The Bluewater Astronomical Society (BAS) is an incorporated non-profit organization that strives to promote basic and advanced astronomical knowledge among its members, and promote astronomy interest in the general public.
We have members who range from beginners with small telescopes or binoculars to experts with state-of-the-art equipment. The club itself owns a large 28-inch Webster Dobsonian reflector which we use regularly at the largest publicly-accessible roll-off observatory in Ontario, the ES Fox observatory at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC) near Oliphant, Ontario. The BOEC was granted dark sky preserve status in November of 2012 by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
A number of astronomy news sources have recently reported on an asteroid called “1994 PC1” which is due for a flyby of the Earth-Moon system on January 18. There is no chance of collision since the miss distance is over five times the Moon-Earth distance (or about two million km or so). The neat thing about this is that at its closest, 1994 PC1 should be detectable in small telescopes as a moving 10th magnitude point of light. You are encouraged to go out and have a look. If you locate it and make note of its position with respect to other stationary stars, you should be able to see its motion in 10 or 15 minutes. The asteroid is moving about 2° per hour so it will cross a 0.5° field of view (a medium power eyepiece) in 15 minutes.
I have provided a finder chart below (about 15° across) of a small part of the sky in Pisces during several hours on January 18. Here is the link to the EarthSky.org report with more details.
The asteroid is about a kilometre across - the size that would not be a “planet killer” if it had actually hit Earth. Still, had the impact point been Owen Sound, for example, everything from Collingwood to Wiarton would have been destroyed, with a crater at the impact point about 10 km across. Even Toronto would experience a shock wave that would knock buildings down and most of SW Ontario would notice something, except in Ottawa, where the politicians would not notice much happening in Grey-Bruce.
If you are interested in exploring asteroid impact damage more, a scientific analysis of these is available here.
The area of interest is near the star Alrescha, where traditional stick figure diagrams show the Pisces fish “tied together.” The second attachment is a wider view chart showing Pisces and its surrounding constellations with the asteroid labelled in red. This view is at 20:00 EST, and the asteroid is 45° high at that time. Sunset is at 17:13 that evening, and the sky will be as dark as it will get that night by 19:00. However, the just-past-full Moon will be rising a half hour after sunset so there will be moonlight that night. Send me an email if you have any luck spotting it. Imagers out there are encouraged to capture this event. The 1994 PC1 close encounter will also be livestreamed on Virtual Telescope. Good luck and stay safe!
Most of us interested in astronomy and space are eagerly waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to begin its long anticipated science mission.
Here is the NASA JWST blog page that will keep you apace of mission accomplishments and milestones...and hopefully no tribulations! You can get to other mission blogs from this page as well.
Here is NASA's Where's Webb 'dashboard' page. It shows the current status and location of the JWST. It also displays how far the spacecraft has come, how fast it is going and how far it has left to go to get to its home at L2. Today temperature data from the hot and cold sides of the JWST began to be displayed.
Other websites are jumping on board of course...you might find ones you like better. To me most of them are bigger on click bait and advertising than on informing. If you have a contact within the family (NASA), why would you wait for the newspaper to report?
Having said that, I can recommend Scott Manley's YouTube channel for space news. Here is his recent JWST video. Enjoy!
To summarize the JWST's history...
The JWST was conceived of at the end of the last millenium to be a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope which was conceived in the 1960s. Hubble is arguably the most significant scientific instrument created by humans. The JWST will eclipse that by all estimations! Hubble can record light from the near infrared up through the optical spectrum. It sees a little way into the ultraviolet.
In order to see more distant objects an instrument must be able to record lower energy photons coming to us at infrared wavelengths. Infrared radiation cuts through interstellar dust, and the light from more distant objects arrives here shifted into the infrared due to the 'red shift' imparted by the expanding universe. Unfortunately locating an infrared instrument close to Earth negates its sensitivity; Earth and the Moon would blind the telescope most of the time!
To see further and deeper than Hubble, the JWST required technological solutions and many previously unexplored technologies. This and the requirement for testing, testing, testing ran the price up to $10 billion USD! This sounds bad until you realize the US has spent more than $300 billion on just the F35 jet fighter...I'll take expensive plowshares over expensive swords any time, thank you!
The final decision was to place the 6.5 meter telescope in a 'halo' orbit at the far Lagrange point L2. This orbit allows the spacecraft to shadow Earth in its orbit while using very little fuel. The data link between the spacecraft and the Space Telescope Institute in Maryland is high speed and always available. Being located at L2 also places the Earth and Moon on the hot side of the sunshield. We'll have to live with the heat from the outer planets...like big bad Jupiter! Lol!
The JWST is on its own now and for a very long time. There won't be any Hubble-style service missions! This is why they tested the spacecraft so extensively...it had to be right the first time.
The mission to date (December 29th)...
The JWST was launched aboard an ESA Araine 5 booster rocket Christmas morning from French Guiana without incident. It will ascend directly to its final orbit 1.5 billion kilometers from Earth. The automatic deployment of the solar electric panels occured at such a time to indicate the Ariane 5 did just about a perfect job! The communication antenna deployed ending the automatically initiated steps. The first mid-course correction burns (MCC 1a and MCC 1b) were perfect. Over the last two days they have also successfully lowered and locked the fore and aft sunshield pallet assemblies. Today they are in the midst of raising the tower assembly carrying the telescope and instruments. This relocation, by about 2 meters, allows for increased thermal isolation between the hot side spacecraft bus and the telescope. The spacing also accommodates the expanded 5 layer kapton sun shield.
Subsequent deployment steps are all conducted live by controllers on Earth. They have considerable flexibility on the order and plenty of time to complete all stages. All steps are mission critical.
L2 insertion burn, MCC 2, is slated for day 29 of the mission...so I'm counting that to be about January 23rd?
I won't talk about the science mission in this post. I believe the excitement surrounding the deployment and achieving the halo orbit once on station is a big enough story for the time being.
My review of this book is that I recommend it equally to both space buffs and people who may not be up to speed regarding the early manned spaceflight era at NASA. Shoot for the Moon is comprehensive in its scope and begins with the formulation of NASA, the first astronauts and the Mercury and Gemini programs. It is largely about the Apollo series of missions and goes into detail about the Apollo 11 voyage.
The author covers the Soviet space efforts occurring at the same time as NASA was forming including the focus on going to the Moon. At the time, our side had no idea if the Russians would sneak to the Moon ahead of the USA or not. The book demonstrates the mind boggling differences of the two countries with respect to openness and safety. NASA did an amazing job while the Soviets risked crews on a number of occasions and haphazardly blew things up. Gagarin, the first man in space, was pretty much cargo to the Soviets.
I consider myself a space buff, and I was pleased to learn new things about each space program, in particular the people aspect of the projects (the astronauts, the mission control staff and how they worked together). The dynamic of each crew was different. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were special people complete with strengths and flaws.
Not all astronauts were equal. This book reinforced my understanding that the Apollo 11 crew were probably the best three humans to get assigned to attempt the first landing. Armstrong was unflappable in the face of danger on a number of occasions prior to Apollo 11. Aldrin literally wrote the book on orbital rendezvous. Mike Collins was a great guy, and he would forever be the one who did not walk on the Moon. His personality was well suited to bearing this “burden” – he never gave a hint in all the years after that he had any regrets in this respect. He really was a lovely fellow. I’ve seen interviews with him, and he’s the kind of person you’d like to sit down and chat with.
For anyone who’s interested in giving the book a read, there is a copy at the observatory.
Many astronomers express disdain when the moon is out; it's bright and it complicates the viewing and imaging of deep sky and other objects. However, the moon is an incredibly viable object for observing and learning. Enter the Lunar 100.
Created by planetary scientist Charles Wood, the Lunar 100 is a list of significant geological features on the moon's surface that can teach us something about its history and evolution over time. The features are numbered L1 through L100 in order of increasing viewing difficulty and includes regions, craters, basins, mountains, rilles, domes. While it can be compared to the Messier list, the main difference is that when identifying the Lunar 100, the emphasis is to be on understanding the moon's features and how they came to be rather than simply a hunt. Just because the moon is visible does not mean these objects are able to be seen, even under a full moon. They can require a specific angle of light or illumination or a special libration of the moon for them to be detectable. So even if you are keen, it's going to take some time to locate all of the features.
Here is a PDF of the original article from the April 2004 edition of Sky & Telescope where Wood first introduces the Lunar 100. It includes a list of the objects and their coordinates on the moon. Plenty of other resources are available online to identify these targets as well. Hopefully the next time the moon is out you can take the opportunity to enjoy it and learn something rather than lament its existence.
A new comet has been discovered moving through our solar system. First imaged between 2014 and 2019 at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile as part of the Dark Energy Survey, the object was discovered by University of Pennsylvania astronomers Bernardinelli and Gary Bernstein on June 19/2021. A few days later on June 22, the object was confirmed to have a coma surrounding it indicating that it was indeed a comet. In honour of its discoverers, this comet was named Comet C/2014 UN271 Bernardinelli-Bernstein.
C/2014 UN271 is believed to be an Oort cloud comet with estimates of its nucleus size ranging from 100 km to 200 km across, making it the largest comet and Oort cloud object ever discovered (at least three times larger than Hale-Bopp). The image below taken from shows its estimated orbit using several year of observations of the comet. It is estimated to reach perihelion (its closest approach to the sun) on January 23/2031 where it will still be outside Saturn's orbit. Its closest approach to Earth is scheduled to occur on April 5/2031. At this distance, its magnitude is estimated to be no brighter than Pluto or its moon, Charon, so this will definitely be a telescope object. This tool can be used to see how the comet will move through our solar system.
More information on the comet including its current location and distance from Earth can be found here.
This website was last updated on .