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Comet ISON set to brush the sun

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A NASA image of Comet ISON taken in April 2013.

Experts still not sure if the comet will survive

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Sky watchers hoping for a spectacular appearance by Comet ISON are carefully tracking the comet’s path as it approaches the sun. Though the comet isn’t visible to casual observers just yet, astronomers have been able to capture some clear images, especially after an outburst in mid-November boosted the comet’s brightness tenfold, according to NASA.

But nobody knows for sure what will happen next, especially since the comet is on a path for a close pass by the sun on Thanksgiving Day. There’s a chance the comet could disintegrate at any time — according to NASA, that happens less than 1 percent of the time when they get this close to the sun. Continue reading

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Comet Pan-STARRS now visible over Colorado

Skywatchers thrilled about brighest comet in years

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Comet Pan-STARRS over the Williams Fork Range.

All photos by Daniel McVey

FRISCO — Comet Pan-STARRS, a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, has survived its close encounter with the sun and is becoming one of the brightest comets in recent years, according to skywatchers — and local astrophotographer Daniel McVey captured the celestial visitor in a series of evening shots in northern Summit County. Visit McVey’s website for more night sky and landscape photography.

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A twilight shot of Comet Pan-STARRS in northern Summit County.

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Morning photo: Summit starlight

Colorado’s night sky

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Winter starlight in Summit County. Colorado.

Photos by Daniel McVey

FRISCO — Landscape and astro-photographer Daniel McVey is a resident artist at the Denver Photo Art Gallery (833 Santa Fe Dr., Denver). Join McVey for a First Friday Art
Walk on March 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when he’ll be hosting his space and answering questions about  night and astronomy photography. Click here for more information: http://www.danielmcvey.com/?p=3327.

Arrival of Winter: Snow covered trees and Orion high in the sky aresure signs that Winter has arrived in Summit County, Colorado.

Arrival of Winter: Snow covered trees and Orion high in the sky are
sure signs that Winter has arrived in Summit County, Colorado.

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Orionid meteor shower to light up the weekend night sky

Shooting stars courtesy of Halley’s Comet

An Orionid streaks through the skies over Summit County, Colorado. Photo by Daniel McVey. Click on the image to see more of McVey’s astrophotography.

Look for the three bright stars of Orion low in the eastern sky to orient yourself for this weekend’s meteor shower. Photo by Mouser courtesy Wikipedia via a GNU free documentation license.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After its 1986 appearance, many of us will probably not have an other chance to see Halley’s Comet during its next rendezvous with Earth in 2061, but we can enjoy meteors generated by remnant pieces of the comet during the Orionid shower, set to peak Saturday night.

For the best view, astronomers say to generally look eastward after sunset, toward the Orion constellation, which hangs low in the sky this time of year. The shower often generates 20 to 25 meteors per hour, and sometimes up to 50 or 60. You can also watch live online at this NASA website.

Even though Halley’s Comet is long gone, the sun continues to melt the comet little by little, freeing up rock particles that stay on the comet’s trajectory. When that faint trail of debris brushes through the Earth’s atmosphere every October, we get a show of shooting stars.

On the other side of the celestial calendar, Halley’s Comet also generates the Eta Aquarid meteor shower each April and May.

According to NASA, the Orionids move very fast, at a speed of 147,300 miles per hour, so they don’t last very long, generally burning up in the upper atmosphere. But every now and then, a larger chunk of ice and rock can result in a spectacular fireball with a lingering contrail.

After this weekend, there are two more chances to see shooting stars. The Leonids will peak Nov. 17 under an evening crescent moon, and the Geminids on Dec. 13 under a dark-sky new moon, according to Stardate.org.

Colorado: Get your Equinox groove on!

Goodbye summer, hello autumn …

Last year’s equinox from Lake Hill, above Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, Coorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After a few late-summer snowfalls, there’s little doubt that change is in the air, and nothing marks that more than Saturday’s autumnal equinox, when summer turns to fall, and the nights start growing longer than the days. Technically, the equinox isn’t a day, but a single moment in time (:49 a.m.) when the sun crosses the equator, so to say, from north to south, when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither away from, nor toward the Sun. Day and night are about equal lengths in both the northern and southern hemisphere, and the sun passes directly overhead at the equator.

As Wikipedia puts it, “The equinox … is a precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth.”

Trace the path of the sun across the sky the next few weeks. You’ll notice that, by the middle of October, it will much farther south than it is right now, and, of course, lower in the sky. In observance of the day, the Slooh space camera will stream a free webcast of live shots of the sun from telescopes around the world.

The day of the equinox is also a good time to get a good sense of compass directions from your house or your yard, as the sun rises as close to due east as it ever will, then moving south of east the next three months until the winter solstice. For more details, check out this cool web page at Space.com. Continue reading

Partial eclipse of ‘Strawberry Moon’ on June 4

About one-third of moon’s face will be blocked by Earth’s shadow

A NASA file image from a past eclipse previews what sky watchers may see June 4.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As part of a triple play for backyard sky watchers, this Monday morning (June 4) will deliver a partial lunar eclipse, when the earth’s shadow will block a little more than one-third of the moon’s face. Visit this NASA web page for details.

The string of celestial events started May 20 with a solar eclipse visible in wide swaths of the West, and continues with the June 5 – 6 transit of Venus, when the solar system’s second planet crosses between the earth and the sun.

The last lunar eclipse visible in the western U.S. was just a few months ago — Dec. 9, to be exact, when sky watchers with a clear view of the western horizon were able to see a total eclipse of the lunar orb. Continue reading

Colorado: Clear skies for eclipse viewing

Peak of eclipse coincides with sunset

The southwestern U.S. will see a total solar eclipse Sunday evening.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Most of western Colorado should enjoy clear skies and warmer temperatures Sunday, with fine conditions for sky watchers heading out to view the first solar eclipse of the 21st century. All the eclipse details in this Summit Voice story.

In western Colorado, the moon will block out more than 80 percent of the sun’s disk as the eclipse peaks late in the evening. The show starts about 6:30 p.m. in western Colorado. It takes about 1 hour for the moon to move across the face of the sun, with the greatest coverage coming at about 7:30 p.m. Continue reading

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