Backyard Astronomy

(formerly Barbara's Backyard Astronomy Page)
Imaged by the 
Hubble Space Telescope
Imaged by the
Cassini-Huygens Space Probe

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Last Updated on 
July 25, 2007 

Meteors and a Lunar Eclipse

The sky is falling or is it?

Little bits of cosmic dust will slam into the Earth's atmosphere this summer.  Actually they do that all the time!  The phenomenon is called a meteor shower and we are in for one of the best of this year on August 12/13, 2007.  It's called the Perseid meteor shower because the radiant (where they appear to come from) lies in the constellation of Perseus.  Activity is from July 17th through August 24 with the peak happening in the pre-dawn hours of August 13, 2007.  If you get out and look up for any length of time the weekend of August 12th you will see some meteors.  What makes the Perseid Meteor Shower so good this year are two things, our place along the path of the comet Swift-Tuttle from which the dust comes and the fact that the moon will not be visible in the sky.  It would be kind of like looking for fire flies next to a spotlight if the moon were out.  Perseus, or the Hero, as some like to call him, is an interesting enough constellation without the meteors and is well worth a look.  Perseus rises at about 9 pm this time of year so meteors should be visible and active all night peaking in the hours just before dawn as that is when Earth's night side is turned in the direction of its travel.  Kind of like looking through the windshield in a car at falling snow or rain as opposed to out the side window.  Perseus contains some spectacular sights, the very lovely Double Cluster NGC 869 and NGC 884 stunning in binoculars and small scopes, the famous variable star Algol or Beta Persei, whose light fluctuates every few days because it gets eclipsed by an unseen companion, the Alpha Persei Association or Open Cluster and a few faint galaxies.   So while you are out enjoying the falling stars, take a look at some of the sights around the radiant.  You can see all, but the galaxies with just your eyes, though you will need to get out from under any light pollution.  Plan a trip out to the countryside for some quality time under the stars and don't forget your binoculars or small scope.

And the moon will turn blood red.

Well I don't think we have to worry about an Apocalypse just yet, but the moon may turn a coppery red during the August 28 total lunar eclipse.  For those of you on the East coast the moon will set before full eclipse as the sun rises.  Mid-eclipse begins about 5 am and best views for you will be in the wee hours before dawn.  Watching as the moon sets while in partial eclipse.  The Mid-west will see most of the eclipse as the moon will be out of totality as it sets.  Totality for you will be in a gradually brightening sky.  The very best views will be for those of us on or near the west coast, we will see the moon high in the sky become eclipsed as it descends toward the western horizon.  The darkest part of the eclipse begins about 3 am MST/PDT (give or take a few minutes for longitude), and for observers in Arizona, will last until 4:22 am.  By then the sky will be brightening and the full phase will end.  Fred Espenak at NASA has prepared this nifty chart for us that gives the times and phases of this eclipse.  Don't let the UT (Universal Time) confuse you - go to the US Naval Observatory's website for a time conversion chart.
Clear skies!
Wow!  It's really exciting to have a space probe at Saturn. 
It is sending back some great pix
be sure to check it out at
MESSENGER is on its way to little Mercury.
Check out the mission specs at NASA.
And as always, you can email me your questions, concerns or comments. 
Remember, I too was a beginner once. 
Email me at [email protected].  I would really love to hear from you!
 Before you go out - Check the weather conditions 
with a Clear Sky Clock.
Just as in the night sky, the darker it is the better the stargazing.
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This one is for near my location, but you can get one for near your observing location.  Click it and see.
I have completed the first in a series of 10 observing programs towards a Master Observers Award (did you hear that echo?!?).  These are observing certification programs provided by the Astronomical League (see link below) for free to all members of member astronomy clubs or their members at large.  You might have to buy a manual that tells you how and what to observe, but they are all below $20.00, a nominal fee, I think, for the thrill of being recognized as one of an elite group of amateur astronomers who have completed these programs.  They are not hard, you just have to do them, but goto scopes are a no-no.  They are designed to get you out under the stars and learning.  They have one for every level observer and for those who don't even have a telescope and kids too. 
All you do is download the information on whichever program you are interested in, observe the specified objects and send a copy of your logs in to them for review and you get a very nice certificate and a pin to show for your hard work (work - ha, it was such fun, I'm going to do it nine more times!).  That's my ultimate goal anyway, because there are 5 prerequisites to that program, I chose to start with those programs first.
I did the Messier Binocular Observers Club, I loved it!  I can't wait for my Sun manual to come.
I am one of the few, the proud, the Messier.
My memberships, . . .  
  The Astronomical League  (if you're a member of an 
Astro Club then you're probably an AstroLeague member too)
  The International Dark Sky Association
Ignorance and apathy are the night sky's worst enemies, as lovers of it's treasures we amateur astronomers owe it to ourselves and those who come after us to protect it.  Please join and become knowledgeable about your town, city and county Dark Sky Ordinances.  Every county in AZ has one and some cities and towns go even farther with more local ordinances. 
We can have it both ways; 
safely lit areas and still see the beauty of the Milky Way and beyond.
  Phoenix Astronomical Society

Benefits of membership:

The PAS newsletter - "PASTimes", handouts, giveaways, and priizes.
Astronomical League membership - AL Newsletter "The Reflector" and observving certification programs.
Reduced rates - on Sky and Telescope magazine, book discounts 10%-33% off science and astronomy books.
Access to - dark sky observing sites, membership knowledge and experience, a diverse array of observing equipment through the members at club star parties, and the club's library.
Participation in club activities - field trips, star parties, and other outings. 
  The Planetary Society
Be a part of the exciting planetary exploration  happening now!

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