Minds and Eyes Upward!

November 4th, 2011 by Sarah Clarkin

My pre-bedtime outing with Hudson the Wonder Dog is a special time.  While I dislike the reality that colder weather forces me to pile on the layers when I’m sleepy-eyed and ready for the Land of Nod, once outside, I find the elements combine and create an elixir.

The late night hour affords me the opportunity to reflect on the day and simply share some quiet time and space with my four legged canine companion.  One of the biggest attractions of these outings is the night time sky.  The sky and our place in it, changing with time and seasons, is, literally and figuratively, deep.

Photo by: Halfblue

While light pollution hides night sky features, we, in northern New York, are relatively lucky.  Ten or so years ago, during a visit from my Chicago-based sister and her family, I took my then small niece and nephew outside to experience the night time sky.  We lay in the oversized hammock, allowed our eyes to adjust, and wondered at the infinite beauty.  I don’t recall the words we shared; but, the moment remains in my memory. 

Sharing the night time sky with friends and family is a great and, sadly, often unfamiliar way to enjoy nature.  Telescopes and binoculars will enhance visual capabilities but are not required to cruise the cosmos.

Over the next few weeks, there are several astronomical events to ponder and, perhaps, witness.

On Tuesday, November 8, an asteroid having a diameter of 1,300 feet will pass a mere 202,000 miles from us here on Earth.  This is closer to us than the moon!  Named 2005 YU55, it is one of hundreds Near Earth asteroids that circle the sun relatively close to our home planet.  You can see an animation of 2005 YU55’s November 8 trajectory in relation to the orbits of the earth and moon.  It’s been more than thirty years since an asteroid of this size crossed our path.  Described as being the color of charcoal, it will not be visible to the naked eye.  It’s fun to think about though, especially since we’re told there’s no chance of an Earth – 2005 YU55 collision.

Photo by: Luc Viatour

The full moon makes its appearance on Thursday, November 10.  Native Americans call this moon the full beaver moon, acknowledging it’s time to set beaver traps before the waters freeze.

Woodcut print of unknown date. Mechanics' Magazine stated one of its editors, named Pickering, created it based on personal observation of the Leonid meteor showers at Niagara Falls, NY.

Then, the Leonid meteor showers will be at their height the late night hours of Thursday, November 17.  These showers, which appear to originate from the constellation Leo, can generate some of the heavens’ most spectacular sites.  Scientists deem the 1966 Leonid meteor showers, which splashed thousands of meteors every hour across the skies, as one of the most memorable in recent history.  While unpredictable, the typical number of meteors per hour is ten to fifteen.  If clear, the quarter moon will attempt to outshine this year’s showers.  Nonetheless, you may find it worthwhile to venture outside and gaze northward.  The best viewing time is in the pre-dawn hours.

Being comfortable is key to enjoyment.  Be sure to dress warmly, including hat, mittens, warm socks, and footwear.  Bring a lawn chair; the reclining type is best.  And, have some hot chocolate or coffee on hand.

For more information on these and other astronomical events, you can visit Stardate and Earthsky.  Personally, I am very excited about the observatory that is planned for Tupper Lake, New York and look forward to visiting it when completed.

So, pile on those layers, step outside, take a deep breath, and look.

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