Public Stargazing

Public Stargazing

Frosty Drew Observatory
Friday August 9, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Free! Donations Appreciated.

With tonight's skies not looking very promising, the Observatory will not be open this evening; however, being New England, there's always a possibility the weather could change, so please check the Frosty Drew Observatory Twitter if you're unsure.

Skies are always good, though, in the University of Rhode Island Planetarium. Tonight we will be showing "7 Wonders," a look at the beautiful monuments of yesteryear. Also, thanks to Steve, lab manager of the URI Physics department, we have the award-winning 6-minute segment on light pollution, created by NASA and international planetarium organizations. Finally, whatever the skies are outside, we will give you a view of the Skies of Frosty Drew. Admission for this is only $5.00, to benefit both the URI Planetarium and Frosty Drew memorial funds. The program will be shown at 6:00 and 7:00 P.M. The planetarium is located on the main URi campus, on Upper College Road. Then, if skies magically clear, follow us down to Frosty Drew.

This weekend is the "peak" for one of the better meteor showers of the year - the Perseids. Meteors are tiny bits of dust and gas that plow into our atmosphere and fall toward Earth, usually breaking up on their way. We see this as a quick flash of light overhead. When more than a sporadic meteor occurs, and many seem to be originating from a certain region of the sky, this becomes a shower. The Perseids meteor shower is the best known of the several during the year because the number of meteors is normally fairly high, and it occurs during the summer, when people are more apt to be outside. This weekend, skies willing, we will open Saturday evening, with a program beginning at 8:00 P.M. introducing meteors and meteor showers, including the "great" shower of 1833. As meteors are often byproducts of comets, you will also learn of them, in anticipation of a possible comet that could be gracing our skies around the holidays. And, for the young and young-at-heart, you will have the opportunity to make and take home your own handmade comet.

If skies continue to be clear, we will also travel to Frosty Drew later Sunday evening, as Scott and I do show the sky elsewhere during the evening. We will probably arrive close to midnight, which is fine, because a good time to see meteors can be later in the night. This year also the Moon, which will be in its waxing crescent phase and will set early in the evenings, won't deter us from seeing whatever meteors are waiting for us. In fact, even as early as Tuesday, many of us on the deck of Ladd Observatory in Providence were able to make out several "shooting stars," so we do hope this meteor shower is one of the best we've ever seen.

This week celebrates International Starry Night, a time to encourage all of you to go outside and enjoy the beauty of the night. Here at Frosty Drew, we are privileged to be located in Charlestown, home to the darkest skies in Rhode Island. Come on down and share our skies with us.

-Francine Jackson


Tonight's weather is calling for showers, thunderstorms, wind, fog, and up to an inch of precipitation. This will surely keep the observatory closed tonight. The 8% waxing crescent moon will be in conjunction with Venus tonight in the west setting at 9:00 p.m. kicking off a fantastic stretch of nights primed for stunning stargazing opportunities. Though tonight's sky will be unobservable, tomorrow night's skies are on track to mesmerize during our “Under Perseid Skies” event. Aside from meteor and conjunction awesomeness, other great things are happening just outside this little planet we call home.

On Tuesday August 5th, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover celebrated its one year anniversary on Mars. Curiosity has become super high profile since its successful, inspiring landing on Mars one year ago. Curiosity's primary science goal was to reveal if ancient Mars could have supported life. Well we can check that goal right off the list as Curiosity had successfully found evidence that Mars offered favorable conditions supportive to microbial life, and it completed this task during the mission's first 8 months. Curiosity continues to explore Mars paving the path for future human missions to the red planet. In true geek fashion, Curiosity provided more than 190 gigabits of data, returned more than 36,700 full images, fired more than 75,000 investigating laser shots, collected and analyzed sample material from two rocks, and has driven over 1 mile during its first year on the neighboring planet. Here is a great time-lapse showcasing Curiosity's first year on Mars using images sent back from Curiosity's navigational cameras. Go Curiosity!

This week, NASA solar observatories are reporting a magnetic pole reversal on the sun is imminent. At the peak of the 11 year solar sunspot cycle the Sun's magnetic poles will flip. This is called Solar Maximum. The last time we had a reversal of the solar magnetic poles was during Solar Maximum in 2001. The reversal of the poles will take a few months to complete with a full reversal expected in 3 - 4 months time. During this time span, the electrical current in the heliosphere (The sun's magnetic influence on the solar system), known as the "current sheet", will become wavy. These waves will ripple from the sun all the way out to the edge of interstellar space. Earth's orbit around the sun will dip in and out of the wavy current sheet causing an increase in space weather which visible presents itself as the beautiful Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights). The current sheet protects the inner solar system from Cosmic Rays originating from interstellar space. Cosmic Rays are high energy particles accelerated to almost the speed of light by violent events (Supernova, etc) in the galaxy. These particles pose a danger to astronauts and space probes. A wavy current sheet will actually deflect more Cosmic Rays effectively increasing this layer of protection.

This weekend is the Perseid meteor shower. Get out and observe some meteors!

-Scott MacNeill