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October 06, 2013

Spaced Out Challenge: The False Dawn and the Dragon's Fire

Two-for-one in this week's edition: an evening meteor shower and...


Zodiacal light as seen over the Arizona Astronomy Village

When false dawn streaks the east with cold, gray line,
Pour in your cups the pure blood of the vine;
The truth, they say, tastes bitter in the mouth,
This is a token that the "Truth " is wine.

-Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

With the moon not hanging around in the early morning to ruin things, your best chance to catch this elusive wedge of light runs now through October 16th.

Let me show you how.

The Zodiacal Light
What is the zodiacal light?
From S&T's excellent series of articles on the topic:

Though certain times of year are better for seeing the zodiacal light (the alignment of the ecliptic matters, as do moonless skies), it’s always there, ringing the sky along the plane of the solar system. The zodiacal light is actually sunlight, scattering off a thick pancake-shaped cloud of dust motes floating in the inner solar system...

illustration by S&T/ Casey Reed

The dust grains are so much larger than the wavelength of the visible light they’re scattering that they tend to scatter the light forward, bumped only a slight angle from the direction it was already travelling. Most of the zodiacal light comes from dust inside Earth’s orbit, which is why the zodiacal light appears brightest nearest the Sun, and fades as you travel upward along the ecliptic.

First, find a dark spot. A rule of thumb is if the Milky Way is obvious down to the horizon, you're set. Refer to the Perseid meteor thread for a master list of just such sites for every state.

Second, set your alarm or jazz yourself up on Red Bull: the phenomena materializes about one to two hours before true dawn, so that's about 4:00 to 4:30am for most of you reading this.

Third, remember: it can be subtle and elusive. Many experienced astronomers have even mistaken it for light pollution, so you may have already seen it but had no clue what this strange wedge was. Now that you do though, skip out of the city, and if you can catch it in its full glory, you'll see why it found its way into poetry nearly a thousand years ago.

The Draconid Meteor Shower
Sometimes a boom, sometimes a bust, the Dragon's Fire is a nice one for folks who can't burn the midnight oil for the Perseids, peaking about an hour or so after evening twilight. I counted a total of eight during a long observation session last evening in the San Bernardino Mountains. You'll likely catch at least a few tonight through Wednesday, peak is tomorrow night:


Star map by Earthsky

Dark Sky Meter App UPDATE
A big thanks to the 'rons and 'ettes who downloaded and used the app this past week. A nice bump of updates have come in across the US, and since this app isn't advertised that frequently, I think I know a particular group of hobohunters and valurite drinkers who contributed a bit to that.

I'm a bit exhausted from the aforementioned observing session last night, so this week's edition will be ending rather abruptly. The master index to all SOC posts, including the Buyer's Guide and Observing Under the Washed Out Sky can be found here. Follow me on twitter @conartcritic, and if you have any personal astro-imagery, product recommendations or tips, please send them to theonandonlyfinn (at) gmail.com. Until next time, clear skies to you and keep looking up!

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posted by CAC at 06:33 PM

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