Read Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center's Update on the Novel Coronavirus: April 2, 2020
Stargazing Nights

Stargazing Nights

Where:
Frosty Drew Observatory
When:
Fri, Feb 28, 2020 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Cost:
$5 Suggested Donation per person 5 years and older

Tonight is Stargazing Night at Frosty Drew Observatory and forecasts are calling for mostly clear skies with periods of partly cloudy conditions. We also have a threat of wind gusts reaching into the 23mph range, which is within our tolerances. We’ll have a beautiful 21% waxing crescent Moon hanging over the western sky for our entire session, with a moon set time of 10:26 pm. Though not the best phase for lunar surface viewing, it is a fantastic phase for naked eye views because Earthshine will be strikingly visible. Earthshine is when the nighttime side of the Moon is illuminated by sunlight that reflects off of Earth. This will allow for a ghostly glow of the night side of the Moon alongside the brighter crescent. Though at 21% crescent, the Moon will not destroy the dark sky, leaving nebulae, and star clusters accessible to our telescopes tonight.

We’ll open the Observatory and Science Center at 7:00 pm. In the Observatory, telescopes will start off with an early view of Venus, which is sporting a stunning 63% waning gibbous phase. The crescent Moon will be on the list tonight as well as the Orion Nebula. As the night progresses, we will scan the skies for binary stars, nebulae, and star clusters, as long as cloud cover permits. In the Science Center, the works of our astronomers are on gallery. Note that it will be warmer in the Science Center and will serve as an escape from the cold of the Observatory building. We will close up at 10:00 pm.

Overall, tonight has the making for a fabulous night, with a couple potential problems. Variability in the forecast could result in the sky becoming partly cloudy for a good portion of our night, which will make viewing difficult in the telescope. Additionally, it may be a bit windy, which could restrict our viewing to only one side of the sky. Though variability typically favors us, and we’ve seen significantly less wind on site this year than predicted. If making the long drive, it could be worth it, considering we have a much higher likelihood of it being fabulous tonight. If you’re in the local RI and CT area, then it is definitely worth a try. So dress warm, gather friends and family, and head out to the beautiful sky of Frosty Drew Observatory and celebrate your inner geek with us.

-----------------------------
Weekly Happenings
Scott MacNeill

As we continue into year 2020, we have been pretty beat on the comet front. Better stated, we have been pretty beat for the past year on the comet front, with 2020 continuing that trend. We’ve had okay views of Comet C/2019 T2 PanSTARRS, and it’s been exciting since it’s the best comet in the sky at the moment, though overall, it’s not up to par for many of the wintertime comets we have come to observe. Albeit difficult to predict, this may be changing. A new arrival to the scene, Comet C/2019 Y4, which was discovered on December 28, 2019, just experienced a nice turn of events. In late January, Comet Y4 experienced an outburst, bringing an increase in brightness 100-fold. Outbursts happen when a comet’s nucleus either fractures, breaks up, or regions of volatile material become exposed to the solar wind. These volatile materials will abruptly out-gas into the comet’s coma (a thin atmosphere that forms around the comet), resulting in a dramatic increase in brightness as well as coma radius. If this brightening continues, Comet Y4 could become fabulously bright as it reaches perihelion (closest approach to the Sun). Comet Y4’s perihelion will happen on May 31, 2020 UTC, with the comet approaching within 0.253 AU of the Sun (23,523,772 miles distant), that’s within the orbit of Mercury. About one week prior, Comet Y4 will make its closest approach to Earth on May 24th at a distance of 72,574,014 miles (roughly 275 times the distance of the Moon). The comet is inclined 45° to the plane of the Solar System, making for good viewing until perihelion nears. Considering perihelion is happening on the other side of the Sun than Earth will be during May, we will eventually be looking towards the Sun and will have to contend with pre-dawn views low on the horizon. Regardless, this comet has many of the same properties as the Great Comet of 1844, and could potentially be part of the same parent object. Though we would consider a repeat of that event wishful thinking. Regardless, this comet has a 2,788 year orbital period, so this is your only chance to see it. Over the next month, we’ll keep an eye on the comet at Frosty Drew Observatory, and if the comet reaches a brightness that is acceptably visible in backyard telescopes or binoculars, we’ll start posting finder charts regularly to our Facebook and Twitter (@FrostyDrewOBSY) as well as any images we capture. Let’s hope Comet Y4 makes an impressive appearance for us sky watchers this spring!

Tomorrow, February 29, 2020 is a leap-year day, adding an extra day to year 2020. This is a product of the calendar system that we use, the Gregorian calendar. Every year, according to the Gregorian calendar, Earth increases about 0.25 days in its orbit as it relates to the day. Adding an additional day every four years (Feb 29) will make up for this slight increase in orbital position. Otherwise, we would eventually have February happen in the Northern Hemisphere summer. So celebrate the extra day tomorrow with a bit of sunshine, and a night of stargazing. The Seagrave Memorial Observatory in N. Scituate, RI will be open tomorrow night to the public for a quick session of stargazing through their antique 8” Alvin Clark refractor.

Happy Leap Year from all the astro-geeks at Frosty Drew Observatory!

-Scott

Check out our page on Visiting Frosty Drew Observatory to learn more about what to expect at the Observatory and better help you prepare for your visit.

Please note that we do not allow any white lights on our campus from dusk - dawn. This is to ensure an equally awesome view of the night sky for all and to allow for the use of light sensitive astronomical equipment. Learn more about why we have this requirement in The Red Light District