We normally re-open from our winter break in March or at latest, April. You may have noticed clear or clear-ish nights have been fairly rare and the trend continues so we have not yet scheduled anything for 2018. We will endeavor to begin our public observing events in May though now we are encountering issues with our old building. Weather? Building? It’s always something! Stay tuned here and via Twitter for program announcements and we will hope for the best.
Stephens Memorial Observatory is closed for the season. If we enjoy a stretch of clear nights this winter, we may open for a special Open Night event (we would love to show you the Orion Nebula) so watch this website and our Twitter feed for updates. Otherwise, we’ll hope to reopen in March for monthly sessions.
A total lunar eclipse will take place in the pre-dawn hours of January 31 but interested viewers in Northeastern Ohio are not well-favored! Weather conditions predicted for Wednesday morning are poor (mostly cloudy, at best) and the timing of the eclipse event itself works against us; at best we would see only a portion of the partial phase before our Moon sets!
Our best bet for watching this total lunar eclipse will be to view it on television or via streaming video. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the celestial spectacle beginning at 5:30 a.m. EST. Weather permitting, the broadcast will feature views from the varying vantage points of telescopes at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California; Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles; and the University of Arizona’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory. You can access the live NASA broadcast via some cable television services, or online through NASA’s Moon webpages.
If skies do clear enough to see the Moon from our area, here’s a timetable for significant points in the upcoming eclipse as viewed from the city of Oberlin — the timing would be off only by a few seconds viewed from other areas of Northeastern Ohio.
This eclipse event is getting special attention because it offers the rare coincidence of three lunar events: A “supermoon,” a “blue moon” and a total lunar eclipse at the same time. A “supermoon” occurs when the Moon is closest to Earth in its orbit (at or near perigee) and appears about 14 percent brighter than usual. As the second Full Moon of the month, this Moon is also commonly called a Blue Moon, though it will not be blue in appearance. The “Super Blue Moon” will pass through Earth’s shadow and take on a reddish copper to deep-red tint. The eerie colors of totality seen during lunar eclipses frightened the ancients but delight us!
The last total lunar eclipse occurred Sept. 27-28, 2015. The next total lunar eclipse visible across North America will occur January 21, 2019.
The January 31 eclipse is the third in a series of supermoons in December 2017 and January 2018. Watch the Supermoon Trilogy video.
UPDATE: On January 18, the American Meteor Society reported two meteorites from the January 16 were found in Michigan. Congratulations to Robert Ward and Larry Atkins on the first two reported finds. The two pieces were black, about the size of driveway gravel stones.
A brilliant meteor flashed across the skies of the Great Lakes Region of the U.S. Tuesday night ending with two brilliant flashes and loud booms. People reacted with delight and alarm, some calling emergency services after witnessing the event. Officials quickly identified the source as a good-sized meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere, flaring and exploding as a fireball-bolide (brilliant, exploding meteor). Here’s what we know, courtesy of William Cooke, Ph.D., NASA Meteoroid Environment Office. This statement has been edited and updated from social media posts made by Dr. Cooke. — ed.
A very bright fireball (possible superbolide, which has a brightness between that of the Full Moon and the Sun) was seen in the Michigan, Ohio, Illinois region Tuesday night, January 16, at 8:08:30 PM EST. Preliminary information indicates that this meteoroid/small asteroid entered the atmosphere above the southeastern part of Michigan, just to the northwest of Detroit. The fireball was so bright that it was seen through clouds by our meteor camera located at Oberlin College, about 120 miles away.
We have calculated that this was a very slow moving meteor – speed of about 28,000 miles per hour. This fact, combined with the brightness of the meteor (which suggests a fairly big space rock at least a yard across), shows that the object penetrated deep into the atmosphere before it broke apart (which produced the sounds heard by many observers). It is likely that there are meteorites on the ground near this region – one of our colleagues at Johnson Space Center has found a Doppler weather radar signature characteristic of meteoritic material falling to earth.
Pieces of an asteroid lying near Detroit? Let’s see what the meteorite hunters find.
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have for the first time directly observed granulation patterns on the surface of a star outside the Solar System — the ageing red giant π1 Gruis. This remarkable new image from the PIONIER instrument reveals the convective cells that make up the surface of this huge star, which has 700 times the diameter of the Sun. Each cell covers more than a quarter of the star’s diameter and measures about 120 million kilometers across. These new results are being published this week in the journal Nature.
Located 530 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Grus (The Crane), π1 Gruis is a cool red giant. It has about the same mass as our Sun, but is 700 times larger and several thousand times as bright. Our Sun will swell to become a similar red giant star in about five billion years.
An international team of astronomers led by Claudia Paladini (ESO) used the PIONIER instrument on European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope to observe π1 Gruis in greater detail than ever before. They found that the surface of this red giant has just a few convective cells, or granules, that are each about 120 million kilometers across — about a quarter of the star’s diameter. Just one of these granules would extend from the Sun to beyond Venus. The surfaces — known as photospheres — of many giant stars are obscured by dust, which hinders observations. However, in the case of π1 Gruis, although dust is present far from the star, it does not have a significant effect on the new infrared observations.
When π1 Gruis ran out of hydrogen to burn long ago, this ancient star ceased the first stage of its nuclear fusion program. It shrank as it ran out of energy, causing it to heat up to over 100 million degrees. These extreme temperatures fueled the star’s next phase as it began to fuse helium into heavier atoms such as carbon and oxygen. This intensely hot core then expelled the star’s outer layers, causing it to balloon to hundreds of times larger than its original size. The star we see today is a variable red giant. Until now, the surface of one of these stars has never before been imaged in detail.
By comparison, the Sun’s photosphere contains about two million convective cells, with typical diameters of just 1,500 kilometers. The vast size differences in the convective cells of these two stars can be explained in part by their varying surface gravities. π1 Gruis is just 1.5 times the mass of our Sun but much larger, resulting in a much lower surface gravity and just a few, extremely large, granules.
While stars more massive than eight solar masses end their lives in dramatic supernovae explosions, less massive stars like this one gradually expel their outer layers, resulting in beautiful planetary nebulae. Previous studies of π1 Gruis found a shell of material 0.9 light-years away from the central star, thought to have been ejected around 20,000 years ago. This relatively short period in a star’s life lasts just a few tens of thousands of years – compared to the overall lifetime of several billion – and these observations reveal a new method for probing this fleeting red giant phase.
The date of our final scheduled observatory Open Night has passed and Stephens Memorial Observatory will close for the season. If we enjoy a stretch of clear nights this winter, we may open for a special Open Night event (we would love to show you the Orion Nebula) so watch this website and our Twitter feed for updates. Otherwise, we’ll hope to reopen in March for monthly sessions. Until then, we wish you a happy holiday season and a new year full of peace and happiness.
Due to current and predicted weather conditions, tonight’s scheduled Open Night at the Observatory has been CANCELED. If driving conditions are safe, please consider attending a free, fun indoor StarLab planetarium presentation tonight. See the previous post for all of the details….