StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



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[Moon Phases]
Current Solar X-rays:  
Current Geomagnetic Field:  
Status Current Moon Phase
846    NOVEMBER 4, 2012:   From Snow to Blow
“I don’t think I have ever seen a day quite like today. There will be no stars shining in Coopersburg this evening, just the silent beat of star-shaped snowflakes falling among semi-skeletal trees.” Those words were written on October 29, 2011 during the first hours of a Halloween snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast, and in my particular area, caused thousands of leafed branches to snap. Electrical outages lasted for a week for some of my friends, and cleanup went on for months. I dropped six trees in my backyard this past spring that had been severely weakened by that storm. It is now October 29, 2012 and although it isn’t snowing, the winds are beginning to howl with an increasing ferocity as Hurricane Sandy hooks to the west and targets southern New Jersey with 90 mph winds. The tempest is still 200 miles off the coast of Delaware. This scenario is being called “unprecedented in the history of tropical events” because of its size and its odd movements. My lights have already begun to flicker, predicting in no uncertain terms that the electricity will go out soon, and this time, longer than last year; it may affect as many as 10 million people in the path of this monster storm. Make no mistake; this is just the beginning of a swing to wilder and crazier weather and more extreme conditions that will begin to affect greater numbers of people around the world, but particularly in the continental US. Even before the scientific community began to warn us decades ago about the detriments of global warming, the United States was always the battleground for the staging of severe weather. We get more impactful tropical systems, and four out of every five tornadoes occur here in the US. When you go to the polls on Tuesday, remember that one party doesn’t even support the belief that global warming exists. That one fact alone is reason enough for me to want to vote for the other guys.

[Halloween Snow]
October 29, 2011 (top) and October 29, 2012 (below): The number of leaves on trees a year ago during the very early October 29, 2011 wet snowfall on the East Coast was much greater than compared to the skeletal state of my trees just about the time that Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The difference in the loss of electricity, however was much greater for Sandy, 36 hours (2011) compared to nearly 90 hours (2012). Gary A. Becker images...
[Hurricane Sandy]

[Hurricane Sandy]
Corpuscular rays and Venus help to add character to the dawn sky on November 2. Anthony Hespeth of my Moravian College astronomy class photographed this scene with his iPhone from his home in the Lehigh Valley.

847    NOVEMBER 11, 2012:   Leonids, This Week
The second of three great fall meteor showers, the Leonids, is now upon us, and this year, two periods of activity, the morning of Saturday, November 17 and just after midnight on the morning of Tuesday, November 20, are predicted. Leonid meteors in past years have looked like snowflakes raking across the chilled November sky. The outburst of 2001 for the East Coast saw bright meteors flashing the ground like strobe lights. All of this earlier activity was created by the return of the Leonids’ parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle, in late February of 1998 and the streams of dross which were shed from the comet on other earlier passages around the sun. This year, the meteor rates will be nothing like the events of a decade ago, but the US, especially the East Coast, is in the favored location to see Leonid activity on the order of 5-10 meteors per hour, peaking around 4:30 a.m. EST on the morning of November 17. The moon will have set early on the previous evening. Then there is the possibility of another slightly more significant but shorter outburst happening from the dust trail created by the comet in the year 1400. This will occur for the East Coast just after midnight on the morning of November 20. Rates are expected to be between 10-15 meteors per hour, but unfortunately, Leo will just be rising in the east, suppressing rates to probably less than half of this number. It gets progressively worse the farther west one goes. Europe is best posed to witness this uptick in meteor activity if it does occur. Observing meteors during late fall and throughout the winter months can be a real fight to stay warm. Once head, hands, or feet surrender to the cold, all is lost. The best advice is to bundle up, and then bundle up some more. Face east after 2 a.m., and look near the zenith. Fast meteors that seem to radiate from Leo’s head, also called the Sickle of the Lion (map online), will be Leonid meteors.

[Leonid Meteor Radiant]
Leonid meteors will be radiating from the area marked with an "X." on Saturday morning, November 17. Don't go out before 2 a.m. because the radiant will not be high enough in the sky for many Leonids to be seen at all, and don't expect a storm like a decade ago. Rates should max around dawn with 10-15 meteors visible each hour. Map by Gary A. Becker using Software Bisque's The Sky...

848    NOVEMBER 18, 2012:   The Sixty Second Sky Sprint
I get to bed late, usually after 1 a.m. It is a perk that I have taken advantage of since retirement. Usually before showering, I pop outside for a few minutes to survey the sky and say “Hi” to my celestial friends. Since Sandy’s arrival three weeks ago and the nor’easter about one week later, virtually all of the hours of darkness have been cloudy at my location. But a few days ago when I literally sprinted from my front doorway into the chilled night air to perform my routine sky check, the heavens were clear and ablaze with the winter constellations. It was quite lovely, even as I shivered, cross-armed, my breath condensing in ethereal puffs of white around my face. I was looking south and brilliant white Jupiter caught my attention first. It was high in the heavens, just about five degrees above Aldebaran, the mad, orangey eye of Taurus the Bull. To the right of the “eye” were the seven sisters, also known as the Pleiades, looking like a tiny, frozen patch of exhalation. Jupiter dazzled, the unmatched lord of the heavens, at least for that moment. Next, blue-white Sirius caught my attention, flashing conspicuously in and out of the skeletal branches of my neighbor’s maple. Because of this tree and the glare of a nearby yellow sodium vapor lamp, Sirius of Canis Major and the brightest star of the night, is always hiding behind something. Shifting my gaze between Jove and the Dog Star, however, revealed the true prize of the upcoming winter season, Orion the Hunter. The stars of his body and much more were all there, red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel and midway between them, Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak, the three bluish diamond stars of his belt. Even Orion’s dagger-like sword was noticed beneath his leather strap. I drank in this winter sky for about 60 seconds, and then bounded back into the house. It was obvious that the next time I did this, a warm jacket would be necessary.

[Winter Group Late]

849    NOVEMBER 25, 2012:   Small Moon Rising
The week starts with the moon heading towards its full phase on Wednesday, November 28. Then, coincidentally, five hours later, Luna will be at its farthest distance from Earth. The moon’s phase period is about 29.5 days. During this interval we see our nearest neighbor slowly emerge from the sun’s glare in the west as a fragile, thin waxing (growing) crescent. Then the moon blossoms from first quarter, when it is half on and half off, into a waxing gibbous moon, where Luna’s limb and its terminator, both appear bulbous. The moon reaches its full phase just under 15 days after it was new and invisible. Luna’s phase cycle then repeats itself in reverse, first diminishing into a waning gibbous moon, then a last quarter moon, and finally a waning crescent before once again becoming invisible at its new phase. While the phases are occurring, there are many other cycles happening right before our very eyes that are more difficult to detect. Take, for instance, the distance of the moon from the Earth. Luna orbits the Earth in the shape of an ellipse (oval). This means that its distance from the Earth is continuously changing. When it is closest to our planet and moving with its fastest orbital speed, the moon is said to be at perigee. When farthest and traveling the slowest, Luna is at apogee. Just like any object which is seen as its distance varies, its size or angular diameter will decrease when it is farther away and increase when it is closer. For the moon this difference in size is 1/15 degree, nearly impossible to observe with the human eye, but easily recorded with a camera. I already have my perigee full moon image, and now I only have to hope that the early evening of November 28 cooperates with clear skies, so that I can snap my apogee picture and contrast the two. The comparison will be posted if successful. Clear skies to you and to me!

[Perigee-Apogee Moons Compared]
Perigee-Apogee Moons are Compared:   The difference in the angular size of the full moon at the time when the moon is closest to Earth (perigee) and farthest from Earth (apogee) is very apparent. The exact same photographic setup was used to record both moons. A Canon 60D camera was mounted at prime focus to a 3.5-inch Questar telescope which was being equatorially driven. The exposures were 1/250 second at F/14.4, ASA 400. Gary A. Becker images...

[November Star Map]

[November Moon Phase Calendar]