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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:
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, just before his Freedom Seven Flight
Image of astronaut Alan B. Shepard, just before his Freedom Seven Flight, courtesy of NASA

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: May 5th, 2016.

The Sun currently appears in the constellation Pisces. It will appear to enter the constellation Aries on the 18th of April. On the morning of May the 9th, the planet Mercury will cross in front of it as we see them from the Earth. And on May the 14th, the Sun will cross into Taurus.

Lunar Phases:

NEW MoonMay 6th
FIRST QuarterMay 13th
FULL MoonMay 21st
LAST QuarterMay 29th

For those in North America, the total Solar Eclipse that we have been waiting for is the one that will occur on August 21st, 2017, across the U.S.A.. This will be the first solar eclipse that we will see in America since 1979 and the last one that we'll see here until Apr. 2024! Plan your trips now to see it! Hotels are already being sold out!

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
Location
Source Zero
Hour
Rate
Meteors'
Velocity
Description Conditions
May 6-7 Eta Aquarids η Aquarius comet 1P
Halley
55-var. 66 km/s fast,
brighter than
average meteors
Little lunar
interference; A
good night for
viewing
~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
invisible
due to Sun
~June 11 Gamma
Delphinids
γ Delphius ? unknown 55 km/s? Good
conditions
~June 16 June Lyrids South of
Vega
? down to 0? found in
1966, last
seen in 1996?
Not bad, if they
still exist
~June 27 Bootids northern
Bootis?
comet 7P
Pons-Winnecke
var.,
0-100
18 km/s very SLOW,
bright meteors
Difficult,
due to 3rd Qtr.
morning 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 would be a cave! Bring a lawn chair or blanket and a pillow, 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:

Mercury is in retrograde to swoop across the Sun. It TRANSITS THE SUN on May the 9th. We're hosting an Open dome event for all to see this thirteen times a century event that morning. See below.

Venus appears to be doing something very interesting. Every morning at 6 am since Feb. 22nd until its upcoming conjunction with the Sun, Venus has been "hanging around" almost at the same altitude above the horizon, slowly moving northwards. Of course it is just the current angle of the ecliptic with respect to the horizon here and that the celestial sphere seems to be moving out from behind Venus, as it moves forward in its orbit, but it does look peculiar! Venus entered Taurus on May the 1st and it is getting harder and harder to see it as we are losing it in the solar glare, for it is traveling around the Sun on the far side of the Solar System right now and will reach superior conjunction with the Sun on June the 6th. Afterwards, expect to see it on the flip side of the night in the evening skies.

Mars is in retrograde and can currently be found in the serpent bearer Ophiuchus. It is heading toward its opposition to the Sun on sunday May the 22nd. We'll announce any Opposition events for it soon.

Jupiter is just completing its retrograde south of Leo the lion, it will appear to move into prograde motion on the 10th of May. On July the 4th, it will be visited by a new planetary probe, NASA's Juno spacecraft! More information about Juno can be found at its homepage of www.missionjuno.swri.edu/. This mission has the potential to rewrite our understanding of the solar system's planetary formation! Stay tuned!

Saturn currently is in retrograde in Ophiuchus. It will reach its opposition to the Sun on June 3rd.

Uranus is advancing through Pisces and will appear with the fish until Apr. 28th, 2018. We'll lose it in the solar glare by the end of March. It will reach solar conjunction on Apr. 9th, so we should not expect to see it on the flip side of the night until the third full week of April in the morning skies.

Neptune is just over 1.5° away from λ Aquarii appearing in the morning skies. It will reside in Aquarius until 2022.

dwarf planet Pluto is retrograde and appears in the bowl of the teaspoon asterism, about 26 arcminutes west of Albaldah, where the teaspoon bowl attaches to its handle. As can be expected, it's apparent magnitude is a very dim mv = 14.25 as it is on the far side of the solar system, so you will need a big telescope to see it.


Mercury Transits the Sun -- Morning of May 9th

On the morning of Monday May the 9th, the FAU Astronomical Observatory will Observe the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun. We'll record data, and celebrate by hosting an Open dome event for all to witness this thirteen/fourteen times per century syzygy of celestial mechanics! In addition, we'll give a talk entitled Transits - Past and Present, which will describe the importance of transit events for astronomy. Their importance includes the Quest for the Astronomical Unit and a discussion about how such events are used to find Exoplanets.

Date: Monday May 9th 2016.
Time: 7:00 am until 2:00 pm.
Activities: Observations of Mercury's Transit Across the Sun and presentations about Transits!
Details: On the morning of May the 9th, very soon after the Sun rises above the horizon here in Boca Raton, the planet Mercury will appear to start to cross the face of the Sun. A general planetary line up, such as this one, is called a syzygy, while this particular line up is called an inferior conjunction. These perfect inferior conjunctions with Mercury currently occur about thirteen times a century, the last one occurred in 2006. And this particular event will occur when Mercury will be at the aphelion position (the furthest point) of its orbit about the Sun and hence will be closest to us then at only 0.557 AU away. Thus its transit should take about seven hours to complete. The points of contact and exiting are especially important scientifically, and we'll be taking data around then. Do you want to get an idea of how big our Solar System is, and how small Mercury is, then you will want to come by FAU's Astronomical Observatory to witness and experience this event for yourself!

Presentations:  Did you notice that AU measurement just four sentences ago? That unit of measure is the Astronomical Unit, which is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. A number that many students see in their science textbooks and often wonder how do they know that? Well, it WASN'T done with an extraordinarily long tape measure! Instead, planetary transit events across the Sun was the key to figuring out what was once called the Last Great Problem in Astronomy. (Of course, they were wrong about that!) To achieve this quest took scientists and explorers on adventures across continents and centuries! Transits are also important today for learning about Exoplanets, planets that orbit stars outside our Solar System. How do we measure their masses, orbital distances, get a sense of their atmospheres and estimate how many of them their are in the Galaxy? These are the topics that we'll cover in our talk: Transits: Past and Present.

Come to the Observatory to celebrate and observe the Mercury at its inferior conjunction with us, while pondering some of the former and current astronomical mysteries that are connected with this event. This invitation is open to anyone from FAU, the community, their friends and family to come and enjoy.

After all, it is their universe, too!


55 Years Since the Order to Fix Your Little Problem and Light This Candle

Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, just before his Freedom Seven FlightIn the early morning of May 5th, 1961, Commander Alan B. Shepard awoke and had his breakfast of filet mignon, eggs, orange juice, and tea. The doctors then proceeded to do their nasty probing tests and at 4:00 am, he suited up and entered the transfer van.

At the gantry, Shepard stopped for a moment and looked up at his Redstone rocket, in a way like he was kicking the tires to check its quality. The air of expectancy was thick and he thought that he would never see this rocket again. The long wait and the delays were finally over, or so he thought. He then entered the elevator for a six story ride up. His flight surgeon gave him a box of children's crayons, Just so you'll have something to do up there.

In the special clean White Room at the top, John Glenn greeted him and told him that everything was ready. The Mercury capsule was painted Freedom Seven. Freedom was Shepard's patriotic choice, Seven for the it was the seventh capsule they'd test and for the Mercury Seven Astronauts. Shepard was crammed into his capsule. He had enough room to roll about his eyeballs, but not much else. There was a spare emergency parachute inside for him. However, anyone who knew the capsule, knew that it was only to give the astronaut a chance to wiggle it on and get out the door. It was a slim chance at best.

There was a small notice attached to the intrument panel:

NO HANDBALL PLAYING IN HERE.

As if he could. Shepard returned the sign to the grinning Glenn. Happy Landings, Commander! the support team called. The hatch was closed. Shepard went through his checklists, checking radios and switches. The gantry rolled away. In the periscope, he saw clouds roll in. The countdown clock stopped at fifteen minutes. The gantry rolled back so electricians could fix a glitch. The fix took one hour and twenty-six minutes to correct. Shepard asked that a message be sent to his wife that he was fine and that he was going nowhere fast.

Then Shepard had to make a delay of his own, he needed to urinate. He asked the blockhouse Capcom (Gordon Cooper was the capsule commnicator this day) to be allowed to quickly step out to go. No, was Wernher von Braun's answer, it would take too long to reassemble the White Room. His temper rose as did his urge to go. Finally, he asked to go into his space suit. Medics worried that he would electrically short circuit all their leads attached to his body. Tell'em to turn the power off! he snapped. Gordo said Okay Alan. Power's off. Go for it. Because he was reclining, the liquid pooled under his back inside his suit. His undergarments soaked up the urine, and with the 100% oxygen flowing in his suit, it soon dried.

The countdown resumed. The gantry was gone. Alan relaxed, watching waves on the beach. Five minutes.

At two minutes and forty seconds, Shepard heard Hold. Gordo was on the line Alan, uh, we're gonna hold here at this time. We've, ah, got a little computer problem here--

Alan yelled I've been in here for more than three hours. I'm a hell of a lot cooler than you guys. Why don't you just fix your little problem and light this candle?

At t-minus 2 minutes, Capcom was transferred to Deke Slayton, Alan's friend, in Mission Control, two miles away. Deke's voice was calming to Alan, and he then uttered a final message to himself: Deke and the man upstairs will watch over me. So don't screw up, Shepard. Don't screw up. He knew that his success on this mission would keep the country's man-in-space program on track, or forever doom it.

At T-minus four seconds, Alan had his hand near a stopwatch as a backup to the automatic clock. His left hand held the abort handle to the escape tower.

At T-minus zero, Deke called out Ignition!

The liftoff was filled with vibrations and shocks of pumps operating at full speed to feed the combustion chamber's continually controlled explosions. You're on your way, Jose!, Deke shouted. Roger, liftoff and the clock has started, Alan answered. This is Freedom Seven. Fuel is go. Oxygen is go. Cabin is holding at 5.5 PSI. He gave similar techinical notifications all through-out his flight.

He reached 186.6 km (116 miles) up, experienced weightlessness, floating washers, 11 G-forces, saw a wonderful view of the American east coast, became the first person to manually test and control his own spacecraft and became the first American in Space.

Shepard did not screw up.

Way to go, Commander! Happy 55th Anniversary to America's Entry to Space!

Excert from Moon Shot The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton with Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict. Turner Publishing, Inc. Atlanta. 1994.

Read more about Commander Shepard and his historic flight at: http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/shepard50/ and at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/50_freedom7.html.


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

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