Leonid Meteor Shower – November 17-18, 2014

Look for this meteor shower at around midnight on these two nights. The radiant (the apparent point of origin) is in the constellation Leo, which will be high overhead at midnight. Interestingly, at any given time of the year, the Earth is moving toward whatever stars happen to be directly overhead at midnight, and it “smashes” into the debris field that crosses the Earth’s orbit and creates the shower.

The Leonid shower of 2002 was the best meteor shower that I have ever witnessed. I went out at around midnight near the peak, and the origin was nearly directly overhead. I could see about six to eight meteors per minute that seemed to fly out of the origin in all directions. While lying on my back and looking straight up at the origin the visual effect was very much like the old Windows screen saver that gave the appearance of flying through a star field.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonids

Cetus (A sea monster in Greek mythology)

CetusCetus, the Greek mythological sea monster, is a large southern constellation on the celestial equator, and one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is accompanied by other water constellations – Pisces, Aquarius and Eridanus. Its head is nestled among three zodiacal constellations: Taurus, Aries and Pisces. Its body is south (below) Pisces, and is flanked by Aquarius and Eridanus. Cetus’ close proximity to the ecliptic means that the Moon, planets and asteroids occasionally pass through this constellation. Cetus is placed highest in the sky at nightfall in December.

Cetus is home to one Messier object, M77, a striking face-on spiral galaxy. Among Cetus’ stars is an unusual variable star, the disappearing  one, or Mira (Omicron Ceti). This star’s high variability from 3rd magnitude to 10th magnitude means that it disappears from view when it dips below 5th or 6th magnitude. Cetus’ brightest star Menkar (Alpha Ceti) marks the sea monster’s nose.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetus

IAU Cetus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Cetus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Pisces (The fishes)

Constellation PiscesThis zodiacal constellation is a rather dim grouping of stars that are strung out low across the southern sky, just below the Great Square of Pegasus. Pisces is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy that remain among the 88 modern constellations. It is highest in the sky and best observed at nightfall in December. The intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator lie within this constellation. There are two such intersections that mark the two equinoxes. At the intersection in Pisces, the Sun is moving from south to north, so this is the point of the Vernal (spring) Equinox. This constellation is home to just one Messier object, M74.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pisces_(constellation)

IAU Pisces chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011

© James R. Johnson, 2014
jim@jrjohnson.net

Equuleus (The pony)

Equuleus, DelphinusEquuleus, the pony, is a small, dim constellation located just north of the celestial equator. It bears no resemblance a pony, but it is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. Equuleus is the 2nd smallest constellation, and it has no stars brighter than 4th magnitude. It is located just outside of the Summer Triangle between  Aquila and Pegasus, and it reaches its highest nightfall ascension in October. Kitalpha (Alpha Equulei) is its brightest star shining at 3.9th magnitude. Equuleus contains a few faint NGC deep space objects.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equuleus

IAU Equuleus chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Equuleus chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Delphinus (The dolphin)

Dephinus, EquuleusDelphinus is a very small, but easily identified northern constellation. It is perhaps the most interesting of the four small constellations located near the Summer Triangle as it loosely resembles a dolphin. It consists of only five main stars, and is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. It is located south of Cygnus, and is flanked by Aquila and Pegasus. It reaches its highest nightfall ascension in October.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphinus

IAU Delphinus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Delphinus chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Vulpecula (The little fox)

Vulpecula, Sagitta, DelphinusThe little fox is a small constellation of just a few moderately bright stars occupying the center of the Summer Triangle. Bearing little resemblance to a fox, this constellation reaches its highest nightfall ascension in September, appearing nearly directly overhead.  This constellation is one of the 48 that were cataloged by 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy. Vulpecula  is home to two notable deep space objects: the Dumbell Nebula (M27) and the Brocchi’s Cluster (Collinder 399, also known as “the coathanger” asterism).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulpecula

IAU Vulpecula chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Vulpecula chart, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Sagitta (The arrow)

Aquila, Sagitta, DelphinusSaggita, the arrow, is the third smallest constellation. Find this tiny constellation just inside the Summer Triangle on an imaginary line drawn between Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. Yep, this constellation is a distinct arrow-like constellation and  it can be readily seen under a reasonably dark sky. Find it at its highest nightfall ascension in September.This is one of the 48 constellations cataloged by Ptolemy in the 2nd century. It contains only one Messier object, M71.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagitta

IAU Sagitta chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.
IAU Sagitta chart, Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott and Rick Fienberg), June 5, 2011.

© James R. Johnson, 2014.
jim@jrjohnson.net

Announcing Outings with the Telescope

I have decided to start a distribution list for sending out alerts to anyone who might wish to join me when I am going out with the telescope. After giving considerable thought to announcing via email, Facebook, and Twitter, I landed on mobile text.  This method, I believe, will be easiest for me to use, is used by more people than any other communication channel, and a text message is likely to get noticed sooner than one sent by any other means. My initial thinking is that I will project a possible event about two days ahead of a night that I am available and the forecast predicts clear weather, and then send a follow up confirmation early the evening that I am going out. Please let me know if you would like to be added to my alert list.

Photo the nearest star and let us know about it

I managed to do the most important thing that I wanted to get done last month:  respond to a reader’s request. The request was quite simple – “photo the nearest star and let us know about it.” There are seemingly thousands of stars that can be seen in the sky, so one might think that a nearby star would be a bright and easy target. Surprisingly, the closest star that we can see from our northern latitudes is a rather dim star that can only be seen with a binocular or telescope. Increasing the challenge, it is located in constellation of rather dim stars. And finally, Barnard’s Star is in a constellation that will soon be below the horizon before sunset as the Earth continues its orbit about the Sun, so I had to rush to get this project done soon or wait until next summer. My first attempt was on a relatively clear evening, but the nearly full Moon made it difficult to positively identify the star field that I was seeking, and clouds eventually set in before I could complete the mission. The next time that I was able to get out, there was no Moon and no clouds, but I did not succeed in locating the target before that area of the sky set below the horizon. By the third time that I was able to get out, I had revised my search technique, and I quickly captured an image of the correct star field on my first attempt. Here is a link to the result of my work:  http://www.jrjohnson.net/pages/image_template.php?ID=22.