Supernovae in the Milky Way

The first recorded supernova in our Milky Way galaxy (or anywhere else, for that matter) was seen to blaze forth in the constellation Centaurus by astute Chinese astronomers in 185 AD. Including that one, only seven confirmed supernovae have been observed in our Milky Way galaxy, though thousands are discovered each year in other galaxies.

Supernova light reached Earth in AD 185, 393, 1006, 1054, 1181, 1572, and 1604. All seven of these events occurred before the invention of the telescope. Are we overdue for another supernova? Well, given this ridiculously small sample, we can endeavor to do some simple “statistics”. The shortest recorded interval between two Milky Way supernovae was 32 years between 1572 and 1604. The longest interval has been 613 years, between the supernovae of 393 and 1006 (assuming none went unnoticed). On average then (such as it is), we “should” have seen a Milky Way supernova around 1841, and using the longest interval of 613 years, we might be expecting one by the year 2217. Undoubtedly, some supernovae in the Milky Way have escaped detection because they lay behind thick interstellar clouds.

The big mystery to me is why are there no recorded supernova events prior to 185 AD? The earliest extant records of astronomical events go back at least as far as 2316 BC (a comet in the constellation Crater was recorded by Chinese astronomers), but in the intervening 2,500 years there has been no mention of anything that could be attributed to a supernova. Or has there? Some writings before and after 185 AD suggest possible supernovae, but until a supernova remnant is identified, we need to look for other explanations.

Here follows a table of the known observed Milky Way supernovae. Of course, other supernova remnants have been discovered in our Milky Way galaxy, but no record has yet been discovered describing these events. Many of them predate recorded history.

In the table below, you’ll note that these supernovae tend to lie close to the galactic plane (galactic latitude b = 0°)—not at all surprising considering that’s where most of the stars are.

Milky Way Supernovae confirmed to have been observed

Zodiacal Light 2021

In 2021, the best dates and times for observing the zodiacal light are listed in the calendar below. The sky must be very clear with little or no light pollution. The specific times listed are for Dodgeville, Wisconsin (42° 58′ N, 90° 08′ W).

Here’s a nicely-formatted printable PDF file of the zodiacal light calendar:

January 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Zodiacal Light 6:49 – 7:26 p.m. West
31
Zodiacal Light 6:50 – 7:50 p.m. West
           

February 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
Zodiacal Light 6:51 – 7:51 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 6:52 – 7:52 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 6:53 – 7:53 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 6:54 – 7:54 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 6:56 – 7:56 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 6:57 – 7:57 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 6:58 – 7:58 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 6:59 – 7:59 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 7:02 – 8:02 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 7:03 – 8:03 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 7:04 – 8:04 p.m. West
13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28
Zodiacal Light 7:23 – 7:36 p.m. West
           

March 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
Zodiacal Light 7:25 – 8:25 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 7:26 – 8:26 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 7:27 – 8:27 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 7:28 – 8:28 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 7:29 – 8:29 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 7:31 – 8:31 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 7:32 – 8:32 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 7:33 – 8:33 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 7:34 – 8:34 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 7:36 – 8:36 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 7:37 – 8:37 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 7:38 – 8:38 p.m. West
13
Zodiacal Light 7:40 – 8:40 p.m. West
14
Zodiacal Light 8:41 – 9:41 p.m. West
15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30
Zodiacal Light 9:03 – 10:03 p.m. West
31
Zodiacal Light 9:04 – 10:04 p.m. West
     

April 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1
Zodiacal Light 9:05 – 10:05 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 9:07 – 10:07 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 9:08 – 10:08 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 9:10 – 10:10 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 9:11 – 10:11 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 9:13 – 10:13 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 9:14 – 10:14 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 9:16 – 10:16 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 9:17 – 10:17 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 9:19 – 10:19 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 9:20 – 10:20 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 9:22 – 10:22 p.m. West
13
Zodiacal Light 9:24 – 10:24 p.m. West
14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

May 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

June 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      

July 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

August 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        

September 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1 2 3 4
5 6
Zodiacal Light 3:52 – 4:52 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 3:53 – 4:53 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 3:54 – 4:54 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 3:56 – 4:56 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 3:57 – 4:57 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 3:58 – 4:58 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:00 – 5:00 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:01 – 5:01 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:02 – 5:02 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:04 – 5:04 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:05 – 5:05 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 4:06 – 5:06 a.m. East
18
Zodiacal Light 4:08 – 5:08 a.m. East
19
Zodiacal Light 4:59 – 5:09 a.m. East
20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

October 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1 2
3 4 5
Zodiacal Light 4:28 – 5:28 a.m. East
6
Zodiacal Light 4:30 – 5:30 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 4:31 – 5:31 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 4:32 – 5:32 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 4:33 – 5:33 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 4:34 – 5:34 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 4:35 – 5:35 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:37 – 5:37 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:38 – 5:38 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:39 – 5:39 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:40 – 5:40 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:41 – 5:41 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 4:42 – 5:42 a.m. East
18
Zodiacal Light 5:03 – 5:43 a.m. East
19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            

November 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1 2 3 4
Zodiacal Light 5:03 – 6:03 a.m. East
5
Zodiacal Light 5:04 – 6:04 a.m. East
6
Zodiacal Light 5:05 – 6:05 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 4:06 – 5:06 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 4:07 – 5:07 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 4:08 – 5:08 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 4:09 – 5:09 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 4:10 – 5:10 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:12 – 5:12 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:13 – 5:13 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:14 – 5:14 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:15 – 5:15 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:16 – 5:16 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 5:06 – 5:17 a.m. East
18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

December 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

The best nights to observe the zodiacal light at mid-northern latitudes occur when the ecliptic plane intersects the horizon at an angle of 60° or steeper. The dates above were chosen on that basis, with the Sun at least 18° below the horizon and the Moon below the horizon being used to calculate the times. An interval of time of one hour either before morning twilight or after evening twilight was chosen arbitrarily because it is the “best one hour” for observing the zodiacal light. The zodiacal light cone will be brightest and will reach highest above the horizon when the Sun is 18° below the horizon (astronomical twilight), but no less.

If you are interested in calculating the angle the ecliptic makes with your horizon for any date and time, you can use the following formula:

\cos I = \cos \varepsilon \sin \phi-\sin \varepsilon \cos \phi \sin \theta

where I is the angle between the ecliptic and the horizon, ε is  the obliquity of the ecliptic, φ is the latitude of the observer, and θ is the local sidereal time (the right ascension of objects on the observer's meridian at the time of observation).

Here’s a SAS program I wrote to do these calculations:

References
Meeus, J. Astronomical Algorithms. 2nd ed., Willmann-Bell, 1998, p. 99.

Meteor Shower Calendar 2021

Here’s our meteor shower calendar for 2021.  It is sourced from the IMO’s Working List of Visual Meteor Showers (https://www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2021.pdf, Table 5, p. 25).

Each meteor shower is identified using its three-character IAU meteor shower code.  Codes are bold on the date of maximum, and one day either side of maximum.

Here’s a printable PDF file of the meteor shower calendar shown below:

Happy meteor watching!

January 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1
DLM QUA
2
DLM QUA
3
DLM QUA
4
DLM QUA
5
DLM QUA
6
DLM QUA
7
DLM QUA
8
DLM QUA
9
DLM QUA
10
DLM QUA GUM
11
DLM QUA GUM
12
DLM QUA GUM
13
DLM GUM
14
DLM GUM
15
DLM GUM
16
DLM GUM
17
DLM GUM
18
DLM GUM
19
DLM GUM
20
DLM GUM
21
DLM GUM
22
DLM GUM
23
DLM
24
DLM
25
DLM
26
DLM
27
DLM
28
DLM
29
DLM
30
DLM
31
DLM ACE
           
February 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
DLM ACE
2
DLM ACE
3
DLM ACE
4
DLM ACE
5
ACE
6
ACE
7
ACE
8
ACE
9
ACE
10
ACE
11
ACE
12
ACE
13
ACE
14
ACE
15
ACE
16
ACE
17
ACE
18
ACE
19
ACE
20
ACE
21 22 23 24 25
GNO
26
GNO
27
GNO
28
GNO
           
March 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
GNO
2
GNO
3
GNO
4
GNO
5
GNO
6
GNO
7
GNO
8
GNO
9
GNO
10
GNO
11
GNO
12
GNO
13
GNO
14
GNO
15
GNO
16
GNO
17
GNO
18
GNO
19
GNO
20
GNO
21
GNO
22
GNO
23
GNO
24
GNO
25
GNO
26
GNO
27
GNO
28
GNO
29 30 31      
April 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14
LYR
15
PPU LYR
16
PPU LYR
17
PPU LYR
18
PPU LYR
19
ETA PPU LYR
20
ETA PPU LYR
21
ETA PPU LYR
22
ETA PPU LYR
23
ETA PPU LYR
24
ETA PPU LYR
25
ETA PPU LYR
26
ETA PPU LYR
27
ETA PPU LYR
28
ETA PPU LYR
29
ETA LYR
30
ETA LYR
 
May 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
            1
ETA
2
ETA
3
ELY ETA
4
ELY ETA
5
ELY ETA
6
ELY ETA
7
ELY ETA
8
ELY ETA
9
ELY ETA
10
ELY ETA
11
ELY ETA
12
ELY ETA
13
ELY ETA
14
ARI ELY ETA
15
ARI ETA
16
ARI ETA
17
ARI ETA
18
ARI ETA
19
ARI ETA
20
ARI ETA
21
ARI ETA
22
ARI ETA
23
ARI ETA
24
ARI ETA
25
ARI ETA
26
ARI ETA
27
ARI ETA
28
ARI ETA
29
ARI
30
ARI
31
ARI
         
June 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
    1
ARI
2
ARI
3
ARI
4
ARI
5
ARI
6
ARI
7
ARI
8
ARI
9
ARI
10
ARI
11
ARI
12
ARI
13
ARI
14
ARI
15
ARI
16
ARI
17
ARI
18
ARI
19
ARI
20
ARI
21
ARI
22
JBO ARI
23
JBO ARI
24
JBO ARI
25
JBO
26
JBO
27
JBO
28
JBO
29
JBO
30
JBO
     
July 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1
JBO
2
JBO
3
CAP
4
CAP
5
CAP
6
CAP
7
CAP
8
CAP
9
CAP
10
CAP
11
CAP
12
CAP SDA
13
CAP SDA
14
CAP SDA
15
CAP SDA PAU
16
CAP SDA PAU
17
PER CAP SDA PAU
18
PER CAP SDA PAU
19
PER CAP SDA PAU
20
PER CAP SDA PAU
21
PER CAP SDA PAU
22
PER CAP SDA PAU
23
PER CAP SDA PAU
24
PER CAP SDA PAU
25
PER CAP SDA PAU
26
PER CAP SDA PAU
27
PER CAP SDA PAU
28
PER CAP SDA PAU
29
PER CAP SDA PAU
30
PER CAP SDA PAU
31
PER CAP SDA PAU
August 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
1
PER CAP SDA PAU
2
PER CAP SDA PAU
3
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
4
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
5
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
6
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
7
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
8
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
9
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
10
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
11
KCG PER CAP SDA
12
KCG PER CAP SDA
13
KCG PER CAP SDA
14
KCG PER CAP SDA
15
KCG PER CAP SDA
16
KCG PER SDA
17
KCG PER SDA
18
KCG PER SDA
19
KCG PER SDA
20
KCG PER SDA
21
KCG PER SDA
22
KCG PER SDA
23
KCG PER SDA
24
KCG PER
25
KCG
26 27 28
AUR
29
AUR
30
AUR
31
AUR
       
September 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1
AUR
2
AUR
3
AUR
4
AUR
5
SPE AUR
6
SPE
7
SPE
8
SPE
9
DSX SPE
10
STA DSX SPE
11
STA DSX SPE
12
STA DSX SPE
13
STA DSX SPE
14
STA DSX SPE
15
STA DSX SPE
16
STA DSX SPE
17
STA DSX SPE
18
STA DSX SPE
19
STA DSX SPE
20
STA DSX SPE
21
STA DSX SPE
22
STA DSX
23
STA DSX
24
STA DSX
25
STA DSX
26
STA DSX
27
STA DSX
28
STA DSX
29
STA DSX
30
STA DSX
   
October 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1
STA DSX
2
ORI STA DSX
3
ORI STA DSX
4
ORI STA OCT DSX
5
ORI STA OCT DSX
6
ORI STA DRA OCT DSX
7
ORI STA DRA DSX
8
ORI STA DRA DSX
9
ORI STA DRA DSX
10
ORI DAU STA DRA
11
ORI DAU STA
12
ORI DAU STA
13
ORI DAU STA
14
ORI EGE DAU STA
15
ORI EGE DAU STA
16
ORI EGE DAU STA
17
ORI EGE DAU STA
18
ORI EGE DAU STA
19
LMI ORI EGE STA
20
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
21
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
22
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
23
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
24
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
25
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
26
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
27
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
28
NTA ORI STA
29
NTA ORI STA
30
NTA ORI STA
31
NTA ORI STA
           
November 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
NTA ORI STA
2
NTA ORI STA
3
NTA ORI STA
4
NTA ORI STA
5
NTA ORI STA
6
LEO NTA ORI STA
7
LEO NTA ORI STA
8
LEO NTA STA
9
LEO NTA STA
10
LEO NTA STA
11
LEO NTA STA
12
LEO NTA STA
13
NOO LEO NTA STA
14
NOO LEO NTA STA
15
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
16
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
17
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
18
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
19
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
20
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
21
NOO AMO LEO NTA
22
NOO AMO LEO NTA
23
NOO AMO LEO NTA
24
NOO AMO LEO NTA
25
NOO AMO LEO NTA
26
NOO LEO NTA
27
NOO LEO NTA
28
PHO NOO LEO NTA
29
PHO NOO LEO NTA
30
PHO NOO LEO NTA
       
December 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1
PUP PHO NOO NTA
2
PUP PHO NOO NTA
3
HYD PUP PHO NOO NTA
4
GEM HYD PUP PHO NOO NTA
5
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NOO NTA
6
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NOO NTA
7
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
8
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
9
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
10
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP NTA
11
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP
12
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
13
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
14
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
15
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
16
DLM COM GEM HYD MON
17
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
18
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
19
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
20
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
21
DLM URS COM
22
DLM URS COM
23
DLM URS COM
24
DLM URS
25
DLM URS
26
DLM URS
27
DLM
28
DLM QUA
29
DLM QUA
30
DLM QUA
31
DLM QUA
 

Earliest Sunset, Latest Sunrise

Why does the Earliest Sunset come before the Winter Solstice and the Latest Sunrise after?


Why does the Earliest Sunrise come before the Summer Solstice and the Latest Sunset after?

Ever wonder? I have. And aside from some hand-wavy explanations, I’ve never been able to explain this very well. Here’s the best explanation I have seen yet, provided in the December 2007 issue of Sky & Telescope, p. 55:

You’d think the earliest sunset would come on the shortest day (or longest night) of the year, at the winter solstice. But in fact, the day-night cycle shifts back and forth a little with the seasons, due to the tilt of Earth’s axis and the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit. At the beginning of December, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little earlier than they “should”, and in January they run a little late. So the earliest sunset ends up being two or three weeks before the solstice, and the latest sunrise is two or three weeks afterward. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

Continuing along that same line of thought…

At the beginning of June, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little later than they “should” and in July they run a little earlier. So the earliest sunrise ends up being about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset is about a week afterwards. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

I know, I know. You still have a question. “Why are the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset closer to the summer solstice than the dates of earliest sunset and latest sunrise to the winter solstice?” Good question. I think it has everything to do with the fact that the Earth is near aphelion at the time of the summer solstice, and thus moving most slowly in its orbit around the Sun (the Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical and not circular). That means that the Sun is moving slowest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is the smallest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunrise and latest sunset is less. Conversely, at the winter solstice, Earth is near perihelion, and therefore it is moving most quickly in its orbit around the Sun. That means that the Sun is moving fastest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is largest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise is more.

Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, where the latitude is just shy of 43˚ N and the longitude is just a tad over 90˚ W, the earliest sunset this year is today, Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 4:25:49 p.m.

Latest sunrise in 2021 will be on both Saturday, January 2 and Sunday, January 3 at 7:31:51 a.m.

Pause to consider that if we were on year-round daylight saving time, latest sunrise wouldn’t be until 8:31:51 a.m.

My preference would be to stay on standard time year-round, as Arizona does.

Why Did It Take a Telescope to Discover the Orion Nebula?

Using the newly-invented telescope, French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) discovered the now-famous Orion Nebula (M42) when he was 29 years old, 410 years ago on this day.

November 26, 1610.

But wait a minute. You and I can see a nebulous “star” below the belt of Orion with our unaided eyes under a reasonably dark sky. Why wasn’t this object discovered long before the invention of the telescope?

Apparently, there is no known report of a “nebulous star” in the sword of Orion prior to Peiresc’s discovery. Is the Orion nebula brighter now than it was a few centuries ago? Is it possible an earlier observational report somehow got missed or was not properly interpreted?

There is speculation that the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica recognized the Orion Nebula long before Peiresc’s discovery, describing it as smoke from the smoldering embers of creation.

One can only stand in wonderment at the knowledge and experiences of hundreds of generations of men, women, and children who are utterly unknown to us today. Passed from person to person and generation to generation through oral tradition, never written down and eventually lost. Or written down on documents that later disintegrated or were purposefully destroyed.

Who hasn’t wished that they could could time travel back to the past? Have you ever wondered what your current location looked like a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? Ten thousand or more years ago? Though sending humans into the past will probably never be possible, who’s to say that we won’t eventually figure out a way to view and perhaps even hear the past, without actually being there or having the ability to change it?

John Brashear: A Man Who Loved the Stars

Pittsburgh telescope maker, optician, and educator John Alfred Brashear (1840-1920) was born 180 years ago this day. His world-renowned optical company made much of the astronomical equipment in use in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His works included a 30-inch refractor for Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, a 15-inch refractor for the Dominion Observatory in Canada, and the 8-inch refractor at the Drake University Municipal Observatory in Des Moines, Iowa.

My good friend, telescope maker Drew Sorenson in Jefferson, Iowa, has been a fan of John Brashear for many years. Not only does Drew make fine refractors as did Brashear, but there is more than a little resemblance between the two men. Drew introduced me to a delightful book entitled John A. Brashear: The Autobiography of A Man who Loved the Stars, which was first published posthumously in 1924. For anyone interested in the history of astronomy and the life of a scientist and humanitarian who struggled from near-obscurity to great success with only an elementary school education, this book is a must-read.

Here are three of my favorite passages from the book.

Somewhere beneath the stars is work which you alone were meant to do. Never rest until you have found it.


There is another yarn I cannot resist telling. The young farmer who had been bringing Mrs. Brashear her supply of vegetables asked her one day if I would let him look in the big telescope if he came up some clear evening. She encouraged him to do so, and I found him waiting one night to see the sights. I did not know whether or not he had any knowledge of astronomy, but I asked him what he would like to look at. He replied, “Juniper.” I told him that unfortunately that planet was not visible in the sky at the time. Then he expressed a desire to see “Satan.” But his Satanic Majesty was not around either. The climax came when he asked if I could show him the “Star of Jerusalem!” I ended it by showing him the moon and some clusters, and he went home very happy.


I remember, too, an old gentleman over eighty years of age who climbed the hill one moonlight night for a look in the telescope. The good man was utterly exhausted when he reached the house, and Ma and I had him lie down on the lounge to rest before climbing the stairs to the telescope. The views that night were fine, and I can hear the soliloquy yet of the dear fellow as he said, “For many years I have desired to see the beauties of the heavens in a telescope. I have read about them and heard lectures about them, but I never dreamed they were so beautiful.” We invited him to stay all night; but as it was moonlight, and much easier for him to go down the hill than to come up, he insisted on going home. I went part of the way with him to see that he got along all right; and all the way he expressed his delight at having the wish of a lifetime gratified that night.

Three weeks later the funeral cortège of that old man passed along the road on the opposite hillside that led to the cemetery, and it has always been a pleasure to remember that I was able to be of some service in gratifying one of his desires of a lifetime.

I think that all my life I have been partial to old people and children, and it has always been a source of genuine pleasure to contribute to their happiness.

John A. Brashear: The Autobiography of A Man who Loved the Stars (1924)

Repurposing an Existing Community

One approach to establishing a dark-sky, astronomy-friendly, community is to find a small town in a rural area that would be receptive to doing the following:

  1. Enact a comprehensive lighting ordinance that will be enforced
  2. Eliminate all dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting
  3. Apply for International Dark Sky Community status

Obviously, this is going to be easier to do in a small community, and most likely one that is economically depressed.

What’s in it for them? What would the motivating factors be?

  • A commitment from X number of people that they would move to the community provided the community agrees to 1-3 above being done. Options for new residents would be to either purchase or rent an existing home/apartment/RV space/etc., or to build the same but land would have to be available.
  • The new residents would commit to working with the existing residents and businesses to improve the community and provide new opportunities, ensuring that this is a win-win situation for both existing and new residents.
  • The new residents would commit to doing some or all of the things outlined in the Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document, or something like it.
  • The influx of new residents and tourism will benefit all in the community, both economically and socially.

Does anyone know of a rural community that might be interested in putting their town “on the map” as an astronomy-friendly community for residents and visitors?

First Photograph of the Orion Nebula

Henry Draper (1837-1882)

On this date 140 years ago, American physician and prominent amateur astronomer Henry Draper (1837-1882) made the first successful photograph of the Great Nebula in Orion, now usually referred to as the Orion Nebula. He used an 11-inch telescope (an Alvan Clark refractor!) and an exposure time of 50 minutes for the black and white photograph.

First photograph of the Orion Nebula, September 30, 1880. (Henry Draper)

Draper continued to improve his technique, and a year and a half later he obtained a 137-minute exposure showing much more detail.

Photograph of the Orion Nebula, March 14, 1882. (Henry Draper)

It really is amazing how image recording technology has improved over the past century and a half! At its best, film-based photography had a quantum efficiency of only about 2%, which means that only 2 out of every 100 photons of light impinging on the photographic medium is actually recorded. The rest is reflected or absorbed. The human eye—when well dark adapted—has a quantum efficiency of 15% or better, easily besting photography. Why, then, do photographs of deep sky objects show so much more detail than what can be seen through the eyepiece? The explanation is that the human eye can integrate photons and hold an image for only about 0.1 second. Film, on the other hand, can hold an image much longer. Even with reciprocity failure, photographic media like film can collect photons for minutes or even hours, giving them a big advantage over the human eye. But charge-coupled devices (CCDs) are a considerable improvement over older technologies since they typically have a quantum efficiency of 70% up to 90% or more. The CCD has truly revolutionized both professional and amateur astronomy in recent decades.

Recent Orion Nebula CCD image by Robert Gendler

Video Meteors 2020 – I

During the first half of 2020, I serendipitously captured a whopping nine meteors on my telescope’s 17 x 11 arcminute video field of view while observing potential asteroid occultation events. I used the method described in There’s a Meteor in My Image to determine the radiant for each meteor. Here they are.

Antihelion meteor 22 March 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 575-024067 in Gemini
Each frame is an exposure of 0.53s

The International Meteor Organization (IMO) identifies the antihelion source as “a large, roughly oval area of about 30˚ in right ascension and 15˚ in declination, centered about 12˚ east of the solar opposition point on the ecliptic, hence its name. It is not a true shower at all, but is rather a region of sky in which a number of variably, if weakly, active minor showers have their radiants.”

Sporadic meteor 10 Apr 2020 UT, Field location HD 119307 in Centaurus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s

A sporadic meteor is any meteor that does not come from a known radiant.

Sporadic meteor 14 Apr 2020 UT, Field location UCAC4 387-065649 in Libra
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s (faint meteor in the upper right corner)
Possible Eta Aquariid meteor 28 April 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 326-064938 in Corvus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s
Sporadic meteor or satellite? 8 May 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 345-084929 in Ophiuchus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.03s

Meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed between 10 and 70 km/s, and burn up at an altitude of about 80 km. For a sight line perpendicular to the meteor’s path, the angular velocity should range between 7˚ and 41˚ per second. This means a meteor should cross the 17′ x 11′ field of my video camera in 0.03 seconds or less. Field traversal will take longer than this the closer the meteor is to its radiant or anti-radiant point.

The lowest stable altitude a satellite can orbit is about 200 km, where it will have an orbital velocity on the order of 8 km/s. This is slower than the slowest meteors. For a sight line perpendicular to the satellite’s path, the maximum angular velocity a satellite should have is about 2˚ per second.

Given these admittedly BOTEC calculations, one could reasonably conclude that if the object traverses the field in a single frame, it is probably a meteor. If not (and it is not an airplane), it is a satellite.

The object in the 8 May 2020 video does appear to be moving slow enough to be a satellite, but because it is traveling much faster than satellites usually do it must be orbiting quite low, close to re-entry. I was not able to identify the satellite, which is often the case for the fastest-moving satellites. My camera is sensitive enough to pick up tiny pieces of space debris orbiting at low altitude, and though these objects are no doubt catalogued by military organizations, they do not generally show up in the publicly-available orbital element datasets for satellites.

Antihelion meteor or satellite? 12 May 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 585-130160 in Pegasus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s

This one’s unusual in that there are two distinct “flare-ups” along the path. It is reasonably good match to the antihelion radiant for 12 May 2020, and though I have seen meteors experiencing outbursts along their paths, a more likely explanation for this event is that it is low altitude satellite with two “sun glint” events. What do you think?

Sporadic meteor 13 May 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 348-150732 in Sagittarius
Each frame is an exposure of 0.53s
Antihelion meteor 17 June 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 294-088825 in Lupus
Each frame is an exposure of 1.07s
Sporadic meteor 18 June 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 330-150629 in Sagittarius
Each frame is an exposure of 0.53s

I was surprised to record so many meteors during the first half of 2020, as there is generally much less meteor activity between January and June than there is between July and December.

References

International Meteor Organization, 2o2o Meteor Shower Calendar, Jürgen Rendtel, ed. https://www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2020.pdf.

Mirador Astronomy Village

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI

Since the beginning of February, I have been able dedicate 10+ hours each week towards creating an astronomy-friendly community called Mirador Astronomy Village. Will you join me in that effort?

Here’s the “placeholder” website:

https://miradorastrovillage.org/

And here are some recent posts I’ve made to Dark-Sky-Communities on groups.io (https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main) to give you an idea where we’re currently at with this exciting project.

Acquiring Land for Mirador Astronomy Village

The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.

The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.

Some challenges we face:

  • Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
  • We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
  • Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
  • Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?

Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.

Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.


Land Purchase

Issuance of Shares

  • 1 share = $1000
  • No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
  • Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
  • Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
  • Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
  • Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
  • 1 share = 1 vote
  • Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
  • If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
  • It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
  • Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
  • After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
  • Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
  • Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
  • If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.

Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community

Posted 13 July 2020

I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!

I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).

One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.

All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.

Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.

There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.


Lighting at Mirador

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.

Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.

The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.

We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.


Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.

  1. Post a comment here!
  2. Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.
  3. Visit the Mirador Astronomy Village website.
  4. Take the time to read through the detailed Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document.
  5. Send me an email at DaveDarkSky@mac.com or call me at 608-930-2120 to discuss.
  6. Spread the word! There may be only a half a dozen people in the United States who can help me to make Mirador Astronomy Village a reality. How do I reach them?

Thank you!

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI