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December is a time for Meteors!

on Thursday, 17 November 2016.

The Geminids and the Ursids

December is a time for Meteors!

Mid December brings us what is often considered the most incredible meteor shower of the year, The Geminids, the King of Meteor Showers!. Frequently, the Geminids produce 120 meteors per hour or more, sometimes much more!  Several years ago, I was driving through northeast Texas on the night of the peak of the Geminids at around 2:00 AM and it didn’t matter where I looked, there were meteorS (emphasis on the ‘S’). The Geminids appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini.   

 

This year the Geminids peak on the 13th and 14th of December. Unfortunately, those nights coincide with a full and Super Moon! That sadly means that if it is clear, we’ll only see the brightest of meteors and there can be many of them!

 

Fortunately for meteor aficionados, there is a lesser shower later in December called the Ursids. The peak coincides with the December Winter Solstice on December, 21 and the 22nd and they run generally from December 17 to December 25. There will be a second quarter moon that will wash out a few of the dimmer meteors but many should still be visible.  The Ursids, unlike the Geminids, are normally far fewer in predicted numbers but a few very bright ones are known to be visible.  The Ursids appear to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor!

 

An interesting piece of trivia regarding the names of meteor showers:  the “-ids” at the end of the name of each meteor shower (Perseids, Orionids, Leonids) is a Latin form that essentially means children of” so, the Geminids meteors are technically called, The Children Of Gemini!

 

 

As with most meteor showers, both the Geminids and the Ursids are best viewed at some point after midnight on the peak nights and usually are even better after 2:00 AM. Dress warmly and head out of the city light areas.  The less light the better. Bring a blanket or chair to sit on and prepare for the celestial firework show!

Winter at Oregon Observatory

on Thursday, 17 November 2016.

No, we haven't gone south!

Winter at Oregon Observatory

 

Looking at the calendar, it’s not surprise that Mother Nature is gearing up to blast Central Oregon with a bout of winter cold and snowy weather.  That doesn’t mean however that astronomy at the Oregon Observatory is on hiatus until warmer weather returns.

 

The Oregon Observatory is scheduled to be open the Saturday after Thanksgiving with both solar and night viewing available. We are also scheduled to be open December 23 and 30  (both Fridays) as well as the 14th of January and the 18th of February.  Solar viewing should be available as well as the awesome night time viewing that happens so frequently on clear nights during the winter months.  We also plan to be open on other nights on a “flex” schedule as weather and staffing allows.  Those openings will be listed here on this website and on our Facebook page as well.  If there are any particular celestial events of note through the winter month, we probably will have someone available here as well to share what is going on if it’s appropriate to use a telescope to see it. So be sure to join our Facebook page and watch it frequently for updates and weather reports.  Of course any scheduled event relies upon the weather cooperating as well as road conditions, temperatures, and snow.

 

When you decide to come, remember our elevation is substantially higher than Bend and the surrounding towns and cities.  So, DRESS WARMLY and appropriately.  We have been here on nights when it has been well below zero and we’ve had a successful night time program.  Also remember that there is likely to be snow on the ground.  Our advice is to layer and be sure to wear a hat and gloves. We should have coffee, tea and hot chocolate available for purchase in the store as well.

 

With the holidays approaching, don’t forget that we have a fully stocked Observatory, Nature Center, and Rocketry store for all your holidays needs. There is a plethora of hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts and hoodies in stock.  We can order virtually anything you might need that is science, rocketry and astronomy oriented and have lots of books and other items for those cold and cloudy days and nights.

 

So even with the winter months upon us, we invite you to join us as we share the wonders of the night sky.

 

Saturn Changing Colors

on Thursday, 17 November 2016.

Summer approaches Saturn

Unfortunately for earth bound observers, we will never see a rainbow Saturn as pictured above.  This is a false colored image that delightfully uses different  colors that indicate varying heights and compositions of cloud layers generally thought to consist of ammonia ice crystals.

 

HOWEVER:

 

In the past four years, the Cassini spacecraft has recorded changes in the color of the hexagonal cloud at the northern hemisphere of Saturn.  The cloud at the pole area is an ongoing storm of about 20,000 miles in size. The hexagon shape is thought to be the result of varying wind speeds in Saturn’s atmosphere.

 

 

Again, and unfortunately, this is not a phenomenon that is visible through earth-based telescopes but only through the eyes of Cassini.

 

Since 2012, the cloud has changed from a bluish hue to a goldish one as seen through the eyes of Cassini.  Scientists are studying this phenomenon have hypothesized that Saturn’s north pole is reaching its summer solstice and the change in color is a result of the seasonal changes in the atmosphere of Saturn.  

 

Some scientists say that the change in color in the hexagon can be attributed to the planet's changing season. The color may vary depending on the amount of sunlight that is responsible for producing aerosols in the planet's atmosphere.  "In particular, the change from a bluish color to a more golden hue may be due to the increased production of photochemical hazes in the atmosphere as the north pole approaches summer solstice in May 2017," a NASA official said .

 

The hexagon shape that changes in color could also be a six-sided Jet Stream that prevents particles from the outside to penetrate the planet. But there aren't enough evidence or studies yet to help confirm if the theories are correct. This unusual shape with is color changes is going to be something for astronomers and scientists to figure out in the years to come.

Springtime at the Oregon Observatory

on Tuesday, 17 February 2015. Posted in Observatory Articles

Spring is fast approaching and with it more opportunities for viewing at the Oregon Observatory. This winter has been unlucky for us as the weather has been less than cooperative. The weekend preceding President's Day we finally got a break from the clouds and had some great viewing of Jupiter, some early viewing of Venus, Comet Lovejoy, and of course the Great Nebula in Orion as well as some other wintertime treats not visible during the summer months.

Thanks to everyone who braved the freezing temperatures to join us for for our evening program! As well as those that stopped by during the day to get a peek at the Sun!

The next dates we will be open will be during Spring Break, a detailed schedule of when we will be open can be found here. As well as on our front page and events calendar. Following Spring Break we switch to our spring hours and will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays for evening viewing, and Saturdays for Solar viewing.

Venus will be staying up later and later as it swings out from the Sun and chases us in our orbit. Because Venus is inside of Earth's orbit, it goes through phases similar to the Moon. As it catches up to us in August it will be visible as a thin crescent before passing between us and the Sun and then will be visible in the morning sky rather than the evening sky.

It's Meteor Shower Time!

Written by Larry Cerullo on Thursday, 18 September 2014.

Several meteor showers combine to produce some of the best opportunities to see the celestial fireworks!

It's Meteor Shower Time!

Summer is over (except on the calendar) and this year's Perseid Meteor shower is history.  In Central Oregon, we were clouded out for the Perseids during the peak nights but we did see some spectacular random meteors from that shower.

Fall is here and some of the best meteor showers of the year are ahead of us (actually one is already occurring).  We've seen a number of meteors and fireballs at the Observatory over the past week or so. Of course, in many cases, I was looking the wrong way when I heard the oohs and ahhs!  These seemingly random meteors all come from Southern Taurids Meteor Shower, a cycle that began on September 7 and continues through mid-November. The Taurids' peak is October 7 and 8 although normally the maximum number at that time is about 5 meteors per hour.  This meteor shower is rich in fireballs and worth checking out, if only for the fireball activity.  Last Friday night (September 12) three were seen during our public program. This meteor shower is associated with the comet Enke.

Next up is a biggie!  The Orionids Meteor Shower which are active from early October through November.  The Orionids peak during the third week of October and 20 meteors per hour (or more, sometimes MANY more).  In the early hours of 21 October, the listed "peak", there will be no full moon to interfere with viewing and it should be no trouble seeing quite a number of meteors and predictions are that this year there should be quite a display. The Orionids come from dust from Halley's Comet. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Early in November, part 2 of the Taurids occurs to entertain us.  The Northern Taurids Meteor Shower. Like its southern brother, this is a long term meteor shower that chiefly is known for the number of fireballs it produces.  Some of them are flamboyant and all are fantastic.   The Northern Taurids occur from about October 30 to November 30 and like the Southern Taurids, appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus.

The Leonid Meteor Shower is active from November 5 to November 30.  The peak is around November 16 and 17.  In 2001, the Leonids produced a meteor storm visible to all of us in Central Oregon with sightings in excess of 100 meteors per hour! Unfortunately, the peak of this meteor shower is only expected to produce about 20 meteors per hour this year. The Leonids are a result of multiple passages of Comet Tuttle and the radiant appears to be the constellation Leo.

The Geminids Meteor Shower is generally the strongest of all the meteor showers of the year.  The shower is visible through the first half of December and sometimes through the third week of the month. Predictions for 2014 show that 120 PLUS meteors per hour may be seen during the peak evening of December 14.   The Geminids are the result of pieces of the comet 3200 Phaeton and the radiant is Gemini. With a near moonless sky, this just might be quite a show!

Finally, in 2014 the Ursids Meteor Shower. The Ursids meteor shower's peak coincided with the Winter Solstice in 2014.  What a better way to celebrate winter's arrival with a display of celestial fireworks.  Predicted are as many as 10 meteors per hour in a NEw Moon sky. The Ursids appear to radiate from Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper.

As always, the best way to view meteors in the night sky is in a dark sky location.  Dress warmly and in layers.  A telescope or binocular is not needed for most of the brighter "shooting stars".  Of course, cooperating weather is always a plus!  With some luck, we'll be treated to some great shows this fall.