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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

COVID-19 and our little Observatory: Reopening 11/16/21

What a difference a year makes. Thankfully, 2020 is now hindsight. As of this writing, we are mid-autumn 2021. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is still out there worldwide, infecting and killing people and in some places, raging quite badly. New variants are still occuring and will keep occuring as long as it still spreads, no matter where it goes. But currently the plague had been calming down in the USA, especially here in South Florida, though there seems to be a new wave brewing in the mid-west to mid-Atlantic states. Personally, I would thank the brilliant scientists who came up with this new technique of the mRNA vaccine and hopefully there will be more even more solutions with it to come. Also, let's thank the companies put them in to high quality, mass production, our country's leaders for making the changes needed by eliminating former red-tape in their development and to allow them to bring to fruition the benefits of the scientists' work AND for fully utilizing our government for the the mass distribution of the vaccine's benefits to all our citizens. Finally, let's remember to thank people who did bravely get their "experimental shots" and helped become part of the solution to end this worldwide pandemic. I do not think that anyone really wants to be the next proverbial "Typhoid Mary" or an experimental petri dish for the virus to evolve in and become the source of the next new variant that sends us all back to square one.

For a while, just like many other places, we have been concerned with our small facility and difficulties with the physical distancing requirements needed to avoid the spread of the vrius. It was especially concerning on the small elevated platform around the telescope AND with a particular concern about the spread of the virus as one person to another, after each uses the same eyepiece of telescope. The concern was that with mask wearing and "contaminated breathe" leaking out around mask edges near the nose and upon the eyepiece. Would the fogging up the telescope’s eyepiece lenses with people's breathe become a possible vector of transmission for the virus from one user to the next?

I contacted Dr. Dan Flynn, a virologist expert here about that particular issue, and he assured me that it would NOT be a problem. He explained that the virus has not evolved a protein mechanism to infiltrate our eyes, unlike other nerve attacking viruses, like herpes or rabies, can do. Covid only attacks and kills lung and endothelial cells. I admit that I had to look up “endothelial cells” and they are a singular layer of cells that line our blood vessels. So since they do not have the capability to infiltrate us at our eyes, using the telescope is safe for viewing. Here in the Observatory, we seek to promote science, by educating and enthralling our visitors with the wonders of the universe. For it is about the acquisition, understanding and educating of knowledge of the natural world for the benefit of all and so, it is wise to make an intelligent usage of that science for all. As we do not have the benefit to see into the future. So we have to make the best choices we can, based on what we know now.

So we can be healthy, patient, curious AND prudently smart about it. Get your vaccinations, wear your masks, practice physical distancing and wash your hands often! Some people may feel that such demands are an infringement on their "personal rights". I would argue that the enemy we are dealing with, does not care about our rights, only what it can evolve into in order to maximize its spread through us all. Realize that the virus does not care at all "about who we are or about our rights". It is basically a tiny "genetic automaton" that is not even scientifically alive. For it is too simple to function like a living thing. In that, it can not collect or consume energy, either by eating or by photosynthetic production, nor can it reproduce on its own. For it must accidentally get inhaled by other living things (people), and with its ever more ideal "machine like, protien delivery systems" inject its ever improving genetic RNA code in our cells to infect, sabotage and hijack their internal systems to make billions of copies of itself and in doing so, destroy our lung and endothelial cells that we depend on. Even so, the "external rules of the Arena" called Evolution apply to it. Those newer variants that make ever better use of our cellular structures or normal social interactions for its beneficial advantage of mass infiltration into us will multiply and spread ever faster. It NEEDS us to socialize in order to continue its deadly spread. By realizing this nanoscopic enemy uses us as its preferred vehicles of transport and agents of spread, we can fight it by using masks, by maintaining a physical distance among ourselves, by washing our hands. We can defeat it, but we must be disciplined about these actions. So the benefits of the mass vaccinations to help us to do this are more and more clear to one and all. We all need to keep doing our parts so we can crush it to "extinction" for one and all.

As the infections have declined here, we are going to reopen tonightm Nov. 16th for public viewing! And see what universe has to offer. The universe is not gone away and we are still around!

Eric Vandernoot
FAU Astronomical Observatory



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: Nov. 16th, 2021.

As of Nov 16th, the Sun is in the midst of Libra the scales. On Nov. 23rd it will enter the dangerous realm of Scorpio the scorpion. It will spend a week's time there before slipping away into Ophiuchus's pad as he wrestles with the serpent. The Sun will have ring-side views of that epic battle ing match and then move on to the safety of Sagittarius the Centaur archer's pastures on Dec. the 18th. Which like every year, will be its closest appearance in the direction of the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The Sun will be with the Centaur until Jan. 20th.

Lunar Phases:

1st Qtr. MoonNov. 11th
Full MoonNov. 19thAlmost Total Lunar Eclipse - 6 hrs long!
Last Qtr. MoonNov. 27th
New MoonDec. 4thTotal Solar Eclipse for Antartica
1st Qtr. MoonDec. 10th
Full MoonDec. 18th
Last Qtr. MoonDec. 26th
New MoonJul. 9th

Meteor Showers:

 

Section updated: No. 16th, 2021.

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
Nov. 11-12Northern
Taurids
northern
Taurus, near
Pleiades
comet 2P
Encke
5 29 km/s slowish,
brighter than
average meteors
Look for
clear skies
and go!
Nov. 17-18Leonids head of Leo comet 55P
Tempel-Tuttle
15 71 km/s fastest,
brighter than
average meteors,
often with
persistent
trains
Moon
challenges
viewings.
~Nov. 21 Alpha
Monocerotids
se of Procyon ? var.,
3-400
65 km/s fast,
brighter than
average meteors
Moon
challenges
viewings.
Dec. 13-14Geminids Gemini,
near Castor
Apollo
asteroid
3200 Phaethon
120 35 km/s has slowish,
brighter than
average meteors
Better chances
with this.

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: Nov. 16th, 2021.

As of Nov. 16th, little Mercury will be found east of Zubenelgenubi, the pivot star for the scales of Libra in the morning eastern skies 30 min. before dawn. While it is prograding eastwards and progressing towards its superior conjunction with the Sun on Nov. 29th. It is already being lost in the Sun's morning glare, now. So you won't be able to see it until its reemergence by Dec. 20th past 5:45 pm in the western horizon in Sagittarius, by the "teapot's handle". Be careful when looking near the Sun! On Dec. 29th, the two inner planets of Mercury and Venus will appear just under 4.5° apart from each other. On New Year's Day, Mercury will cross into Capricorn's region of the skies.

Expect Venus to get brighter and brighter for the rest of this year in the western evening sky soon after sunset. She is that brilliant ball of light you see there and is currently at a brightness of mv = −4.56 and continuing to get brighter! VERY eye catching indeed! It measures 31 arcsec at its diameter and appears just less than as a 1st quarter phase. It should reach a maximum brightness of mv = −4.66 on Dec. 6th and appear as a waxing crescent in the telescopes that night just as the Moon will also be a waxing crescent then at just 2.25° away. Find the Mater Amorum ("Mother of Love" - Galileo) in the "teapot's handle" of Sagittarius. You may get to see it shine through the tail of Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) on the morning of Dec. 16th. It'll continue to get near to Capricorn's border, before turning westwards on Dec. 19th and begin its retrograde.

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.

Mars Mars appear in the early morning skies in the constellation Libra. It will appear within 8 arcminutes away from Zubenelgenubi, the pivot star of Libra's scales on Nov. 22nd. The old warrior will continue march prograde, passing into the Scorpio's region on Dec. 15th, on into Ophiuchus on Dec. 25th and then into Sagittarius on Jan. 20th. It will appear less than half a degree away from the M8 the Lagoon Nebula on Jan. 26th and 1/5th a degree away from the globular cluster M22, also known as the Sagittarius cluster. March 28th will be a interesting triumverate conjunction of Mars, Venus, Saturn and the Moon near by the three. That should be a good one to wake up early for to see!

Small image of spacecraft Juno and Jupiter. Jupiter, the jovial king of the sky appears in the eastern part of Capricorn realm. It will enter Aquarius's watery splash zone on Dec. 14th. By mid January, it will get harder to see as it moves into the western skies.

Saturn appears in Capricorn, prograding through the sea goat. It will stay with the goat for the rest of the year. Mercury will get near it by 3.5° on Jan 13th, but by then, it will be hard to see in the Sun's glare of the western sky.

Uranus is currently in Aries the Ram's meadow, north of what I consider to be the fluke of Cetus. Traditionally, that part was seen as the "sea monster's head" and the southern part, its body. Yet, if you turn around the thinking, the constellation of Cetus actually looks like its name. For "Cetus" is where we get the word "Cetacea", which is the order of marine mammals, such as whales. To me, the northern part is like the fluke, while the southern part is body, head and mouth of the whale, just like a humpback or blue whale. Uranus will be with Aries until near the end of May 2024.Uranus appearing in Aries and north of Cetus.

Neptune is about 5.75° east of φ Aquarii, currently appearing in the evening. Neptune will reside with Aquarius the water bearer until 2022.

Dwarf planet Pluto appears in the northeastern corner of Sagittarius, not near any bright star. Its opposition is July the 17th. Pluto will stay in Sagittarius the archer's range until March 2023.


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@fau.edu
Phone: 561 297 STAR (7827)

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