Member Reports: Amateur Astronomy in a Time of Social Distancing

We know that many ASNH members miss the monthly meetings and public observing nights that we would normally be having at this time of year. But astronomy is a hobby that can be done alone or with those with whom you are isolated during the pandemic. To foster some sense of community and interaction during these difficult times, we asked our members to share any observing or astronomy-related activities they have been able to do. Here are their reports.

From Michael Amato:

On Saturday evening, March 21, I observed the close encounter of Venus and the ISS. The ISS passed by Venus to the south by just a half of a degree. I used this opportunity to compare the brightness of both objects when they were close together. Surprisingly, the ISS looked less than half as bright as Venus did. I’m going to guess the difference was -4.9 Magnitude for Venus Vs 2.4 Magnitude for the ISS. What a difference!

My second observation occurred on the predawn hours of March 18 for the very close encounter of Mars, Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon. The three objects formed a close triangle together with the waning Moon anchoring the bottom. About one degree to its upper right was Mars with Jupiter one degree to the Moon’s upper left. Jupiter and Mars were also about one degree apart and this sight was really spectacular in my 10X50 binoculars. Completing the scene, lonesome Saturn was about five degrees to the lower right. It was well worth getting up for!

I have a number of other observations that I’ve done in the last few months. From late winter to early spring, I’ve been observing the dimming and then brightening of Betelgeuse. It took more than a month to see the star dim from about .5 to 1.6 magnitude. I noticed the belt stars of Orion were now equally as bright as Betelgeuse. After about a month, Betelgeuse gradually returned to its normal brightness. It was fun trying to speculate whether it would go supernova. With the Pleiades in the western sky earlier this year, I was able to enjoy watching Venus enter into the lower part of the Pleiades and it proved to be a stunning binocular sight. Right next to it was the Hyades with Aldebaran on the top end. Both of these side by side in western sky was really something to see.

In mid-May, I observed the close conjunction of Venus with Mercury 1.1 degree to its upper right. In my 10X50 Binoculars, I was able to see the the waning crescent of Venus rather easily but the real shock was being able to easily observe Mercury’s waning gibbous phase. I believe this was easy to see because the skies seem to be so transparent since this virus outbreak. Earlier this year, I was also able to observe the close conjunction of Venus and Uranus.

Finally, while photographing the sunset with my cell phone camera, without realizing it, I photographed the green flash. I didn’t see it myself but there it was, on my camera. Again, I believe the skies were very transparent because of the virus or I would never have photographed this. 

From Patricia and Torin Thurston:

We have been thinking of you all, and hoping you’re also staying safe and in good health.

We have been staying active! I guess you could say we had a bit of a remote star party with a neighbor. Last week, from our own homes, we attended an Astronomy on Tap (Texas A&M, Bryan-College Station) on YouTube. Then we looked at Venus and Mercury through our Astronomical binoculars, from our own backyards. There was a lot of texting and smart-phoning throughout. Our neighbor got up before the birds to look at Jupiter (moons transiting). We had a great time, and are looking forward to doing more of that kind of thing. It’s not the same as actually viewing, within view of each other; but it still felt great to be sharing the sky together.

We tried to see the comets through our telescopes, but couldn’t quite. There’s just too much ambient light in our area. However, we are enjoying the fact that fewer jet planes make for clearer skies.

We’ve also been reading books written by notable cosmologists, and some science fiction. Torin wears his CSP hat during the day when we go on neighborhood walks (wearing masks, staying 6 feet away from everyone).

May you stay well! Happy Summer! 

Posted in 2020 | Leave a comment