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FAU Astronomical Observatory -- Front Page

Welcome to the Observatory's Front Page. Included here are some of the latest news and articles that may be of interest to our visitors. General observatory information, such as location and maps, viewing schedules, Events Calendar, contact information, student class credits, parking and other general information, can be found on the "About the Observatory" page.

We also have a growing coverage about the issue of light pollution, what it is, what it does to the environment, to ourselves, to our wallets and resources, to our security and safety, to the majestic wonders of the night sky and what YOU can do about it. This is a man made problem that is prepetuated by a lack of awareness and is something that we all can correct.

The Front Page

The Front Page currently covers:

Image of NASA's Apollo 11 Mission Patch

General Sky Conditions

Solar conditions, atmospheric phenomena and news are reported by www.SpaceWeather.com.

The current sky conditions of Boca Raton are found via the Clear Sky Clock: Shortened
timeblock gif of sky conditions.
And some details as to what this means is mentioned in the Visiting Tips section of the About the Observatory page.

Basic weather conditions for our area are at www.wunderground.com forecast for Boca Raton, while our astronomically important current cloud cover conditions can be found at www.wunderground.com for Boca Raton.

To the Space Telescope Science Inst's Sky Tonight movie. 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 page.
To the Sky & Telescope's <q>This Week's Sky at a Glance</q> article by Alan M. MacRobert.

APOD's Banner image that links to Astronomy Pictures of the Day site.

What's Up in the Sky


Section updated: Sept. 17th, 2014.

The Sun currently appears in the constellation Virgo the maiden. It will cross the equator on 2216 EDT on Sept. 22nd, marking the beginning of autumn in the horthern hemisphere. It will cross into Libra on the morning of the 31rd of Oct. There is a rather annoying comet out there Oukaimeden (C/2013 V5) that is in an orbit that is right on the Sun's meridan. Hence it is not viewable either when the Sun rises or sets! Grrr! You're best chance to see it is in the very early evening skies between Sep. 24th through the 28th, if at all.

Lunar Phases: LAST Quarter: Sept.15th; NEW Moon Sept. 24th; FIRST Quarter: Oct. 1th; Full Moon Oct. 8th -- Sunrise Total Lunar Eclipse -- look for the Moon setting in the western skies; LAST Quarter: Oct. 15th; NEW Moon Oct. 23th -- Partial Solar Eclipse as the Sun sets here, it will better seen by the west coast of U.S. and Pacific areas, FIRST Quarter: Oct. 31th.

Mercury is moving prograde into the constellation of Virgo the maiden in the evening before twilight. It will be less than a degree away from Spica on Sep. 21st as it reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun. From then on it will retrograde across the front of the Sun, reaching inferior conjunction on Oct. 16th and slip into the morning skies. Reach its greatest elongation again on Nov. 1st, resume direct motion, crossing into Libra on Nov. 13th, entering Scorpio on Nov. 28th, entering Ophiuchus on Dec. 3rd, reaching superior conjuction on Dec. 7th and returning to the evening skies then.

Venus is simply stunning at mv = -3.92 in Leo the lion in the eastern morning skies and will enter Libra on Sep. 24th. It reaches superior conjunction on Oct. 25th, becoming the evening star in the western skies and enter Libra on Oct. 30th and appear 22 arc minutes away from Zubenelgenubi on Nov. 4th. The Mater Amorum (Mother Love) will enter Scorpio on Nov. 17th and Ophiuchus on Nov. 22nd. It will leave the serpent bearer on Dec. 7th, entering Sagitarius. It will cross in front of the Lagoon Nebula on Dec. 10th, but at 900 EDT when the Sun is bright and shining.

Mars is in Scorpio's boundaries. On Sep. 21st, NASA's MAVEN will go into orbital insertion around the planet. It will pass the globular cluster M80 on Sep. 23rd at just over 8 arcmin, but at 1330 EDT, so we won't see that here. It will enter the constellation Ophiuchus on Sep. 25th, staying for about a month there. On Sep. 27th, India's Mars Orbiter Mission arrives. But the REAL show occurs on Oct. 19th, when Comet Siding Spring will brush the planet with its tail! All orbiter and ground rover's eyes will be watching the skies then to see what happens then! On Oct. 21st, Mars will enter Sagitarius. Mars will have a long stay with the Centaur Archer until Dec. 4th when it will enter the realm of the Sea-goat, Capricornius. It will enter Aquarius on Jan 8th, and then Pisces on Feb. 11th as Venus will catch up to it and on Feb. 21st, our two nearest planetary neighbors will appear less than a half a degree apart from each other, on the evening of the Dark Sky Festival III!

Before the Sun rises, seek Jupiter in the east in the constellation Cancer the crab during the predawn hours. It enter Leo's relam on Oct. 14th and start its retrograde on Dec. 8th. returning back into Cancer on Feb. 4th just before its opposition to the Sun on Feb. 6th.

Saturn's brightness at mv = 0.21. It appears in Libra, late in the evening skies until its conjunction with the Sun on Nov. 17th. Afterwards look for it in the flip side of night before dawn in the eastern skies. Around Nov. 25th, catch it near Mercury in just above the morning horizon. It will enter Scorpio on Jan. 18th.

Uranus is slowly advancing through Pisces and will appear with the fish until Apr. 28th, 2018! Its opposition will occur on Oct. 7th and then on morning of October the 8th, Uranus will be less than a degree away from the Moon as the Moon will be eclipsed by the Earth's shadow.

Neptune is currently just over 1.5° north and east of Sigma Aquarii in the evening sky. By Sep. 12th it will appear 0.5° away from the star. It will reside in Aquarius until 2022.

Globe at Night Campaign for September 15-24th, 2014 is On!

Calling Everyone Everywhere! Save the starlight, turn off artificial lights at night.

GLOBE at Night is a citizen-science campaign open to people all over the world to raise awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure their night sky brightness and report their observations to a website from a computer or smart phone. The Globe at Night observation campaign is targeting Cygnus the swan in the northern hemisphere for September 15th through the 24th.

Light pollution threatens not only our "right to starlight", but can affect energy consumption, wildlife and health. People in 115 countries contributed over a hundred thousands of measurements, making GLOBE at Night the most successful light pollution awareness campaign to date.

To participate, goto their webpages and download their Cygnus report, then head out and see how much of the constellation you can find. Give your best observations that you can and send your report back to them. They will incorporate your data into their databases for analysis about the worldwide growing problem of light pollution.

For information and resources, visit us at www.globeatnight.org. To report measurements, visit www.globeatnight.org/webapp/.

Happy star-hunting!

Sunday, July 20th, 1969, 3:06 pm CDT

Image of the Apollo 11 Astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.Just under three hours earlier, the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle had separated from the Command Module (CM) Columbia. The two ships had been in radio silence for 22 minutes as they came around the back side of the Moon. Capcom Charlie Duke called to them Eagle, Houston, if you read, you are a go for Powered Descent. Michael Collins in the CM relayed the message to the LM. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, anchored to the LM floor, scanned their instrument panel as the Powered Descent time approached. With the fuel tanks pressurized, the computer program loaded, their trajectory checked against the Sun, they turned on the movie camera to record the event. Armstrong armed the descent engine, Aldrin pushed the PROCEED button, and seconds later, they yelled Ignition as the descent engine came on. However, at first they felt nothing. Concerned, they looked at each other and then the instruments. Everything looked fine, so where was the thrust? Slowly the cabin filled with noiseless vibration and then came full throttle.

Their communication signal to Houston soon dropped out. Collins above in the CM radioed the fact to the descending crewmates. Aldrin below switched to a different communications antenna and restored the link.

With the Eagle face down, Armstrong could see the landmarks that he studied and recognized were appearing 2 seconds earlier than when they scheduled to appear. As they were moving about a mile per second, they would be landing 2 miles down range than what was planned. As he radioed to Earth that their position checks were a little long, the Eagle's engine throttled down. He realized that the Guidance computer did not know the error existed.

The braking continued and at 46,000 feet, Armstrong turned Eagle over on its back so the landing radar could point to the Moon. 6,000 feet lower, the radar came on, filling them with information about their speed and altitude. As the computer revised its trajectory, they felt manuveuring jets fire and shake the ship, more often than what simulators had given.

Aldrin checked height calculations fron the data, and found he and the computer were off by several thousand feet. While he felt the computer was more reliable, he wanted mission control to verify. As he keyed a request to their guidance computer to display the height difference, the computer's Master Alarm buzzed on and PROG light glowed yellow. Program Alarm, Armstrong radioed as Aldrin found it to be a 1202, though neither knew what that meant.

Back in Mission Control, computer experts Bales and Garman realized that the alarm meant that the computer was calling out for help. Every one second cycle, the computer had a to-do list of items to monitor and make decisions on. If it had too many things to do in the one second cycle, it sounded the alarm and restarted from the top of its list. Bales and Garman said that as long as it came and went, the astronauts would be okay. If it stayed on, it would be an almost certain abort. An abort would fire the upper stage rocket of the LM, separating the two halves, in a maneuver no one wanted to go through. To reduce the computer's chores, Mission Control would monitor the height difference and relay it via Capcom. However, Houston was 3 seconds away, at light speed, round trip to the Moon.

Halfway through the Powered Descent, Eagle's engines throttled back and then it pitched over so they were standing up to face the Moon's horizon. They were 7,500 feet up and looked out over the Sea of Tranquillity. At 5,000 feet up and 100 feet per second, Armstrong tried out a quick test maneuvering to check if he could takeover if needed. At 3,000 feet up and going down at 70 feet per second, they were right on trajectory as Duke said You are go for landing.

Armstrong looked for landmarks to find a spot to land, as Aldrin called out Program alarm, twelve oh one. Mission Control responded that it was the same type as before, they still had a go. As Aldrin cleared the alarm, it sounded again. Armstrong focussed on landmarks outside. He then realized that they had missed their landing zone, Home Plate, by 4 miles. Instead, a crater as large as a football field loomed ahead with a boulders scattered all around it. The computer was taking them straight to the boulder field, any one of which could caused the LM to catch a leg, tip it over and end the mission quickly and tragically. Plus, they were running out of fuel.

Neil knew that he would have to hand fly the ship the rest of the way. Without explaining why, he hit the 'ATTITUDE HOLD', pitched the lander level, and fired the descent rocket to slow their fall while still continuing their horizontal motion to get past the boulders. To allow Armstrong to concentrate on searching for a safe place to land, Aldrin read out the computer's numbers. Three hundred fifty feet, down at four. . . three hundred thirty, six and a half down. You're pegged on horizontal velocity . . . three hundrend feet, down three and a half . . . forty-seven feet forward . . . one and half down . . . thirteen forward Mission Control could do nothing but sit and listen, it was now out of the loop. But Armstrong still saw boulders. He fired the manuevering jets to left and asked How's the fuel?

Eight percent, Aldrin answered.

Armstrong said looks like a good area here, as Aldrin glaced out to the ground 250 feet below. Their shadow was clearly visible on the rough ground.

Aldrin said, Two hundred twenty feet. . . thirteen forward . . . eleven forward, coming down nicely.

I'm going over a crater, Armstrong replied, gotta get farther over here.

Five and a half down . . . 5 percent . . . seventy five feet . . . six forward . . . ninety seconds, Aldrin continued.

Their computer calculated that they had ninety seconds of fuel left. If they were still up when it ran out, they were dead weight. If an abort would be needed, the descent rocket would still need twenty seconds to allow for enough time for the ascent rocket to fire. And with the decreasing fuel level, Eagle was becoming top heavy, keeping it level was important to prevent breaking off a leg at landing and for them to leave the Moon, when that time came, so they would not arc back to the Moon.

Sixty feet, down two and a half, two forward, two forward, read off Aldrin.

Sixty seconds, called out Capcom Duke. No one in Mission Control knew about the boulders and craters Armstrong was trying to avoid. They only knew that in every simulation, Armstrong had already landed at this point. They were all riveted to their displays. The LM was now in dead man's curve, no time to back out.

Armstrong looked for an outside reference point, but found that their rocket plume blasted away the lunar dust, covering everything in rushing streaks that hid the surface. The island-like rocks that stuck up through the dust was all that he needed as he said kicking up some dust.

At thrity feet, Armstrong worked away some backward motion and knew he was low on fuel, but then came some sideways motion. Flight Director Gene Kranz warned of the lack of gas stations on the Moon, as Capcom called out Thirty seconds.

Aldrin replied that the fuel warning light's on. Four forward . . . drifting to the right a little. and then Contact light! as the drop rods in the foot pads registered connection with the ground, but Armstrong was so absorbed in flying that he continued his descent gently to the ground.

Okay, engine stop...descent engine command override, off

Houston registered them down, but Capcom wanted confirmation, We copy you down, Eagle, and waited those three long seconds for an answer.

Houston..., Armstrong replied, but he and Aldrin were a bit incredulous that it was real and that they had done it. A quick check of the instrument panel confirmed it was. All four contact lights glowed. Looking outside the dust was gone and they saw the lunar rocks around them.

Armstrong continued, Houston, Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed.

3:17:42 pm, CDT, Sunday, July 20th, 1969.

Forty-five years ago.

To learn more about these explorers try http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo11.html
or books such as by Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts printed by Penguin Books or by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree & Howard Benedict's Moon Shot The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon of Turner Publishing, Inc.

The Seoul, South Korean 10th Year Anniversary Light Pollution UCC & Photo Contest

The FAU Astronomical Observatory is pleased to help out and applaud the Feelux Lighting Museum in Seoul, South Korea, who has partnered with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, to host the 10th anniversary of the Light Pollution Photography and Videography Contest 2014. The purpose of the contest, held annually since 2005, is to increase the awareness of light pollution and to pursue healthier uses of light that is more harmonious with the environment.

The images/videos submitted to this year's contest should feature either examples of light pollution or examples of natural lights sources that promote coexistence between nature and people in healthier lifestyles. Details of the contest, its guidelines for submissions, and the prizes that can be won are found on the Museum's website at:

The Museum's webpages or our own webpages has more examples and information about light pollution, what it is, what its effects are on the environment, our own health, our energy resources and our safety.

Can You Identify This Image?

The image at the right shows locations of:

  1. southeast U.S. cities seen at night from space.
  2. inefficiently used energy resources and tax dollars continuously squandered by local city planners.
  3. local populations who are losing their humbling sense of wonder and awe of the night sky's majesty.
  4. increased, widespread disruptions to the local natural environment.
  5. projected increases of health problems in the local populations.
  6. all of the above.
Lights at night in Florida, Dec. 2010, taken by Exp. 26 on the ISS.
Image Credit: NASA, ISS Expedition 26, Dec. 2010.

Department of Physics
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, Florida
E-mail: vandernoot at sci dot fau dot edu
Phone: 561 297 STAR (7827)

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