Ian Hewitt of the Raleigh Astronomy Club took this photo of a lunar eclipse in 2008.

Ian Hewitt of the Raleigh Astronomy Club took this photo of a lunar eclipse in 2008.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, the Full Moon will pass completely into Earth’s shadow. This total lunar eclipse can be seen from nearly all of the Americas.

In North Carolina, the eclipse is visible during the couple of hours before sunrise on Oct. 8th, while the Moon is setting in the west.

How to view the Oct. 8th lunar eclipse:

1) Check your weather forecast.

Will you have clear (enough) skies? If it’ll be overcast or rainy, you might as well sleep in. As I write this, the forecast looks good for most of North Carolina, including all of the Triangle area.

2) Set an alarm on Tuesday night before you go to bed.

Even if your normal wake-up time on Wednesday will have you up and about during the eclipse, know that the later you wait to head outside after the eclipse begins, the closer the Moon will be to the horizon, and the brighter the sky will be from the approaching dawn.

Here are some important time points (Eastern Daylight Time):

5:15 a.m. – Partial eclipse begins

6:25 a.m. – Total eclipse begins

6:55 a.m. – Moon is at greatest eclipse

7:17 a.m. – Sunrise for Chapel Hill*

7:22 a.m. – Moonset for Chapel Hill*

*Sunrise and moonset times vary depending on your location.

Totality continues until 7:24 a.m. EDT, and the partial eclipse ends at 8:34 a.m. EDT. But once the Moon has set for where you live, your view of the eclipse is definitely over.

3) Find a good western horizon.

That means avoiding hills or obstructions, such as from buildings or nearby trees. For the Eastern U.S., the Moon will be setting in the west during the eclipse. After taking the trouble to be out so early, you’d undoubtedly prefer to see the Moon eclipsed by Earth’s shadow rather than by trees or buildings.

The Moon will only sink lower in the sky as the eclipse progresses, making it harder to see the eclipse. So you may want to get outside early on, fairly soon after the partial eclipse starts at 5:15 a.m. EDT.

For those of us in the Eastern U.S. there’s about a five-minute period (7:17-7:22 a.m. in Chapel Hill) when the Sun and eclipsed Moon are simultaneously above the horizon — a “selenelion.” But good luck seeing it around here. You’ll need true horizons for both the west (where the Moon is setting) and the east (where the Sun is rising) at the same time.

4) Open your eyes.

The Moon is always a lovely sight through binoculars or a telescope, but for viewing lunar eclipses just the unaided eye will generally suffice. If you’re trying to see the selenelion, binoculars will help you pick out the Moon low in the brightening sky (remember: DON’T look at the Sun through binoculars).

You can see a simulation of the eclipse as it would look from Chapel Hill at the Solar System Scope site. During a lunar eclipse, the Moon usually turns an interesting shade of orange or red.

The next lunar eclipse happens April 4, 2015, at roughly similar times, but on a Saturday.

Amateur astronomer Robert Nielsen took this photo during a 2007 lunar eclipse.

Amateur astronomer Robert Nielsen took this photo during a 2007 lunar eclipse.

Willing to lose a little sleep the night of April 14-15, 2014? You could gain a big view.

That night, the full moon passes deeply into Earth’s shadow, resulting in the first total lunar eclipse since 2011.

What you’ll need to view this lunar eclipse:

  • A location that’s on the nighttime side of Earth during the eclipse. Being in North America, South America, or in much of the Pacific will do it. A lunar eclipse can happen only if the Moon is full, and a full moon is in the sky only at night.
  • A not-too-cloudy sky. Cleardarksky.com has Clear Sky Charts for locations throughout North America, including many in North Carolina.
  • An alarm clock—unless you’re already awake, perhaps because you’ve procrastinated on finishing your taxes. For North Carolina, the eclipse happens during the wee hours of Tuesday, April 15 (all times below are Eastern):
    • 1:58 a.m. – partial eclipse begins
    • 3:07 a.m. – total eclipse begins
    • 4:25 a.m. – total eclipse ends
    • 5:33 a.m. – partial eclipse ends
The Moon lies near Spica the night of the eclipse. (Credit: Stellarium)

The Moon lies near Spica the night of the eclipse. (Credit: Stellarium)

What you don’t need:

  • A telescope. Of course, the Moon will be a beautiful sight through a telescope or binoculars. But your eyes will do just fine.
  • A dark sky. Light polluted where you live? Don’t let that stop you. Although it will appear much darker than usual, the Moon probably won’t be too hard to find. During a lunar eclipse, Earth’s atmosphere bends some sunlight into the shadow, dimly lighting the Moon.

What should you look for?

  • The Moon generally darkens to a deep red or orange when eclipsed. Its exact color and brightness are affected by atmospheric conditions on Earth, such as any recent volcanic eruptions.
  • The bright bluish-white star Spica will appear to lie very close to the Moon.
  • Reddish Mars will shine brightly to the west (right) of the Moon, about one fist-width away when held at arm’s length.

This eclipse is the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses over the next year and a half.

The next total lunar eclipse happens October 8, 2014.

US Map stating Nation's First Statewide Science Festival

First again, NC

A few months ago, I challenged our event partners to get weird. They listened. This year’s line-up features some of the most fun and funky science events we’ve ever had. Here are a few (in no particular order)  to whet your appetite for the 17-day science madness that starts THIS FRIDAY.

10.  Cemetery Sleuths: People Are Dying To Try It!

The team at Raleigh’s beautiful and historic Oakwood Cemetery have started doing some incredible public outreach. This event features a science and history scavenger hunt.

9.  Big Toy Day at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market

This event is my fault. Proudly, I might add. Why? Because A. I have a nephew who, whenever he sees any sort of big truck, completely freaks out and needs to be near it; and B. I attended a meeting where a power company official was saying that with proficiency in STEM, young people can earn $70K/year working on line trucks for utility companies.

By combining A & B, we get a great community outreach event where companies operating STEM trucks can show off what they do and TRUCKS! TRUUUCCKS, UNCLE JON!!!

8.  Mad Scientist Revenge Race

Crossfit fanatics, this one’s for you:  an epic obstacle course team challenge combining science and fitness. Let’s get ready to rumble!

7.  Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet

Right there on April Fool’s Day, folks, Earth’s premier science comedian takes the stage at the Museum of Natural Sciences.

6. Science of Art Conservation

Like a little art with your science? A little science with your art? This event is being produced by the NC Museum of Art’s Contemporaries group and is a GREAT DATE MOVE. Trust me on that.

Lab kids

Life & Science's Meet a Scientist features bilingual experts (Spanish-English) and hands-on activities

5. Conoce a un(a) Cientifico(a)

Want to meet amazing scientists? Want to speak Spanish? Come do both at this fantastic bilingual event at Durham’s Museum of Life & Science. So grateful and impressed with the team over there!

4.  Terrapin Tally

People of NC, Science NEEDS YOU!  We’re huge fans of citizen science. This event is a training for a big diamondback terrapin count happening in May. If you don’t know what diamondback terrapins looks like, think of the cutest turtles ever. Now add polka dots. So adorable.

3.14. Carowinds Education Days

Thanks to their good work with Discovery Place, our favorite amusement park drops a little roller coaster science on you.

3.  Zucchini 500

It’s like a pinewood derby but with produce. So much fun and so many pun possibilities.

2.78.  SUMOBOTS!

This is like a glimpse of the future when all our sports are handled by our robots. Check out this youtube clip with an epic battle at about the 1 min mark.

2.  Surf-N-Science

Yuri's Night Logo

Yuri's Night: The Worldwide Space Party

Think all you need to surf is a sandy blonde mullet? Well, you’re wrong. You also need to know a little bit about physics.

1. Yuri’s Night

The worldwide space party is going down on April 12. Thanks to some enterprising UNC students, downtown Chapel Hill is in the mix.

And that barely scratches the surface. So many cool events this year. In fact, there are over 400 events that are completely searchable and share-able right from here. Find some near you. And– oh yeah—

The fun starts this Friday!!!

Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. This year's Festival runs from March 28 - April 13, 2014.

That’s right:  towns. Which is probably the hardest thing to wrap your head around when conceptualizing our statewide science festival. Allow me to explain:

The fourth annual North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on Friday, March 28. For 17 straight days there are hundreds of science events happening all over the state. We’re basically putting a big circus tent on top of NC and throwing a big science party.

Map of festival events

Sneak peak at your 2014 NC Science Festival

All sorts of amazing partners are getting in on the act. Museums — not solely science museums, mind you — amusement parks, zoos, colleges, shopping malls, bars & restaurants, breweries (science of beer, anyone?), parks, businesses — you name it, we probably have an event if not in it, then near it.

At last count there are over 700 events on our calendar. (Our calendar… I’ll get back to that in a minute). Some of this year’s highlights include the return of our wildly successful Statewide Star Party, a visit from Mr. Cosmos himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a science-themed fitness race, over a dozen science expos (think “street fairs”), an April Fool’s Day science comedy night, and the return of our NC Science Summit. There’s literally something for everyone. And I literally mean literally.

When we started this Festival, we wanted to work hard to put high quality science events near every North Carolinian. This year, I think we’ve achieved our goal thanks to our partners, our sponsors, and the fantastic Morehead team.

I invite you to peruse our calendar and start picking out events to attend. Fair warning: the calendar is gigantic. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Our web team has put together a bunch of different ways to search for events you might like. You can find events by geography, topic, day/time, etc. So narrow it down and go crazy.

It’s Festival time!

Jonathan Frederick directs the North Carolina Science Festival, an initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

This is the view looking in the northeast sky from Chapel Hill at 4:30 a.m. on Monday, August 12.

Perseid meteors appear to radiate away from the constellation Perseus.

The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12, 2013. Viewing tips:

1. What you’re seeing. Although meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars,” they are not stars. Instead they are bits of cosmic debris interacting with Earth’s atmosphere and creating a streak of light. In the case of the Perseid meteors, the debris has been shed by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

2. Why the Perseids are called that. Trace the streaks of light back to where they started, and (assuming they were Perseids and not other types of meteors) you’ll find they appear to have radiated away from a point in the direction of the constellation Perseus.

3. When to look. The best nights to see the 2013 Perseid meteor shower will likely be the nights of August 11-12 and August 12-13. Check the forecast, and pick the clearer night.

If you want to see the most Perseids, go outside between 4 and 5 a.m. on Monday morning, August 12, 2013 (unless skies are overcast – in that case, sleep in). From a clear dark site you may see an average of up to one Perseid per minute. Because of light pollution, urban stargazers should expect to see fewer.

Did you wince in pain when you read that phrase “between 4 and 5 a.m.”? There are other options! You can also try going out after midnight on the mornings of August 12 and 13. Or you could even try as soon as it gets dark on August 11 and 12. But the later you go out, the more meteors you will see.

4. Where to go. Find a dark site away from unshielded lights; you’ll miss dimmer meteors if you are near badly designed lights that spray light up into the sky. You also want a reasonably open view of the sky, unobstructed by buildings or trees.

5. What direction to look. Look towards the darkest available direction, about halfway up the sky. You do not need to know how to identify the constellation Perseus to see the Perseids. The meteors can appear in any part of the sky.

6. What to bring. Your neck will thank you if you take a reclining chair or sleeping bag to lie on. That sleeping bag, or a blanket, will also help you stay warm. Lying outside in the dark can get chillier than you might think, even in summertime.

7. What to do. Look up at the sky! This might seem obvious, but people frequently miss meteors because they were looking at their friends, their phones, or the ground.

8. What not to do. Be sure to avoid white light (such as from cellphones or flashlights), and don’t give up too soon on your meteor watching. Your eyes need time to adjust to the dark to allow you to see the most meteors.

Now let’s hope we get some clear skies.

If you’re willing to do the 4-5 a.m. thing, you get a bonus: Jupiter and Mars low in the east-northeast.

I just got the go-ahead to share a secret I’ve been dying to
tell for quite a while: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center has just started production of a fulldome planetarium show based on the popular
children’s book “Grossology and You!”

Many children and teachers are already familiar with the
“Grossology” book series
–- I know I used these books in my classroom. The concept is brilliant. The books’ author, Sylvia Branzei-Velasquez, a teacher
herself, takes all the gross stuff that kids just love — snot, blood, poop and
more –- and turns them into teachable moments. For example, scrapes and scabs become an opportunity to teach about how the body fights infection. Snot becomes an opportunity to introduce the vital role of mucus in our lungs and throughout our bodies. Jack Keely’s fun illustrations keep it all from getting too gross for anyone.

We’ve been wanting to do a human body and health planetarium show for
quite a while, and this project just seemed like the right opportunity at the
right time. With the change in our planetarium technology to fulldome digital,
the opportunity to branch out beyond astronomy and space science is now
possible. In fact, with fulldome technology we can use the dome to immerse
people in any environment that has some space to it.

Expect that the new show will involve some travel inside human body organs. This gives new meaning to “learning from the inside out!”

This project is made possible through generous support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) SEPA (Science Education
Partnership Award) program
. NIH has long been a supporter of innovative science education programs.

We will be working with Sylvia, Jack and several others to produce this show. UNC researchers Dr. Rich Superfine, Dr. Kay Lund, Dr. Alisa Wolberg, Dr. Ric Boucher and Dr. Sam Lai will provide scientific oversight. Educators from North Carolina and beyond will help ensure that the show and curriculum
materials we develop will really appeal to students and align to national
curriculum standards. And, of course, our award-winning production department
will bring it all together to create a one-of-a-kind educational experience!

Several of the other educational shows we’ve produced,
including Earth, Moon and Sun, Magic Tree House Space Mission and Solar System
Odyssey
, have been leased by planetariums throughout the US and around the
world. Grossology and You is sure to be another favorite. We look forward to
sharing it with you in early 2014.

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning.

This is a liveblog that I wrote during a free public lecture by Dr. Anthony Aveni on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill. Dr. Aveni’s lecture explored scientific research countering predictions that the world will end in December 2012. These predictions are based in part on the fact that the Maya calendar ends in December 2012.

Dr. Aveni is known worldwide as an expert on Maya culture and beliefs and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, NPR, PBS-Nova, the Today Show and other national media outlets to discuss Maya astronomy. Since 1963, he has taught at Colgate University, where he is the Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, serving dual appointments. He is considered by his peers to be a founder of the field of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy and has written 13 books on Maya beliefs.

6:51 p.m.
With just a few minutes before the program begins, there are plenty of seats available in the room. Wonder what kind of crowd Aveni will draw. I’d expect a lot. The mythology about 2012 and its end-of-the-world prophecies is a popular theme with Morehead audiences. This is a younger crowd than I expected — 20s, 30s. Interesting that most people are sitting near the front, eager to hear every word.

6:53 p.m.
I see some backpacks. That’s usually a clue that professors have offered extra credit for students who attend the lecture. And this would be a good opportunity; Aveni has world-class credentials in astronomy, anthropology and maybe in archaeology, too. And he’s supposed to be entertaining: “Rolling Stone” magazine named him one of its “Top Ten College Professors.” Sure, that was nearly 20 years ago, but I still think he’ll be engaging.

6:54 p.m.
Suspicion confirmed. A young woman in the row ahead of me is talking to her friend about how many people from her class showed up.

6:59 p.m.
Here come the dignitaries, right on schedule. I see Aveni and his wife, along with Morehead’s director, Dr. Todd Boyette. There’s Dr. Vin Steponaitis, who heads UNC’s Research Laboratories of Archeology. Who else? Some reps from Lenovo, which is sponsoring Aveni’s lectures here and earlier this week at Appalachian State University.

7 p.m.
PowerPoint clicks on. Audience quiets.

7:02 p.m.
“Good evening. Welcome to Morehead ….” Boyette begins the introductions. About three-quarters of the seats are filled, and a few latecomers are streaming in.

7:05 p.m.
Aveni hits the stage and introduces a few friends, then launches headlong into his lecture. Energetic, upbeat, tossing darts and digs at his target (which, apparently, is anyone who buys into the 2012 mythology). Wonder how the audience will respond to that — are these people among the conspiracy-theory faithful?

7:06 p.m.
First, the basics. The “Long Count” of the Maya cycle ends on solstice, Dec. 21, 2012. Aveni describes it as a car odometer: The world doesn’t end, but the count rolls over into a new cycle. Some rustling in the crowd, some physical expressions of disbelief.

7:08 p.m.
Aveni puts a Lee Lorenz cartoon from the “New Yorker” on the screen: Two gloomy businessmen are walking down the street. One consoles the other, “It’s not the end of the world.” Around the corner, not yet in their line of vision, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride toward them. “It’s not the end of the world,” Aveni reassures us. This guy has an audacious, boisterous sense of humor.

7:11 p.m.
So what can we expect to happen in 2012? Aveni presents two schools of thought: “Blow Up” or “Bliss Out.” The world explodes, or we melt into a new age of euphoria. Either way, there’s change. But is it really going to happen?

7:14 p.m.
Here’s the astronomy part. “A solar flare releases more energy than all the nuclear power plants on Earth.” Hmmm. Yeah, that could be a blow-up.

7:18 p.m.
Aveni is skewering what he calls “2012 Gurus.” He cites their claims, incredulous: Don’t worry about retirement. Cleanse your colon to receive energy! Earth has acupuncture points, and one of them is Pike’s Peak. This must be the bliss-out part.

7:20 p.m.
Finally, on to the reality. Aveni shows photos of the Maya pyramids, tells us that the Maya were a sophisticated culture, comparable to the Greeks and the Romans in their achievements.

7:23 p.m.
Aveni emphasizes that many Maya books were burned by Christian explorers, intent on eradicating any evidence of what they considered pagan knowledge. Only a few writings remain of hundreds, maybe thousands that once existed. Today, we think of this ancient culture as revolving around astronomy and religious practices, but perhaps it appears that way only because the Maya writings we have found are about those topics.

7:25 p.m.
Now he’s describing one of the rituals depicting in the writings. It’s unpleasant. There’s blood involved.

7:26 p.m.
This is interesting. The words Aveni uses from the ritual don’t sound like anything from Latin America. They’re very harsh, gutteral. I assumed the Maya language would resemble Spanish, but of course it doesn’t. The Maya were present long before Spanish explorers appeared.

7:27 p.m.
Back to astronomy, plus religion and some mathematics. Maya writings establish the “Hearth of Creation” as a core belief (with a symbolic representation in every Maya home). This three-stone hearth, built by Maya gods, is reflected in the constellation Orion. Aveni tells us that the Maya gods descended to Earth frequently and interacted with Maya people often, according to the writings.

He outlines the time passages as marked by the Maya — too fast for me to keep up, but I do understand now that the Maya calendar is based on the number 20. (Aveni says it’s because the Maya counted on their fingers and toes but we only count on our fingers, since we typically wear shoes — what a jokester.) Each Maya month has 20 days, so there are 18 months in a Maya year.

7:31 p.m.
All of the known Maya writings (Aveni calls them “codices”) refer to rituals that must be performed to keep the world in balance. (This reminds me of the Balinese rituals that Elizabeth Gilbert outlined in “Eat Pray Love.”)

There are flood myths in Maya codices, he adds. “What culture doesn’t have a flood myth? You know about this from two weeks ago, when they got 22 inches of rain in Wilmington! Want to know more about floods? Go to the Ninth Ward [New Orleans].”

7:35 p.m.
Aveni’s on a rampage now, ripping through 2012 predictions one by one:

“Maya literature is either historical or ritual. It’s not prophetic. So where does this mythology come from?

“Planets go in and out of alignment. Go to the NASA website. You can see the planetary alignments in 10 seconds. I looked it up myself.”

“Gravitational pull and tides? The Moon’s pull creates a two-foot tide. The Sun’s pull, a one-foot tide. The next most powerful gravitational pull on Earth comes from Venus, and that’s only one five-hundredth of an inch.”

BOOM! He shot those down. There’s even an animation that shows the galactic convergence.

7:40 p.m.
People in China don’t care about this, Aveni says. You won’t find a culture of apocalyptic thinking in Russia or Africa. Americans are the only people in the world who believe this stuff (yes, “stuff” is Aveni’s word).

This predisposition toward apocalyptic belief began with the Pilgrims, continued with the Millerites in the mid-1800s and is strong today. Aveni cites 13 “end of the world” predictions for the year 2006 alone, including one earthquake, one comet collision, one planetary alignment and two nuclear winters, among other calamities.

The book “Hamlet’s Mill” suggests that major world events happen every time the Sun moves in position from one constellation to another constellation. And apparently Americans aren’t alone in their interest in destruction; Isaac Newton predicted the world would end in 2065.

There’s a flurry of PowerPoint slides reflecting different apocalyptic messages. Aveni mentions the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, too, known for a mass suicide in 1997. These people believed that Earth was due to be “recycled” and that they would be transported to a spaceship to travel to another dimension. [Apparently they left some of their cult members behind, though, because someone is still running their website.] Only in America ….

7:51 p.m.
Sacred tourism! That’s one reason that the Maya mythology remains, Aveni says. “Here’s Chichen Itza. If you’re there at sunset on the equinox, the snake will descend. Thousands of people come to see it. Why would you want to be there?”

7:55 p.m.
Lawrence Joseph again. This is the fifth or sixth time Aveni has mentioned Lawrence Joseph, who has written books about a 2012 apocalypse — he really loathes this guy. “People believe that science conspires against giving correct information.” As a scientist, Aveni’s not happy about that.

7:58 p.m.
Another quick look at the “bliss out” option. People expect “joy despite disaster” in fin de siecle (end of century) times.

8:02 p.m.
Aveni begins his close with a visual joke, an “Alien Time Line” (originally published in 1997 by “Skeptical Inquirer” magazine) that depicts the evolution of alien races as seen by the American moviegoer.

“We tend to put our hope in others to save us, to give us knowledge — Egyptians! Mayans! Aliens! Maybe the answers are not out there but in here.”

8:04 p.m.
Ask a Maya shaman, “What happens in 2012?” The answer: “We start another cycle.”

8:05 p.m.
Applause, polite, muted with a few pockets of enthusiasm. The students here for extra credit begin their exodus. Questions, fewer than I expected.

What about polar shifts?
“They happen. Our magnetic north is constantly on the move, in fact. But this doesn’t happen all at once — it’s a process that takes hundreds of years to complete, and it’s not going to happen in 2012.”

What about alien visits?
“That relies on some big Western assumptions: that [aliens] can communicate, that they want to visit us, that they want to give us knowledge.”

What about Fibonacci numbers?
“The spirals predict the growth of a shell, of a pine cone. But they aren’t predicting an apocalypse.”

Why do so many people believe in these Maya prophecies?
“American religion’s appetite for apocalypse comes to the forefront during times of fear. And we’re at war, there’s terrorism, there’s the economy — these are fearful times.”

8:10 p.m.
Boyette approaches the lectern, thanks the audience and Aveni. A few crowd around Aveni with more questions before the evening (but not the world) ends.

Morehead is planning a special "Carolina Skies: End of the World edition" for December 21, 2012.

ECU's Dr. Stan Riggs (at left) at October's Carolina Science Cafe

In true 2012 spirit, we officially kicked off our DOOMSDAY SERIES. Last night, we hosted the first of three science cafes focusing on dire issues and what Science has to say about them. Dr. Stan Riggs, a geologist from ECU, gave a passionate talk about the ways barrier islands are supposed to work when money isn’t a concern. Long story short: they’re supposed to move and get wrecked by storms and then they’ll rebuild (on their own tends to be best) and move again. This makes putting houses on them and planning for big-time tourism kind of tricky. Add climate change science and sea level rise to the equation and you get a recipe for unsustainable planning and constant (read: expensive) damage control.

But Dr. Riggs wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are workable solutions out there. (I personally enjoyed his discussion of people being miserable on Highway 12 until they get onto the ferries where they start to relax and have fun. So why not stop worrying about highways and make hi-tech ferries the way to get around?) His take home message: To find the best solutions, we have to be open to what scientists are telling us and use that info to work the problem. We can’t hide from the data.

Tough to argue with that.

Next month, the DOOMSDAY SERIES continues with a look into how

You probably won't have to dress like this for November's Plague & Bioterrorism science cafe

scientists are tackling our concerns relating to bioterrorism. Dr. Bill Goldman, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine, will be talking about his research into the Black Plague and how understanding this sneaky contagion can help us be better prepared for deadly outbreaks. He received funding from a National Institutes of Health grant to the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense, which is headquartered at UNC-Chapel Hill.

See you on Thursday, November 1, 6 p.m. at Back Bar (part of Top of the Hill Restaurant). Get there a little early to enjoy free appetizers courtesy of our gracious sponsor, Sigma Xi. As always: bring a friend, bring questions, and enjoy.

–Jonathan

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival, a statewide initiative of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus, which lies in the direction from where the meteors appear to shoot. Saturday evening (8/11/12) Perseus is low, and you won't see as many Perseids.

A summer fireworks show, the kind put on by nature, happens this weekend. The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks the night of August 11-12, 2012.

Conveniently for many of us, this is a Saturday night/ Sunday morning. Less conveniently, seeing the most meteors means staying up very late or getting up very early.

Expect to see more meteors after midnight than before midnight. And to see the most meteors (up to 1 per minute on average from a clear dark site), try the last dark hour before dawn. For the Chapel Hill area, that will be 4 to 5 a.m. on Sunday, August 12.

In the pre-dawn sky on Sunday morning (8/12/12), when Perseus is higher, you'll see more meteors as well as a bonus: two bright planets and the Moon.

Tips on viewing the 2012 Perseids:

1) Check the weather to make sure the skies won’t be overcast or worse and you’d be better off sleeping in. For predictions of cloud cover, see the Clear Sky Chart website (start with “Find a chart”).

2) Find a dark site, with a wide open view of the sky. Trying to view near unshielded city lights will mean missing all but the brightest meteors.

3) Take a reclining chair or sleeping bag so you can gaze up at the sky in comfort.

4) Bring layers. When you’re acclimated to 90 degrees, an August night can feel chilly.

5) Plan to be outside for more than just a few minutes. Your eyes need time to adjust to the dark, and there may be short periods with no meteors at all.

6) Look toward the darkest part of your sky and away from any sky glow created by light pollution. If the Moon has risen (moonrise is about 2 a.m. Sunday), keep it out of your field of view so moonlight doesn’t interfere with your meteor viewing. You do not need to know how to find Perseus to see the Perseids. The meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.

7) All you need are your eyes. Binoculars and telescopes restrict the area of the sky you can see, making it difficult to spot meteors.

Although meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars,” they are not stars. Meteors happen when cosmic debris interacts with our atmosphere, creating streaks of light in the sky. Perseid meteors come from tiny chunks of debris left in Earth’s path by the comet Swift-Tuttle. For more information about the Perseid meteor shower, see the American Meteor Society website.

If you’re not an after-midnight kind of person and you’d like to experience the Perseids as a community event, please join us this Saturday evening (Aug. 11, 2012). Weather permitting, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake, Ebenezer Church Recreation Area, from 9 to 11 p.m.

Early on, we’ll look through telescopes at Mars and Saturn, which currently form a striking trio with the bright star Spica low in the west; later on, we expect to see some Perseid meteors. The skywatching session is free and open to the public.

UPDATE: Due to weather forecasts, we’ve canceled Morehead’s skywatching session for Saturday evening. If the weather clears, we hope you’ll be able to see the Perseids from your backyard.

If you miss the Perseids, there's always the Geminid meteor shower in December. It might be cold, but seeing lots of Geminids doesn't require any of this 4 a.m. business.

This week, Dr. Sally Ride died from pancreatic cancer. In 1983, Dr. Ride was the first American woman to fly in space, becoming a role model for girls who wanted to pursue careers in science, mathematics and aeronautics.

What many people don’t know is that the first American woman in space could have been — and perhaps should have been — Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, who was recruited by NASA for its astronaut program in 1959.

Jerrie Cobb

Jerrie Cobb was recruited by NASA as a pilot in 1959. Photo Credit: NASA

Cobb began flying airplanes as a teen-ager in Oklahoma and earned a commercial pilot’s license by her 18th birthday. She set world records for altitude and speed and was named one of the “100 most important young people in the United States” by Life magazine. She was named Pilot of the Year by the National Pilots Association.

In 1959, Cobb was chosen as the first woman to receive physical and psychological testing as part of the Mercury Astronaut Selection Tests. She passed all three tests with high marks and was one of 13 women who trained for space flight in NASA’s “lady astronaut” program.

Unfortunately, none of those women ever flew in space. In 1960, NASA established requirements that would keep women out of the the astronaut corps until 1978.

A woman did fly in space in the 1960s — a Russian woman, Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited Earth in 1963 — but it would be another 20 years before America provided that opportunity to a woman. Dr. Sally Ride finally achieved the prize that had been denied to Jerrie Cobb.

Jerrie Cobb was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.


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