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Monday, November 15, 2010

Festival of Stars - Shooting Stars, Jupiter and Movies!

Its that time of the year again for the Leonids Meteor Shower. The best time to see the shooting stars will be Tuesday 16th Nov and Wednesday 17th Nov (Hari Raya Haji), between the very late to very early hours of 12am and 5am.

Scanning through various astronomy-related sites, I see that the expected rate of meteors for this year's shower is about 20 meteors per hour. Now, as I'm sure many found out last year, watching a meteor shower in a light-polluted urban environment such as Singapore yields significantly less than the expected number of shooting stars. You will be considered extremely fortunate indeed if you manage to see just 20 meteors over the whole night.

To make matters worst, The Moon's brightness also reduces the number of meteors, meaning you're most likely to see the shower after 3am when the Moon sets.

All it not lost however, The Festival of Stars is here! Science Centre and TASOS (The Astronomical Society of Singapore) have teamed up to provide an evening of entertainment at the SCOB, Omni-Theatre and Snow City on 16th Nov.

Besides telescope viewing of Jupiter and the Moon, there's live stage shows, performances, talks and Movie screenings (Transformers 1 & 2.... i think) into the early hours of the morning, just in case you get bored of looking out for those elusive meteors. Events start at 7pm. Science Centre will also remain open until 10pm.

Festival of Stars - Star Maps and Jupiter's Moons

Over the past months, you may have seen a very bright star-like object high up in the night sky. That is actually the planet Jupiter.
During the Festival of Stars on 16th Nov, look straight up above your head to see Jupiter joined by a Gibbous (oval-shaped) Moon (see Star Map below):

After midnight, Jupiter and Moon will be low to the ground. In their place high above you'll find the stars of Taurus, Orion and Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Its at this time that you start to see the occassional shooting star, which originate from in front of the stars of Leo, low to the eastern horizon (see Star Map below). Meteors can shoot out in any direction across constellations like Orion,Gemini and others above left and right of Leo.

Although the meteor shower sets the theme of the Festival of Stars, the planet Jupiter will be the highlight of the telescope viewing. Being a Gas Giant, Juipter is covered by "bands" of clouds. For many years, two dark bands have been the most visible but this year one of the bands (The South Equatorial Belt or SEB) has disappeared, covered by whiter, higher clouds. When will it return? Nobody knows but this past week dark spots have begun to appear in the white clouds and if they continue to spread it could cause to SEB to reappear.
View some of the most recent images of Jupiter and its missing belt at astronomer Chrisopher Gu's website:

Image Credit: Christopher Gu

Also visible around Jupiter will be its four biggest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. As they are in constant motion around Jupiter, they are in different positions each night. Here are their approximate positions during Festival of Stars 16th Nov: