“Look Up! What’s in the night sky?”
By bryan shumaker, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador
Top of the evening to you, my fellow star gazers!
The weather has been quite good, although a few more clear nights are always appreciated.
The problem is, they seem to come during the time when the moon is so bright it interferes with observing. Still, summer here in northern Michigan is clearly the best!
On August 6, 2012, the Mars Rover “Curiosity” made a safe landing.
The Magellan Radar Mapper arrived at Venus on Aug. 10, 1990. On August 11, 1877, Asaph Hall discovered the Martian moon Deimos, and on August 17, discovered the other moon of Mars—Phobos.
Since Mars is the god of war (Ares in Greek), the moons’ names mean “Terror” and Fear.”
Intriguingly, Jonathon Swift (who wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”) wrote in a fictional work that Mars had two moons and even described their approximate orbits—a full 121 years before they were actually discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
The upcoming week should be a good one.
The moon is New on August 2, so viewing is at its best without the moon’s glare.
The best meteor shower of the year is clearly the Perseids—which begins August 11 (just past the lunar First Quarter) and lasts for several days.
As you now know, the radiant (the point where the meteors appear to originate from) is located in the constellation of Perseus.
This constellation is seen in the northern sky, appearing just below and to the left of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).
The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year in August when the Earth passes through a stream of dust and debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle.
These stray bits of comet dust slam into our atmosphere at approximately 30,000 mph, where they burn up and create light streaks across the sky. Comet Swift-Tuttle has an especially large nucleus–about 16 miles across. Most comets have nuclei that are less than 2 miles across.
The large nucleus probably led to an especially large debris stream, which is responsible for the especially good meteor show each year.
Grab a lawn chair or lounge, dress appropriately and use insect repellent and just gaze in the direction of this constellation (check out its location on your favorite planetarium program or app).You may be able to see as many as 100 meteors per hour at the peak of the shower.
For best viewing, look to the sky on Aug. 12 and 13 between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m.
The meteor shower will start slow, but should gain steam after midnight.
I’d like to remind you that an open viewing session is held at Young State Park (just 2 miles north of Boyne City) every Wednesday night in the summer, weather permitting. Several astronomy club members will be there with telescopes and will give you a wonderful guided tour of the night skies.
Also, his year’s Northern Michigan Astronomy Club Star Party will be held the evenings of July 28, 29 and 30 on the grounds of the Wildwood Observatory.
All are welcome.
The Wildwood Observatory is located at 01825 Wildwood Heights Road, Boyne City.
Check us out—Northern Michigan Astronomy Club—on Facebook, for the latest astro info.
Also, you should consider attending the Great Lakes Star Gaze held annually in the Gladwin area. It is ranked as one of the top 10 star parties in the USA.
This year it is Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
More info online at greatlakesstargaze.com
So, what exactly is a star party?
It’s really quite simple.
Amateur astronomers get together for several days, camp, eat, socialize, and often stay up most of the night viewing the sky.
It’s a great opportunity to see old friends, make new ones, and see what telescopes and equipment other people are using.
Actually, it’s fun to attend with no telescope of your own—you spend much of the night going from one telescope to another and taking a peek.
Almost everyone is very glad to let you take a look. If you are looking to buy a scope, this is a great opportunity to see all different ones being used.
The first star party?
It was held by Galileo in Venice in 1609!
Major star parties nowadays are “must attend” events.
For example, the Texas Star Party, which takes place in May every year, is held in the very dark skies of Ft. Davis, Texas, and attracts so many people that, for the last several years, a lottery has been held just to obtain a campsite!
You do not need to stay all night—just park at the front of the venue in the designated area, so when you do leave, your headlights don’t blind everyone.
Also, a red flashlight is a must—you do not want to ruin someone’s night vision with a bright light.
Red cellophane can be used to attach to the front of your flashlight.
A red balloon pulled over the front of your flashlight works well, too.
Until next week, keep looking up, and clear skies!
PICTURED: Picture is of the first star party, held by Galileo in Venice, 1609