Denison Observatory Opens For 'Moon Mars & Meteors'
Posted: August 1, 2005
Denison University's Swasey Observatory will be open from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 12) for a lecture titled "The Moon, Mars, and Meteors." Sandy Yorka, associate professor emerita of physics and astronomy, will host this open house at the observatory on campus. The evening will provide -- weather permitting -- a view of the first quarter moon. In her lecture, Yorka will discuss the Mars rovers and the exciting things that they have found and done, features on the moon that are visible to the naked eye, and the connection between meteor showers and old comets.
The Perseid meteors arise from the passage of periodic comet Swift/Tuttle. Peak activity was observed in 1991 and 1992, when 400+ meteors were observed per hour. By the late 1990s the rate had decreased to 100 to 200 per hour. The comet, with a period of 130 years, is now receding back into the solar system, but another possible peak has been predicted for this year. As the Earth crosses the stream of debris left from the passage of the comet, some of it enters our atmosphere, producing "shooting stars" -- meteors.
The Perseid meteors are expected to be very active the 12th and 13th of August, when it is predicted that dozens of meteors might be seen each hour. Perseid meteors, though fewer in number per hour, may also be seen as much as a week before and after the peak date. Additional information about the Perseid meteors may be found at the International Meteor Organization's web site, www.imo.net.
Many people recently have been the recipients of an e-mail message (which actually has circulated for two years) that states that Mars will be closer to the Earth in November than at any time in the next 60,000 years. Michael Mickelson, professor of physics and astronomy emeritus at Denison, had a more realistic prediction. "Mars is close every two years," he said. "This year it will not be as close as it was in 2003 but the difference should be negligible. However, it will never appear as large as the moon, even with a 100 power telescope." In early November, the Earth will be directly between it and the sun.
"In 2003 we were able to see - through the telescope - the polar caps reasonably clearly due to its close approach as well as some other structural features," Mickelson stated. This year, Mars will appear to the naked eye as a very bright reddish disk in the eastern sky after sunset.
If skies are clear, visitors at this open house will view the wonders of the night sky through the Warner & Swasey 9" refracting telescope in the observatory's dome. Denison's Swasey Observatory opened in 1910. Yorka and Mickelson have both hosted observatory open houses in the past. Yorka has been active in introducing astronomy topics to young students in sessions both in the observatory and in the Olin Hall planetarium. Mickelson continues to serve as the director for post graduate fellowships in Denison University's Honors Program.
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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