Category: skywatching

Scientists Solve The Mystery Of STEVE, And Fin…

Scientists Solve The Mystery Of STEVE, And Find It’s So Much More Than An Aurora

“Normally, aurorae are produced by the Sun’s charged particles striking the atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The solar wind particles get bent by Earth’s magnetic field, exciting and ionizing oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. When electrons recombine with ions, they cascade back down to lower energies, creating aurorae from their emission lines. STEVE is distinct from this for multiple reasons.”

It isn’t often that a naked-eye skywatcher gets a chance to observe an entirely new optical phenomenon that’s never been seen or recorded before. Yet earlier this century, that’s exactly what’s happened with a purple/green/mauve ribbon of light that sometimes appears in the sky. Known as STEVE, for strong thermal emission velocity enhancement, this ribbon includes colors never seen in an aurora, appears at lower latitudes than those where aurorae are typically found, and most importantly, isn’t created coincident with the precipitation of charged particles. In other words, it’s an entirely new phenomenon!

The mystery of what creates STEVE has now been solved, and it’s not only a great scientific story, it’s also beautiful to behold. Come see the full story (and some great photos and videos) today!

Get Your Telescopes Ready: Neptune Is Coming

Get Your Telescopes Ready: Neptune Is Coming

“Because of the periodic motions of the planets, Mars and Neptune had a close encounter just two years ago, but this year’s conjunction blows that one away in terms of proximity and viewing conditions. With a new Moon on December 7th, clear skies and the Geminid meteor shower growing towards its December 13th peak, it’s a great night to be outside for stargazing. Bring even a small telescope or a pair of binoculars with you, though, and the spectacular, blue sight of Neptune will be your reward.

For a few minutes of effort, you’ll see what no human prior to Galileo ever saw, except unlike Galileo, you won’t mistakenly record that you observed a fixed star. Instead, you’ll know you’re viewing the 8th and outermost planet in our Solar System, a planet that nobody knew existed a mere two centuries ago. This December 7th, we all have the opportunity to become astronomers. Make your chance count.”

On December 7th, 2018, a spectacular astronomical event will occur, but you won’t notice without binoculars or a telescope. Mars and Neptune will achieve an extremely close conjunction, separated by a mere 0.03 degrees at the moment of their closest approach. If you look at easily-identifiable Mars at that moment through binoculars or a telescope, you might see a faint, blue dot that appears to be a satellite companion of Mars. Only it’s not; it’s brilliant, blue Neptune, approximately 30 times as far away as our red neighbor! Galileo was the first to see Neptune, but he misidentified it for a fixed star. More than 200 years later, it remained undiscovered. But on December 7th, some 400 years later, you’ll have the opportunity of a lifetime that most humans will never get: the chance to see Neptune for yourself.

Next month, we’ll all have the chance to be astronomers, and to see a spectacular sight that generations of people never got. Make it count.

The Year’s Best Meteor Shower Is Here,…

The Year’s Best Meteor Shower Is Here, And The Geminids Are Better Than Ever

“This year, at the peak of the Geminids, the Moon will be a waning crescent, not even rising until well after midnight. Even when it does, it will be thin enough and far enough away from the origin of the Geminids that you’ll still have a spectacular show. If you have dark, cloudless skies, you should be able to see up to two or three meteors per minute once the sky reaches full darkness this year. While the cold snaps affecting much of the country might make it a little unpleasant to be outside for too long, it also provides the best viewing conditions for the night sky. This year, you won’t want to pass up the opportunity.”

Every year, there are two meteor showers reliably worth checking out if the conditions are favorable: August’s Perseids and December’s Geminids. This year, with the Moon in a waning crescent phase and with clear skies anticipated across most of the country, the Geminids just might shape up to be spectacular. Created by the debris of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the Geminids are a relatively young shower at under 200 years, and they continue to get more spectacular over time, peaking at over 150 meteors per hour the last few years. There’s an incredible scientific story behind where these showers come from, and an incredible show to be had if you can find clear, dark skies. The year’s best meteor shower is here, with the peak coming in just a few days.

Come find out how to get the most out of your Geminid experience, Don’t pass up the opportunity to see one of nature’s most spectacular shows!