Total Lunar Eclipse

Last night was a rollercoaster ride for most Pittsburgh skywatchers. Around midnight, the sky pretty much cleared, giving false hope that we may actually get to see something. By 1:30am, however, it was completely overcast; so thick you could barely make out any of the moon’s light whatsoever. Since we weren’t able to observe the eclipse, here’s some photos from an astrophotographer in Arizona who was more fortunate.

All images credit Rob Sparks (@halfastro.) See the full gallery here.

Upcoming events: the Lyrid meteor shower is next week. Best viewing date is between midnight and dawn on the 22nd. Here’s to hoping that our luck changes in the near future!

2014 Spring Sky Events & Tonight’s Evening Moon

There hasn’t been much to post lately, mostly due to the cold weather we have been having, but also because there hasn’t been very many interesting things happening in the night skies. However, that’s all about to change.

  • March 20: March Equinox
  • April 8: Mars Closest to Earth
  • April 15: Total Lunar Eclipse
  • April 22: Lyrid Meteor Shower
  • May 5: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
  • May 10: Saturn closest to Earth
  • May 24: Comet 209P/LINEAR meteor shower*
  • June 7: Conjunction of Mars and Moon
  • June 21: June Solstice

* This is a possible meteor shower caused by Comet 209P/LINEAR. It is unknown what type of shower it will produce, if any at all, but it could be one of the biggest of the year. Read more.

And as a bonus, here’s a shot taken today of the evening moon.

IMG_1747

Image credit: James Watt.

November 2013: Partial Solar Eclipse & Comet ISON & Meteor Showers

This morning, the east coast experienced a partial solar eclipse at sunrise. We were awake and ready to photograph this event, but cloud cover prevented us from getting a decent shot. Furthermore, no one has yet submitted any photography of the eclipse from Pittsburgh to us. This could be due to cloud cover or the fact that the partial eclipse was so negligible from Pittsburgh that it didn’t photograph well. Fortunately, we were able to find some wonderful images from photographers who were located further east.

If you missed the partial solar eclipse this morning, there’s always tomorrow night’s meteor shower. The South Taurid meteor shower is visible Monday night into Tuesday morning. So far, the weather looks decent and moonlight interference won’t be an issue as today is a new moon. The best time to start watching is midnight. This is because at midnight, the constellation Taurus will be high in the sky. Also, the Earth turns into the shower’s radiant point after midnight, which increases the amount of visible meteors. (Thanks to Larry McHenry from the Kiski Astronomers group for clarifying this information for us.)

There will be two more meteor showers later in the month, but viewing conditions won’t be nearly as good as tomorrow night. The North Taurid meteor shower occurs on Monday night, November 11, but the bright waxing gibbous moon will interfere with viewing conditions. It will be best viewed before dawn on the 12th. The Leonid meteor shower is on Saturday night, November 16. Unfortunately, that night is a full moon, which will drown out all but the brightest of meteors.

Comet ISON should be visible with the naked eye before the end of the month and is already visible through binoculars or a small telescope. You can see it right now by looking toward the constellation Leo around 4am. (Not sure where Leo is? In the past, we have suggested using Google Sky App to help find objects and we continue to feel this is still one of the best tools for casual observers and people new to astronomy.)

Without further adieu, here’s some photography of today’s eclipse (large files – may take some time to load.)

2013 Eclipse Jersey Shore

Image credit: LlewellynTheFist.

2013 Solar Eclipse NYC

Image Credit: Nazmus @ Naztronomy.com

2013 Solar Eclipse OceanImage Credit: Tony Rice

As a bonus, for those who missed our Facebook post yesterday, here’s a shot of Comet ISON taken yesterday morning.

Comet ISON Nov 2 13

Image Credit: Robert Sparks

2013 Perseid Meteor Shower from Pittsburgh

This year’s Perseid Meteor Shower has been active since the end of July and is set to peak early next week. Skywatchers all over the world, including here in Pittsburgh, have been reporting sightings of fireballs and shooting stars every clear night. A recent study by NASA has discovered that the Perseid Meteor Shower produces more fireballs than any other meteor shower. A “fireball” is a meteor that looks more like a cruise missile than a shooting star, often bright enough to light up the ground around you like a football stadium. We’ve seen a half dozen of these fireballs since Sunday night, meaning that the peak of this shower should be extremely exciting!

20130803PetrHoruxlek_2013-08-03-prvni-perseida-1600px

According to Tom Reiland, Wagman Observatory Director and retired Astronomer, the heart of the Perseids is calculated for 3pm on Monday. Therefore, the closest peak times we have to see the shower are both Sunday and Monday nights. The Waxing Crescent moon will obscure view of the meteor shower until moonset on both nights (10:35pm on Sunday and 11:10pm on Monday,) but that’s alright, because meteor showers are most active after true midnight. Because we are in daylight savings time, midnight is actually 1am local time. And because we are geographically 20 minutes west from the center of Eastern Time, true midnight in Pittsburgh is 1:20am.

We at Pittsburgh Space Weather have been seeing meteors this week as early as 11pm. Activity increases more and more the later you can stay up, with the most meteors and fireballs appearing in the sky after true midnight.

Despite Sunday and Monday being the peak, Saturday is the optimal night for many people to watch the Perseids this year as most people have work in the morning on Monday. Saturday night is close enough to the peak that it should produce a very exciting show without having to call off work Monday morning.

You can enjoy the Perseids from any dark area outside the city. According to Dan Malerbo, planetarium education coordinator at the Carnegie Science Center, the best places to watch the meteor shower are Deer Lakes Park in Allegheny County, Mingo Creek in Washington County, Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County and Moraine State Park in Butler County. Remember that it takes about 10 minutes for your eyes’ natural night vision to start working, so you’ll need to put down the cellphone to get the best experience from the meteor shower this weekend. You’ll notice that after after your night vision kicks in, you’ll suddenly see a lot more stars and meteors than you could before.

As many of you are aware, Pittsburgh Space Weather is gathering at Moraine State Park near the Amphitheatre area on Saturday night for the meteor shower. You can find maps, directions, and information about this public event on our previous article (link.) Up to the minute forecasts predict that we should have mostly clear skies. Any clouds lingering should cover less than 20% of the sky.

If you’re not able to get all the way to Moraine State Park, AAAP is holding public star parties every night, tonight through Monday. And if you don’t mind skipping work on Monday morning for the peak of the meteor shower, Wagman Observatory and Mingo Creek Observatory should be mostly clear after 8:30pm on Sunday night. If there is any cloud coverage, it should cover less than 20% of the sky. You can find more information about attending either of the AAAP star parties on their Facebook page and website.

Regardless where you go to enjoy the meteor shower this weekend, it will be an awe inspiring experience. We are not always fortunate enough in Pittsburgh to have clear skies for the Perseids, so if you have children, let them stay up late to enjoy the meteor shower with you! It’s a memory they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

We’ll be featuring user submitted Perseid photos and sightings on our page early next week, so tweet your fireball sightings and astrophotography to either @PGH_Space or our Facebook page if you want to participate. You can also tweet us questions anytime, be it about this meteor shower or anything dealing with astronomy. (You can Facebook questions as well, but we won’t see them immediately due to the limitations of Facebook.)

@WPXIScott: Don't forget to check out @PGH_Space for the latest on this weekend's perseid meteor shower.

Last Night’s ISS Pass

Last night’s clear skies and new moon made it a great night to catch a glimpse of not one, but two ISS flybys. A number of our followers tweeted impromptu photography of the craft to our Twitter as it was happening.

There are two apps I use to follow the ISS. The first one is FlyBys, which does cost a couple bucks, but there’s also a completely free web based version. I think paying for the app is worth it because you can set reminder alerts & it automatically calculates based on your phone’s GPS. The other app I use, Satellite AR, helps me find the specific location and path of the satellite in the sky. You can see a screenshot below, which I took tonight as I watched the ISS overhead. The ISS is the small dot directly below the animated icon, next to the high tension power lines.

SatelliteAR

Make sure to send us your photography and astrophotography if you want it featured on our website!

Pittsburgh at Night

Pittsburgh at night, as taken by Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station in March. The ISS orbits the Earth every ~92 minutes at 17,500 miles per hour. It is the 2nd brightest object in the sky.

336_4713

Tonight is a new moon, so the ISS will be the brightest object in the sky! Check it out when it flies over Pittsburgh at 9:01pm or later, when it’s a bit smaller in the sky, at 10:38pm. Should be really clear skies tonight. So with 2 ISS passes, a dark sky (new moon), and the Perseids going on… tonight is a great excuse to go into work late tomorrow morning!

Update: Thanks for all the feedback, guys! We had a lot of fun tweeting along with everyone during the ISS passes last night.

Image Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA, Chris Hadfield

Perseid Meteor Shower: Important Updates

This is an update to our earlier post about where to watch the Perseid Meteor ShowerMake sure to check our website on Saturday before leaving your house to ensure the event has not been cancelled due to weather.

Pittsburgh Space Weather is inviting everyone to enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower from inside Moraine State Park on Saturday, August 10th. View our event on Facebook. The Perseids are very active this year. Two of us went to Moraine State Park last night from 1am-2am to double check our location, during which time, we witnessed two large fireballs and many smaller meteors arcing across the sky.

The area we picked is very easy to find inside the park. Once you’ve entered the park, you simply stay on the main paved road as it winds around. You do not turn off the main road, it eventually will bring you to our parking lot. There is an embankment and trees between our parking lot and our viewing area, which will prevent anyone from accidentally driving over somebody. Please use parking lights when moving the car in and out of your spot and headlights when driving on the roads. The perseids will appear over the tree line to the North-Northwest, as indicated on the map below.

Observing MapIn the event that you need to use the restroom, there are multiple lighted restroom facilities throughout the park. Here is a map from our viewing area to the closest restroom (you could walk this and enjoy the stars, but most would probably drive.)

Rest Room Map

The event starts at 11pm, although you can come as early as you like. At midnight, we are asking that everyone shield the screens of their electronic devices (don’t use them in the open) to prevent any white light from ruining our eye’s natural night vision. This also goes for flashlights, headlights, lighters, etc. Originally, we were asking people to bring blankets and sleeping bags. Unfortunately, due to the small possibility of ticks, I think it would be better of people brought lawn chairs and fold out chairs instead. However, if you still want to put down sleeping bags, do so at your own risk. Definitely wear long pants. Do not wear flip flops or other open toe shoes. Have multiple layers of clothing so that you can adjust yourself to how cold or hot it ends up being.

You do not need binoculars or a telescope to view a meteor shower. However, you may bring any equipment that you think will help you better enjoy the stars. I will probably have a pair of 10×50 binoculars for casual stargazing in between meteors.

If you have not already read the DOs and DON’Ts, please see our original post before attending.

In order to navigate to our parking lot from your mobile phones, click on the Google Map icon below. This link also works from a computer if you wish to manually print directions. (If your phone’s map does not open to Moraine State Park, return to this page and click it again. This is a known glitch.)

Map Location

We also have additional information about both AAAP observatories, who are hosting events on Sunday & Monday night. (Unclear if Mingo Creek is open Monday night.) This information has been provided through their Facebook page. These are great spots to go if you do not want to venture all the way to Moraine State Park as both AAAP observatories are inside Allegheny County.

From Kathy Desantis:

Mingo Observatory Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing

The Amateur Astronomers of Pittsburgh and the Washington County Department of Parks and Recreation invite the public to the Mingo Creek Observatory to view the annual Perseid Meteor Shower on Sunday evening August 11, 2013. The observatory doors will open at 7:00 p.m. The program will be held weather permitting.

Perseid Meteors are best viewed by eye. There is no need for binoculars or telescopes. Bring a comfortable chair and sit back to watch “nature’s fireworks” at the Mingo Creek Observatory. Dress for the weather.

For more information on the Perseid Meteor Shower viewing go to: http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/event-view.cfm?Event_ID=48743 or phone 724-348-6150.

For more information on the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh: www.3ap.org.

From Wagman Observatory Director Tom Reiland:

I know that many of you re looking forward to the Perseid Meteor Shower this month. Here’s the correct information to help you observe this celestial event. The peak of the shower is calculated for 3 PM Monday, August 12.

That means that we will not be able to see the heart of Perseids. The best times for us will be Sunday night/Monday morning or from 1 to 5 AM and Monday night. The Moon will interfere with observing on Monday night until 11:10 PM EDLT, but more meteors can be spotted after true midnight, which is 1:20 AM in our area. It’s 1:20 because of Daylight Later Time and we are 20 minutes west of the center of Eastern Time. The best location will be any hilltop far away from city or any other light pollution. The best location in Allegheny County is Wagman Observatory. Our gates will be open, weather permitting on both nights.

I suggest bringing a lounge chair for observing at the observatory instead of a blanket because of Lime Tics and for safety reasons. That’s why the park we’re in is called Deer Lakes. Will we set up designated areas to avoid cars running over viewers. We also advice you to use only red or red filtered lights to preserve everyone’s night vision. Contact me if you have any questions.

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