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Dance of the Planets

During the last part of May, three planets will be dancing around each other low in the west after sunset. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will give a vivid illustration of the origin of the word “planet”, which means “wanderer”. If you ever wanted a demonstration of how planets move against the background stars, this is your chance! Here are links to two websites that give observing details:

Planetary trio has ended. Where do the planets go next?

How to Watch a Meteor Shower

How to Watch a Meteor Shower

The requirements for successful meteor shower-watching are simple: a dark site, a comfortable perch, warm clothing, time, and your eyes. That’s it.

Binoculars and telescopes are a hindrance for these events. Meteors can appear anywhere across the sky, so the wider the view, the better. The most important thing is darkness, away from city lights and as little moonlight as possible. You’ll be looking up, so support for your head and neck will make viewing much more comfortable. A reclining chair or blanket on the ground will work nicely. Having warm clothing or blankets may seem strange, especially for warm-weather showers like the Perseids, but it cools off during the night, and you’ll be there a long time. Some people like sleeping bags for meteor viewing.

Speaking of time, meteor activity always picks up after midnight, since that’s when your location on Earth turns into the debris stream that creates the meteor shower. Each shower has its own characteristics; in general, as the shower radiant (where the meteors appear to originate) rises higher, the number of meteors that become visible increases, and that’s in the early morning hours.

Meteor showers can be recorded, and some like to set up cameras to catch an image of a meteor. You can make it as simple or complex as you choose. Enjoy the sky show!

Prez Sez for July

Prez Sez

One of my favorite things to do is to show people neat things in the night sky. But NEKAAL has also gotten some pretty neat stuff because of our outreach activities—more on that later. We’ve had a pretty active summer on the Outreach front. The Venus Transit on June 5 gave us the chance to show this once-in-a-lifetime event to over 160 people. WOW!

We added two more Open Houses at Farpoint, and attendance has been great all summer. (It’s about the only good thing that’s come from this hot, dry weather!) We’ll be open all night on August 11 for the Perseid meteor shower, which is kind enough to peak on a weekend this year. Great stuff!

NEKAAL was one of the first clubs to join NSN, back in 2004. Since then, we’ve received toolkits containing training videos, material and supplies that have been used all over northeast Kansas. Topics have included the Sun, the solar system, telescopes, black holes, and many more. The star maps handed out at Farpoint came from one of the earliest toolkits, and we’re still handing out dozens each year. What do we have to do to get this stuff? Just use the material and log five events a year with NSN. You can’t beat free!


If a member club logs two events in a quarter, they’re entered in a drawing for more stuff. NEKAAL has won four times, receiving materials with a retail value in the hundreds of dollars. First was a moon globe and books, including an Atlas of the Moon, all in residence at Farpoint. We also won the Solarscope that was used at the Venus transit. My favorite was a special award—a tiny little lunar meteorite. Last week we received our latest prize, a 12” Mars Globe from Sky and Telescope, which I’ll bring to the general meeting on July 26.

All of these things are pretty neat. But to me, the best thing is still sharing astronomy with others. Just can’t beat it.

Prez Says

You may think that this message is late. It really isn’t, if you look at the Martian calendar—only 1/6 of a year has passed since I became NEKAAL president. Mea culpa anyway. But it has given us a chance to test out some of the new things we’re trying, and so far it’s looking pretty good.

Russ Valentine has created a Meetup group on the internet for NEKAAL. We’ve had a number of people come to general meetings and Open Houses at Farpoint through it. The more, the merrier! We’ve got some neat topics lined up for General Meetings; check the schedule online for topics. We had a sizeable turnout for the Ad Astra event at Washburn on April 21. The planets have been parading through the evening sky so far this year, and meteor showers are occurring during the dark of the moon. It’s looking good for 2012.

There are several sky events coming up soon that you should note, though for opposite reasons. The partial lunar eclipse on June 4 will be a bust in northeast Kansas—we’re too far east to see anything. But we will be well placed for the Venus transit the next evening, on June 5. We’re setting up some scopes for solar viewing to watch the transit, which start about 5PM. The sun will set while Venus is still visible against the solar disk, but that should give us several hours of history. Just in case your calendar get filled for the year 2117, better make it to the lake!

One of the things we’re doing differently this year is the Open House schedule at Farpoint during the summer. We still have a respectably dark sky out there, particularly when compared to in town, so there are 2 dates scheduled for the months of June and July. So many people haven’t even seen the Milky Way, so we’re giving them extra chances to enjoy our dark site. Check the schedule on the website, and come out and enjoy.

NASA: Zombie Fighter Satellites!

Orbiting satellites can get turned into zombies by a prodigal Sun.

Zombie Satellite: "HELLO???"

What can anyone (including NASA, who offered this article) do to prevent satellite zombiehood?  Read all about it here…