Newsletters

July 2022 Newsletter

Greetings fellow IFAS members. July 23, 2022

Here we are, getting ready for August. We have generally had clear weather in and around the thunder storms. Now we may have to contend with wildfire smoke. They need to invent a smoke filter for our telescopes. Anybody have any ideas ? ? ?

Well, getting down to business, let’s see what we can see, atmosphere allowing. The planets are still inline siting on the ecliptic, spaced out more from each other. The moon, moving its own diameter eastward every hour, is approaching and passing each planet. It makes for a pretty site when the pass is quite close and other people suddenly become aware of something eye catching in the sky that is different than normal.

Moving ahead to August 14, Saturn is at opposition. For us, it’s a best time to do closer observations of the planet. If you have a 10’ or larger scope, crank up the power to 400X and examine the ring structure and the spacing between the 3 rings. Also check out the moons. 8 moons are visible in amateur scopes. The following are the largest and include their magnitudes. Titan-8.4, Rhea-9.8, Tethys-10.3, Dione-10.5, Iapetus-10.2, Enceladus-11.8. Enceladus is only 314 miles in diameter but because of the clean icy surface, it reflects light better than moons three times its size. In fact astronomers have stated Enceladus is the most reflective object in our solar system. I’ve seen it quite easily in my 11” Celestron. Even though Saturns’ opposition happens on the 14th only it can be in good viewing range for weeks before and after the 14th.

Here is a good one. The night of August 15-16 two moons of Jupiter will transit the planet at the same time casting two black dot eclipse shadows on the surface of Jupiter that is facing earth. I pulled it up Aug 15 on my Ipod and it shows Io’s shadow starting about 9:30pm and going off the planet at 11:16pm. Ganymede’s shadow joins Io’s at 10:30pm and leaves Jupiter just after midnight. If you view Jupiter about 11pm you should catch them both. The best magnification for viewing or photography would be around 100X if you have it.

The last item is on August 19th. This is a 5am-er, one hour before sunrise. The last quarter moon will be parked directly between the Pleiades star cluster and Mars. The moon will actually be the closest to them at 4am at 2 degrees from one and 3 degrees from the other. If you have a pair of 7x50 binoculars you can get all three objects together for a real nice view.

August has always been the month that shows off the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. This year it peaks on the 12th and 13th. By coincidence, so does the moon. It will be full, wiping out everything but a few of the largest meteors. One thing about the Perseids is that the shower is not confinded to just a couple of days. You can see a few coming in weeks before and weeks after their peak. Of course they are more sparse than at the peak. Look for them.

The shower originates from the constellation Perseus which is rising in the N/NE at 10pm. The very bright star, Capella, sits on the left side of the constellation and is rising with it. The meteors will radiate up on the left, right, and center of Perseus.

Just a reminder, IFAS has a star party scheduled for Friday, Saturday, JULY 29 and 30 at our new spot at Market Lake, above Roberts. A map and directions can be found on our Facebook site. I’m sending this newsletter out a little early so you can be prepared for it.

Keep looking UP Ron Pugh

June 2022 Newsletter

Greetings fellow IFAS members. June 29, 2022

June is finishing up with the planet lineups. However, they are still in align but continuing to spread apart farther and farther. Not a whole lot of different things happening for July, other than finally getting hotter and hopefully clearer at night.

July 20. Pluto is at opposition in Sagittarius and at its best for 2022. It sits fairly low in the Southern horizon which doesn’t help the seeing it much, also being at 14.3 magnitude doesn’t help much either. You’ll need at least an 8 inch scope plus dark skies.

I found it once many years ago in my 6” homemade reflector. I did what Clyde Tombaugh did many years ago to discover Pluto. I took a snapshot of where I thought it might be and the next night I took another shot of the same area. Comparing the 2 photos, I found one dim star that had moved. That was Pluto.

This July will add a little luster to a Pluto photo. On opposition night, July 20th, Pluto will be about 2 degrees Southwest of 8.6 magnitude globular cluster M-75. This time I’ll be using my C-11 computerized scope to zero in on Pluto. Then I can move the scope a little to get M-75 in the picture also. We’ll see if that works.

July 30. The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is active from mid-Julys to mid Augusts. However, the shower will peak at 1am on July 30. The shower’s radiant is located in southern Aquarius. Because of Aquarius being in our low South, (30 degrees up) we will only see the meteors that will rise up and to the right and left. The ones that go down will be observed in the Southern hemisphere. One plus is that the moon will be one day past new so we won’t have any moonlight to contend with. The Delta Aquarids are rich in faint meteors because the particles are dust-size and enter our atmosphere at 25 miles per second.

While you have your scope out this month, one nice object to observe is M-1, the Crab Nebula. It sits in Lyra, the Harp. Lyra is now straight overhead in the Summer and is easily found by its brightest member, Vega. Vega is a member of the Summer Triangle, 1st magnitude, and only 25 light years away. Because the Earth's axis wobbles, our perception of north gradually shifts from Polaris to different stars over a 26,000-year cycle. Vega was the North Star several thousand years ago, and it will regain that status again in about 12,000 years.

Lyra looks like a triangle connected to a parallelogram. Vega is part of the triangle. Look for the 2 stars at the other end of the parallelogram, opposite of the side that is closest to Vega. Halfway between those 2 stars, in a straight line, sits M-1, the Crab Nebula.

The Crab was originally a star that exploded in1054. Chinese Astronomers recorded it being visible in the daytime for over a month. Because of the accurate recordings by the Chinese, modern day astronomers found that the Crab Nebula is the supernova that was in the spot that the Chinese recorded in 1054. Our astronomers photographed the Crab twice, 17 years apart, and found it is still expanding at a rate of over 500 miles per second.

The Crab is 8.4 magnitude and small. I think you could see it with at least a 6” scope. Use as much magnification as you can because of its small size in the eyepiece, happy hunting.

Hey !!! Have a great 4th of July and a good month and keep looking up. See you at our star parties, OK? Ron Pugh

May 2022 Meteor Shower, part 2

Greetings fellow IFAS members. May 28, 2022

I am sending you some of the latest news clips and info from the experts on the “possible” meteor shower this coming Monday evening. If it is cloudy at the time, or the meteor shower does not materialize, then all of the following information will simply be interesting reading material. So enjoy.

In the fall of 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3) fractured into several pieces and left a trail of fragments in its wake. Should the Earth encounter this stream of debris, a sudden outburst of meteors might erupt, ranking with some of our richest annual displays (Geminids and Perseids). There’s even a small chance that something extraordinary — perhaps a full-scale storm of meteors — might take place. Or perhaps, visually, nothing at all will happen.

Astronomers worldwide have since investigated the prospects of Earth’s passage through this swarm of freshly ejected material. While some think no meteor shower of significance will take place on the night of May 30–31, others suggest our planet will have a direct interaction with the comet debris.

When SW3 fractured, these larger particles may have been expelled at unusually high velocities. In the best-case scenario, it could result in a bevy of slow, bright meteors, glowing with a ruddy or orange tint, falling at the rate of dozens or hundreds per hour.

On the other hand, perhaps we’ll encounter very few comet particles — or maybe none at all. Another factor is that because the meteors will enter our atmosphere at a very slow speed — 16 km/s (36,000 mph) — they’ll be very faint or not visible at all to the naked eye. Since we’ve never encountered this swarm before, we can’t say for sure exactly what to expect.

In the best-case scenario, it could result in a bevy of slow, bright meteors, glowing with a ruddy or orange tint, falling at the rate of dozens or hundreds per hour.

On the other hand, perhaps we’ll encounter very few comet particles — or maybe none at all. Another factor is that because the meteors will enter our atmosphere at a very slow speed — 16 km/s (36,000 mph) — they’ll be very faint or not visible at all to the naked eye. Since we’ve never encountered this swarm before, we can’t say for sure exactly what to expect.

In the best-case scenario, it could result in a bevy of slow, bright meteors, glowing with a ruddy or orange tint, falling at the rate of dozens or hundreds per hour.

WHEN AND WHERE TO LOOK. If a display does materialize, meteors would appear to dart from a point several degrees northwest of the brilliant orange star Arcturus, in the constellation of Boötes, the Herdsman. (that will be straight over head for us). The shower likely will last only a few hours.

As to when it should reach its peak, for us in the MDT Time Zone this should be around 11 p.m. on May 30th. As for Memorial Day weather, tonight on TV it shows 80 percent chance of rain. This whole thing will be a “wait and see” situation.

Clear skies, Ron Pugh

May 2022 Meteor Shower, part 1

Greetings fellow IFAS members. May 14, 2022

This is an EXTRA heads-up notice for a possible “new” meteor shower this month on May 30.

Back on May 2, 1930, two German Astronomers, Friedrich Schwassmann and Arno Wachmann, were hunting for new asteroids by photographing sections of sky. In looking at some of their plates they noticed a new comet. This was the third time it had happened for them so when it was recorded, instead of naming it with the 2 long names, they abbreviated them naming the comet, SW3.

The comet’s obit was determined, and found to be a member of Jupiter’s comet family and at closest approach to earth’s orbit, it would pass us about 5.6 million miles away. At that distance they thought it would be a spectacular sight. But it wasn’t. It orbits the sun every 5.4 years and as it passed earth it didn’t get much brighter than 7th magnitude.

In later years SW3 was examined through Yerkes 40 inch refractor and they found the comet had developed an odd elongated shape. It didn’t make a good reappearance again until mid October 1995 when many people started reporting it as a “new comet” It was expected, by astronomers, to be around 12th magnitude at the time but it was shining 400 times brighter than expected. Something was causing a great outburst.

Observations from observatories in La Silla, Chile found the nucleus had fractured into four parts. Hubble Space Telescope checked SW3 on the next visit during Spring of 2006 and found the comet’s nucleus was then in 58 fragments. One of the larger fragments passed earth a little over 7 million miles away.

Astronomers have stated, “A disintegrating comet with an orbit that comes very close to Earth suggests that a new meteor shower could be spawned.” “Now, because of the ongoing fragmentation of SW3, we could consider the prospects for a new meteor shower. Could this be the year?”

If so - - - - - The peak of the possible shower will be at 11pm MDT May 30. The radiant position will be in the constellation Bootes, 6 degrees northwest of Arcturus. Arcturus is the brightest 1st magnitude star overhead. You can’t miss it.

New moon occurs also on May 30th so moonlight will not be a problem. It is possible that nothing will happen. Some meteor showers in the past have been a complete washout. Also, some of SW3’s meteor particles entering our atmosphere might be too small to even show up. BUT, in case it’s a go, I will be outside to check it out, unless overhead clouds say “what are you looking at, huh?

Don’t forget our May 17th IFAS club meeting 7pm (that’s next Tuesday)

P.S. total lunar eclipse, Sunday night 15th Clear skies Ron Pugh

May 2022 Newsletter

April has been somewhat disappointing as far as having clear skies when we would like to see a nice happening in the night sky. I was able to see a few of our March sky dates, a few days before or after the date, but not at the time I wanted to observe or photograph them. I’m looking forward to May for better opportunities, weather wise. So here we go.

  1. May 1. The Venus – Jupiter morning conjunction is going on. The 2 planets clear the Eastern horizon at 5am our time. The Sun is up at 6:20am. I’m guessing that 5:30am would be the best time to see them. It’s getting pretty light by 6am. They’ll be less than ½ degree apart. It will be a nice sight. Through a telescope, they should both fit in the same low power field of view.

  2. May 2. Monday after sunset there will be a lineup of a very thin crescent moon, then lower right will be the planet Mercury. Then lower right of Mercury will be the Pleiades star cluster. They will be spaced in a straight line. That evening, the sun will set at 8:35pm and the Pleiades sets at 10:12pm so your time to see the three will be in between those times after it gets dark enough. I’m guessing a little after 9pm on.

  3. May 15. It’s Sunday but change that to “Moonday.” It’s the first total lunar eclipse in a year. Moonrise will be at 8:37pm. That is actually when our part of the eclipse will start. It will already be in the partial phase. During a full moon, the sun will set at the same time as moonrise, since they have to be exactly opposite each other here on the earth.

It will be impossible to see the partially eclipsed moon phase for about a half hour because of the lingering light of the sunset. The moon will rise in the East-Southeast. You might check the evening before to see where the almost full moon is rising, about 8:30pm. Then on eclipse night, look in the same spot and you’ll be able to detect it a lot sooner as it gets darker out. We will definitely see the start of totality at 9:29pm. and the end at 10:53pm. The penumbra, or partial phase, ends at 12:50am midnight Monday. The next lunar eclipse will be this year on Nov 8 and be around 4am. to sunrise.

  1. May 29. A good conjunction will happen between Jupiter and Mars about 45 minutes before sunrise. Sunrise being 5:48am Idaho Falls time. That would put the time to view around 5am. Can you make it? This will also be in the East-Southeast. The pair will be 35 arc minutes apart. That’s a shade more than the moon’s diameter of 31 arc minutes. That would just fit in my 6” f4 Newtonian. The color difference between Jupiter and Mars would be very pretty. Now the question is, would my body think it would be nice to get up at that time. Well - - - I have a month to think about it.

Well, that’s about it for May. Have a good month. Don’t forget our monthly IFAS Club meeting on the 3rd Tuesday, May 17th. We had a great meeting for April with a very good attendance, the best in many months. We disgusted many things that will really bring our good club to life. We also discussed two new star party sites that have good possibilities. Come join us.

Remember, keep looking up. The clouds hate to be stared at.

Ron Pugh

April 2022 Newsletter

Well, Spring finally snuck in and my plants in the greenhouse are as happy as I am. The skies are improving too and my telescopes are also happy, along with me. April is right around the corner and we have a “dance of the planets” in store for us. The show starts on April 4 with the Moon taking the spotlight.

  1. April 4. The Moon is less than four days old and 14% lit and will be just below and to the left of the Pleiades Cluster in the early evening. It will be a pretty site. If you have binoculars, check it out. The Pleiades will show up better, plus you’ll also enjoy the earthshine illuminating the dark portion of the Moon. Get to bed because you must get up early the next morning.

  2. April 5. We switch to 45 minutes before dawn.(6:18 am) Eastward movement of Mars has been moving it closer and closer to Saturn. This morning the two planets will be 24’ (minutes) apart. That’s about 1/4 of the of the Moon’s diameter. Through a scope, Saturn’s rings and red Mars would be a beautiful shot. They will both appear about the same brightness, about +1 mag.

  3. April 18. Four planets have been working hard to line up for you to see. Again, this is a sight to see before dawn. We start with Jupiter, the lowest, and South East. Then Venus, Higher and more to the South. Next Mars, higher yet and farther South. And last, Saturn, also higher and more South. These planets are all in a straight line that is gently slanted upwards, to the South. And also evenly spaced. You won’t see this configuration very often.

  4. April 29. It’s Mercury’s turn this evening. This is the best of its 7 elongations for 2022. At magnitude +0.3, it will be almost 14 degrees above the Northwestern horizon at civil twilight while the Sun will be 6 degrees below the horizon. The bonus here is that the Pleiades cluster will be less than 1½ degrees to the right. A low powered scope should show both planet and cluster together. Mercury sets 10 minutes after the end of astronomical twilight, which is when night truly begins, so it should be dark enough to get a good view and or a photo.

  5. Finally, April 30. With Jupiter rising and Venus descending, the pair get very close, inline, on this morning. The 2 planets clear the Eastern horizon at 5am our time. The Sun is up at 6:20. I’m guessing that from 5:30 to 6am would be the best time to see them.

It will be an excellent naked eye sight. If you are set up with a telescope, they should both fit in the same low power field of view. They’ll be less than ½ degree apart. Venus outshines Jupiter by 2 magnitudes, or more than 6 times brighter. However, even with Jupiter being much farther away than Venus, Jupiter will still look twice as large as Venus through a telescope. If our good old Eastern Idaho weather doesn’t co-operate for the 30th, you can look for the pair the next morning. They will still be close but not as close as the morning before.

Well, that’s about it for April. Have a great month. Don’t forget our monthly IFAS club meeting on the 3rd Tuesday, the 19th. We had a good meeting last month. Come join us. We need you.

One thing about our starry sky above, something great is always going on. So keep looking up.

Ron Pugh

March 2022 Newsletter

This cold weather is going to make Spring feel REALLY NICE. I can’t wait. Neither can my telescopes. Wintertime is not wasted for me, though. I use the indoor time to plan my next Summer’s targets to view and photograph. Well . . . . lets see what March has to offer us.

March skies

We’ll start with Wednesday March 2nd, 30 minutes before the 6:53AM sunrise that would be 6:23AM. You will find Saturn very close to Mercury, just above the S.E. horizon. The two planets are going opposite directions. Mercury is heading sunward and Saturn is climbing up away from the sun. About 3 degrees to the South and up about 5 degrees you’ll find Mars, with Venus on top of it. You will need a clear shot for this group, with no hills in the way

If you get up early in the mornings you might keep an eye on Venus and Mars to the S.E. All this month the gap between the two planets is closing, with Mars climbing slowly higher and Venus gradually sinking lower.

On the 15th, they will be the closest at about 4 degrees apart for another 10 days. The two planets are a little miss-matched on brightness with Mars shining at +1.2 magnitude and Venus at -4.6, a little more than 200 times brighter.

Now, saving the best for the last, Monday, March 28. This one is 45 minutes before sunrise. With daylight savings time in effect on March 13, sunrise will be at 7:17AM MDT. So minus 45 minutes would put the viewing time at 6:32AM MDT. What you will be seeing to the S.E. will be Venus, about 15 degrees up, Saturn right under Venus, the crescent moon below the 2 planets, and back up to the right of Venus hangs Mars. This will be a very pretty grouping. I’m guessing you could get them all in one shot with a telephoto lens. I’m going to try, if it’s clear.

If it is forecasted for I.F. to be weathered in on the 28th and the 27th is to be clear, you can see the same setup as the 28th except the moon will not be under the planets but will be off to the right side of Mars, a little farther out.

Now . . . . . here is a challenge, to see a star, naked eye, in the daytime, without optical aid. Of course, it has to be -1.5 magnitude Sirius. It helps to be an exceptionally clear day. Twice a year, in March at dusk, and in October at dawn, Sirius reaches quadrature, when it crosses the meridian and stands highest in the sky. This month quadrature is around March 27. On the 27th, the sun will set at 7:35PM so you’ll have to see Sirius before that time or it can’t be claimed as “daytime.” The sun will set exactly West and Sirius will be exactly South. Take a compass with you. On the day you try it, use binoculars and scan up and down exactly South around 45 degrees up. Be sure the binoculars are focused on infinity first. You will be able to find Sirius. When you do, keep track of its position and walk around a tree or tall bush so that Sirius can sit on top of a branch, in the binoculars. Now take the binos away from your eyes and look at the top of your branch or other object. Your eyes will focus on the branch and will also be in focus on anything behind. Sirius should pop into view. Then you can bragg, “I saw a star, naked eye, in the daytime.” WA-WHO.

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for our next IFAS meeting on March 15th at 7pm. C U there.

(I forgot to mark my Feb. calendar and I forgot the meeting)

Keep looking up.

Ron Pugh

February 2022 Newsletter

Greetings fellow IFAS members. January 28, 2022

B R R R R R R R R R - - - - , anybody going outside at night to look at the stars or planets? I didn’t think so. Oh well, January is almost gone and February is a shorter month. If you look outside, on a clear morning at around 5 or 6am, you will see the Summer constellations with the Summer Triangle high overhead as it would appear after a sundown in May. I like to do that. It gives me hope that Winter will end.

Now for February skies

A week ago, around the 21st, Jupiter was lost in the Sun’s glare. That was the last naked eye planet in our evening sky. They are all up now in the morning sky, except Jupiter that is now swinging behind the Sun. It will show up in the morning skies in a month or so.

The only two things in the February sky that might get the adrenalin flowing were both occultations of a couple of stars by the moon. That doesn’t sound too exciting, however, the stars are both close binaries. I might even get up for that one.

The first one is on Feb 9. The dark limb of a 65% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon occults both Kappa 1 and Kappa 2 Tauri The pair are separated by 5.7’ and shine at 4.2 and 5.3 magnitude. The back to back disappearances occur just seconds apart, so don’t blink. This takes place close to 9:30pm our time. I would think a good pair of binoculars would see it quite well. I would also mount them on a tripod. Hand held might jingle it just enough to miss seeing them both individually go out.

A second noteworthy occultation occurs on the morning of Feb 22 when the 66% waning gibbous Moon covers the double star, Alpha Librae, also known as Zubenelgenubi.

I love that star. It has one of the longest names of any of the stars we can see. It has a companion star in Libra named Zubeneschamali, which I guess is one letter longer. Come to our next IFAS meeting in February and I’ll pronounce their names for you. Translated they mean Southern Claw and Northern Claw. They used to be part of the constellation Scorpius, right next door, until they got pirated away to form the constellation Libra.

The two Alpha components are 3.9’ apart and shine at 5.2 and 2.7 magnitude. They will be covered by the bright side of the moon first. It will probably be a little tricky to see the 5.2 magnitude companion blink out but the 2,7 one should be a lot easier. It will be much more dramatic when the two stars suddenly pop out from the dark limb of the Moon. The show starts around 4:45am, our time, and the stars reappear around 5:30am.

As for the morning planet showing – 30 minutes before sunrise on Feb 5, there is a nice grouping of Venus, with Mars below to the right, and Mercury to the lower left of the two above.

On Feb 27, 45 minutes before sunrise, you will see Venus, with Mars directly underneath and a thin crescent Moon below the two planets, all in a straight line. Both of these groupings will be in the low Southwest.

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for our next IFAS meeting on February 15th 7pm. C U there.

Keep looking up.

Ron Pugh