When it’s too cold – Astronomy through the Window

Windchill numbers too scary?

Can you see out to the southeast from your window at home?

Or, when warming up your car, can you point it toward the southeast and watch through the windshield?

Turn off interior lights and look for the ‘double star system’ about a third of the way above the horizon.  That’s Jupiter and Mars!  They will be closest together on Saturday morning, but they’ll be near enough to each other to excite your eye/brain visual synthesis process through next week.

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The Moon stops by Jupiter and Mars on Thursday – good photo op!  Saturn will climb out of the solar glare and join Mercury later next week.

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While you’re at it, you may be able to pick out Mercury, well to the lower left of the Jupiter/Mars pair. Antares is the bright star also in the view.  This is a good chance to see Mercury, but it’s easier to see from outside if you can find a spot without the clutter of bushes, trees and telephone poles.

Where’s southeast?  It’s the direction near where the sun comes up in the morning.

Can you do astronomy from inside? Perhaps!  Once you are properly bundled up, it’s easier to do outside, but sometimes the southeast window is all you need.

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Bombing off Broadway

If you ‘bomb’ on Broadway, you’re a flop. If you ‘bomb’ in the world of cyclones – you’re growing to be a super storm.  And today, we have an historic storm ‘bombing’ off the eastern coast of the USA.

There’s too much to talk about!

Pressure is falling rapidly and starting to bounce up and down as the pressure waves ripple outward from the storm.

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And, what’s this sprinkle of yellow on the hi-def airport radar at JFK?

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I don’t know, but as it approaches us here just north of NYC, the winds have become fiercer and the snow is falling rapidly.

Sustained winds at JFK airport and at offshore buoys are in the range for tropical storms.

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The storm deepens quickly and moves away quickly.

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Then, the cold arrives! As we go from blue to pink.

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Winter Storm Coming, Followed by Extreme Cold Weather

Winter Storm Warnings in effect for Thursday along the coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts, with Blizzard Warnings for coastal Mass. and Maine.

Winter storm watch for the Philadelphia and NYC metro areas.

This storm will be very strong, but mostly offshore.

So, for the I-95 corridor, high winds will extend inland, making any snowfall much worse for travel.  The amount of snow will depend on how large the storm gets and how quickly.   Also, a wobble a bit further from the coast – little to no snow for inland areas.  A wobble a bit more toward us – up to a foot of snow on the I-95 corridor.  Best bet is 4 to 6 inches for NYC and areas to the north and south.  More to the east, out on Long Island and over Connecticut.   Less further inland.        Follow the link for updates.

Timing

While the NWS puts out hour-by-hour forecasts, it’s more fun to use the aviation forecasts.  But they need a bit of decoding:

KLGA 031739Z 0318/0424 21004KT P6SM FEW250
FM032200 18004KT P6SM SCT170
FM040100 05006KT P6SM SCT025 BKN150
FM040500 07006KT P6SM SCT015 BKN025
TEMPO 0406/0408 1SM -SN SCT010 OVC020
FM040800 03007KT 1SM -SN SCT008 OVC015
FM040900 01011G17KT 1/2SM SN SCT003 OVC008
FM041500 34020G28KT 1/2SM SN SCT003 OVC008
FM042100 31020G35KT 2SM -SN OVC025
FM042300 31020G33KT 5SM BLSN OVC040

Translation:

Forecast for Laguardia Airport in NYC, from Jan 03 18Z through Jan 04 24Z (2pm today through midnight Friday morning).

Snow on and off from 06Z (1am Thursday) to 08Z (3am)

Steady snow starting about 3am, becoming moderate snow (half an inch to an inch an hour) from 4am through 4pm.

Notice the winds increasing from 7 knots (8miles per hour) to 13 mph to 23mph gusting to 40 and not letting up.

Snow ends Thursday evening, but strong winds and much colder temperatures follow – the coldest of the season so far – through Sunday morning.

Model’s outputs:

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Big storm to form off the US Northeast Coast

The NWS has increased forecast snow totals for Thursday’s storm.

They have repeated they can’t rule out a major (10 to 12 inch) snow storm for NYC and eastward.  The latest computer forecast model sends even more snow our way.

 

 

Today, the National Weather Service has advisories out for winter storm warnings from northern Florida through North Carolina. Winter storm watches are in effect from Virginia through Long Island into New England.

US

The purple in Texas ain’t roses – they are freeze warnings, all the way to the mouth of the Rio Grande.

The NYC metro area is forecast to be on the edge of the snow early Thursday, so stay tuned to the forecasts.  Note that the upper end of the forecasts (10% chance) of 10 to 12 inches for the NYC metro area.

This storm has been watched closely by the NWS as a chunk of energy will round the loop of the jet stream already expected to be in place over the eastern United States.  This area will increase the spin in the atmosphere and tap the warm waters off the coast, in addition to energy from the large difference between the warm air over the ocean and the frigid air over the land.  All this builds a monster storm.

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Map of winds (lines and flags) and energy (colors) in the middle of the atmosphere for Thursday afternoon.  The flags show where the wind is coming from.

See the bulb off the jet stream off the Virginia coast – the change in color is where the storm will develop the most.  If it melded into the larger dip in the jet stream, it would likely produce a superstorm for the east coast.  But it seems to want to hang out by itself and keep the bulk of this massive storm off the coast.

Notice where the jet stream comes from – the far reaches of Arctic Canada – that will bring another, even colder shot of cold air for the eastern USA after this storm.

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Storm forming – 9am Thursday morning.

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See how the storm strengthens by Thursday afternoon!

A bit late for the supermoon. . .

I was a little late for the supermoon – about 12 hours after full moon (hey, it’s cold outside and it takes a while to put on all those layers 😉

So here’s some photos from moon-set over Ardsley this morning.

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Cropped from 250mm zoom lens shot. Auto levels in Photoshop elements 15 makes the both the tree to the right and the details on the moon visible.

Can get detail on the moon (next photo)

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. . . or the scenery in twilight.  Hard to get both at once.

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Wide view (18mm zoom lens) of downtown Ardsley and the setting moon at dawn.

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Heads UP! for January 2018

Supermoon: Again? So Soon?

The full Moon on the evening of January 1st is the largest and brightest full Moon of 2018. The Moon is closest to the Earth for January just four hours before full Moon. The Moon gets some extra lighting as the Earth/Moon system is closest to the Sun for the year 28 hours later.

Moon rise on the evening of January 4th may have a surprise for the unwary with the bright star Regulus very close to the Moon that night. Regulus may even be visible in bright twilight on the morning of the 5th, as the proximity of the Moon will make it easier to spot.

A second full Moon in January occurs on the 31st, 23 hours after perigee. Beware of larger than normal tides around and after these January lunar perigees, especially if a nor’easter comes along.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to listen to ‘supermoon’ talk in February – there are no full Moons in February.

Morning Sky Sights

Jupiter and Mars do their best to stand out in the pre-dawn sky.  They will be less than a degree apart for several days around the 6th; go out and compare them in the same telescopic field!  The Moon poses with them on the 11th.

Mercury starts off the year brightly at magnitude -0.3, low in the southeast in morning twilight.  Go to the lower left of Jupiter and Mars by about three fist widths to find Mercury very low on the horizon.

In a reversal of usual form, use Mercury to find Saturn ½ degree apart on the 13th. Saturn has about the same total brightness, but it looks larger.  With its brightness spread over a larger area, the surface brightness is lower.  They’ll be about 10 degrees to the lower left of the thin Moon, which joins them on the 14th and 15th.

Out of sight! 

Venus is in conjunction with the Sun on the 9th and out of view for the month. So is Pluto, on the 8th.  Venus will be visible in the SOHO C3 instrument  

but not Pluto.

Jupiter Moon Tricks

Jupiter’s moons do some interesting tricks in the early morning of the 19th. After Jupiter rises about 2:10am, three of its four brightest moons will be visible. From 2:40 to 4:55, Europa’s tiny shadow will be visible on Jupiter’s cloudtops, joined by Ganymede’s shadow starting at 4:43. Europa will blend into Jupiter’s clouds by 4:56am. Io will reappear from behind Jupiter at 5:08am. The Great Red Spot also crosses the disk, visible an hour or so either side of 5:39am. Sunrise is 7:16am.

It’s a Lunar Eclipse, but it’s Short

Westchester gets a brief lunar eclipse with the Moon entering the Earth’s shadow at 6:48am on the 31st. The Moon sets around 7am, so it’s a short eclipse low in the west-northwest (2 degrees above the horizon, 290 degree azimuth). It’s better as you go further west.   See https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/white-plains for an animation of the event.

From the Moon’s point of view, we are just about say ‘bye-bye’ as we rotate out of view:

earth from moon eclipse jan 2018

It’s the only lunar or solar eclipse in 2018 for the 50 United States.

Dark Mornings to Brighten Soon

The Sun’s latest sunrise of the year is on the 4th, so mornings will start getting noticeable brighter by the end of January.  This month, sunset will move 44 minutes later from the time of earliest sunset back in early December.

Aurora?

The Sun has been very quiet lately, with no visible sunspots for 100 days in 2017.  Some holes in the solar corona allow streams of charged particles to escape, inducing bright aurora in our polar skies from time to time. Some have been seen this far south.  Links to prediction sites:

http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/NorthAmerica/20171219

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-3-day-forecast

Meteors are a Washout

The Quadrantids meteor shower peaks on the evening of the 3rd, but is washed out by the bright Moon.

Find the ISS!

The International Space Station is visible in the pre-dawn skies through the 17th and the evening skies from the 23rd into mid-February.

 

Solar Eclipse August 21 2017 – just for the record

I can’t find any write-up on my blog about the solar eclipse.

At the time, there was so much commotion following the eclipse, with most of my posting done on the Westchester Astronomers site.  So, here’s some of my reactions and photos. The October 2017 WAA newsletter has many remembrances of the eclipse. Please feel free to add links to your own summaries in the comments!

Total Solar Eclipse:  Clemson University, South Carolina

With less than ten minutes until totality, one of the towering cumulus clouds that had been threatening to overshadow us moved in front of the Sun and Moon.  Since we had discussed my background in meteorology, eyes turned toward me and I silently cursed myself for not timing how long that cloud took to cross the Sun/Moon. As I scanned the skies, I muttered something about how sacrificing meteorologists as an offering to the weather gods was not proven to be effective at holding off clouds.  Finally, I said the next set of clouds were far enough east of us to hold off until well after totality.

Then the darkness arrived as if someone dropped a box over us.  The air felt like we were sitting in front of an air conditioner.  The corona flashed into feathery brilliance.  The circular inner corona had details that made me wish I could draw.  The spiky outer corona was dimmer, but easy to see.

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Canon XS f/11 0.6 seconds zoom lens at 55mm ISO-200. Lightly processed with auto levels.

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Cropped from wider scene above.  The dot to the upper left is the bright star Regulus in Leo.

Venus, to my right, was as bright as I’ve ever seen it, gleaming and seemingly out of place in the suddenly dark, blue daytime sky.  I didn’t see Jupiter to my left – I think it was covered by the oncoming cloud.

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Cropped from slightly larger view of eclipsed sun with Venus to lower right. Nikon Coolpix S7000 f/3.4 1/20 seconds ISO-800, 4mm focal length.

My 8×25 binoculars provided excellent views, taking in the whole corona in wonderful detail.  Regulus was easily visible to the upper left of the corona.  All too soon, a pink rim appeared around the western side of the lunar limb. “It’s the photosphere,” I shouted. (Of course, it was the chromosphere, but I did correctly describe it as the dimmer layer above the blinding surface layer we typically see.)   I thought ‘wow, totality really does go by fast.’ At the 2, 3 and 5 o’clock positions pink prominences stood out from the Sun. In binoculars, the 3 o’clock prominence appeared like tiny pink Slinky toy arcing over the dark limb of the Moon.  The 5 o’clock prominence intensified until it looked like a red laser beam gleaming in the sky. (I wish I knew which lunar canyon that was shining through.) The pink lights seemed to cling to the side of the Moon forever. To think I had thought the show was over!

Finally, a pure white intense ‘diamond ring’ occurred, brighter than I thought was possible. I missed any ‘Baily’s Beads’ as I turned away from the sunlight shooting through the gap at 5 o’clock where just seconds ago the pink prominence was so bright. The grass turned orange again as it had just before totality. Some people described the shadows as sharper; they just looked abnormal to me, beyond my ability to describe. Families with small children ran under the trees shouting joyously among the projections of delicately thin crescents. IMG_1340 (2)

A few minutes later, I heard the calliope of cicadas. They had been making a racket all day, but I realized I hadn’t heard them during totality.  The clouds that had threatened us dissipated and stayed away for a half hour after totality.  I had planned to get some better photos during the second half of the eclipse, but I sat under the trees and reviewed my photos from the Canon XS and Carol’s Nikon Coolpix and the movies from my iPhone and Galaxy Tab.

Clemson University did a wonderful job. Clemson is used to dealing with large (think 50,000 football fans) crowds. I took them up on their offer to set up my tripods in the Carillon Gardens. When I showed up, I showed them my email and got a VIP badge. We had a view of the terraced landscape with crowds of people with and below us. In our section, skill levels ranged from seasoned observers (with solar scopes and up to 11-inch telescopes) to young families that settled in for the shade around the edges of the Gardens. Everyone was gracious and shared views and information, even the guy with several cameras feeding into a computer screen shielded by a cardboard box who let me know the timings when I tended toward sensory overload.

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I met some fascinating people on the train from DC and back that night. Thank you, Amtrak! The trains left late but we had plenty of time to spare. Thanks for the Amtrak bus from Greenville, and the CATbus at Clemson.

One more word – thank you, Westchester Astronomers, for eclipse glasses. Friends, family and co-workers were thrilled to see the partial phases and share in the experience of the eclipse across America in New York, Philadelphia, DC, California and who-knows-where the glasses went!

My notes from right after the eclipse:Scan_20171228