At 8pm, a decent time of night, the International Space Station passed almost overhead here just north of New York City. (And many locations along the eastern seaboard of the United States, as seen in this graphic from heavens-above.com.)
I took some iPhone video live on facebook. Just because. I don’t see stars in the video, so there’s no reference point for someone to see how the ISS is moving. (I’ll do better next time. I wonder if nightCAP video can go straight to facebook?)
Here’s some photos from my Canon XS on my trusty Manfrotto tripod:
ISS moving toward the horizon. 4 seconds worth of motion at f/3.2 ISO 800 with a 50mm Canon lens.
Nope. Not a peep. It must have missed us. I wouldn’t have made a deal about a possible aurora at G1/G2, a significant, but not a high geomagnetic activity level, but near the equinox, small storms can produce over-performing aurora. But, not if it misses us! Not too many chances during this quiet time of solar minimum. The ISS pass was fantastic. Did you see them wave? (Me neither.)
11am update: All quiet so far. K-index is 1. But the forecast has not changed for a possible geomagnetic storm tonight that could produce aurora visible low in the northern sky as far south as the northern United States. The solar plasma ejection has not reached Earth yet, so the low K-index does not mean it won’t get here.
There is actually a chance for an aurora to be seen this far south Saturday evening. A solar storm will arrive late in the day on Saturday. There are rarely seen this far south, but solar particles can be more likely to slip through the Earth’s magnetic protection field during the equinox.
Here’s forecasts for Saturday night for NYC metro: Clear but windy and cold: Saturday, March 23 at 8pmTemperature: 38 °F Dewpoint: 14 °F Wind Chill: 29 °F Surface Wind: NW 17mph Sky Cover (%): 13% Precipitation Potential (%): 0% Relative Humidity (%): 37% (As of Noon Friday. Check link for updates.)
ISS overflight almost directly overhead at 8pm. Get out a few minutes earlier to see it approach from the (See attached chart, which you can use as a star chart for the evening sky.)
Sunset 7:10pm Really dark by 8:43pm. Moon rise 10:29pm. To try to see an aurora, get outside between when it gets really dark and moonrise. Get to a dark place where you can see the sky, out of lights (and out of the wind). Give yourself 15 minutes to get used to the darkness. Look generally toward the north, or overhead, if the view to the north is blocked. An aurora usually lasts for a while, so don’t worry if you take some minutes to look at the wonderful winter constellations. No optical aid needed. Aurora are often subtle and fickle, so enjoy the rest of the sky, in case you don’t see it.
Mars gets lots of fuss at its closest approaches, but Venus comes closer to Earth. Since we can see surface detail on Mars and it’s visible in the middle of the night, not just before sunrise and after sunset like Venus, its closest approaches are well publicized.
“Indeed, when Earth and Venus are at their closest approach, their separation is roughly 0.28 AU—no other planet gets nearer to Earth. But just as often, the two planets are at their most distant, when Venus is on the side of the Sun opposite Earth, 1.72 AU away.”
I read about this in Sky and Telescope some time ago and mention it from time-to-time in my monthly Heads UP! So, to show an example, I ran calculations from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Horizons Web Interface to get distances from Mercury, Venus and Mars to Earth to plot on a graph. Here’s the graph for a two-year period centered on March 2019.
During this time, Mercury is the closest planet to Earth from February through December 2019, about 11 months. That’s more often than Venus or Mars. Note that Venus is makes the closest approach during this time. Mercury is the closest planet to Earth, not so much because it swings so close to Earth, but because Mars and Venus spend half their orbits further away than Mercury ever gets from Earth. Note: if you do this chart for different ranges of dates, Mercury won’t most often be the closest planet. But, on the whole, Mercury takes the prize. Is that why the authors ran the simulation for thousands of years?
Quite a storm. Fast moving storm. Gaining strength rapidly.
NWS has to go for large snowfall amounts.
If they wait until the storm shows its cards, it’ll be too late to warn us.
8pm Update: The NWS says the high resolution model (HRRR) has been doing well with the rain/snow line in southern NJ.
In their words:
.NEAR TERM /UNTIL 6 AM MONDAY MORNING/...
Made slight adjustments to the forecast this eve, mainly based
on the latest HRRR, which has been handling the snow/rain
transition area very well across southern NJ last few hours.
Based on this, mixed p-type should remain confined to southern
portions of Nassau county and NYC`s south boroughs, Suffolk
County and extreme SE CT. This has impacted snow totals slightly
with up to an inch more accumulation, mainly across SE CT.
Otherwise, Winter Storm Warning remains in effect with a
widespread 5 to 9 inch snowfall expected for the entire region,
highest amounts over the western half of the forecast area
between now and shortly after midnight, and the eastern half of
the area during the second half of the night.
Sunday evening it’s over the southeastern USA, Monday morning it’s all over in NYC. Five to nine inches in NYC and inland, but the rain line could move further inland if the storm wobbles a little left of the rain / snow ‘benchmark’ at 40 degrees north, 70 degrees west. Yes, Rutgers applied meteorology fans, they still use that as a factor for rain vs. snow for the NYC metro area.
Small variation in path will make a big difference in snow amounts.
Lots of moisture, warm air streaming up the coast. Heaviest snowfall after midnight for NYC metro, earlier or later to the south and north east, respectively.
From the National Weather Service forecast technical discussion for NYC from 4:30 Sunday afternoon:
Main uncertainty is with the rain/snow line as models indicate heavy snow just north of it with trends farther north or south with this line making a difference with snowfall amounts. Trends farther north with the low and its warmth aloft will lead to a little less snowfall especially across the coasts whereas a trend farther south, keeps precipitation pretty much all snow with potential for slightly higher snow amounts. The jet stream exhibits phasing of polar and subtropical jets this afternoon into tonight. This is really key with the upcoming system. . . . . [Best forcing] particularly second half of this evening through midnight from Western Long Island and SW Connecticut to farther west. Thereafter that best forcing shifts towards SE Connecticut and Eastern Long Island for overnight through around 4am local time . . . . [Short version: Showers and thunderstorm where the storm forms in the southeast USA add energy to the storm, getting stronger rapidly near Long Island. Local NYC area gets more rising air and heavier rain or snow after midnight. - Original, more detailed discussion continues below: ]
At the surface, low pressure develops in the Southeast US early this evening. There will be a lot of convection down there and that convection allows for latent heat release which will cause subsequent downstream ridging and upstream troughing. The overall effect is to increase baroclinicity with noticeable decreasing wavelength in height patterns aloft. The low is set to deepen by late evening along the Carolina coast and then move northeast offshore of Long Island overnight, eventually settling to a point SE of Cape Cod by early Monday morning. The models deepen the low 10-15mb from 7pm tonight to 7am Monday morning. The 12Z NAM indicates a low track inside of 40N/70W but is also less with the deepening of the low. The result here allows more mid and low level warming for Eastern Long Island with even some rain possible whereas others keep Eastern Long Island colder with more sleet mix with snow as well as some freezing rain. Looking at mesoscale, 12Z HREF indicates a high likelihood of snowfall rates exceeding one inch per hour late this evening through the start of the overnight across the forecast region. This is about the same time the 850-700mb 2-DFrontogenesis maximizes across the whole region as well which is a forcing factor for lift. It shifts east of the region after 4am local time. Still some indications from models of some enhanced lift 4-7am for Southeast Connecticut and Eastern Long Island. Therefore, kept end time of 7am for the Winter Storm Warning.
First – a limited time offer! Mercury is sinking in the western sky right after sunset. The innermost planet had a good showing in late February. It’s not very far from our Sun in the sky, but hanging right above where the sun set, so it’s been a good apparition for the northern hemisphere. By the 5th, Mercury is only five degrees above the horizon 45 minutes after sunset. It’s dimming as it drops, so after the 5th, binoculars are needed.
Jupiter and Saturn are fleeing from the solar glare, low, but are well into the dark morning sky. Venus still blows the rest of the planets away with its brightness, but it’s getting so low, low down among the streetlights. Around mid-month, the three pose equally spaced across the southeastern and southern skies.
Take advantage of the darker skies in the morning to get your telescope out and see what Jupiter looks like to you. Any size telescope is good for aim at the banded planet. What do its bands look like this month? Typically, Jupiter has two darker bands, one north and one south of its pudgy equator. One year, bright ammonium sulfate clouds formed over one band, so it looked like Jupiter only had one stripe. Early reports says the equatorial region has darkened. What do you see? Let us know! During one of your mornings with Jupiter, you might see one or two of Jupiter’s moons making shadows on the planet. The moon itself may appear to be out to the side of the planet at that time because we get a bit sideways with Jupiter, a condition called ‘quadrature’. The Canadian Almanac says two shadow transits at once will occur in the early mornings of March 18th and 25th. You may need three inches or more of telescope aperture to see these satellites’ shadows.
Mars leads the passage of the bright winter stars across the evening sky. Going to daylight time makes Orion and the other constellations seem to take a step backwards. In the fall, the switch back makes the stars seem to rush for the exits sooner.
Guy Ottewell, in his Astronomical Calendar at https://www.universalworkshop.com/astronomical-calendar-any-year/,
points out our Moon, Saturn and Pluto will appear to be within a tight circle
on the 2nd. If you are
spending a spring break in Cancun later in the month, you can point out where Pluto
is on the 29th, when Pluto is passing near or just behind our Moon around
that day. Earlier, our Moon will occult
Saturn for folks in southern Africa.
Speaking of unobservable events, our Moon approaches various
clusters each month. Many almanacs use
our Moon as a pointer to interesting objects.
For its pass by the Beehive on the 17th, the waxing gibbous
Moon will make the bees hard to see
without optical aid, defeating the purpose.
However, it is fun to use a telescope and find the hidden bees even though
our bright Moon is so close by.
The International Space Station is visible in the dawn sky
through the 18th, and for the rest of the month in the evening. Have you seen the United States Air Force space
plane OTV-5? It’s visible to the unaided
eye, but it’s not very bright in our skies.
Based on long-range projections, mid-month will be the best time for
evening sky viewing. See it to get
astronomical and spy tech bragging rights.
Changes in solar ‘wind’ strength and its effects on our Earth’s tenuous
but tenacious upper atmosphere can change satellites orbits with time. Check
heavens-above.com or your favorite satellite spotting app for updates. The Air
Force launched the OTV-5 in September 2017, and the Air Force changes OTV’s
orbit from time to time and could bring it back to a gliding landing at any
This month’s full Moon is on the 20th, just 25 hours after lunar perigee. It’s not a very close perigee, as our Moon is 1,500 miles further away than February, with our Moon made its closest approach for the year. March’s full Moon is 3,400 miles further away than last month’s ‘supermoon’ full Moon.
Daylight time begins Sunday morning, March 10th. It moves the sunrise forward an hour by the clock, making our morning planet-viewing time more accessible to everyone. Look out for some clear mornings after the time shift! Plan ahead by reviewing long-range forecasts or computer models for when a big high-pressure system may settle over us, or, even better (but typically briefer), when a tropical warm front brings stable, but perhaps hazy, air our way.
The passing of solar system objects near our Sun in our skies should be an unobservable event, but, you, intrepid reading of blogs, may already know our secret for actually viewing these events; we can ‘cheat’ by using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO is designed to look for faint solar wind phenomena near our Sun, which is exciting all by itself. The pages with the SOHO solar viewer is at https://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime-images.html .
The SOHO spacecraft is a million miles from Earth in the direction of the Sun, and doesn’t have to deal with pesky things like atmospheric turbulence or our Moon photobombing the shot. This kind of photo is hard to take from Earth, unless you have a total solar eclipse (next in the USA in 2024!), which is a good kind of lunar photobombing.
In March 2019, Mercury, Neptune and minor planet Vesta pass through the widest viewing frame, known as C3. The United States’ Navy Research Laboratory has a finder chart for these passes (for some reason, the site is not listed as secure by our browsers, so you may want to skip following this link until we find out what’s going on there): https://sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil/index.php?p=transits/transits_2019 . But, I’ve borrowed the graphic for 2019, right here:
We start today with a new moon, and we’ll wait a few days
for the banana moon to appear and ripen.
In the meantime. . .
The early morning sky looks like someone pulled the fire alarm. Jupiter is soaring out to the upper right of Venus bailing to the exit to the lower left. Saturn is staggering in from the lower left, as if bewildered. It’s all happening low in the southeastern sky, to the right of where the sun will rise. Folks further south will have a better view of the proceedings. The sunrise time will keep moving later, more rapidly as the month progresses, so it’s a good idea to check this scene out while you’re still starting your day in the dark.
The best evenings to see the International Space Station flying over the tri-state area will be on the 7th and the 8th. The ISS will appear to pass almost overhead on those dates. On the 10th, the ISS will pass near the Moon and Mars just before 6pm. The sky will be pretty bright at that time. Get out early and find our Moon, then Mars, then watch that area for the ISS. That’s likely to be the best strategy for stalking the station that night. Go to heavens-above.com for a full list of sightings and to get details on the path the ISS will take through our evening twilight skies. The evening passes end on the 12th. The ISS joins the morning fun starting the 20th.
Mars still stands high in the evening sky, like a party
guest that has nothing much to offer (it’s hard to see any details in most of
our telescopes), but refuses to leave.
The Moon comes by on the 10th to remind Mars of better days. See how early after sunset you can find Mars
with our Moon as a pointer. Mars makes
itself useful by passing a degree from Uranus on the 13th. Uranus appears about half the width of Mars in
a telescope and the color contrast – reddish/blueish – could be very nice.
Mercury doesn’t get far from the Sun, but in contrast to the
shallow sky in the morning, its trip up from the horizon is almost vertical. It’ll be Mercury’s best evening sighting for
the year for the northern hemisphere. Greatest elongation is on the 26th
at 18 degrees east of (following) the Sun.
After that, Mercury appears to tail off the right as it swings back
toward the solar glare. Get a preview of
Mercury in the SOHO spacecraft’s C3 view now through the 9th.
More about the morning – From the 17th though the
20th, Saturn tries to recreate the super sight of January’s view of Jupiter
with Venus. Saturn is 2½ magnitudes
dimmer than Jupiter, so the Saturn/Venus conjunction will not be quite as spectacular
as Jupiter/Venus was. Our Moon, Venus
and Saturn group up in the morning sky in early March. In the meantime, see if
you can get a selfie with the Jupiter/Venus/Saturn planetary arc, especially
later in the month.
Due to the way the IAU set the boundaries of the
constellations, Jupiter is not in a zodiac constellation this year – it’ll be
in Ophiuchus (I pronounce it ‘that harder-to-see constellation above
Make sure you get a look at the superest Moon of 2019! The closest Full Moon of the year occurs on
the 19th just four hours after the closest lunar perigee of the year
about 5am. This should make for some
great photos of the setting Moon that morning.