Skywatch for June 2014: Summer Planets

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After oppositions for Mars in April and for Saturn in May, both planets remain prominent sky objects for sky-watchers to enjoy throughout June.  Jupiter, on the other hand, having been brilliant all through the winter and spring, is now moving so close to the Sun that views of it can only be had for a few hours after sunset in the western sky.  The waxing crescent Moon tracking through Cancer, Leo, and Virgo during the first week of June points the way to finding Mars, as it will appear just below the Red planet on June 7th, but in waxing gibbous phase by that time.  Mars is at magnitude –0.5 on June 1st but fades to 0.0 by June 30th.  The distance between us and Mars grows steadily as we move in our respective orbits during the month.  Still telescopic views of Mars will remain good all month.  Mars is currently among the stars of Virgo in the southern sky.

Saturn is at 0.3 magnitude and among the dim stars of Libra all month and is still a great telescopic object for sky-watchers lucky enough to have a scope.  Rings, surface markings, and orbiting moons add to the view of the planet.  Look in the southern evening sky, east or left of Virgo and Mars, for it, especially on June 10th when the nearly Full Moon passes just below the ringed planet.

The Moon also directs our eyes to Venus, though in truth Venus is always easy because of its ever-present brightness.  Now Venus is at –3.9 magnitude.  On June 24th, the very thin waning crescent Moon may be seen just right of Venus and just below the Pleiades star cluster in the east sky 45 to 60 minutes before the Sun rises.

June is not a good month for meteor observers; there are no major meteor showers in June.  But one minor shower may be worth a look.  The Bootids went dormant after a great show in 1927 but re-emerged in 1998 with 90 meteors spotted per hour.  In 2004 another big display of meteors occurred.  Astronomers do not expect another big display this year, but the peak night, June 27th, coincides with the New Moon —- the best Moon phase for seeing meteors.  So we might give it a try looking northwest between 1 am and dawn on the 27th of June.

Summer Solstice arrives on June 21st at 6:51 am EDT.  The Sun then for us in Maryland will be at its highest for the year, at 73 1/2 degrees above the southern horizon at noon.  Day length is at its longest and night-time at its shortest at this time of year.  Enjoy the extra day light even though the night sky does not come to glory until a much later hour.  Full Moon for June is going to be on June 13th.

Diagram of the Earth's seasons as seen from the north. Far left: summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. Front right: summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere.

Diagram of the Earth’s seasons as seen from the north. Far left: summer solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. Front right: summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere.

Sail With Sultana During Tea Party Weekend

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Gunston Trip, May 21 - 25, 2012 014Visit the historic port of Chestertown, Maryland this weekend to sail on the schooner SULTANA during the “Chestertown Tea Party Festival.” This annual event commemorates Chestertown’s protest of British Tea Taxes in 1774. As local legend has it, citizens of this colonial port boarded the Brigantine Geddes and dumped its cargo into the Chester River. During the festival the schooner SULTANA will be in port for a host of public sails. Tickets are still available for sails on both Saturday and Sunday of the weekend with each outing capturing a unique facet of the festival.

SULTANA’s two-hour public sails are a great way to sail the Chester River onboard a traditional schooner. Passengers are encouraged to help raise the sails, steer using SULTANA’s seven-foot long tiller, and explore the authentically reproduced crew’s quarters below-decks.

Beginning on Saturday, the schooner will depart from the town dock at 10:00am, returning to port at the perfect time for passengers to get up close and personal for the popular reenactment of the storming of the Geddes and the tossing of the tea into the river. Saturday afternoon’s sail at 4:30 offers festivalgoers a great end to a full day, returning to the dock to a quiet and relaxed Chestertown.

On Sunday, the Festival is reinvented with the popular Tea Party Raft Race and vendors in Wilmer Park. Schooner SULTANA will sail at 11:00am and 2:00pm, with the afternoon sail offering a unique view of the hilarity of the raft race.

Advance reservations are recommended for all sails and can be completed online or by contacting the Sultana Education Foundation office at 410-778-5954. Online registration is available until Midnight of the preceding day of the program. If available, tickets may be purchased at the dock before the sail. For more information or reservations, please visit www.sultanaeducation.org.

Nina and Pinta Arrive at St.Michaels

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Nina2St.Michaels—The Nina and Pinta have safely arrived in St. Michaels, MD and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. 

The replicas of two of Christopher Columbus’ ships, the Niña and Pinta, are docking at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) through May 18, with boarding opportunities available to the public beginning Saturday, May 10. 

The ships are operated by the Columbus Foundation out of the British Virgin Islands.

The Niña is an exact replica and was built completely by hand and without the use of power tools before her 1991 launch. The Pinta, an authentic reproduction of Christopher Columbus’ ship, was launched in 2005 in Valenca, Brazil. She is a larger version of the archetypal caravel and offers larger deck space for walk-aboard tours, private parties, and charters.

Both ships tour together as a sailing museum dedicated to educating the public and school children. Onboard exhibits highlight the history of the Age of Discovery, navigation of the era, how the ships were built, and a taste of what life was like more than 500 years ago.

Visitors are invited to board the ships between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily for unscheduled, self-guided tours. Tickets include tours of both ships and will be available upon boarding at $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for students 5–16, with children 4 and under free. Museum admission is an additional cost for non-CBMM members.

Teachers or organizations wishing to schedule 30-minute guided tours with groups of 15 or more must make advanced registrations by contacting the Columbia Foundation directly at columfnd1492@gmail.comor 787-672-2152.

For more information about the Niña and Pinta, visit www.thenina.com. For more information about CBMM, visit www.cbmm.org or call 410-745-2916.

 

Explore the Chesapeake Series begins at CBMM June 26

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Beginning June 26, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels, MD introduces its Explore the Chesapeake Series, an adult education program featuring half-day excursions of the Eastern Shore that include hands-on, behind-the-scenes experiences, historic tours, and on-the-water adventures through September. Advanced registration is needed for all programs, as participation is limited.

“These trips offer an intimate introduction for area newcomers, and locals wanting to reconnect with the people and landscapes that make the Chesapeake region unique,” said CBMM’s Director of Education Kate Livie. “It’s like a field trip for adults. Pack a lunch, bring your camera, and spend a day experiencing the incredible, scenic places off the beaten path on the Eastern Shore.”

CBMM_ExploretheChesapeakeSeries_Kayaking1

On Thursday, June 26 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., CBMM’s Miles River Paddle & Island Exploration with the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy takes participants to the Miles River’s Rauss Island, a private haven for box turtles, osprey, nesting heron, and other Chesapeake wildlife. Participants must be physically able to maneuver into and out of a kayak with ease. The cost is $45 per person with a kayak provided, or $30 when you bring your own. A boxed lunch is available for an additional $10 per person, with participants offered to bring their own lunches.

On Friday, June 27 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., CBMM and Morgan State University Historic Preservation Program Chair Dale Glenwood Green will lead a tour of Easton’s “The Hill” neighborhood, exploring the history and architecture of one of the oldest African American communities in the United States. Lunch at the historic Asbury United Methodist Church will be followed by a hands-on afternoon of archaeology fieldwork, where ongoing digs are uncovering how early African Americans lived as a community on The Hill. The cost is $45 per participant and includes lunch.

On Friday, August 8 from 9 a.m.-12noon, participants are invited for a kayak paddle on King’s Creek in Kingston, MD with the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy’s Choptank Riverkeeper Drew Koslow. A survey conducted by the Smithsonian Institution identified King’s Creek as having one of the Chesapeake Bay’s most important marsh systems, full of spawning fish, nesting waterfowl, and diverse vegetation. Koslow will guide participants as they explore the marshes and coves. Participants must be able to physically maneuver into and out of a kayak with ease. The cost is $30 per person with a kayak provided, or $20 per person when you bring your own.

On Thursday, September 4, from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m., the Sultana Education Foundation’s Chris Cerino will lead participants on a paddle through the marshes of Chicone Creek, a major tributary to the Nanticoke River near the historic town of Vienna, MD. Chicone was once home to a flourishing Nanticoke Indian community and became one of the first Indian reservations in the United States. The creek contains some of the most pristine marsh habitat on the East Coast. After paddling, and eating a boxed lunch, the group will tour the on-site Handsell House, an 18th century dwelling and a meticulously re-created Nanticoke longhouse. Participants must be able to physically maneuver into and out of a kayak with ease. The cost is $45 per person with a kayak provided. A boxed lunch is available for an additional $10 per person, with participants offered to bring their own lunch.

Participants must provide their own transportation, with meeting locations determined closer to the date of the program. To pre-register for an Explore the Chesapeake program, contact CBMM’s Education Assistant Helen Van Fleet at 410-745-4941. For more information, visit www.cbmm.org or call 410-745-2916.

CBMM_ExploretheChesapeakeSeries_Kayaking2

Skywatch for May 2014: Saturn Comes to Visit

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Last month Mars reached opposition – the position in our skies opposite the Sun – and the place where planets with orbits bigger than Earth’s orbit are seen at their best and brightest. For Mars this was its first opposition in over 2 years. In May Mars is still a prominent object, though a bit dimmer than it was in April, in the south-southeastern sky among the stars of Virgo.

This month brings Saturn into opposition – on May 10th – opposite the Sun in our sky for the first time since last year. Saturn therefore, will rise in the east among the stars of Libra and reach its highest point in the southern sky around midnight to 1 am. This year because Saturn’s rings tilt 22 degrees to our line of sight, greater detail may be seen through telescopes. Additional light, meaning additional brightness will be achieved even though Saturn is very distant from Earth. The planet and its rings will reflect enough light to make it appear at + 0.1 magnitude; its best in over 2 years.

Image of Saturn produced by digital imager Mattias Malmer. The image was pieced together from 102 frames recorded by the Cassini spacecraft ISS on October 6, 2004.

Image of Saturn produced by digital imager Mattias Malmer. The image was pieced together from 102 frames recorded by the Cassini spacecraft ISS on October 6, 2004.

The Moon will track close to some of the planets in the month of May setting up some nice conjunctions; which are easy to see with the unaided eye. The waxing gibbous Moon may be seen just below Mars on May 11th, and the May 14th Full Moon will be seen less than a degree below Saturn.

Mercury will join the planet parade this month too, appearing just 3 degrees below the Pleiades star cluster, low in the west sky just after sunset around May 10th. By May 13th, Mercury will have moved to appear just above Aldebaran, Taurus’s brightest star; still low in the west after sunset. On May 24th, Mercury reaches its greatest angle away from the Sun (elongation) and will set some 2 hours after the Sun. Meanwhile, Jupiter still dazzles in the west sky after dark until it sets around midnight, at magnitude –2.0. And Venus remains a “morning” star , rising about 90 minutes before the Sun; so it will be low in the southeast sky. However at magnitude –4.0 it is prominent until 30 minutes before sunup.

A new meteor shower may appear before dawn on May 24th. astronomers are predicting that Earth will pass through a debris field left behind from Comet 209PLINEAR which went through the inner solar system just a few years ago. Up to 100 meteors per hour may show up from this encounter with the peak area and direction to look being nearly due north between Ursa Major(Big Dipper) and Camelopardalis (straight down to the horizon from the Big Dipper, now in spring, riding high up in the North.

Full Moon is May 14th; Last Quarter May 21st; New Moon on the 28th. First Quarter is early – on May 6th.

So Cool: Bocce Returns to Chestertown

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Chestertown Recreation Commission announces the return of the wildly successful Ye Olde Town Bocce League. Begun last fall and enjoyed by players of all ages, the Bocce League was a huge hit. Bocce, or lawn bowling is a great activity for players of any skill level and proved a terrific way to spend an evening with our neighbors.

Plans are to hold matches on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6:30 once again in Wilmer Park. The league has added a second night in anticipation of additional teams joining. Play will begin the week of April 28th and carry through the week of June 16th. Playoffs will follow during the next 2 weeks, allowing us to conclude the season by July 1.

The fee will be $25 per person and teams of up to 6 persons will be $ 125, (sign up 5, get one free). Teams are permitted to have more players if they like however, members beyond the 6 will each have to pay $10 for a shirt.

All proceeds go towards league equipment and towards the construction of a permanent bocce court to be built in town.
Anyone interested in being involved can email our bocce guru Frank Hurst at fdhurst1@verizon.net, or in person by signing up in the park during the farmers market.

The Chestertown Recreation Commission is a official branch of the Mayor & Council’s office charged with improving recreational opportunities, programming and facilities in the town. The CRC meets monthly at Town Hall, and welcomes any and all ideas from the community. Those interested, please email us at chestertownrec@yahoo.com.

Skywatch for April 2014: Mars and Lunar Eclipse

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April 2014 is an action-packed month for skywatchers; full of excellent events and things to see in our skies. The headliner is the first of two Total Lunar Eclipses for 2014, which happens in the early morning hours of “tax day”, April 15th. It has been 857 days since the Sun, Earth, and Moon lined up (in that order) and the Moon passed through Earth’s shadow and any of us saw a total lunar eclipse—- over two years! (2014’s second lunar eclipse will be on October 8th).

 

Total Lunar Eclipse of 1993 Nov 29 (Dunkirk, Maryland) by Fred Espenak

Total Lunar Eclipse of 1993 Nov 29 (Dunkirk, Maryland) by Fred Espenak

Skywatchers in North and South America will have the prime view of the April 15th eclipse, as none of it will be seen in Europe, Africa, and Central Asia (Moon will already have set when in eclipse). For us the Moon will appear nestled among the stars of zodiac constellation Virgo, and the total phase of the eclipse will last 1 hour and 18 minutes. In the sky region around the Moon will also be seen 1st magnitude star Spica (Virgo’s brightest) just 1.5 degrees to the right and below the Moon, and 1st magnitude Arcturus (Bootes) 32 degrees above and left of the Moon, and 1st magnitude Antares (Scorpius) 45 degrees below and left of it. Meanwhile, Mars will be seen, a week past opposition for it, just 9 degrees above and right of the Moon, and Saturn, 27 degrees left, and slightly above the Moon. This will keep us busy spotting things in addition to the eclipse.

Partial Eclipse starts at 1:58 am EDT —– this is when the Moon enters the Umbra(darkest part) of Earth’s shadow
Totality begins at 3:07 am EDT ——– this is when the Moon is fully inside the Umbra.
Totality ends at 4:25 am EDT ——–Moon exits the Umbra.
Partial Eclipse ends at 5:33 am EDT —– Moon fully out of Earth’s shadow.

Path of the Moon through Earth's umbral and penumbral shadows  during the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 15, 2014. Courtesy of Fred Espenak.

Path of the Moon through Earth’s umbral and penumbral shadows
during the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 15, 2014. Courtesy of Fred Espenak.

When in total eclipse the Moon usually looks reddish-orange in color because our air bends some of the Sun’s rays into our shadow while scattering the shorter blue wavelengths of light. Any significant volcanic eruptions may darken the Moon’s appearance too by filling the air with fine dust and ash particles. Remember, this is a completely “safe” eclipse to watch —- we are not looking at any bright Sun rays (as in a Solar Eclipse) —– but merely looking into Earth’s shadow through which the Moon is passing. And since it lasts for 3 1/2 hours, one can watch all of it or parts of it spread over that time. You can use your eyes, binoculars, or telescopes, and it can be seen from a dark observing place or even from a brightly light parking lot. The only problem is the timing —– 2:00 to 5:30 am —– is not an especially convenient time —– BUT —–well worth getting up to see!!

Jupiter and Venus continue to be bright, easy to see planets all month. Jupiter at magnitude –2.1 is in the southwest sky form dusk until about 2 am. Venus in the southeast pre-dawn sky can be seen there for two hours before sunrise at magnitude –4.3. Also each planet will have the Moon passing nearby it during April. A nearly first quarter Moon will be seen just 5 degrees below Jupiter on April 6th, and a waning crescent Moon will be just above Venus on the morning of the 25th.

But the other biggest April event after the eclipse is the opposition of Mars on April 8th. Mars then is closer to Earth than it has been since December 2007, at 50 million miles. Mars will rise in the East as the Sun sets in the west that night, and it will appear at –1.5 magnitude, making it even brighter than Sirius, the sky’s brightest star (-1.4; and still visible low in Canis Major in the southwest sky in April). Mars will be visible all throughout the spring and into summer, but will stay at its current brightness for only this month because Mars is a small planet and our orbit motion and its own obit separate us fairly quickly. But it will stay as bright as other 1st magnitude stars into summer among the stars of Virgo and then into Cancer.

Get out and enjoy what the sky offers this first full month of spring!!

Sassafras River Association Heron Rookery Paddle ‘N Picnic

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Join the Sassafras River Association on Saturday, April 12th at 9AM as we paddle on the Sassafras River and Dyer Creek to one of the Heron Rookeries to see dozens of heron nests, plenty of adult herons, and maybe some chicks! There is also a bald eagle nest in the vicinity. We may also paddle up Hall Creek alongside the DuPont Estate for those of you who are interested.

The paddling will be from 9 AM until around 11:30 AM or so, at which time we will ease back to shore for a hamburger and hotdog cookout in a beautiful setting overlooking the Sassafras.

Bring your kayak or canoe, paddles, a life jacket for all paddlers, a hat, sunscreen, and binoculars. If you don’t have a canoe or kayak we may be able to provide a limited number of boats or find room in someone else’s boat, but please let us know at least a week in advance of the trip. We’ll be close to high tide so we’ll have plenty of water.

The paddle is free for SRA members and $10 for non-members. Children are free. Please RSVP by Monday, April 7th (if you have your own boat) or Friday April 4th (if you need a boat).

Contact Emmett Duke at riverkeeper@sassafrasriver.org or (410)275-1400. Please tell us your name, the number of people in your group, and a phone number and email you can be reached at.

Registration Underway for Adkins Arboretum’s Summer Nature Camps

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Camp Pollywog 2013

Adkins Arboretum’s Summer Nature Camps provide an enchanted experience for children. Registration is underway.

Summer belongs to children. For the past nine years, families and children have grown with Adkins Arboretum’s Summer Nature Camps. The camps provide extraordinary ways for children to enjoy summer the old-fashioned way—outdoors.

Campers will make lifelong memories while exploring the Arboretum’s woodland, meadows, streams and wetland. From grazing on blackberries to splashing in the Blockston Branch, the Arboretum’s Summer Nature Camps provide children with a truly enchanted experience.

Preschoolers ages 2 and 3 (with an adult) who participate in Camp Bumblebee (June 16–20) will float leaf and twig boats down the Blockston Branch, create leafy magic carpets on the forest floor and mix gooey wetland “parfaits” while listening to a chorus of frogs and red-winged blackbirds. Camp Pollywog (June 23–27) campers ages 4 to 6 will learn about the mysteries and magic of summer as they snack on blueberries in the Funshine Garden, scoop up critters in the Arboretum wetland and dip their toes in the Blockston Branch.

In Camp Paw Paw (July 7–11), campers ages 7 to 9 will enjoy a week of outdoor discovery while keeping nature journals, developing photography skills, making paper and learning artistic and natural science skills. Camp Egret (July 14– 18) campers ages 10 to 12 will develop resiliency and confidence of character while gaining outdoor skills, including wilderness survival, archery, stealth, navigation and animal tracking.

Registration fees vary, and advance registration is required. Register at adkinsarboretum.org or by calling 410-634-2847, ext. 0.