Label: Astronomy

August 17, 2010

I don’t know about you, but many of us here on the East Coast of the U.S. never caught a glimpse of last week’s Perseid meteor shower. After all the excitement about what a great year it was going to be for viewing because of the new moon keeping the sky very dark, the weather here was cloudy, and we didn’t see a thing.

Do not despair! Henry Jun Wah Lee shot this incredible time lapse video from California’s Joshua Tree National Park, editing several segments together into a montaged view of not only the meteor shower, but also of the Milky Way galaxy as it rotates in the night sky (well, actually, WE are rotating, but it looks like the stars are moving overhead).

Check this out. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Joshua Tree Under the Milky Way from Henry Jun Wah Lee on Vimeo.


Posted by: Liz Nealon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Summer Vacation Science, Video, Meteor   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 11, 2010



We keep talking about this week’s Perseid meteor shower because this is a particularly good year to see it. There is only a sliver of a moon, so the meteors will really pop against the dark sky. The best time for viewing the show will be the darkest hours before dawn on Friday morning (or very late Thursday night, depending on how you think about it). If the skies are clear where you live, you will be able to see dozens of meteors per hour. It’s about the most satisfying amateur astronomy experience you can have.

One August when my daughter was in elementary school, we planned a middle of the night Perseid party for her friends and their families. Everyone was invited to come at 3:30 am, with pajamas being acceptable attire! We asked them to bring a pillow for everyone and quilts that they didn’t mind laying in the dewey grass. I guided everyone via flashlight to the pitch dark meadow behind our house, and we laid together in the dark, ooh-ing and ah-ing as if it were a fireworks show. Then at 5am, as the rosy-fingered dawn started to illuminate the horizon, we brought everyone up to the house for a middle-of-the-night brunch. It was a memorable evening.

Of course, the trick to serving brunch in the middle of the night is to prepare everything in advance, so that you can sleep until the very last minute before guests arrive. I have a favorite quiche recipe which can be made in advance and quickly heated up in the oven or microwave. Cut up a fruit salad, set up the coffeemaker before you go to bed and you’re ready to go. For anyone who would like to try it this week, here’s my recipe. Enjoy it under the meteor shower!



1 box pie crust mix                                                                  1 cup (1/2 pt.) Light Cream

8oz. Gruyere or Swiss Cheese (.5 lb)                                   Nutmeg

3 eggs, beaten                                                                        Salt & pepper to taste

½ c. bacon, mushrooms or other fillings as you wish           1 TBL butter               

½  c. nonfat Milk         

Preheat oven to 450º. Cut the cheese into small cubes. Pre-cook any meat that you plan to put in the quiche and crumble into small pieces. If you are using vegetables (scallions, mushrooms, etc), cut them up and sauté in butter until they are nice and soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make a single piecrust, put it into a pie dish and prick all over with a fork (so it doesn’t blow up into a big balloon!). I usually put some tin foil over the top edges to hold it up against the sides. Cook the piecrust alone for 5 minutes at 450 degrees.

After the piecrust is pre-cooked, sprinkle your fillings (bacon, scallions, etc) on the bottom and cover them with the cubed cheese.

In a bowl, beat three eggs. Add cream, milk, dash of nutmeg, sprinkle of salt and pepper. Pour over the cheese.

Bake 15 minutes at 450º. Then, turn oven down to 350º and bake 10-15 minutes more,...

read more

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Summer Vacation Science, Meteor, Recipes   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 10, 2010

This is an incredible week for sky watching - and you don’t need a telescope!








The annual Perseid Meteor shower is already beginning. Last night sky watchers were reporting seeing up to 10 meteors per hour. We found this photo on, shot by Pete Glastonbury of Devizes, Wiltshire, UK, last night. This photograph shows a meteor whizzing past planet Jupiter.

The big show, however, is happening on Thursday night, and it is going to be a beauty.

The spectacular sights begin at sundown, when the crescent moon, Venus, Saturn and Mars will all appear together in a tight circle less than 10 degrees in diameter. You will be able to see this with your own eyes (even better if you have binoculars)  - just look to the western sky at twilight. This diagram will help you identify which is which, or if you have an Android phone, use your Google Sky Map app. Mercury is there, too, but will be too dim to see with the naked eye.

And if that weren’t enough, Thursday night will be the peak night for viewing the annual Perseid meteor shower. And, since there is just a sliver of a moon this year, the sky will be dark for optimum viewing. From 10pm until dawn you can see meteors streaking across the night sky. Look toward Perseus - in the northern sky. The meteors seem to be shooting out of that constellation, which is why astronomers named it the "Perseid" shower.

Kids often ask me why the Perseid meteor shower happens at the same time every year. The answer is simple. Earth takes one full year (precisely 365 days, 6 hours and seven seconds) to orbit the sun. So every August our planet passes through a big debris field created by the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years the huge comet passes through our solar system and leaves a messy trail of dust and gravel behind it. When Earth passes through this cloud of space debris, pieces of it hit our atmosphere at about 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light that we call meteors.

So get outside as the sun sets this week, imagine that you are an astronomer (actually, if you are watching, you are!) and enjoy the sights.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Meteor, Google Sky Map   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 26, 2010

Last night, June 25th, we were wandering among the stars. Well, actually we were looking at the night sky with a pair of binoculars waiting for a satellite flyby of the Space Station. We knew the direction it was coming from and the exact time it would appear (WSW, 10:08:08pm). We knew that it would be very bright (-3.9 magnitude) rivaling that of Venus (a bit brighter at -4.2 magnitude). While we were waiting for the moment that the satellite would appear, we looked at the stars coming out as the sky darkened. The moon was so bright that its light washes out the dimmer stars, so only the brightest stars appear. Venus was very bright above the western horizon, appearing even before the red colors of the sunset had faded. I took this picture of Venus just to the left of the trees and you can see the last colors of a very beautiful sunset.

As the sky darkened, Liz looked up at the sky with the binoculars at two other bright stars and proclaimed them planets. I looked at them and thought that she was probably right about one of them and maybe not about the other one. The one I thought she was right about turned out to be Mars, the red planet. And indeed, it looked red. The other one she was also right about. It was Saturn. All three planets are visible in the early evening these nights, be sure to take a look!

Then, right on time, the Space Station rose and sped across the sky. It was magnificent, bright and fast moving (much faster than the high-flying ligts of planes that we saw). It took only a few minutes to travel across our viewing area and then sank below the horizon to the the NorthEast. I have to say that I did something silly. I started to cheer and applaud and Liz joined in with me. It is a beautiful sight and not to be missed. You have more chances this weekend to see. Check the times in your local area (look at the preceding blog entry for where to check). 

I cheered not only because the satellite flyby was so beautiful (it is), but because the thought of humans flying by in space made me think of myself as a small boy reading science fiction stories. I always wondered and hoped that we would get to explore in space and we have. Maybe not as far as I wanted (I wanted for us to go to the stars), but at least it’s a first step for humankind.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Sky Watching, International Space Station, Venus, Sunset   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 26, 2010

I used Google’s Sky Map app on my Droid last night for the first time. Wow! They describe this app as "the universe in your pocket," and they’re not kidding. All you do is point your phone at the sky, and it shows you what you are looking at (this is how I proved to Seymour that I was indeed looking at Mars throught the binoculars, he he). You can choose different layers (see only planets, see only constellations, etc), or you can just see them all at once.

I haven’t had much experience with Astronomy - just an amateur love of the night sky. Last night, with Google Sky Map I was able to easily find Polaris (the North Star) and for the first time I learned about 1st magnitude stars like Vega and Arkturis (the fourth brightest star in the night sky), and knew what they were.

It is a wonderful app, intuitive and easy to use (I didn’t read any instructions, just turned it on and started using it). I can’t even describe how exciting it is to be looking at a disk that you are pretty sure is a planet, turning the Google Sky Map on it and having Saturn with its rings pop up on the screen. What fun!

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Summer Vacation Science, Saturn, Sky Watching, Google Sky Map   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 25, 2010

This is a great weekend for seeing the International Space Station with the naked eye. For the next few days, the  International Space Station (ISS) will be orbiting Earth in constant sunlight, which means that at times it will be almost as bright as Venus. Because the ISS is constantly reflecting light,  it shines  brightly in the night sky every single time it passes overhead - in some places, that may be as many as three or more times per night. has set up a this webpage where all you have to do is enter your zip code, and it will tell you what time the Space Station is passing overhead, and which direction to look. Grab a flashlight and head out to see this remarkable sky show!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: Astronomy, Sky Watching, International Space Station   •  Permalink (link to this article)

June 10, 2010

Last week something crashed into Jupiter and it was caught on camera - by two amateur astronomers!  Anthony Wesley of Australia and Christopher Go of the Philippines each recorded an impact event on Jupiter.


 This is Anthony Wesley’s photograph, and if you click on this link, you can see a short video that Christopher Go made using his photographs of the event. The strike occurred at 20:31 UT* on June 3rd and produced a bright flash of light in Jupiter’s clouds. No one knows what crashed into Jupiter - it was probably an asteroid or a comet. In either case, a charcoal-colored circle will probably develop around the debris field; that’s what has happened after previous Jupiter impacts. Astronomers are watching to see what happens next!

 * Astronomers often mark events in UT, which stands for Universal Time. It is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. GMT is five hours ahead of the East Coast of the US and eight hours ahead of the West Coast. UT is almost always uses military time, or the 24-hour clock. So, 20:31 is what we would call 8:31 pm.

Photo credit: Anthony Wesley, Broken Hill Australia



Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Astronomy, Jupiter   •  Permalink (link to this article)

 <  1 2 3