Public planetarium show cancelled for Saturday, January 19, 2019

Due to the impending storm, and the fact that we are mainly relying on students due to the delay in filling Craig Robinson’s position at the planetarium, we will be cancelling the public show on Saturday, January 19, 2019. This is the first time in memory that we have cancelled a show without the university itself officially being closed, but the safety of our student workers and volunteers is our top priority.

 

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Snow Storm Threatens Our View of Upcoming Lunar Eclipse

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[A totally eclipse moon]

If it seems like forever since we’ve had a good lunar eclipse in Connecticut, you’re only slightly exaggerating. As the NASA Lunar Eclipse page shows, we haven’t had a total lunar eclipse visible in Connecticut since 2015. That’s why the threat of a snow storm foiling our viewing this weekend is especially painful. If we lose this opportunity, we won’t have another until November 2021.

Thinking positively, the eclipse will be visible in Connecticut from about 10:30 PM on Sunday through 1:50 Am Monday, as shown here. You do not need any optical aid to see the eclipse, although binoculars are always a good addition.

There are a number of live streams that will be up and running if the skies are full of flakes (or clouds) here, so that may be our best option.

Given the gloomy forecast (and the fact that even if skies did clear at the last minute we would not  be able to clear the snow and ice from the observing deck in time given our reduced staffing at the moment) we will not be holding any official observing sessions here at CCSU.

— Kristine Larsen [updated 1/18/19]

Don’t miss the best meteor shower of the year!

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An extremely bright meteor called a bolide. Photo credit: CM Handler

Although more people view the Perseid meteor shower in mid August (frankly due to the warmer weather and the lack of a holiday rush), December’s Geminids are actually a better shower in many ways! The skies are clearer, there are no annoying mosquitoes, and sunrise is later, allowing for more hours of meteor viewing. The shower peaks on the night of December 13/14 this year, and with the crescent moon setting well before midnight, you will have many peak hours of viewing, with the possibility of up to 120 meteors per hour visible from dark skies! The best viewing is between midnight and 4 AM. when the radiant (the direction in the sky that the meteors appear to radiate away from) in the constellation Gemini will be highest in the sky. If you can find Orion, Gemini is just a hop away, as shown in the following diagram:

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Over the course of the night, Gemini will rise higher and higher in the sky and move from the east into the south, always following Orion. Even those who live in light polluted areas can see the brighter meteors, so be sure to bundle up, pour a thermos of the hot beverage of your choice, and break out that lawn chair. All you need is your eyes! If the skies are cloudy that night, you can see meteors for several nights before and after the peak.

While you are out there, you can also look for Comet Wirtanen with binoculars.

Your chance to view Comet Wirtanen!

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Photo of Comet Wirtanen. Photo credit: Richard Berry

Grab those binoculars and brave the cold temperatures this week and you will be rewarded with a view of Comet Wirtanen! Currently barely bright enough to see with the unaided eye from very dark skies, binoculars will being this cosmic dirty snowball into focus for you. The finder charts linked below will aid you in finding it, but in general, its passage by the famous star cluster the Pleiades or Seven Sisters makes it much easier to find, even for rookie star gazers. It is the brightest fuzzy thing in that part of the sky!

The comet was discovered in 1948 by Carl Wirtanen and completes one orbit around the sun every 5.4 years. It is rounding the sun on December 12 and will fly by our planet on December 16. Although it will be a little under 7 million miles away, that very safe distance still makes it about the 20th closest known cometary flyby to earth. The comet is expected to brighten a bit as it approaches, so get out there and wave hello to Comet Wirtanen before the moon spoils the view!

December 11

December 12

December 13

December 14

December 15

December 16

Note that these maps are for 11 PM local time. The comet is actually “up” as soon as the sun sets, it is just lower in the sky and harder to see.

Also take this chance to look for meteors from the Geminid shower, which peaks on the evening of December 13/14.

 

CCSU Students Host Free Public Observing Sessions

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[Poster designed by CCSU student Krysztof Fabis]

On the evenings of December 2-5, if the skies are clear, please join us on the roof of Copernicus Hall for free public viewing of a variety of celestial objects from 6:30-8 PM. These sessions are the capstone project for CCSU students enrolled in AST 278 Observational Astronomy.

For more information (including cancellation due to clouds if necessary), call 860-832-2938.

Update: extreme fog warning forces cancellation of our first night of observing today, Sunday, December 2.  Hopefully skies will be better the other nights.

Update: Clouds are forcing us to cancel the December 5 session.

Happy Dark Matter Day!

Today is International Dark Matter Day! Dark matter outweighs the normal atoms in our universe by about five times. Physicists and astronomers aren’t exactly sure what it is, but we know what it’s not – it’s not material that emits light of any kind, and it’s not black holes. Read more about dark matter here.

Spooky Space, Part 7: Ghoulish Gas Clouds

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts.We finish up with some holiday appropriate nebulae, clouds of gas and dust in space that are usually associated with either the birth or death of a star.

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NGC 3242, The Ghost of Jupiter Nebula

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Sharpless 2-136, The Ghost Nebula

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NGC 2080, The Ghost Head Nebula

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Sharpless 2-68, The Death Eater Nebula

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NGC 246, The Skull Nebula

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IC 2118, The Witch Head Nebula