Thundersnow

During the Blizzard of Feb. 8-9, 2013 there were reports of thunder and lightning amidst the heavy snowfall and high winds. The lightning detector on the roof of Ladd Observatory recorded a great deal of activity late Friday night into Saturday morning with the peak occurring just before midnight. Most of the strikes were along the southern coast of Rhode Island, but some were observed about 350 miles to the south over the ocean. For more information about thunder snowstorms see Scientific American.

thundersnow
Plot of lightning strikes detected by our weather station during the Blizzard of Feb. 8-9, 2013. The activity was not as strong as a summer thunderstorm, but was unusual for this time of year and very rare for a blizzard.

2012 Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower peaked on Dec. 13 – 14, 2012. At Ladd Observatory we operate an automated camera on the roof which takes an image of most of the sky every 10 seconds. There were many small meteors and a number of medium meteors that we captured during the night. Here are the four best images. Each is a 10 second exposure with a field of view of about 140 by 90 degrees. North is at right and west is at bottom.

Watching the skies for meteors

There are some times during the year when a number of meteors can be seen in the sky. For example, the recent Quadrantid meteor shower during the early morning hours of January 4th. But late January is not usually a time that you would expect to see meteors. It is possible, though.

At the Ladd Observatory we’ve been testing a sky camera to watch for interesting phenomena in the night sky. The camera has a field of view of 90 by 140 degrees which can take an image of nearly the entire sky every 10 seconds.

sky camera
The small gray weather proof box in front of the dome on the roof of Ladd Observatory contains a digital all sky astronomy camera which is used to capture images of the night sky.

Continue reading Watching the skies for meteors

2012 Quadrantids

There is a digital camera in a weather proof box mounted on the roof of Ladd Observatory. The camera has a wide field (“fish eye”) lens that can take an image of nearly the entire sky. North is to the right, and east is at top.

Tonight is the Quadrantid meteor shower. The camera has been running for most of the night taking 10 second exposures.

Quadrantid meteor
A bright Quadrantid meteor in  the southwest at 3:00:08 AM EST.

The first image shows a spectacular meteor in the same part of the sky as the planet Mars which is the bright dot behind the meteor.

We recorded 12 bright meteors between 1am and dawn. There are probably also a number of very dim meteors in the images from this morning but I haven’t had a chance to count those. The meteors were mostly seen between 1:38 and 3:10 am EST which is when the shower peaked. However, one of the two brightest meteors was seen much later.

Quadrantid meteor
A bright Quadrantid meteor in the northwest at 4:44:02 AM EST.

The summit station at El Misti, Peru (19,200 feet)

“The night is passed at the hut, and the final ascent to the summit made on the second morning. This occupies several hours, as the animal stops to rest every fifteen or twenty feet at this altitude. On two occasions I was obliged to walk a short distance to cross snow which had drifted across the path, and realized the extreme difficulty of breathing during the exertion required.”

“The effect of the altitude upon me was chiefly to cause headache, sleeplessness and partial loss of appetite. On one occasion while at the summit I experienced a decided feeling of faintness for a short time.”

―Winslow Upton, “Physiological Effect of Diminished Air Pressure.Science, 27 December 1901

El Misti Summit Station

During the academic year of 1896-97 Prof. Winslow Upton took sabbatical from his work as Director of Brown University’s Ladd Observatory. He spent ten months at the new southern station of the Harvard College Observatory (elevation 8,050 feet) in Arequipa, Peru. His primary goal was to measure the geographical position of the station before astronomical observations could commence.

During this time he also made four ascents to the summit of the dormant volcano El Misti, which was the site of recording instruments (pictured above) maintained by Harvard. At the time it was the highest meteorological station in the world at an elevation of 19,200 feet.

Continue reading The summit station at El Misti, Peru (19,200 feet)

“The Red Skies” of 1883

“It is impossible not to conjecture a connection with the volcanic eruption in the Sunda Straits, by which, on Aug. 26, the island of Krakatoa disappeared wholly from the face of the earth.”

“The terrible nature of this outburst can hardly be realized: the sky was darkened for several days, the noise was heard two thousand miles, magnetic disturbances were noted, the tidal wave was distinctly felt at San Francisco, and the atmospheric disturbance was sufficient to cause marked barometric fluctuations, which were noted by the barographs on the continent, in England and America, for several succeeding days.”

―W. Upton, “The Red Skies.Science, 11 January 1884

During the fall of 1883 there was a remarkable atmospheric phenomenon which “attracted great attention not only from the general public, but from scientific men, who have endeavored to give a satisfactory explanation of it.” At the time that he wrote those words Winslow Upton had just accepted the position of Professor of Astronomy at Brown University. Prior to this he had been Assistant Professor of Meteorology in the U.S. Signal Service from 1881. The phenomena that he endeavored to explain were the “recent fiery sunsets” seen throughout the world.

Continue reading “The Red Skies” of 1883

The first weather station at Ladd Observatory

Ladd weather station
The first weather station as it looked in the late 1890s

Regular meteorological observations were made at Brown University by Alexis Caswell (1799-1877) who was Professor of mathematics, astronomy and natural philosophy. Caswell began recording these observations in 1831 and his “Meteorological Register; Providence, R.I.” was published in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge. Caswell kept these records until 1876; after that date the records were kept by the City Engineer.

Weather observations for Providence, RI continued at Ladd Observatory soon after the building was constructed in 1890. An instrument shelter was installed on the deck of the building next to the dome. These weather records were kept by Winslow Upton (1853-1914) who was Professor of astronomy and the first Director of the Observatory.

A modern automatic weather station is operated on the roof of Ladd Observatory today, just a short distance from the location of the original instrument shelter.