The Tau Herculids come from periodic Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, which
in 1995, began to break up, creating lots of debris scattered across
its orbit. It's hard to know exactly where the fragments ended up ...
but comet experts like Don Machholz think there's a good chance
that we'll be passing through an unusually dense clump of particles
when we cross 73P's orbit this year.
I'm not a big meteor watcher — I find most meteor showers
distinctly underwhelming. But in November 2002, I was lucky enough to
view the Leonid meteor storm from
Fremont Peak, near San Juan Bautista, CA.
A couple of years ago, Dave and I acquired an H-alpha solar scope.
Neither of us had been much of a solar observer.
We'd only had white-light filters: filters you put over the
front of a regular telescope to block out most of the sun's light
so you can see sunspots.
H-alpha filters are a whole different beast:
you can see prominences, those huge arcs of fire that reach out into
space for tens of thousands of miles, many times the size of the Earth.
And you can also see all sorts of interesting flares and granulation
on the surface of the sun, something only barely hinted at in
I have another PEEC Planetarium talk coming up in a few weeks,
a talk on the
co-presenting with Chick Keller on Fri, Jun 18 at 7pm MDT.
I'm letting Chick do most of the talking about archaeoastronomy
since he knows a lot more about it than I do, while I'll be talking
about the celestial dynamics -- what is a solstice, what is the sun
doing in our sky and why would you care, and some weirdnesses relating
to sunrise and sunset times and the length of the day.
And of course I'll be talking about the analemma, because
just try to stop me talking about analemmas whenever the topic
of the sun's motion comes up.
But besides the analemma, I need a lot of graphics of the earth
showing the terminator, the dividing line between day and night.
Monday was the last night it's been clear enough to see Comet Neowise.
I shot some photos with the Rebel, but I haven't quite figured out
the alignment and stacking needed for decent astrophotos, so I don't
have much to show. I can't even see the ion tail.
The interesting thing about Monday besides just getting to see
the comet was the never-ending train of satellites.
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE continues to improve, and as of Tuesday night
it has moved into the evening sky (while also still being visible in
the morning for a few more days).
I caught it Tuesday night at 9:30 pm. The sky was still a bit bright,
and although the comet was easy in binoculars, it was a struggle to see
it with the unaided eye. However, over the next fifteen minutes the sky
darkened, and it looked pretty good by 9:50, considering the partly
cloudy sky. I didn't attempt a photograph; this photo is from Sunday morning,
in twilight and with a bright moon.
I've learned not to get excited when I read about a new comet. They're
so often a disappointment. That goes double for comets in the morning
sky: I need a darned good reason to get up before dawn.
But the chatter among astronomers about the current comet, C2020 F3
NEOWISE, has been different. So when I found myself awake at 4 am,
I grabbed some binoculars and went out on the deck to look.
And I was glad I did. NEOWISE is by far the best comet I've seen
since Hale-Bopp. Which is not to say it's in Hale-Bopp's class --
certainly not. But it's easily visible to the unaided eye, with a
substantial several-degree-long tail. Even in dawn twilight. Even
with a bright moon. It's beautiful!
Update: the morning after I wrote that,
get a photo,
though it's not nearly as good as Dbot3000's that's shown here.
When I was in grade school -- probably some time around 7th grade -- I
happened upon an article in Scientific American about the Anasazi Sun
Dagger on Fajada
Butte in Chaco Canyon. On the solstices and equinoxes, a thin
dagger of light is positioned just right so that it moves across a
spiral that's carved into the rock.
I was captivated. What an amazing sight it must be, I thought.
I wondered if ordinary people were allowed to go see it.
Well, by the time I was old enough to do my own traveling, the answer
was pretty much no. Too many people were visiting Fajada Butte ...