19 August 2015

Get Involved: Star Parties in the Bay Area

Get out and see the night sky in the company of other interested people and with amateur astronomers. That is my advice for those who say "I'd love to get out from time to time and look through a telescope at the heavens."

There are plenty of opportunities, starting here in San Francisco with the SFAA (San Francisco Amateur Astronomers). We have two upcoming events, Saturday August 22nd on Mt. Tamalpais and Tuesday August 25th in the Presidio. More information on the SFAA Website.

There are weekly star gazing opportunities every clear Friday and Saturday evening at Chabot Observatory in Oakland.
Chabot's "Nellie" Telescope

The San Mateo County Astronomical Society hosts events in San Carlos twice a month at Crestview Park. Check the site for details.

Outside of the Bay Area you can find local and regional events with the NASA Night Sky Network locator for astronomical events across the USA.

08 August 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015 - August 11-12-13

August means warm nights and the return of one of the year's best meteor showers, the Perseids. This shower peaks on the night of August 12-13 but takes place over a number of days before and after, so start looking up each night and you'll begin to spot more and more. The best nights are August 11, 12 and 13, even more favorable in 2015 due to the lack of moonlight this year.

A Perseid Meteor
To see a meteor shower you don't need to look in any particular direction but up. Meteors enter the Earth's atmosphere and heat up and become visible to us in every direction of the sky, so your chances of seeing more meteors are enhanced by having a big clear horizon and by lying on your back and letting your eyes rest. Some will streak right into your field of view and be brilliant, but many will be off to one side or another, a shimmer in your peripheral vision. You can't rush the process of viewing a meteor shower, so the more time and patience you invest, the more you will see. My experience is that more heads are better than one, so viewing with a friend or two means you will collectively see a lot more and hey, who doesn't like some company on a dark summer's night?

The other factors that are central to an enhanced experience are to get to a dark-sky location if possible, and regardless of whether you find the perfect dark sky location or simply settling into your backyard or rooftop for a view, you want to minimize the lights in your immediate surroundings. So turn off house lights that illuminate your viewing space, and get into the 'shadow of streetlights' if you are in a city, so your eyes have the best chance of adapting to the dark. If you want to see faint objects whizzing across the sky, you should let your eyes have the 10-15 minutes they need to really adjust themselves to your ambient conditions.

Here are two excellent articles about the 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower.

My favorite: Sky & Telescope. And the always-good resource EarthSky.

Image courtesy of EarthSky.