Viewing Venus Transit in Seattle Area

Well, bad news. Weather isn’t looking good for tomorrow’s historic event.
It’s like 80% chance of showers almost entire Pacific Northwest extending even in to Eastern Washington. Even LIGO Observatory is not going to have sun shine. But if
you believe that a hole in the sky might appear just to take pick then there are several events
lined up for public viewing
with free entry and no registration. Public events are much safer way to view Venus Transit
because they would have appropriate solar filters and/or projection boards. Some might even have live webcasts. If that much
anticipated hole in the sky does not appear then here are the options for online viewing:

It would be also good time to brush up on Venus peculiarities and
some historical
context
.

The Four Planet Dance Of 2008

The Observing Blog at S&T have posted this wonderful movie about celestial dance of some of the brightest objects in sky in August and September 2008, just after sunset. Unfortunately, for us in mid-northern latitudes (and especially Seattle weather), things won't be as bright and high but having these objects "collide" with each other and that too with crescent moon around looks beautiful!

Venus Transit Tomorrow

This one is not a spectacular but its interesting because it's rare and because of history. Specifically, in old times (pre 1900s), people used this rare event to measure distance between Earth and Sun. Infect astronomers didn't knew this distance from a long time, so they invented so-called "1 Astronomical Unit (AU)" when they want to refer to this distance. In old times, everything was measured relative to AU, for example Venus is 0.7AU away from Sun. Venus Transit helped to resole this. Plus it also helped to figure out Sun's diameter. Now just out of curiosity, I thought, how would Venus transit could help in determining Sun-Earth distance and Sun's diameter? Answer is simple enough: Have two people watched it from different latitudes on Earth, make a triangle, use simple trigonometry and you get the distance! Nasa has put up a detailed explanation of little math in involved in this clever technique. Then This is, of course, still less accurate then modern ways of radars and satellites. Venus orbits around Sun in just 0.6 years. Then one would think why transits are so rare? Well, answer is, Venus's orbit isn't in the same plane as Earth, so it's pretty rare for Sun-Venus-Earth to get in one straight line, usually every little over hundres years or so. Apart from that, this transit won't visually appeal to most but if you had those special safe glasses to view sun eclipse, you might have a look between 11:05AM to 11:25AM on US East Coast on June 8, 2004. More info at Exploratorium and astronomy.no.

Venus with Crescent Moon

If you live on East Coast and if you looked in to West in last few hours you might have seen a real bright blob of light. It's so bright and has "burning aura" (literally looks like flames) around it that I thought it will soon fall down as huge shooting star. So I just fired up my copy of TheSky software to see what's going on and came out with some neat surprise. Well, this is Venus and for next month or so it's gonna be visible long after sunsets and would stay pretty well above horizon (which is not very usual for Venus). With it's current magnitude of -4.0 that's way way too bright for normal night sky standards and it's gonna be even more brighter. If you trace path of Venus, it seems Venus and Moon both comes really really close (almost touching) on 23nd Feb, 2004 at around 17:34 which also happens to be Sunset time! And the beauty of the whole scene during this Sunset is that it would be really nice crescent moon. So watch out and put this date and time on your calendar!

Leonid Meteor Shower This Tuesday

This event is slowing down every year and so for some people it would be a reason not to care and for others it would be a reason to care even more, because next year it will be more slower :). But it's still nice to see shooting stars with some predictability. This year, the peak time on East coast would be on 19th November between 12:00 to 2:30AM which is little earlier then past years. But again my wishes have already came true this year so don't have lots of wishes to make :). Nasa has really cool graphical estimator for pick intensity for most cities in the world. For times on West coast and more details, check out this press release. Just don't expect something like that image of meteor shower on this site!

Mars Viewing

Just saw the red planet through my 4.5" telescope and 10mm eye piece. Unlike it was advertised on several web sites, no, it doesn't get as big as moon when looking through modest telescope. Infect there's barely any difference when I'd looked at it through same scope in last couple of years. So I just went in to some number crunching using fact sheet at Nasa's web site, and it seems that Mars should look (at best) 30% more brighter and around 40% bigger then I'd seen couple of years ago. Now the catch is that when looking through telescope with above spec (which is pretty beyond modest 70mm stuff), Mars would normally look like a bright tiny disk. So 40% increase would make that tiny disk little bigger - but still a tiny. To make it look as big as Moon you would need increment of 1000% or more and that's not going to achievable just by Mars coming closer - it's possible only though much much bigger scopes. So my conclusion is that news sites and emails that kept circulating were pretty misleading to public. Though the good part is that lots of people suddenly got interested in astronomy. Infect one of my friend was so hopeful that he has put a $100 bet with me on whether Mars would look as big as moon on 27th August with bare naked eyes! So I'm not entirely disappointed with this hoax, at least someone would get some money :).

Astronomy Events This Month

Mars is going to be the closest to Earth in recorded human history so far. You can go out at midnight and look in the South and the big blob of orangish yellow light (which you might mistake as air plane) is Mars. Even on the rainy nights you can see it lurking behind the cloud - it's that bright. Infect it's brighter then anything after Sun and Moon! Even in a modest telescope you can see it's big bright surface magnified as large as Moon. More info is in this newsletter. Next Perseid meteor shower peaks on Aug 13, 2003. I'd spotted couple of shooting stars last week in just about two hours of time span and thought I was lucky! Well, this was the scientific reason behind it, actually.

Jersey Starquest and other star parties

Star parties are event with all night deep sky observations and chance to meet other fellow amateur astronomers. The first one of the year at East Coast is happening this weekend at Hope, NJ. There's usually crowd of 20-30 people with all level of skills. You can try all sorts of telescopes (some as large as 17") and instruments for deep sky CCD observations and so on. There are going to be day time events, talks and presentations and sun spot watching! If you missed this, there is 3 more popular star parties coming up this year. Check the event calander at S&T site. You can see some photographs I took of last year's star parties.