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   Dec 14

121 : Geminids revisited.

     Hello to you, my star-struck companions! I’m pleased to introduce myself to the readers of the Spacedex blog!

      My name is Raj Kunkolienkar and I’m here as the managing editor of the website having been a passionate amateur astronomer for the last six years. Since my childhood, the stars and the humbling cosmos was my friend. Being seventeen years of age, the love story is no different. Being a resident of India and having access to the first public astronomical observatory in the country has been a boon to me.

      The sky comes around as a great equalizer. It favours no rich or the poor. The beauty, is for all to behold! And what can be more beautiful than a chilly winter night with meteors whizzing past you at leisure? I still remember the time wherein I used to wonder whether the wishes I made used to ever come true, and if stars would actually fall! Today, I might know the truth, but the spark of fascination still lives within me.

     Today, I revisit one of the most thrilling experiences of my life; the Geminds shower of 2010! Since then, I have grown from discovering one of the best and the most user friendly meteor shower websites to working on the same website, Spacedex which is run by an amazing guy, Travis Brown! The moon phase kills it this year around though.
           14th December 2010 would have passed of in my life as an another rather ordinary day, had it not been for some bouts of craziness that only astronomy can instil in oneself. Since a few years that I have been involved in amateur astronomy, this was one of the most fulfilling moments that I had. I was on duty at the observatory when a cold winter night decided to promise me some of the most spectacular delights of the sky including the awesome nebula in Orion and the Andromeda galaxy. Along with all of that came a dazzling display by the Moon and Jupiter to brighten up my night. Little did I know, that there was a big event waiting in line, down the horizon!  
           As me and my astro-friend let the visitors peep through the universe through the 5” telescope, we managed to catch a glimpse of a few meteors here and there, which aroused our interests. As an amateur, I am not supposed to forget stuff like prominent meteor showers, but that is what I did!! Realising that we had a good sky in hand, one of the best of the season, we decided to have a meteor watch the very next day after checking out the fine details of the event. But, confusion with time zones prevailed and this led to the chaos! After resuming my usual internet browsing session at home that very night, I found to my horror that the shower was meant to peak at midnight. The very same night!
         Realizing that I had just a hour or two in hand, I pressed the panic button and started making frantic calls to my seniors and fellow observers to hatch a plan for observation. That is when Spacedex really helped me out! But our plan started to look seemingly difficult to materialize as our seniors were just returning home after conducting an observation session at a far-away village. After a roller-coaster moments, we finally got the nod for the night from our seniors.
     And there we were, the three of us, me, Anmol Naik and Omkar Borkar. The three who had decided to brave the cold nights of December to catch a glimpse of this amazing annual display called the Geminds!
      Getting a little technical, the Geminids have a radiant lying just besides Castor, one of the heads of the twins in the constellation Gemini. If you trace the paths of all the meteors that you observe in a night, you will see that they all lead you to a single point, and that is the radiant! This shower is said to be the 2nd most consistent meteor shower annually, after the Persids and has garnered a lot of attraction from astronomy fanatics this decade due to the rise in its activity which is caused due to the remains of comet 3200 Phaethon in the the orbit of the Earth around the sun. The expected peak rates for India ranged from a 60-140 ZHR. But, as we were to observe form a location affected by light pollution, we expected much less of a show. The last time I had stayed back for a shower, I had seen only 15 meteors through-out the whole course of observation, that being the 2009 Quadrantids shower.
      As I was leaving home, I just managed to text a schoolmate of mine, that there was shower happening tonight as I knew she was very much interested in astronomy. Now it turns out that one can see her window from the observatory, and thus ensued a round of crazy gestures with  me trying to communicate to her the general direction to look up to. I was really glad to see people getting interested in such events, by looking at the number of updates posted about the shower on Facebook. But now, was the time for the show to begin! 
           After a quick tour through a few Messier objects,  we settled down, our heads making an angle of 120° with each other. As the show began, we realized that we would get much more than expected!!! Our main motive being to enjoy the shower, we didn’t give much strain on carrying out a detailed observation nor photography due to the lack of manpower, but  we did not forget to make a mention of every meteor that we observed, with respect to its path and magnitude. For an hour or so, we had to face the extreme. From a period of a few meteors in a minute to a dry spell of about five minutes, we had to face it all! But, with the true spirit and patience of an amateur, we sang and talked our way, perhaps just to make sure that we do not doze off! 
              It was time for a short break and a tally. Soon, we concluded that the plan was a success and truly worth all the hassle taken! Most of the brighter meteors ended up in the constellations of Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor and Auriga, with Gemini not far behind. During the next spell, the mercury dropped even lower, making way for the chilly winds. Although the magnitudes of the meteors ranged from -3 to 4, we did no distinct fireballs or ‘boloids’ were observed, but that is very much typical of the Geminds. Boloids are marvellous meteors, typically said to leave behind a bright tail and also make a hissing sound! By that time, we had a tally of 121 meteors and that number would be good enough to last me for a few lifetimes, to put it straight! This was our first major shower observation, and the number of ‘WOW’s would have made our mood very clear to you, if you had graced your presence!  
         Unfortunately, at about 2:25 am, due to the wind-speed, we had clouds moving in slowly and thus forcing us to cut short our observation, almost half-way!! Although, this very news IMG_4375was disheartening, it could not overshadow the joy of seeing all those bright wonders, streaks of light that made my day! We wrapped up in a matter of minutes and despite being prepared to stay awake the whole night, we found more sense in sleeping under the table (employed some science in here) in the observatory room besides the terrace, thus ending another one of our crazy endeavours with an equally funny thing. Besides that, we also conducted observation of Venus and Saturn in the morning before leaving for our respected houses. Oh yes, I missed school that day. But it was worth it in the end!
Clear Skies! :)

(A time-lapse video of the Geminids sourced from YouTube)

   Aug 11

Spacedex Update: Universal search

We’re happy to announce that you can now search for specific meteor showers, locations, and meet-ups from any page on Spacedex. Since launch, many of you have asked for a way to search the entire site. We’ve heard you loud and clear, and have added a search box to every page on Spacedex. You can access it by hoovering over the ‘search’ text in the top navigation. It also works on mobile devices and tablets!

Stay tuned for more announcement, and thanks for your interest!

   Aug 11

Spacedex Update: Navigational changes

Since launch, we’ve been tweaking and improving the navigation experience throughout Spacedex, making it a consistent experience no matter what page you happen to be on. We’ve recently made improvements to better serve our visitors. You can now access features such as videos, q&a, our meteor shower calendar, and glossary from any page on the site. None of these features were accessible on the homepage prior to these changes.

We’ve also improved the way eclipses are displayed. In the past, clicking on ‘eclipses’ in the navigation bar would take you directly to the page of the most recent lunar or solar eclipse. There was no selection. We’re happy to announce that you can now choose which type of eclipse you’d like to learn more about. Simply click on ‘eclipses’ on the top right of any page to start your journey.

Stay tuned for information on upcoming features, and thanks for your interest!

   Jul 29

Catch the 2011 Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor shower tonight!

Summer time! The season for swimming, the outdoors, hotdogs, and laying-back-on-grass meteor shower viewing! Typically, one of the best showers of the year is the annual Perseids meteor shower–with an average of 50-60 meteors per hour during its peak, it outshines the minor Delta Aquarids.

However, a full moon happens to coincide with the Perseids on August 12th, washing out all but the brightest meteors, and in the process greatly decreasing the number of meteors visible to the human eye. The chief celestial event of the summer may be difficult to observe, but the Delta Aquarids peaking on the night of July 29th may take the crown of most satisfying celestial event to watch this summer.

General information

The Delta Aquarids meteor shower will peak on the night of July 29th, during which you can expect to see 15-25 bright, yellow, shooting stars per hour against a dark and clear sky. Each meteor will be travelling at a temperate speed of 25.5 miles/41 kilometers per second.

Like most meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids get their name from the location of their radiant, the point in which the meteors appear to come from in the sky. The radiant of the Delta Aquarids lies in the constellation Aquarius, near one of the constellation’s brightest stars, Delta Aquarii.

Meteor showers occur as Earth passes through a trail of space junk and rubble that is left in the wake of a comet. Because our planet moves at an amazing speed of 67,000 miles/107,826 kilometers per hour, all the particles rapidly burn up in our atmosphere as “shooting stars”.

You don’t have to be professional stargazer or even an amateur astronomer to observe any of the major and most minor meteor shower, all it takes s a dark environment and a gaze up at the sky.

When and where to look

The best time to observe the 2011 Delta Aquarids meteor shower is during the hours just before dawn, as the constellation Aquarius is at its highest point in the sky at this time. This year, the Moon will be past its Third Quarter phase, so there will not be any natural interference in the sky. With that said, unnatural interference may determine how many meteors you see tonight.

To greatly improve your chances of catching the Delta Aquarids meteor shower, do your best to get away from any light pollution, as the amount of light you’re surrounded by can make a huge difference. This is especially true if you live around bright city lights.

After you’ve found a nice dark environment to observe, let your eyes adjust to the dark for about 20 minutes in order to get an increased level of night-vision capability. Get comfortable and look toward the southeastern portion of the sky. Due to the amount of time it may take for you to spot a meteor blazing through the night sky, you may want to bring a blanket to lie down on or a reclining chair. You may also want to bring a neck pillow for extra comfort. Once you’ve settled in, simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!

Where will it be viewable?

The 2011 Delta Aquarids will be viewable over most of Earth, but greatly favors the southern hemisphere of the planet, along with tropical latitudes in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the radiant’s higher altitude in the southern hemisphere and because it’s winter–skies are much more transparent during this season.

Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean islands, Indonesia, Philippines, and South America will get the best viewing, but those in North America, Asia, and Europe will still be able to observe activity.

The Delta Aquarids aren’t the best meteor shower in terms of overall activity, but this year may prove to be a wonderful viewing experience for those who are skipping out on the moonerific Perseids in August.

   Jul 27

Welcome to the Spacedex blog!

Spacedex launched in 2010 with the intention of providing an easy to understand web site for individuals–including children, adults, and even highly advanced parots, to view the many extraordinary astronomical events that occur every year.

Often times, a barrier is precieved to exist when many of us think of observing space. For some, it’s a lack of high powered equiptment. For others it’s simply a matter of not knowing what to look at, when to look, and where to look.

The subject of space is complex, but we strive to make your viewing experience memorable by supplying all the information you need in order to catch the any future space events–all without the complicated jargon usually aimed at amature or professional astronomers. Since our launch, we’ve supplied detailed local information for several events–8 major meteor showers, a live stream of the December 2010 total lunar eclipse, and even coverage of the Supermoon.

We’ve been featured on several media outlets, including CNN, Patch, Wired, HowStuffWorks, among other sites. This is not enough; we can do more, and this blog is the first step. Many of the events we’ve covered thus far have been visible in North America, but we understand that our audience is global.

From this day forward, all major celestial events–visible on any of the 7 continents, will be given special attention on this blog. This attention will come in the form of detailed viewing information, photos, facts, and even the history of upcoming events.

We’ll also be adding several new features to Spacedex within the coming months, including local weather on many of the current city pages, official meetups, a spiffy lunar calendar, and even a mobile version of Spacedex. We’ll also be improving the entire site to make it faster, more presentable, and easier to navigate.

I’d like to thank all the visitors; all of you inspire me to continue working on this project. Reading an email from a father who watched his little girls jump for joy after observing a bright shooting star flying by makes it all worth it. We are just getting started!

- Travis