Thursday, December 15, 2011

Astronomical Events.......

Astronomical Events

This is a picture of last weekends lunar eclipse taken from Camas Meadows as the moon set in full eclipse just as dawn was breaking.  We went up to our cabin at Camas due to the possibility of fog in the Wenatchee Valley and the great view of the moon from our deck and only steps from the wood stove.  The 10 degree outside temperature made the stove and a hot cup of coffee an essential part of my astronomy equipment.

This eclipse was rather typical.  Fairly bright.  Nothing like the blood red moon in 1979.  You had to look carefully to find the moon on that eclipse.  This one reminds me of a couple of eclipses when the moon rose in full eclipse.   In 2007, I was on a forest fire and set the alarm to see the middle of the eclipse.  However, before nodding off to sleep I noticed that the rising moon through all that smoke looked exactly like an eclipsed moon!!

Solar eclipses are much more rare.  The only one I "observed" was in 1979.  I had the choice of driving from Coeur d'Alene to either Moscow or Missoula.  For some reason I decided to go with Moscow, even though I had a business meeting the day after the eclipse in Missoula.  You guessed it.  It poured rain during the eclipse in Moscow.  However, when totality hit the streetlights came on for two minutes and then turned off.  So that was the extent of "watching" the eclipse.  Oh yeah, it was clear in Missoula.

We had a great run of comets in the 1990's with Hale-Bopp and others.  Hopefully,  we will get another one soon.  Unlike, eclipses comets are best viewed from a dark sky site. 

Every night something is happening up in the sky.  Here is a web site that will tell you all the activity to the second.  Cal-Sky.  Click on Intro to set your location and time.  Get the location from your GPS unit by clicking on "where am I".  Then click on Calendar and you will get a choice of satellites, comets, and all sorts of other astronomical events to the second. 

Now one of my favorites is the Iridium flares.  Here is the wilki-pedia site for the Iridium satellites:  Iridium Satellites.  When the satellite solar panels tilt just right they brighten very quickly and fade just as fast.  Sometimes they become the brightest objects in the night sky. 

A little info.  In astronomy, brightness is measured by a scale in which NEGATIVE numbers are brighter.  The sun is about -27 magnitude, with the moon at -12 magnitude.  Most stars are from +1 to +6 in magnitude at a good location.  Most Iridium flares are in the range of -1 to -5 in magnitude.

The guide gives azimuth and altitude which if you do not know the constellations will tell you where the flare will occur.  Use a compass for azimuth and just estimate altitude...from horizon to zenith is 90 degrees.

So now you know where the flare will occur.  When is also important.  Get one of those atomic clocks that reset themselves automatically to the correct time.  Remember you need correct time to within about ten seconds.  Try this site if you do not have an atomic clock:  Official US Time Clock.

Now your set.  Pick about a -5 magnitude flare.  Locate the spot in the sky where the flare will take place. 

Make sure you have a little kid, under ten years of age is preferable,  standing next to you.  Keep an eye on the official time.  Announce to the kid that in 30 seconds by simply concentrating real hard your going to make that star explode!!! 

The flare will rapidly brighten in a space of two or three seconds and then fade away in the same amount of time.   After the flare occurs, you might want to talk about good morals, getting an education and all those other things kids do not want to hear.  You will have their attention!!

Well, after the lunar eclipse the morning was also pretty special.

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