Comet ISON Sprouts a Double Tail

Today’s guest post is written by John Moffitt, Astrophysicist & HMNS Volunteer.

Amateur astronomers are getting a better look at Comet ISON as it dives toward the sun for a Nov. 28th close encounter with solar fire. As the heat rises, the comet brightens, revealing new details every day. This photo, taken Nov. 10th by Michael Jäger of Jauerling Austria, shows a beautiful double tail. One tail is the ion tail. It is a thin streamer of ionized gas pushed away from the comet by solar wind. The filamentary ion tail points almost directly away from the sun.

Comet Ison gets a double tail - 111013 - crop

The other tail is the dust tail. Like Hansel and Gretel leaving bread crumbs to mark their way through the forest, ISON is leaving a trail of comet dust as it moves through the solar system. Compared to the lightweight molecules in the ion tail, grains of comet dust are heavier and harder for solar wind to push around. The dust tends to stay where it is dropped. The dust tail, therefore, traces the comet’s orbit and does not point directly away from the sun as the ion tail does.

Comet ISON is currently moving through the constellation Virgo low in the eastern sky before dawn. Shining like an 8th magnitude star, it is still too dim for naked eye viewing, but an increasingly easy target for backyard optics. Amateur astronomers, if you have a GOTO telescope, enter these coordinates.

Four comets visible in the pre-dawn eastern sky. Look with binoculars before the sun comes up.

4 comets skymap - 111213

Comet ISON Briefings at HMNS

November 29 – December 1

To find out whether Comet ISON survives its close encounter with the Sun and how to see it in December’s morning sky, come to the Burke Baker Planetarium Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. An ISON update will precede each Planetarium show!
PLANETARIUM LECTURE
“Tracking Comet ISON and Other Possible IMPACTS”
Thursday, December 5, 6 p.m.
Tickets $18, Members $12
Comets and asteroids that roam the inner solar system and are a possible threat to Earth. Comet ISON will be grazing the Sun on November 28, and if it survives, it may come within our view. Dr. Sumners will give an update on Comet ISON and other incoming objects. Includes viewing of the show Impact!

Click here for tickets and more information on the Comet ISON briefings.

Give your family some space — outer space! — at Family Space Day this Saturday

You probably spent a lot of time with your family over the Thanksgiving holiday, and we know just what you need: SPACE!

A couple hours (or days) to yourself aren’t gonna cut it. We’re thinking this year you need some major space. Like, we’re talking outer space.

And we’ve got just the ticket.

Join HMNS at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park this Saturday, Dec. 1 for a day of family fun aboard the Challenger Learning Center, where families and individuals have exclusive access to participate in real-life astronaut training that’s usually reserved for groups and field trips.

Challenger Learning Center - CommunicationsAs astronauts for the day, child and adult participants are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer. They will learn about teamwork and crisis management as they work together to solve problems on simulated space missions.

Tickets must be purchased before 5 p.m. Friday, so click here to reserve yours and see a schedule of mission times. You can also call 281-242-3055 on Saturday morning to learn about walk-in availability.

Missions are open to kids age 7 or older, and children age 7 to 9 must have an adult chaperone.

Bring the whole family and explore the George Observatory exhibits, then stay after your mission for stargazing on the George’s observation deck! Tickets to view the night sky through the George Observatory research telescopes are $5 and go on sale at 5 p.m.

Talk Like a Pirate Day has passed, now onto another stellar holiday: International Observe the Moon Day!

Come join us at The George Observatory for a night of fun underneath the moon this Saturday, Sept. 22!

International Observe the Moon Day

It’s International Observe the Moon Night and this year’s theme is “Under the Same Moon.” Kiddos are invited to wear their pajamas and come listen to Moon stories and learn about the Moon phases in our Starry Room.

Bring the family for crafts like making Moon craters and enjoy an evening in our Challenger Learning Center with a “Mission to the Moon.” You’ll board the “SS Observer” spacecraft and take on different tasks as a family to land safely on the Moon.

The mission will start at 6 p.m., and the cost is $10 per person. Early registration is encouraged.

As the day falls into night, amateur astronomers will have their telescopes pointed toward the Moon and other celestial objects. With the Moon being at first quarter, the public will be able to see craters, ridges, and other prominent features of the landscape. There will also be a telescope set up with a video camera for an extra up-close-and-personal view.

To reserve tickets, click here!

Family Space Day is Sept. 15 — one of only two left in 2012!

Got big plans this weekend? We’re here to help as always. Now that we’ve got your Friday night covered, we think you should head south on Saturday toward Brazos Bend for a day of family fun at the George ObservatoryFamily Space Day!

For the duration of Family Space Day, the Challenger Learning Center will be open for individual children and adults to learn the importance of teamwork in a simulated mission to space.

Challenger Learning Center

In 1988, the Houston Museum of Natural Science was the first organization in the nation to establish a learning center in memory of the astronauts who died aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Since then we’ve taught more than 100,000 student astronauts the value of working as a team to accomplish a shared goal.

Be an astronaut for a day as you and your child are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work in tandem to solve real-world problems. NASA volunteers will be running the missions and interacting with participants as they experience real astronaut training.

The Challenger Learning Center is usually only open to groups, so don’t miss this rare chance to complete a mission as an individual or as a family.

Missions will run this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Please note that missions are suited for children 7 years of age and older. Kids 7-9 must have a paid adult chaperone participate, and a minimum of 10 participants is required for each mission. (Refunds will be issued if the minimum is not met.)

Stay after your mission and see space from the other side during stargazing on the observation deck. Tickets to access the George Observatory telescopes go on sale at 5 p.m. for $5, weather permitting.

For more information on Family Space Day and the George Observatory, including mission times and rules, click here!

Watch a video of all the fun at Family Space day below!