StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]


[Eclipse Composite]
Breaks in the clouds allowed Mark Balanda of Palmyra, PA to image the partial phases of the eclipse. These pictures were immediately projected onto a large screen for public display. Great job Mark!

[StarWatch Lunar Eclipse Composite]
About 400 enthusiasts attended the StarWatch total lunar eclipse gathering at Dieruff High School on October 27. About 20 telescopes were on hand to provide magnified and brighter images of the moon as it entered the Earth's shadow. Digital photography by John Evrard of Dan's Camera City, Allentown, PA.

428b  NOVEMBER 1, 2004:   Bright Eclipse
For the 400 enthusiasts who came to the eclipse StarWatch at Dieruff High School on October 27, and for the thousands who viewed it from their homes across the Valley, you were treated to a bright total lunar eclipse. Although the moon was completely immersed into the Earth’s umbra by 10:23 p.m., it was evident from the start that there was a fair amount of light being bent into the shadow. The altocumulus clouds, that produced a mackerel sky and a hide-and-seek portrait of the eclipse, made it more difficult to judge its vividness. One precursor to the eclipse’s brightness came just after 10 p.m. when the moon popped into what appeared to be a completely clear patch of sky. The eclipsed portion of the lunar disk looked similar to the way the unlit region of the crescent moon appears when it reflects earthshine back into our eyes. About the same time Allen astronomy students, Matthew Johnson and Adolfo Ramirez, reported that they were able to see a dull coppery hue on the eclipsed portion of the moon through Terry Pundiak’s 16-inch, light grabbing reflector. When the eclipse became total, the clouds thickened, and people began going home. After all of our equipment was dismantled and stowed, the moon briefly reappeared about 10 minutes before the end of totality. Colorations ranged from white, near the moon’s limb that was to emerge first from the Earth’s shadow, to a yellowish tan, and a coppery red near the part of the moon deepest into the umbra. This was the signature of a bright eclipse. As a final comment to this event, Dieruff senior and StarWatch member, Jonathan Brittain, excitedly proclaimed that when people asked him questions about the eclipse, he was able to provide them with answers. Hey Jonathan, two thumbs up for public education!

429    NOVEMBER 7, 2004:   Exploration of Titan Begins
With Cassini now beginning to examine Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, the Ringed World has once again begun to stir up some headlines in the national news. Saturn is also becoming more easily visible in our evening skies. Presently, it is rising just after 9 p.m., in the ENE below the two most prominent stars of the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. In fact, if you give Saturn an hour or two to gain enough altitude for an easier view, a straight line downward from Castor and Pollux will take you directly to Saturn, the brightest of the three. Observing 3200 mile in diameter Titan can be accomplished with a small telescope. This week Titan stays fairly close to Saturn, moving from below the planet to above Saturn in a normal view. But this may be different in your scope because telescopes often invert an image and change the orientation of left and right. It is safe to say that if you see a faint luminary close to bright Saturn, it will be Titan. Cassini’s more detailed investigation of Titan is just beginning. On Christmas Day Cassini will release a 703-pound probe named Huygens. Three weeks later on January 14, 2005, Huygens will descend through Titan’s nitrogen rich atmosphere, which is twice as thick as Earth’s ocean of air. En route, the spacecraft will glean information about Titan’s atmospheric chemistry, density, pressure, and temperature, and hopefully, even continue transmissions for a few minutes after landing on Titan’s surface near the equator. Images from Cassini’s first close encounter with Titan in late October suggest that winds are blowing methane clouds over a surface with diverse features. Radar images have also suggested that some of these “landscapes” may be smooth enough to be oceans of liquid methane.

[Cassini Reveals Titan]
Shrouded by methane clouds in a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan has remain an enigma for decades. Now Cassini has revealed possible methane clouds and a surface of a varying terrain. There are even indications of methane oceans, which are suggested by the darker areas in the inset photo.

[Planets Group]

430    NOVEMBER 14, 2004:   Planets Congregate in the East
E-mails have been coming in asking me about those two bright stars in the east in the dawn sky. The first letter arrived on October 31 from Lance Corporal Robert Toth stationed in Afghanistan. I had Robert in my William Allen astronomy class back in the fall of 2002. He was the kind of person that would make any parent proud—an honest, hardworking student with a quick smile who wanted to do his best for God, country, and humankind. Yes, those kinds of pupils are still around, and it is one of the reasons that I have remained in teaching for the past 33 years. That he should be fighting in Afghanistan really didn’t surprise me either. He was a patriot and wore the uniform of his Navy Junior ROTC corps that he belonged to with pride. I imagined Robert on patrol in the cold, predawn hours, viewing a stark, dry, moon-bathed landscape with two brilliant luminaries twinkling low in the east. Robert said that “I have had some difficult times here and times I really wish I was home.” He will be returning in December and promised me a visit. Robert’s safe return will definitely be in my prayers. What Robert Toth and millions of others witnessed was a close conjunction of Venus (brighter) with Jupiter. The nearest approach for the East Coast was on the morning of November 5 when they were just over one moon diameter apart. Since that time, Venus has been moving towards the horizon and away from Jupiter bound for another conjunction with a planet that has slowly been gaining more prominence in the eastern sky—Mars. By December 6 at 6:15 a.m. Venus will be about two moon diameters to the left of Mars, but 180 times brighter. Sunrise is an hour later, so Mars should be visible with just the unaided eye. Binoculars will enhance your view.

Lunar and Planetary Gathering:   This 6 a.m. digital photo was snapped on the morning of November 10. The moon is in the trees with earthshine. Above the moon is Venus followed by Jupiter. Gary A. Becker photo...


431    NOVEMBER 21, 2004:   Moon to Occult Jupiter
One month ago, I watch with expectation as the moon glided towards its rendezvous with the Earth’s shadow on October 27. Then nearly two weeks passed, and the waning crescent moon appeared above Jupiter on November 9 and below Venus on the following morning. What most people did not realize was that from the US, the moon passed in front of Jupiter during the daylight hours of the 9th and then occulted Venus in daylight on the 10th from Asia and the Pacific. Friends, Mark Balanda from Palmyra, PA and John Shobbrook living in Coonabarabran, NSW Australia, caught Jupiter and Venus respectively, and their photos can be seen in this week’s web StarWatch. I have again been watching with expectation as the moon has waxed from a thin crescent low in the southwest, past first quarter on the 19th, and towards its full phase which occurs on Nov. 27. What goes around has come around again. Everyday as the moon has inched relentlessly eastward in its orbit around the Earth, it has gotten just a little closer to a new and very special rendezvous with Jupiter. This time on December 7 at 3:57 a.m. the waning crescent moon will occult Jupiter in a dark sky. Jove currently is in the east by 6:00 a.m., about one third of the distance from the horizon to the zenith. On December 7 at the time of the occultation, it will be lower, about 20 degrees above the eastern horizon for the East Coast and 10 degrees for the Midwest. The occultation will be easily seen through binoculars; but if you own a telescope, you’ll be able to witness Jupiter’s bright moons also being obscured. Make sure that you are observing by 3:30 a.m. to catch the disappearance of the satellites. Jupiter reappears on the moon’s dark limb by 5:06 a.m.

[Moon Occults Jupiter]

[Daylight Occultations]
Moon and Planets Meet:   Mark Balanda of Palmyra, PA photographed the moon (color) as it approached Jupiter about 11 a.m. on November 9. Eight hours later the moon occulted Venus, but by that time it was dark on the East Coast and Venus had set. It was early afternoon on November 10 in Coonabarabran, NSW Australia. There John Shobbrook photographed the event using the Muhlenberg Robotic Telescope and a CCD camera. Shobbrooks’s technical data follows: C-14 stopped down to f/86, red filter, Apogee AP6EP CCD camera binned at 2 x 2, 0.06 sec.exposure.

432    NOVEMBER 28, 2004:   Active Planets/Geminid Alert
The moon was full last Friday, and during this week it will be passing through its waning phases, gibbous for most of the time, last quarter on December 5, a waning crescent during the following week, and new on December 12. Brilliant Venus passes Mars low in the east on December 6. Observe between 5:45 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. The following morning, December 7, the waning crescent moon occults Jupiter in a dark sky at 3:57 a.m. Start observing around 3:40 a.m. with binoculars, telescopes, or spotting scopes to enhance the visual impact. The sunlit side of the moon encounters Jupiter first. This will prove to be the more difficult of the two observations. Jupiter emerges just after 5 a.m. from behind the unlit portion of the moon, a spectacular sight with or without optical aid. But there’s more. As the moon wanes towards its new phase, observers will note an increase in meteor activity as the Earth positions itself for this year’s best shower, the Geminids. These shooting stars originate because of dust entering the Earth’s atmosphere from 3200 Phaethon, a comet that settled into an asteroid’s orbit. Hourly rates have been on the increase since the shower’s discovery in the mid-nineteenth century. During the 1980s counts ranged from 60 to 110 meteors per hour, but now they are more consistently around 100. In addition, Geminids are fairly luminous, averaging about the brightness of the stars of the Big Dipper. The East Coast will be best positioned for these meteors on December 13, when peak rates are expected to occur around 10 p.m. Geminid meteor rates build more slowly before their peak, and then rapidly decline afterwards, making the weekend nights of December 11 and 12 also prime viewing prospects. More about the Geminids next week…

November Star Map

November Moon Phase Calendar