Last December 13, I went to the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory in U.P. Diliman to observe the peak of the 2010 Geminid Meteor Shower with my amateur astronomy group, the University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (U.P. AstroSoc).
When I came at around 11:00 PM, about 50 people were already at the Sun Deck of the observatory. Everyone was enthusiastically waiting for the bright Geminid meteors despite the growing chance of an overcast sky. The other guests set up their personally-owned telescopes to view the Great Orion Nebula and other deep-sky objects not blocked by clouds.
Amidst the 40% cloudy sky, the constellation Gemini where the meteors seemed to radiate from could be seen at ~40 degrees above the northeastern horizon. In the west, bright Jupiter and the First Quarter Moon were already about to set. The pair looked beautiful as they went lower in the horizon and become partially covered behind the tree tops.
As moonlight disappeared, the sky become darker and more favorable for meteor watching. Four big and bright fireballs zoomed across the sky before midnight. 😀 Unlike other meteor showers, the Geminids can appear almost anywhere in the night sky, making them fairly easy to spot.
However, this short-lived outburst was soon replaced with an overcast sky which lasted until about 2:00 AM. During this time, I took the chance to go online and update my twitter status regarding our observation (I was able to do this thanks to Sun Broadband plug-it!). Several groups locally and internationally were also sharing their meteor counts and meteor watching experience. Below is a screenshot showing some of my tweets during that time.
As what I have noted there, the Observation and Instrumentation Cluster (ObsIn) of U.P. AstroSoc kept a record of the tally* of the number of meteors seen every hour during the Geminids observation.
Limiting Magnitude**: ~4.0
Dec. 13, 2010
22:00 – 23:00 —— 27
23:01 – 24:00 —— 29
Dec. 14, 2010
00:01 – 01:00 —– overcast sky
01:01 – 02:00 —– overcast sky
02:01 – 03:00 —– 20 (with one green fireball!)
03:01 – 04:00 —– 2
04:00 – 05:00 —– 0
prepared by: Francis Bugaoan and Carlo Selabao
* This report just shows the number of meteors seen.Values listed above are the max. number of meteors observed within each time frame which means that it includes all meteors seen by at least one person. These are not the computed Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of the meteor shower.
** This is used to evaluate the quality of observing conditions. It tells the magnitude of the faintest star visible to the unaided eye
By around 2:00 AM, clouds began to moved away which allowed us to continue on our meteor counting. One green fireball which crossed the northwest sky appeared like a falling big blob of light. 😀 Everyone cheered happily upon seeing it. It lasted for about 5 seconds before disappearing into view.
More than an hour later, Venus which is now a “morning star” lit up the eastern horizon together with Saturn, Spica and Arcturus. Gemini was then past the zenith while my favorite Winter Triangle was already in the west.
Because of this beautiful pre-dawn sky, U.P. AstroSoc members took the opportunity to lead the guests into a star-hopping activity to familiarize them with these celestial objects and the constellations.
As sunrise approached, one member noticed a rarely seen atmospheric phenomenon called the Belt of Venus. It is an arch of pinkish band above the shadow that Earth casts on the atmosphere opposite the sunrise or sunset. It is best visible when the atmosphere is cloudless, yet very dusty, just after sunset or just before sunrise. The arch’s pink color is due to backscattering of reddened light from the rising or setting Sun.
We finished our observation at around 6:00 AM. A lot of the guest observers who came by told us that they enjoyed the meteor counting, as well as the stargazing activities and they’re looking forward to the next meteor shower observation.
Despite the cloudy weather, I was surprised that the Geminids still gave us a fairly spectacular cosmic show. Truly, this shower never fails to live up its reputation as the best meteor shower.
As what I have written in a previous post, I love the month of October when it comes to skygazing 😀 It is mainly because during this month, my favorite Orion Constellation family starts become prominent in the evening sky, and the sky is fairly clear. However, several typhoons hit the northern part of the Philippines — where I reside — during last month. It even rained during the peak of the famous Orionid Meteor Shower that most people where not able to observe it. Global Warming and Climate Change might have really changed today’s weather patterns. 😦
Good thing, a friend was able to go to a beautiful island located in the southern part of the country and he shared his experience of seeing the stunning view of the starry sky there.
Bohol is one of the most popular tourist destination in the Philippines with its nice beaches and numerous attractions like The Chocolate Hills, The Philippines Tarsier, a number of very old churches (dating back to the early years of the Spanish colonization), historical monuments, caves, waterfalls, and more. But apart from these, what I personally love most about this place is its nice beautiful night sky (which I have just seen through photographs :P). I would definitely like to visit this place soon.
Unlike in Manila, the sky in Bohol is so much less light polluted and very ideal for skygazing. Moreover, the rain clouds from the typhoon which raged the country for weeks did not reached this part.
Andre took a lot of images of the night sky from there and with his permission, I compiled some of the best shots which were taken during the night of Oct. 20 and 22, 2010 into a slideshow below.
Camera used: Canon PowerShot SX20 IS
*image courtesy of Rebecca Obidos
* Venus, Mars and Spica together in evening sky at start of month * The above 3 joined by the Moon on the 11th * Jupiter at opposition (21st) with Full Moon (23rd) and Uranus nearby * Mercury bright in the morning sky
Western sky view a few minutes after sunset on September 11 – the thin crescent moon joins the celestial trio of Venus, Mars and Spica (brightest star of Virgo)
Philippine nights will be longer as the Sun approaches the celestial equator. Autumnal equinox will occur on September 23 when day and night will have approximately equal length on Earth.This point is also called as First point of Libra.
The rich band of constellations and stars along the Milky Way from the constellations Cygnus, the Swan, in the north to Sagittarius and Scorpius in the south, begin to give way this month to fainter constellations, many of them with watery associations such as the constellations of Capricornus, the Sea Goat, Aquarius, the Water Bearer and Pisces the Fish. The famous asterism Teapot in the sky in the constellation of Sagittarius can be observed at about 40 to 47 degrees above the southern horizon, an hour after sunset as shown below.
Betelgeuse, the super giant red star and the prominent star of the famous constellation Orion, the Mighty Hunter, will be located at about 25 degrees to the upper right of Mars. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog, will be an easy target as it glows below the constellation of Orion. Procyon, the brightest star of the constellation Canis Minor, the Little Dog, can be located at the lower left of Canis Major. By drawing an imaginary line among the bright stars of these constellations, an equilateral triangle will be formed called the Winter Triangle as shown here:
Also, flying high in this month’s sky is the mythical winged horse Pegasus. Although one of the largest constellations in area, it boasts no bright stars. Its most noticeable star pattern is the Great Square of Pegasus: four second magnitude stars marking the body of the horse. Ironically, the brightest of those stars, Alpheratz, isn’t even an official member of the Pegasus constellation, being part of the neighboring constellation Andromeda. The brightest star in Pegasus isn’t part of the Square: it is Enif, the Arabic word for “nose.” It marks the head of Pegasus, off to the west.
As you look further south, you can see Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish, with the only bright star in the region: Fomalhaut. Fomalhaut, which is 25 light-years from Earth, made headlines in 2008 as one of the first stars to observed to have a planet that was directly imaged with telescopes.
To the east of Fomalhaut is another huge dim constellation, Cetus the Whale, with the only other brightest star in the area, Deneb Kaitos, which means the tail of the whale. Cetus also contains the variable star Mira. Currently this star is too faint to be visible with the naked eye, but over the next few months it will start climbing in brightness until it becomes one of the brightest stars in this constellation.
Normally this sea world is a dim and mysterious place, with only one bright star, Fomalhaut. But this year it is enlivened by a visit from the giant planet Jupiter, right on the border between Pisces and Aquarius.
The tight grouping of Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Spica ends its spectacular run this month. All four are low in the western sky at nightfall as September begins, but Saturn drops from sight early in the month. Mars and Venus are still in the sky by month’s end, but they shine for only a little while before dropping below the horizon. By that time, however, the night sky’s next-brightest object, the planet Jupiter, is climbing skyward in the east, and will shine brilliantly throughout the night.
Mercury will shine brightly at magnitude -1 as it reaches its greatest elongation west on September 20 (18° from the Sun). For early risers, Mercury makes its best morning appearance of the year on the second week of September. Look in the constellation of Leo the Lion near his lower foot star, Rho Leonis. The two objects are 20 arcminutes apart on September 16 and 17.
Venus continues to be prominent in the evening sky, though also low for northern hemisphere observers, at around magnitude -4. The crescent Moon, less than 3° away on September 11 will make an attractive pairing. On the 24th, Venus will reach its peak magnitude of -4.6.
Mars is now shining very low in the evening twilight sky. This month +1.5 magnitude Mars starts a few degrees to the upper right of brilliant Venus. Though the planets will slowly move apart they will stay within 7° of each other all month long.On September 11, the Moon will pass with 5° of the planet.
Giant planet Jupiter is now top target for planetary observers, dominating the night sky and rising in the east as it is getting dark at a bright magnitude of -2.9 in Pisces. The planet is putting on a show for those with reasonable sized telescopes, having lost one of its prominent dark belts and with its two red spots in close proximity. On the 21st, Jupiter will be at opposition,means it will be visible all night long, rising in the evening, reaching its highest elevation around midnight and setting during dawn.
Saturn is located low in the west during evening twilight. By month’s end the +1.0 magnitude planet will be too close to the Sun to be seen easily by most observers. On September 9,the Moon will be within 7° of Saturn.
Uranus will lie within one degree of Jupiter in Pisces between September 12 and 25, making the giant planet a good signpost to finding its more distant cousin. On the 22nd, it will also be at opposition. If given a clear dark sky and no moonlight, it can be spotted with the unaided eye at magnitude of 5.7.
Neptune will be found among the background stars of the constellation Capricornus, the Sea-Goat and will be standing 42 degrees above the east southeastern horizon at around 7:00 PM (PST) on the 19th of the month. A modest size telescope will be needed to observe the bluish planet.
Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are Sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During September, 10-16 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.
Minor Meteor Showers
Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors. Information on most of the minor showers will be provided on a weekly basis by Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook this month.
Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the following sites: Wayne Hally’s and Mark Davis’s NAMN Notes, and the International Meteor Organization’s 2010 Meteor Shower Calendar.