A Unicorn Spitting 400 Meteors per Hour

Possible meteor shower in Monoceros – the Unicorn!

Radiant for the Monocerotids Meteor Shower

“What’s rarer than seeing a unicorn? How about a unicorn spitting meteors at the rate of 400 per hour?”

lead in from Sky & Telescope’s Nov, 2019 article on the Alpha Monocerotids meteor shower

A meteor shower is possible this week on the evening of Thursday Nov 21st and extending into the early morning on Nov 22nd. Meteor forecasters Esko Lyytinen (Finnish Fireball Network) and Peter Jenniskens (NASA/Ames) predict this could cause another outburst of alpha Monocerotid meteors.

During previous outbursts, in 1925 and 1935, activity reached meteor-storm levels with a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of more than 1,000. Near-storm level ZHRs around 700 to 400 were experienced in 1985 and 1995. Conditions this year are nearly the same as those in 1995 leading Lyytinen and to Jenniskens to predict a ZHR of 400.

The peak rate is centered at 08:50 PM PST on Thursday November 21st. The show is expected to be brief, with the peak rate lasting only 15 to 45 minutes. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky but the paths of meteors will appear to originate from a point in the constellation Monoceros, near the bright star Procyon. The predicted ZHR is an over-estimate based on the extending the peak rate to a full hour, observing at the zenith with very dark skies. The best case, for real observing at a good location, might be closer to a maximum of 5 meteors per minute.

There is some good news & bad news for BC observers:

  • The current weather forecast looks somewhat favourable, partially cloudy is pretty good for this time of year in our temperate rainforest.
  • The radiant will be below the horizon during the shower peak which may compromise the view, but a few long earth-grazers may appear shooting upward from the eastern horizon.
Monoceros & Procyon rising one hour after the expected peak of the meteor shower.
Nov 21st, 2019 21:50 PST from Vancouver

It is still worth going out for a look. Try to find a dark place with an open view to the east.

Learning about Gravity Waves

Jess McIver‘s talk on Cosmic collisions observed with Advanced LIGO at last Thursday’s public monthly meeting was an eye-opener for me. I knew little about gravity waves and her talk was filled with fascinating facts. The following are some of the highlights for me.

Gravity waves are produced by asymmetric events like two black holes in close orbit around each other or a fast spinning neutron star with bumps on its surface.

The LIGO detectors are incredibly sensitive interferometers that can sense changes in length up to 10,000 times smaller than the width of a proton.

Schematic layout of a LIGO interferometer

There are 4 operational gravity wave detectors around the world: LIGO in Livingston Louisiana, another LIGO close by in Hanford Washington, GEO600 in Germany, and VIRGO in Italy. Another detector in Japan is expected to become operational within the next few months.

Gravity wave detectors are more like microphones than telescopes as they can pickup events from any direction in the sky. The current detection techniques assume that detectable events are rare so they don’t have to take into account two events at the same time in different parts of the sky.

It can be better to listen to gravity wave signals rather than using our eyes as is done with light-based astronomy. You can even download ringtones made from gravity wave sounds by The Albert Einstein Institute Hanover.

The strength of a gravity wave signals drops off proportionally with distance. This is quite different from how light works where the strength of the signal drops with the distance squared.  So there is hope in detecting ultra-distant gravitational waves. Improving the sensitivity of a detector by 100 times means we can see 100 times farther, rather than the 10 times farther that we could see with a light detector that was 100 times more sensitive. Very Cool! I had to look up more information on this one and found more details in this Forbes article.

Signals are found using matched filtering, in which data from detectors are cross-correlated with a theoretical waveforms constructed from Einstein’s general relativity equations applied to events like black-hole merges.

The gravitational-wave event GW150914 observed by LIGO

Gravity waves may be a good tool for exploring dark matter since dark matter is affected by gravity, but it may hard to detect signal from dark matter unless it clumps into compact objects like black holes or neutron stars.

The Gravitational Wave Open Science Center provides open data from gravitational-wave observatories, along with access to tutorials and software tools.

Citizen scientists all over the world are contributing to LIGO research with Gravity Spy.

Nova Newsletter – Nov/Dec 2019

Our NOVA Newsletter for Nov-Dec 2019 is available as a pdf file. An archive of older issues can be found on our Newsletter page.

Contents of Volume 2019, Issue 6, Nov-Dec 2019:

Manning Park Dark Sky Event Beginner’s Weekend, by Suzanna Nagy

President’s Message by Leigh Cummings

Manning Dark Sky – Intermediate Weekend by Ken Jackson

Why Star-Hop? 14 Reasons by Robert Conrad and Andrew Krysa

Donate Surplus To Radio Telescope Project

RASC Vancouver has started a project to setup a radio telescope and we are asking for donations of surplus equipment such as the following:

  • Laptops (maybe you have one from your latest upgrade, want a new one and need an excuse 😀). The laptops will be used, with radio astronomy software, for a portable setup at RASC Vancouver events,
  • Antennae and large dish antennae,
  • Cabling,
  • Radio receivers,
  • Ham radio equipment.

You never know what will be useful since we are just starting out. If you have equipment to donate then email Ken Arthurs, our Director of Telescopes at [email protected].

The Sept/Oct edition of our NOVA newsletter has an article that describes our initial forays into radio astronomy.

RASC 2020 GA Announcement & Survey

The RASC Vancouver Centre is hosting the RASC 2020 General Assembly! We are planning an exciting series of talks, presentations, speakers, and public outreach activities.

GA 2020 Announcement and Survey

The 2020 GA will be held from Friday, June 5 to Sunday, June 7 at the Executive Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre in Coquitlam B.C. The public Helen Sawyer Hogg lecture will take place at Simon Fraser University, with an opportunity to visit the Trottier Observatory afterwards.

Keep an eye out on the GA Website for updates!

Help us make the 2020 General Assembly in Vancouver our best one yet! Please take a moment and fill out a survey to help Vancouver Centre estimate attendance to the 2020 GA.

Your survey response will help the GA planning committee, and will not be made public.

Solar System Updates from the Spilkers at Oct Meeting

Linda and Tom Spilker explored the Solar System together during their work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. See them at our Oct meeting where they will be talking about their work along with recent updates.

Date: Thursday Oct 10th at 7:30 pm
Location: Room C 9001 in the Chemistry Building, Simon Fraser University
(just off of the south-west corner of the Academic Quadrangle).

The talk is open to the public, family friendly, and there is no charge for admission. See our meetup page for bios and a detailed campus map: https://www.meetup.com/astronomy-131/events/hfjttqyznbnb/

Topic 1: Cassini’s Intriguing New Discoveries by Dr. Linda Spilker

Dr. Linda Spilker, Cassini Project Scientist, will present updates of the highlights of Cassini’s 13-year mission of discovery at Saturn. Since the end of Cassini’s mission scientists have been teasing out new information about Saturn, the rings and moons from the huge stock of data collected during the mission. Some of the most surprising results were discovered during the final orbits of the mission, diving through the gap between the rings and Saturn for the very first time.

Speaker #2: Architecting Space Missions by Dr. Tom Spilker

Since establishing my consulting business I have worked with multiple NASA centers, such as JPL, Goddard Research Center, Glenn Research Center, and Langley Research Center, multiple universities, and private corporations and companies, on a variety of space flight mission concepts and instrument concepts. Straying somewhat (but not entirely!) from the science missions, recently I have architected a large, rotating space station for the Gateway Foundation and its operating arm, Orbital Assembly Corp. Among other important functions, that space station should make it much easier to implement planetary science missions, trips to the moon, and large telescopes in space.

#MeasureTheSkyBC in Sept 2019

Loss of the Night App and MeasureTheSkyBC

As it gets closer to a new Moon, Sept 20th and into the first week of October are great dates to help with our #MeasureTheSkyBC campaign to measure light pollution  and it is your last opportunity to get a chance to win a prize – including a premium eyepiece!

It’s easy – all you need is your phone & your eyes!

Last Month, TK & CD from Kitsilano won by using the Loss of the Night app on 11 stars at Cascade Look Out in Manning Park. They reported their limiting magnitude was greater than 5 from that site.

This month, we are giving away a premium Celestron 15mm Luminos Eyepiece as main prize.

We are also giving away a copy of the RASC book “Explore the Universe Guide” and free registration to the Cascade Star Gazer’s Package at Manning Park’s Astronomy Weekend, on October 18-20 & 25-27, 2019.

To get a chance to win a prize, send an email to [email protected] with your location and experience with measuring the sky, include the date/time and limiting magnitude from the Loss of the Night app if possible.

Thanks go to the Merritt Astronomical Society, Starizona, and Manning Park Resort for providing prizes for this campaign.

Here are more details on using the Loss of The Night app:

Loss of the Nigh App Logo
  • Install the Loss of the Night app from the Apple App store or the Google Play store.
  • Start the app and enter some basic user information in the user data section such as your age, whether you wear glasses/contacts, and your observing experience.
  • Go outside on a clear night. Try to pick a location where you can see a large part of the sky and that is away from bright lights. Ideally, pick a time after 10:00 pm when the sun is well below the horizon (after the end of astronomical twilight).
  • Follow the instructions in the app to start measuring stars.
Loss of the Night app Screenshot  with direction arrow
Follow the arrow to find a target star.

Using the app is a fun, video-game like experience – great for kids. It works by helping you find target stars and then asking if the star is visible with your eyes. There is a demo mode so you can even try it out during the day. The app does not need internet (after it is installed) so you can use it when camping or out at a remote location.

Start by aiming your phone/tablet at the sky. The app displays a star field over-laid with a circle and an arrow.

Move your phone/tablet in the direction of the arrow. Go slowly and turn your whole body as necessary to follow the arrow.

Is the target star visible with your eyes?

When you locate the target star, a large orange circle is displayed, a smaller flashing yellow circle appears around the target star, and the display freezes.

Now you can lower your phone/tablet and look to see if the target star is visible with your eyes. Finish with this target by clicking the appropriate button.

Repeat on 8 target stars to get a good measure of the light pollution at your location. Expect some target stars to be easily visible, some barely visible, and some not visible, as the app tries to narrow down what you can see at your location.

After you’ve finished your measurement, the app will display your “limiting magnitude” which can be used as a measure of light pollution. Your data can be sent anonymously to a global database of light pollution measurements. You can see your measurement on a map, track changes over time, and compare it to other observations from around the world at http://www.myskyatnight.com.

Don’t forget to send an email to [email protected] for a chance to win a prize – please include the date/time, your location and limiting magnitude in the email if possible.

Big Jove not Done for the Season

By Avid planet watcher – Milan B

It’s mid September. It’s been more than 3 months since Jupiter reached opposition in early June. It was a memorable summer for many Jupiter observers like myself despite fewer than usual clear summer nights and the lower than usual position of Jupiter for northern observers.

As Big Jove is heading towards the deep winter sleep, barely hanging in the southwestern sky after the sunset, one may ask: when will this apparition of Jupiter end, isn’t it almost over?

Observe Jupiter Image
Brilliant Jupiter or Big Jove currently appears low in the southwestern sky just after sunset. Image credit: National Geographic Magazine.

Well, it’s true that the big gas giant lies very low in the sky, waiting for the fast approaching Sun to catch up from the west, but the season finale is being delayed by an unexpected gift from the Sun itself.

After spending nearly six months decorating the northern hemisphere our local star is quickly descending towards the Celestial Equator and then into the Southern Hemisphere taking with it a big chink of daylight for northern mid-latitude observers, almost 4 minutes every day. The depletion of the daylight hours is especially visible in the evenings — only in the month of September does the sunset times shift by more than one hour (earlier in the day) for observers at 49° North.

The Sun is moving eastward throughout the year, while Jupiter switched from retrograde (westward) to direct (eastward) motion around the 11th of August as it started galloping through the southern zodiac constellations. This results in Jupiter setting times (which are occurring earlier each day) slightly delayed compared to the stationary stars. For stars (which rise and set) the difference between two consecutive star-rises or star-sets is about 4 minutes – the difference between the solar day and the sidereal day on Earth. 

For Jupiter this difference is already much lower than 4 minutes for all of September and it is being further reduced as Jupiter is heading towards the superior conjunction with the Sun in December this year. However, the solar contribution to this delay (the pace of the shortening of the daylight hours) will decay slowly as we enter the autumn months and will completely stop at Winter Solstice. 

The peak of this unusual delay will be in the period between October 3rd and October 9th as shown in the table below. During this week we will lose only 9 minutes of potential observing time for Jupiter.

Table 1) A combination of Jupiter’s accelerating eastward motion in the sky and the rapid descent of the Sun in northern skies results in extending this year’s Jupiter observing season by a few weeks.

Jupiter will be visible for at least another two months, sinking ever lower in the SW sky, before the Solar System’s largest planet gets lost in the December twilight. So, please go out and enjoy the big Jove’s apparition while it lasts.

Could celestial geometry arrange a completely opposite phenomenon from the one mentioned above? Stay tuned for the accelerated season ending of the brightest star in the sky – Sirius. It will happen, you might have guessed, exactly six months from now.

Nova Newsletter – Sep/Oct 2019

Our NOVA Newsletter for Sep-Oct 2019 is available as a pdf file. An archive of older issues can be found on our Newsletter page.

Contents of Volume 2019, Issue 5, Sep-Oct 2019:

Merritt Star Quest 2019, by Suzanna Nagy

President’s Message, by Leigh Cummings

RASC Vancouver at Zajac Ranch, by Ken Jackson

Meteor Trail Radio Echoes, by Preston Thompson & William F. Wall

50-Year Anniversary of the Moon Landings, by Ted Stroman

Neptune – This Week & Next

Robert Conrad, our Observing Chair, posted on Facebook about a close conjunction of Neptune with the 4.2 magnitude star Phi Aquarii in Aquarius. The pair will be less than 15 arc-seconds apart on Thursday, Sept 6th – that is about a third of Jupiter’s apparent size at opposition – so the pair will appear practically on top of each other.

Neptune Storms

The Great Dark Spot of Neptune at the top accompanied by “Dark Spot 2” further south. Image credit: NASA/Voyager 2 Team

But then just after midnight on Monday, Sept 9th (technically, it will be Tuesday at 00:07:12 am), Neptune reaches opposition when it is directly opposite the Sun as viewed from the Earth. Neptune will have moved slightly to the west of Phi Aquarii by then but is still close – within 10 arc=minutes.

If you haven’t seen Neptune then this is a great opportunity. Neptune is not visible to the naked-eye as its magnitude of 7.8 is well past the limit for naked-eye observations. You may get a glimpse of it using steady-supported binoculars but a 200x view through a 150 mm or larger telescope is required to resolve it into a disk. Either way, the 4.2 magnitude star Phi Aquarii is a good guide. AAVSO charts are on Robert’s post at:


Even better is to observe Neptune over several nights and notice its motion relative to Phi Aquarii. Neptune’s orbital period of 164.6 years makes it move slowly across the sky, it will still be together with Phi Aquarri in a one degree field of view on Oct 1st, 2019.

Recording the relative positions over several nights lets you avoids Galileo’s missed opportunity – there is evidence that Galileo observed Neptune on January 6th, 1613, and again on January 27, 1613 and noted a slight discrepancy in its position versus the background stars. However, there is no record that he made further observations and he likely thought it to be a fixed blue star rather than a planet.

Credit for Neptune’s discovery goes to Britain’s John Couch Adams and France’s Urbain Le Verrier who had worked out the position of a theoreticl 8th planet independently based on perturbations in the observed orbit of Uranus. Le Verrier’s analysis predicted the new planet’s location to with one degree of where it was observed by J. G. Galle and H. L. d’Arrest, staff astronomers at the Berlin Observatory, in 1846.

Neptune is a gas giant, like its near twin Uranus: it has more mass than Uranus but is slightly smaller because its greater mass cause more gravitational compression of its atmosphere. The methane in Neptune’s upper atmosphere absorbs the red light from the Sun but reflects the blue light from the Sun back into space. This is why Neptune appears blue. Neptune has the strongest winds of any planet in our solar system with wind speeds reaching 2,000 km/h, three time stronger than Jupiter’s. It has several large dark spots with the largest known as the Great Dark Spot – similar to the hurricane-like storms and the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.