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(The Width of a Full Moon is Roughly 1/2 Degree.)
The only viewing session for November had to be cancelled due to clouds. There is much in store for December, but the events of interest will require some dedication and luck (weather) to view them. The event you will hear the most about is Comet Leonard. YouTube is full of videos from people who don't know what they are talking about and hyperbolizing it. The videos I have linked above are pretty good - the best is probably Alyn Wallace's. This comet could be nice, but your expectations need to be tempored a bit. This will not be as good as Comet Neowise was last year!
It has been said that comets are like cats. They both have tails and do what they want to. Comets are like dirty snowballs made of some water, but mostly methane, CO2, and Ammonia. The comet sublimates, turns directly from solid to gas as it approaches the sun. Trapped gasses under the surface as sublimation occurs can change the trajectory of the orbit thus part of the comet's unpredictability. The density of comets vary and therefore change how bright they may become. Solar activity from the sun at closest approach (perhelion) can also affect the result of what we see. Lastly the geometry of the orbit of the comet affects what the comet will look like from earth. You can see the geometry of this comet's orbit here. Hover over the image and use your mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Click and drag on the image to see the orbit from different aspects.
Unfortunately this comet will be too close to the sun in the sky during it's brightest time. It will be easiest to see in the early morning sky early in December and then moves closer to the sun in the sky as we go toward the middle of the month - when it comes into the evening sky close to the horizon and in the twilight. To get the best chance of seeing it watch the videos above, find a spot outside of town with dark skies, and use binuculars to search for it. If it becomes naked eye visible, it will most likely be barely visible, Make sure your eyes are dark adapted. If you use a phone app to help locate it, after finding the general area, put your phone down and wait for your eyes to adapt to the dark before really looking for it. Oh, and don't worry about trying to photograph it with a cell phone. They simply are not up to the task.
Another problem is that the weather forecast for the next several days (as of Dec 1st) don't look very promising. Let's hope the forecast changes! If conditions permit, I will post some photos on this site. With the logistics of trying to organize an early morning viewing session and the fickle nature of Nebraska's weather. I'm afraid I won't be able to offer a viewing session for this.
We also have the Geminid meteor shower this month. The shower peaks on the night of Dec 13th/14th. The moon will interfere by lighting the sky until the early morning hours of the 14th. Since this night is also on a Monday/Tuesday morning, I won't set up a viewing session for it at the observatory. If you want to look for meteors in the early morning sky, go to a dark site outside of town and take a lawn chair or chaise lounge. Use just your eyes (dark adapted) and try to scan as much of the sky you can. If you want to look for a few in town in the evening with the moon out, just find a place away from close street lights and with few trees. Avoid your cell phone!
With weather forecast looking unfavorable early in December, I was forced to look at December 10th for the first viewing session. I'm hoping the weather will allow families to come out on Sunday December 26th. See below for details.
In case of viewing session cancellation, I put out messages on the observatory email listserv and text lists. If you wish to be added to the e-mail and/or text list - e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to be on the text list I need your phone number and provider. These services are free and free of ads/spam!
Please note these sessions are cancelled if the sky conditions/weather are not good. What does that mean? Well, (optical) telescopes can't see through clouds! It will need to be almost perfectly clear. The next potential problem is wind. If the wind velocity is more than about 10 mi/hr - that's too much! A telescope magnifies the size of the objects we view - and the effects of the wind! Please check the ClearSkyClock and weather links on the home page of this site! What if you're in doubt the observing session will take place? If it's not perfectly clear and calm, you can call (308) 293-5776 before leaving for the session!
From O'Neill Nebraska take US HWY 281 north to Road 883 (Johnson's Three Eagles). Turn left (west) 2 miles to 490 Avenue. Turn right (north) 0.6 mile to the red gate. Proceed north of the gate another few hundred feet. You will see the entrance on the right. We will have you park along the fence near the entrance. Be advised there is an electric fence on 3 sides of the building location. Please call or e-mail to register so I know how many people to plan for!
December 10th - Viewing beginning at 7:00 PM. The moon will be at 1sr qtr and will allow nice contrast for viewing craters. Saturn and Jupiter will still be visible in the west. We can still do some deep sky observing such as brighter nebulae, clusters, and galaxies! We will of course have a constellation tour. Bring a lawn chair and warm clothes.
December 26th - Viewing beginning at 7:00 PM. This night will be free of the moon in the evening. We will concentrate on deep sky objects although Jupiter will still be visible low in the west. If weather allows we will look at the planet Uranus. We will of course have a constellation tour. Bring a lawn chair and warm clothes.
If you want to know about all Tri-City and O'Neill Area astronomical opportunities available free to the public this month, check here!
If you would like to help us move, call us at 308-293-5776 before 10:00 PM daily or contact by e-mail.
We look forward to seeing you!
When visiting the observatory, here are some rules/recommendations you should consider:
1) Please stay in or close to the observatory. This
facility is located on private property, which is not mine. Please
show your thanks to the owners by keeping the area clean and
2) Please, while in the observatory, don't touch anything unless you ask and/or have been instructed as to the proper use of the instrument!
3) Bring a lawn chair for each member of your group, that is if you plan on staying a while, as we hope you will. If it is clear, please keep in mind that it often takes a while to find objects for you to look at. Often there are others in line to see these things as well. You are welcome to pull up a chair and ask as many questions as you like. We have some chairs, but not many.
4) Bring a flashlight for dark-sky observing sessions! (If the moon is in the sky, you may not need it.) You will need one of these to safely navigate from your car to the building. We purposely don't have any lights in the area of the facility. Once in the building, we generally ask that you don't use your flashlight (with its white bulb) unless you ask. We have red lights which will help you see where you are going inside the building!
5) No smoking is allowed in or around the building!
6) In winter, please bring plenty of warm clothing! This can't be over stressed. Standing still in the cold is nothing like being active in it! Wear several layers and don't forget those gloves/mittens and something for your head. There is no such thing as glamour when it comes to staying warm! There is no heat in the observatory!
7) In Summer - don't forget the mosquito repellant!
8) Be advised there are no bathroom facilities in the observatory!
9) No boisterous behavior within the observatory, or around it, will be tolerated!
10) Please don't disturb the cattle. If you like them, admire them from a distance!
Worried about the threat of light pollution in your area? For more information on it and how you can help educate others to enjoy lights AND the night sky - check out our light pollution page and the link page!
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Mark Urwiller - Web Page Administrator
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