September 24, 2020 Close Encounter


On September 24, 2020 tiny asteroid 2020 SW ( roughly 6 – 10 meter diameter ) will pass between Earth and the Moon at 7.7 Km per second ( that’s 27,900 km/h ). At closest approach 28,254 kilometers away, a mere 7% of distance to the Moon. Closer than communication and meteorological satellites locked in orbit at 38,000ish kilometers above our planet. Close enough for gravity to alter velocity and bend 2020 SW’s trajectory.

Astronomers confidently stress there’s nothing to fear, 2020 SW won’t unleash calamity. Not now or for the next fifty years of calculated orbit.

Infinitely more remarkable than online chatter surrounding a “near miss”, is the fact 2020 SW was discovered on September 18, 2020, completely unknown until a few days ago. It’s been orbiting Earth every 372 days for who knows how long, nobody noticed until now. Brings to mind Chelyabinsk, Russia on February 15, 2013 – global eyes fixated on known asteroid DA 14 making a close fly-by. Without warning, unidentified cosmic rubble struck our atmosphere from another direction. Exploding over Chelyabinsk, injuring over a thousand residents to the dismay of stunned astronomers.

Long green line swooping around and away from earth, and yellow arrow pointing out from Earth.

Small asteroid 2020 SW will pass so close to Earth on September 24, that our planet’s gravity will alter the space rock’s speed and bend its path through space. The green line indicates the asteroid’s trajectory, while the yellow line points to the sun. Gray line represents the Moon’s orbit, but not to scale. Illustration by the Minor Planet Center, with modifications by Eddie Irizarry.

2020 SW won’t be visible to the naked eye, but interested sky watchers can watch live online at Virtual Telescope Project in Rome. Linked below –

Poster advertising live event for viewing asteroid 2020 SW on September 23.

View larger. | The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will be showing asteroid 2020 SW live a few hours its closest approach. The live feed is scheduled for September 23, 2020 starting at 22 UTC; translate UTC to your time. To join online, go to Virtual Telescope’s website.

Cosmic gak abounds, the universe undulates in incomprehensible maelstroms of its own design. For every identified potentially hazardous asteroid, countless more tiptoe in obscurity. Be it light pollution, sunward approaching objects, observational limitations, rogue insurgents ejected from the asteroid belt, there’s no end to reasons why near Earth objects catch us off guard.

Sky chart with constellations, Mars, and tick marks for location of asteroid.

Location of Asteroid 2020 SW on the night of Wednesday, September 23, at around 10:30 pm CDT (03:30 UTC on September 24). Facing east, as seen from U.S. The space rock will be located not too far from where we see the star Algenib (Gamma Pegasi), in the Great Square of Pegasus. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.

600 Moons of Jupiter


Jupiter has 79 known moons, second only to 82 identified moons of Saturn. That’s a lot of moons, but what if Jupiter had 600 moons? How cool would that be? University of British Columbia researchers Edward Ashton, Matthew Beaudoin and Brett Gladman studied archival images of Jupiter taken over a 3 hour period on Sept. 8, 2020 at Canada, France, Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Factoring in variation of movement across the field of view, they digitally combined images from 126 different viewpoints. Voila – 52 possibly unknown Jovian moons appeared, Further analysis kicked 7 to the curb (known moons with irregular orbits), leaving 45 eager applicants vying for official Jovian moon status. Curiously, all in retrograde orbit. ( orbiting backward in relation to Jupiter’s orbit ).

So why 600 unidentified moons of Jupiter? Their search was limited to one square degree of view of space surrounding Jupiter. Extrapolation concluded as many as 600 or more unknown moons of Jupiter. Lead researchers will present their findings virtually on Sept. 25, 2020 at the Europlanet Science Congress 2020.

Admittedly these moons are small, 800 meters or so, struggling or barely within reach of IAU (International Astronomical Union ) rules requiring one kilometer in diameter to qualify as moons. Stark contrast to Ganymede – Jupiter’s largest moon, largest moon in our solar system, a moon larger than planets Mercury and Mars.

See the source image

https://www.sott.net/article/441048-New-detections-suggests-Jupiter-could-have-600-moons

Not a day goes by without science learning more about the cosmos, 600 possible moons of Jupiter is remarkable. Hats off to science.

Finding Polaris – Embrace the North Star


Ah Polaris, commonly known as the North Star – humanities guide since the dawn of time. Located directly above the north celestial pole, northern hemisphere skies rotate around this near constant pole star. Knowing where to find Polaris means you’ll always know which direction to travel. Face Polaris, stretch your arms out sideways – the right hand points due east, the left due west. About face and you’re pointed south.

Very many bright concentric circles in sky around a bright irregular dot, trees in foreground.

Ken Christison captured these glorious star trails around Polaris, the North Star. He wrote, “For the most common and often the most spectacular star trails, you want to locate Polaris and compose the image so it is centered horizontally and hopefully you can have a bit of foreground for reference.”

To find Polaris locate the Big Dipper, focus on Dubhe and Merak, two stars forming the outermost edge of Big Dipper’s bowl. In your mind’s eye draw a straight line to the tip of Little Dipper’s handle – voila, that’s Polaris the North Star.

Think of northern hemisphere skies as a clock with Polaris at the centre, the line from Dubhe and Merak to Polaris as the hour hand. The Big Dipper rotates once around Polaris every 23 hours, 56 minutes. A few minutes short of a day, equivalent to 361 degrees in 24 hours. As such the North Star moves ever so slightly with each passing day. What never falters is the hour hand from the outermost bowl of Big Dipper to Polaris. Find the Big Dipper, you’ll locate the North Star. Do that and you’ll never be lost in the woods.

Diagram: White sky with four black Big Dippers in a circle around Polaris.

If you’re in the northern U.S., Canada or at a similar latitude, the Big Dipper is circumpolar for you, always above the horizon. Image via burro.astr.cwru.edu.

Calming Adrien Mauduit Timelapse


Still reeling from forced WordPress block editor assault, I need to calm down. What better way than Milky Way timelapse by Adrien Mauduit at Night Lights Films?

Take a deep breath Notes, you’ll figure this out. So what if adding a “classic editor” plugin requires upgrading to a $33 monthly business plan? Nice try WordPress, who do you think you are? Has WordPress forgotten millions of users like myself? Think users thirst for layers of bloated navigation? Fancy itself a social media influencer? Is nothing sacred? Nothing spared pressure to monetarize, distribute click bait or promote private enterprise for personal gain?

Milky Way timelapse represents hope. Hope I figured out how to post a video using block editor, hope I’ll learn intricacies of WordPress Gutenberg block editor and hope WordPress doesn’t forget what made it special.

Is That a Half Moon?


In astronomy there’s no such thing as a half-moon. Only quarters, be it first or last quarter of a lunar month.

What appears as a half moon is actually one of the Moon’s quarter phases. Tonight (August 25, 2020) marks a first quarter moon. Viewed from anywhere on Earth, it appears at sunset, sets after midnight. Gazing skyward we see half a moon pie, What you’re seeing is half the moon’s day-side, but only a quarter of the whole moon. Measured from one new moon to the next, it’s one quarter around its orbit of Earth. Reason why there are no half moons in astronomy.

First quarter moons are characterized by “Lunar X and V”, specific locations illuminated by sunlight. A spectacle known as pareidolia.

Half of the moon with tiny labeled X and V shapes along straight edge.

“Lunar X and Lunar V appear when the moon is near its 1st quarter phase. They aren’t really Xs and Vs on the moon. They’re just high areas, catching sunlight, creating an example of pareidolia on the moon. Aqilla Othman in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, caught them both in May 2017. Notice that he caught Lunar X and Lunar V.”

Telescopic closeup of band of mountains on moon with a few large craters.

“Tom Wildoner wrote: “One of my favorite areas to photograph on the moon near the 1st quarter! I captured this view of the sun lighting up the mountain range called Montes Apenninus. The moon was casting a nice shadow on the back side of the mountains. This mountain range is about 370 miles (600 km) long with some of the peaks rising as high as 3.1 miles (5 km).””

Half-lit Earth from north, and half-lit moon with divisions between dark and light sides lined up.

Click here to see animation. As seen from the north side of the moon’s orbital plane, the Earth rotates counterclockwise on its rotational axis, and the moon revolves counterclockwise around Earth. The terminators of the Earth and moon align at first and last quarter moons, and only the near half of the moon’s day side is visible from Earth.

1st quarter moon is August 25

U.S. Election Day Asteroid Hysteria


Trust internet jibber-jabber to spark cosmic hysteria. Armageddon click bait drools over any opportunity to create viral asteroid calamity. Today it’s asteroid 2018 VP1, a 2 meter rock with 0.4% chance of entering our atmosphere on November 2nd.

See the source image

First identified on November 3,  2018 at Palomar Observatory in California at a distance of 450,000 Km from Earth,  2018 VP1 was observed for 12.9 days. It hasn’t been seen since. NASA scientists at JPL Horizons used distance, angle and speed to calculate a two year orbit. Pipsqueak 2018 VP1 is expected to return on or about November 3, 2020. A lot can happen in two years after only 12.9 days of observation, enter LOV, the line of variation. LOV dictates orbital swing from direct impact to unremarkable pass-by 3.7 million Km away.  Either way,  2018 VP1 doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Too small to classify as a PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid), so small that atmosphere would fry it long before surface contact.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_VP1

I’m all for cosmic awareness, delight in media coverage off all things space. That said, few things frost me more than doomsday internet froth promoting cosmic annihilation.

Detected 6 Hours After the Fact


On August 16, 2020 undetected asteroid 2020 QG swept past Earth at a distance of 2,900 Km. Described as “truck size” ( 20 feet, 3-6 meters across ), traveling at 12.4 Km per second, 2020 QG approached from a sunward direction. Reason why astronomers didn’t see it until six hours later. Despite post event assurance there was never any danger, it’s sobering to ponder fragility of our existence. Asteroid 2020 QG now holds the record for closest “known” asteroid to pass without an Earth strike.

Animated image of tiny object passing Earth.

View larger. | This illustration shows asteroid 2020 QG’s trajectory bending during its close approach to Earth. The asteroid is the closest known nonimpacting asteroid ever detected. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

Small Earth, with green line going past it bent around where it comes nearest Earth, and also the moon's orbit shown.

View larger. | The blue ball in the lower left of this image represents Earth. The curved green arrow represents asteroid 2020 QG, whose orbit was changed by its near-Earth encounter on Sunday. The tick marks on the green line represent 30-minute intervals. You can see that this asteroid was really zooming past! Image via Minor Planet Center.

Truck-sized asteroid swept within 2,000 miles on Sunday

Science admits “gaps” in detection of sunward approaching asteroids. Current telescopes can only detect asteroids at night. When identified, orbit is calculated to determine potential for a future collision. Rather clunky if you ask me. NASA is in early stage development of a telescope to detect asteroids and comets coming from the Sun’s direction. If all goes well and funding remains in place, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission could be operational by 2025.

For now all we can do is hope incoming sunward objects aren’t pesky enough to unleash calamity.

Not Too Late to Ponder Comet NEOWISE


On March 27, 2020 C/2020 F3 was discovered by astronomers at WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), a NASA space telescope launched in 2009. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-field_Infrared_Survey_Explorer . On March 31, 2020 it gained official comet status, April 1, 2020 saw it dubbed comet NEOWISE. In a nutshell comets are cosmic objects comprised of ice, dust and space gak presenting a observable tail courtesy close orbital proximity to the Sun. (hence, ice melt)  NEOWISE, current darling of space and common observers alike, made closest approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020. The rest is history, history which won’t be repeated until NEOWISE returns in 6,800 years.

Comet NEOWISE is a rare naked eye cosmic spectacle. A remarkably bright experience afforded Northern Hemisphere residents willing to find a dark place, look northwest after sunset toward the Big Dipper to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE.

https://www.space.com/comet-neowise-strange-facts.html?utm_source=Selligent&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=9155&utm_content=SDC_Newsletter+&utm_term=3580249&m_i=dStOzCRRSVnQXbejZr4A4D0CjNmLoDniLEav%2BJqEI19uyt1Z%2BawSQE9xCCP7rAta4J4Z08SYh53ttnROnALyZpoYwJSMJNhcIVdLI_dddc

NEOWISE-F3-July-4-2020-Chris-Schur-S.jpg (1140×712)

 

See the source image

https://www.ibtimes.com/nasa-offers-tips-how-see-visible-comet-neowise-3012079

 

Explore the Night Sky


Adrian Mauduit at Night Lights Films launched a mesmerizing timelapse endeavor titled Explore the Night Sky. From Night Lights Films –

“Welcome to this new series of educational videos about the cosmos titled ‘Explore the Night Sky’. They consist of short episodes focusing on one celestial object or phenomenon that can be observed from Earth. They are kid friendly and their purpose is to make people discover the sky at night while encouraging science education and promoting the fight against light pollution. In this episode, we feature the open star cluster ‘Pleiades’, aka Messier 45, M 45 or the ‘Seven Sisters’ through a series of time-lapse sequences taken in various locations around the Earth (Norway, Switzerland, Spain, Chile). A lot of people have seen this small patchy group of star without realizing it contains about 1000 of them! Learn more about it by watching the rest of this mesmerizing film.”

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC0CLzCpM6nuLSAi1JNBjkA

Cosmic wonder is a gift. No better way to embrace wonder than by following Adrian Mauduit.

Winning Dark Sky Images


In May of this year the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) held its first annual Capture the Dark photography competition. Tasked with capturing  “meaning of the night”, participants were invited to submit images in one of five categories – Connecting to the Dark, International Dark Sky Places, Impact of Light Pollution, Bright Side of Lighting and Youth.

Connecting to the Dark winner –

Child with butterfly net containing several stars, star in deep blue sky just above net.

View larger | Mihail Minkov captured this photo, which is titled Star Catcher. The photo is from the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria. It’s the 1st-place winner in 2020’s IDA photo contest, in the Connecting to the Dark category.

International Dark Sky Places winner –

Milky Way above steep wooded valley with rocky stream in foreground.

iew larger. | Jean-Francois Graffand captured this image at the Pic du Midi International Dark Sky Reserve in France. It’s the winner in the International Dark Sky Places category. The photo is titled Dark Night in Pyrénées Mountains.

Impact of Light Pollution winner –

A few stars visible in brightly lit night sky above hills with square tower in distance.

View larger. | Petr Horálek captured this image at the Great Wall of China. It’s the winner in the Impact of Light Pollution category. The photo is titled Remembering the Old Times.

Bright Side of Lighting winner –

Milky Way arching over streaming waterfall in hills with nearby evergreen trees.

View larger. | Jean-Francois Graffand captured this photo at the Pyrénées National Parc in France. It’s the winner in the Bright Side of Lighting category. It’s titled The Celestial River.

Youth winner –

Milky Way over distant farm building past wide field of red paintbrush flowers and bluebonnet flowers.

View larger.| Nayana Rajesh, age 16, captured the winning entry in the Youth category. The photo is set in Ennis, Texas. It’s titled “The Barn.”

View all winning and finalist submissions – https://darksky.app.box.com/s/yzvnppjej02asjtwvjsxmyr4twxr3e8g

Read more at – https://earthsky.org/earth/ida-2020-photo-contest-winners-night-sky-images?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=868f0bb18e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_02_02_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-868f0bb18e-393970565