M42 - The Great Orion Nebula. Our public viewing session on Dec. the 15th had amazingly clear skies for our
visitors to enjoy. After they left, I tried a few pictures of some favorite objects in the sky and am quite pleased with how
some turned out. While vibrations are still a problem that plagues us, sometimes we get steady views. This shot here, taken
with our Canon 60Da, was a mere 9 second exposure in our main telescope.
Check out: the Space Telescope Science Institute's
Sky Tonight movie at Amazing Space or to Sky & Telescope's This Week's Sky at a Glance
What's Up in the Sky!
Section updated: May 5th, 2016.
The Sun currently appears in the constellation Pisces. It will appear to enter the constellation
Aries on the 18th of April. On the morning of May the 9th, the planet Mercury will cross in front of it as we see them
from the Earth. And on May the 14th, the Sun will cross into Taurus.
For those in North America, the total Solar Eclipse that we have been waiting for is the one that will occur
on August 21st, 2017, across the U.S.A..
This will be the first solar eclipse that we will see in America since 1979 and the last one that we'll see here until Apr. 2024!
Plan your trips now to see it! Hotels are already being sold out!
Meteor Showers: Note: compare shower dates with Moon for favorable viewing conditions; the fuller the Moon, the harder it will be to see the meteors!
Zero Hour Rate
comet 1P Halley
fast, brighter than average meteors
Little lunar interference; A good night for viewing
near Hamal or α Arietis
ast. Icarus? or ancient dead comet?
dawn-daytime radio shower
pre-dawn to invisible due to Sun
South of Vega
down to 0?
found in 1966, last seen in 1996?
Not bad, if they still exist
comet 7P Pons-Winnecke
very SLOW, bright meteors
Difficult, due to 3rd Qtr. morning Moon
Viewing Tips: Find a decent location away from obstructive lights in night, especially
avoid bluish-white lights that so impact your nightvision capabilities
which you'll need to see the fainter meteors! The meteors are generally heaviest in the wee hours of the morning
as then we'll be in front of the Earth as it plows it way through the debris trail. You'll want a clear and
unobstructed view of the sky as you can find as the meteors will appear to travel across the entire sky. It is this is
reason that an observatory, like FAU's, is a poor choice to go to observe a meteor shower, an even worse place would be a
cave! Bring a lawn chair or blanket and a pillow, use bug spray, get comfortable and enjoy the view!
Additional details about meteors, showers or to REPORT your own fireball observations should be done via
Solar System Planets:
Mercury is in retrograde to swoop across the Sun. It TRANSITS THE SUN on May the 9th.
We're hosting an Open dome event for all to see this thirteen times a century event that morning. See below.
Venus appears to be doing something very interesting. Every morning at 6 am since Feb. 22nd
until its upcoming conjunction with the Sun, Venus has been "hanging around" almost at the same altitude above the
horizon, slowly moving northwards. Of course it is just the current angle of the ecliptic with respect to the
horizon here and that the celestial sphere seems to be moving out from behind Venus, as it moves forward in its
orbit, but it does look peculiar! Venus entered Taurus on May the 1st and it is getting harder and harder to see it
as we are losing it in the solar glare, for it is traveling around the Sun on the far side of the Solar System
right now and will reach superior conjunction with the Sun on June the 6th. Afterwards, expect to see it on the
flip side of the night in the evening skies.
Mars is in retrograde and can currently be found in the serpent bearer Ophiuchus. It is heading
toward its opposition to the Sun on sunday May the 22nd. We'll announce any Opposition events for
Jupiter is just completing its retrograde south of Leo the lion, it will appear to move into
prograde motion on the 10th of May. On July the 4th, it will be visited by a new planetary probe, NASA's
Juno spacecraft! More information about
Juno can be found at its homepage of
www.missionjuno.swri.edu/. This mission has the potential to
rewrite our understanding of the solar system's planetary formation! Stay tuned!
Saturn currently is in retrograde in Ophiuchus. It will reach its opposition to the Sun on
Uranus is advancing through Pisces and will appear with the fish until Apr. 28th,
2018. We'll lose it in the solar glare by the end of March. It will reach solar conjunction on Apr. 9th,
so we should not expect to see it on the flip side of the night until the third full week of April in the morning
Neptune is just over 1.5° away from λ Aquarii appearing in the morning skies. It
will reside in Aquarius until 2022.
dwarf planet Pluto is retrograde and appears in the bowl of the teaspoon asterism,
about 26 arcminutes west of Albaldah, where the teaspoon bowl attaches to its handle. As can be expected,
it's apparent magnitude is a very dim mv = 14.25 as
it is on the far side of the solar system, so you will need a big telescope to see it.
Mercury Transits the Sun -- Morning of May 9th
On the morning of Monday May the 9th, the FAU Astronomical Observatory will Observe the transit of Mercury
across the face of the Sun. We'll record data, and celebrate by hosting an Open dome event for all to witness this
thirteen/fourteen times per century syzygy of celestial mechanics! In addition, we'll give a talk entitled
Transits - Past and Present, which will describe the importance of transit events for astronomy. Their importance
includes the Quest for the Astronomical Unit and a discussion about how such events are used to find Exoplanets.
Monday May 9th 2016.
7:00 am until 2:00 pm.
Observations of Mercury's Transit Across the Sun and presentations about Transits!
On the morning of May the 9th, very soon after the Sun rises above the horizon here in
Boca Raton, the planet Mercury will appear to start to cross the face of the Sun. A general planetary line up, such as
this one, is called a syzygy, while this particular line up is called an inferior conjunction. These perfect
inferior conjunctions with Mercury currently occur about thirteen times a century, the last one occurred in 2006. And this
particular event will occur when Mercury will be at the aphelion position (the furthest point) of its orbit about the Sun
and hence will be closest to us then at only 0.557 AU away. Thus its transit should take about seven hours to complete.
The points of contact and exiting are especially important scientifically, and we'll be taking data around then. Do you
want to get an idea of how big our Solar System is, and how small Mercury is, then you will want to come by FAU's
Astronomical Observatory to witness and experience this event for yourself!
Did you notice that AU measurement just four sentences ago? That unit of measure
is the Astronomical Unit, which is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. A number that many students
see in their science textbooks and often wonder how do they know that? Well, it WASN'T done with an extraordinarily
long tape measure! Instead, planetary transit events across the Sun was the key to figuring out what was once called
the Last Great Problem in Astronomy. (Of course, they were wrong about that!) To achieve this quest took
scientists and explorers on adventures across continents and centuries! Transits are also important today for learning about
Exoplanets, planets that orbit stars outside our Solar System. How do we measure their masses, orbital distances, get
a sense of their atmospheres and estimate how many of them their are in the Galaxy? These are the topics that we'll
cover in our talk: Transits: Past and Present.
Come to the Observatory to celebrate and observe the Mercury at its inferior conjunction with us, while
pondering some of the former and current astronomical mysteries that are connected with this event. This invitation is
open to anyone from FAU, the community, their friends and family to come and enjoy.
After all, it is their universe, too!
55 Years Since the Order to Fix Your Little Problem and Light This Candle
In the early morning of May 5th, 1961, Commander Alan B. Shepard awoke and had his breakfast of filet mignon, eggs,
orange juice, and tea. The doctors then proceeded to do their nasty probing tests and at 4:00 am, he suited up and entered the
At the gantry, Shepard stopped for a moment and looked up at his Redstone rocket, in a way like he was kicking
the tires to check its quality. The air of expectancy was thick and he thought that he would never see this rocket again. The long
wait and the delays were finally over, or so he thought. He then entered the elevator for a six story ride up. His flight surgeon
gave him a box of children's crayons, Just so you'll have something to do up there.
In the special clean White Room at the top, John Glenn greeted him and told him that everything was ready.
The Mercury capsule was painted Freedom Seven. Freedom was Shepard's patriotic choice, Seven for the it was the seventh
capsule they'd test and for the Mercury Seven Astronauts. Shepard was crammed into his capsule. He had enough room to roll about
his eyeballs, but not much else. There was a spare emergency parachute inside for him. However, anyone who knew the capsule, knew
that it was only to give the astronaut a chance to wiggle it on and get out the door. It was a slim chance at best.
There was a small notice attached to the intrument panel:
NO HANDBALL PLAYING IN HERE.
As if he could. Shepard returned the sign to the grinning Glenn. Happy Landings, Commander! the
support team called. The hatch was closed. Shepard went through his checklists, checking radios and switches. The gantry rolled
away. In the periscope, he saw clouds roll in. The countdown clock stopped at fifteen minutes. The gantry rolled back so
electricians could fix a glitch. The fix took one hour and twenty-six minutes to correct. Shepard asked that a message be sent
to his wife that he was fine and that he was going nowhere fast.
Then Shepard had to make a delay of his own, he needed to urinate. He asked the blockhouse Capcom (Gordon
Cooper was the capsule commnicator this day) to be allowed to quickly step out to go. No, was Wernher von Braun's answer, it would
take too long to reassemble the White Room. His temper rose as did his urge to go. Finally, he asked to go into his space suit.
Medics worried that he would electrically short circuit all their leads attached to his body. Tell'em to turn the power off!
he snapped. Gordo said Okay Alan. Power's off. Go for it. Because he was reclining, the liquid pooled under his back inside
his suit. His undergarments soaked up the urine, and with the 100% oxygen flowing in his suit, it soon dried.
The countdown resumed. The gantry was gone. Alan relaxed, watching waves on the beach. Five minutes.
At two minutes and forty seconds, Shepard heard Hold. Gordo was on the line Alan, uh, we're gonna
hold here at this time. We've, ah, got a little computer problem here--
Alan yelled I've been in here for more than three hours. I'm a hell of a lot cooler than you guys. Why
don't you just fix your little problem and light this candle?
At t-minus 2 minutes, Capcom was transferred to Deke Slayton, Alan's friend, in Mission Control, two miles
away. Deke's voice was calming to Alan, and he then uttered a final message to himself: Deke and the man upstairs will watch
over me. So don't screw up, Shepard. Don't screw up. He knew that his success on this mission would keep the country's
man-in-space program on track, or forever doom it.
At T-minus four seconds, Alan had his hand near a stopwatch as a backup to the automatic clock. His left
hand held the abort handle to the escape tower.
At T-minus zero, Deke called out Ignition!
The liftoff was filled with vibrations and shocks of pumps operating at full speed to feed the combustion
chamber's continually controlled explosions. You're on your way, Jose!, Deke shouted. Roger, liftoff and the clock has
started, Alan answered. This is Freedom Seven. Fuel is go. Oxygen is go. Cabin is holding at 5.5 PSI. He gave
similar techinical notifications all through-out his flight.
He reached 186.6 km (116 miles) up, experienced weightlessness, floating washers, 11 G-forces, saw a wonderful
view of the American east coast, became the first person to manually test and control his own spacecraft and became the first
American in Space.
Shepard did not screw up.
Way to go, Commander! Happy 55th Anniversary to America's Entry to Space!
Excert from Moon Shot The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton with Jay
Barbree and Howard Benedict. Turner Publishing, Inc. Atlanta. 1994.
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