Week of Monday, July 21

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, July 21.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, August 1, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 5:53 a.m. on Monday, July 21 and sunset is at 8:21 p.m. providing us with about 14 and one half hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 2 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 10:11 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 1:07 p.m. this week.     

Moonrise for Monday, July 21 occurs at 1:44 a.m.  Moonset will occur at 4:04 p.m.  On Monday, July 21 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning crescent phase with roughly 24% of the lunar disk illuminated.  New moon occurs on July 26 this week at 5:42 p.m.      

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

This week visible passes of ISS will be in the early morning hours.  The best of these will occur on July 22 and 23.  To learn more about this pass and others this week use the information below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning starting Monday, July 21. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

22 Jul

-1.7

03:35:25

27

NW

03:35:39

28

NNW

03:38:37

10

NNE

22 Jul

-0.2

05:12:46

10

NNW

05:13:18

10

N

05:13:50

10

N

23 Jul

-1.0

02:48:35

25

NNE

02:48:35

25

NNE

02:50:17

10

NE

23 Jul

-0.4

04:23:02

10

NW

04:24:29

12

NNW

04:25:56

10

N

24 Jul

 0.1

02:01:44

11

NE

02:01:44

11

NE

02:01:52

10

NE

24 Jul

-0.7

03:34:36

14

NW

03:35:42

15

NNW

03:37:48

10

NNE

25 Jul

-0.7

02:47:43

19

N

02:47:43

19

N

02:49:35

10

NNE

26 Jul

 0.1

02:00:49

13

NNE

02:00:49

13

NNE

02:01:18

10

NNE

26 Jul

-0.1

03:35:11

10

NNW

03:35:54

11

N

03:36:36

10

N

27 Jul

-0.2

02:46:46

13

NNW

02:47:04

13

NNW

02:48:37

10

NNE

28 Jul

 0.1

01:59:50

13

N

01:59:50

13

N

02:00:27

10

NNE

28 Jul

-0.2

05:12:02

10

NNW

05:14:05

15

NNE

05:16:09

10

ENE

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Venus

Venus is now well within its current morning apparition. It rises around 4:00 a.m. becoming easily visible by 4:30 a.m.  Venus is currently exhibiting a gibbous phase with roughly 60% of the Venusian disk illuminated.

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Virgo and rises before the Sun sets.  For those awake around 9:00 p.m. you will see a reddish-orange object high in the southern skies.  We have now passed by Mars in our orbit and will continue to move further away each day.  Mars will set by 12:09 a.m. 

Saturn

Saturn has reached opposition and thus will rise before the sun sets.  Look for it in the southeast about 30 minutes to an hour after sunset depending on how clear your southeastern skies are.  Saturn will remain with us until 1:16 a.m.  It forms a nice triangle in the sky with Libra’s two brightest stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. 

If you watch Saturn in relation to these two stars you will notice it is exhibiting retrograde motion.  This is caused as the Earth catches up with a planet and then passes it by.  During this we see the planet from changing angles making it appear to move westward and then eastward again. This motion is more prevalent with planets closer to us such as Mars.  If you go outside once a week for the rest of the year and sketch where Saturn is in relation to Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamli you will see this retrograde motion. 

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

For July will explore objects in the constellation called Lyra the Harp.  This constellation is one of those that are part of the bright asterism known as the Summer Triangle.  It contains the bright star Vega which is one of the three stars that make the bright triangle.  The Summer Triangle acts as a beacon for observers during the summer months helping us find other constellations and the objects they contain.  Due to the visibility and usefulness of the triangle, the constellation Lyra is one of the first visited by many observers during the summer months. 

The ancient Greeks imagined this small bright grouping of stars as the lyre that Apollo gave to his son Orpheus.  After the death of his wife Eurydice, Orpheus played his lyre impressing Hyades the god of the underworld.  Hyades was so impressed that he allowed Eurydice to follow Orpheus out of the underworld provided that Orpheus not turn back and look at her until they were safely out.  Orpheus at the last minute could not resist and when he turned back to look she was gone forever.

Lyra is also the home of one of the best meteor showers we see every year.  The Lyrid meteor shower is caused as the Earth annually plows through debris left by Comet Thatcher.  The first recorded observation of this meteor shower dates back to 687 BCE when Chinese astronomers recorded what appeared to be stars falling out of the sky in April.  April is the peak month to view the Lyrids with a peak date of April 22.

http://meteorshowersonline.com/lyrids.html

The crown jewel of Lyra is the bright star Vega.  This beautiful star is an A-class star meaning it will appear blue white in color.  The temperature of Vega is about 9,600 Kelvin making it about 1.7 times hotter than the Sun.  It is only twice the mass of the Sun but because of its higher temperature it is about 40 times more luminous.  This makes Vega one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s galactic neighborhood.  As Vega is more massive and hotter it will only exist about one tenth as long as the Sun.  That is the nature of the bigger and brighter stars. 

One interesting feature of Vega is its location along the path that the Earth’s northern axis follows during the precession of the equinoxes.  This process is caused because of the Earth’s oblate shape and the tidal forces applied to our planet by the Sun and Moon.  As a result of these two factors the Earth wobbles causing our axis to trace out a cone shape.  This changing orientation causes the north polar axis to be orientated towards different stars.  We do not have to worry about a changing North Star as the precession process takes 26,000 years to complete one full wobble.  This equates to about one degree of motion per year.  In about 12,000 years Vega will become the Earth’s North Star. 

To find Lyra and its crown jewel all you have to do is look east about 45 minutes after sunset.  Doing this you will see three bright stars which form the Summer Triangle asterism mentioned above.  The other two stars in the triangle are called Denib and Altair.  As twilight begins to fade you will notice a parallelogram shape of stars just below Vega.  This is the main pattern people use to identify Lyra the Harp. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

The first object we will cover in Lyra is the beautiful planetary nebula called M57 or the Ring Nebula.  Planetary nebulae are the remnants of stars like the Sun as they begin to evolve.  The Sun and all stars start out fusing the hydrogen at their cores.  From this process atoms of helium are produced along with some energy which eventually becomes the light we see emitted by stars.  Like our cars or any device that consumes a material component it will eventually run out of this “fuel” source.  Once the Sun runs out of its core hydrogen its core will begin to collapse and the outer layers will expand and cool.  Due to its collapse core temperature will rise until the helium that has been collecting at the core begins to fuse.  Again the core will run out of its “fuel” and collapses until it is hot enough that carbon and oxygen can fuse.  This stage is called a white dwarf and it is where most stars will end their stellar lives. At this stage all that is left is a much smaller but hotter core.  For a brief time this high temperature allows the dying star to excite the gasses around it creating a beautiful fluorescing cloud of gas and debris.  This is what is called a planetary nebula.  When we observe M57 we are looking at the Sun’s distant future. 

To find M57 first locate the star Vega and the parallelogram shape below it.  Once you have identified the parallelogram shape of stars you need to identify the two southern most stars in this shape.  They are named Beta and Gamma Lyrae.  Using a telescope scan between these two stars and you will find a distinct ring shaped source of light.  This is the planetary nebula M57. 

M57 shines with a magnitude of 8.8 which means it is dim enough that we do need a telescope to observe it.  It is possible that big binoculars will spot it but M57 is roughly one arc minute across causing it to appear very small through wide field devices.  Because of this giant binoculars that have the resolving power to see this nebula would only reveal a small star like object.  If you do not have your own telescope, look up your local astronomy clubs.  Astronomy clubs, museums and many universities will host observing nights that are free to anyone.  Here in St. Louis we have three active astronomy clubs.  All three of them host numerous observing nights one of which is our First Friday observing program.  Below you will find links to the astronomy clubs in St. Louis and more information about M57.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

http://messier.seds.org/m/m057.html

http://www.slasonline.org/

http://www.asemonline.org/

http://stemideas.org/outreach-projects/star-gazing/

The object for the week of July 7 is the star Delta Lyrae.  There are a few reasons I wanted to cover this star in the night sky update.  First it is a double star.  Unlike those in the past this double is not physically a pair but rather is called an optical double.  These two stars happen to appear close together but are actually about 200 light years apart.  Frequently you will see them listed as Delta-1 and Delta-2.  Delta-1 is a bright B-Class hydrogen fusing star that has a temperature of 18,000 Kelvins.  This puts Delta-1 at nearly 3000 times hotter than the Sun.  Delta-2 is about 200 light years closer to us and is an M-Class red giant star.  Delta-2 is about 7 times more massive than the Sun and is about 300 times larger than the Sun. 

The bright red color of Delta-2 and the blue color of Delta-1 give the pair a very nice color contrast making them an attractive pair to seek out.  In addition to the color contrast Delta-1 is a member of an open star cluster called Stephenson 1.  This is a cluster that is not very well detached from the background stars and it has less than 50 component stars. 

In addition to Delta-1 & 2 you can also try to find another red star called SAO 67546.  This is another member of the Stephenson 1 cluster that is a K-class red giant star that will have an orange hue.  Both Delta-2 and SAO 67546 are stars on their way to becoming white dwarfs that could produce planetary nebulae like M57 discussed last week.  

To find the optical double star Delta Lyrae and the associated Stephenson 1 star cluster first find the bright star Vega.  Once you have identified Vega look for the parallelogram shape of stars below the bright star described last week.  This time we want to use the northern two stars of the parallelogram shape.  These stars are called Zeta and Delta Lyrae.  The latter of the two being our target star. 

Those with sharp vision will be able to determine that Delta Lyrae is two stars.  The distinct color of the two stars and the Stephenson 1 cluster can be seen clearly through a simple pair of binoculars.  The best view of the cluster will be through a telescope using a low magnification eyepiece.  Reference the map linked below for help finding Delta Lyrae and the associated Stephenson 1 star cluster.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

The object for the week of July 14 is the multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae.  What looks to be a 4th magnitude star near Vega is really the combined glow of four separate stars.  Last week we covered a similar multiple star called Beta Lyrae but Epsilon is different in that its member stars are gravitationally bound to one another.  In other words Epsilon Lyrae is a binary system.  Careful inspection of Epsilon Lyrae will reveal two stars using just your eyes.  For those of us with less than perfect vision a pair of binoculars will plainly reveal what looks like two bright white stars.  The western of the two is Epsilon 1 and the eastern of the two is Epsilon 2.  Epsilon 1 and 2 are separated by roughly 10,000 AU (AU = 93 million miles; average distance between Earth and Sun) and are estimated to take nearly 400,000 years to orbit each other. 

Using a decent telescope at moderate magnification Epsilon 1 and 2 can each be split into two stars.  Splitting Epsilon 1 and 2 is easy because they are about 200 seconds of ac apart.  Splitting the two pairs is a bit more difficult because they are only a few second of arc apart.  A moderate sized telescope will work you will just have to bump up the magnification.  The Epsilon 1 pair is labeled 1A and 1B and the Epsilon 2 pair is labeled 2C and 2D.

All four stars are A-class stars with temperatures that range from 7700 kelvins to 8200 kelvins.  At these temperatures the stars shine with a white to bluish white color.  The stars have masses at 1.9, 1.5, 1.9 and 1.8 solar masses making them main sequence white dwarf stars. These are not the same as the white dwarf discussed above with M57.  The white dwarf related to M57 is a highly evolved star that has shed its outer layers revealing a small dense core that is fusing carbon and oxygen.  Main sequence white dwarfs are young hydrogen fusing stars that are still in their prime.

The stars in the Epsilon Lyrae system are approximately 800 million years old.  For the time being they are gravitationally bound but as they move through the Milky Way the pairs will likely separate into two separate double star systems.  Finding Epsilon Lyrae is pretty simple as it is right next to the bright star Vega.  Once you find Vega all you have to do is look about 2 degrees to the east and you will see Epsilon Lyrae.  If you deal with light pollution or diminished vision you will likely need binoculars to spilt the wide pair.  To spot all four stars you will need a telescope.  Depending on how large your telescope is you will need moderate to high magnification to split all four.  If you have an interest in finding more double or multiple star systems there are numerous other options this time of year.  Sky and Telescope has some very nice articles that will help you find many more doubles and more importantly help you refine your observing skills that are required to find and observe this type of object.  Below you will find links to these articles and the IAU map of Lyra.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/celestial-objects-to-watch/double-stars/  

The object for the week of July 21 is the globular star cluster Messier 56 (M56).  This globular star cluster is a member of the Milky Way’s outer halo of globular star clusters.  It was likely captured by the Milky Way as it consumed one of its dwarf galaxies.  M56 lies about 32,900 light years away from us and is moving towards us at a rate of 145 km/s.  M56 likely has around 50,000 stars as its mass is thought to be 230,000 times that of the Sun.  The stars in M56 are estimated to be about 13.7 billion years old.  Stars this old started to form shortly after the universe expanded into its current state.

At magnitude 8.3 it is one of the fainter globular star clusters included in the Messier catalog.  Even so it can be seen through 50mm binoculars or small aperture telescopes.  When viewed through these instruments M56 will appear as a faint out of focus star.  If you are having trouble seeing the faint glow from these stars try slightly moving your instrument back and forth and this will often help the eye detect the faint light.  Telescopes that are 8 inches or larger will begin to resolve the brightest stars in M56.

Finding M56 is relatively simple as it lays between the two bright stars Gamma Lyrae and the famous double star Alberio in Cygnus the Swan.  If you start at Gamma Lyrae and head towards Alberio you will find an arrow shaped group of stars that will point you towards M56.  M56 is about half way between the two bright stars listed above. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

http://messier.seds.org/m/m056.html

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, August 1, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on August 1, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Week of Monday, July 14

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, July 14.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, August 1, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 5:48 a.m. on Monday, July 14 and sunset is at 8:25 p.m. providing us with nearly 15 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still dimly illuminate our sky for about 2 hours.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 10:18 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 1:07 p.m. this week.     

Moonrise for Monday, July 14 occurs at 9:58 p.m.  Moonset will occur at 9:40 a.m. on the following day.  On Monday, July 14 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning gibbous phase with roughly 92% of the lunar disk illuminated.  Last quarter moon occurs on July 18 this week at 9:08 p.m.      

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

This week visible passes of ISS will be in the early morning hours.  The best of these will occur on the July 16 and 20.  To learn more about this pass and others this week use the information below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the morning starting Monday, July 14. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

15 Jul

-1.4

04:23:25

15

S

04:25:12

22

SE

04:27:53

10

ENE

16 Jul

-0.7

03:37:07

12

SE

03:37:07

12

SE

03:38:34

10

ESE

16 Jul

-3.0

05:10:06

10

WSW

05:13:26

64

NW

05:16:47

10

NE

17 Jul

-3.2

04:23:41

30

SW

04:25:10

71

SE

04:28:31

10

NE

18 Jul

-2.2

03:37:19

36

ESE

03:37:19

36

ESE

03:40:07

10

ENE

18 Jul

-1.6

05:10:54

10

W

05:13:47

26

NNW

05:16:41

10

NNE

19 Jul

-0.4

02:50:54

13

E

02:50:54

13

E

02:51:27

10

E

19 Jul

-2.3

04:23:48

23

W

04:25:26

40

NNW

04:28:38

10

NE

20 Jul

-3.0

03:37:21

66

N

03:37:21

66

N

03:40:31

10

NE

20 Jul

-0.7

05:12:26

10

NW

05:14:26

15

NNW

05:16:26

10

NNE

21 Jul

-1.0

02:50:53

23

ENE

02:50:53

23

ENE

02:52:19

10

NE

21 Jul

-1.0

04:23:47

12

WNW

04:26:00

19

NNW

04:28:32

10

NNE

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Venus

Venus is now well within its current morning apparition. It rises around 3:52 a.m. becoming easily visible by 4:30 a.m.  Venus is currently exhibiting a gibbous phase with roughly 60% of the Venusian disk illuminated.

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Virgo and rises before the Sun sets.  For those awake around 9:00 p.m. you will see a reddish-orange object high in the southern skies.  We have now passed by Mars in our orbit and will continue to move further away each day.  Mars will set by 12:28 a.m. 

Saturn

Saturn has reached opposition and thus will rise before the sun sets.  Look for it in the southeast about 30 minutes to an hour after sunset depending on how clear your southeastern skies are.  Saturn will remain with us until 1:43 a.m.  It forms a nice triangle in the sky with Libra’s two brightest stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. 

If you watch Saturn in relation to these two stars you will notice it is exhibiting retrograde motion.  This is caused as the Earth catches up with a planet and then passes it by.  During this we see the planet from changing angles making it appear to move westward and then eastward again. This motion is more prevalent with planets closer to us such as Mars.  If you go outside once a week for the rest of the year and sketch where Saturn is in relation to Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamli you will see this retrograde motion. 

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

For July will explore objects in the constellation called Lyra the Harp.  This constellation is one of those that are part of the bright asterism known as the Summer Triangle.  It contains the bright star Vega which is one of the three stars that make the bright triangle.  The Summer Triangle acts as a beacon for observers during the summer months helping us find other constellations and the objects they contain.  Due to the visibility and usefulness of the triangle, the constellation Lyra is one of the first visited by many observers during the summer months. 

The ancient Greeks imagined this small bright grouping of stars as the lyre that Apollo gave to his son Orpheus.  After the death of his wife Eurydice, Orpheus played his lyre impressing Hyades the god of the underworld.  Hyades was so impressed that he allowed Eurydice to follow Orpheus out of the underworld provided that Orpheus not turn back and look at her until they were safely out.  Orpheus at the last minute could not resist and when he turned back to look she was gone forever.

Lyra is also the home of one of the best meteor showers we see every year.  The Lyrid meteor shower is caused as the Earth annually plows through debris left by Comet Thatcher.  The first recorded observation of this meteor shower dates back to 687 BCE when Chinese astronomers recorded what appeared to be stars falling out of the sky in April.  April is the peak month to view the Lyrids with a peak date of April 22.

http://meteorshowersonline.com/lyrids.html

The crown jewel of Lyra is the bright star Vega.  This beautiful star is an A-class star meaning it will appear blue white in color.  The temperature of Vega is about 9,600 Kelvin making it about 1.7 times hotter than the Sun.  It is only twice the mass of the Sun but because of its higher temperature it is about 40 times more luminous.  This makes Vega one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s galactic neighborhood.  As Vega is more massive and hotter it will only exist about one tenth as long as the Sun.  That is the nature of the bigger and brighter stars. 

One interesting feature of Vega is its location along the path that the Earth’s northern axis follows during the precession of the equinoxes.  This process is caused because of the Earth’s oblate shape and the tidal forces applied to our planet by the Sun and Moon.  As a result of these two factors the Earth wobbles causing our axis to trace out a cone shape.  This changing orientation causes the north polar axis to be orientated towards different stars.  We do not have to worry about a changing North Star as the precession process takes 26,000 years to complete one full wobble.  This equates to about one degree of motion per year.  In about 12,000 years Vega will become the Earth’s North Star. 

To find Lyra and its crown jewel all you have to do is look east about 45 minutes after sunset.  Doing this you will see three bright stars which form the Summer Triangle asterism mentioned above.  The other two stars in the triangle are called Denib and Altair.  As twilight begins to fade you will notice a parallelogram shape of stars just below Vega.  This is the main pattern people use to identify Lyra the Harp. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

The first object we will cover in Lyra is the beautiful planetary nebula called M57 or the Ring Nebula.  Planetary nebulae are the remnants of stars like the Sun as they begin to evolve.  The Sun and all stars start out fusing the hydrogen at their cores.  From this process atoms of helium are produced along with some energy which eventually becomes the light we see emitted by stars.  Like our cars or any device that consumes a material component it will eventually run out of this “fuel” source.  Once the Sun runs out of its core hydrogen its core will begin to collapse and the outer layers will expand and cool.  Due to its collapse core temperature will rise until the helium that has been collecting at the core begins to fuse.  Again the core will run out of its “fuel” and collapses until it is hot enough that carbon and oxygen can fuse.  This stage is called a white dwarf and it is where most stars will end their stellar lives. At this stage all that is left is a much smaller but hotter core.  For a brief time this high temperature allows the dying star to excite the gasses around it creating a beautiful fluorescing cloud of gas and debris.  This is what is called a planetary nebula.  When we observe M57 we are looking at the Sun’s distant future. 

To find M57 first locate the star Vega and the parallelogram shape below it.  Once you have identified the parallelogram shape of stars you need to identify the two southern most stars in this shape.  They are named Beta and Gamma Lyrae.  Using a telescope scan between these two stars and you will find a distinct ring shaped source of light.  This is the planetary nebula M57. 

M57 shines with a magnitude of 8.8 which means it is dim enough that we do need a telescope to observe it.  It is possible that big binoculars will spot it but M57 is roughly one arc minute across causing it to appear very small through wide field devices.  Because of this giant binoculars that have the resolving power to see this nebula would only reveal a small star like object.  If you do not have your own telescope, look up your local astronomy clubs.  Astronomy clubs, museums and many universities will host observing nights that are free to anyone.  Here in St. Louis we have three active astronomy clubs.  All three of them host numerous observing nights one of which is our First Friday observing program.  Below you will find links to the astronomy clubs in St. Louis and more information about M57.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

http://messier.seds.org/m/m057.html

http://www.slasonline.org/

http://www.asemonline.org/

http://stemideas.org/outreach-projects/star-gazing/

The object for the week of July 7 is the star Delta Lyrae.  There are a few reasons I wanted to cover this star in the night sky update.  First it is a double star.  Unlike those in the past this double is not physically a pair but rather is called an optical double.  These two stars happen to appear close together but are actually about 200 light years apart.  Frequently you will see them listed as Delta-1 and Delta-2.  Delta-1 is a bright B-Class hydrogen fusing star that has a temperature of 18,000 Kelvins.  This puts Delta-1 at nearly 3000 times hotter than the Sun.  Delta-2 is about 200 light years closer to us and is an M-Class red giant star.  Delta-2 is about 7 times more massive than the Sun and is about 300 times larger than the Sun. 

The bright red color of Delta-2 and the blue color of Delta-1 give the pair a very nice color contrast making them an attractive pair to seek out.  In addition to the color contrast Delta-1 is a member of an open star cluster called Stephenson 1.  This is a cluster that is not very well detached from the background stars and it has less than 50 component stars. 

In addition to Delta-1 & 2 you can also try to find another red star called SAO 67546.  This is another member of the Stephenson 1 cluster that is a K-class red giant star that will have an orange hue.  Both Delta-2 and SAO 67546 are stars on their way to becoming white dwarfs that could produce planetary nebulae like M57 discussed last week. 

To find the optical double star Delta Lyrae and the associated Stephenson 1 star cluster first find the bright star Vega.  Once you have identified Vega look for the parallelogram shape of stars below the bright star described last week.  This time we want to use the northern two stars of the parallelogram shape.  These stars are called Zeta and Delta Lyrae.  The latter of the two being our target star. 

Those with sharp vision will be able to determine that Delta Lyrae is two stars.  The distinct color of the two stars and the Stephenson 1 cluster can be seen clearly through a simple pair of binoculars.  The best view of the cluster will be through a telescope using a low magnification eyepiece.  Reference the map linked below for help finding Delta Lyrae and the associated Stephenson 1 star cluster.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

The object for the week of July 14 is the multiple star system Epsilon Lyrae.  What looks to be a 4th magnitude star near Vega is really the combined glow of four separate stars.  Last week we covered a similar multiple star called Beta Lyrae but Epsilon is different in that its member stars are gravitationally bound to one another.  In other words Epsilon Lyrae is a binary system.  Careful inspection of Epsilon Lyrae will reveal two stars using just your eyes.  For those of us with less than perfect vision a pair of binoculars will plainly reveal what looks like two bright white stars.  The western of the two is Epsilon 1 and the eastern of the two is Epsilon 2.  Epsilon 1 and 2 are separated by roughly 10,000 AU (AU = 93 million miles; average distance between Earth and Sun) and are estimated to take nearly 400,000 years to orbit each other. 

Using a decent telescope at moderate magnification Epsilon 1 and 2 can each be split into two stars.  Splitting Epsilon 1 and 2 is easy because they are about 200 seconds of ac apart.  Splitting the two pairs is a bit more difficult because they are only a few second of arc apart.  A moderate sized telescope will work you will just have to bump up the magnification.  The Epsilon 1 pair is labeled 1A and 1B and the Epsilon 2 pair is labeled 2C and 2D.

All four stars are A-class stars with temperatures that range from 7700 kelvins to 8200 kelvins.  At these temperatures the stars shine with a white to bluish white color.  The stars have masses at 1.9, 1.5, 1.9 and 1.8 solar masses making them main sequence white dwarf stars. These are not the same as the white dwarf discussed above with M57.  The white dwarf related to M57 is a highly evolved star that has shed its outer layers revealing a small dense core that is fusing carbon and oxygen.  Main sequence white dwarfs are young hydrogen fusing stars that are still in their prime.

The stars in the Epsilon Lyrae system are approximately 800 million years old.  For the time being they are gravitationally bound but as they move through the Milky Way the pairs will likely separate into two separate double star systems.  Finding Epsilon Lyrae is pretty simple as it is right next to the bright star Vega.  Once you find Vega all you have to do is look about 2 degrees to the east and you will see Epsilon Lyrae.  If you deal with light pollution or diminished vision you will likely need binoculars to spilt the wide pair.  To spot all four stars you will need a telescope.  Depending on how large your telescope is you will need moderate to high magnification to split all four.  If you have an interest in finding more double or multiple star systems there are numerous other options this time of year.  Sky and Telescope has some very nice articles that will help you find many more doubles and more importantly help you refine your observing skills that are required to find and observe this type of object.  Below you will find links to these articles and the IAU map of Lyra.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/LYR.gif

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/celestial-objects-to-watch/double-stars/  

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, August 1, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the Science Center will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on August 1, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m.
This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

What's going on at the Science Center during Fair St. Louis?

Headed to Fair St. Louis July 3-5th? If you are, don’t forget to take advantage of the Saint Louis Science Centers extended hours – we’ll be open until 11pm! During these days, we will be offering plenty of things to do to beat the summer heat.

Two great ways to cool down is catching a show in our OMNIMAX Theater or James S. McDonnell Planetarium.  Both these venues offer a great way to sit down and relax for a few minutes during the day’s festivities. We will have OMNIMAX films running all day from 10am to 9pm or you can catch a star show in the James S. McDonnell Planetarium starting at 10:30am with last show at 8:30 pm.

If the kids won’t sit still for a film, make plans to check out our special exhibition, DINOSAURS IN MOTION, with entry times until 9 pm. Here you can experience magnificent life-size and dinosaur-inspired interactive art.

Before the big fireworks show, come on over and check out the stars. We will be having daily Public Telescope Viewings (weather permitting) outside the James S. McDonnell Planetarium starting at dusk (approximately 8:30pm) until 11pm.

Also in conjunction with Fair St. Louis, we will be hosting the free exhibit Rise Above, located in the James S. McDonnell Planetarium parking lot today through July 5th. This traveling exhibit features the original film Rise Above and teaches you about the courage and determination of the Tuskegee Airmen. Be sure to come through and receive your free dog tag souvenir while honoring these brave men.

 For the perfect backdrop to Fair St. Louis, be sure to look up after dark and enjoy the special lighting of the Planetarium. The James S. McDonnell Planetarium will be lit in patriotic-themed light show, including red, white and blue for Independence Day.

 As always parking at 5050 Oakland Avenue will be the regular price of $10.00. Keep in mind there will be no public parking at the Planetarium for the duration of Fair St. Louis.

-Written by Dan, Marketing & Communications

2014 Loeb Prize Winner Announced

Science Teacher Ryan Boeckman of Parkway Central Middle School receives 2014 Loeb Prize

Winner Ryan Boeckman of Parkway Central Middle School; Carol Loeb, Science Center Board of Trustees; Siinya Williams, Saint Louis Science Center.

Ryan Boeckman, a science teacher at Parkway Central Middle School, is the winner of the 2014 Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb Prize for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics, an award given in partnership with the Saint Louis Science Center. Boeckman and four finalists received their awards today at a ceremony at the Saint Louis Science Center’s James S. McDonnell Planetarium. 

“Overall my mission as a science teacher is to ignite a lifelong interest in science, engineering, math and technology,” said Boeckman. “I do truly believe this and strive every day to create an atmosphere in my classroom that promotes questioning and wonderment.” 

Winner Ryan Boeckman with his students from Parkway Central Middle School.

The Loeb Prize, established in 1995 at the Saint Louis Science Center and endowed in 2002 by a generous gift from Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb, rewards teachers who significantly enhance their students’ performances in the areas of science and mathematics.

Andrea Mahon, who teaches mathematics at Christian Brothers College High School, is the second place honoree. The other three finalists and their schools are:  John Morrison, Barat Academy; Mary Heinemann, LaSalle Springs Middle School; and Jason Zenser, Crestview Middle School. All five finalists received cash awards. 

Pictured: Finalist John Morrison, Barat Academy; Second Place Honoree Andrea Mahon, Christian Brothers College High School; Winner Ryan Boeckman, Parkway Central Middle School; Finalist Jason Zenser, Crestview Middle School; Finalist Mary Heinemann, LaSalle Springs Middle School.

“All of our finalists this year demonstrated expertise in their subject areas, innovative teaching styles including the use of technology, and their personal commitment to the overall well-being of their students,” said Mrs. Loeb.  “I am grateful for the opportunity to recognize these teachers for the work they do to enable their students to become the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) leaders of tomorrow.”

The late Mr. Loeb worked for the May Department Stores Company, retiring as chairman of the board. He was chairman of the Saint Louis Science Center’s Board of Commissioners and a member of the Saint Louis Science Center’s Board of Trustees.  Mrs. Loeb, a math teacher for 51 years, currently serves on the Saint Louis Science Center’s Board of Trustees. 

“The Loeb Prize is one of many ways in which the Loeb family and the Saint Louis Science Center show appreciation for outstanding teachers who are dedicated to advancing STEM education,” said Bert Vescolani, president and CEO, Saint Louis Science Center. 

The Loeb Prize

The Loeb Prize, established in 1995 and endowed in 2002 by a gift from Carol B. and Jerome T. Loeb, honors effective teaching as a central component of quality education. It is one way in which the Loeb family and the Saint Louis Science Center demonstrate their commitment to teaching professionals and elevate public appreciation for teachers' efforts. The late Jerome Loeb, former chairman of the board of The May Department Stores Company, was a member of the Saint Louis Science Center’s Board of Trustees and chaired its Board of Commissioners. Carol Loeb is a math teacher and currently serves on the Science Center's Board of Trustees.

Week of April 21, 2014

This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Monday, April 21.  All times are given as local St. Louis time (Central Daylight Time).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Join us for our next star party, Friday, May 2, 2014 held in association with the St. Louis Astronomical Society. For details, see the information at the bottom of this page.

The Sun and the Moon

Sunrise is at 6:16 a.m. on Monday, April 21 and sunset is at 7:44 p.m. providing us with over 13 hours of daylight.  Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will still illuminate our sky for about one hour and 30 minutes.  This period of time is called twilight, which ends around 9:20 p.m. this week.  For those with a sun dial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 1:01 p.m. this week.     

Moonrise for Monday, April 21 occurs at 1:13 a.m.  Moonset will occur at 11:44 a.m.  On Monday the 21st the Moon will be exhibiting a waning gibbous phase with 57% of the lunar disk illuminated.  Last quarter moon occurs on April 22.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

The next visible passes of ISS over St. Louis are evening passes.  The best passes are on the evenings of April 21, 23 and 24.  Learn more about these passes and others this week in the table below.

Catch ISS flying over St. Louis in the evening hours starting Monday, April 21. 

Date

Mag

Starts

Max. altitude

Ends

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

Time

Alt.

Az.

21 Apr

-3.1

21:15:34

10

NW

21:18:54

62

NE

21:19:26

52

E

22 Apr

-2.3

20:27:05

10

NW

20:30:13

36

NNE

20:32:52

13

E

22 Apr

-0.9

22:04:06

10

WNW

22:05:45

19

WSW

22:05:45

19

WSW

23 Apr

-2.4

21:15:03

10

WNW

21:18:14

41

SW

21:19:10

32

S

24 Apr

-3.2

20:26:11

10

NW

20:29:32

80

SW

20:32:35

12

SE

25 Apr

-0.6

21:15:12

10

W

21:17:03

14

SW

21:18:54

10

SSW

26 Apr

-1.4

20:25:30

10

WNW

20:28:19

25

SW

20:31:07

10

S

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Planets Visible Without A Telescope

Venus

Venus is now well within its current morning apparition. It rises around 4:34 a.m. becoming easily visible by 5:15 a.m.  For those awake at this time you will see Venus in the southeast and Saturn southwest.  This planetary display nicely represents the path that the planets, Sun and Moon follow.  This path is called the ecliptic.  Take a look at Venus through a telescope and you will see it is phased much like the Moon.  Venus is currently exhibiting a gibbous phase with roughly 63% of the Venusian disk illuminated.

Mars

Mars is now in the constellation Virgo and will rise around 6:07 p.m. this week becoming visible shortly after the Sun sets.  For those awake around 9:00 p.m. look to the east and you will see a reddish-orange object high in the southeastern skies. 

We have now passed by Mars in our orbit and will continue to move further away each day.  We probably have another month or so to view the surface of Mars through a backyard telescope.  Take a look at the red planet now for it will be another 26 months before we get this opportunity again.   

Jupiter

Jupiter will be visible high in the western skies roughly 30 minutes after sunset.  As twilight fades you will see the bright stars Castor and Pollux just east of Jupiter.  Looking at these stars and then comparing them to Jupiter you will see that the stars are twinkling and Jupiter is not.  The twinkling you see is called scintillation which is a distortion of the stars light by Earth’s atmosphere.  Testing for scintillation is how you can distinguish stars from planets.  Jupiter is currently in the constellation Gemini the Twins. 

Saturn

Saturn rises by 9:10 p.m. and will be an easy target by 10:00 p.m.  Saturn is currently in the constellation Libra.  It forms a nice triangle in the sky with Libra’s two brightest stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.  If you watch Saturn in relation to these two stars you will notice it is exhibiting retrograde motion.  This is caused as the Earth catches up with a planet and then passes it by.  During this we see the planet from changing angles making it appear to move westward and then eastward again.  This motion is more prevalent with planets closer to us such as Mars.  If you go outside once a week for the rest of the year and sketch where Saturn is in relation to Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamli you will see this retrograde motion.  As retrograde motion is occurring that also means we are approaching another opposition with Saturn.  This occurs on May 10th 2014.  As we approach this date Saturn will continue to get brighter in the sky. 

Constellation of the Month

Each month we will highlight one constellation and some of the objects that can be found within the boundaries of that constellation.  At the start of the month we will list only a few of these objects and each week we will add another to the list.  Some objects will be visible to the unaided eye and some may require a telescope.  Many of the objects listed will require a map of the sky to find or may require repeat observations to notice various properties.  Links to star charts and other information that will be useful in identifying the objects listed will be given at the end of each week’s section. 

The constellation for the month of April is Camelopardalis.  This little known constellation is found in our circumpolar sky so it can be viewed throughout the entire year.  With such visibility it might seem odd that most have never heard of let alone seen this large northern constellation.  The brightest stars in Camelopardalis only reach 4th magnitude meaning that for city observers these stars may need a pair of binoculars to be seen.

Camelopardalis is considered a modern constellation having only been recognized for about 400 years.  It is usually referred to as the giraffe as its name means spotted camel.  It was introduced as a constellation in 1612 by Dutch astronomer and cartographer Petrus Plancius.  Along with this constellation he is responsible for helping map out constellations of the southern hemisphere and introducing a few other constellations still recognized today.

Owing to its dim nature Camelopardalis can be difficult to find particularly in light polluted skies.  The first thing to do is find the constellation Perseus and Auriga.  Camelopardalis is north of these two constellations.  Next find the bright star Capella in Auriga.  About 8 degrees north of Capella you will find the two brightest stars of Camelopardalis called Beta and Alpha Cam.  Unfortunately there is no distinct pattern that stands out in Camelopardalis so you will have to use the star chart below to find the rest of the constellation.  Camelopardalis is north of the constellations Draco, Ursa Major, Lynx, Auriga and Perseus.  Its western boundary is at Cassiopeia and its northern boundary is at Ursa Minor and Cepheus.  This will be a difficult constellation to find but it is worth the effort as it will be the source location for a new meteor shower that will peak this year on May 24.  As we approach this new and potentially amazing meteor shower I wanted to help prepare readers for this event by introducing them to the constellation that houses its radiant.  Before we cover the meteor shower I want to first take a tour of this often over looked constellation.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

The first object we will explore in Camelopardalis is its brightest star Beta Camelopardalis.  Beta cam is a G-class yellow supergiant star that is in the process of evolving off of its main sequence into the red giant phase.  It has started to fuse the helium at its core which has allowed for its outer atmosphere to cool and begin expanding.  Beta Cam is at a point where it should begin to pulsate as a Cepheid variable but has yet to start the clockwork like pulsations.  At a distance of 1000 light years this giant star with a luminosity that is 3300 times that of the Sun only shines as a 4th magnitude star.  This is because of Beta Cam’s distance and the dimming caused by interstellar dust.  

Another strange feature of this star is it was observed to suddenly display a bright flash of light in 1967  This and the fact that Beta cam is an x-ray source indicates the star likely experiences magnetic upheaval much like our Sun.  It is possible that the bright flash seen by pilots in 1967 was caused by a magnetic reconnection event similar to a solar flare on the Sun.   

Beta Cam is also a multiple star system.  A small telescope and large binoculars will be able to resolve a fainter companion (B-component) that is separated by 83 arc seconds.  The primary yellow supergiant star shines at 4th magnitude and the fainter companion shines at 7.4 magnitude.  The fainter B-component is itself a double star.  Very little is known about the second star in the B-component system.

To find Beta Cam first locate the star Capella in the constellation Auriga.  From here scan about 8 degrees north until you find the next brightest star.  This will be Beta Cam.  This triple star system will be the easiest thing to find that we cover for this month’s constellation.  Due to dim nature of the Camelopardalis our ability to star hop will be tested.  Use the map below to find Beta Cam and start familiarizing yourself with the other stars of Camelopardalis.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

The next object for the week of April 7 is the asterism known as Kemble’s Cascade.  Most of the objects we include in this section are cataloged objects that are normally some kind of star cluster, nebula or galaxy.  However there are some objects that are no more than a chance grouping or alignment of stars that stand out to observers and can be quite nice to look at.  One such asterism is known as Kemble’s Cascade.  This grouping of stars was discovered by an amateur astronomer named Lucian Kemble.  He was scanning Camelopardalis and noticed a string of stars that spanned about 2.5 degrees of sky.  It was later named in his honor and remains a popular target in the sparse constellation of Camelopardalis.

Kemble’s Cascade is a string of 20 stars, mostly 7th to 10th magnitude, which spans about 2.5 degrees.  The center of the string is accented with a 5th magnitude star.  The stars that make up Kemble’s Cascade are not related to each so what we see is just a chance alignment.  Following this cascade of stars to the southeast will bring us to an open star cluster called NGC 1502.  This cluster contains about 45 stars that will appear as a faint glow at the end of Kemble’s Cascade. 

To find Kemble’s Cascade start by locating Beta and Alpha Cam again.  From these two stars sweep about one binocular field to the west and you will see a line of stars that appear to cascade down from northwest to southeast.  This is Kemble’s Cascade.  Using the map linked below you will see a small curved grouping of four stars.  The eastern most of the four is set a little further off from the other three.  This fourth star is the bright 5th magnitude star in the middle of Kemble’s Cascade.    

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

There are loads of interesting objects like Kemble’s Cascade scattered throughout the sky.  Backyard astronomy is not always just about finding distant galaxies or scanning the skies trying to complete deep sky catalogs.  Sometimes a keen eye and an imagination will allow an observer to see other chance alignments of stars like Kemble’s Cascade.  Reading monthly astronomy magazines and searching out observing forums is a great way to learn about many things that will not be included in the official deep sky catalogs. 

The Object for the week of April 14 is the spiral galaxy NGC 2403.  This galaxy lies about 12 million light years away and shines with an apparent magnitude of 8.4.  At this magnitude NGC 2403 is visible in binoculars but it will be considerately more difficult to see than a star with the same magnitude.  Stars have all their light concentrated into a singular point in the sky.  Whereas galaxies and other deep sky objects have more surface area so their surface brightness appears dimmer.  This is why when we see them they are frequently described as faint and fuzzy objects. 

To find NGC 2403 start by locating the star Muscida.  This star represents the nose of Ursa Major.  From here start scanning about 12 degrees to the east of this at a slight upward angle.  About two binocular fields to the east you should be able to find the dim patch of light that is NGC 2403.  Use the maps linked below to help you find this neighboring galaxy.

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

http://www.iau.org/public/themes/constellations/#uma

The object for the week of April 21 is another spiral galaxy named IC 342.  This galaxy lies approximately 10 million light years away.  It shines with an apparent magnitude of 8.4 but as we discussed last week it will appear dimmer then a star with the same apparent magnitude.  It is a member of the IC 342/Maffei group of galaxies which is one of the closest groups to the Local Group of galaxies our Milky Way belongs to.   

To find IC 342 start by finding the two brightest stars in Camelopardalis, Beta and Alpha Cam.  Follow them north to the next brightest star Gamma Cam.  About two degrees southeast of this star is where you will find IC 342.  This galaxy is bright enough to be seen in binoculars but it will be difficult to find.  Small telescopes will also have trouble as the galaxy’s core is bright but the rest has a low surface brightness.  Follow the map linked below and you should be able to spot this galaxy.  Remember viewing conditions are important so try when the moon is not up and when humidity is low. 

http://www.iau.org/static/public/constellations/gif/CAM.gif

Lyrid Meteor Shower 

The annual Lyrid meteors shower is once again upon us.  Every year around April 22nd this meteor shower becomes active as the Earth passes through the debris left by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.  This is a long period comet that takes approximately 415 years to orbit the Sun.  The last time this comet came close to the Earth was in 1861. 

The sand to baseball sized fragments shed by this comet as it passes by the Sun slam into our atmosphere traveling at 27.8 miles per hour.  When they hit our atmosphere they vaporize and excite the atmospheric gases around them.  This is what causes the bright streak of light we see as meteors. 

The Lyrids do not favor us this year so we can likely only hope for rates around 5 to 10 per hour.  For the best chance to see the Lyrids go outside after midnight on the 22nd and look east.  For more detailed information visit

http://amsmeteors.org/2014/04/viewing-the-2014-lyrid-meteor-shower/

Our next Star Party will be held on Friday, May 2, 2014, from dusk until 10 p.m.

Weather permitting, the St. Louis Astronomical Society and the ScienceCenter will set up a number of telescopes outdoors and be on-hand to answer your questions.  Telescope viewing begins at 8:00 p.m.  Regardless of the weather on May 2, join us indoors in our planetarium theater for “The Sky Tonight”.  Showtime is at 7 p.m. 

This free, indoor star program will introduce you to the current night sky, the planets, and the seasonal constellations. Doors open 15 minutes before show time. Shows begins at 7 p.m. Sorry, no late admissions due to safety issues in the darkened theater.

The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts the monthly Star Parties at the Science Center which are held on the first Friday of each month. Our Monthly Star Parties are open to the public and free of charge.  For more information about the St. Louis Astronomical Society visit their website at www.slasonline.org

Invent an Insect Project Winner Visit Harry's Big Adventure

In January, the winners of the Saint Louis Science Center's Invent an Insect Project visited Harry's Big Adventure: My Bug World* - their prize from the contest. 5th Graders from St. Francis of Assisi School took the morning and explored Harry's Big Adventure, the Life Science Lab, the Human Adventure Gallery and more! Check out pictures from their trip below:

Students from St. Francis of Assisi posing in from of the butterfly wall in Harry's Big Adventure.

Getting hands-on with some of Harry's favorite friends.

Students getting a bug's eye view of the world!

Tackling an experiment in the Life Science Lab.

Discovering how their brains help them navigate the world around them in Human Adventure!

Thanks to the wonderful students and teachers from St. Francis of Assisi. We hope you enjoyed your visit!

*Harry's Big Adventure: My Bug World is now closed.

Join us for the Minority Scientists Showcase for the chance to interact one on one with scientists, engineers and other science related professionals. Enjoy this unique career awareness opportunity as scientists share their insights with visitors as well as demonstrate their work.

This is a FREE event.

Location: Main Building

NASA Grant Will Create New Robotic Mars Rover Exhibit

A grant of $815,000 from NASA to the Saint Louis Science Center will support the creation of a new exhibit allowing visitors to experience the thrills and challenges of Mars exploration. The exhibit, “Bridging Earth and Mars (BEAM): Engineering Robots to Explore the Red Planet” is scheduled to open in the summer of 2015.  

The Saint Louis Science Center is one of only ten organizations or science centers across the country to share $7.7 million in grants from NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities, a program that funds informal STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning experiences.

“St. Louis has a long, rich history in aviation and space and, for over 50 years now, the James S. McDonnell Planetarium has played a vital role in conveying these discoveries and achievements to our visitors,” said Bert Vescolani, President and CEO of the Saint Louis Science Center. “We are enthusiastic about NASA’s support in this new opportunity and we hope to inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers.”

BEAM will let visitors simulate what NASA engineers experience when they send instructions to a robotic rover over 35,000,000 miles away on Mars. Utilizing the unique campus of the Saint Louis Science Center to represent the distance between Earth and Mars, visitors will program a robotic rover in the Science Center’s main building then cross the Skybridge (that spans I-64/Highway 40) to view the rovers at work in the James S. McDonnell Planetarium in Forest Park.

“Informal education providers play a key role in NASA Education’s effort to make interactive STEM experiences available to students and the general public,” said Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for education. “Using compelling NASA content, they create fun, hands-on learning activities that help us stimulate greater interest in STEM. Increasing STEM literacy in students today is crucial to having the talent NASA will require for future missions of science and discovery.”

In being awarded the NASA grant, Vescolani also credits the project’s St. Louis collaborators including Raymond Arvidson, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished Professor in earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, a key member of NASA’s Mars exploration team. “Ray is a rock star in Mars exploration,” said Vescolani.

“The Saint Louis Science Center is a great place for hands-on experiences and the addition of commanding a Mars-like rover will allow visitors to experience first-hand the thrill of exploration and discovery. It also reinforces the importance of the Saint Louis area for aerospace engineering and space exploration,” said Arvidson.

Paul Freiling, director of engineering and robotics education at the Saint Louis Science Center, will use his expertise in Lego MINDSTORMS and FIRST Robotics to help young students understand how learning about Mars missions can link them to careers in space exploration, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“So much of the fun of engineering is getting to build things and try things out,” said Freiling.  “This funding from NASA will allow us to offer a series of hands-on workshops for K-8 students that will allow them to use their hands and minds to solve a design challenge.”

Additional components of the project include public lectures by local scientists involved in space technology, and outreach to St. Louis Public Schools and other Science Center community partners to attract a diverse audience for the K-8 workshops. Website resources will include design challenges that kids can do at home, and links to out-of-school opportunities for K-12 students to experience engineering design and robotics.

The Science Center’s other project collaborators include Theodosios Alexander, dean, Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at Saint Louis University; Tasmyn Front, director of the Challenger Learning Center St. Louis; Kent Schien, Chief Executive Officer of Innoventor and Saint Louis Science Center commissioner; and Donald Peacock, district sales manager for National Instruments.