The stars at night are big and…. falling: Geminid Meteor Shower Returns December 13!

Of the many meteor showers that occur throughout the year, the Geminid Meteor Shower in December may be the most reliably active. This meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes near 3200 Phaethon, a Palladian Asteroid. The Geminids were first observed in 1862. The shower gets its name because they appear to originate in the Gemini constellation. 

Under ideal conditions, one may see as many as 50-100 meteors an hour. The meteors from this shower are also especially bright, and many astronomers believe that the shower is intensifying every year. The shower should peak around 9:00 p.m. on Saturday December 13th. That’s good news because most of the other significant showers, like the Perseids, peak after midnight. With no Moon until after midnight, we should be able to see a lot of meteors (weather permitting of course). 

The George Observatory will be open Saturday, December 13th until midnight for viewing the shower. Tickets for viewing the shower are $5 and include access to our telescopes.  That night, we’ll be able to view several star clusters and nebulae with our scopes. Jupiter should rise in time to be viewed as well. We’ll also have our Discovery Dome available for $3. 

If you can’t make it out to the George, you can still view the shower anywhere with dark skies.

 

 

This week @HMNS: Making physics cool and celebrating 25 years at the George

This series is about events happening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For more information about HMNS, our exhibits and programming, please visit HMNS.org.

 

THURSDAY, OCT. 9
FILM SCREENING: Particle Fever 
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Imagine being able to watch Franklin received his first jolt of electricity or Edison turn on the first light bulb!

Particle Fever gives you a front row seat to our generation’s most significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet. 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries join forces in pursuit of a single goal: to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson, potentially explaining the origin of all matter. 

Join Dr. Paul Padley, one of the Rice University professors who worked on the Higgs boson discovery on the Hadron Collider, for this one-night-only event.

 

FRIDAY, OCT. 10
MEMBERS EVENT: The George Observatory 25th Anniversary Celebration
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Celebrate the George Observatory’s 25th anniversary and peer through the refurbished research telescope to see spectacular views of Saturn along with a variety of deep space objects. Cash bar and light refreshments.

 

 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Two eclipses for the price of one!

Star Chart - October 2014

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on September 1, 9 pm CDT on September 15, and dusk on September 30. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high in the west. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest, with Mars to its right. Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the east. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the Celestial Sea, where only Fomalhaut stands out.

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it pulls away from Antares in Scorpius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind

Saturn drops into the Sun’s glare by Halloween. See how long you can keep track of it as it appears lower and lower to the southwest horizon each night this month.

Jupiter is now higher in the east at dawn; it is the brightest thing there. 

Venus is passing behind the Sun and thus out of sight this month. Superior conjunction (Venus in line with the Sun, on the far side of the Sun) is on October 25.

In October the Big Dipper is to the lower left of the North Star at dusk, and soon sets. As a result, it may be hard to see if you have trees or buildings north of you. As the Big Dipper sets, though, Cassiopeia rises. This is a pattern of five stars in a distinct W shape which lies directly across the North Star from the Big Dipper. Look for Cassiopeia high in the north on fall and winter evenings.  

Autumn represents sort of an ‘intermission’ in the sky, with bright summer stars setting at dusk, while bright winter stars such as Orion have not yet risen.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest early in the evening. The Summer Triangle is high in the west. Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is in the east, indicating that autumn has begun. The stars rising in the east are much dimmer than those overhead and in the southwest because when you face east at dusk in October, you face out of the Milky Way plane. The center of our Galaxy lies between Scorpius and Sagittarius, while the Summer Triangle is also in the galactic plane. Pegasus, on the other hand, is outside the plane of our galaxy and is a good place to look for other galaxies. Nearby constellations Andromeda and Triangulum (a small triangle) contain the spiral galaxies nearest to our own. 

Total Lunar Eclipse October 8 + Partial Solar Eclipse October 23!
The Full Moon of October 8 enters Earth’s shadow completely, causing a total lunar eclipse!  Partial eclipse begins at 4:15 am, with totality from 5:24 to 6:25 am. The Moon then begins to leave the shadow, but is still partially eclipsed as it sets at 7:26 in Houston. This is the second of four total eclipses we can see in 2014-15; the next one occurs April 4, 2015.

The New Moon of October 23 partially blocks the Sun, causing a partial solar eclipse!  For us, the eclipse begins at 5:00 and is still in progress at sunset (6:43 pm). For both eclipses you’ll need a site with a clear view to the west to watch the setting Moon or Sun in eclipse. 

Moon Phases in October 2014:
First Quarter: October 1, 2:32 pm; October 30, 9:48 pm
Full: October 8, 5:50 am
Last Quarter: October 15, 2:12 pm
New: October 23, 4:55 pm 

Celebrate The George October 10-12!
The George Observatory celebrates its 25th anniversary the weekend of October 10-12!  That weekend, the observatory is open for a members event on Friday evening and Sunday night in addition to our customary Saturday night hours

Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium Schedule.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement. 

This week at the George Observatory: Perseids Punch Through Supermoon on August 12

If you follow astronomy websites, you’ve probably noticed that every month or so there’s an article about a meteor shower happening. There are meteors showers frequently throughout the year. Some showers are more active than others depending on various factors. This August one of the most reliably active showers, the Perseids, will take place. 

The Perseids, sometimes called The Tears of St. Lawrence, occur when the Earth passes through a debris field created by comet 109P Swift-Tuttle. This year, the meteor shower peaks Tuesday night (August 12) through early Wednesday morning. Besides being one of the most active showers (in 2013 it averaged 109 meteors an hour), the Perseids also have a very broad peak. Meteors can be seen as early as July in some circumstances. 

The early meteors which are the first ones to hit the earth’s atmosphere, tend to be the brightest ones with the longest tails.These are called “Earth-grazers” and those are the ones we will be looking for the evening of August 12-13 here at the George Observatory.

This year, the shower will be taking place during another “Supermoon,” occurring August 10. While not at its closest point, this means the Moon will still be very close and bright on August 12. Normally, this would not be an ideal night for observing meteors since the Moon will flood the sky with light.

Our astronomers like to joke that “Moon” is a four letter word. 

But don’t fret! The Moon won’t rise until 9:30 p.m. that night and, with our high tree-line here at the George Observatory, it won’t start affecting viewing until at least 10 p.m.  Also, even after the Moon rises, the brightest meteors will still shine through. 

In 2011, the Perseids peaked on a full Moon and people still saw an average of over 50 meteors an hour. This year the Moon will be a waxing gibbous (progressing from the full moon to the new moon).

The George Observatory will be open on Tuesday, August 12 from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. for  meteor shower viewing. 

Event tickets are $5 per person.  Our Discovery Dome will also be available for $3 per person.