Cosmic Spectacle: Watch the Brilliant Orionid Meteor Shower on Saturday, Thanks To Halley’s Comet

It’s just the debris left behind by the famous Halley comet, but is enough to light the night sky up. The Orionid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular meteor showers that occur during the year.  The shower will peak on the morning of 22nd  October, but the broad maximum means that  the shower lasts from the 20th  of October to the 24th  of October. This is widely considered to be a toned down version of the famous Perseid meteor shower.

The Radiant of the Orionids lie near Betelgeuse (red giant star) of the Orion constellation

The shower is so named since it appears to  originate from near the Orion constellation. The radiant (the point from where the shower is seen to originate) lies near the red giant star Betelgeuse in Orion (pic above).

When and What to Watch for

This time’s show should be a spectacle, given that the moon will be at its crescent stage and near the horizon at the peak of the shower. The best time to watch for the shower will be around 1:00 AM, while the moon peaks at about 2:00 AM EST.

The Orionid consists of tiny particles of debris from the parent comet of the size of sand grains. This is the trail of rubble that the Halley comet leaves behind as it makes an orbit around the Sun. The shower happens when the Earth moves through this trail. The dust falls’ through the atmosphere igniting due to the friction with the Earth’s atmosphere and causes streaks, which last for some time. These are popularly misnamed Shooting Stars’.

Prolific and long lasting

The Orionid shower is expected to produce about 20 meteors per hour on average, with the maximum likely hitting even 40 per hour, making this one of the most prolific meteor showers. However, due to the smallness of the burning pieces of debris, the shower will be drowned out by any light pollution close to your point of observation.

The signature of the Orionids is the long-lasting trails and the high speed of the particles.

You need not worry if you fail to catch the shower on the morning of 22nd October. You’ll have a chance on the 23rd and 24th as well, but the frequency will be going down steadily. Technically, the shower continues till the first week of November, but you’ll be able to see only a few stragglers’ streaking across the sky.

Happy skywatching.

Cosmic Spectacle: Stunning Pic of Earth Eclipsing the Sun, As Seen By NASA Satellite from Outer Space

For the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a Solar Eclipse is no big deal it sees two each year. Now it returns a photo of what it sees and it is stunning. But don’t trust us, take a look at it yourself! Here it is!

The Solar Eclipse as taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Courtesy: SDO/NASA)

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO is a satellite, which observes the Sun and monitors its activities. It is on a five-year mission. Part of the Living with a Star (LWS) Program, the goal of SDO is to study how the Sun influences the Earth. Of primary importance is the study of how the magnetic storms from the Sun influences the Earth’s atmosphere and the various communication devices that depend crucially on the ionosphere layer of the atmosphere. It also measures the seismic activity of the Sun (i.e. Sun quakes). This is a very rich field of study as the Sun, being a ball of plasma, experiences violent quakes quite frequently. The absence of solid rock on the Sun prevents attenuation of the seismic waves and the whole Sun thus moves with basically one frequency and higher harmonics during a violent Solar Quake. This can be roughly understood by the model of a balloon completely filled with water. Whole of the bulbous balloon can be set into vibration of one frequency. These form of vibrations involving just one frequency and higher harmonics are called normal modes. Monitoring these normal modes for the Sun, the SDO can give vital details about the solar density.

Eclipse Season and another photo

The present eclipse will last till 4th October, having commenced on the 11th of September. The Sun is already showing signs of violence as it builds up to the predicted peak in its activity in 2013. The last few months have seen violent solar storms, which have even knocked out communication. These will only increase and SDO’s job of monitoring these is crucial.

Just before ending, we wish to share another photo with you, taken from the Space Station. This one shows the bright Sun, blue Earth and black space. Enjoy.

The bright Sun and the blue Earth (Courtesy: NASA/ISS)

The Sun is a thing of immense beauty and fearful fury. We perceive it as an object which has given us life, but it’s really indifferent. We shall forever be in its awe.

Cosmic Spectacle: Watch the Brilliant Perseids Meteor Shower On Friday Night

Another cosmic spectacle is on the cards and it promises to be majestic, if you’re lucky. The Perseids meteor shower will be seen on the night of 12th August (this Friday) continuing on till the wee hours of the morning of 13th August (Saturday). With the weekend falling right after the event, most shouldn’t have a problem with staying up one night.

The Perseids

The Perseids meteor shower is an annual feature. It occurs due to the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, named after their discoverers, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, who first encountered the comet in 1862. The comet has a 130 year long orbit period (i.e. it completes one orbit around the Sun in 130 years) and Earth passes through the trail of debris left by the comet sometime around this time of August every year. The last time the comet was spotted was in 1992.

The Perseids meteor shower

What to expect and where to look in the sky

The spoilsports of the event are likely to be the clouds and the moon. So, even if you’re lucky to get very clear skies, you may be disappointed with the brilliance of the shower, given that it will occur very close to the bright full moon. The good news is that the moon will set about an hour or so after the peak, so there will be a short time window after moonset and sunrise, where the shower will be quite visible.

The sky map for the meteor shower. Notice the radiant bang in the middle of Cassiopeia. The moon is on the left. The latitude is that of Bangalore, India. (Photo made by author using KStar and Adobe Photoshop)

The Perseids will have its radiant at the Cassiopeia (image above), but was originally radiant about the Perseus constellation, hence the name. Cassiopeia will be  almost right  overhead and the meteor shower will seem to radially stream out from there. Cassiopeia will be easy to search out in the night sky, since it has the characteristic W’ positioning of the stars. We recommend a slightly tilted position a leaning chair will be comfortable for viewing. The moon will be towards the south-southwest position, so you can orient yourself, so that the moon is at your back.


The meteor shower is expected to peak at 2:00 AM and will be most intense from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM. Perseids have a good reputation for the number of meteors seen per hour, with the highest number exceeding 90. Don’t expect such high numbers though, you’ll likely be disappointed. The average number is something like 20 streaks per hour. With the moon, the number might decrease slightly, as not all will be visible. However, the moon will set at about 4:00 AM at mid or high latitudes, so there will be an opportunity right after that, as mentioned above.

The Perseids have a broad time peak, meaning that the shower continues at its maximum value for quite a few days. So try Saturday night or even Thursday (i.e. today) night and you might be lucky.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re lucky; Southern Hemisphere won’t get nearly as spectacular a show.

Photographing the shower

For photography, you might try out long-exposure shots to get the trails of the comets. Since patience is the key, be ready to wait and take multiple attempts at capturing the showers. The bright and faint streaks will differ quite a lot in brightness and this will create problems for photos, especially the long-exposure ones.

As is always true with the heavens, no matter how spectacular an event might be, luck is the key to a good show. We wish you the very best of luck for a cloudless sky.

Happy meteor watching…

Cosmic Spectacle: Photos and Video Of The Lunar Eclipse From Around The Globe

We gave you the complete guide and gave you the entire deal on Google’s lunar eclipse doodle in anticipation of the unusually long cosmic spectacle. Now we give you the aftermath of the event: spectacular photos from around the world compiled here. Sit back, relax and simply enjoy the stunning photos of the longest total lunar eclipse in 11 years. Make sure you check out the outstanding time lapse video before leaving.

Kick Off

Show starts off at Belgrade. Photo by Ivan Milutinovic. (Credit to Reuters)
A stunning image captured by S S Mirza, a skywatcher, of the moon over Multan. (credits: S S Mirza/AFI/Getty Images)
The Colosseum at Rome gets grander. The event was nearing totality when this was clicked by Alessandro Bianchi. (Credits: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Almost There

Remember that we told you that the eclipsed moon over the horizon is itself a grand spectacle? Here it is at Moscow! Snapped up by Maxim Shepenkov (Credits: Maxim Shepenkov/EPA)
This one was captured over Johannesburg, South Africa by skywatcher Derek Keats. (Courtesy: Derek Keats,

The Blood Red Moon and Totality

The volcano on Cagraray Island in Albay, Philippines, spews smoke as the moon turns blood red in the background. Captured by skywatcher David Matthews. (Credits: David Matthews)
It's Belgrade again. (Central Europe got the lion's share). Shot by Marko Drobnjakovic over Belgrade. (Credits: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)
The supreme spectacle! This was seen and captured by Leonard E. Mercer over Malta. The volcanic eruption in Chile might have something to do with the saturated red color as well. (Credits: Leonard Mercer)
The city of Zagreb, Croatia glows under the reddish light of the moon. Clicked by Phillip, a local skywatcher. (Credits: Phillip)

There it was  – the lunar eclipse as seen from various parts of the world. Europe and the Middle East got the lion’s share of the spectacle, getting both clear skies and brilliant views. People in the Indian subcontinent were disappointed as most of India was under cloud cover.

Google's doodle

Google’s coverage, however, brought the experience home. They tied up with SLOOH and provided live seamless coverage of the eclipse. Of course, the doodle itself was quite a sight.


Here’s the mosaic picture to wrap up every photo gallery. The series was shot by photographer and skywatcher Nabil Mounzer over Beirut.

Shot over Beirut, this shows the full duration of the eclipse as a series of time-lapse images. (Credits: Nabil Mounzer)

Remember that this was just one of the two eclipses this year. The next one – due on 10th December 2011 – will be visible from North America as well, who missed out on this one. However, it won’t be as spectacular. Keep your eye out on this space for that.

Before you leave, let’s treat you to this magical video uploaded on by SensyProject showing the lunar eclipse from the beginning to the end in a series of time lapse photos. It’s magical. (Tip: Watch it at 720p or 1080p, if you have a fast net connection.)

Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Just last week, Google managed to waste millions of user hours by adding one of their most famous ever. The Les Paul Google Doodle allowed users to play their own music through keystrokes. The Les Paul Doodle also got a permanent home like the Google Pacman Doodle.

Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle

Today is this century’s 2nd largest Lunar Eclipse and we have a complete Guide on the Lunar Eclipse out here. However, if you have never seen a Lunar Eclipse in your life, you can do it now playfully with the latest Google Doodle.

The new Google Doodle has a progress meter which shows you how the moon is covered during the Lunar Eclipse. It plays automatically when you load, but you can also drag the progress bar either way to see it minutely.

This is definitely a fun way for people to learn about this natural phenomenon. Go ahead and check out the new Google Lunar Eclipse Doodle at You can also watch the Lunar Eclipse live at

Moon, The Eclipse And Photos: The Complete Guide To The Second Longest Lunar Eclipse Of The Century

An extremely long lunar eclipse the second longest in history is upon us! On 15th June (and 16th June for some), most of the world will witness the second longest total lunar eclipse this century, short of the absolute record maximum by only three minutes. It’s going to get late into the night; if you have an early train or flight to catch, cancel tickets now!   Here we present you with the all-you-need-to-know guide to the eclipse, along with a few great photos.

Select your location: Views from different places

Choose your location or a nearby one from the ones shortlisted below. See how good your luck is.

  • For North east Russia: You’ll be disappointed if you live here. The beginning of the eclipse will coincide with moonset. In other words, you’ll be able to see the moon dimming down as it goes over the horizon (when the penumbral shadow comes in). When the umbral part hits, the moon will be below the horizon. (For an explanation of the penumbral and umbral regions, scroll down to the end of this section)
    • Verdict: Tough luck! Nothing.
  • For Japan, North-East China, Korea, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Eastern Australia and New Zealand: If you stay here, you’ll be lucky enough to witness the eclipse for a good length of time. You can watch the penumbral shadow creeping over and then the umbral shadow dimming the moon an hour afterwards. The moon will be near the horizon and thus, you’ll not be able to see this spectacle for too long! You might see a half-visible moon setting on the horizon, which is a spectacle in itself. (Do click photos!)
    • Verdict: Lucky, but only just.
  • For India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, rest of China, Islands in the Indian Ocean, Australia: You are at the right spot, almost the best in the world. The penumbra will hit at about 11:00 PM to 11:30 PM Indian Standard Time (about 0600 GMT; NASA reports 0623 GMT). The moon will start getting dimmer, while still rising in the sky. The totality (i.e. when the moon is totally eclipsed) will occur at about 2:00 AM, when the moon is right up above your heads in the middle of the sky! You’ll be able to see excellent features of the night sky, which you might have otherwise missed (wait for the next section of this article). Take a trip out of a metro city, if you live in one, and visit the suburbs for the night. Make sure you sling along your Digital SLR you’re going to regret not brining one.
    • Verdict: Great luck! Enjoy.
  • For Eastern Europe, Middle East, UAE, most of Eastern Russia, Egypt and any Island near the eastern coast of Africa, like Madagascar: Folks, you’ve got the best seats in the house. If the skies are clear, you’ll be witness to the spectacle in all its eclectic glory for the longest possible! The eclipse will set in right after moonrise. Totality will be seen when the moon is right overhead, or just about there at about 1:00 AM at night. The eclipse will end a couple of hours before moonset. The European cities of Vienna, Oslo, Paris and Madrid etc. will witness a grand show, but it might be slightly marred by the intense light pollution! Get to a suitably dark place it’ll be worth the effort. All-in-all it should be a great show. Popcorn and digital camera are recommended as accompaniments (along with a blanket, maybe?).
    • Verdict: Cannot get any better than this on Earth or, for that matter, anywhere in the Universe.
  • For most parts of South America (especially the western part) and entire North America: Hate to say this, but you guys are tremendously unlucky on this one. The lunar eclipse will happen with your backs turned to it, literally! The moon will be below the horizon when it happens and you will not be able to see anything! Tough luck.
    • Verdict: Alas! Seats are outside the theatre hall!

Note about Umbra and Penumbra: The shadow cast by the Earth (or by anything provided that the source of light is a large, extended object) consists of two parts the inner darker one, called the Umbra, and the peripheral lighter one, called the Penumbra. The Penumbral portion has diffused light sneaking in, while the Umbral portion is extremely dark.

A graphical guide provided by NASA (Courtesy: NASA)

Here’s a nice map prepared by NASA to help you get going!

What to watch out for and photos:

As the moon fades, stars, which would be otherwise invisible, start becoming visible. The night sky gets transformed! At totality, you should be able to see a great band of light just behind the moon, which is the Milky Way. As the eclipse proceeds, watch how the different stars, especially the Milky Way, fade out of visible existence, dominated by the moon once more.

Tomorrow the moon will cross the constellation of Ophiuchus, lying roughly midway between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

At the darkest, the moon will be slightly visible, a reddish disc glowing with about 10,000 less brightness than normal. Set your camera for a relatively low shutter speed, small f-stops (or, a large aperture), get the best zoom you can afford, set it up on a tripod if you wish and you’re ready to go! Enjoy the photos below clicked on previous occasions.

One of the most spectacular images of the 2010 lunar eclipse (Color has been slightly enhanced.) (Photo courtesy: JPL/NASA)

Another click

This image won the public prize for the best lunar eclipse image awarded by JPL. (Photo credits: Keith Burns, JPL/NASA)


For the records, this will be the second longest lunar eclipse this century, lasting for 100 minutes, overshadowed (pun intended!) in duration only by the one on 16th July 2000 by a mere 3 minutes. It will be the third longest ever, the second longest lasting for 101 minutes, just a minute more than the upcoming one!

The next long lunar eclipse will take place on July 27th, 2018. The next lunar eclipse is much closer and is due on December 10th, 2011.

Enjoy the moon getting gulped up! If someone attaches any superstitious non-sense to this event, ignore them. Wish you a happy eclipse watching!

Cosmic Spectacle: Moon At First Quarter Presents Grand View

Our closest neighbour in the night sky, the Moon, can be seen in spectacular detail tonight and the night tomorrow! All you need is a pair of binoculars. (Remember the recent supermoon spectacle? No? Here’s a memory refresher.)

The moon reaches its first quarter tonight. At this time, it will be half lit by the sun’s rays, making it ideal for watching using small telescopes or a pair of good binoculars. The time tonight is roughly 10:00 PM, but the spectacle will go on for a few hours beyond that. You’ll have to be lucky enough to get clear skies and a place with very little light pollution.

What to look for?

The moon, if properly viewed, can be seen in different hues of blue as one scans from the top to the bottom. Notice especially the line separating the dark and the bright regions (which can be quite sharp on the moon, since there is no atmosphere), called the terminator’. The best views are got along this line. Notice the shadows cast due to the craters, which are especially prominent at the terminator. The craters will be visible is stark detail; you may even be able to work out the depth of the crater by the length of the shadow cast. The features will get more washed out as you move towards the more brightly lit portion of the moon, since the sun rays are more direct there, casting no significant shadow.

Look out for the craters and mesmerizing ridges, right on the line separating the dark from the lit regions.

The craters are results of billions of years of asteroid bombardment, preserved in pristine form due to the lack of an atmosphere or water on the surface. It is like looking back in time. Astronomers identify two main features on the moon the flat plains or maria’ (Latin of the word mares’) and the mountainous region. The mares lie to the north and are the results of prehistoric, and now dead, volcanic activity, which resulted in expansive lava flows. The mountainous region lies towards the south and this is where you’ll get the real joy of watching the features.

Bitten by the Photography bug?

Photographing the moon is not as simple as one thinks. The most common mistake is setting a high exposure time (i.e. a low shutter speed), which ends up wiping out most details and gives you a bland white disk. The surface of the moon, remember, is directly lit by the Sun and is as bright as an open field at midday. Set a shutter speed of about 1/500 or 1/600 seconds; use of tripod is unnecessary. Use the maximum optical zoom (not digital, please) that your camera can afford and go ahead! Experiment with settings to get the best results. It is usually a good idea to get a high contrast and low brightness photograph. You can always bump up the brightness using a photo-editor. Concentrate on the regions near the terminator they’ll give you the best shot.

If you think you’ve always seen the moon and found nothing magical about it, look at it more closely this time. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the night sky. Bear in mind that you’re looking back billions of years!

Cosmic Fireworks: Stunning Images Captured of Supernova and Black Holes (with pictures and a video)

They are firecrackers in the sky and they are massive. The ultra-modern Chandra X-ray Telescope has observed numerous supernovae and copious amount of X-rays in the Carina Nebula. NASA recently released pictures it snapped up using a radio telescope that shows a black hole gobbling up matter in the Centaurus A galaxy. In cosmic terms, both Carina and Centaurus A are close by, but not too close. We are lucky enough to have a great view of the violent and stunning explosions and be awed by them, while coming to no harm. We examine both in this article, and with stunning pictures.

Violent Scene 1:

Location: Carina, a stellar nursery and a violent neighborhood, about 7500 light years from Earth

Protagonist: The Chandra X-ray telescope, the best eye we have to see the X-ray band with

Observation: Streams of X-rays detected, which are signatures of massive supernovae explosions

Verdict: Awe-inspiring

Let’s get straight to the image.

The Carina Galaxy in X-Ray (Image Courtesy: NASA, Chandra (CXC))

Get a bigger image here. (And you know you want to… you just have to get a bigger image!)

This is a false color image, because we are actually seeing in X-rays. The red is for low energy X-rays and blue is for the high energy ones. Shades of green and yellow represent intermediate energies.

Here’s what magical about the image: It has been made up of 22 separate images through an exposure time of 1.2 million seconds! It’s ultra-high resolution, and amazingly detailed. We get to see through a lot of dust, that optical radiation just cannot penetrate.

Remember that all the light in the image represents X-rays, which are very energetic. Look at the halo, the diffused purple glow around the central arc. That represents the X-rays being thrown out by ejected materials and charged stellar winds ramming into interstellar matter, and being shocked into X-rays emission. (Here’s the simple rule of thumb from physics: If you have charged particles moving fast and you suddenly stop them, the energy is emitted suddenly as electromagnetic waves, which, in this case, is X-rays. The energy of the EM waves is dependent on how fast the particles were moving and how suddenly they were stopped.)

What’s the big deal? Well, it seems that Carina has been producing very massive stars over the last few millions of years. These stars are so massive that they do not survive too long (Our Sun is a medium sized star and thus it is billed to last for 10 billion years; not so for many giant stars, which can die after living brightly for a short period of 10 million years). These stars die in extravagant explosions, called supernovae, which can outshine an entire galaxy for a few seconds. Further, Chandra has actually managed to count the number of heavy stars (those emitting X-rays) in the neighborhood and it turns out to be greater than previously thought.

We just wanted to show you, as a bonus, what the Carina actually looks like in optical light. It reveals a whole lot more stars, since there are many which don’t emit X-rays.

The majesty of the Carina Nebula seen in optical range (Courtesy: NASA, CXC)

(Enlarge here! You’ve got to!)

Violent Scene 2:

Location: Centaurus A, a local galaxy in the Centaurus constellation; about 12 million light years away from Earth

Protagonist: The TANAMI project, various radio telescopes

Observation: Radio images reveal giant plumes of radio waves in jets driven by the galactic supermassive black hole

Verdict: Scary and beautiful

The Centaurus A galaxy is an elliptic galaxy (our Milky Way is a spiral galaxy), having a central supermassive black hole. NASA’s radio telescopes, under the TANAMI project, have now glimpsed the very heart of the galaxy and what they see is awe-inspiring. The central black hole throws out matter in jets, as matter from surrounding stars are yanked in by the black hole.

The Central Black Hole in Centaurus. Notice the jets on either sides. (Courtesy: NASA)

The black hole is estimated to be 55  milliontimes more massive than the Sun. Advanced interferometry techniques enhance the quality of the images. Interestingly, NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope has detected very high energy in the central parts of Centaurus A. Where these come from is a mystery.

Centaurus as seen in the optical range of the EM spectrum
Centaurus seen in a mixed wavelength scheme, containing X-rays and infrareds (orange). (Courtesy: NASA, CXC)

Enjoy the images. Also, there is more information in a nice little video NASA has prepared. Hereit is!

Remember the golden words. The Universe is not queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.