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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, 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:

Image of C/2014 Q2 Comet Lovejoy on night of poor transparency.  Exposure is a 10 sec image. Caleb Slyh and myself took the picture.C/2014-Q2 Comet Lovejoy on night of poor transparency at FAU Observatory. Caleb Slyh and I took this 10 sec exposure on Jan 9th, 2015.

News of the Observatory

Jan. 23rd The Observatory will be altering its schedule from Tuesday Jan 27th to Monday Jan. 26th to allow for people to view asteroid 2004 BL86 pass by the Earth. This is a one time change for this event, and the regular schedule will resume the next week.

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. 23rd, 2014.

The Sun currently appears in the constellation Sagittarius the Centaur Archer. As we are getting physicsally closer to our star, perihelion is at Jan. 4th, 2015, it appears bigger in the sky, about 1.0% bigger than average, not that we will generally notice this with our eyes, but it can be measured. On Jan. 20th., the Sun will appear to have crossed into the boundaries of Capricornus. It will stay with the sea-goat, crossing into Aquarius' realm on Feb. 16th.

Lunar Phases:

LAST QuarterJan. 13th
NEW MoonJan. 20th
FIRST QuarterJan. 26th
FULL MoonFeb. 3rd

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 Date Name Radiant's
Source Zero
Feb. 8th Alpha Centaurids alpha Centauri best seen in far southpoor
Mar. 14thGamma
SW of Scorpio 6 scarcely witnessednot worth it

Mercury currently appears in the constellation of Capricornus and seems to try to catch up with Venus and delivering a message to her on Jan. 10th when the two will appear 39 arc minutes apart from each other. However, Mercury will slow down, as it reaches its greatest elongation on Jan. 14th, 18.6° from the Sun, and will starts its retrograde motion. It will enter Aquarius on Jan. 21st, arcing northwards over the Sun by 3.167°, re-entering Capricornus on Jan. 31st, and staying with the sea-goat until March 11th.

Venus, Mars and a Crescent Moon will appear
				together in Pisces the fish on Feb. 20th, 2015.Venus too is in Capricornus the sea-goat (A sea-goat?? What were those folks thinking?!?) It is simply stunning at mv = -3.91 in its apparent magnitude. Mercury almost catches up to her on Jan. 10th, perhaps passing her a message, but then she hurries on to Aquarius on Jan 25th to chase after Mars. She enters the realm of Pisces the fish on Feb. 16th. On Feb. 20th, as shown to the right, Venus, Mars and a 2.3 day old cresent Moon will appear together near the western fish in Pisces. It should be a beautiful sight! Then on Feb. 21st, she finally catches up to the red planet and will appear less than 26 arc minutes away from it. NOTE: This will occur on the same evening as Palm Beach County celebrates its Dark Sky Festival at Okeeheelee Nature Center in West Palm Beach! Whatever she had to tell to Mars won't take long as she will pass him by, spending one day in Cetus the whale's realm on Feb. 26th, before continuing on back through Pisces until March 16th when she enters the boundaries of Ares the ram and then onto Taurus the bull by April 7th.

Mars is in Aquarius and will enter Pisces on Feb. 11th. It will have a very close conjunction with Venus and the Crescent Moon on the 20th (see the image in Venus) and then Venus will catch up to it and on Feb. 21st. Thus our two nearest planetary neighbors will appear less than a half a degree apart from each other, on the evening of the Dark Sky Festival III! Parting will be of such sweet sorrow as Venus heads away from him, but he will continue his slow march forwards to Ares the ram appearing ever dimmer as it will be on the far side of the solar system. Mercury will pass it by on April 22nd, and then the Sun itself will pass it on its conjunction on June 13th. Soon afterwards, expect to see it on the flip side of the night in the eastern morning hours.

Jupiter, rising around 2200 EST, currently appears near the mouth of Leo the lion like a tasty snack! Jupiter is retrograding back to Cancer by Feb. 4th just before its opposition to the Sun on Friday, Feb. 6th! FAU Observatory will host an Opposition Celebration event on that evening featuring some of the latest about the King Planet, its moons (expecially Europa) and the Juno spacecraft, on its way now to Jupiter to learn more about the giant planet. Watch for more details coming soon!

Saturn's brightness at mv = 0.54. It appears near θ Libra before dawn in the eastern skies. A waning crescent Moon will pass it by on Jan. 16th. It will enter Scorpio on Jan. 18th and will start its retrograde on March 14th near ν Scorpii and the star Jabbah.

Uranus is slowly advancing through Pisces and will appear with the fish until Apr. 28th, 2018! Its opposition will occur on Oct. 7th and then on morning of October the 8th, Uranus will be less than a degree away from the Moon as the Moon will be eclipsed by the Earth's shadow.

Neptune is currently just over 1.5° north and east of Sigma Aquarii in the evening sky. It will reside in Aquarius until 2022.

Jupiter's 2015 Opposition to the Sun -- February 6th - 7th

On the evening of Friday the 6th of February, the FAU Astronomical Observatory will be celebrating Jupiter's Opposition to the Sun.

Date: Friday February 6th - Saturday February 7th 2015.
Time: 7:00 pm until 2:00 am.
Activities: Presentations about and Observations of the 2015 Jupiter's Opposition to the Sun!
Details: Small image of spacecraft Juno and Jupiter.On February 6th, the planet Jupiter will be at opposition to the Sun. A planet in opposition to the Sun means that the outer planet appears to us on the opposite side of the sky as the Sun. This happens when the Earth gets in line directly between the outer planet and the Sun. It also means that we'll be as close as we can be to the planet for this orbital pass and providing us the best observations for the year! A few somewhat interesting actions will take place in the early part of the evening. As the evening starts, Jupiter's Great Red Spot will be coming into view, in addition there will be two dim stars that Jupiter will be approaching. By 1928 EST, Jupiter will begin a grazing occultation of one of those dim stars and by 1941, the graze will be complete. By 2007 EST, the GRS will reach mid-transit and by 2120, it will be so far over that it will begin to be difficult to make out and it won't rotate back into view until 0500 EST Saturday morning.
Presentations:   The presentation that will talk about Jupiter and its moons, will lead into a discussion about the formation of the solar system and problems with the formation theory, discuss some of the newer theories and finally talk about the Juno spacecraft, which may help answer some of these questions.

Come to the Observatory to celebrate and observe the planet at opposition with us, while pondering some of the astronomical mysteries, such as how did our planets come to exist, that are connected with it. 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!

Announcement for Palm Beach County's Dark Sky Festival.

Palm Beach County's Dark Sky Festival -- III

When asked to name different types of pollution, it is likely you would name trash or smog but what about light pollution? Did you know that sky glow from artificial lights impacts birds, sea turtles, mammals and even YOU! Come and learn how to fight light pollution, protect wildlife, preserve the night sky, and improve human health by attending Palm Beach County's Third Annual Dark Sky Festival!

Celebrate the Night and Turn Down The Lights is a free, fun-filled family event that will have many exciting and educational opportunities to experience and learn about the night sky, its importance to us and how and why we need to preserve it! There will be stargazing, live animal presentations, guided nature tours into the woods at night (first come, first serve), speakers, film screening, educational booths, and more.

Date: Saturday February 21st, 2015.
Time: 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm.
Where: Okeeheelee Nature Center, 7715 Forest Hill Boulevard, West Palm Beach, FL 33413
Cost: Free
Sponsored by: Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation,
Palm Beach County's Dept. of Environmental Resources Management,
the International Dark-Sky Association South Florida Chapter
and Okeeheelee Nature Center.

Further information can be found at these links: http://idasouthflorida.org, at http://www.pbcgov.org/erm/darkskyfest/ or at this Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/events/617786058287998/?ref=22.

December 25th -- Sir Issac Newton's Happy 372nd Birthday!

Sir Issac Newton investigates light with a prism. If sacreligious! was the first thing that came to your mind when you read that title, keep reading.

First of all, while many people celebrate the birth of another famous baby that spawned a whole series of religions on that date, we do not actually know when he was actually born. One of the only clues we have that is associated with the event is the report that shepards were keeping watch over their flocks by night. Well they do not, nor did they do that, during the colder days of the year. We also know that the Church intentionally/strategically rearranged his birthdate 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 stilling of the Sun in the sky, which is followed by a change in its apparent direction of motion. Which up til the winter solistice, the Sun had appeared to have been heading southwards every day since June 21st. Thus they experience less daylight hours, the nights have been getting longer and, for those climes, increasingly colder days. Hence, a solitice becomes very important to those who have been watching daytime appear less and less. While some of you may bemoan not having a White Christmas or struggle to Keep Christ in Christmas by so importantly advocating it as a mere bumper sticker on a car, maybe it is time to put some effort into discovering and then rescheduling the holiday celebrations to be back in phase with when the revered birth in the manger truly happened.

However, what we do know is that Sir Issac Newton WAS born on the 25th of December in 1642 (old calendar), the same year that Galileo Galilei died. We do know that Sir Issac 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! He also discovered his Law of Gravity, his Laws of Motion, the Dispersion of Light and invented the Reflecting Telescope. Not a bad a resume at all! Archimedes himself may have been on the verge to have discovered the Intergral half of Calculus so many centuries earlier. Some speculate that had he done so, humankind might have figured out nuclear physics much earlier than when we did, so much earlier that the Roman Empire could have developed nuclear weapons by the time of the birth of the revered child. While that is a scary thought, I never believed that would have happened, for the Romen psyche did not seem to be scientifically inquisitive like that. By my last count, the only thing that the Empire could say that it contributed to science was the discovery of concrete. Everything else they did was engineering, which is the usage of science, very expertly done in some cases mind you, but still not adding to science itself directly.

I enjoy the spirit of the holiday and its hopes for the betterment of mankind by believing and practicing our fellowship. I also think that in our society, especially in America, we fail to appreciate the toils, struggles and efforts of those who, in science, had to endure 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 digital camera in front of twinkling lights powered by electricity? Have you called a friend or relative on the 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. In America, we often fail to appreciate the discoveries of science because of the timing other events, namely the settlements of the first colonies of Virgina and Massachusetts at the start of the 1600s. As American History pretty much starts then, our public school history classes start teaching that and ignore the huge scientific discoveries that happened at the same exact time as then. Those big astronomical discoveries of Tyhco Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galilieo Galilei provided the foundations that led Issac Newton to his discoveries.

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 Alexander Pope states my appreciation ever so well when he wrote this intended Epitaph for Sir Issac 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 Issac 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: vandernoot at sci dot fau dot edu
Phone: 561 297 STAR (7827)

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