RASCals national email list – members can subscribe
Local observing sites – a Google Map maintained by Jim Cliffe
The next Astro Cafe will be held Jan 11, 2021
Winter Storm And The Great Conjunction
The trailing edge of an active Pacific frontal system will move inland early Monday evening. The Environment Canada Astronomy Cloud Forecast predicts that skies in the Victoria area will clear by 8PM. This will be too late to enjoy the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which will be best viewed near the western horizon around 5:30 PM PDT on Monday. You might want to have your grab and go scope at the ready just in case the front moves faster than anticipated. Then join us at the Astro Cafe Zoom Meeting at 7:30PM where we can weep or rejoice.
At 5:30 PM on Monday December 21st Jupiter will be 9 degrees above the horizon in the west. The angular separation of Jupiter and Saturn is 6 arc minutes 26 arc seconds … the closest it has been since 1623! Check it out!
Not Quite so Great Conjunction: Sunday December 20th
In case the weather is unfavourable on Monday evening you might want to give Sunday evening try. At 5:30 PM PST on Sunday December 20th, Jupiter is 9 deg 32 minutes above the horizon and the angular separation between Jupiter and Saturn is 7 arc minutes 43 arc seconds. Jupiter is only 1 arc minute 17 arc seconds closer to Saturn on Monday night than Sunday night which is only two Jupiter diameters closer!
SPEAKER: The Age and Parent Body of the Quadrantid meteoroid stream – Dr. Abedin Abedin, a postdoctoral fellow from NRC Herzberg
Abedin Abedin will share his research on meteoroid streams … the swarm of particles left in the wake of comets and near earth asteroids that cause meteor showers. This presentation is just in time to kindle enthusiasm for the Geminids. This is the strongest meteor shower of the year and will peak on the 13th of December.
Interesting Presentations Recommended by Jim Hesser …
Presentation on the Perseverance Rover
Jim Hesser writes: I highly recommend this recorded talk by Dr. Farah Alibay on NASA’s Perseverance rover (scheduled to land on Mars on 18 Feb. 2021). She is an excellent communicator who enriches the engineering story with many human interest elements. While anyone interested in planetary exploration would likely find it interesting, about fifteen minutes before the end of the recording she’s asked a question about what barriers she faced on her way to a great job at the Jet Propulsion Labooratory. Her answer will encourage and inspire any young person (particularly girls) to persevere in following their dreams.
“Mars 2020: The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Ottawa Centre in conjunction with the RASC Montréal Centre is excited to invite you to learn all about the Engineering of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission and the Perseverance Rover during a webinar by Montreal-born Dr. Farah Alibay. Dr. Alibay is a flight system engineer on the team that will “drive” the rover on Mars, having prior experience with 2 other Mars missions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Dr. Alibay possesses an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Cambridge in the U.K., and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all in Aerospace Engineering. We are pleased to co-host this exciting Zoom Webinar with the RASC Montréal Centre and the RASC NextGen Committee.”
The search for life as we don’t know it … a 30 minute conversation
Earth is the only place in the Universe where we know life definitely exists. But does that mean life, if it exists elsewhere, will always thrive in Earth-like conditions, with our particular set of chemicals, temperatures, and pressures?
On December 3rd, Heather Graham, a fellow in CIFAR’s Earth 4D: Subsurface Science & Exploration program and research associate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, introduced her unique approach to the search for extraterrestrial life. She starts from the assumption that life in the universe need not have much in common with life on Earth, and looks for agnostic biosignatures that may help us find life that is different from the life we know on Earth. To watch, go to https://www.cifar.ca/virtual-talks. After registration you can view the conversation with her.
Solar Eclipses: Science and the Spectacle on December 14th
Post election uncertainty and record high Covid case numbers overshadowed recent astronomical developments. A few warrant an honourable mention. On November 16th the Space X Crew Dragon -1 Resilience was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket. It delivered 3 American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut to the International Space Station the next day. This mission was a milestone as it was the first American space vehicle to deliver an operational crew to the ISS since the Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. In the meantime astronauts had to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The commercial entity Space X provided both the launch vehicle and capsule for this 6 month mission.
On November 25th, Space X also placed another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total so far to 955. Delivery of global broadband internet to underserved areas from this fledgling network has already commenced. A constellation of 12000 Starlink satellites have already been approved and a request for an additional 30000 has been submitted. The growing alarm from the astronomical community regarding the impact of this vast swarm of satellites was discussed in the May 2020 President’s message.
But as the adage goes, what goes up must come down. I am not talking about satellites here but rather the receiver of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. Weighing in at 900 tons the receiver spent November dangling 500 feet above the iconic 1000 foot diameter spherical dish. When one cable broke in August it caused some alarm but when a second more substantial cable snapped in early November it was decided that the instrument could not be safely repaired. That decision received dramatic justification on the morning of December 1st with the failure of another major cable. This allowed the receiver to plunge into the side of the dish in a catastrophic manner which was captured on an astonishing video. What a tragic end to such a productive and beautiful symbol of science.
A softer landing occurred on December 1st when China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft successfully touched down on an elevated volcanic mound Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum. A video of the landing and the collection of moon samples. The Chang’e 5 ascent vehicle lifted off the Moon on December 3rd and is planned to return samples to Earth within a week.
Another sample return mission is underway. On October 20th NASA’s ORISIS-REx spacecraft successfully acquired about 60 grams of the asteroid Bennu during a touch and go operation. Images suggest that it caught more than anticipated and the sample storage procedure was expedited and completed two days later. The spacecraft will begin its return journey in March 2021 and is scheduled to reach Earth in 2023. This mission will provide a pristine sample of the primordial material that formed the Solar System.
One asteroid of particular interest is 3200 Phaethon which is the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower. Most meteor showers are associated with comets but because 3200 Phaethon comes very close to the Sun it heats up to 700C and sheds particles and dust and has been dubbed a “rock comet”. This year the Geminids will peak around the 13th of December which is a new moon. So we will be particularly well situated to enjoy this spectacle … weather permitting. To learn more about “rock comets” be sure to attend the December 7th Astro Cafe where meteor expert Dr. Abedin Abedin will be the guest speaker.
Remember that the FDAO will be holding a Zoom Winter Solstice Star Party on December 19th. Event info
Also remember that the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will occur on December 21st. Saturn will only be 12 Jupiter diameters away! It is the closest that they have appeared since 1623. So if skies cooperate, point you scope to the western horizon near sunset and savour the sight.
So despite the pandemic plenty is going on aloft. So when skies are usable be sure to look up and enjoy.
Wishing you good health and the very best of the festive season.