Summer Stargazing Nights

Summer Stargazing Nights

Frosty Drew Observatory
Friday June 15, 2018 at 6:00 p.m
$5 Suggested Donation per person 5 years and older

Tonight is Stargazing Night at Frosty Drew Observatory, as well as the start of the best weekend of June 2018 to catch sight of the Milky Way Galaxy! Forecasts look potentially great, and we can expect today’s cloudy conditions to move out this afternoon with skies clearing around sunset. There is much variability in tonight’s forecast, largely around what time and how fast the clearing will happen, though variability has been favoring us at Frosty Drew Observatory. We can also expect dark skies compliments of a stunning 6% waxing crescent Moon present during twilight. The super thin crescent will not obscure our view of the Milky Way and will allow for breathtaking views of the Moon and Earthshine (the shadow side of the Moon dimly lit by sunlight reflecting off Earth) until it sets at 10:12 p.m. So much potential for an amazing night tonight!

We will open the Observatory and Sky Theatre at 6:00 p.m. Depending on afternoon sky conditions, the Observatory courtyard will showcase our hydrogen alpha telescope setup on the Sun. Have you seen a solar prominence or sunspot? This is your chance to catch a view if any are visible. Once the Sun sets, we will switch to awesome mode. Observatory telescopes will start off with views of the super thin waxing crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter. Once twilight wanes, dark skies will rock our night, and our telescopes will blaze star forming nebulae, young star clusters, Saturn, and all the amazing things visible along the Milky Way galactic plane. In the Sky Theatre we will be showing celestial objects photographed at Frosty Drew Observatory. We will plan on closing up around 11:30 p.m.

Overall, tonight has so much potential for amazement! We have a minor threat of fog, though not until the morning hours, and clouds should begin clearing nicely this afternoon, with clear skies setting in shortly after sunset. The Moon will offer a fabulous view in twilight, sitting in conjunction 7° west of Venus, and will set as the Milky Way starts to rise, leaving fabulous dark skies for us to revel under. So don’t let today’s clouds deceive you! Tonight could be the night that you introduce your inner geek to the world.

Weekly Happenings
Scott MacNeill

In the days before May 31, 2018, an intense dust storm began raging on the fourth planet from the Sun. The storm, which started in the region where the Opportunity rover resides, has quickly grown to one of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars. The massive storm continues to grow and now covers an area larger than 14 million square miles. The Opportunity rover requires sunlight to keep it operational and the intense dust storm has significantly clouded out the sky, bringing available sunlight to Opportunity’s solar panels down to 1%. As a result, the Opportunity rover, has been placed into extended sleep mode, where only the mission clock is active. Being that Mars is heading into the summer season in the region where Opportunity resides (Meridiani Planun), there is less of a chance that Opportunity will suffer the Spirit rover’s fate, freezing to death. The Curiosity rover, which resides on the other side of Mars than Opportunity, has begun to experience the massive dust storm. Though Curiosity’s batteries are nuclear powered, making the rover less vulnerable to some of the dust storm’s environment. It may not be the best news for the lil Opportunity rover, but this massive storm is a science fiesta! Scientists have been waiting for a potential global dust storm on Mars to help us better understand weather on Mars. Huge dust storms like this could last for a couple weeks to a couple months, which could spell bad news for those looking to catch fabulous views of Mars in a telescope next month during opposition (when Mars is on the opposite side of Earth than the Sun). The dust storm could obscure our view of the vast martian landscape. Check out the deteriorating conditions at Curiosity’s residence, then stay connected with the weather on Mars. Be sure to send positive thoughts to Opportunity for a speedy recovery as it weathers the storm.

At Frosty Drew Observatory, the most frequent question we receive (aside from “Have you seen aliens?”) is “When can I see the Milky Way?” The location of Frosty Drew Observatory is the darkest site in Rhode Island and among the darkest in Southern New England, allowing for fabulous opportunities to catch sight of the Milky Way Galaxy stretching across the sky. Though catching this sight is not as easy as just visiting. You need to plan as well as grasp for a little luck to catch that truly amazing view. Timing is everything. The Milky Way, like other celestial objects, will rise and set at specific times of the night and specific times of the year. The Milky Way that we often see in pictures is Earth’s view towards the center of galaxy, a view that is only visible in the Northern Hemisphere spring – autumn. In spring, the Milky Way rises in the southeast during the early morning hours before dawn, but in autumn the Milky Way is well into the western sky after sunset. You also need dark skies to see the Milky Way, so the Moon must be below the horizon during the times that the Milky Way is above the horizon. The last variable is weather, which is a formidable challenge in New England. It goes without saying that clear skies are necessary, but hazy or lightly foggy conditions will spoil the view as well. The Milky Way, being so faint, is easily obscured by the effects of haze. With all this in mind, we have come up with what we think will be the best nights to catch the Milky Way over Frosty Drew Observatory this summer. The first (though not officially summer) will be tomorrow night, June 16th. The Observatory will open starting at 9:00 p.m. offering visitors a second chance this weekend to catch a view. Though the Milky Way will not become visible until after 10:00 p.m., the fabulous 14% crescent Moon will offer up stunning views during twilight, setting at 11:03 p.m., just in time to see fabulous views of the galaxy until predawn sneaks in. The second night we predict for awesome views will be Saturday, July 14th. Weather is looking great for tomorrow night, so put the Milky Way on your calendar and put a check next to the Milky Way on your bucket list. Read about our Celebrate the Milky Way event, then get excited with our gallery of the Milky Way over Frosty Drew Observatory.