19th Annual North Texas Skywatch Star Party

North TX Sky Watch Star PartyThe 19th Annual North Texas Skywatch Star Party will be held at Lake Mineral Wells State Park on Saturday, October 22, 2016.

The park is located 50 miles west of Fort Worth.  This very popular family friendly star party (average attendance of 200) is hosted by Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Dr. Mike Hibbs of Tarleton State University.

NTSW Star Party 2014
NTSW Star Party 2014

The North Texas Skywatch Star Party will start at 7:00 PM and last as long as observers want to stay up. The intent is to give the residence of the North Texas a nearby meeting place and dark sky location to get together. “I hope that all of those with telescopes can stay and share views through their telescopes, or knowledge of astronomy, to those wanting a chance to learn and see for the first time.” The only cost is the normal State Park admission. You will be able to camp out for the night if you want. Come early and enjoy the park and have a cookout.  Lake Mineral Wells State Park is about 50 miles west of Fort Worth off of HWY 180.  Contact the Park for the entrance and camping fees and reservations.

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park Star Party

Palo Pinto Mountains State Park will be hosting a Star Party on Saturday, October 1, 2016. This is a free event that is open to the public.

Telescope area.
Telescope area.

Members of both the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas and the Fort Worth Astronomical Society will be there with telescopes that you can use to view the night sky. Bring chairs, water, bug spray, and your own telescope if you would like.

ppmsp_2Directions: Exit I-20 at exit 361, go north on Hwy 16 four miles, turn West on FM 2372 for two miles and then follow the signs.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017 T-1 Year

Eclipse Mosaic
Eclipse Mosaic

Here we are less than 365 days until the total solar eclipse that will be seen from coast-to-coast in the U.S. on August 21, 2017.  This will be the first total solar eclipse to grace the U.S. mainland since 1979 and the first to sweep across the entire country since 1918!

animated map of the Moon's shadows across Earth
animated map of the Moon’s shadows across Earth

Before I go any further I want to say to all those reading this article who have never witnessed a total solar eclipse – please, please make every effort to get to the center line next summer and experience totality. Nothing compares to it. No words can adequately explain the awesome spectacle, the emotional response generated and grandeur of a total solar eclipse. You simply must experience it at least once in your lifetime.

Okay, now that I have that off my chest let me start by just being honest and upfront – eclipses are addictive! Watch one and you will probably find yourself gravitating to all the subsequent solar and lunar eclipses on the calendar. Eclipse chasers as they are called share a close bold with gold prospectors. Once the fever gets in your blood watch out, as you’ll be hooked for life.  That is not a bad thing.

Corona – total solar eclipse of February 26, 1998 from Aruba.

Now is the time to act! But wait?! The eclipse is a year away. Yes, it is but now is the time to plan your trip and make your travel arrangements. Is there a relative of yours that lives near the center line? Can we make a trip as a family to see this event even though it will take place right around the time many schools will be starting up, etc. There is work to be done to ensure you have all your bases covered and your plans ironed out. You do not want to wait until one, two or three months out to start making your travel plans. Trust me.

Photo credit: Astronomy Magazine
Photo credit: Astronomy Magazine

So as we proceed to countdown the days, weeks and months to what will most assuredly be referred to as “the great solar eclipse of 2017” I will be posting about this astronomical event and offering up important and timely information. My goal is to provide this information from a helpful perspective coming from an amateur astronomer who has seen a total solar eclipse with his own eyes and lived to tell about it.

So to recap, make your travel plans now for this eclipse. Do not wait. Now is the time to beat the masses and the last minute chaos and stress that goes with it.

Here are some helpful resources as you plan for the total solar eclipse of 2017.

  • The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse podcast – All about the upcoming total solar eclipse that will sweep across the U.S. on August 21, 2017. Listen to new programs and eclipse topics each week.
  •  Prepare for Totality 2017  is Astronomy Magazine’s page offering an interactive solar eclipse map of the path of totality (zoom in and out), eclipse facts, trip advice, helpful products, solar eclipse glossary, intro to safe solar viewing video as well as a free e-guide for download on the 2017 total solar eclipse.
  • 2017 Solar Eclipse Prime page – Fred Espenak “Mr. Eclipse” detailed discussion on the total solar eclipse of 2017. Your one stop shop for maps and information.
  • NASA’s Eclipse web site – This special web page contains preliminary information about the 2017 total eclipse of the Sun. It will be updated with more information as eclipse day approaches.

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

The 2016 edition of the Perseid Meteor Shower should be a good one. In most years the meteor shower produces 60 to 120 meteors per hour as seen under dark sky conditions but this year the Earth will be plowing through a more dense stream of cometary debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. On the morning of Friday, August 12th the shower peaks with up to 200 meteors per hour predicted.  NASA’s video below explains the Perseid meteor shower as well as other astro highlights for the month.

As the constellation Perseus rises in the northeast the Moon will be setting in the southwest at about 1:30 a.m. CDT here in the DFW area.  This will be the best time to begin watching for meteors.  Choose a location away from city lights. Use a reclining lawn chair so you and lean back and encompass as much of the night sky as possible. It’s not necessary to focus your gaze on the constellation Perseus.  All the meteors you see will appear to originate from this constellation if you were to trace them back to that point but you will be able to see meteors all over the sky. If you see a meteor that does not appear to trace back to Perseus in the northeast sky then you know you’ve seen a “sporadic” meteor (one not related to the current meteor shower).

Continue reading Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

Rio Brazos Star Party @ Acton Nature Center

Rio Brazos Star Party
Rio Brazos Star Party

The Rio Brazos chapter of Texas Master Naturalists will be hosting a star party on Saturday September 10, 2016 from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. at Acton Nature Center, 6900 Smoky Hill Ct. Granbury, TX 76049. There will be a guest speaker at the twilight program under the pavilion adjacent to the parking lot starting at 8:00 p.m. After the program attendees will take a short walk down the path to the farmhouse where we will have telescopes set up with sky guides to show you the night sky.

Please bring a blanket or chair to sit in, water to drink and enjoy the evening. Restrooms are available on site. We welcome anyone who is interested in sharing knowledge or telescopes with the public.

Sunset at Acton Nature Center

Mercury Transit 2016 Images

Mercury Transit 2016 started with an unfavorable weather forecast for the DFW area but as the day and the transit progressed the clouds began to break. The transit was in progress at sunrise here locally. I’ve uploaded the better images I took of the transit most of which were from just before maximum transit (9:58 a.m. CDT) until 3rd and 4th contact (or egress) I used my normal setup for these events a Meade 90mm (3.5″) ETX maksutov-cassegrain telescope with a Nikon D60 digital camera working at prime focus and a solar filter. These images are unedited and unprocessed.

Mercury Transit 2016

It’s been a decade since the planet Mercury passed in front of the Sun as seen from Earth. These transits happen about 13 times a century and November 8, 2006 was the last time it happened. I took the image below with a 90 mm Meade ETX telescope. Mercury is the small dot. The larger dot to the right is a giant sunspot.  You can see more of my transit images on my website.

Mercury Transit 11/8/06 Enhanced
Mercury Transit 11/8/06 Enhanced

This year on May 9, 2016 Mercury will once again slowly glide across the face of the Sun and it’ll make for a great observing opportunity for those in the U.S.A.  The transit will have already begun (6:12 a.m. CDT) for those in western parts of North America.  So when the Sun rises on May 9, 2016 at 6:34 a.m. CDT Mercury will already be working its way across the Sun. The greatest transit time for the DFW area will come around 9:58 a.m. CDT. Greatest transit is the instant when Mercury passes closest to the Sun’s center.  Mercury should begin to move off the face of the Sun at about 1:38 p.m. CDT. Continue reading Mercury Transit 2016

Current amateur astronomy information such as points of interest and events in the night sky, star party dates, educational information, telescopes buying tips and much more.