Bit Tired of Hyperbole

This year my annoyance with astronomy exaggerations started off with the years first meteor shower, the Quadrantids (QUA). I ran across an article on LiveScience that starts out:

How to watch the Quadrantids – one of the best meteor showers all year – on Jan. 2 and 3

I’m going to need a citation for that, except there isn’t one because its not true. One could say its potentially one of the strongest meteor showers but its certainly not among the best. Not this year with a nearly full moon out on the peak night. I get that the headline was derived from the linked NASA article but maybe the author should consult more resources like the IMO article when writing. At least the author later writes “short-but-spectacular show” because that is true and one of the big issues with QUA is it is typically only highly active for a few hours.

My big issue with this article is it sets up unrealistic expectations for readers. It says the shower is great but fails to qualify why it could be and more importantly fails to highlight the difficulties of viewing it. Unlike the IMO article I linked above. Maybe a better headline would have been: “How to watch the Quadrantids – first meteor shower of the year”. Because this years Quadrantids were weak.

About the same time as the Quadrantids I started see headlines like “Dazzling Green Comet”, “Rare Comet Approaching Earth”, “Closest in 50,000 years”, etc. Oh boy, you know this isn’t going to go well for the general public. Talk about setting up unrealistic expectations! Seems the more hype the less the event lives up to it and unfortunately that was true again for the general public (1) .

Comet 2022/E3 ZTF is an interesting comet from the perspective of its age and orbit. As 2022 progressed it became clear in the amateur astronomy community the comet might, just maybe, reach naked eye visible. If you were outside the city in dark skies. But even that was a bit pointless when the comet was closest to Earth the moon was out for most all of the night.

I did have some clear skies the night ZTF was closest to Earth and I can say that the average person would never see this with their naked eyes. I certainly did not and I knew exactly where to look. It was easily visible in binoculars but very washed out with the moonlight. That is it was just a faint smudge. With a telescope the comets core was well defined but the rest of the detail was lost in a moon lite sky.

Around the 10th of February comet ZTF was approaching Mars and fortunately my skies were clearing as well. Over the next few nights I imaged ZTF by Mars. Examining the images on screen as they were downloading I was struck by wonderful paring of a this green comet with a reddish orange Mars against a dark sky.

This may have been the best time to share the comet with the general public. To have a live digital feed for people to see (usually called EAA – Electronically Assisted Astronomy). By itself the comet would have looked nice on a screen but when it was near Mars the sight was very pretty.


  1. I was impressed with this authors reflection on trying to view the comet.

RMS Station Online

Composite image of meteors captured last night at my station, center meteor looks like a nice one!

Over the past weeks I’ve been finishing up a long running project to build a station to be part of the Global Meteor Network (GMN). Its been an interesting project that I will be posting more about soon. The short summary is the GMN is a network of inexpensive cameras that collect and report data for use in meteor research. Up until today I’ve been finalizing the configuration and testing its operation but I’ve not been a contributing station.

Tonight it will watch the sky and collect data as an official part of the GMN.

Quadrantids: Years First Meteor Shower

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower timing for 2020 looked very good for me: being in CST timezone the shower should peak January 4th at 2:30am. During the day Friday the only question was would it stay clear in the Flint Hills. At last minute I didn’t drive out there for fear it would stay cloudy there. Stayed home to watch shower in less than great skies.

Well son of a gun, checking satellite next day the skies did cleared over the Flint Hills about 2:00am.

Regardless of location and weather the Quadrantids were a surprise this year. The peak came three hours early which was terrible timing for my location. This shower has a very, very brief maximum strength of only a few hours. It was greatly diminished by the time I observed 2-4am CDT . Bummer. Be a number of years before I get this favorable timing again.

Lunar Delight

Telescope SelfieTuesday morning I watched a spectacular lunar eclipse. Awesome, fantastic, those are some of the words I would use to describe the night’s event. This was the best lunar eclipse the mid-west will experience for many years to come.

I was excited for the chance to watch this eclipse it’s been several years since my last one.I spent all evening getting ready, watching the sky and satellite images as a line of clouds passed over. Just before midnight it cleared. As Earths shadow began to creep across the moon my telescope took a selfie, the picture to the left. Through out the night I took pictures and will post more in the days ahead.

Several friends told me they got out and saw the eclipse. Excellent! Pretty impressive they got up, let alone out into the cold. It was a crisp 27 degrees (F)! Great to see interest in an event that has awed man for centuries but I feel they missed a big part of it. They saw it, they didn’t watch it. There’s a difference you see. One watches the sunset, the sky changing color with each passing minute. To simply look at the setting sun captures the moment but misses the whole experience.

There’s something special about watching a lunar eclipse. The night sky turns dark as the moon goes red. Colored by all the sunsets and sunrises happening that moment on Earth. For a short while that red moon sits among the nights stars. That’s a sight you rarely get to see.

Imaging Expedition

2012 da14 Asteroid Observing Expedition from J.D.Strikis on Vimeo.


anexcursion,journey,orvoyagemadeforsomespecific purpose, such as discovery orexploration.

I so like this short video, kudos to the producer. Over the years I’ve taken many pictures of my own expeditions and found still shots rarely capture the essence of the experience. It takes video and a soundtrack to express it. But what the hell is going on in this video?!

We start indoors with a telescope, then someone that appears anxious, someone is working at a computer and a telescope mount is seen slewing. This is the planning stage, perhaps the final test and preparation stage before leaving. In this case the expedition will attempt to photograph asteroid 2012 DA14 as it flies close by Earth. They will only get one shot at this. It appears they have developed a custom program to move the telescope mount to follow the asteroids path. A challenging task as mounts are not made to do this, hard to simulate this motion ahead of time.

We cut to the waxing moon and all the activity taking place in the field. Equipment is setup and aligned, tested, checked again and shared with others around. If something breaks or fails to work as planned you hope spare parts or a friend can help. Otherwise your mission will fail. I’ll note there is a whole bunch of white light around, there would be howls of protest from the star party light Nazi’s I’ve known.

Around the two minute mark we see the fruits of their labor, it appears they were able to image the asteroid and track it reasonably well. Seventeen seconds later in the video they are packing up to head home. I’m going to bet they were a happy bunch!

All this is speculation on my part, I don’t know this group of astronomy enthusiasts. But I do know what its like to plan a trip, chart my target, fret over the weather and finally be under the night sky to implement my plan. Successfully completing a quest is exhilarating.


December Nights

The days are getting shorter and the nights longer. The final month of the year features two great night sky events worth catching. Both are late in the night to early in the morning but worth staying up for.

First up is the Geminid meteor shower peaking the night of December 13th, morning of the 14th. Perhaps the finest meteor shower of the year its only drawback is the winter temperatures. But those of us willing to stand the cold are rewarded with a steady stream of falling stars. This year the moon is first quarter and will set around midnight local time. Just as its fully dark the meteor shower will be ramping up to full strength, around 120 meteors/hour (ZHR). With a clear dark sky you should see more than one per minute.

The second big event is a total lunar eclipse on December 21. Interestingly the 21st is also the Winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the start of winter. Its been 2 years since the Midwest last saw a total lunar eclipse and we won’t see another until 2014!. But this one we’re in the right place, the Midwest is perfectly situation to see all stages of the eclipse. For a neat animation of these eclipse stages check outShadow and Substance website. What dark color will the moon be this eclipse? Perhaps with this years volcanic eruptions we’ll see a deeper red.