What was the Star of Bethlehem, a.k.a. the Christmas Star?

8PM Tonight, Friday December 23, 2015  Recording Available Here
What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

“What cosmic light could have guided the Three Wise Men to the newborn baby Jesus 2,000 years ago? Learn about all the theories in a free webcast today (Dec. 23) by the online Slooh Community Observatory.

During the show, experts in both religion and astronomy will discuss what the famous Star of Bethlehem might have been: Was it an actual star, a comet, a planet or something else? You can watch the webcast at Slooh.com, beginning at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT).”  from Space.com Read more

2016 Geminid Meteors vs. December Full Cold Moon

A Geminid Meteor. Image Credit: Jimmy Westlake

A Geminid Meteor. Image Credit: Jimmy Westlake

This year the Geminid Meteor Shower, traditiononally arguably (Perseid Meteor Shower) the best meteor shower of the year, is expected to peak on the night of December 13 into the morning hours of December 14, accompanied by the December Full Moon. In Pittsburgh the Moon is Full, December 13 at 7:05 PM EST with Moonrise at 5:06 PM EST that evening. This year’s mating of the Full Moon with the peak of the meteor shower is disadvantageous for optimal meteor viewing with the bright moonlight expected to wash out all but the brightest meteors.

Early Evening Meteor Viewing Windows on Wednesday and Thursday Evenings, Before 6 PM and 7 PM , Respectively, Punctuated by Spectacular Moonrises

However in the nights immediately following Geminid peak the Moon rises approximately an hour later each night allowing an early evening window with a moonless sky as shown in the Stellarium. org screen capture diagrams below. The bonus at the end of the Moonless window is the opportunity to see the spectacle of Moonrise in the crisp December air. Native Americans named the December Moon the Cold Moon or the Long Night’s Moon. When the Moon is near the horizon an optical illusion makes it appear even larger. This year, this month’s moon is at perigee or a part of its elliptical orbit when it is closer to the Earth giving it an added boost in size. In recent years these perigee moons have been popularly named Super Moons. The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh is not planning a public Geminid Meteor Viewing at the time. Geminid viewing opportunities will improve in 2017 when there will be less competition from Moonlight. Read more

Light Up the Sky with Stars Lecture with AAAP Member Diane Turnshek

How far do you have to travel to see the stars clearly? Join lecturer, author, and astronomer Diane Turnshek as she discusses how light pollution not only prevents us from living under a sky bright with stars, but also negatively impacts human health and the environment. Turnshek will examine how innovative science and technology can reverse this steady creep of sky glow, allowing us to view the same star-filled sky that all past generations did.

Time: Doors open at 6 pm, and the program is 7-9 pm.
Location: Carnegie Science Center
Admission: FREE!

Presenter's Photo

Diane Turnshek is a lecturer in the Department of Physics at Carnegie Mellon University and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh and is a member of the AAAP. She has published hard science fiction with a focus on space colonization and first contact. Her love of both astronomy and science fiction led her to crew the Mars Desert Research Station near Bryce Canyon, Utah in 2012, where she turned her attention to dark sky advocacy. Her fight against light pollution has taken many forms, including giving a TEDxPittsburgh talk. Turnshek is also a 2015 Dark Sky Defender award recipient, recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association for her contribution to light pollution mitigation.

More Info: http://www.carnegiesciencecenter.org/programs/adult-programs-cafe-sci/

AAAP Meeting Program and Speakers 2016-2017

                    AAAP Meeting Program and Speakers 2016-2017  

September 9 – Space Electronics and Robotics, John Branthoover, Senior Engineer, Astrobotic Technology. ~ Science Stage, Carnegie Science Center.

October 14 – New Horizons: The Adventure to Pluto, Mark “Indy” Kochte – NASA New Horizons Mission Specialist, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. OmniMax Theater, Carnegie Science Center. 

November 11 – Astrophotography Contest, Allegheny Observatory.

January 13 –  Well, Now What? What to Do Once You’ve Found Another Earth, Thomas Beatty, PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow, Pennsylvania State University Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds,  Science Stage, Carnegie Science Center.

February 10 – Annual Planetarium Show, Buhl Planetarium Theater, Carnegie Science Center. 

March 10 – High-Energy Astrophysics: the fascinating world of supernova explosions and pulsars, Harsha Blumer, PhD, Post-doctoral Researcher, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WVA and Greenbank Observatory,  Science Stage , Carnegie Science Center. 

April 7* – Hunting for powerful monsters: supermassive black holes in distant galaxies, Chien-Ting Chen, PhD, Astrophysicist, Pennsylvania State University, Buhl Planetarium Theater, Carnegie Science Center. 

May 12**- Speaker and topic to be disclosed,  Science Stage.

AAAP meets 7:30 PM, 2nd Friday of the month at the Carnegie Science Center,  Science Stage unless otherwise noted. Meetings open with the speaker followed by an intermission before the business meeting. The November meeting is to be held at the Allegheny Observatory and the April meeting is scheduled to April 7 from April 14ˊand will be held in the Planetarium. For updates, please see the AAAP website www.3ap.orgAAAP Guide Star Newsletter, and Facebook Page . *Nomination of Officers at April Business Meeting. **Election of Officers at May Business Meeting.

Download a pdf of the 2016-2017 AAAP Meeting Schedule  here aaap meeting speakers 2016-2017.


Leonid Meteor Shower Tonight, Thursday 11/16

Leonid Radiat Credit: StarDate.org

Pittsburgh weather is favorable for viewing tonight’s Leonid Meteor Shower, but the Moon is bright in the night sky diminishing the show.  Leonids have been known to product dramatic “meteor storms” with hundreds of meteors per hour some years.  This year expect 10 -15 meteors per hour in ideal viewing between Midnight and dawn. Elevated rates will drop and then taper off in coming days.  Above is a depiction of the Leonid Meteor Shower Radiant in the constellation Leo ( from another year) showing where Leonid meteors appear to originate in the sky. If you cannot go outside, the Slooh Telescope Community will offer online viewing after 8 PM this evening.  To view tonight’s Leonid Meteor shower through the Slooh click here. The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh offers Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing at its Wagman and Mingo Observatories at the Perseid peak in August.


Supermoon Tonight, Monday, November 14, 2016

Please share your Moon photographs on our Facebook Page. Happy Moon Gazing!

The Supermoon occurs on Monday, November 14, peaking around 9 PM our time (8:52 EST). It will appear on our horizon just before 5 PM on Monday. Do not expect it to look dramatically different than any other full Moon. It will look big and bright like any full Moon near to the horizon. Monday’s Supermoon will be 14% larger and may appear 30% brighter. Yet you may not know it had you not been told to look for the “Supermoon.” Astronomers traditionally call this kind of moon a Perigee Moon. Term “Supermoon” comes to us from “astrology.” Since it was coined in astrology it has made its way into popular culture. Supermoon seems to be catchier than Perigee Moon. It occurs because the path of the Moon around the Earth is not a perfect circle but instead somewhat egg-shaped (elliptical). We say the Moon is 240,000 miles away but it varies. The actual distance varies over the course of the orbit of the Moon, from 356,500 km (221,500 mi) at the perigee to 406,700 km (252,700 mi) at apogee, resulting in a differential range of 50,200 km (31,200 mi). Interestingly the Moon is spiraling away from the earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year as detected by the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment which utilizes LASERS and mirrors left on the Moon by the Apollo missions. The Moon is said to be at perigee when it is at its nearest and at apogee when it is at its farthest. This particular “perigee” occurring on Monday is the closest perigee since Read more