Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Antares Re-Supply Rocket Chases ISS Tonight

ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT

MONDAY, OCT. 27th, 6:45 p.m.


The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, located at Wallops Island, VA is now launching rockets ferrying supplies up to International Space Station.  This evening, 41 minutes after sunset, an Antares rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, will transport 5000 pounds of science experiments and supplies to the astronauts aboard ISS.

Antares is due to lift off at 6:45 pm EDT weather permitting. Right now weather forecasts indicate nearly perfect conditions for the launch. Since the launch facility is relatively close by, the launch will be visible along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. From Philadelphia, look to the southeast about two minutes (6:47) after launch and you should see the flame of rocket exhaust, about 5 degrees above the southeast horizon. We should see it reach up to 20 degrees maximum height and binoculars are highly recommended to help you see it.

You’ll find more information about seeing the launch here.

Making the launch even more special, its destination, International Space Station, flies right over Philadelphia at almost exactly the same time as Antares is heading up to meet ISS! Here are the details of this excellent flyover:

ISS rises out of the WNW at 6:48p, crosses its highest elevation of 61 degrees at 6:52, then passes right in front of the bright star Altair in the constellation Aquila at 6:53. It sets in the SE at 6:57p. ISS looks like a bright star moving with a steady speed across the sky, no strobe flashes like a plane would have. Antares’ trajectory up to orbit puts it on the same orbital path as ISS and will catch up to it.Antares is chasing ISS!

You can find a map of the ISS flyover here.

Tonight’s weather will be excellent. Be sure to have a look at the waxing crescent moon as well. Mars is the pinkish, non-twinkling object a little to the left of the moon. Enjoy!

- Compiled by D.H. Pitts, Chief Astronomer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, dpitts@fi.edu, 215 448 1234, 10/31/14.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NE US Eclipse Viewers Clouded Out, But…

Planning on viewing today’s eclipse at sunset from somewhere in the northeast? Forgeddabowdit!  You’d better book a flight to Pittsburgh or Atlanta because these are about the only two places where it looks like you’ll have clear skies at sunset.For details about eclipse times, see yesterday's blog entry.

Eclipses are always dependent on the weather. Today the weather in the northeast ranges from rain in New England to overcast across the Delmarva Peninsula. A low-pressure system slowly pulling out to the northeast has brought occasional rain and solid cloud cover expected to last through Thursday night. Clearing should begin tomorrow morning but that’s 12 hours after the eclipse has passed.

Fortunately, there are 5 webcast options for viewing the eclipse online as seen from locations where the sky is expected to be clear today. Most begin their coverage at 5p EDT. You should be able to find good weather at one of them. 

Good Luck! Let me know which one worked best for you.

Slooh Community Observatory - http://live.slooh.com/

Lupica Observatory, Torrance, CA - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ocuc2TP0hoU

McMath Solar Telescope, Kitt Peak, AZ - https://sites.google.com/site/mcmathpierceeclipse/

University of Arizona’s Sky Center - http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/css/eclipse/

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Total Solar Eclipse Visible Across North America Oct. 23rd

ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT            ASTRO ALERT           

THURSDAY, OCT. 23rd, 2014


A partial solar eclipse occurs tomorrow, Thursday Oct. 23rd, across North America. The eclipse is visible from the mid-Atlantic region south into Florida and Mexico, west out into the Pacific Ocean, north into Canada. For details about visibility in your area check out this link.

For the PHILADELPHIA AREA, the eclipse begins at 5:51 pm, reaching its maximum of less than 20% coverage at 6:08 pm. Unfortunately, sunset occurs at 6:10 pm. We will not see very much because only a small portion of the sun will be covered by the moon. No effects typically associated with eclipses will occur because the eclipse is so minimal.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between the sun and the earth and the moon’s shadow fall onto the earth. In this case, the moon will not completely block the sun’s light as seen from the earth, so only a portion of the sun will appear covered by the moon.

For us, the eclipse begins 19 minutes before sunset, when the sun is very low in the western sky. Maximum eclipse occurs just two minutes before sunset. Viewers in this region will need a completely unobstructed view of the western horizon and clear skies in the west. The sun will set as the eclipse is in progress.

Viewers further west will see more of the eclipse before sunset occurs for them. No one on the planet will see a total solar eclipse because the Sun-Moon-Earth positioning isn’t correct for that.

To safely view the eclipse you’ll need either a pinhole camera-like device like this or this one , something with lots of holes like this or a piece of pegboard. You can also view the event directly IF you have the correct filter material like these kids do.

Weather is the most important factor: if the sky isn’t clear, we won’t have any opportunity to see anything. In case of cloudy weather, the eclipse will be broadcast live here.

There are two solar eclipses next year, neither visible from our area. The next visible for us is August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse visible for the Carolinas!

- Compiled by D.H. Pitts, Chief Astronomer, Franklin Institute Science Museum, dpitts@fi.edu, 215 448 1234, 10/22/14.