Monday, February 25, 2008

Seeing Stars?

You can contribute to an international scientific study of the nighttime sky! The 2008 GLOBE at Night Campaign will run from 25 February - 8 March.
Your participation involves taking about 20 minutes to observe the sky one evening, and to report your observations on line. See the link above for details. Last year about 20 kids from Fox Lane participated.
2008 marks a monumental shift in human history when more than half the people on Earth are expected to be living in cities. Because of the background light in urban area, many city dwellers have never seen a sky full of stars.
During the 2007 event there were 8,491 observations reported from 60 GLOBE countries, almost doubling the observations from 2006.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Well, Ms. Zhou, Carl T., and I saw it.....

Here's a shot of the Moon in Earth's umbra taken from Pound Ridge Reservation. The star at Leo's "heart", Regulus, is near the top center of the image, and Saturn appears at the lower left.
More photos are on my flickr page

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eclipse Tonight! Maybe......

The forecast for this evening is for "mostly cloudy" skies, and it's going to be COLD! I have the telescope packed in my truck, and the coleman stove is fueled up to make hot chocolate, but I'm going to wait until around 7:30 PM to decide if I'm going over to the Pound Ridge Reservation.
If you're planning on joining me there, check back at this blog at 7:30 PM for an update.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Participate in a Climate Study project

For most of my adult life, I've kept track of the date that the maple trees around me first provide shade as their leaves open in the spring. I've noticed that it is happening 2 or 3 days earlier now than it did 30 years ago.

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is sponsoring a truly interactive project to monitor when the leaves and flowers of certain plants "pop" in the spring, and they're looking for help from, well, everyone! The project is called BudBurst, and the 2008 season kicked off on February 15. Everything you need to know is on their web page, but essentially you'll be watching specific species of plant, and reporting the dates of bud burst, flowering, etc on an interactive web page. I've already registered, and picked several plants in and around my yard to monitor. The Fox Lane Campus is a great place to find many of the species listed at the BudBurst site, too.

The picture accompanying this post is of pollen released from pitch pines on Schunnemunk Mt. near Newburgh, NY. It was windy the day I was up there, and I came home with a yellowy green tint on my clothing and hair from all the pollen blowing around up there. Pollen release is one of the events the BudBurst team is looking for.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Join the Westchester Amateur Astronomers at Pound Ridge Reservation...

..on the evening of February 20 to view the Lunar Eclipse (see previous two posts to this blog, and Fred Espenak's eclipse page). The Westchester Amateurs are regulars at the Res, and have gotten the cooperation of the County in making the Res available to all that night. They'll gather at the Meadow at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation at around 8:30 PM. Weather permitting, I and some of the FLHS staff will be there too, with a telescope! This is not a school sponsored event, but if you (and perhaps your family) decide to participate, kill the headlights as you enter the parking area, and limit flashlight size and use - people's eyes will be adjusted to the dark, and bright lights upset that adjustment. Dress warmly (hat and gloves!). I'll bring a sleeping bag and pad for myself so I can be comfortable as I watch the sky that night.
Bring binoculars if you have them, and a camera and tripod if you want to photograph the event (and telescopes, too - but not unless you know how to use them - it won't be a good time to learn).
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lunar Eclipse on February 20

On Wednesday, February 20 you'll have a chance to observe a total lunar eclipse. On the 7th of this month, the Moon will cross the plane of Earth's orbit (called the ecliptic) precisely when it is aligned with the Earth and Sun (at the New Moon phase) and a solar eclipse will be observed from parts of the southern hemisphere. On the night of February 20-21 - just 2 weeks after the solar eclipse - the Moon will once again cross the ecliptic, only this time in Earth's shadow at the Full Moon phase. Just before 9 PM EST, the Moon will enter the darkest part of shadow of Earth, called the umbra, and by 10 PM the Moon will be entirely within the umbra. The moon will appear an orangy-red color, a result of the red light of sunset being refracted into Earth's umbra as it passes through our atmosphere. The photo to the right, taken during the lunar eclipse of March 7, 2007, illustrates that nicely.

The shadow will move from left to right across the Moon as the Moon moves eastward in it's orbit around the Earth.

Make plans to get out to see the eclipse that night. Lunar eclipses are not all that rare, but they are definitely worth observing.

Click here for a detailed diagram and observing times (also available in printable .pdf format)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

February 2008 is Eclipse Month.....

On February 7, an annular solar eclipse will be visible from parts of Antarctica (it will be a partial solar eclipse in New Zealand and part of Australia). Annular means "ring-shaped" and annular eclipses occur when the Moon is far enough away and the Sun is close enough to cause the Moon's apparent diameter to be too small to completely cover the Sun's disk. As a result, at totality, a thin ring of Sun is visible behind the disk of the Moon. It will not be visible from anywhere in North America...Sigh....

But Solar and Lunar eclipses usually come in pairs, and we will be well placed to view a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday night, February 20. Things will get good around 9 PM (Eastern Standard Time) that night, so make your plans now to get out and see it!.
I'll post more on the lunar eclipse later this month.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Freezing Rain and Icicles

Area schools closed today in anticipation of accumulating ice as significant freezing rain fell during the day.

The rain started falling around 10 AM, with my digital thermometer reading 32.5 degrees F. It's been raining liquid water and an occasional ice pellet ever since then (it's now after 2 PM) and whatever is falling is freezing on contact. The picture here is of icicles that formed as liquid water ran off the car and froze.

What's interesting is that the temperature on my digital thermometer has remained constant - right at the freezing point - all day, even though other local stations are reporting slightly colder temps. I think the reason for the constant temp on my thermometer is due to the fact that the sensor in my yard is getting wet, and the water on it is freezing and holding the temperature right at the freezing point.

I've posted a few more icicle pics here.

Venus and Jupiter in the Morning Sky

If any of you have a good view to the southeast just before sunrise, you've probably noticed Venus and Jupiter coming closer and closer to each other over the last couple of days.
This morning, they are in conjunction, passing within just .6 degrees from each other (that's just a hair more than the Moon's diameter). They are located just above the handle of the "teapot" in Sagitarius (the constellation that dominates the southern sky during summer evenings). It's cloudy here this morning, so I won't be able to get a picture, but I did steal this image from Stellarium (
You can get a full size image here:

During the coming weekend, the old crescent moon will move across this part of the sky from the upper left to the lower right. Hopefully I'll get some pics.