Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Ideas for Stargazers 2014

Hey Space Placers!

Ho, Ho, Ho! Happy Holidays! Welcome to the  “What’s Up? The Space Place” holiday edition to get some great gift ideas for that stargazer of yours.

OK, you have 6 shopping days left but don’t panic. Internet shopping and quick shipping will get that star minded someone, including possibly yourself, their gift in plenty of time.

MONTHLY MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION
As a first step for someone new to astronomy I recommend getting them a magazine subscription to either (or both) Astronomy or Sky and Telescope. An added bonus is that when the magazine arrives each month it will be a reminder of you to that special stargazer. Astronomy and S&T also provides a digital version as part of the magazine subscription which comes in handy. 

These monthly magazines and their respective excellent websites are chock full of observing advice, astronomical equipment, pictures, book reviews, astronomy related ads, news AND monthly observing guides/star charts. I will admit I am an S&T subscriber and have been my whole life; I have also done major feature articles for them and been a total solar eclipse cruise staff member. 

ASTRONOMICAL CALENDAR
This is a nifty gift idea that provides your stargazer astronomical information on a daily basis accompanied by a beautiful and informative astronomical image. These can be used at work or at home. You can find these at the online stores for Astronomy and Sky and Telescope 

BOOKS
There is a literary universe of astronomy and space related books out there. You can browse Amazon and Barnes and Noble to find a title that fits your buying fancy. If you know what tweeks your stargazer’s interest you can try and buy a book. But I recommend giving them a gift card that they can use to buy a book of their choice. You may want to browse these websites in advance to make sure the gift card has a sufficient value to cover these usually expensive books. This has been a tried and true present to me from family for decades.

METEORITE
For a truly out of this world gift you can buy an actual space rock or more realistically, a piece of one, from the asteroid belt, Moon and even Mars. I have been a meteorite (space rock) collector for many years and have 208 in my collection. Truth be told your avid stargazer is probably frustrated at times with our cloudy weather. Nothing cures this frustration better than holding a piece of the solar system and contemplating where it came from and how it got to Earth.

You need to know your dealer in buying these amazing rocks that are 4.5 billion years old. New England Meteoritical Services has what I consider to be the best and most reasonably priced presentation sets for purchase which you can see when you scroll down their webpage. I have personally dealt with them and I highly recommend them. 

MOVIES
A great sock stuffer is a space themed movie. The Star Trek movies (new and old), ’‘Gravity’, ‘Europa Report’, ‘Cosmos the Series’ (original and new versions), any of the National Geographic, Science Channel, Discovery Channel, History Channel space themed segments are excellent.

BINOCULARS
If you have a budding stargazer that wants to see more of the sky than what their eyes alone can provide, quality binoculars are the ticket. A whole new view of the sky becomes possible and as an added bonus they can be used in daytime for bird watching and sporting events.

A good pair of binoculars will show impressive detail on the Moon, a few galaxies, star clusters and nebulae (you need to know where to look) and if you hold them steady enough, the four main moons of Jupiter. Star colors are richer in binoculars and very pretty to look at.

I recommend “7x50” binoculars - the 7 is the magnification while the 50 is the size of each objective lens in millimeters. This is a good compromise between magnification, light gathering ability and field of view. Less magnification means less detail but a wider field of view while more magnification reduces field of view while giving more detail. I would not go higher than 8 in magnification or lower than 50 in objective size for a beginner. There are large astro-binoculars out there but they are for advanced users.

You can buy binoculars at sporting goods stores and all of the major chains like Costco, Walmart and Amazon. A good online store that I have used for many years is Orion Telescopes. They have an excellent assortment, stand by their products and great customer service. They also have extensive descriptions and background information on types of binoculars and how to choose a pair.

TELESCOPE
This is the penultimate, and most risky, gift idea on my list. There is nothing quite like getting that first telescope and experiencing “first light” - the first view of the sky through it. It is risky because telescopes are an investment in terms of money and longevity. There is nothing worse than buying a ‘scope that never gets used because it is too complicated, too heavy or of poor quality - they collect dust from never being used.

With the right purchase there is no reason why a quality telescope will not last a person’s entire lifetime, or at least a good portion of it. Many nights of enjoyment and discovery at the eyepiece of a good telescope are pure joy to your stargazer.

There are many telescopes out there and to pick just the right one for your stargazer is a real shot in the dark, so to speak, unless you have “insider information”. If your astronomer has spent time studying telescopes and selecting a “final one” and letting you know it - go for it. BUT, make sure there is a return policy that allows you to get your money back if things don’t work out.

My recommendation for “first telescopes” is this. Put together a gift package or card that says that you will bankroll the purchase of a new telescope (I recommend setting a price limit as telescopes can cost thousands of dollars) after a selection process has determined the best telescope to buy. 

If this is a family member or significant other you can do this together. Astronomy, Sky and Telescope and Orion have sections on how to select a telescope and there are books on the subject as well. Going to a local astronomy club and attending a star party provides an opportunity to “test drive” different types of telescopes and look through them at a wide variety of astronomical objects. This will help immensely in the selection of a telescope.

I hope this has helped you on your out of this world holiday shopping. Drop me a Tweet or email if you have any questions.

Happy Holidays and clear skies.

Sky Guy in VA

Sky Guy Viewing ALERT 12-19-14 Waning crescent Moon & Saturn

Hey Space Placers!

Tomorrow morning before dawn the waning crescent Moon will join Saturn in the southeastern sky.


Moon 12-18-14 G. Redfern
Earthshine is caused by our planet's oceans and clouds reflecting sunlight which illuminates the Moon's unlit surface.

Enjoy the view!

Sky Guy in VA

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Name A Crater On Mercury

Hey Space Placers!

Learn how you can name a crater on the planet Mercury

5 craters are up for naming and the competition to submit names runs from 12/15/14 to 1/15/15.

Good luck!

Sky Guy in VA

Friday, December 12, 2014

UPDATED Sky Guy Viewing ALERT - The Geminid Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!

UPDATE:

On Dec. 13, Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office and a team of astronomers from Marshall Space Flight Center will host an overnight NASA web chat from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. CST, answering questions about the Geminid meteor shower.  To join the webchat on Dec. 13, log into the chat page at:http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids_2014.html

This weekend, especially on Saturday and Sunday nights, we will enjoy the peak time for what I think is the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids. I say best because it reliably produces a large number of meteors per hour (100-120) and many of them are bright. Plus the Geminids is the only major meteor shower where you can see a good number of meteors during the early evening hours instead of the hours just before dawn.

The predicted peak of the 2014 Geminid Meteor Shower are the nights of December 13 and 14 but you can see Geminids from the 12th to the 16th. Each year at this time our planet encounters a debris stream of rock particles made by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The Geminids is the only meteor shower caused by an asteroid or what astronomers call a rock comet - all others are due to cometary debris. 

As Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun it collides with this rocky debris stream and the particles hit our atmosphere at 22 miles per second (79,000 miles per hour) to become “shooting or falling stars”. It is thought that the Geminds are brighter than other meteor showers because they involve larger and heavier debris than normal cometary dust and penetrate deeper into the atmosphere.

The best place to see the Geminids is a location that is away from lights and obstructions such as trees and buildings. If you are a city dweller you still may see the brightest Geminids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in amongst tall buildings. The view of the Geminids is worth it from the suburbs as long as lights and obstructions are minimized as best you can. Out in the country or along the beach is the best place to be.

You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy the show - just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky. Starting at 9 p.m. look in the east for the constellation Gemini for which this meteor shower is named. Brilliant Jupiter is just below the constellation making it really easy to find and both will rise higher as the night progresses. A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to Gemini. Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be seen during the night as well.

The shower will continue all night and be best an hour before dawn - about 4 a.m. The Last Quarter Moon will obscure the dimmer meteors but there should be a bright shooting star every couple of minutes from a dark sky site. The key to watching the shower is being comfortable, in other words WARM. The Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking straight up gives you the widest viewing area - this is where the lounge chair or blanket come in handy. 

Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some music, food and beverages are an added plus. 

The weather may cloud us out in the WTOP viewing area for the Geminid Meteor Shower. Our best bet is to check the sky to see if it is clear when you want to go out to look for Geminids. 

If it is cloudy you can still observe the Geminid Meteor Shower by a very novel and cool means.

As I write this I am listening to meteor radar - yes radar that scans for incoming meteors as well as satellites and space debris. It is a fascinating way - just heard one!! - to monitor a meteor shower like the Geminids. Essentially the louder a ping is, the brighter the meteor would be in the sky.

You can listen during the day and night. 

Good hunting, clear skies or not!


Follow me on Twitter @SkyGuyinVA and my daily blog 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Enjoy These @ Sea Pics

Hey Space Placers!

Enjoy these pics….comms have been down at sea.

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Be back to regular entries tomorrow.

Sky Guy Heading to Florida.