18 May 2015

Get Involved: Star Parties and Astronomy Lectures

Each month, the public is welcome to join regional events affiliated with the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (SFAA). The club supports local 'star parties' and hosts lectures of deep scientific interest. These events are free and open to the public.

SFAA Lectures: Each month, the SFAA club meeting includes a lecture by a prominent astronomer or astrophysicist on a topic of general interest. Topics have included exo-planet research, dark matter, space telescopes, stellar research, and more. Check the SFAA website and join the club on the third Tuesday of each month at the Presidio of San Francisco.

Lectures and Star Parties on Mt. Tam: Each month (May-Oct) the SFAA joins with the Friends of Mt. Tam and the California State Park System for an evening of astronomy talks and star gazing on the west peak of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. The evenings are a wonderful, family-friendly experience that feature star gazing with extraordinary telescopes brought up to the mountain by members of the SFAA for public viewing. The conditions on Mt. Tam are quite dark and feature great views of deep space objects, planets, and other objects in the night sky.

City Star Parties: Each month the SFAA hosts star parties in San Francisco at one of three locations; Lands End, the Exploratorium, and the Presidio. These star parties are focused on astronomy learning and viewing of brighter objects such as the Moon and planets. The schedule is on the SFAA website.

Hope to see you at an upcoming event.

29 April 2015

The Springtime Constellation Bootes and M3

Bootes, Arcturus and M3
Spring marks the arrival of the constellation Bootes and the brilliant orange giant star Arcturus. Looking east shortly after sunset, Arcturus is immediately visible as the brightest celestial object in that part of the sky, and Bootes is easy to spot alongside the star and bordering the Big Dipper.

Bootes is an ancient constellation named for a herdsman, and it's his twin brother that drives the plough in the Big Dipper (as the constellation is referred to as a plough in some cultures). Bootes himself is marked by the familiar pattern to the right, sometimes called an ice-cream-cone-shape or a kite with Arcturus at the tip of the tail of the kite.

One of the features of Bootes is that it is a quick guide to one of the most impressive globular clusters visible from the Northern Hemisphere, M3. This cluster is in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy and like its famous neighbor M13 (the Great Globular Cluster), is a densely packed region with half a million stars, 34,000 light years above the disk of the Milky Way. In binoculars or a telescope it is a marvelous sight and one that is a worthwhile endeavor to seek on a dark night.

Astro Bob has an excellent article on Bootes so enjoy his view for another perspective.

Image courtesy Astro Bob.

11 April 2015

Brilliant Venus and the Pleiades

Venus and Pleiades
Venus is the dominant celestial object of the evening sky now and for the coming months. As its brilliant light pierces the western sky long after sunset, it is passing near to different areas of interest along the ecliptic, this week passing near the well-known star clusters the Pleiades and the Hyades. These open clusters of stars are very near the ecliptic and as a consequence has many visitors throughout the year. Binoculars bring out the best in the Pleiades and Hyades so if you have a moment look west after sunset and enjoy the spectacle.

Image courtesy Sky & Telescope.

02 April 2015

Viewing Party for the April 4th Total Lunar Eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse
The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers are hosting a public event to view the April 4th Total Lunar Eclipse at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Details are found in this Press Release and on the SFAA website. And here is some great information and ideas about the eclipse from Sky & Telescope Magazine. We hope to see you in the early morning hours of Saturday April 4th.

31 March 2015

Total Lunar Eclipses Explained: Videos from NASA and the California Academy of Sciences

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video ten thousand. Here are some excellent video resources that provide solid science and fun learning about Lunar Eclipses:

California Academy of Sciences, courtesy of Bing Quock.

Science At NASA.

NASA Goddard: Understanding Lunar Eclipses


22 March 2015

The Spring 2015 Eclipse Season

We are in an Eclipse Season, a period of time approximately every six months when we experience 2 or 3 eclipses in a short period of time. Just a few days ago Europe experienced a Total Solar Eclipse far in the north of the continent, and by coincidence I was in the region on a business trip and experienced a partial eclipse. Being there reignited the love I have for eclipses and now that I am back in San Francisco, I am counting down the days to the next Total Lunar Eclipse on the early morning hours of April 4th. This is the third in a 'Tetrad of Total Lunar Eclipses' that started in 2014 and conclude later this year.

Lunar Eclipse April 4
The upcoming Lunar Eclipse will be visible from the west coast of the United States in the pre-dawn hours, starting at 3:17 AM and reaching totality from 4:58 until 5:03 AM. This should be a unique eclipse due to the very short duration of totality. As the Moon will barely be fully engulfed in the umbral shadow of Earth, the color will likely be quite unusual. The past few Lunar Eclipses have produced 'blood red' Moons, but I expect this one will be a more shallow shading with more light on the limb of the Moon and not the dark or ruddy color that is often seen during totality. I look forward to a high-speed Lunar Eclipse. In many ways it will be reminiscent of a Total Solar Eclipse, in that we will only experience a tantalizing short few minutes of totality - something I am quite used to when it comes to Solar Eclipses, but not used to for Lunar.

The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers are planning a public viewing event at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on April 4th. Come join us for a fun time viewing this unique eclipse at the beach.

Image courtesy Fred Espenak.

09 March 2015

Saturn and Scorpius in the morning

Saturn and Scorpius
With the onset of daylight savings time, there is plenty of darkness in the morning to step outside and appreciate the view to the south, with the constellation Scorpius dominating the southern horizon. Over the past months, the planet Saturn has slowly moved from Libra into Scorpius where it will spend the next two years on a slow journey eastward across the constellation. The Moon joins the pair for the next few days in a lovely showing in the pre-sunrise sky.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

06 March 2015

Comet Lovejoy still visible

Path of Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy has been a good target for binoculars over the past months. It remains a nice celestial object this month, gradually heading north toward Polaris. In the coming weeks you can find it in the northern constellation Cassiopeia, a faint but distinctive smudge of light that glows against the background stars. I have seen Lovejoy over the past months and enjoy the glow of its coma and tail. Comets don't often remain visible for this long, so if you have a moment and clear skies to the north, enjoy!

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.