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Your guide to the Lyrid meteor shower April 21, 2012

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Tonight and tomorrow night, look up at the sky for a spectacular light show.

The Lyrid Meteor Showers happen annually, but this year’s “moonless” night and lack of cloud cover for the western two-thirds of the United States will make for better views.

The moon is in its new phase – meaning the side facing Earth isn’t lit up by the sun, NASA’s meteor shower expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. Last year, the moonlight made it harder to see the Lyrid show.

“The Lyrids are really unpredictable,” Cooke told Space.com. “I’m expecting 15 to 20 Lyrid meteors an hour. Back in 1982, they outburst to nearly 100 per hour. You really can’t predict with this.”

Space.com reports that the Lyrid shower – which takes place as the Earth passes through dust from comet Thatcher – has been watched by humans for more than 2,600 years.

The meteor shower’s name comes from the constellation Lyra.

The best times to watch are after midnight and just before dawn. Look to the northeast and pick a viewpoint well away from city lights. The darker the sky, the brighter the meteors will appear.

NASA recommends watching with the naked eye instead of through a telescope or binoculars.

(Credit: CNN)

Enjoy the 2011 Perseid Meteor Shower August 12, 2011

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The naked eye is the best instrument to use. The meteors can appear most anywhere in the sky, but they all appear to be coming from a point in the sky (called the radiant), in the constellation Perseus. Hence the name Perseid Shower.

Where do I look and what direction?

This is the most common question I hear people ask about meteor showers and the answer is very simple.

After midnight, look towards the East/Northeast part of the your sky to find Perseus. To find it look for the easily identifiable constellation Cassiopeia, the big “W” in sky! Perseus is just below Cassiopeia.

You can draw, take pictures and even video the Perseids, but the simplest and most enjoyable thing is to lay back, relax and be patient and you will be rewarded with a great a view.

Perseid in the NE. Just before Midnight August 12, Cental Daylight Time

The best times to look will be in the dark pre-dawn on August 11, 12 and 13, 2011.

January 4th: Busy day in Astronomy January 3, 2011

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Well, there are three things happening today, a solar eclipse, a meteor shower and the Earth’s orbit is at it’s perihelion.Unfortunately, the solar eclipse is only visible to the people in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Jan 4 Solar Eclipse (Credit NASA)

All of the folks around hear will just have to wait for another day. But as a consolation prize to the people in the Western Hemisphere the universe is serving up a meteor shower tonight, the 2011 Quadrantid Meteor Shower.

The meteors are named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis the Mural or Wall Quadrant (an astronomical instrument), depicted in some 19th-century star atlases roughly midway between the end of the handle of the Big Dipper and the quadrilateral of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco. (The International Astronomical Union phased out Quadrans Muralis in 1922.)

In the United States, the predicted peak would come at 8 p.m. EST on Jan. 3 (0100 GMT Jan. 4). With the meteors appearing to emanate from low on the horizon, viewers in the northern U.S. may see one dozen or two dozen Quadrantids per hour.Very few meteors are likely to be seen in the southern United States, since they would be streaking from below the horizon during the early hours of darkness.

Quadrantid meteors are of medium speed: slower than the Leonids and Perseids, yet faster than the Geminids. They usually appear bluish, accompanied by fine, long spreading silver trains. The peak of the “Quads” lasts only a few hours. But under ideal, dark-sky conditions, this can be one of the year’s best meteor displays. (Any light pollution would cut down the numbers greatly.)

Give your eyes at least 15 to 20 minutes to adapt to the dark before starting a serious meteor count.  No matter what time the peak, you’d have to get up before dawn to see the best display.

Finally, today the Earth is at its closest distance from the sun in its orbit. This point is called the perihelion.

The Sun will also appear the largest in size today.  This doesn’t contribute much to any effect to the seasons though, which are due to the tilting to the Earth’s axis. (Credit: NASA, Space News, Universe Today)

Geminid Meteor Shower December 12, 2010

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The Geminid meteor shower, which peaks this year on Dec. 13th and 14th, is the most intense meteor shower of the year. It lasts for days, is rich in fireballs, and can be seen from almost any point on Earth.

The Geminids is the final major meteor shower of the year; it’s also one of the most eye-catching! To observe the Geminids look anywhere from 50 degrees to 60 degrees above the horizon and about 20 degrees away from the constellation Gemini. The Geminids meteor shower can be seen all over the world, but the best viewing opportunities are for those in the Northern Hemisphere (above the equator). Those in the Southern Hemisphere will still have a worthwhile viewing experience.

For the best viewing experience, find an area unobstructed by structures and that is far away from city lights. Using binoculars or telescores is not recommended – you’ll be more likely to miss a hooting star whizzing by. Just gaze the skies with your eyes.

credit: Wally-Pacholka

A Geminid fireball explodes over the Mojave Desert in 2009. Credit: Wally Pacholka / AstroPics.com / TWAN.

Most meteor showers come from comets, which spew ample meteoroids for a night of ‘shooting stars.’ The Geminids are different. The parent is not a comet but a weird rocky object named 3200 Phaethon that sheds very little dusty debris—not nearly enough to explain the Geminids.”Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids’ is by far the most massive,” says Cooke. “When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500.”

This makes the Geminids the 900-lb gorilla of meteor showers. Yet 3200 Phaethon is more of a 98-lb weakling.

3200 Phaethon was discovered in 1983 by NASA’s IRAS satellite and promptly classified as an asteroid. What else could it be? It did not have a tail; its orbit intersected the main asteroid belt; and its colors strongly resembled that of other asteroids. Indeed, 3200 Phaethon resembles main belt asteroid Pallas so much, it might be a 5-kilometer chip off that 544 km block.

“If 3200 Phaethon broke apart from asteroid Pallas, as some researchers believe, then Geminid meteoroids might be debris from the breakup,” speculates Cooke. “But that doesn’t agree with other things we know.”

Researchers have looked carefully at the orbits of Geminid meteoroids and concluded that they were ejected from 3200 Phaethon when Phaethon was close to the sun—not when it was out in the asteroid belt breaking up with Pallas. The eccentric orbit of 3200 Phaethon brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury every 1.4 years. The rocky body thus receives a regular blast of solar heating that might boil jets of dust into the Geminid stream.

“We just don’t know,” says Cooke. “Every new thing we learn about the Geminids seems to deepen the mystery.”

This month Earth will pass through the Geminid debris stream, producing as many as 120 meteors per hour over dark-sky sites. The best time to look is probably between local midnight and sunrise on Tuesday, Dec. 14th, when the Moon is low and the constellation Gemini is high overhead, spitting bright Geminids across a sparkling starry sky.

Bundle up, go outside, and savor the mystery.

Credit: NASA Science, Dr. T. Phillips

In Like a Lion: Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Wednesday November 16, 2010

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Look to the East in the Morning, Credit (Stardate magazine)

This year, the Leonid meteor shower best viewing will be in the two to three hours before dawn on November 17 and 18, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.

The best viewing is done with the naked eye, just lie back and look to the East, in the pre-dawn hours.

There is always some uncertainty in the number of meteors the Leonid shower will produce, but viewers should expect to see at least 20 meteors per hour if they have clear skies. The nearly full Moon will set several hours before dawn, and therefore not wash out any meteors in the hours immediately before dawn.

Leonid meteors appear to fall from the constellation Leo, the lion, but they are not associated with it. They are leftover debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun, it leaves a trail of debris. The Leonids meteors recur each year when Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail.

Each time comet Tempel-Tuttle gets closest to the Sun in its orbit, called “perihelion,” it sheds a significant amount of material. This creates clumps along its orbit. If Earth passes through one of these clumps this year, viewers could see hundreds of meteors per hour at the shower’s peak. If Earth simply passes through the “normal” part of the comet’s debris trail, the number of meteors visible will be much lower.

For your best view, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.

StarDate is published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory

Draconid’s Meteor Shower Tonight! October 8, 2010

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The Draconids meteor shower occurs every year in early October, peaking between October 7-8 in 2010[1] when the Earth is passing through debris left from the comet 21p/Giacobini-Zinner. This meteor shower produced 200-1000 mph (meteors per hour) in 1933 and 1946. While this shower is usually much quieter, it peaks during evening hours[1] (rather than early morning hours, like other meteor showers) so it’s more visible.

BUT… pay attention for next year’s!  NASA is expecting the 2011 shower to be one of the best in 10 years with up to 750 per hour.

Perseids Meteor Shower to Peak on Thursday Night! August 10, 2010

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The Perseids are one of the most exciting and dynamic meteor showers; producing fast-moving shooting stars throughout July and August. Expect the “normal” peak of ~100 meteors per hour to occur in the night of August 12-13 between 18h and 7h Universal Time.

The shower surprised on several occasions over the last two decades by showing outbursts of 150 to 400+ meteors/hour due to the Earth passing through regions of higher density in the dust stream (e.g., ZHR ~200 last year). Simulations by Jeremie Vaubaillon and Mikhail Maslov indicate that we may again encounter ‘dust trails’ this year, left behind when the parent , Comet Swift-Tuttle,  passed the Sun in the years 441, 1479 and 1862.

The shower lasts for many days, but according to the International Meteor Organization this year’s peak should occur during a half-day-long window centered on 1:00 Universal Time on August 13th, which is ideal timing for skywatchers in Eurasia. For North Americans, the best viewing will probably be late Thursday night and early Friday morning, August 12-13, or possibly the night before.

In any case, prime viewing for the Perseids is from about 11 p.m. or midnight (local time) until the first light of dawn. This is when the shower’s radiant (its perspective point of origin) is well up in your sky. The higher the radiant, the more meteors you’ll see.

Perseid in the NE. Just before Midnight August 12, Cental Daylight Time

Astronomy Colloquium: COSMIC COLLISIONS February 22, 2010

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Dr Heidi Hammel


Dr. Heidi Hammel

Professor of Physics and Astronomy , Space Science Institute

Thursday,  February 25, 4:00PM

Physical Science Building , Room 2120

Sponsored by the College of Sciences in coordination with WISM (Women in Science + Mathematics at EIU)

Dr. Hammel received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1982 and her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988. After a post-doctoral position at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., Hammel returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Dr. Hammel primarily studies the outer planets and their satellites, focusing on observational techniques. She was a member of the Imaging Science Team for the Voyager 2 encounter with the planet Neptune in 1989. In 1994, she led the team that investigated Jupiter’s visible wavelength response to the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 using the Hubble Space Telescope. Her latest research involves the imaging of Neptune and Uranus with the Hubble Space Telescope, W. M. Keck Observatory,(which houses a pair of much larger (ten-meter) telescopes with an “adaptive optics capability” that eliminates the smearing effect of the Earth’s atmosphere), Mauna Kea Observatory, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) at the peak of Hawaii’s highest mountain, Mauna Kea and other Earth based observatories.

Leonid Meteor Shower Information November 16, 2009

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For more information go to our friends at Universe today in the link below:


Recent Meteor Impacts ?! October 26, 2009

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Inga Vetere of the Fire and Rescue Service said they received a call about the alleged meteorite on Sunday evening from an eyewitness. She said a military unit was dispatched to the site and found that radiation levels were normal. There were no injures.  The planet is constantly bombarded with objects from outer space, but most burn up in the atmosphere and never reach the surface.


Latvia meteor ?

Suspicion grew on Monday about the nature of the crater.  There are reports of shovel marks and doubt that a meteor would be flaming after impact with the ground.

Asta Pellinen-Wannberg, a meteorite expert at the Swedish Institute of Space Research, said she didn’t know the details of the Latvian incident, but that a rock would have to be at least three feet (one meter) in diameter to create a hole that size. Henning Haack, a lecturer at Copenhagen University’s Geological Museum said more information was needed to confirm that the crater was indeed caused by a meteorite.

“With all these kind of reports we get there always is a pretty large margin of error,” he said.

There have been cases that were not hoaxes. Just two years ago in 2007, a meteorite crashed near Lake Titicaca in Peru, causing a crater about 40 feet (12 meters) wide and 15 feet (five meters) deep.


Peruvian Crater near Lake Titicaca(Photo: Miguel Carrasco/La Razon, via AP)

Tests confirmed that the crater contained telltale magnetic fragments of a meteorite, and Peru’s Geophysics Institute recorded a large tremor in the area at the moment of impact, according to The Associated Press.