NOTES FROM DAVE FYE, THE SKY GUY
The planet Venus is the evening star this late summer and early fall.
During the summer, Venus traveled up the western sky, setting later and later, and is now on its return trip toward the setting Sun. In mid October, Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun in its orbit and will reappear in November as the morning star before dawn.
To observe the planet Venus, go outside early in the evening just after sunset and look to the west about halfway up the sky. You can't miss it; Venus is the brightest object in the sky by far. Only the Sun and the Moon are brighter. It shines like a beacon and has often been mistaken for a UFO.
If you can look at Venus at this time with binoculars or a small telescope you will see that it looks like a small crescent moon. This is because Venus is now moving between the Earth and the Sun and only the crescent is visible from the Earth. Venus at crescent phase is very impressive.
Only the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, show phases like the moon, and these two planets are always morning and evening stars, but never midnight stars. That is because they never get far enough from the sun in their orbit to still be above the horizon at midnight.
Venus comes out from behind the sun in its orbit. This is when Venus is dimmest. It moves up the western sky, setting later and later. When it reaches its peak it is a little more than halfway up the western sky. At this time in a small telescope it will appear at half phase. Then it starts back toward the sun, gaining speed and brightness.
Three weeks before Venus disappears in the sun's glow, it will be at its brightest and will appear as a thin crescent in a telescope. Then it moves in front of the Sun and starts its journey again in the morning sky in reverse, going from crescent to full.
Editor's note: Dave is a founding member of MCOF and a regular contributor with this column. At each Star Party that I've attended, Dave always stimulates curiosity with his lists of stellar objects to see in ways that I never did before. Come to the next Star Party and find out what can be seen when you have some help and guidance. There's a lot up there in the sky!
In recognition of August Perseid showers, Dave also provided these comments:
Have you ever looked up in the sky and seen what you thought was a shooting star? What you really saw was a meteor zooming through the night sky. Seven or eight times a year there are meteor showers that are visible to the naked eye. That's right you don't need a telescope or binoculars to observe a meteor shower. The best time to observe meteors is after midnight. That's because, at that time the earth is turning into the path of the meteors.
On a normal night you may be able to see 5 to 10 meteor's per hour but between Aug. 10th and 15th the Perseid meteor shower will take place and you should be able to see 50 to 70 meteors per hour. The Perseid Meteor Shower will peak on the night of Aug 12th. On that night the crescent moon will set shortly after sunset and the sky will be completely dark for the big show.
The shower will have a radiant point near the constellation Perseus high in the northeast after midnight, that's why this shower is called The Perseid meteor shower. All of the yearly meteor showers are named for the constellations they appear to come from.
Meteors, or streaks of light in the atmosphere are caused by pieces of dust or rock entering the atmosphere at great speed, heating up due to friction, and glowing brightly for a second or two and then disappearing. A meteor enters the earth's atmosphere at more than 6 miles per second. It heats the gas molecules in the air. This produces the streak of light that we see from the ground. Meteor showers are caused by pieces of discarded matter from passing comets. The Perseid shower is caused by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle that last passed near the sun in 1992. The biggest meteor shower display came in Nov. 1966 when the Leonid meteor shower produced more than 10,000 meteors per hour. This is called a meteor storm. Last years' Leonid shower was the best one since 1966 and produced between 300 and 700 meteors per hour. On the night of Aug. 12th we can expect between 50 and 100 meteors per hour, and this would result in a great shower, but with meteor showers, you never know what you are going to get. I recommend that you check it out.
You wouldn't want to miss a Perseid shower that produced more than 100 meteors per hour. Scientists believe that a giant meteorite hit the earth about 70 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs and about 90% of the species on Earth. It didn't kill them by landing on them. It created an explosion thousands of times bigger than any man-made nuclear blast. Such an explosion would have created a huge firestorm and a cloud that would have blocked out the sun's light, probably for years. This would have killed the dinosaurs.
The last star party at Greenwood was well attended, and in spite of early haze many good views of the crescent moon, Venus at quarter phase, the ring nebula, and the galaxies M80 and M81 were seen by all. Our next Star Party is on Friday August 9th beginning at 8:30PM. Come out and enjoy the night sky, refreshments, door prizes & giveaways while supporting the Observatory Foundation.
John Petersen's PowerPoint presentation on a view of the future of astronomy, given at one of our past Star Shows at the Ice House has generated many requests for copies, especially the part about Planet X. He has made it available for anyone to download at The Arlington Institute Library. At 3 Mb, it doesn't take too long to get.
I urge everyone to buy a chance on a 90mm Orion refractor telescope, the prize in our current raffle fundraiser to be drawn at the Apple Butter Festival this year. Tickets are available at the wonderful new store in town, Portals, on Main Street next to the Mexican restaurant. The telescope itself will be on display soon at the Morgan Square Branch of Citizen's National Bank, and tickets will be available there.
Construction on the final phases of the observatory will begin soon, after a lull for fundraising. Electrical materials have been purchased and volunteer labor will start installation.
I hope to see you at some of our events, and don't forget to look outside at night on August 12th for the annual return of the Perseid Meteor Shower. It promises to be a great one this year!
Morgan County Observatory Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit educational organization founded in 1999. Current officers are: Kevin Boles, President; David Fye, Vice-president; Tammy Fochtman, Secretary; Karen/John Shoemaker, Treasurer. The members of the Board of Directors are: Loretta Brown, Warren Hart, and Eileen/Roger McIntire.
Tips on Observing
by Tom Waugh
The more experience we gain as amateur astronomers the more sensitive we have to become when explaining to newcomers at star parties the intricacies of visual observations. Learning stars and constellations ought to be easy. Alan MacRobert in Backyard Astronomy states " the after all a birdwatcher or rock hound may have to hunt through a vast wilderness to find the object of desire, but a sky watcher sees the constellations laid out in plain view from the back doorstep."
It is my hope, that over time, through articles in our newsletter I can impart to you some of the information I have acquired over the years while an amateur astronomer. Although this first article won't include any actual tips on observing (those tidbits will begin with the next newsletter) I would like to take this opportunity to challenge you to attend our (yours and mine) monthly star parties or one of the star shows at the Ice House.
Most of us who have grown up in a rural location take for granted the night sky that we enjoy here in Morgan County. But those who have grown up in urban areas may never have had the advantage of even trying to locate and identify the major constellations such as the Big Dipper, Cygnus, or Hercules. It is easy for people to become frustrated and quit trying, thinking that the fault lies in themselves rather than an inadequate map and instructions. For me there is nothing more enjoyable than helping someone discover the constellations of the night sky for the first time.
I always feel privileged when people are astonished by my ability to point out objects in the night sky, while at the same time I am left speechless by the abilities of other amateurs. I in no way consider myself an expert, but rather as someone who has taken the time to relax and enjoy the night sky. I have listened to those other amateurs, learned to read a sky chart, learned about sky distances and sky directions, practiced the art of using a telescope, discovered the secrets of deep space observing and the power of the naked eye. None of these accomplishments have been achieved because I have a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy or that I have some innate technical skills not granted to most mortals, but rather because I started out several years ago by visiting star parties, always watching and listening trying to absorb every tidbit of information I could.
Over the years I have met many wonderful people by attending star parties and each one will tell you the same story, that they new very little or nothing at all when they began to delve into the field of astronomy. My hope is that over time we will meet - - perhaps at one of our star parties or foundation events. Possibly you will allow me to share with you some of the knowledge I have gained over the years. Of course it will be free of charge, yours to do with as you wish. Then maybe someday you will pass that knowledge on to another beginning amateur astronomer. If you would like to ask me a question or you have a comment you would like to make or maybe you would like to just discuss the night sky you can send me e-mail at email@example.com. I will try to respond as to any and all who take the time to write. If I don't know the answer to your question I will do my best to find an answer for you. The more knowledge we gain together the more we will be amazed by the universe around us. Remember the stars can belong to everyone who is willing to look up.
Editor's note: Tom is a founding member of MCOF, and he will tell us more about his interests in astronomy in coming issues of the newsletter. I guarantee readers will find Tom's enthusiasm and his great Dobsononian telescope a fascinating feature of MCOF Star Parties. Come to the next Star Party at Greenwood school and find out what Tom can help you see through that great tube. Of course, if you're interested in how to design and use of an "OverWhelmingly Large" telescope (OWL), visit the website at Space.com.
A Story Above Your head.... Delphinus
This is one of the smallest constellations in the sky. Delphinus is tucked away between Aquila the eagle, Cygnus the swan and Pegasus the winged horse. I think the configuration of these stars comes close to representing a Dolphin. The constellation itself comprises only 5 stars that range in magnitude from 3.5 to 5.0. The stars Alpha Delphini and Beta Delphini have very interesting names. Alpha Deiphini is called Sualocin, and Beta Deiphini is called Rotanev. If you reverse the spelling of these two names they spell Nicolaus Venator. This is the latinized form of the name Niccolo Cacciature, who was the assistant to the director of Palermo Observatory. These two stars were named this by Niccolo's grateful boss, and along with Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici these are the only stars in the sky named in honor of a person of modern times.
This is a story about a young musician and poet by the name of Anion. Anion was the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea and the nymph Oneaea. Anion lived in Corinth and was granted permission by the king Periander to travel to Sicily to participate in a music competition. Anion not only won first prize, but his performance was so overwhelming, he was given many additional awards by his admirers.
On the return trip to Corinth, the sailors on the ship decided to take the gifts that were given to Anion, and cast Anion overboard to drown. Anion wanted to die properly so he dressed in a purple robe trimmed in gold. He convinced the crew of sailors to allow him to sing one last song before throwing himself into the sea. The song attracted a school of dolphins to the ship. As Anion cast himself overboard, he was rescued by the school of dolphins. Riding on the back of one of the dolphins, Anion was returned to Corinth before the ship. In honor of the dolphins a monument was erected. When the crew of the ship returned to Corinth, the king Periander crucified all the sailors in front of the monument.
by Mark Klosinski
Editor's note: Mark came to the July MCOF StarShow at the Ice House and volunteered to tell us more about his wide interests in astronomy. This note is his first for the MCOF newsletter, and we look forward to reading more of his ideas in future issues. If you have stories, observations, or comments for the newsletter, please send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org .
FAST MOVING COMETS AND THEIR LINGERING DUST
Long after a "dirty snowball" comet has rushed around our solar system, Earth circles around and crosses the path where dust trails of the parent comet remain. The small particles crash down into Earth's atmosphere to make hot, bright streaks of meteors - - sometimes showers and storms as seen for the Perseids during August. Each comet that comes and goes leaves a trail that delights us for years with "shooting stars" that light the night sky and fill us with wonder about what is happening "out there". Different famous comets from earlier years have left enough reminders behind to give us a show in nearly every month of the year. You can find lots of information on visible meteors at Gary W. Kronk's Meteor Observing Calendar and more at the International Meteor Organization website.
Senior Moments - - - Enjoying A Sense of Place and Time
by Bill Lands
Most people want to "see for themselves" whether evidence proves someone's claims. Well, I'm from Missouri, the "Show Me State", and I sure fit that description. Today, I was thinking about how much of our experience comes to us through our eyes as we observe what's happening around us. We see the sun rise and set every day, the moon shadows create a different quarter each week, and the stars and planets seem to move around the sky from month to month. There's a lot to see!
This May, we saw all five of the "visible" planets line up in a row and then slowly move off to other places in the sky. I sure didn't like calling them the "naked eye planets" - - but they are surely "unaided eye planets". My unaided eyes no longer see as sharply as some youngsters' eyes do. Now-a-days, I tend to look up with binoculars that convert my eye's 1X - 60 degree field of vision into a 7X - 8 degree angular field. That opens a whole new world of observing for me. That's how I found up in front of Cygnus a cluster of stars that I called "Bill's Bird". Its location is noted in last summer's newsletter.
Well, you can guess that it was no surprise (but still a thrill!) when Norberta's refractor telescope let me see Saturn's rings through a more magnified 60X - 1 degree angular field of view. Something about looking at the night sky in greater and greater detail sparks even more curiosity about what else is out there. When Dave Fye pointed to the "star" in the handle of the Big Dipper that was really TWO stars, my binoculars "showed me" that he was right. That was a surprise! Imagine how many things we think we see with our unaided eyes (or even with binoculars) that turn out to be actually different when we learn more and more about their features and observe them in greater detail. That's why Star Parties are so fascinating for me.
If the little refractor telescope opened a window to greater details and more understanding about "what's out there", how much more could I see with the 16-inch Cassegrain telescope with its 240X - 0.25 degree angular field of view? One-quarter of a degree, or 15 minutes of arc, is a small piece of sky to see compared to the 60 degrees sweep of view with an unaided eye - - but it comes with a wonderful increase in details with its deeper focused view of our universe. There are things that my unaided eyes just can't see. The County Library has a great book titled Powers of Ten that shows the incredible range of things that are out there to see - - beyond the reach of the unaided eye, but seen with telescopes and microscopes. There's an endless set of things to discover - so show me!
Monet, Renoir and the other Impressionists gave me a beautiful view of the world that I love very much. That view is relaxing and beautiful in its special way of minimizing certain details and letting me appreciate the patterns of light and color in the everyday life of people. It sort-of resembles my own aging eyes' 1X - 60 degree picture of what's out there. I think it's nice to have both fuzzy and sharp ways of looking at our universe. Don't you?
The partial solar eclipse on Christmas, 2000 gave the opportunity to see how the Moon and the Sun have similar angular widths for us on Earth (about one-half of a degree)- - even though the Sun is more than a hundred times wider than the Earth and the Moon is less than a third the width of the Earth. That sort of makes you start thinking about how far away they are from us, doesn't it? It's like measuring tree widths as noted in last Fall's newsletter note on "How big is big?" that you can see at http://www.nitesky.org