If you’re looking for a New Year’s miracle in astronomy, Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is about the closest thing to it. Discovered back in August, the comet was never supposed to achieve naked-eye visibility, but it already has! It will continue to brighten when it’s expected to peak some time around January 7th where it will be near Rigel and the Orion constellation. As of this writing, it’s currently on its way out of Lepus and heading higher and higher into the night sky.
Moonlight will distract from getting a perfectly clear viewing through early January as we reach a full moon on January 4th, but the moon will start setting later and later after that, making the second week in January ideal for watching the comet. Don’t get too discouraged now though! With a pair of binoculars aimed in the right direction, the comet can be easily found and viewed, and since it’s growing in brightness, it will get even easier to spot with the naked eye.
The comet was named after Terry Lovejoy from Australia who has found several comets in recent years. It was 4,000 dimmer than it is now when he first discovered it and its rotation around our sun takes roughly 11,500 years! Due to the planets’ effects on the comet, it’s expected to return in roughly 8,000 years.
Ever wondered what a Wyoming Stargazing tour would look like as a time-lapse? I used to also. Then I made the video below.
Back in September, the media went buzzing with the prospect of northern lights and how they were going to wow the socks off of the lower 48! They never showed up though. Not even the newsletter we sent out that day could coax the auroras down south (we tried). Hoping for a time-lapse of stargazing below the northern lights, I set my gear up and captured a time-lapse that night regardless. Early in the video, there is a faint pink glow on the northern horizon, but it fades fairly quickly. Toward the end, the landscape becomes lit up as the moon rises in the east. Throughout the video, you can see us making good use of our laser pointers as the occasional car drives by, also lighting up the landscape from the east.
The time-lapse on its own seemed like it needed some noise in the background, so I threw together a little track to go with it.
We’re excited to announce that our free, public stargazing events have moved to the Center for the Arts located in downtown Jackson. This move allows us to reach more people thanks to a more convenient location to both locals and tourists, as well as receiving support from the Center for the Arts itself.
In addition, this move also helps us to educate people on the threats that light pollution pose, which you will be hearing about much more from us as Wyoming Stargazing takes a more active stance in helping Jackson reclaim its night skies. To see what’s at stake, you can watch a short film on the subject on this blog post.
We’ll be meeting on the south side of the building (facing Snow King) on the lawn for the following dates throughout the winter:
Last night at the shores of Colter Bay Wyoming Stargazing reached our 1,000th stargazer! In just five short months since we began our programming Wyoming Stargazing has gone from hosting one program a week to hosting on average five programs a week. In additional to our night time stargazing events we are also hosting solar astronomy events at the Peoples’ Market at the base of Snow King every Wednesday evening from 4pm-7pm for the rest of the summer. During those events we can show you sunspots and solar flares through our specialized solar telescopes. We also host solar astronomy at the Colter Bay Visitor Center on select Tuesday afternoons this summer. Check out our Calendar for details. We hope to see you soon at one of our programs!
Last week Wyoming stargazing hosted two stargazing events for about 30 students from Parkway Middle School who were visiting the Teton Science Schools’ Kelly Campus. The first program, which was held on Tuesday evening, ended at 9:30pm because the students needed get back to bed after a long day. After an indoor presentation we went outside and checked out Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Neither the students nor their teachers were satisfied with just seeing the planets in the sky which was just beginning to get dark. So, they asked if I would come back later in the week during the middle of the night in order to be able to see some deep space objects in a really dark sky. I loved that idea.
I returned on Friday night at 1:30am to a group of about 20 of the students who were willing to interrupt their sleep for some astronomy. They had an incredible time viewing the Trifid Nebula, the Swan Nebula, the Ring Nebula, The Hercules Globular Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, and of course Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
At about 3:30am the students were about ready to head back to sleep. One of them stepped forward and thanked me for teaching them about astronomy and inspiring them to learn more about science. She held out her hand, pressed two one-dollar bills into my hand and said, “this is for your organization.” Then, every one of her classmates followed suite and handed me one or two dollars as a donation for Wyoming Stargazing. I started to cry. Enough said.
Even though summer isn’t officially here for another couple of weeks, it sure has felt like summer here in Jackson. So, Wyoming Stargazing kicked off our Summer Session of Stargazing at Stilson this past Wednesday by holding two raffles to win a 6″ Donsobian telescope and a first generation iPad.
We had a perfectly cloudless night with Boreal Chorus Frogs serenading us in the background. Everyone who attended was able to see the craters on the Moon, the cloud bands of Jupiter, the Rings of Saturn, the Ring Nebula, the Hercules Globular Cluster, Bode’s Galaxy, the Cigar Galaxy, and even the distant Whirlpool Galaxy. At the end of the evening we drew the lucky winners of the raffle. Congratulations to Rick Bunker who was drawn as the winner for both the telescope and the the iPad!! Thanks so much for everyone who entered the raffle in person and on-line. Your generous donations will go towards continuing our free stargazing programs and to realizing our vision of creating a public observatory and planetarium in Jackson Hole.
On the night of Monday, April 14th there is going to be a Total Lunar Eclipse and Wyoming Stargazing wants to help you experience it for FREE! We’ll be setting up our telescopes at the Stilson Parking Lot as usual, about 100 yards behind the Start Bus bus stop building, at about midnight. The eclipse begins at that time and reaches totality at about 1am on Tuesday morning. The eclipse ends at about 2am. When the Moon is eclipsed there will be lots of other objects to view in the sky, such as Mars which on the 15th will almost be at its closest approach to Earth this year. We hope to see you out there at Stilson. Please spread the word!
For more information about the eclipse check out the following NASA website.
Thanks so much to everyone who has already come out to one of our free stargazing events. We hope you’ll come to this special free event as well.
Another special thanks to those of you who have left donations for us and/or have written testimonials on our website. Your support is greatly appreciated! It’s never too late to give us a testimonial or make a donation. If you had a good time attending one of our events, please consider clicking on one or both of the following donation and testimonial links on the Wyoming Stargazing website to show your support. Thanks!
We had our second free public stargazing event tonight. The clouds moved in early, but not before I was able to snap a few pictures of the moon through the telescope with my Droid camera. They are not the best moon pictures ever taken, but not too shabby for manually holding a Droid camera next to the eyepiece of a telescope! I can’t wait until we get a Cannon Rebel T5i to do some serious astrophotography.