The Sky Tonight Update: Nov. 4-5, Taurids Meteor Shower

Taurids Meteor Shower

The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 4. Unfortunately the glare from the full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors. If you are extremely patient, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

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The Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid Meteor shower occurs each December, and this year we can expect to see up to 50 meteors each hour. Check out this awesome timelapse that I wish I could say I did, but someone else made it…. This timelapse was taken of the Geminids last year over the Pacific Coast.

Meteor showers are caused when Earth passes through the orbital path of a comet, the debris left behind by the comet falls into Earth’s atmosphere creating many shooting stars. The Geminid shower is different. Scientists have determined that this shower occurs when Earth passes through a debris field of an asteroid. This asteroid is called 3200 Phaethon. Observations show that this object is strange indeed, and sometimes behaves similar to a comet. Its orbit brings it in close to the Sun, and then back out again. Jets of dust and gas have been seen spewing from the asteroid at times. Tiny pieces of dust and rock are left behind by 3200 Phaethon as it travels through space, and these cause the Geminid Meteor Shower. The tiny arrows in the image below point to 3200 Phaethon, this image was created by combining multiple images over the span of 20 minutes to show the asteroid’s movement relative to the background stars.

3200paetheon

Meteor showers are named for constellation that their radiant lies in. The radiant is the point from which the meteors appear to radiate from in the sky. The constellation Gemini will rise above the horizon around 9 PM Central Time tonight (December 13th). It will be nearly overhead around 2 AM. This year the moon will also be visible in the sky, which will make it more difficult to see the fainter meteors.

Gemini

While Baton Rouge forecasts are saying rain throughout this evening, some reports indicate that the sky will clear a bit after midnight. Incidentally this is the best time to go out and find meteors! Meteor watching requires patience and sharp eyes, each year the number of meteors changes. Happy viewing!

Happy Autumnal Equinox, balance an egg!

I decided to take a break this week from Full Dome Saga to observe the upcoming autumnal equinox, which occurs on Sunday, September 22. I was having a conversation the other day about the first day of fall, and the age-old subject of balancing an egg came up in the discussion.  Can you balance an egg on the equinox????

First, let’s take a look at the equinox itself. For a refresher on the reasons for the seasons, click here .seasons

Last time I wrote a seasonal article, our Earth’s axis was tilting towards the Sun on the summer solstice. Now, the Earth has traveled along another quarter of its orbit. The Earth is still tilted, but the axis is leaning neither towards nor away from the Sun. Earth-lighting-equinox_EN This happens twice per year (once during fall and once during spring).  On the equinox, the day and night are about the same length. The name equinox is derived from the Latin words aequus, meaning “equal”, and nox, meaning “night”. If you are standing at the equator, the Sun will appear directly overhead at noon; both poles receive equal sunlight. For us up here in the Northern Hemisphere we are observing the start of fall. Remember, however, that down in the Southern Hemisphere they will be celebrating the vernal equinox as they are moving into springtime.

So where does the egg fit into all of this? Some say the idea of balancing the egg was started by the ancient Chinese. Balancing an egg on the equinox symbolized equality and the balance of light and darkness.  You can do this yourself at home. It is a challenge to balance an egg, due to its shape and its viscous interior (not to mention the position of the yoke throwing it off balance).
balance-an-egg
Balancing the egg on the equinox became a phenomenon mainly because the idea was passed from person to person. People thought that the equinox was a special day on which you can balance an egg. Perhaps this gave people the extra motivation to really try and get that egg to stand up. Successful egg balancers felt validated by their triumphs, which furthered the notion that this could only be accomplished on the equinox. This most likely led to the big misconception that the cause is a special balance between the gravitational pull from the Sun and the gravitational pull of the Earth during the equinox. This is not the case. So what makes the egg stand?

The answer is: our efforts! Try it yourself. The egg can balance upright on any day of the year. It takes time, concentration, and steady hands, but it can be done. Perhaps that was the original intent of the egg balancing; it’s a way to meditate and ponder on the first day of the new season. So go forth, celebrate the coming of fall, and balance an egg!

The Reason for the Season

Happy summer! Today is the Summer Solstice, our hemisphere’s longest day. Our Earth has seasons because its axis is tipped about 23 degrees, in other words it isn’t straight up and down. As the Earth orbits the Sun, the tilt causes us to experience seasons. In the United States, we have summer when the northern hemisphere is tilting towards the Sun. The summer solstice itself is the day when the axis is tilted most towards the Sun. From the ground, we can see that the Sun takes the highest path across the sky, and we experience the year’s longest day and shortest night. As the Earth continues in its orbit, the axis will slowly tilt away from the Sun. Little by little, we will see the Sun take a lower path across the sky and the days get shorter. Once the Earth has reached the opposite side of the Sun, its axis is tilted away and we experience winter. What’s happening in the Southern hemisphere during all of this? Exactly the opposite! They are having their Winter Solstice today.

seasons