A Comet for Halloween

October 31, 2007

Last week a surprising visitor showed up unannounced in the skies – a comet. Now, this comet, called 17P/Holmes, has been around a while, and is usually an extremely dim object, needing large telescopes to see. But early last week the comet underwent a “super outburst” and became over 600,000 times brighter! In the space of a few hours, it went from a really dim object to one that you could see without a telescope.

Over the past week it has gotten bigger and brighter, and is easily seen in the northeast sky in the constellation Perseus (click here for graphic).

Comet 17P/Holmes
An image of comet 17P/Holmes taken at the James C. Veen Observatory

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Veen Observatory Visitors’ Night for October 27th

October 27, 2007

 

With clearing skies tonight (Saturday night) the James C. Veen Observatory – located south of Lowell, MI – will be open for public tours and telescopic observations. This is the final public night of the 2007 season.

Here are the particulars:

Time: 7.30pm – 10.30pm (Note the earlier start and end times!)
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.

Tonight’s featured objects will be the planets Uranus and Neptune, the farthest planets from the sun. In addition, we will be looking at some of the finest objects of deep space as well, including galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. And who knows what else. After all, we’ve got the whole night sky to choose from.

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.


October’s “Extra Full” Moon

October 24, 2007

This Friday morning, at 12.51am EDT, the moon will reach its “full” phase, shining down brightly on the landscape below. Does it look a little brighter to you? Perhaps a little bigger? Well, you are correct.

This month’s full moon has the advantage of taking place only six hours before the moon’s closest approach to the earth, or perigee. October’s full moon is 14% larger and 30% brighter than other full moons this year.

This month the moon is only 356,754 km (221,676 miles) from the earth, which is the closest of the year 2007. Conversely, on November 9th the moon will be at its furthest point (apogee) from the earth, at 406670 km (252693 miles). The “smallest” full moon of 2007 was in April, when the full moon was 406326 km (252479 miles) from the earth.

The moon orbits the earth in an ellipse (see diagram), with an average distance of 384,400 km (238,855 miles). This distance changes within about 48,280 km (30,000 miles) between apogee and perigee.

This month’s moon is also the Hunter’s Moon, which is always the full moon next after the Harvest Moon.

So if it’s clear Thursday night, go on out and check out the full moon. Do you feel a little closer to it? Is it brightening your evening? Relax and bathe in the soft glow of our celestial neighbor.

(Click here for an image of the perigee full moon and apogee full moon)


Discovery Heads to Space

October 23, 2007

“We have liftoff!!”

At 11.38am EDT, the space shuttle Discovery left the ground from launch complex 39A, beginning at journey to the International Space Station and a 14-day mission in space.

Discovery will install the Harmony module to ISS, and move the P6 truss to its permanent position. The P6 solar arrays were the first arrays at the station, but set in a temporary position until such time as the truss system was completed. Now it can be installed permanently.

Soon the orbital elements will be available, and by going to sites like Heaven’s Above.com you will be able to see when the shuttle (and the space station) will be flying over your location (please see this previous post about seeing ISS).

You can follow the mission at the shuttle mission page and if there are any special events, we’ll talk about them here. 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.

So Godspeed Discovery, and good luck on your mission.

(Update: Discovery successfully docked with ISS before 9am EDT on 10/25) 


Veen Observatory Visitors’ Night for October 13th

October 13, 2007

If the skies clear as promised, tonight (Saturday night) the James C. Veen Observatory – located south of Lowell, MI – will be open for public tours and telescopic observations. Here are the particulars:

Time: 7.30pm – 10.30pm (Note the earlier start and end times!)
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.

Tonight’s featured objects will be the planets Uranus and Neptune, the farthest planets from the sun. In addition, we will be looking at some of the finest objects of deep space as well, including galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. And who knows what else. After all, we’ve got the whole night sky to choose from.

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.


The Apollo Missions – a Documentary

October 12, 2007

Earlier this year, a film was completed which explored the monumental task that was undertaken by a select handful of humans: going to the moon.

“In The Shadow of the Moon” is a documentary by David Sington about the Apollo program. It features nearly all the living Apollo astronauts, and detailed archive footage of the missions.

This award-winning film was in limited release, but is getting released around the country. The only place in Grand Rapids showing the film is Celebration Cinema’s Rivertown Crossing theater. It began today, and will run at least a week. at Celebration Cinema’s Woodland Mall theater.

Since there is no way to know how long it will play, but if you want to see it, make plans to go in the next week.

Here’s the film’s website – www.intheshadowofthemoon.com


NASA Honors Astronaut Roger Chaffee

October 7, 2007

Yesterday NASA honored Roger Chaffee, by presenting the Ambassador of Exploration Award to Martha Chaffee, wife of the late astronaut. The presentation was made during the halftime of the Purdue – Ohio State football game. Roger Chaffee graduated from Purdue University in 1957.

The Ambassador of Exploration Award is given to the astronauts of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, along with selected other individuals who played significant roles in the initial race to space.

Roger Chaffee was lost in the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967, along with astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White.

Press Release from NASA honoring Chaffee

NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award

Roger B. Chaffee NASA Bio

Apollo 1 Mission