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Image of the current Sun, provided by ESA's & NASA's SDO space telescope and link to sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov

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The National Academies Press: Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report (2008)

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Weather Events--
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Societal and
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A Workshop
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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, directions, 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:
Sir Issac Newton investigates light with a prism.
December 25th -- Happy Birthday, Isaac Newton!
376 years old and more relavent today than ever!

News of the Observatory

Dec. 18th 2018 My apologies, but FAU is hosting the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 18th. So the campus will be closed for normal operations to accommodate this football. Unfortunately, this will include our public viewing night that would have occurred on the 18th. The nerve of them!
I will see you in the new year! Until then, clear dark and wonderfully starry night skies to you all!

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula, taken at FAU's Astronomical Observatory on Dec. 16th, 2015 at 0126 EST.

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.



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: Dec. 19th, 2018.

The Sun currently appears off in the direction of Sagittarius the archer. Dec. 21st is the winter solstice, the longest night in the year and will appear lowest in the sky for the northern hemisphere as this half of the planet will be tilted away from the Sun! Note that Jan. 4th is the Earth's Perihelion Day! Which means that we're physically CLOSER to the Sun then, than any other day in our orbit about the Sun. Remember, that our orbit about the Sun is NOT perfectly circular! So if we're closer to the Sun on that day, then why is the northern hemisphere so chilly, you wonder??? Well, that low angle of the Sun from our perspective has an effect of spreading the Sun's light and heat energy across a larger surface area on the Earth. It can be explained by this analogy: blow hot air from a hand-held hair dryer and point it downwards to a table surface. That surface area of the table will get quite warm. This is what the downward point rays of the Sun does in summertime. But now tilt the hair dryer by 47° across the table and that area spreads out and won't heat up so much. This orientation simulates the winter solar rays. Add to that the shortened daylight hours to provide what heating does occur, and the longer and clearer night hours that allows more of what infrared (heat) photons that CAN escape out to space to do so, and you'll now realize why you may want to bundle up before heading outside. Winter is also the shortest season in the year, only 87 days long, check your calendars.

The Sun will stay in the centaur's shooting range until Jan. 20th, 2019, when it'll cross into the constellation of Capricornus. It will stay with Capricornus until Feb. 16th, when it'll enter Aquarius the water-bearer's splashing zone.

Lunar Phases:

Full MoonDec. 22nd
Last Qtr. MoonDec. 29th
New MoonJan. 5th
1st Qtr. MoonJan. 13th
Full MoonJan. 20thA Total Lunar Eclipse for Dr. Martin Luther King's Birthday!
From 2130, Jan. 20 til 0230 Jan. 21.

Meteor Showers:

 

Section updated: Dec. 19th, 2018.

Note: compare shower dates with Moon for favorable viewing conditions; the fuller the Moon, the harder it will be to see the meteors!

Peak NightName Radiant's
Location
Source Zero
Hour
Rate
Meteors'
Velocity
Description Conditions
Dec. 21-22 Ursids north,
near Kochab
comet 8P
Tuttle
var.
up to 50,
ave 10
33 km/s has slowish,
faint meteors
Don't bother!
Jan. 3-4 Quadrantids northern
Boötes
asteroid
2003 EH
120 41 km/s bright
meteors
An great
reason to be
up for the
night!

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 to go would be a cave! In South Florida, I often advise folks to try the beach, though please be VERY careful during sea turtle season. Egg nests or little hatchlings can be easily crushed by clumsy feet. Use only red LED flashlights if you go to the beach to not only avoid stepping on these reptiles, but the color also protects your night vision (and of course your night time circadian rhythm, too) so that you can see the show. Bring a blanket, 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 http://amsmeteors.org.

Solar System Planets:

 

Section updated: Aug. 3rd, 2018.

Seek little Mercury in the western skies before dusk, between Leo the lion and Cancer the crab. As of the 24th, it is retrograding back towards the Sun, so it is getting harder and harder to see. As of August 3rd, it appears at just 10° away from the Sun. Do not risk your eyes looking for it as it is basically lost in the solar glare! Look for it to reappear on the flipside of the night in the eastern predawn skies by August the 15th.

YES, Venus is that brilliant and growing brighter ball of light you see in the western evening skies soon after sunset. It will continue to brighten until Sept. 24th, when it'll reach the brightest it tends to become at mv = -4.56! VERY eye catching indeed!

How do you know that it is a planet? Well a simple check is to see if it twinkles. Stars twinkle, planets don't. Stars higher in the sky twinkle less, however, the closer they are to the horizon, the more twinkle they appear to do. While planets, like Venus, will appear to be a steady light source. As Venus is is nearer to our side of the solar system and so it is now showing a waning crescent phase while it appears larger and larger in the telescope as it gets closer to us. So basically we are seeing more and more of the nightside of Venus when viewed through a telescope. Its closeness and high albedo (much like white paper, it has a high ratio of reflected light to what it receives) is why it crescent phase appears so brightly.

Currently, Venus appears with Virgo the maiden. It will be about 1° south of Javijava, Virgo's left hand star, on Aug. 4th, all along getting brighter and brighter to us. Folks may note it if they go out and look up, so be certain to recognize it! It'll cross back into Libra's court on Oct. 1st, but only stay a week, as it'll start its retrograde and recross back into Virgo by Oct. 8th. It will reach solar conjunction on Oct 25th. After find it on the morning side of the night in the eastern skies.

Mars Mars continues to be bright in the constellation of Capricornus the sea-goat. We are sort of paralleling the planet as we swing by it, much the same way that two swings on a set with slightly different length chains will sometimes be swing in phase with each other and other times not. Right now both planets are "in phase" with each other in their orbits. Because planets orbit in ellipses, their distances from the Sun vary between their greatest distance from the Sun ("aphelion" or "away from Sun") to their closest distance from the Sun ("perihelion" or "about, around or near the Sun"). 1 Astronomical Unit ("AU") is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun (though we are a bit further than that as the Earth reached its aphelion on July 4th at 1.01 AU). Mars's average distance is 1.524 AU from the Sun, however during its perihelion a bit later on it is only 1.3817 AU from the Sun. So their close difference of distance is what makes such an opposition time so much easier to view surface details. On July 24th, the planets Mars and Earth were 0.386 AU apart from each other and by our geometric distances, it should appear with an mv = -2.76, but it has been even brighter than that, because of it's recent unfortunate weather conditions! We did observe Mars reach its solar opposition on July 27th, but the views were difficult. By the 31st, it was even physically closer to us, closer than we will be again in 15 years at only 0.384933 AU away from us! The planet appeared to be 24.33 arc-seconds across on the 31st than and exceeded its maximal brightness as would be measured from our geometry.

Becasue it is so close, views of its surface should be excellent, HOWEVER, you may have heard that its recent weather conditions of a PLANET-WIDE DUST STORM that has been occuring for the past 1.5 months have been obscuring our views!!! (This quite annoying bit is much like preparing to get your family's pictures taken, but one member has come and made themselves as unpresentable as "Pig-pen" from Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip!). The dust storm conditions still persist as of July 31st. My TA and I could barely make out the polar ice caps, although she thought she could see a "dark-ish spot" at a particular location on the planet. My computer and software calculates that the position in question would have been occupied by Olympus Mons, the solar system's largest volcano. So perhaps the weather conditions are improving for better viewing in a couple of weeks. Details on the current Martian weather conditions are generously provided from the MRO MARCI WEATHER REPORT, courtesy of NASA, JPL-Caltech and Malin Space Science Systems.

Note that this closeness between our planets will not be quite as good as it was back in the year of 2003. Back in 2003, Mars was closer to us than it had ever been, and will be , in over 60,000 years as the planets' syzygy was so perfectly close to Mars' perihelion. It was 0.372679 AU away from us back then. This year we were only 3.3% further away compared to 2003's event, so there wasn't much of a difference there. You may recall getting annoying emails every year after 2003 for a few years telling that event "was occurring that very year" again and again. Hopefully, they won't get repeated this time around! Keep watch for the weather conditions and these pages for when we'll offer observing opportunities again.

Small image of spacecraft Juno and Jupiter.Jupiter appears in that constellation of justice, Libra the Scales, moving prograde ("eastish-wards") and will appear once again with the star the Scale's pivot star Zubenelgenubi on August 15th. The Moon will pass by it on Aug. the 16 and 17th and again on Sept. 13th. Juptier will appear lower and lower in the western evening skies as we continue on in our orbit away from it. Mercury will pass south of it by 3° on Oct. 29th. Jupiter will cross into Scorpius the Scopion's nest on Nov. 20th, but by then we'll lose sight of it in the solar glare.

NASA's Juno spacecraft entered into orbit around the giant planet and has already begun the science phase of its mission. The first polar image is at the twitter page of NASA' Juno mission and more details can be found at NASA's JPL page. More information about Juno can be found at its homepage of www.missionjuno.swri.edu/. This space mission has the potential to rewrite our understanding of the solar system's planetary formation, including details about how our own planet came to be! So stay tuned!

Saturn currently is in Sagittarius north of the star Kaus Borealis, which is the star that makes the "peak of the lid" on the Sagittarius teapot asterism, and will appear near the star for remainder of 2018. The Moon will appear to pass it by on Aug. the 21st. Saturn will complete its retrograde on Sept. 5th and resume moving prograde afterwards. It will get harder and harder to see as we orbit away from it and it will appear lower and lower in the western evening skies by December.

Uranus is currently in Aries the Ram's meadow and will begin its retrograde on Aug. 6th. It will re-swim with Pisces the fishes on Dec. the 5th. It reaches its opposition on Oct. 23rd.

Neptune is less than 1° away, south and east, from λ Aquarii appearing in the morning skies. Neptune will reside with Aquarius the water bearer until 2022. Its opposition is Sept. 9sup>th.

Dwarf planet Pluto appears east of the bowl of the teaspoon asterism of Sagittarius, less than 2.5° east and a bit south of the star Albaldah, where the teaspoon bowl attaches to its handle. As can be expected, it's apparent magnitude is a very dim mv = 14.30. You will need a big telescope to see it. If you try for it, its moon Charon will even dimmer at mv = 16. They are both very small at 34 astronomical units away and getter further! Pluto will stay in Sagittarius' realm until March 1st, 2023.


December 25th -- Happy Isaac Newton's 376th Birthday!

Sir Issac Newton investigates light with a prism. Sacreligious! may have been the first thing that came to your mind when you read that title. However, it is not so much as you may fear.

First of all, we do not actually know when the revered baby which the "holiday" is named about was born. One clue we have is the fact that shepards kept watch over their flocks by night. Well they do not, nor did they do that, during the colder days of the year, especially in their rather dry, desert like environment. We also know that the Roman Catholic Church intentionally/strategically rearranged his birdate to counter the celebrations of a popular ASTRONOMICAL event, the winter solistice, by folks who were then considered to be pagans. Those of you who may think that a solistice party is not important, obviously do not live 50 to 60 degrees north of the equator. The solistice signals the return of the Sun in the sky, which becomes very important indeed to those who have been watching it appear less and less every day since June 21st. So while some of you may bemoan of the increasing commercialzation of the holiday, and even go as far as to be so determined as to advocate its significance with a bumper sticker on your car, but perhaps maybe it is time to put some effort into discovering when that revered birth occurred and then reschedule the holiday to keep it true with the actual event!

However, what we do know is that Sir Isaac Newton WAS born on the 25th of December in 1642, the same year that Galileo Galilei died. We do know that Sir Isaac was the co-creator/inventor/discoverer (and many argue the prime discoverer) of Calculus, which is probably the single most important discovery for mankind since fire and agriculture! Even Archimedes himself was on the verge to have discovered the Intergral half of Calculus so many centuries earlier. (Had he done so, some have said that mankind would have figured out nuclear physics and so the Roman Empire could have developed nuclear weapons by the time of the Christ child. While that is a scary thought, I do not believe that would have happened, for their psyche did not seem to be inquisitive like that. By my last count, the only thing that the Romans could say that it contributed to science was the discovery of "concrete". Everything else they did was engineering, which is the use of science, very expertly done in many cases mind you, but still not adding to science itself directly.)

I very much enjoy the spirit of the holiday, its hopes for the betterment of mankind by believing in our fellowship. But I do think that in our society, especially in America, we fail to appreciate the toils, struggles, efforts and brilliance of those who, in science, had to endure much to make our society what it is today. For example, in our society, not a day goes by were we are not effected by the ramifications of Calculus, many, many times over. Just consider all that it affects as you celebrate the other guy's birth. Are you listening to music over the radio, the TV, a stereo system or Ipod? Are you taking pictures with a smart phone camera in front of twinkling lights powered by electricity? Have you called a friend or relative on that phone? Have you travelled ANYWHERE using something else besides your own two feet or by a horse? Are you even celebrating on the same day of the year as everyone else is? All of these are possible due to the principles of astronomy and physics, which were illuminated by Calculus. The 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, sums up our efforts in science well when he wrote:

Go, wondrous creature, mount where science guides.
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old Time, and regulate the Sun;
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule,
Then drop into thyself and be a fool.
— Alexander Pope

And so I close by saying that we should remember and appreciate the man who was born on Christmas Day, 1642. Again Pope states my appreciation ever so well when he wrote this intended Epitaph for Sir Isaac in Westminster Abbey to be the following:

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

Happy Birthday, Sir Isaac Newton!

And may we PLEASE try to keep the spirit of the other guy's birth, whenever it was, IN OUR HEARTS, ALL YEAR LONG!


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: evandern at fau dot edu
Phone: 561 297 STAR (7827)

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