Guide for WAA Starway to Heaven for July 2015

Ward Ridge Reservation, Pound Ridge, NY

Sunset: 828pm Astronomical Twilight ends: 1032pm

Venus is easiest to find, even though it’s low in the west where the sky is brightest. In a telescope, Venus gets larger and skinnier at the same time. Find Venus as soon as you can in the twilight sky –it’s easier to see the crescent phase. Jupiter (from the Earth’s point of view) is nearby, much fainter, hanging out together low in the western evening twilight sky. This month is the last chance to see the pair in the evening sky.

Saturn is found in the southern sky, highest just after dark. Its rings are tilted wide open. Take a few good looks to enjoy this masterpiece of our Solar System. First, notice the rings, then look at the planet’s disk and look for the faint cloud bands (compare to Jupiter’s more prominent cloud bands). Then look for a dot nearby – a few ring widths away from the planet – that’s Saturn’s largest moon – Titan. Now look more closely at the rings. Are the main rings slightly different shades of white? The planet’s shadow is just visible on part of the rings near Saturn’s disk. Crank up the power and look for details.

The Moon is still in the morning sky, so we won’t see it tonight.

On July 14th, the New Horizons spacecraft will sweep past Pluto at 13.8 km /sec (31,000 miles per hour). Pluto is hard to find even when you know where to look, another faint sparkle with lots of Milky Way stars behind it. But this month Pluto is served up on a teaspoon. Look to the upper left of the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to see the group of stars which looks like a teaspoon, and Pluto (and its visitor, the New Horizons spacecraft) is there at the tip of the spoon, so we can point in the right direction when we root for our Pluto-Charon/Kuiper Belt spacecraft.

There’s another dwarf planet being visited by a space probe – the Dawn spacecraft is orbiting the largest member of the asteroid belt, Ceres. Ceres is in the same part of the sky as Pluto, skimming across the lid of the teapot this month at magnitude +7.5. Use a chart to see it in good binoculars and telescopes of all sizes.

The International Space Station is visible in the pre-dawn , but many other satellites and rocket stages are visible all night as the Sun stays close enough to the horizon for satellites to be visible all night in July. Tonight, the Chinese space station Tiangong 1makes a pass overhead, entering our sky from near Jupiter’s location about 935pm.

And, that’s just the objects in our solar system!

Link to a good star chart for July to find everything else…. http://skymaps.com/downloads.html

Venus in the daytime

This month, Venus is getting as far from the Sun as possible, so it’s time to try to find Venus in the daytime sky.  Venus is the third brightest object in our skies, after the Sun and our Moon.  Jupiter is fourth brightest these days.  Using my astronomy programs on my hand-held, I used the live view to point my telescope in the right direction.  Venus is very bright, but not visible in the daytime without optical aid, unless you know exactly where to look, so pointing my wide-view finder scope in the direction my live view points me to.

I found Venus, but not Jupiter today.  Venus was very tiny, but so bright I was able to find it after about 15 minutes of searching. Jupiter must have blended into the bright skies and high thin clouds.  I did find a shiny red balloon reflecting the afternoon sun, racing away through the air while searching for Jupiter.  Here’s the photo through the 8-inch telescope, which gives an idea of how tiny Venus looks.  It’ll get larger over the next few months as Venus gets closer to us, but it will go from just a bit more than half-lit to a crescent.  Click to see full size. Then come back and see an enlarged version with less glare to see how Venus is at the half-lit phase.

IMG_8425

IMG_8426 cropped

Cold front reminds us winter ain’t over yet

Clear skies for the moment this Sunday afternoon belies a warm front to be dragged through our area by a low pressure system passing through southern Canada tonight.  The warm front will squeeze some moisture out of the cold air ahead of the front, which will fall as snow Monday morning.

It won’t amount to much – perhaps an intense-looking snow fall amounting to very little if any accumulation – followed by the warm front changing snow to rain, and could push afternoon temperatures to the 50s – near normal for this time of year.

Next, temperatures will dip on Tuesday, with some snow showers late Tuesday and overnight, ending by Wednesday morning.

The end of Holy Week will have rain showers and warmer temperatures as low pressure lingers over the eastern US – perhaps clearing out for Easter Sunday.

One more time – Friday mid-morning

For Fri, Mar 20….

This is a classic storm forming off the Carolina coast and moving up off the northeast seaboard.

Here’s the factors at play….

  • The computer forecast models like to make a storm of this situation, but differ on the results
  • The major question is how long the cold-enough for snow air stays over our area.
  • For the NYC area, the NWS’ best forecast is for snow, beginning in earnest after the Friday morning commute, changing to rain. The forecast is for staying all snow to the north and west, but less precip because they will be further from the storm there, so the snowfall amounts to about the same everywhere, with inland locations getting 2 to 5 inches, a bit less by the coast.

See http://www.weather.gov/okx/winter for the latest details and links to other areas in the northeast.

As the NWS says in the forecast discussion…where they like a point my brother Dan makes about heavier precip rates mean precip falling from colder air further up and more likely to be snow.

CONFIDENCE NOT AS HIGH AS WE WOULD LIKE FOR FRI INTO SAT.
TYPICALLY THESE LATE SEASON EVENTS CAN THROW A LOT OF COMPLICATING
FACTORS INTO MIX AND THIS IS NO EXCEPTION...INCLUDING HIGHER SUN
ANGLE AND AMOUNT OF LOW LEVEL WARMING AND POTENTIAL FOR AN
ISOTHERMAL ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH PRECIPITATION TYPE BECOMES VERY
DEPENDENT ON INTENSITY

Saturday Feb 21 – Saturday evening/Sunday morning snow/freezing rain event

The forecast challenge is how fast the warm air will come up the east coast and change the snow to rain.  If the cold air holds on at the surface, some of the rain will freeze on already-frigid surfaces.

From the Saturday morning NYC NWS office forecast discussion:

http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=OKX&issuedby=OKX&product=AFD&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1&highlight=off

The NWS was expecting the highest amount of snow and freezing rain from NE NJ though the Hudson Valley into SW CT, but that axis is forecast further east now…..

GENERAL EXPECTATION IS A 1 TO 4 INCH SNOWFALL ACROSS NYC/LONG
ISLAND WITH A GLAZE TO A FEW HUNDREDTHS OF AN INCH OF ICE...AND A
3-7 INCH SNOWFALL ELSEWHERE...HEAVIEST ACROSS INTERIOR PORTIONS OF
S CT. ALSO OUTSIDE OF NYC AND LONG ISLAND...THERE WILL BE A BAND
OF UP TO A TENTH OF AN INCH OF ICE IN A CORRIDOR RUNNING FROM NE
NJ INTO SW CT...AND UP TO A GLAZE TO A FEW HUNDREDTHS OF AN INCH
ICE ELSEWHERE...EXCEPT FOR ORANGE COUNTY...WHICH LOOKS TO REMAIN
ONLY SNOW AT THIS TIME.

The storm ends rapidly with the passage of a cold front whipped around the storm, midday Sunday.

ANOTHER THEME IN THE 00Z [7pm Friday computer model forecasts ] 
SOLUTIONS...ONE THAT BUILDS IN THE
TRENDS FROM LAST NIGHT...IS THAT THE PRECIPITATION SHOULD COME TO
AN END FAIRLY RAPIDLY ON SUNDAY FROM NW TO SE...BASED ON A FASTER
TIMING OF THE COLD FRONT MOVING THROUGH.

Then more deep freeze for the northeast, followed by a storm passing off the eastern seaboard Tuesday night/Wednesday.

The computer models are moving the storm further away from the east coast with each run, but recently….

TUESDAY NIGHT INTO WEDNESDAY...LARGE DIFFERENCES REMAIN AMONGST THE
GLOBAL MODELS. THE GFS REMAINS WELL OFFSHORE BUT THE 12Z/20 EC
PASSES JUST OUTSIDE THE BENCHMARK WITH AN INVERTED TROUGH AFFECTING
THE REGION. 00Z/21 EC HAS TRENDED TOWARDS THE GFS...BUT AT THIS
POINT DO NOT WANT TO MAKE HUGE CHANGES TO THE FORECAST SINCE THIS
SCENARIO HAS BEEN OCCURRING ALL WINTER WHERE A COASTAL LOW SHIFTS
OFFSHORE AND THEN COMES BACK A FEW RUNS LATER DUE TO THE DIFFICULTY
THE MODELS HAVE WITH PHASING NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN STREAM ENERGY.
THEREFORE...HAVE NOT MADE WHOLESALE CHANGES TO THE FORECAST AT THIS
POINT. CHANCE SNOW REMAINS TUE NIGHT THROUGH WED AS AN ALBERTA
CLIPPER PASSES NORTH OF THE AREA AND A SHORT WAVE PASSES SOUTH OF
THE AREA. STAY TUNED.

And then….

WEDNESDAY NIGHT THROUGH FRIDAY...YET ANOTHER ARCTIC SURGE WILL CLOSE
OUT THIS EXTREMELY COLD MONTH OF FEBRUARY WITH TEMPS AVERAGING AT
LEAST 15 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL.

Wonderful gathering of Venus and Mars, with the Moon passing by

Friday evening….. Freezing cold! Hands hurt so much I only lasted 35 minutes outside, and it’s hard to work a camera in gloves at 13 degrees and a wind, but not using the gloves was out of the question.

But the very thin moon was close to brilliant Venus and much dimmer Mars. And when we look closer at the photos, there are more surprises.

Moon, Venus and Mars 250mm telephoto lens at f/9 ISO-800 1 sec.
Moon, Venus and Mars 250mm telephoto lens at f/9 ISO-800 1 sec.

The earthshine on the moon was wonderful, but click on the photo to see it full size and look for details – near the bright limb of the moon is a star that the moon eclipsed just a few minutes before this photo was taken. Look at the south pole (lower left) of the moon and the white dot – a lunar mountain top standing up into the rising sun on the moon.  Up in the sunlight, it might be a good location for solar collectors for a lunar colony some day.

Here’s a slightly longer exposure showing the sunlit lunar mountain and the star near the moon.

IMG_7294 moon with earthshine

Here’s a view showing how the gathering of the planets looked in the western sky…. at this exposure, the color difference between bluer Venus and reddish Mars is easier to see.

Canon XS on tripod 50mm lens, f/2 2 second exposure at ISO 200.
Canon XS on tripod 50mm lens, f/2 2 second exposure at ISO 200. Click to enlarge to full size.

When will the Northeast see temperatures above freezing again?

Not until at least after next Wednesday.

From the National Weather Service, NYC office’s forecast discussion

http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=OKX&issuedby=OKX&product=AFD&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1&highlight=off

THE BIGGEST ISSUE TO DEAL WITH OVER THIS TIME-FRAME WILL BE THE
VERY COLD TEMPERATURES...WITH TEMPERATURES EXPECTED TO RANGE FROM
15 TO 25 DEGREES BELOW NORMAL FROM FRIDAY THROUGH MONDAY. DURING
THIS TIME...EVEN THE WARMER AREAS IN AND AROUND NEW YORK CITY WILL
STRUGGLE TO REACH 20 DEGREES AND OVERNIGHT LOWS WILL LIKELY DIP
INTO THE SINGLE DIGITS EACH NIGHT OVER THE WEEKEND IN THE
CITY...AND LIKELY DROP TO AT OR BELOW ZERO OUTSIDE OF THE CITY.
THIS... COMBINED WITH PREDOMINANTLY WINDY CONDITIONS WILL RESULT
IN DANGEROUSLY COLD WIND CHILLS BOTH SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
NIGHTS...WITH WIND CHILLS OF 10 TO 20 BELOW ZERO.
THERE WILL BE THREE CHANCES FOR SNOW DURING THIS TIME. THE FIRST
WILL BE THURSDAY AND THURSDAY NIGHT WITH A CLIPPER TYPE SYSTEM.
THE LOW QUICKLY INTENSIFIES OFF THE COAST THURSDAY NIGHT...
BUT....KEEPS THE HEAVIER PRECIPITATION OFF TO OUR
EAST. EXPECT 1-2 INCHES ACROSS WESTERN SECTIONS AND 2-4 EAST WHERE
THEY COULD REMAIN ON THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPITATION SHIELD A BIT
LONGER.

THE SECOND OPPORTUNITY WILL BE OVER THE WEEKEND...WITH ANOTHER
CLIPPER TYPE SYSTEM THAT INTENSIFIES AS IT REACHES THE MID-
ATLANTIC COAST...THIS SYSTEM WILL HAVE THE
POTENTIAL TO BE A LITTLE MORE SUBSTANTIAL. THIS HAS
THE POTENTIAL TO BE A MORE SIGNIFICANT SYSTEM FOR OUR AREA THAN
THE ONE THURSDAY AND THURSDAY NIGHT.

THE FINAL OPPORTUNITY WILL BE AT THE TAIL END OF THE FORECAST
PERIOD NEXT TUESDAY. [warm air comes] UP ALONG THE
EASTERN SEABOARD AHEAD OF A DEVELOPING LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM ALONG
THE GULF STATES. THIS WILL RESULT IN A WARMING TREND...BUT WE
START OUT SO COLD THIS WEEKEND THAT IT WILL STILL BE COLD ENOUGH
FOR SNOW AT THE ONSET.

Boston?

Don’t ask….from the Boston NWS office….

.LONG TERM /THURSDAY THROUGH TUESDAY/...
*/ HIGHLIGHTS...

 - TEMPERATURES AVERAGING BELOW-NORMAL FOR MUCH OF THE FORECAST
 - WINTER STORM NUMBER 1: THURSDAY INTO FRIDAY
 - WINTER STORM NUMBER 2: SATURDAY INTO SUNDAY

What more could you ask for?  (At least there’s a high amount of uncertainty about how bad these storms will be….so far.)

cue dramatic music

fade to white.