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Catching the Peak of the 2020 April Lyrids – Universe Today

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Stuck at home with clear skies? We’re all in a similar situation, as the ongoing pandemic sees most of the worldwide amateur astronomy community observing from home or from their backyard. One astronomical sure-fire event coming up this week requires no special equipment, just a set of working ‘Mk-1 eyeballs’ and a clear sky: the April Lyrids.

These springtime meteors get their name from the constellation Lyra, which also hosts the bright star Vega. The parallelogram shape of Lyra marks out the Lyre of Orpheus from Greek mythology, the musical instrument that the virtuoso played at the gates of Hades in an ill-fated attempt to win back Eurydice from the Underworld. Perhaps, we can imagine the Lyrids as the ‘Tears of Orpheus,’ sliding silently through the April sky.

The radiant for the 2020 Lyrids, actually located just across the border from the constellation Lyra in Hercules. Credit: The IMO.

The Curious History of the Lyrids

The April Lyrids are one of the oldest meteor showers recorded. Chinese historical records note that in the fourth month of 687 BC, “stars fell like rain.” The Lyrids were identified as a modern shower by Johann Gottfried Galle in 1867. The source of the April Lyrid meteors is comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which orbits the Sun every 415 years and is projected to return around 2280 AD.

Prospects for 2020

The Lyrids are a modest shower on most years, but are prone to occasional outbursts, most notably in 1803, 1922 and 1982, when rates topped 250 an hour. In 1803, a Richmond Virginia journalist noted “shooting stars… from one until three in the morning (that) seemed to fall from every point in the heavens…” clearly, the Lyrids harbor some intense storm clumps, that seem to show up every 60 years or so. Perhaps we’ll see an uptick in activity come ‘round 2040?

The Lyrids have a steep approach to the Earth, with a radiant declination located in the northern hemisphere at +32 degrees north. Their oncoming medium to swift velocity is 48 kilometers per second, fast as meteor showers go, about 25% of Lyrid meteors are fireballs leaving persistent trains, worth keeping binoculars handy for.

The position of the Earth’s shadow versus the Lyrid radiant, the Earth and Moon at the shower’s peak. Credit: Dave Dickinson/Orbitron.

2020 is an ideal year for the Lyrids. The peak arrives on the morning of Wednesday April 22nd at just past midnight Universal Time (UT, on the night of April 21/22), favoring Europe and the Middle East near dawn. The Moon is out of the scene, and reaches New just 24 hours after the shower’s peak.

The peak Zenithal Hourly Rate for the 2020 Lyrids is projected to top 20 meteors per hour. Keep in mind that the ZHR is an ideal maximum, what you would expect to see if the radiant is directly overhead under pristine dark skies. Most observers will see considerably less.

Lyrid captures from 2015. Image credit and copyright: Mary McIntyre.

Observing Lyrids

Watching a meteor shower is as simple as observing the sky with the naked eye and waiting… no special equipment needed. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but a good rule of thumb is to actually look off to either side of the shower radiant, to catch the meteors in profile. Any Lyrids will trace their path through the sky back from the radiant in the constellation Lyra. Any that do not belong to other showers, or are sporadics.

The Lyrid radiant looking high to the east from latitude 35 degrees north on the morning of April 22nd. Credit: Stellarium.

Morning around
pre-dawn is always the best time to watch for meteors, as your
location on the Earth is turned headlong into the oncoming meteor
stream.

You can count how many Lyrids you see from your location and report the tally for the given span of time back to the International Meteor Organization. This is one way that amateur astronomers can contribute to our scientific understanding of meteor showers and the evolution of meteor streams.

Our humble DSLR camera rig. Credit: Dave Dickinson.

Photographing
meteors is also a pretty straightforward process: simply set up a
DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens, and take time exposure shots of
about 30 seconds to a minute in duration and see what turns up. I
like to automate the process with an intervalometer, that way, I can
just kick back and watch the sky while the camera clicks away. Be
sure to start with fresh batteries, and take several preliminary
shots to get the correct balance of exposure vs. f-stop and ISO for
current sky conditions.

Though the Lyrids are the sole major shower of Spring, there are several other meteor showers to look forward to in 2020, including the Perseids (August 12th) and the Geminids (December 14th).

One thing is certain when it comes to meteor showers: you won’t see any if you don’t try. If skies are clear, be sure to watch for the Lyrid meteors over the next few mornings.

Lead image: An April Lyrid pierces the Milky Way. Image credit and copyright: Kevin Palmer.

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What a dinosaur's last supper reveals about life in the Cretaceous period – CBC.ca

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A beautifully preserved armoured dinosaur found in an Alberta oilsands mine died on a full stomach. The “extraordinarily rare” preservation of its last meal offers new clues and surprises about how the dinosaur lived during its last days.

The 5.5-metre-long, 1,300 kilogram spiky, plant-eating nodosaur, similar to an ankylosaurus but without a tail club, is the only known one of its species, Borealopelta markmitchelli. (Its name means “shield of the north” and honours Mark Mitchell, the technician who spent 7,000 carefully extracting the fossil from the surrounding rock). 

Victoria Arbour, an evolutionary paleontologist at the Royal BC Museum, describes how some armoured dinosaurs likely used their horns, spines and armour for fighting each other, not just for protection. 1:34

The nodosaur lived 110 million years ago during the early Cretaceous, in a lush forest of conifers, ferns and palm-like plants called cycads, near the coast of what was then an inland sea. At the time, the climate was warmer, similar to that of South Carolina, said Caleb Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta and lead author of the new study. It was published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

The fossil was discovered by accident in 2011 by Shawn Funk, a shovel operator at the Suncor Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray. Paleontologists from the Royal Tyrrell were called to have a look and realized at once that it was no ordinary fossil.

While most fossils include only bones, this one included skin. It was so well-preserved that it has been described as “mummified.”

Meet one of the world’s best-preserved dinosaurs ever. Borealopelta fossilized so perfectly that we can see every inch of its armour and skin in 3D, 110 million years after its death. 0:58

In the dinosaur’s belly, “there were these massive concentrations of what looked like rocks,” Brown said.

Those were in a mass about the size of a soccer ball, and it appears they were gastroliths — rocks that some plant-eating dinosaurs use to grind up their food in their stomachs, as modern birds do, instead of using their teeth.

Sure enough, when chunks of the mass were encased in resin, sliced and examined under the microscope, the researcher could see well-preserved twigs, leaves, mosses, pollen and spores.

To get some help at identifying the plant material, the dinosaur researchers turned to paleobotanists, including University of Brandon researcher David Greenwood and his team, along with their retired Royal Tyrrell colleague Dennis Braman.

Inside the nodosaur’s belly was a mass about the size of a soccer ball that contained rocks. The rocks are called gastroliths and are used to grind up the animal’s food within its stomach. (Royal Tyrrell Museum)

Ferns and charcoal

They discovered that the dinosaur was a bit of a picky eater. While it lumbered through a landscape that was lush with conifers, horsetails and cycads, there weren’t a lot of those in its stomach.

“It’s almost all ferns,” Brown said, noting that ferns aren’t actually very nutritious. “It wasn’t just hoovering up everything on the landscape.”

But to him, the biggest surprise was that the stomach also contained a significant amount of wood, mostly charcoal, suggesting it was feeding in an area that had recently been ravaged by wildfires.

“And that’s a really cool result,” Brown said. “Because if you look at large mammals that are herbivores today, they often seek out areas that are recovering from forest fires.”

That’s because the new growth tends to be lush, more nutritious than older plants, and low to the ground where it’s easily accessible.

Microscope images show some of the plant material found inside the stomach, including a club moss spore sac (a), fern spore sacs (b-d), a charcoal fragment (e), parts of plant stems and leaves (f-l) and a cross section of a twig, showing its annual rings (m). (Brown et al/Royal Tyrrell Museum)

Forensic paleobotany

By looking at the types of spores and the fact that the twigs appeared to be in the middle of their growing season, the researchers figured out that the animal died during the wet season, which was late spring or early summer.

In Dinosaur Cold Case, a recent documentary about the fossil on CBC’s Nature of Things, Greenwood said extreme storms and flash floods would have been a problem at that time of year on the coastal plain where the dinosaur and suggested that being swept away by rushing water may have been what caused its death.

These are some plant fossils from Alberta from about the time that Borealopelta lived, including ferns, a gingko (d), horsetails (i) and a conifer cone (j). (Brown et al/Royal Tyrrell Museum)

The discoveries about the nodosaur’s last meal are significant because to date, Brown said, “we know almost nothing about what herbivorous dinosaurs eat.”

Only guesses can be made based on what plants lived nearby and the dinosaur’s teeth. There are also clues in fossil dinosaur feces, but the plant material in those are often digested beyond recognition and it’s difficult to know which dinosaur they came from.

Part of the problem is that finding preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is “extraordinarily rare,” Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. 

Nine cases of possible dinosaur stomachs of plant-eating dinosaurs have been found, the researchers note, but most have turned out to just be plant material found nearby rather than actual stomachs. In this case, the dinosaur was washed far out to sea, without any plants from the landscape it lived in, before it was fossilized.

“So in this case we have what I would say is by far the best evidence that these are stomach contents,” Brown said.

That said, he notes that it may not necessarily be representative of what this species normally ate, as an animal’s diet can vary depending on its age, its health, and the seasonal availability of different foods.

Still, he said it’s useful to be able to compare it to what scientists think plant-eating dinosaurs were eating at that time and raises new questions to investigate, such as: How much of this food a dinosaur this size would have needed to eat to sustain itself? And how did it digest it?

 “I think give us a benchmark for figuring out how this animal may have lived.”

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‘Strawberry Moon’ to rise with a special eclipse for some skywatchers – Globalnews.ca

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The full moon on Friday, June 5 might look a little different in some parts of the world, where the so-called “Strawberry Moon” will fall partially under the Earth’s shadow.

The phenomenon, known as a penumbral lunar eclipse, occurs when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon, thereby casting a faint shadow on the moon. This penumbral lunar eclipse will make the full moon look slightly darker on part of its surface, although only some portions of the world will see it.

The penumbral lunar eclipse will only be visible from parts of Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, according to NASA’s charts.


READ MORE:
Pentagon officially releases three leaked ‘UFO’ videos

In other words, North Americans will need to watch a livestream on the internet to catch a glimpse of the event, which starts at 3 p.m. EDT. Nevertheless, the so-called “Strawberry Moon” will be visible to everyone.

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That name comes from the time of year and not the expected colour of the moon. There are farm-related nicknames for the first full moon of every month, and the strawberry nickname originated from the Algonquin First Nation, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. The first full moon of June often coincided with the harvest season for wild strawberries in North America, the Almanac says.


The Strawberry Moon is practically full over the horizon as a lady poses for a photo in Malaga, Spain, on June 4, 2020.


Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Although skywatchers in Canada and the U.S. will miss out on this penumbral lunar eclipse, they’ll only have to wait a month to catch the next one. Another penumbral lunar eclipse is slated to happen on July 5, and that one should be visible from North America. The darkest penumbral lunar eclipse of the year is expected on Nov. 30.

A penumbral lunar eclipse also happened on Jan. 10, coinciding with that month’s “Wolf Moon.”

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0:59
Timelapse captures moment sky darkens for total solar eclipse


Timelapse captures moment sky darkens for total solar eclipse

Not to throw shade at the penumbral lunar eclipses, but they’ll likely pale in comparison to the annular solar eclipse predicted for June 21. That’s when the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, making the sun look like a ring of fire for viewers in parts of Africa, China, northern India and Pakistan, according to TimeandDate.com.

Again, it won’t be visible from North America — but you’ll still be able to watch the whole thing online without risking eye damage from staring at the sun.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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In Space No One Can Hear You Campaign: Trump Team Pulls Ad – NDTV

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Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pulled a video featuring the SpaceX launch and astronauts

Washington:

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pulled a video featuring the SpaceX launch and astronauts which appeared to violate NASA’s media regulations, reports said.

The “Make Space Great Again” YouTube ad posted on YouTube showed footage from the Apollo program, as well as video of the landmark SpaceX Demo-2 mission and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the SpaceNews.com website said.

YouTube shows the video was removed by the uploader.

NASA generally allows use of its images and video but prohibits the use of its insignia and photographs of its astronauts in advertisements.

“As a government agency, NASA will not promote or endorse or appear to promote or endorse a commercial product, service or activity. Therefore, there are strict limits placed on the use of any of the NASA identities and emblem imagery in advertisements,” the space agency’s advertising regulations say.

“Astronauts or employees who are currently employed by NASA cannot have their names, likenesses or other personality traits displayed in any advertisements or marketing material.”

Hurley’s wife Karen Nyberg, a retired astronaut, and their young son were also reportedly shown in the clip.

“I find it disturbing that a video image of me and my son is being used in political propaganda without my knowledge or consent. That is wrong,” Nyberg tweeted.

A Change.org petition to “Stop Donald Trump politicizing SpaceX and NASA accomplishments” has attracted more than 6,000 signatures so far.

The New York Times described the video as “the latest effort by the president to parlay his stewardship of American space policy into an upbeat campaign issue.”

The SpaceX mission, which blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30, was the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade.

Trump, who witnessed the liftoff, has relaunched the race to re-conquer the Moon and to journey onwards to the Red Planet.

But the deadlines — 2024 and 2033 respectively — appear unrealistic and have caused turbulence within the space agency.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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