James C. Veen Observatory Visitors’ Night for June 30th

June 30, 2007

With clear skies being forecast for tonight (Saturday night) the Veen Observatory – located south of Lowell, MI – will be open for public tours and telescopic observations. Here are the particulars:

Time: 9.30pm – Midnight
Admission: $3 – Adults, $2 – kids 17 and under, under 5 free

Full information on Visitors’ Nights can be found on the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association website – graaa.org. Just click on the Visitors’ Night link in the menu.

There you will find a map showing directions to the observatory, and a FAQ about visitors’ nights. On the main page of the site, click on the OPEN sign, and you will be taken to a page with particulars about the specific night detailing what objects will be featured through the telescopes.

For tonight, Venus and Saturn are a close pair in the western sky. They will be visible through the telescopes early in the evening, before they go behind some unfortunately placed trees to the west of the observatory. Other objects will be the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, and the moon. There will also be selected brighter deep sky objects like star clusters.

If you go out to the observatory, we’d love to hear your thoughts about the experience. You can leave comments here, or drop an email to graaa @ graaa.org.

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The Rising Moon

June 29, 2007

“Wow! Look at that moon!” people say, when they see the full moon rising over the horizon, especially on warm summer and cool fall evenings. To our eyes, the moon seem gigantic, like somehow it had gotten closer to the earth recently. It’s a wonderful sight to behold, full of awe and wonder. And it’s another illusion. The moon isn’t bigger or closer, it’s just our eyes playing tricks on us again.

As I wrote yesterday, our eyes trick our brain into seeing what’s not really truly there. Yes, explanations sort of ruin the fun, but sometimes it’s nice to know. And the effect is the Moon Illusion.

There is an excellent article by Dr. Tony Phillips over on Science @ NASA that talks about the moon illusion, and how you might get fooled by it this weekend, when the full moon rises in the southeastern sky in the evening.

Summer Moon Illusion

The full moon for June 30th rises at it’s southernmost point of the year. With the sun at it’s highest point in the sky for us in the northern hemisphere (the Summer Solstice was just over a week ago) the moon, which when it is in the “full” phase is 180° from the sun, is at it’s lowest point. Hence, the moon will rise in the southeast sky, and not get very high above the southern horizon all night.

Sunset on Saturday evening (for those in the Grand Rapids area) is at 9.25pm. The moon will rise at 10.07pm.

“Now wait” you say. “If the moon is opposite the sky from the sun, why doesn’t it rise at the same time the sun sets?” Good question. And for Saturday night, it is an easy answer. Even though the moon looks full, it really isn’t. The “point” where the moon is directly opposite the sun from earth takes place Saturday morning at 9.48am, over twelve hours before the moon rises. In that time, the moon moves just enough in its orbit to cause it to rise later than if it were exactly 180° from the sun.

But no matter the scientific and technical explanations, going out and seeing the huge, full moon rising in the evening is a sight to behold. And something to share with that special someone.

(Update: Astronomer Phil Plait, who owns the Bad Astronomy site, has written about the June 30th “big moon.” Jump on over and take a look at what he has to say about it.)


Public Perception and the Night Sky

June 28, 2007

It’s interesting to note that with today’s hectic world where most of the people don’t bother do go out and “hang out” in nature, that sometimes – being unfamiliar with the surroundings – they “see things.” Something that might be “ordinary” to astronomers might lead to an “oh wow, what’s that?” moment to someone who is not knowledgeable of the night sky.

Case in point: there have been some beautifully clear nights lately, and with the warm evenings people have actually ventured outside, casting aside the computers and the television. Perhaps it’s to work in the yard; perhaps to take a stroll around the neighborhood. And as the daylight dims through twilight into darkness, the stars come out. Now, if you live in, or close to, a city, you don’t get to see many stars, so if something in the sky catches your eye, especially something bright, it piques the interest.

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Dance of the Planets

June 25, 2007

If you have been outside during the frequently clear nights lately, you have probably seen a bright object in the western sky. The bright object happens to be the planet Venus. Apart from the Sun and the Moon, Venus is the brightest object that is visible in our skies. It stands out in the evening twilight, glowing brightly as it hangs serenely above the horizon. But soon it will have company: the planet Saturn.

If you go out after sunset (around 10.00pm) and look to the west, you will see bright Venus, and a dimmer “star” to its left. That “star” is – in actuality – the planet Saturn. And as these planets move around the sun, they change positions in relationship to the Earth, which is bringing Saturn closer to Venus in the evening sky. By the end of the week, they will be less than one degree apart, making a striking pair of objects in the deepening twilight. Soon after, Saturn will “pass” Venus as it gets closer to the sun.

The excellent site Spaceweather.com has some images of the pairing for different days this week.

June 25 | June 26 | June 27
June 28 | June 29 | June 30 | July 1

After this Saturn will leave Venus behind, and once again it will shine all alone, it’s nearest really bright neighbor half the sky away, shining in the southeastern sky. The planet is Jupiter, and it and Venus shine like two beacons in the night sky.

More on that later.


Atlantis Lands Safely

June 23, 2007

The space shuttle Atlantis landed yesterday at Edwards Air Force Base in California, ending a nearly 14 day mission to the International Space Station. They added some truss segments to the station, along with some new solar arrays giving the station more power. This paves the way for new modules to be installed later this year.

Arriving back with Atlantis was astronaut Suni Williams, who had spend more than six months aboard ISS. Her time is space of over 190 days makes her the holder of the longest duration record of any woman, breaking the record of Shannon Lucid over ten years ago.

Locally, we have the Community Media Center to thank, as they broadcast NASA-TV on local cable channel 24 (Livewire). The GRAAA sponsors NASA-TV locally.


Welcome to Summer, and the SpaceWatch News

June 21, 2007

Hello everyone. Welcome to the SpaceWatch news service of the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association.

Using this blog, we will be keeping you, the public, informed of various happenings in astronomy, and things to interest in the local astronomical community that will be of interest to the people of West Michigan.

There isn’t really a schedule of when things will be posted, so please visit often.

Today is the Summer Solstice, which means the first “official” day of summer for people living in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun – at its northernmost point in the sky today – will be 70.5 ° above the horizon from Grand Rapids. The “official time” of the solstice is 2.06pm EDT.

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