April and May are a great time to try your hand at a little backyard stargazing
Peter McMahon | Special to the Fitzhugh
Spring brings an exciting return of shooting stars, after a period with no major meteor showers since the beginning of the year.
This is a great time to do a little backyard stargazing, with the April Lyrid meteor shower, peaking on the night of April 21, going into the morning of April 22 (but you may see meteors anytime between April 16 and 30) with as many as 20 meteors an hour visible on-average under the dark skies of a New Moon.
Then, May 4-5, the Eta Aquarids will yield possibly dozens of meteors per hour, BUT the nearly-full Moon will make the sky too bright to see many of the fainter shooting stars at that time.
What the heck are these things?
Meteor showers happen when Earth passes through trails of debris from comet tails and our planet plows into countless bits of tiny particles that usually range in size from a grain of sand to the size of a small piece of gravel.
When those meteors meet up with our atmosphere at thousands of kilometres per hour, those bits of space debris push the air in front of them, super-heating themselves and that air to thousands of degrees, causing that air to light up.
While real stars in the sky are millions of times the size of Earth and dozens to hundreds of light years away, shooting stars are not only tiny as pebbles, but they’re only 50 to 100 kilometres or so above us.
Occasionally, bigger pieces, the size of a tennis ball or baseball make their way through our atmosphere, creating what’s known simply as a ‘fireball’ – a bright streak of light bright enough to cast shadows or even look like a set of fireworks shooting sideways.
To see the next meteor shower
While you’ll see meteors (nicknamed shooting stars) appear to come from all over the sky, you can trace these streaks back to their radiant: the point they appear to originate from. Imagine the Earth as a car traveling down a road – our orbit around the Sun – and the radiant point for a meteor shower as the windshield of that car.
The radiant for each meteor shower is named after the constellation the radiant appears to line up with (Lyra the harp for the Lyrids, Aquarium for the Eta Aquarids, Perseus the soldier for the well-known summer Perseids, and so on).
While a lot of guides will tell you to look at a particular time (on the day or days of the peak of the meteor shower, when the radiant point is highest in the sky, I find I have ask much luck or more by going out for as much of the night as possible, the night before the peak during and a night or two after: Think of doing so as an ‘insurance policy’ against it clouding over, ensuring skies are as dark as possible if a particular meteor shower peak falls close to a full moon or if the predicted peak just plain ends up happening earlier or later than predicted.
Rolling the dice… on a cosmic scale
Over the last few years, we’ve noticed here in Jasper on more than a few occasions that meteor showers have needed up having the best showings Sunday or two before their peak
How do you stay up the whole night? Do what works for you…spend a while philosophizing with everyone in your household, take shifts staying up with family members and wake everyone up when things start to get good, or just sit back and let the adrenaline of anticipation fuel you.
Remember, when you see a shooting star, don’t forget to yell (the one time in amateur sky gazing when everyone is expected to get rowdy) and don’t forget to make a wish!
Peter McMahon is the general manager of The Jasper Planetarium
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SpaceX Sent NASA Astronauts Into Orbit Using Linux – Futurism
This past weekend, Elon Musk-led private space company SpaceX made history by launching a pair of NASA astronauts into orbit, an accomplishment that could upset the balance of the international space industry.
According to a terrific breakdown by ZDNet, the historic launch also contributed to a shift in power from proprietary software to open source — by running the Falcon 9 rocket on a version of the open source operating system Linux.
Kernel Space Program
The unspecified version of Linux, according to ZDNet, runs on three dual-core x86 processors — a redundancy system that keeps the astronauts safe by making sure all three units agree before executing each command.
ZDNet also pointed to a 2013 Reddit post in which SpaceX employees confirmed that Dragon and Falcon 9 both on Linux.
SpaceX isn’t the first group to bring open source software into orbit.
The International Space Station itself, where the NASA astronauts launched by SpaceX are now residing, reportedly switched to Linux from Microsoft’s proprietary Windows operating system in 2013.
READ MORE: From Earth to orbit with Linux and SpaceX [ZDNet]
More on Linux: Linux Creator: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Are “A Disease”
How to watch the 'strawberry moon' eclipse from anywhere Friday – CNET
Get ready to look to the night sky on Friday. A full “strawberry moon” is on the calendar, and it will come with an understated partial eclipse for some parts of the world. While the moon will be at its absolute fullest on Friday around noon PT, you’ll have several opportunities to enjoy the view. The moon will still look full from early Thursday morning through early Sunday morning, NASA said Monday.
North America will miss the eclipse, but the Virtual Telescope Project will livestream the lunar event from Italy above a view of the Rome skyline. Mark your calendar for noon PT on Friday, June 5, and visit the project’s web TV page to join in.
A penumbral eclipse is much more subtle than a total eclipse. The moon slips through the Earth’s outer (penumbral) shadow, which can trigger a slight darkening of the moon. If you didn’t know it was happening, you might miss it. A partial penumbral eclipse like the one on Friday makes it even harder to spot a difference.
Denizens of the moon, however, would notice the effects. “For spacecraft at the Moon such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the reduction in solar power is noticeable,” NASA said.
Unfortunately, the “strawberry” nickname for the June full moon doesn’t refer to a color, but seems to be an old reference to the strawberry harvest season. NASA’s Gordon Johnston rounded up a list of alternative names for this month’s moon, including mead moon, honey moon, hot moon and planting moon.
Even if the eclipse is too faint to detect, you can still take a moment to bask in the light of a lovely full moon this week.
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