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International Observe the Moon Night, October 20, 2018

 

UPDATE: Saturday, October 20 — Tonight’s scheduled Open Night and local International Observe the Moon Night event is CANCELED. Weather again spoils our plans with showers and thunderstorms prowling the area, and tonight’s impending Wind Advisory keeping our dome closed. While weather is going to keep us indoors tonight, NASA has other suggestions on how you can observe and enjoy Earth’s Moon tonight and later! Take a look: Ten Ways to Observe the Moon, Some Can be Done Any Time

UPDATE: We are closely watching weather forecasts and, as so often has been the case this year, our Saturday night program appears in jeopardy with the possibility of rain and/or snow predicted. Check back here and watch our Twitter feed for further updates and a final go/no-go decision on our October 20 event.

Members of the public are invited to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 7:00 to 9:00. The free event will be held at Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College.

International Observe the Moon Night is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation, appreciation and understanding of our Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration. The annual event connects scientists, educators, and lunar enthusiasts from around the world.

The Hiram event will (given clear skies) include amazing views of Earth’s Moon using the Observatory’s 1901 vintage telescope. If sky conditions allow, other wonders of the night sky will also be sought.

Cloudy skies at the scheduled starting time cancel the event and in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.

Photo: Saturn’s rings are perhaps the most recognized feature of any world in our solar system. Cassini spent more than a decade examining them more closely than any spacecraft before it. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings are perhaps the most recognized feature of any world in our solar system. Cassini spent more than a decade examining them more closely than any spacecraft before it. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

October 4, 2018: New research emerging from the final orbits of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft represents a huge leap forward in our understanding of the Saturn system — especially the mysterious, never-before-explored region between the planet and its rings. Some preconceived ideas are turning out to be wrong while new questions are being raised.

Six teams of researchers are publishing their work Oct. 5 in the journal Science, based on findings from Cassini’s Grand Finale. That’s when, as the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team steered Cassini spectacularly close to Saturn in 22 orbits before deliberately vaporizing it in a final plunge into the atmosphere in September 2017.

Knowing Cassini’s days were numbered, its mission team went for gold. The spacecraft flew where it was never designed to fly. For the first time, it probed Saturn’s magnetized environment, flew through icy, rocky ring particles and sniffed the atmosphere in the 1,200-mile-wide (2,000-kilometer-wide) gap between the rings and the cloud tops. Not only did the flight path push the spacecraft to its limits, the new findings illustrate how powerful and agile the instruments were.

Many more Grand Finale science results are to come, but here are some of today’s highlights:

  • Complex organic compounds embedded in water nanograins rain down from Saturn’s rings into its upper atmosphere. Scientists saw water and silicates, but they were surprised to see also methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The composition of the organics is different from that found on moon Enceladus — and also different from that on moon Titan, meaning there are at least three distinct reservoirs of organic molecules in the Saturn system.
  • For the first time, Cassini saw up close how rings interact with the planet and observed inner-ring particles and gases falling directly into the atmosphere. Some particles take on electric charges and spiral along magnetic-field lines, falling into Saturn at higher latitudes — a phenomenon known as “ring rain.” But scientists were surprised to see that others are dragged quickly into Saturn at the equator. And it’s all falling out of the rings faster than scientists thought — as much as 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) of material per second.
  • Scientists were surprised to see what the material looks like in the gap between the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere. They knew that the particles throughout the rings ranged from large to small. But the sampling in the gap showed mostly tiny, nanometer-sized particles, like smoke, suggesting that some yet-unknown process is grinding up particles.
  • Saturn and its rings are even more interconnected than scientists thought. Cassini revealed a previously unknown electric-current system that connects the rings to the top of Saturn’s atmosphere.
  • Scientists discovered a new radiation belt around Saturn, close to the planet and composed of energetic particles. They found that while the belt actually intersects with the innermost ring, the ring is so tenuous that it doesn’t block the belt from forming.
  • Unlike every other planet with a magnetic field in our Solar System, Saturn’s magnetic field is almost completely aligned with its spin axis. The new data shows a magnetic-field tilt of less than 0.0095 degrees. (Earth’s magnetic field is tilted 11 degrees from its spin axis.) According to everything scientists know about how planetary magnetic fields are generated, Saturn should not have one. It’s a mystery that physicists will be working to solve.
  • Cassini flew above Saturn’s magnetic poles, directly sampling regions where radio emissions are generated. The findings more than doubled the number of direct measurements of radio sources from the planet, one of the few non-terrestrial locations where scientists have been able to study a radio-generation mechanism that is believed to operate throughout the universe.

For the Cassini mission, the science rolling out from Grand Finale orbits more than justifies the calculated risk of diving into the gap — skimming the upper atmosphere and skirting the edge of the inner rings, said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker.

“Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise,” Spilker said. “That was the importance of going there, to explore a place we’d never been before. And the expedition really paid off — the data is tremendously exciting.”

Analysis of Cassini data from the spacecraft’s instruments will be ongoing for years to come, helping to paint a clearer picture of Saturn.

“Many mysteries remain, as we put together pieces of the puzzle,” Spilker said. “Results from Cassini’s final orbits turned out to be more interesting than we could have imagined.”

The papers published in Science are:

On Oct. 4, as the Science publication embargo lifts, articles describing research complementary to these findings will post online in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Saving the Dark

StephensAstro —  September 2, 2018 — Leave a comment
Photo: The night sky could look like this anywhere in Ohio if we would just be careful with artificial light. Image Credit: "Saving the Dark"

The night sky could look like this anywhere in Ohio if we would just be careful with artificial light. Image Credit: “Saving the Dark”

What do we lose when we lose sight of the stars? Excessive and improper lighting robs us of our night skies, disrupts our sleep patterns, and endangers nocturnal habitats. Saving the Dark explores the need to preserve or restore night skies and what we can all do to combat light pollution. This film will be shown October 5 & 6 at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Click here for more information and to view the film’s trailer.

FINAL — 8:59 PM: Event canceled due to near-Overcast conditions and nearby rain showers. We will try again in July.

UPDATE – June 23, 4:00 PM: Sky conditions are very changeable but prospects look generally poor for tonight’s scheduled Open Night as clouds dominate and isolated showers roam the region. We will make a final go/no-go decision this evening and announce it here and via Twitter.

Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will be open for public observing Saturday, June 23, from 9:00 to 11:00 PM. Given good skies, visitors will see wonderful views of the Moon and giant planet Jupiter with moons of its own. Other objects of interest, such as star clusters, will also be sought, using the Observatory’s vintage telescope.

Jupiter and Moons - June 23, 2018, 10 PM - Simulated View

Jupiter and Moons – June 23, 2018, 10 PM – Simulated View

The June event represents a late start to our public outreach season caused by an operational problem with the observatory building constructed in 1939. The problem has been corrected and we hope to present a full season’s schedule of public events.

Cloudy skies at the scheduled starting time cancel the event and in that case, the observatory will not open. No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.

Opening soon?

StephensAstro —  April 24, 2018 — Leave a comment

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.

Photo: Stephens Memorial Observatory- February 2018

Stephens Memorial Observatory – February 2018

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.

2007 Total Lunar Eclipse. Photo by James Guilford.

2007 Total Lunar Eclipse – Photo by James Guilford

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.

Table giving Timing of January 31, 2018 Total Lunar Eclipse - Credit: TimeAndDate.com

Table giving Timing of January 31, 2018 Total Lunar Eclipse – Credit: TimeAndDate.com

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.