Perseids 2014

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Everyone brought reclining chairs to catch a few Perseids after sunset.

Last Wednesday evening, the local Astronomical Society club that Amy and I belong to held its annual Perseids Party and Picnic at Parmentier’s Observatory.

About 35 club members attended and brought spouses, kids, dogs, and plenty of dishes to pass. The weather was perfect for our annual get together at the foot of the dome.

The hobby of astronomy can be a solitary obsession that often finds one alone in the stillness of the night with only mosquitoes and crickets for company. But it’s the social events like the picnic that bring us together as friends, and remind us of our common passion for the wonder that endlessly drifts overhead.

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The picnic started at 7 p.m. with enough food to feed a small army of star gazers.

If you’re going it alone, good for you. But if there are clubs in your area, don’t miss out on the opportunities to observe with others, attend star parties, volunteer at public outreach events, go to swap meets and picnics, and hang out with the gang for public observing and the Messier Marathon. Having friends that share your excitement and your enthusiasm makes the hobby of amateur astronomy all that much more satisfying.

Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.

 

Lynn

 

Looking Forward to the Comet 209P/LINEAR Meteor Shower

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Radiant for 209P/LINEAR shower early this Saturday morning.

The weather is looking great here for the Comet 209P/LINEAR meteor shower. The Camelopardalids could produce as many as 200 meteors per hour early Saturday morning between 12:30 and 4 a.m., peaking around 2 a.m. CDT.

What is so neat about this shower is that it’s never been seen before, and the farther north you live in the viewing zone, the more meteors you are likely to see.

The last time I clocked meteors for the Astronomical League’s meteor certificate, I brought several copies of star charts of the radiant area of the sky, and as I saw meteors, I drew them on a chart and numbered them. On a separate sheet of paper, I made notes on brightness, color, speed, etc.

You can also do some real science by submitting your observations to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers. All the information you need to work on your meteor certificate is available on the Astronomical League’s website.

After midnight tonight, you’ll find Amy and I perched on our lawn chairs facing north, with pencils and clipboards poised and ready. We’ll be busily adding hours towards our Astronomical League Meteor Program Certificate, (meteors or not) and having a great time. Hope you’re all out there, too!

Please be sure to write us and tell us about the meteors you see.

Lynn

Mars Meteorite Road Trip

At the end of September, the Astro Babes attended a lecture in Madison that was part of the “Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind?” exhibit. (See the related “Trip to Mars” blog entry). It was a rare opportunity to hold a piece of Mars in our hands.

Here are a few pictures from this latest adventure.

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Barbara Millicent Roberts, our new guest blogger, astronaut, and notable Martian expert, accompanied the Astro Babes on this road trip. As a Martian expert, Roberts she said she was excited to see the Tissint meteorite from Mars.

 

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The reception and the preview of the meteorite exhibit was held by invitation only.

 

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A presentation entitled “How to Build an Astrobiology Exhibit in 1,272 Easy Steps” was followed by a reception in the museum. The evening not only featured a piece of Mars, but also a rare opportunity to hold another piece in our hands.

 

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Amy holding an actual piece of Mars during the visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum. The owner, a private collector from Arizona, loaned this piece to the museum for the opening of this meteorite exhibit.

 

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Close-up of the Red Planet.

 

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Roberts was really excited about having an actual piece of Mars rest on her lap. “I was so nervous someone had to hold me up!” she said.

 

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Here Roberts is catching a glimpse of the main attraction, the Tissint meteorite, that is believed to have broken off the Red Planet around 700,000 years ago. Its landing was witnessed in Morocco in 2011 which makes it extremely rare.

 

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Behind the smile, Lynn is contemplating stuffing this 320 lb. Canyon Diablo Iron Meteorite fragment into her purse. This meteorite was found near Winslow, AZ, and is one of many pieces on display.

 

Here are some fragments of the Mifflin meteorite that landed in southwestern Wisconsin
The exhibit included some fragments of the Mifflin meteorite that landed in southwestern Wisconsin in 2010. The Astro Babes were there and had a chance to do a little meteorite hunting of their own. (See the related “Hunting for Meteorites” blog entry.)

 

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What Mars party would be complete without a little wine and some custom-made Martian doughnuts?

Ohio Fireballs Fizzle

Two fireballs streaked across meteoritethe night sky in Ohio last week: one on Sept. 26 and another on Sept. 27. The Astro Babes started crossing their fingers and hoping another Meteorite Road Trip was in their near future. But unfortunately, neither meteorite seems to be a candidate for a leaving a large number of sizeable meteorites in its strewn field.

One meteorite was moving too quickly and burned up, and the other was probably too small to drop any sizeable meteorites. Additionally, no meteorite finds have been reported so far, so there is not much hope that pieces from either meteorite survived the fall through the atmosphere.

To keep abreast of any new falls, Amy and I signed up for Yahoo! Alerts, and whenever a news story with keywords like “fireball” and “meteorite” shows up in the Yahoo! News feed, we receive an email. It’s a great way to quickly learn about any new falls in our neck of the woods.

Guess we’ll keep our meteorite hunting bags packed and our fingers crossed.

A Trip to Mars

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An actual piece of Mars rests on my lap during a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum. I was so nervous someone had to hold me!

Could their be a more exciting way to kick off my new collaboration with the Astro Babes than to bring you photos of an actual piece of Mars?!

On Sept. 24, I accompanied the Astro Babes to a lecture in Madison that was part of the “Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind?” exhibit that hopes to excite public curiosity about astrobiology research at UW-Madison. A presentation entitled “How to build an Astrobiology Exhibit in 1,272 Easy Steps” was followed by a reception in the museum that not only featured a piece of Mars, but a rare opportunity to hold a piece of it in your hands.

The main attraction for this event was a viewed fall of the Tissint meteorite that is thought to have broken off the Red Planet around 700,000 years ago and witnessed landing in Morocco in 2011.

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Here I’m looking at the 700,000-year-old piece of Mars that the museum recently acquired. This is one of the five rare observed falls from Mars.

The collector that sold this piece to the museum also lent a piece to the museum that lecture attendees could hold in their hand. Unlike most meteorites found on Earth, this piece was very light and had no real fusion crust. It was identified Martian by testing the “atmosphere” that was trapped inside air pockets in the rock.

NASA funds the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium and other teams to develop new tools and methods for detecting evidence of past life on Earth. This research will then help scientists recognize signs of life in other places such as Mars or Titan because we won’t find any dinosaur bones there.

Martian rocks are a rarity here on Earth today, but I plan to personally bring back many more rocks for research on my first round-trip mission to Mars.

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By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent

Who Owns A Meteorite?

MeteoriteIf you’ve read our Hunting for Meteorites adventure (if you haven’t you should!) you know that we did our best to have a successful meteorite hunting trip.  Lynn downloaded a map of the strewn field and researched which tools would be most useful.  I – well I think I just booked the hotel, but somebody had to do it!

With GPS in hand we ventured down to the Madison area and proceeded to spend hours and hours dragging rare earth magnets around behind us, looking at anything that resembled a meteorite. We left no stone unturned at parks, along roadsides and even in cemeteries with no luck.

After the meteorite exploded over Russia, I read stories about people collecting pockets full of meteorites hoping to sell them. One woman made the comment, though, that the Russian police would just come and take them away anyway. It made me wonder, what if Lynn and I had found that elusive rock we know is still down there some where? Who would own it?

It seems that, in Russia, the government determines who can sell a meteorite. Here in the U.S., a meteorite belongs to whoever owns the land it falls on. That means that if  a meteorite lands in the middle of a city park, the city would own it. So after all of our trudging down county roads and through parking lots and parks, if we had come up with a piece of space rock it technically wouldn’t belong to us anyway!

That won’t stop me from looking. I still want to make that find. But it would be so much easier if one just fell through my roof, or on top of my car!

The odds of that are – well – astronomical!

(Sorry about that)

Amy