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Astronomer: “Phenomenal” Peak Viewing of Orionids Meteor Showing Days Away

in Astronomy/Good news/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Here’s the good news: Wyomingites still have plenty of opportunities to see the Orionids meteor shower before it wanes in early November.

The bad news is that you’ll either have to stay up late or plan on waking up in the middle of the night.

The Orionids meteor shower is considered to be one of the most beautiful of the year, according to NASA, and is known for the brightness and speed of the meteors entering earth’s atmosphere. They can reach speeds of about 148,000 mph as they enter the atmosphere.

Max Gilbraith, plaetarium coordinator at the University of Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that the meteor shower can be best seen after midnight, usually around 1 or 2 a.m.

“Weather conditions are going to be the main concern, especially down in the southeast portion of Wyoming, where we have smoke from the Mullen and Cameron Peak fires,” Gilbraith said. “I would recommend getting anywhere high and dry, especially a place where you won’t have light pollution, like in Cheyenne and Casper.”

The astronomer also recommend not using binoculars or a telescope when looking for the meteor shower, as only looking at one spot (albeit magnified) will likely mean missing meteors in another portion of the sky.

Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through a “meteroid belt,” leftover “dust” from the disintegration of a comet, in this case, Halley’s Comet.

Gilbraith said the meteor shower will peak around Oct. 20, meaning that is when the most meteors can be seen in the shortest period of time. As recently as 2007, the meteor shower peaked at 70 meteors per hour, equaling just over one per minute.

“That is phenomenal, because there are usually a few dozen per hour, around 10 to 20,” he said.

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Newly Discovered Comet Could Be Brightest In Decades

in Astronomy

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Night sky watchers in May could be rewarded with a look at a bright new comet as well as the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, a University of Wyoming staff member said. 

The SWAN Comet, officially designated as C/2020 F8 SWAN, was discovered by an amateur Australian astronomer in December 2019, and UW Planetarium Director Max Gilbraith said it could be one of the most memorable comet-viewings in recent history.

“It might be brighter than the planet Venus and have a huge, beautiful tail visible with binoculars or a small telescope,” Gilbraith said. “Comets are hard to predict, but it could be the best comet we’ve had for 20 years.” 

Early morning, around 4:45 a.m., is the best time to catch a glimpse of SWAN along the northeastern horizon. Comets can be the size of a small town and are composed of frozen gases, rock and dust, orbiting the Sun like “cosmic snowballs,” according to NASA.

“This comet is on a parabolic path around the Sun,” Gilbraith said. “Once the Sun pulls it in with its gravity, it will fling it back out of the Solar System entirely.” 

While there could be an opportunity for viewers to catch the comet as it passes Earth on a trajectory leaving the Solar System, he explained the comet could just as easily break apart or succumb to the Sun’s gravity.

If a single bright comet isn’t enough reason to climb out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, the Eta Aquarids meteor shower is also gracing night skies throughout May. Named as a result of the meteors appearing to originate from Eta Aquarii, one of the brighter stars in the constellation Aquarius, the meteors are likely particles from the tail of Halley’s Comet, Gilbraith explained.

Although the show of shooting stars takes a backseat to the Perseid meteor shower later in the year, he said sky watchers might still see a meteor every few minutes.  

“You will catch meteors all through the night if you really look for them,” Gilbraith added. “If you look to the east around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., you’ll definitely see some of those meteors.”

In the evening, Venus is visible to the west, but most planets appear in the morning, with Jupiter and Saturn hanging in the south and Mars shining to the southeast. 

“The planets do move through the sky, but very slowly,” Gilbraith explained. 

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Our Favorite Supermoon Photos

in Astronomy/Photography

The moonrise tonight was spectacular.

That’s because the “pink” supermoon is the biggest and brightest supermoon of 2020.

If you missed it tonight, you’ll be able to see another version tomorrow — but just about an hour later.

In the meantime, here are some of the best photos we’ve seen of this spectacular moon. Enjoy.

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Tonight’s moon 🌝 #supermoon2020 #pinkmoon

A post shared by Taylor (@bluejaytaytay) on

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