It’s challenging to explain to someone that you
spent a below-freezing December night sitting on your back porch bundled up in
a sleeping bag on a lounge chair just to watch a few meteors blaze across the
sky. Why? Because sometimes even I question why I choose to do so. A few months
back the Geminid meteor shower did not perform well around here, at least not
when I decided to observe it. After about an hour and a half I counted less
than a dozen meteors, and not all of them were Geminids. Only a couple of them
were bright enough to elicit a wow, though not loud enough to wake my neighbors!
That’s the way it is with meteor showers.
Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time to see the meteors to best
advantage. Other times you are not. It can be frustrating when the latter
occurs, especially when the weather conspires against you. Still, after all my
decades of stargazing I never tire of watching for meteors to fall from the
The early days of May present us with warmer
weather prospects to enjoy a somewhat “meteor-ocre” display of shooting stars.
During the pre-dawn hours of May 5 and 6, the Earth will be sweeping through a
stream of particles shed by Halley’s
Comet long ago. (Either morning will be a fine time to observe since the Eta
Aquarids do not have a sharp peak. The meteors comprising this meteor shower enter
the Earth’s upper atmosphere head-on at 41 miles per second. While the Moon will
not interfere with observing this shooting star display this year (New Moon is
on the 4th), one can expect to see no more than 10-15 swift and
yellow shooting stars per hour from Southern New England. Why? The Eta
Aquarids, are best observed from the southern hemisphere.
“An Astronomical Blunder. — Professor Waltemath of Hamburg recently announced through a private circular that he had discovered a second moon to our earth. The contents of the circular were the basis of sensational articles in leading newspapers… He also quotes descriptions of strange objects in the sky seen at various times since the sixteenth century, which his calculations show were probably this second moon.”
Georg Waltemath made an extraordinary claim: that the Earth had a second moon. It was supposed that it was much smaller and dimmer than the known moon. He calculated that this object orbited the Earth every 119 days and would pass between the Earth and Sun, on average, every 177 days. He predicted that on February 3rd of 1898 it would be visible in silhouette as it moved across the disk of the Sun, an event known as an astronomical transit.
Winslow Upton was skeptical of the existence of this long unnoticed moon, but nonetheless attempted to observe it.
Automated instruments on the roof of Ladd Observatory monitored the sky during the total lunar eclipse of Sept. 27-28, 2015. First there is a wide field sky camera. It has a fish-eye lens which can capture an image of most of the sky above Providence. The second is a sky brightness meter which is used to monitor light pollution.
The full Moon is usually so bright that it overwhelms the sensitive camera causing the images to be overexposed. During the eclipse the Moon was dark enough that the only artifact in the image above is a thin vertical line where one column of the digital camera was saturated by the moonlight. The camera is more sensitive than the human eye allowing the Milky Way to be seen during the total phase of the eclipse. The time lapse video contains 3,625 still images. Each second of the movie shows about 5 minutes of changes in the sky.