Take a moment this weekend to gaze at the beautiful Harvest Moon! The Moon will appear full Thursday night through Sunday morning. Early Saturday morning, Sept. 14, will mark the actual full Moon.
The Harvest Moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers across the Northern Hemisphere depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox became “the Harvest Moon,” and it was always a welcome sight.
The term became further entrenched in popular culture thanks to a 1903 pop tune called “Shine on Harvest Moon.”
A Harvest Moon inflated by the moon illusion — a common phenomenon with full moons seen close to the horizon, where familiar Earth objects such as trees or buildings lend the Moon a false sense of size — is simply beautiful to view, but even more so to the farmers gathering their crops in on those cool autumn evenings.
35.8 million miles is definitely not what most of us would consider “close.” But in planetary terms, close is definitely relative! On July 31, Mars will be 35.8 million miles from Earth, which is the closest it has been to Earth in 15 years. What does this mean for sky watchers? It means the Red Planet will appear super bright, and with its orange-red color, will be hard to miss in the nighttime sky. From July 27-30, the point in Mars’ orbit will come closest to Earth, and will be closest to Earth before sunrise Eastern Time on July 31.
What defines a “close approach?” The minimum distance from the Earth to Mars is about 33.9 million miles and does not happen very often. Because Earth and Mars have elliptical orbits and are slightly tilted to each other, all close approaches are not equal. When Mars slowly approaches what astronomers call opposition, it and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. Earth and Mars align in opposition about every two years (fun fact: this is why most NASA missions to the Red Planet are at least two years apart – to take advantage of the closer distance). Opposition to Mars is at its closest to the Sun every 15 to 17 years, when excellent views of the Red Planet from Earth can occur. This is what is happening on the early morning hours of July 31.
Is 35.8 million miles the closest Mars has ever been to Earth? Nope. In 2003, Mars was 34.6 million miles from Earth and the closest it had been in nearly 60,000 years. This type of proximity won’t occur again until 2287. But, there will be another close approach in October 2020 when the distance between the Red Planet and Earth will be 38.6 million miles.
Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, what does this mean for you, the novice astronomer or general sky-watcher? It means that if you have clear skies where you live, go outside on the overnight hours of July 30 or early morning hours of July 31 and look up. The planet will be brighter than usual and will have an orange or red haze. You can also look through a telescope. If weather is bad where you are, NASA will be streaming live from the Griffith Observatory.
There was a very bright green fireball seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses surrounding Lake Michigan early this morning at 1:25:13 AM Central Time (February 6, 2017). The reports from these individuals and the video information from dash cameras and other cameras in the region indicate that the meteor originated 62 miles above West Bend, Wisconsin and moved northeast at about 38,000 miles per hour. It disrupted about 21 miles above Lake Michigan, approximately 9 miles east of the town of Newton. The explosive force of this disruption was recorded on an infrasound station in Manitoba, some 600 miles away – these data put the lower limit energy of the event at about 10 tons of TNT, which means we are dealing with a meteoroid – orbit indicates an asteroidal fragment – weighing at least 600 pounds and 2 feet in diameter. Doppler weather radar picked up fragments (meteorites) falling into Lake Michigan near the end point of the trajectory.
Ground track and Doppler radar signature (done by Marc Fries at NASA Johnson Space Center); an animation of the orbit and approach of the meteoroid is being prepared and should be available soon. We will continue to look at data as it comes in and revise the calculations if necessary.
A bright Orionid is captured on the peak night of the shower by a NASA all sky meteor camera in western North Carolina.
An Orionid cuts across Orion’s shoulders in this video recorded by a NASA wide field meteor camera at Marshall Space Flight Center. The 3 stars of Orion’s belt are clearly visible in the lower left corner of the image.
An Orionid heads south towards Orion’s belt in this video recorded by a NASA wide field meteor camera at Marshall Space Flight Center.
Dr. Bill Cooke, of NASA’s Meteroid Environment Office — located at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama — explains what the All-Sky Camera Network is and how it’s used to track meteors or fireballs.
Composite image showing bright event located near Rosman, North Carolina.
There was a bright event seen across several Southeast states last night at 12:29:30 AM CDT (1:29:30 EDT). Based on the data we currently have, this object was not a meteor or fireball. Tracked by 5 NASA cameras in the SE, it is moving at roughly 14,500 miles per hour, which is too slow to be a meteor. As you can see in the video, it has also broken into multiple pieces, which, combined with the slow speed, indicates a possible reentry of space debris. There are over 120 eyewitness accounts on the American Meteor Society website (www.amsmeteors.org)
Dust off the lawn chairs and get ready for the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower which will occur on the night of April 22.
“The Lyrids are really unpredictable,” Cooke said. “For the 2015 shower, I’m expecting 15 to 20 Lyrid meteors an hour. Peak rates should occur after 10:30 PM on April 22 your local time, for observers in the northern hemisphere. For observers in the southern hemisphere, Lyrid rates are not significant until after midnight your local time.”
Viewing tips for the Lyrids
No special equipment is needed to watch a meteor shower. Simply find a dark, open sky away from artificial lights. Lie down comfortably on a blanket or lawn chair, and look straight up.
A camera, provided by scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, will offer a live feed of the Lyrids beginning at 10:00 PM CDT.The camera is light-activated, and will switch on at nightfall. During daytime hours, the webcast will show recorded views of past meteor showers.
Lyrids are pieces of debris from the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have been observed for more than 2,600 years. In mid-April of each year, Earth runs into the stream of debris from the comet, which causes the Lyrid meteor shower. You can tell if a meteor belongs to a particular shower by tracing back its path to see if it originates near a specific point in the sky, called the radiant. The constellation in which the radiant is located gives the shower its name, and in this case, Lyrids appear to come from a point in the constellation Lyra.
On Saturday morning, April 4, 2015 not long before sunrise, the bright full moon over North America should turn a lovely shade of celestial red during a total lunar eclipse. Join NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams as she takes questions via Twitter @NASA_Marshall. For Twitter questions, use the hashtag #eclipse2015. The question and answer via Twitter will begin at 6 a.m. EDT and continue through the end of the eclipse (approximately 8:00 a.m. EDT on April 4).
The lunar eclipse will be visible from all parts of the United States. Eastern North America and western South America can see beginning stages of the partial umbral eclipse low in the west before sunrise April 4, whereas middle Asia (India, western China, mid-Asian Russia) can view the ending stages of the partial umbral eclipse low in the east after sunset April 4. Greenland, Iceland, Europe, Africa and the Middle East won’t see this eclipse at all. A world map of eclipse visibility is available here. The total eclipse will last only five minutes. You can find more information here.
A fireball west of Jacksonville, FL on Saturday, Feb. 21st at 22:59:45 PM EST was detected by two all sky cameras, located in Melbourne, belonging to the Sky Sentinel Network.
The American Meteor Society has a write-up on this fireball at http://www.amsmeteors.org/2015/02/florida-fireball-with-boom/. There were over a hundred eyewitness reports, and the trajectory determined from these agrees fairly well with a crude triangulation performed using the Sky Sentinel videos. These videos and eyewitness reports indicate that the fireball started just east of Lake City and moved NE at about 40,000 miles per hour, burning up about 30 miles west of Jacksonville. The apparent brightness of the meteor permits a crude estimate of about a foot for the object’s diameter, with a weight around 100 pounds.
NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the U.S. has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth objects (NEOs). NASA’s NEO Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. NASA is also pursuing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which will identify, redirect and send astronauts to explore an asteroid. Among its many exploration goals, the mission could demonstrate basic planetary defense techniques for asteroid deflection.
On Monday evening, January 26 from 10 p.m. to midnight CST Marshall scientists will observe the large Asteroid 2004 BL86 as it passes by Earth. The public is welcome to follow their observations via the Marshall Ustream feed
The asteroid will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon, or approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. Scientists have been tracking the path of the asteroid for 11 years and know its orbit well. Asteroid 2004 BL86 will not approach Earth this close again for at least 200 years.
This is a rare opportunity for observation. Hope you will join us as we observe the flyby.