July 1-7 Meteors

July is a month of showers in Tucson. Not only does meteor activity pick up after 6 months of a seasonal lull, but the rains return to the desert after a few months of dry and hot weather. While the rains haven’t arrived yet, they weren’t too far off. The first four nights of the month saw clear skies. The following 3 nights were affected by a brightening Moon, debris clouds from distance thunderstorms and smoke from the Burro fire in the Santa Catalina mountains to the north of us.

The SALSA3 camera system will be operating every night this month, though a few of the nights will be clouded and/or rained out due to the monsoon rains. The clouds may be a real pain during the next few nights due to the Full Moon. Brightly lit clouds have a habit of driving the meteor detection software crazy.

Obs Date(UT)     Time    TOT SPO ANT CAP Oth
SAL 2017-07-07  06h 59m   14  10  1   0   3
SAL 2017-07-06  06h 47m   14  6   0   0   8
SAL 2017-07-05  04h 18m   10  5   1   0   4
SAL 2017-07-04  08h 17m   23  13  3   0   7
SAL 2017-07-03  07h 18m   21  11  0   1   1
SAL 2017-07-02  07h 50m   23  18  1   0   4
SAL 2017-07-01  07h 59m   25  15  1   2   7

SAL - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIS - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors 
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions
CAP - alpha Capricornids
Oth - other minor showers

Bright comets visible this month (July 2017)

One of my responsibilities is being Coordinator of the Comet Section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO), an amateur-professional organization that has been conducting observations of solar system objects for the past 70 years.

Every month I post a review of comets that are visible in binoculars and small telescopes. This month’s review includes information on comets C/2015 V2 (Johnson), C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS), 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1, 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, 71P/Clark and 217P/LINEAR.

Please check out my ALPO Comet Section post about observing the July’s comets.

Note, that if you do observe any of these or other comets, I am interested in your observations for both this blog and the ALPO. You do not need to be a member of the ALPO to contribute though annual membership in the ALPO is relatively affordable (as low as $14) and includes a subscription to a quarterly journal full of scientific articles on solar system objects.

June 25-30 Meteors

This post closes out the month of June for the SALSA3 meteor camera. No data was collected during the final three nights as I was on travel. The MetRec meteor detection software does support autonomous operations so I could have left the system up and running for those nights. But, the computer running the MetRec software is located in a part of the house that is not climate controlled and since temps have been routinely pushing 110F+, I didn’t want to risk damaging the computer.

The number of active showers has exploded over the past few weeks. Most of these showers are minor. Rather than list each shower below, I will only list the more prominent showers in order to declutter the table.

The best meteor during the last week of June was this Sporadic from June 26 at 06:20 UT.

062017

 

Obs Date(UT)     Time    TOT SPO ANT CAP Oth
SAL 2017-06-30  00h 00m        NO DATA 
SAL 2017-06-29  00h 00m        NO DATA
SAL 2017-06-28  00h 00m        NO DATA
SAL 2017-06-27  07h 58m   11  10  0   1   0
SAL 2017-06-26  06h 45m   13  11  0   1   1
SAL 2017-06-25  05h 41m   4   3   0   0   1

SAL - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIS - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors 
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions
CAP - alpha Capricornids
Oth - other minor showers

Aug 14-23 Meteors

It’s been over a week since the peak of the Perseids and overall meteor activity has settled down. This is quite the norm after major showers since their period of high activity only lasts for a few days. It also doesn’t help that the Perseids ramp down more rapidly than they build up. Still background activity during the Summer and Fall is rather high. Much higher than it is during period from January to June when activity is at a low.

Here in Tucson, the monsoon took a break and we had a nice stretch of clear (or mostly clear) nights. About 2/3rds of the meteors these nights are Sporadics meaning they don’t belong to any known shower. A number of minor showers have been steady, yet weak, producers of meteors.

Obs Date(UT)     Time    TOT SPO ANT PER ORI SDA ERI KCG ATR UCE Oth
SAL 2015-08-23  05h 18m   15  7   1   4   1   1   -   1   -   0   0
SAL 2015-08-22  08h 25m   27  20  1   4   1   0   -   1   -   0   0
SAL 2015-08-21  09h 17m   21  9   2   3   3   0   -   1   1   2   0
SAL 2015-08-20  09h 35m   33  20  2   1   2   2   -   2   1   3   0
SAL 2015-08-19  08h 56m   34  19  4   5   1   1   -   1   3   0   0
SAL 2015-08-18  09h 31m   26  17  0   4   0   2   0   0   2   0   0
SAL 2015-08-17  05h 49m   12  5   1   3   0   0   0   1   2   0   0
SAL 2015-08-16  03h 36m   7   3   1   2   -   0   0   1   0   0   0
SAL 2015-08-15  07h 54m   45  19  3   18  -   0   1   2   2   0   0
SAL 2015-08-14  00h 00m            ---- Clouds/Rain ----

SAL - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIS - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors 
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions
PER - Perseids
ORI - Orionids
SDA - Southern Delta Aquariids
COM - Southern Iota Aquariids
ERI - Eridanids
KCG - Kappa Cygnids
ATR - Alpha Triangulids
UCE - Upsilon Cetids
Oth - other minor showers

Happy Perihelion Day, Comet PANSTARRS!

Today (March 10) at 4 hours UT (or GMT) comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) reached perihelion, or the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun. The time of perihelion passage corresponds with 9 pm on the night of March 9 for Tucson (MST -7 hours). At that time PANSTARRS was located at a distance of 0.302 AU from the Sun (28.0 million miles or 45.1 million km) which is ~3.3 times closer to the Sun than the Earth’s average distance and about 1 million km closer to the Sun than Mercury gets. On March 5 it also came as close to the Earth as it will get, a rather distant 1.097 AU (102.0 million miles or 164.1 million km). This is 10% further than the distance between the Earth and Sun.

As the comet rounds the Sun it is quickly heading north. After months of being only visible from south of the Equator, those of us up north will have the comet to ourselves starting this week. Already observers as far north as New Jersey (latitude 40°) have reported seeing the comet. Here in Tucson I tried to find the comet last week but it was still too deep in the bright twilight to see. Now that a recent bout of rain and clouds has moved through I will try again this evening.

The video below by Jay Lawson from Sparks, Nevada (latitude 39.5°) shows what the comet looks like in a small telescope or pair of binoculars (note the video is in black and white so it doesn’t show the true color of the comet and sky).

Another video from Brisbane, Australia back on Feb. 23 gives a good idea of what the comet will look like to naked eye observers. Please note that even though the comet is a very bright magnitude 1.5 and this does place it among some of the brighter comets of the past, it is not an easy object to see. If it were located high up in the night sky it would be unmistakable with a tail many degrees long to the naked eye. Such a well placed comet would even be visible under bright city lights. But Comet PANSTARRS is not located up high in a dark sky but rather close to the horizon against a bright twilight sky. By the time the sky is dark the comet will either have set or will be only a few degrees above the horizon.

Bob King has a great post about PANSTARRS on his blog Astro Bob. He highlights one of the problems of spotting a comet so close to the horizon, especially one in the western sky near the just set Sun. Many reports of PANSTARRS have actually been of distant aircraft contrails. His posting shows the different appearances of the comet versus plane contrails.

Bob also has a nice post with finder charts for locating the comet over the next few weeks.