Iridium Flares Vs Starlink Flares

For a long time now, we’ve been accustomed to watching Iridium “Flares” in the night sky as the iridium communication satellites reflect sunlight off of their antennae at an angle directed toward Earth. The “flare” lasts only seconds, and covers a very limited “path” across the face of the Earth. So, being in the right place at the right time was critical to seeing one.

The iridium satellites are being replaced by new communication satellites, named Starlink. On May 23rd, Space X launched 60 satellites (all at the same time), the first installment of a total of about 12,000. As the iridium flares were “naked eye” visible, so are the Starlink flares. The flares are the result of Sunlight being reflected off of flat Earth-facing surfaces, as were the iridium flares. But there is a difference. At this time, there is a “lead” satellite and “trailing” satellites. The resulting flares, appear as a single track followed by a number of other simultaneous tracks. The photo below shows a sighting from the Netherlands.

One of the purposes of the new satellites is to provide broadband internet world-wide. Sounds good, right? Well, that’s one good thing. However, imagine taking a time exposure of some deep sky object, and ending up with “satellite streaks” across the frame. I mean, 12,000 satellites are a lot.

Well, here it is: Starlink streak pollution. An amateur astronomer captured a supernova in Galaxy NGC5353 (left side below). Astronomers at the Lowell Observatory trying to study the same supernova, photographed (tried to photograph) the supernova for light curve study. Here’s what they got (right side):

This type of supernova supplies information useful in determining the rate of expansion of the universe (when it can be photographed). Is this what we can expect astro photos to look like? The IAU (International Astronomical Union) is calling for some kind of regulation to lessen the possibility of this becoming a disaster for astronomy.

If you’re interested, you can see the “flyby” predictions at www.heavens-above.com. Happy viewing.

Send Your Name to Mars

Remember when NASA was taking names to put on a chip to put on the Parker Solar Probe to send to the Sun? If you sent your name in, it has gone through the Sun’s corona two times as of this date.

Well, now they’re taking names to go to Mars. Names will be etched on a silicon chip and placed on the Mars rover, which is, as of now, planned for a possible July, 2020 launch date from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and land on Mars in February, 2021.

The opportunity to send your name to Mars comes with a souvenir boarding pass and “frequent flyer” points.

This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA’s journey from the Moon to Mars. Miles are awarded for each “flight,” with corresponding digital mission patches available for download. More than 2 million names flew on NASA’s InSight mission to Mars, giving each “flyer” about 300 million frequent flyer miles. From now until Sept. 30, you can add your name to the list and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to Mars at: https://go.nasa.gohttps://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

NASA will use Mars 2020 and other missions in preparation for human exploration of the Red Planet. Another step in that direction is returning American astronauts to the Moon in 2024. The project is a cooperation of government, industry and international partners in an effort to build
and test the systems needed for human missions to Mars and beyond. Don’t wait, be sure to get a good seat.

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New Private Moon Lander

There’s a PRIVATE MOON LANDING TODAY: When (if) humans ever return to the Moon, it may not be by NASA. America’s next Moon rocket is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, but a small Israeli company is poised to touchdown on the Moon today. Their robot named “Beresheet” is scheduled to land on Mare Serenitatis (the Sea of Serenity) today, April 11, around 3 pm Eastern time. The private group, SpaceIL, will livestream the lunar landing.

Solar Minimum Update

Updated May 29, 2019:

Has anyone noticed anything different about the Sun? Anything unusual? Well, there’s nothing different, nothing unusual. The Sun is just going through its normal cycle. So, if you’ve looked lately, you’ve probably noticed that Sunspots are becoming rarer. The Sun goes through cycles. These cycles are measured by the number of Sunspots seen on the Sun’s surface, that is, the Earth-facing side. Each cycle lasts for about 11 years, with slight variations of time in each cycle.

The solar cycle was discovered in 1843 by Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, and using other observations, reconstructed the cycle back to 1745. Prior cycles were reconstructed from observations going back as far as Galileo and others in the early 1600’s. We are presently in cycle 24.  Right now, the Sunspot number is decreasing, and it has been for some time. Let’s look at the numbers.

Cycle 24 peaked in April, 2014 with 101 Sunspots, the weakest in a hundred years. There was only 1 day in 2014 with no Sunspots. 2015 had 0 spotless days. 2016 had 32 spotless days. 2017 had 104 spotless days.

At the end of 2018, there were 221 total spotless days, yielding a yearly percentage of 61%. The Sun produced a small group of Sunspots on the first day of 2019, and they rotated all the way around the Western limb of the Sun.  All of February was spotless. We have now had 84 spotless days.  yielding a 2019 yearly percentage of 57%.

The latest groups (2) of spots to appear rounded the Eastern limb and one grew in size until May 10 when it started to decrease in size. But it first produced an earthward facing CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) which produced enough of a disturbance in Earth’s magnetic field to produce Auroras southward into Michigan. 

Sunspots have a magnetic North and South Pole. The poles align with the Sun’s equator. Every solar cycle, the Sun’s poles reverse, as do the sunspot’s poles. On March 5, a small magnetic disturbance started to appear and was oriented perpendicular to the Sun’s equator. The pole of one sunspot in January was oriented opposite to the Sun’s poles. Does this mean that the poles are about to reverse and usher in a new solar cycle? Perhaps. Keep watching.

The minimum is still deepening; it has been predicted to “peak” some time in 2019-2020. But even with this minimum, there is still activity to be observed. There is still the frequent small prominence, flare or CME (Coronal Mass Ejection). And then there are the “holes” in the Sun’s atmosphere (coronal holes) that let stronger than normal streams of solar wind (charged particles), target the Earth’s atmosphere and produce those awesome auroras in the high latitudes. So if you have a solar telescope, keep watching, it’s not hopeless.

Keep checking back, we’ll keep you updated.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The comet is now at about magnitude 5. That’s just bright enough to be seen without optical aids under a dark sky. If you don’t have dark skies, you can still see it with only binoculars. The above picture comes from the Czech Republic, taken on December 9th. It was a 30 second exposure, proving that you don’t have to have a big telescope for astro photography.

You can see Orion just above the horizon in the lower left of the photo and Taurus in the upper left. The comet will be at its closest point to Earth on Dec. 16th and located in Taurus just West of the Pleiades.

So get your camera, binoculars or scope, and, happy hunting.

Another Martian Landing

Have I (Astronut) been missing something, or is space travel so commonplace now that “they” don’t bother to talk much about it? What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the latest Mars lander by NASA. I admit, I don’t watch a lot of news, and every once in a while, someone will ask me about something they saw on the news, and I missed it. I also admit, that when I do see, or hear, something about space, it usually amounts to about only a 1-2 minute “blurb”.

So, what’s NASA up to now? There’s a new Mars Lander on it’s way to Mars. It’s scheduled to arrive on November 26. Every lander so far has relied on the lander itself to send back information after landing. Or none if it crashes. This time, there are 2 cubesats accompanying the lander, named Insight. The cubsats will be deployed before Insight begins its descent into the Martian atmosphere and monitor Insight’s descent and landing. This way, we’ll have near real time information coming back. They won’t have to wait for hours to know if Insight made it safely to the surface or is laying in a heap. This is a first.

Insight is scheduled to land on Mars about 3 pm on Monday, November 26. NASA is planning to televise coverage of the event beginning at 2 pm.

Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The landing is the start of a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars’ deep interior. Insight will drill into the Martian soil, but more importantly, using seismic instrumentation, Insight will explore and “test” the sub-surface structure for the first time.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

Thanks guys.

Stay tuned for updates.

New Comet for astronomers

Wow! Another new comet (a first timer). This comes from spaceweather.com:

Newly-discovered Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto (C/2018 V1) has sprouted two tails.  A photograph from Nov. 18th shows the comet moving through the star fields of Virgo at magnitude 9.0 (:

So, why the fuss about two tails? Almost all comets have two tails. The sun-warmed nucleus of a comet spews a mixture of dust and gas into space. Quickly, the mixture separates into two distinct tails: The gaseous “ion tail” is pushed straight away from the sun by solar wind. The weightier dust tail resists solar wind pressure and aligns itself more or less with the comet’s orbit. In the above video, the long ion tail points up and left; the stubby dust tail points up and right.

Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto is plunging toward the sun on a nearly-parabolic orbit that will take it just inside the orbit of Mercury. Closest approach to the sun (0.38 AU) is on Dec. 3-4; closest approach to Earth (0.67 AU) is Nov. 27th. Amateur astronomers can find it–and its two tails–shining like a star of 8th magnitude in the constellation Virgo in the pre-dawn sky (see details below).

 

Looking for a Scout Leader

I have been informed that a Scout leader was asking if we could do a program with their group for the astronomy badge. My apologies for the miscommunication.  I understand that you are asking for a presentation around December 28/29. The answer is a resounding “Yes”. I am a registered badge councilor and have a PowerPoint presentation explaining what is required for the participants to earn their astronomy badge (whether Cub Scout’s patch and/or academic pin or the Boy Scout’s badge). And since part of earning the award is looking through a telescope, we will have ours there. Unfortunately, I have no contact information for the Scout leader. So, I’m hoping you will see this post and contact me through our website. Just go to the left hand side of the “Home” page, click on “Contact” and fill in the information. I will get the message and we can make arrangements.

I also heard that our Astronomy Night at Colt Creek on October 13th was a great success. I’m sorry I could not personally have been there to experience it.

Oh, by the way, let me reiterate: we do presentations/observing sessions for any group (schools, Scouts, church, birthday party, private community, etc.); you name it, we do it. Remember, “We bring the universe to you”.

Clear skies,

Keep looking up,

Cleve

President, Imperial Polk Astronomical Society

New Venue

So, what’s the latest IPAS news? We have a new venue. Where? Bartow, FL.
And what do we do there? Just what we do everywhere, sort of. It’s called sidewalk astronomy.

So, what is sidewalk astronomy? Sidewalk astronomy is no more than amateur astronomers, like us, setting up our telescopes in a public place (like on a busy sidewalk) and letting anyone who comes by look through the scopes at whatever we find in the night sky to see. We answer any questions about astronomy and the celestial objects we’re viewing.

Our purpose is to educate anyone interested in the basics of astronomy, let them see the wonders of the universe and hopefully, find a few new amateurs who may want to join us.

After two months at Bartow, we’re pleased to tell you that it has been a success. Many people have come by and viewed the universe through our scopes and enjoyed the view.

So come on out to Bartow on the third Friday of each month, visit the many vendors there to see what they have to offer and visit us and see the universe up close. It will be an experience you won’t forget. See you there.

Lunar Eclipse, January, 2019 in Lakeland, FL

I suspect that Lunar and solar eclipses occur more frequently than a lot of people think. But what I think doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that there will be a total Lunar eclipse in January of 2019, January 20-21 to be precise. The really good news for us here in Lakeland is that the total eclipse will be visible from Lakeland, Florida, from start to finish. I hope you all are as excited about this as I am. If not, maybe this will help spur you on. We, the Imperial Polk Astronomical Society, will be doing a Lunar Eclipse Watch that night.

Here are the details:
Florida Southern College will host the event for the night. The college is located at 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., Lakeland, Florida. We will do a presentation beginning at 7:00 pm in the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. We’ll tell (and show) you how and why eclipses happen and what to expect from this one. After the presentation, we’ll have time for a short Q & A session. Then we’ll move outside where we’ll have telescopes set up to view some of the wonders of the universe before the eclipse begins. We’ll view galaxies, far, far away, nebulae in our own galaxy, and our own solar system planets. Then, when the eclipse begins, we’ll “focus” our scopes on the Moon and track it through the stages of eclipse. We’ll be there from start to finish.

So, when does it start and end? The presentation starts Sunday, January 20 at 7:00 pm sharp. The eclipse starts at 9:36 pm. The eclipse ends Monday, January 21 at 2:48 am. Obviously, Lunar eclipses occur at night. One good thing about this one is that Monday, the 21st is a legal holiday, so maybe you’ll have the day off.

Our thanks to Florida Southern College.

If you have any questions, you can contact us right here through our website.