Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Triple conjunction" just 24 hours away: the highlight of the final month

First Jupiter and Venus crept closer towards each other and since yesterday the crescent Moon is joining the picture: going backwards in time, selected views from Germany, various locations and Australia on Nov. 30, the U.S., Germany, various places, Germany again and Australia on Nov. 29, various sites on Nov. 28, Germany, Austria and Australia on Nov. 27, the U.S. on Nov. 24 and Austria on Nov. 23 - celestial mechanics in action! And the best is to come tomorrow.So much for the predictable highlights of Dec. 2008.

In other news the first meteorites that fell after the well-documented Canadian bolide of Nov. 20 have been found and celebrated widely (see here and here and here and here and here and here for coverage and pictures). • Another Canadian bolide - and a rumbling sound in Wales. • According to at least one theorist the Leonids in 2009 could reach a ZHR of 500, i.e. 5 times the typical Perseids. Others haven't confirmed that yet. • Comet Borrelly with a long tail on Nov. 30. • Sometimes here true live images of comets can be seen.

• There is a possible nova in Carina with 7th mag. • And finally the toolbag lost during the 1st EVA of STS-126 has not only been filmed near Eta Psc (which made the videographer kind of famous), it has also been sighted visually, sometimes at 6.5 mag., sometimes even naked-eye, leading the ISS by several minutes already. Predictions are easy to get, and even public events have been proposed - while parodies of the incident abound ...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Major Canadian bolide on Nov. 20 documented by several videos!

A dazzling meteor on the evening of Nov. 20 was "widely seen over a wide portion of the Canadian prairies, resulting not only in hundreds of eye-witness reports [like these] but some wonderful videos" like this one (also here), this and this one - and one shows that "the object broke into pieces. Some may have survived the explosion and have fallen to Earth where, with luck, searchers will find them as charred, blackened rocks sitting on the snow in a farmer’s field. The search is now on, first in narrowing down the fall area, followed by the field work, interviewing eyewitnesses, finding those who saw it fly overhead, and those who may have heard it. Then the real work begins — tramping winter fields looking for dark rocks that don’t belong."

According to early analysis, "the object that entered the atmosphere had a mass of from 1 to 10 tonnes, likely as big as a chair to a desk in size. It fragmented in the large explosion everyone witnessed but reports suggest hundreds of meteorites could be on the ground, in an area near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border north of Provost and Macklin (110°W 52.6°N). At peak brightness, the fireball reached about magnitude -20 — that's 600 times brighter than the Full Moon." Such a thing leaves ample trails on the web: Spaceget and SpaceWeather, e.g., link to the videos, Astroengine has stills, TransientSky, ScienceBlogs, BadAstronomy, UniverseToday, NASA Watch and ROG report as do CBC, MSNBC and SPIEGEL.

The Leonids of 2008 did produce one major peak with a ZHR approaching 100 but not two as was also predicted for these meteors (always good for a headline). Here and here are some images, here, here and here reports. • Many comets on Nov. 22, 17P/Holmes on Nov. 23 and Nov. 6 and 68P/Klemola at Messier 17. • Various links about a stellar occultation by TNO Varuna on Dec. 7, a very rare event: Other than by Pluto no stellar occultation has ever been recorded by a Kuiper Belt Object.

The full Moon at/in front of Messier 45 on Nov. 13, also seen here and here and here - and its waning crescent on Nov. 23. Venus and Jupiter are approaching each other, one week before a tight conjunction also involving the Moon. Views from Nov. 23 (more), Nov. 20 and Nov. 17, plus the view from down under and daily previews. • Rhea's shadow on Saturn. • The aurora from a plane. • A collection of corona images.

And finally some good news out of the bad: The San Fernando Observatory - which this blogger visited last year - survived the big fire of Sylmar (at the Northern periphery of Los Angeles). "The observatory is fine, although we did have fire in the surrounding shrubbery," CSUN's Angie Cookson told this blog on Nov. 17: "None of the buildings sustained damage and we just have to deal with cleaning up ash and soot. The fires have been (and continue to be) just devastating. Driving from home this morning and looking at the burned areas, I was amazed that more homes weren't lost. The firemen truly do an incredible job."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This evening: the full moon occults the Pleiades

The Pleiades occultation tonight will be tough to observe because the Moon is full and its glare will outshine the stars of the cluster. • The occultation of Neptune a week ago seems to have been lost to clouds, at least in the U.K.

In other news Activity region #1008 remains on the solar disk - here's yet another attempt to forecast future activity. • A new meteor monitoring system with two video cameras + fisheye lenses + automated software is now active. shower analysis. • Meanwhile questions have arisen whether the 2008 Taurids were really exceptional: Visual observations do not confirm more fireballs than usual, video data may support the idea. • Comet McNaught on Nov. 9 and on Nov. 3 at Messier 10, plus Cardinal animations. • A long review of the apparent fate of comet Boethin.

• Possible changes on Eris are making some headlines. • Right after the next total solar eclipse in Shanghai next July there will be a comet conference (followed immediately by another one in Rio in August). Here are yet another story on the last TSE (and eclipse observations from the air in general) and related links. • A review of current - and mostly free - planetarium software (which I wouldn't call "virtual telescopes"). • And a 30 minute TV feature on light pollution.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Taurid fireballs - few but bright - may confirm "swarm year" prediction

A couple of dramatic photos - see also here and here - and visual reports seem to document an anomalously high number of Taurid fireballs in recent days (and the shower is not over yet). In a scientific paper in 1993 Table III identified 2008 - like 2005 - as one of several possible "swarm years" for these meteors, when the Earth encounters heavier particles from comet Encke. Analysis of the ample data recorded in 2008 will help testing the model. • Remember the first predicted bolide a month ago? The fireball in the sky when asteroid 2008 TC3 met its fate was imaged directly only from satellites - but now a website of the SETI institute shows pictures of the smoke trail the meteor left in the atmosphere where it was lit up by the rising Sun. There is now also a rather detailled analysis of the whole case of 2008 TC3.

In less fiery news Canadian comet Cardinal is visiting some galaxies while 29P (here on the 8th) continues fading away. • Saturn with its rings nearly from the edge, and the Moon, Jupiter & Venus, both on Nov. 6 (morning and evening, resp.). • There were 5 minor sunspot groups in October: Does this mean that solar activity will rise now? • A call for high-quality photometry of P Cyg. • Possibly the deepest UV picture ever - 40 hours integration in the U band - is making headlines everywhere. • A particularly strange sunset mirage effect, and lingering Kasatochi sky colors 12 weeks after the volcano blew. • What it's like to use robotic telescopes. • The IYA podcasting project is proceeding.

• And finally, the "German Stonehenge", the horizon observatory on Halde Hoheward in the Ruhr Area, has been inaugurated on Nov.8 as many pictures here and here document. The astronomy of millennia past demonstrated on a huge, lonely artificial mesa - a unique way to engage (hopefully) the public in fundamental questions of science. The two big arcs (which strongly reminded this blogger, when visiting the construction site, of a certain machine in the movie "Contact" :-) represent the celestial equator and the meridian while numerous precision sighting instruments are also incorporated.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Evening of Nov. 6: grazing occultation of Neptune for U.K., Norway

"Early in the evening of 6 November, observers in the north and west of the UK will have an opportunity (weather permitting) to observe an occultation of Neptune, while those in the south and east will see the planet close to the southern limb of the Moon," advises a Special Electronic News Bulletin of the Society for Popular Astronomy today: "The most interesting place to be is on the graze line, which crosses the country from SW to NE, from north Cornwall and north Devon, via south Wales, Stoke on Trent, Barnsley and York to Whitby on the North Sea coast. In the graze zone you may expect to see the planet dim and blink out several times as it is successively hidden and then reappears behind mountains on the Moon's dark southern limb. After leaving England, the graze line continues towards the NE following the coastline of Norway."

The SPA has "produced a map showing the graze line crossing the country [i.e. the U.K.], and another showing the position of the m(v) +7.9 planet in relation to the gibbous waxing Moon's dark limb at the time. [...] Approximate times (UT) of the grazing event for various UK places on the line are as follows [...]: Lizard Point 18:44, Barnstaple 18:46, Lynmouth 18:48, St Brides (S. Wales coast) 18:49, Brecon 18:50, Stoke on Trent 18:51, Barnsley 18:52, York 18:53, Whitby 18:54. The altitude and azimuth of the event are about 22 and 183 degrees respectively, and the Moon's age is 8.8 days. The next UK lunar occultation of Neptune is not until 2016 June 25 at around 23:55 UT." A website from Austria provides further information on the rare event, including an interactive map.

In other news the motions of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon in the evening sky have been amply documented on Nov. 3 (dito), Nov. 2 (dito), Nov. 1, Oct. 31 (from Kansas) and Oct. 30 (from Fla.). • Farther away some changes on Uranus, as compared to 2007. • Comet McNaught is currently close to globular cluster Messier 10, making for nice pictures and stories (In Czech) as well as some confusion (that was cleared up almost instantaneously). Also 29P on Nov. 4 and a nice - though not current - 17P animation. • Amateur astronomers at the Chabot Space & Science Center in California are using one of their telescopes for asteroid follow-up observations which are as important as new discoveries.

• A fat but late Orionid from Oct. 31. • A heavy peace of the ISS jettisoned some time ago has reentered over a remote ocean, and thus its demise remained unobserved. • Atmospheric gravity waves can be studied via the airglow, and the moving patterns have been imaged by amateurs in 2007 and again now. • A stunning view of the Milky Way while even the military hates light pollution which is actually going down in New York City somewhat. • A simple online planetarium, an online tutorial of the night sky - and an illustrated observing report from high in the Alps from the Edelweißspitze.