly Notices of the RAS by permission of Blackwell Science. The night sky in the World

Visible Earth: Earth's City Lights

image credit: NASA

October 1-16
The Great World Wide Star Count
"Light pollution not only robs suburban residents of their view of the Milky Way, it's also an indication of how much energy and money is wasted by inefficient, improperly directed outdoor lighting.
... you can participate in a world-wide study to determine just how starry a starry night now is."
SkyandTelescope.com - Homepage Observing - Let's Count Stars!

Don't let the name scare you off. You won't actually count stars. You'll just choose one of seven pictures charts that best match a small part of your overhead evening sky. You can even do practice sessions at your computer right now. Download or view the printable PDF Activity Guide (select a language).

Update November 8
The Star Count team is pleased to announce that citizen scientists from 64 countries submitted a total of 6,624 observations!
Results - Great World Wide Star Count

Update November 9
SkyandTelescope.com - Saving Dark Skies - How I Beat Light Pollution in My Hometown


October 3
ISS Flyover of SoCal this Evening
Details in the comments for this date.


Morning October 7
Convention of Celestial Objects
Before dawn four celestial objects will appear in the eastern sky all within an area you can cover with your outstretched fist. The brilliant planet Venus will appear to the upper right of a crescent Moon. The bright star Regulus will appear to the left of Venus and above the Moon while the somewhat brighter planet Saturn will appear below the Moon and to the lower left of Venus.

Moon in a triangle by bitbreaker Sunday October 7, 2007




image credit: NASA MSFC

Evening October 9 October 8
The Draconid Meteor Shower
Maximum hourly rate in dark country skies highly variable.

There's the possibility you won't see many Draconid meteors at all. Before giving the Draconids a pass though you should consider that you won't have to stay up late or get up early to watch for them. :^) The Draconids are one of the unusual showers that has maximum visibilty in the evening rather than early morning hours. Maximum visibilty will be in the first hours of darkness on the evening of October 9 October 8. For North America this time slot will even coincide with the usual annual maximum! For the most part this will be a Northern Hemisphere event. If there are any meteors to be seen those people located farther north in the Northern Hemisphere will see better rates.

For Better Viewing
Find a Dark Location - A dark country location without "security" lights is best. If that's not convenient try to find a location where you can't see any lights or lighted surfaces. A nearby park or maybe even your backyard would qualify. On a beach facing the water could be a good alternative.

Where to Look - Meteors can appear in any part of the sky. To see the most meteors face the darkest part of your sky and look at least 45 above the horizon.

Be Comfortable - A reclining chair will keep you from getting a stiff neck and tired feet. A sleeping bag will keep you warm. (Even in the summertime you can get chilly at night if you are just lying still.) Insect repellent will keep you from being distracted by those little pests.

More Information
An easy to read introduction to meteors with an interesting summary of annual showers is Astronomy - Meteors and meteor showers - Francis Reddy.

The primary sources of most of what you'll read about meteor showers are these two sites.
The American Meteor Society
The International Meteor Organinzation


Early Evening October 14
Photo Op
Low in the SW not long after sundown from upper left to lower right: the very bright planet Jupiter, the red star Antares (the beating heart of Scorpius the scorpion) and the crescent Moon.


Evening October 14 (Pacific Time)
Space Junk Reentry
A Soyuz-U rocket body was predicted to reenter the atmosphere 14 OCT 2007 @ 21:20 UTC 65 minutes - Soyuz-U.


Morning October 15
Conjunction of Venus and Saturn
The planet Saturn will appear only a couple of finger widths to the left of the planet Venus in the eastern sky before sunrise. Venus is brilliant in it's current appearance as the Morning "Star" and you should be able to see it right up until sunrise. Saturn will be harder to see as sunrise approaches requiring binoculars before it disappears altogether.

Saturn will appear to the lower left of Venus in the mornings preceding this conjunction and to the upper left in the mornings afterward.


Early Evening October 15
Photo Op
Low in the SW not long after sundown is the very bright planet Jupiter above the crescent Moon and the red star Antares to the right of the crescent Moon.


17 OCT 2007 @ 00:34 UTC 35 minutes
Space Junk Reentry
A Long March 3A rocket body was last predicted to reenter the Earth's atmosphere 17 OCT 2007 @ 00:34 UTC 35 minutes. More info including reentry sightings (if any) here - Long March 3A.


18 OCT 2007 @ 03:51 UTC 30 minutes
Space Junk Reentry
The Molniya 3 satellite was last predicted to reenter the Earth's atmosphere 18 OCT 2007 @ 03:51 UTC 30 minutes. More info including reentry sightings (if any) here - Molniya 3.



image credit: NASA MSFC

Early Morning October 21
The Orionid Meteor Shower
Maximum hourly rate in dark country skies about 20-25 per hour.
October 20 Update: It's already stronger than that. It could reach 35-50 meteors per hour.
October 22 Update: It actually reached 60-70 meteors per hour this morning.

October 21 isn't the only good morning to watch.
Orionid meteors can be seen from early October through the first week of November. Rates are low until approximately October 17. On that date they may reach five per hour and increase another five each night until they reach maximum activity on October 21. Rates remain high on the 22nd and slowly descend on the 23rd. After that the rates decrease approximately five shower members per night until reaching a total of five per hour on the 26th. Rates slowly fall until the activity ceases in mid-November.
American Meteor Society - Viewing Activity from the 2007 Orionid Meteor Shower

As many Orionids tend to be faint you will need to be at a dark location to fully appreciate this shower. The good news is that October 21 is a Sunday morning so if you like to get out of town on the weekends you may already have plans to be at a dark location. ;^)

The viewing times for this shower are much the same for the most of the Northern Hemisphere. After moonset about 1:30-2:00am meteors will be visible visible at greater than half the maximum rate. Meteors will reach 90% of the maximum rate by 4:00am.

The Orionid meteor shower even has some visibility in the Southern Hemisphere. For example once the Moon sets near Melbourne Australia at around 3:00am (the date will be October 22 there) meteors will be visible at about half the maximum rate until dawn.

More information:
Orionids 2007 | International Meteor Organization
Orionids 2007: first results - Activity profile
American Meteor Society - Viewing Activity from the 2007 Orionid Meteor Shower
Meteor Activity Outlook for October 19-25, 2007 | International Meteor Organization

For Better Viewing
Find a Dark Location - A dark country location without "security" lights is best. If that's not convenient try to find a location where you can't see any lights or lighted surfaces. A nearby park or maybe even your backyard would qualify. On a beach facing the water could be a good alternative.

Where to Look - Meteors can appear in any part of the sky. To see the most meteors face the darkest part of your sky and look at least 45 above the horizon.

Be Comfortable - A reclining chair will keep you from getting a stiff neck and tired feet. A sleeping bag will keep you warm. (Even in the summertime you can get chilly at night if you are just lying still.) Insect repellent will keep you from being distracted by those little pests.

More Information
An easy to read introduction to meteors with an interesting summary of annual showers is Astronomy - Meteors and meteor showers - Francis Reddy.

The primary sources of most of what you'll read about meteor showers are these two sites.
The American Meteor Society
The International Meteor Organinzation


23 OCT 2007 @ 20:22 UTC - 23 OCT 2007 @ 22:52
UTC

Space Junk Reentry
A Centaur rocket body is predicted to reenter the Earth's atmosphere 23 OCT 2007 @ 21:37 UTC 75 minutes. The ground track 75 minutes, more info and updates including reentry sightings (if any) are at Centaur.


October 24 (and beyond)
Naked Eye Comet!
Comet Holmes has been reported visible to the naked eye even from a large city in Seiichi Yoshida's Diary of Comet Observations (2007). Wherever you are you should try to view it with binoculars also. It will be located above the NE horizon as it grows dark. It will rotate higher and northward as the night progresses. By approximately 2:15am it will be at it's highest and most visible directly north. At that time it will appear almost directly overhead for those along the northern tier of the United States. Throughout the evening it will appear higher in the sky for those farther north.

This is an unexpected sudden flareup of the comet and it could subside very quickly also. If you really want to see the comet don't wait, try tonight.

Update October 24
Comet Holmes looks like a moderately bright star to the naked eye. Binoculars change its appearance to a tiny yellow fuzz ball. It can be seen from a large city in spite of haze and a full moon. A darker location and better conditions will allow you to see more.
Update October 27
I've seen and received reports that the comet looks like more than just a star to the naked eye now. "I could see the bright spot in the middle of fuzz this time."
Update November 1
It is still easily spotted in spite of haze limiting visibility to 6 miles. Also it has spread enough so that it's obvious to the naked eye that it is not a star.
Update November 9
By reports it is still easily spotted even from urban areas. Some can easily distinguish it from a star with their naked eyes. In binoculars it's easily identifiable by everyone and even shows some detail. While the comet's total brightness has not changed much the total light continues to spread thinner over a growing area. This may be the last weekend to get a good view in moonless skies.
Update November 15
Still easily visible in binoculars Comet Holmes is now difficult/impossible to spot with the naked eye from suburban/urban locations. The comet continues to grow. Currently it's larger than the Sun! As the comet spreads its light thinner and thinner and the Moon grows brighter each night the coming week may hold the last chances to get a good look.

Where to find it in the sky:
In the Northern Hemisphere it is visible above the NE horizon after dark. It will rotate higher and northward as the night progresses.

By approximately 1:15am (your local time) it will be at it's highest and most visible directly north. By that time it will be high enough to be seen from the Southern Hemisphere and for those as far north as the northern tier of the United States it will appear nearly overhead.



31 OCT 2007 @ 23:47 UTC - 01 NOV 2007 @ 03:47
UTC

Space Junk Reentry
Another Delta II Stage 2 rocket body was predicted to reenter the Earth's atmosphere 1 NOV 2007 @ 01:47 UTC 2 hours. The ground track 2 hours, more info and updates including reentry sightings (if any) are at Delta II Stage 2 (2006 047C).



image credit: NASA

October 23 - November 6
October 23 - November 7
Space Transportation System Mission 120
Update November 5
Landing rescheduled to November 7 1:01pm EST.

You can follow the progress of the Space Shuttle mission online at the NASA - Space Shuttle page. There are links in the "WATCH NASA TV NOW" section of that page where you can watch video (sometimes live).

Info on the mission can also be found at Spaceflight Now | STS-120 Shuttle Report.

Shuttle & ISS #1 by Westerberg Sunday August 19, 2007


You can find out exactly when and where the International Space Station or the Space Shuttle is predicted to pass through your sky during the next 10 days. First enter your location at heavens-above.com (if you register you can save your location and don't have to reenter it every time). Then next to "Satellites, 10 day predictions for:" click "ISS" or "STS-120". You should check the predictions each day though. The shuttle has to change its orbit to approach and depart the station and it may "boost" the station's orbit while it is docked (see ISS Height Profile). If the time of your visible pass(es) is near docking or departure you can see both objects following almost the same orbit, one after/beside the other!


Early Morning November 18
Leonid Meteor Shower
It will be a midnight to dawn shower early Sunday morning and best about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before sunrise. It won't be a meteor storm like some past years, more like 10-15 per hour at most.
SkyandTelescope.com - Homepage Observing - Leonids 2007
Astronomy - Meteors heat up November mornings - Francis Reddy
Udate November 18
Leonids 2007: visual data quicklook




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