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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

Aug. 3rd, 2018: I apologize for the inconvenience and dissappointment that this may cause, however, while we are normally open on the First Friday of the month, my TA and I agree that after rearranging our schedules for last weeks' Mars Opposition, we both need to use our time to focus on final examination period (her for studying for her classes and me for grading papers and test analysis) that occurs this weekend for the end of the current summer semester. I will post updates of what I planning to do next week.

Thank you for your continued interest, be on the watch for this month's Perseid meteor shower and I do hope see you soon.

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: Aug. 3rd, 2018.

The Sun currently appears in Cancer the crab's waters. It will pass by Mercury on Aug. the 8th and cross into Leo the lion's den on Aug. 10th. By Sept. the 16th, it will enter Virgo's chamber and then Mercury will pass by it on Sept. 18th. Its conjunction with Venus will occur on Oct. 25th. The Sun will enter Libra's court on Oct. 31st.

Lunar Phases:

Full MoonJuly 27thLunar eclipse for Europe and Africa, too low for us here.
Last Qtr. MoonAug. 4th
New MoonAug. 11thPredawn Partial solar eclipse, for Europe and Africa again.
1st Qtr. MoonAug. 18th
Full MoonAug. 26th

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
Aug. 12-13thPerseids Perseus comet 109P
100 59 km/s fast, bright
colorful meteors,
may be double
Great Viewing

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 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.

Mars's 2018 Opposition to the Sun -- July 27th - 28th.

On the evening of Friday, July the 27th, the FAU Astronomical Observatory invites the public to come and celebrate MARS's 2018 Opposition to the Sun. This will be the closest opposition of Mars for the next 15 years!

Date & Time: From 8:00 pm EDT, Friday, July 27th until 2:00 am EDT, Saturday, July 28th 2018.
Activities: Telescopic observations of the visible planets ending with the Mars! Also with presentations about the Mysteries of Mars for its 2018 Opposition to the Sun!
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. Mars' orbit is a bit more elliptical ("oval") than some of the other planets. It's orbital perihelion position occurs in late August. So when its opposition occurs near August, we get great views!

In addition to Mars, we will be able to view Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the Moon, too! It will be a full up observational night!

Presentations: The presentation will provide information about Mars and our attempts to understand its mysteries.

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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