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Florida Atlantic University
Astronomical Observatory

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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:

News of the Observatory

Please note that the regular schedule is being changed to go after Saturn's Opposition to the Sun. This is the second of three oppositions this summer, with Mars' Opposition in late July being one that is a must see! We won't be as close to Mars again afterwards for the next 15 years!

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: June 1st, 2018.

The Sun currently appears in the pen with Taurus the bull. Mercury is just west of it and will pass behind it on the 5th of June. It will enter the realm of Gemini the twins on June 21st at the solstice, which begins our season of summer in the northern hemisphere. Then it will appear to enter Cancer the crab's realm on July 20th, the 49th anniversary of the touchdown of Apollo 11 on the Moon. (When, oh when, do we go back!?!?)

Lunar Phases:

Full MoonMay 29th
Last Qtr. MoonJune 6th
New MoonJune 13th
1st Qtr. MoonJune 20th
Full MoonJune 28th

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!

Peak NightName Radiant's
Source Zero
Description Conditions
~June 7 Arietids near Hamal or
α Arietis
ast. Icarus?
or ancient
dead comet?
0-1 42 km/s dawn-daytime
radio shower
pre-dawn to
due to Sun
~June 11 Gamma
γ Delphius ? unknown 55 km/s? Would be a
good night
to try.
~June 16 June Lyrids South of
? down to 0? found in
1966, last
seen in 1996?
Only if you
WANT to lose
~June 27 Bootids northern
comet 7P
18 km/s very SLOW,
bright meteors
with full 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 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:

Seek little Mercury in the morning skies before dawn, in the pen of Taurus the bull. It'll appear lower and lower in the skies as it slips from view, hidden behind the glare of the Sun, to reappear on the flipside of the night in the western skies just after twilight by June the 13th in the constellation of Gemini the twins. It wil appear further away in Cancer the crab domain on the date of Saturn's opposition to the Sun this year.

YES, Venus is that brilliant ball of light you see in the western evening skies soon after sunset. How do you know that it is a planet? Well a simple check is to see if it twinkles. Stars twinkle, planets don't. Even stars higher in the sky will appear to twinkle, while planets, like Venus, will appear to be a steady light source. As Venus is coming around from the other side of the solar system it currently still retains the features of a full to gibbous phase. This is important in the history of Astronomy, because Galileo used it as proof to end the old and incorrect geocentric theory that Ptolemy had claimed. In Ptolemy's theory, all planets, such as Venus and Mercury, were attached to "epicycles", smallish transparent spheres. The outer planets had them too, but they were attached to their "deferent", which was a bigger transparent sphere that went around the Earth and the Sun, and which basically had the Earth near their center. But for Venus and Mercury, they never appeared too far away from the Sun. So Ptolemy thought that they were fixed to a line between the Earth and the Sun to keep them in place. Galileo realized that if this were true, then we would only ever see the nightside of Venus, with perhaps a crescent phase, when viewed through a telesopce. The fact that Galileo observed a full phase of Venus meant that it had to be positioned on the far side of the Sun, and thus orbited the Sun and not as Ptolemy had said.

Currently, Venus appears off in the direction of the constellation Gemini the twins, and will cross into Cancer the crab on June 11th, and Leo the lion on June 28th, and then into Virgo the maiden on July 31st, 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!

Mars Mars continues to brighten in the constellation of Capricornus the sea-goat, as we get closer to it while we are swinging around to soon meet up with the old warrior as he slowly marches its way across the sky. As of June 1st, we are 0.604 AU apart from each other and appear with an mv = -1.25! Recall that 1 AU is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, so we are now quite a bit closer to it than the Sun. Mars will keep brightening as it begins its retrograde on June 25th. Mars will reach his opposition to the Sun on July 27th in 2018, but by the 31st, we will be even physically closer to it than we've been in 15 years at only 0.384933 AU away from us! This is due to the fact that the planets orbit in ellipses, and Mars is still approaching its perihelion and so still getting closer to the Sun and because we're right along the line, to us as well. The planet will appear to be 24.33 arc-seconds across on the 31st then and appear with an apparent magnitude of mv = -2.74, almost at its maximal brightness. 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 syzygy was so perfectly close to Mars' perihelion. It was 0.372679 AU away from us back then. This year we will be only 3.3% further away compared to 2003's event, so there isn't much difference there. You may recall getting annoying emails every year after for a few years about that event "occurring that year" again and again. Hopefully, that won't get repeated this time around! BUT, that still doesn't mean that you won't want to miss seeing its passing in a telescope around then! If you can't come to our event around then, please do try to find an Observatory or someone with a telescope to show it to you around then.

Protoplanet Vesta is currently retrograding through Sagittarius. It's opposition to the Sun will be on June the 19th. This is the only "asteroid" that becomes just visible to the naked eye during in such retrogrades, but you need to know where to look to find it. We'll be seeking it this month to see the source of 5% of all meteorites that land on the Earth!

Small image of spacecraft Juno and Jupiter.Jupiter appears in that constellation of justice, Libra the Scales. It's retrograde motion has had it move back across Libra to appear again with Zubenelgenubi, the pivot star of the scales, on June 1st, resume to move prograde on July 10th, and appear once again with the star Zubenelgenubi on August 15th.

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 by northeast 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 2018. We will miss its occultation by the Moon on the 31st. Its opposition this year is on June 27th and it will appear less than 1° south of the full Moon when that happens! The Observatory will celebrate the Opposition event the evening before on the 26th. Not only will the planet and its moons appear further away from a full Moon, but there is also an interesting appearance of a faint star from Saturn's occulting it, meaning that the star will appear out from behind Saturn. We'll be pushing our limits to witness this event, but this appearance should take place from 2131 until 2145 DST, as the star will appear to come out behind Saturn, appear through part the back part of Saturn's rings before completely emerging. I've seen the Moon occult Saturn a couple of times 10 years ago, but never have seen Saturn occult a star. Should be interesting.

Uranus is retrograding in Pisces and will appear with the fish until Apr. 28th, 2018.

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.

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.

Cassini's image of Saturn on April 2, 2004.Saturn's 2018 Opposition to the Sun -- June 26th - 27th.

On the evening of Tuesday, June the 26th, the FAU Astronomical Observatory invites the public to come and celebrate Saturn's 2018 Opposition to the Sun. The precise opposition time will be 9 am the next day, but there is an interesting emergence by a star from behind Saturn that will occur on the 26th, so we'll shoot for that as well.

Date & Time: From 8:00 pm EDT, Tuesday, June 26th until 2:00 am EDT, Wednesday, June 27th 2018.
Activities: Telescopic observations and presentations about Saturn, its moons and our attempts to explore this ringed giant for its 2018 Opposition to the Sun! Plus an emergence of a star from behind Saturn AND we'll take a peek at the protoplanet Vesta, which itself will be just passed its opposition event as well!
Details: An outer planetís opposition to the Sun means that the appear at the opposite positions of the sky. This puts us in a direct line between the outer planet and the Sun, so that we will be as close as we can be to the planet for this orbital pass. If you have never seen these astonishing rings, this will be the best time to do so. Saturn's rings are tilted with respect to the planet's orbital plane around the Sun, and for this year they appear at their greatest angle to us. The rings are so amazing that planetary scientists have wondered whether or not we would have ever even been able to imagine the possible existence of rings at all, if we didn't have an excellent and glorious example of them! Most people gasp at seeing them through a telescope for the first time. Sharp and patient eyed visitors may observe the moons clearly change their positions over the course of the night, especially the moon Enceladus, and note how wide spread they will seem with respect to the planet. For moons orbit in the same plane as the rings do, so they too appear far apart from Saturn. It is one thing to know that the moons orbit the planet Saturn, but it is quite another thing to witness it for yourself.

In addition to Saturn, we may witness the emergence of a faint star out from behind the planet's orb, and appear through its rings before finally emerging out in the clear. This passage will take place in only 15 minutes, so we'll need to be quick to see it. Plus we'll try for the protoplanet Vesta, one week after its opposition as well. And if that wasn't enough, there will be a few other objects to peruse, such as Jupiter, Venus, Mars and the Moon, too! It will be a full up observational night!
Presentations: The presentation will provide information about Saturn, a view of the history of our attempts to understand it and the incredibly dramatic story of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft's adventure to explore the true lord of the rings and its moons. Cassini took its final bows and burnt up into the planet's atmosphere back in September. We'll take a look at its legacy and discuss what it uncovered during its last orbits.

NASA's JPL Solar System Ambassador Logo.This is a combined FAU Astronomical Observatory and a NASA's JPL Solar System Ambassador volunteer event. The Solar System Ambassadors Program of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory offers information and excitement about real missions that explore our solar system. Volunteer ambassadors in communities throughout the country are selected by JPL based on their backgrounds and on their plans for public outreach activities. JPL provides ambassadors with educational materials and training. However, the opinions of Ambassadors are not necessarily those of NASA or JPL. Further information about the Solar System Ambassadors Program is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

So please come to celebrate and observe the planet at opposition, while pondering some of the astronomical mysteries that are connected with it. This invitation is open to anyone from FAU, the local community, their friends and family to come and enjoy the heavens.

After all, it is their universe, too!

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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