Jim Spencer

Orionid meteor shower early Tuesday morning

October 20th, 2014 at 3:58 pm by under Weather

(Courtesy: Earthsky.org)

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In 2014, the annual Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down the greatest number of meteors before dawn on October 21, perhaps as many as 25 meteors per hour. But the hours between midnight and dawn on the mornings of October 20 and 22 may offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter.  The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

What are the prospects for this year’s Orionid shower? In short, the prospects are good because there’s little or no moon to wash out the meteors this year. Find a dark sky for the 2014 Orionids, lie down on a reclining lawn chair in comfort and look up! Give yourself at least an hour of watching time for meteors tend to come in spurts, and are interspersed by lulls. Remember, also, that it takes about twenty minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.

When is the best time to watch for the Orionids? As with most (but not all) meteor showers, the best time to watch the Orionid shower is between the hours of midnight and dawn. The Orionids don’t really begin to streak the nighttime sky until late evening, when the magnificent constellation Orion ascends over the eastern horizon. After their radiant point rises, you see many more meteors, and as the radiant rises higher in the sky throughout the night, the meteors will increase in number. That’s why the wee hours before dawn are usually the best.

Where do I look in the sky to see the Orionids? Yes, meteors in annual showers are named for the point in our sky from which they appear to radiate. The radiant point for the Orionids is in the direction of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter. Hence the name Orionids.

If you trace the paths of these Orionid meteors backward, they seem to come from the Club of Orion. You might know Orion’s bright, ruddy star Betelgeuse. The radiant is north of Betelgeuse.

But you don’t need to know this constellation to see the meteors. The meteors often don’t become visible until they are 30 degrees or so from their radiant point – and remember, they are streaking out from the radiant in all directions. So the meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.

That’s why it’s best to find a wide-open viewing area than to look in any particular direction. Sometimes friends like to watch together, facing different directions. When somebody sees one, they can call out “Meteor!”

How many Orionid meteors will I see? The word shower might give you the idea of a rain shower. But few meteor showers resemble showers of rain. The Orionids are a relatively modest shower, offering about 10 to 25 meteors per hour.

Meteor showers are more subtle than rain showers, and the Orionid shower isn’t as rich a meteor shower as, for example, the Perseids in August or the Geminids in December. But the dark skies make this year’s orionid meteor shower worth watching!

Orionid meteors are known to be fast and usually on the faint side. But the Orionids can sometimes surprise you with an exceptionally bright meteor – one that would be visible, even in a light-polluted city – that might break up into fragments.

For me … even one meteor can be a thrill. But you might want to observe for an hour or more, and in that case the trick is to find a place to observe in the country. Bring along a blanket or lawn chair and lie back comfortably while gazing upward.

This is the famous Comet Halley. Orionid meteors are debris left behind in its orbit.

What are meteors, anyway? Meteors are fancifully called shooting stars. They aren’t really stars. They’re space debris burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Orionid meteors are debris left behind by Comet Halley. The object at left isn’t a meteor. It’s that most famous of all comets – Comet Halley – which last visited Earth in 1986. This comet leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, while Earth intersects the comet’s orbit, as it does every year at this time.

Particles shed by the comet slam into our upper atmosphere, where they vaporize at some 100 kilometers – 60 miles – above the Earth’s surface.

The Orionids are extremely fast meteors, plummeting into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 kilometers – 41 miles – per second. Maybe half of the Orionid meteors leave persistent trains – ionized gas trails that last for a few seconds after the meteor itself has gone.

Bottom line: In 2014, the Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down its greatest number of meteors on the morning of October 21. The day before or after might feature meteors, too. Fortunately, in 2014, the thin lunar crescent rising shortly before sunrise won’t intrude on this year’s Orionid meteor shower!


LEDs are a bright idea whose time has come

October 20th, 2014 at 1:23 pm by under Weather

(Climate Central) The day the Nobel committee began announcing its 2014 winners earlier this week, National Geographic published a list of Nobel should-have-beens. Dan Vergano’s contribution—Thomas Edison for the lightbulb—proved prescient. One day later, a Nobel for physics was finally awarded for the lightbulb. Unfortunately for the Wizard of Menlo Park, it didn’t go to Edison. The winners were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their work on blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LEDs represent a huge increase in the efficiency of lighting.
Credit: John Loo/OnEarth Magazine

Edison was still a genius, and his inventions did change the world, but he’s not exactly an environmental hero. Only about 2 percent of the energy that flows through the filament of an incandescent bulb actually generates light. Edison’s invention is a much better heater than a light source.

LEDs are a dramatic improvement. The most cutting edge claim to be 15 times more efficient than the incandescent bulb and four times more efficient than compact fluorescents (the squiggly ones), which now appear to be little more than a transitional technology. On a global scale, the energy savings from a worldwide switch to LEDs could be massive. In 1997, when incandescent bulbs still ruled the night, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that lighting resulted in the emission of 1,775 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. If, at that moment, we could have immediately replaced all of the world’s incandescent bulbs with LEDs, the greenhouse gas savings would have been like taking 300 million cars off the road.

In real life, the changeover from incandescent to compact fluorescent to LED bulbs has had a less dramatic impact, for a variety of reasons. The most depressing candidate is known as the “rebound effect,” as Brad Plumer points out at Vox. The theory goes that when lighting (or any technology) becomes more efficient, it gets cheaper. When something gets cheaper, people use more of it. The rebound effect, however, is a hotly disputed phenomenon. Physicist David Goldstein and his colleagues at NRDC (which publishes OnEarth) argue that the rebound effect is at best negligible on a societal scale. Their data shows that people use only a tiny fraction of their energy savings to buy more lighting (or heating or refrigeration or whatever the more efficient technology may be). “Policies and consumer preferences are steadily pushing in the opposite direction—saving more energy, not less,” Goldstein writes.

Another challenge with LEDs, known as droop, has troubled physicists for years. As you increase the current flowing through an LED, the efficiency plummets from 300 lumens per watt of power down below 100 lumens, which isn’t much better than a compact fluorescent bulb (which costs a small fraction of the LED’s current price tag). A few people, including recently minted Nobel laureate Nakamura, have proposed explanations for what causes droop, but no one is entirely certain. Once physicists find the answer, it will still take engineers years to design a solution. Until then, producing bright light with low amounts of energy requires lots and lots of small LEDs stacked together, which is a problem from both a cost and an engineering standpoint.

Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity. LEDs could eventually offer a cheap, low-carbon light.
Credit: Tony Webster/OnEarth Magazine

Fortunately, the LED light may play a role in training the scientist who will eventually solve this problem. Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity, and there are surely many geniuses among them. The LED’s tiny energy demands make it possible for off-grid communities to store enough solar power in low-cost batteries (see “India Calling”) to provide light after sunset.

Why does that matter? My father-in-law grew up in a small village in India. When the sun went down, he had to stop studying, because his family couldn’t provide enough light to read. He still managed to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, but I often wonder how many kids like him were held back by darkness — an absurd obstacle to academic achievement in the modern world. Maybe one day the Nobel Prize will go to a child who can thank today’s winners for all those late nights spent studying under their creation.

This article is provided by NRDC’s OnEarth magazine, a Climate Central content partner, and appears online at onearth.org


On to the 7th Annual Dogtoberfest at the Domain!

October 17th, 2014 at 1:51 pm by under Weather

CLICK HERE for complete details about Saturday’s Dogtoberfest!

Dogtoberfest 2013 - Courtesy of Nicole Mlakar Photography

Dogtoberfest 2013 – Courtesy of Nicole Mlakar Photography

3rd Annual DogtoberTROT!

Join us from 8am-10am on October 18th for a 1K fun walk around the block with your two-legged and four-legged friends! Registration is only $30/team (1 human + 1 canine), $10 for each additional member under 12, and $30 for each additional Trotter over 12.

Learn More >
Register >

Day of Event Schedule

8:00 – 10:00
DogtoberTROT at Phase II by iPic Movie Theater

10:00 – 11:30
Registration for Wiener Dog Races at Central Texas Dachshund Rescue Booth ($10 Entry Fee)

10:00 – 2:30
Registration for Canine Costume Contest at KXAN Booth ($5 Donation)

10:00 – 4:00
Whole Foods Photo Booth ($5 per Photo)

11:00 – 4:00
Domain Food Booths and Cru Beer & Wine For Sale on Rogers Road



Barkitecture Sunday at Triangle Park

October 17th, 2014 at 12:51 pm by under Weather
Barkitecture

A winning design from Barkitecture 2013

CLICK HERE for details on Sunday’s annual Barkitecture event!

Since its inception in 2005, Barkitecture has become an Austin favorite, and is gaining national exposure. Presented by Animal Lovers of Austin, Inc., this architectural dog-centric fundraiser showcases doghouses created by some of Austin’s best and brightest architects, designers and builders. Attendees will have the opportunity to bid on these unique doghouses, play at the “pup-stop”, participate in a Lofty Dog Howl-o-Ween costume contest, learn about adoption opportunities from local area rescue groups, shop at local vendor booths, let your pup enjoy a spa experience at our exclusive puppy “SPAW” and more.


Sunday morning rainfall totals

October 11th, 2014 at 10:23 pm by under Weather
rainfall Sun AM
PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AUSTIN/SAN ANTONIO TX
1000 PM CDT SAT OCT 11 2014
...LATEST 24 HOUR RAINFALL REPORTS...
LOCATION                       AMOUNT    TIME/DATE
...TEXAS...

...BASTROP...
3 N WYLDWOOD                   1.60 IN   0900 PM 10/11
1 NW SMITHVILLE                0.87 IN   0942 PM 10/11
8 W ROSANKY                    0.87 IN   0951 PM 10/11
SMITHVILLE   (more...)

El Niño not here yet, but still expected

October 9th, 2014 at 2:54 pm by under Weather

El Nino developing temp anomaliesEl Niño Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: El Niño is favored to begin in the next 1-2 months and last into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015.

During September 2014, above-average sea surface temperatures (SST) continued across much of the equatorial Pacific (Fig. 1). The weekly Niño indices were relatively unchanged from the beginning of the month, with values ranging from +0.3oC (Niño-3.4) to +1.1oC (Niño-1+2) at the end of the month (Fig. 2). The change in subsurface heat content anomalies (averaged between 180o-100oW) was also minimal (Fig. 3) due to the persistence of above-average temperatures at depth across the central and eastern Pacific (Fig. 4). Equatorial low-level winds were largely near average for the month, though brief periods of westerly wind anomalies continue to arise. Upper-level winds were also close to average for the month. The Southern Oscillation Index has remained negative, and rainfall was near average around the Date Line, with a mix of positive and negative anomalies over Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (Fig. 5). The lack of coherent atmospheric and oceanic features indicates the continuation of ENSO-neutral.

Most models predict El Niño to develop during October-December 2014 and to continue into early 2015 (Fig. 6). The consensus of forecasters indicates a 2-in-3 chance of El Niño during the November 2014 – January 2015 season. This El Niño will likely remain weak (3-month values of the Niño-3.4 index between 0.5oC and 0.9oC) throughout its duration. In summary, El Niño is favored to begin in the next 1-2 months and last into the Northern Hemisphere spring 2015 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts are also updated monthly in the Forecast Forum of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. Additional perspectives and analysis are also available in an ENSO blog. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 6 November 2014. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: ncep.list.enso-update@noaa.gov.

Climate Prediction Center
National Centers for Environmental Prediction
NOAA/National Weather Service
College Park, MD 20740

 

 


October bird forecast

October 8th, 2014 at 1:23 pm by under Weather

What to watch for in October: Welcome, water birds

Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Travis Audubon is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @TravisAudubon and give us a like at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon.

Double-crested Cormorant photo by Thomas Quine via Creative Commons

Double-crested Cormorant photo by Thomas Quine via Creative Commons

Double-crested and pied-billed

Double-crested Cormorants begin arriving in substantial numbers throughout October and soon will be a familiar sight as they roost along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake in the cypress trees. Cormorants are large, gangly black birds with orange faces, long necks and long hooked bills. You can sometimes see them sitting with their wings spread out awkwardly to dry.

Pied-billed Grebe photo by Kevin Cole via Creative Commons

Pied-billed Grebe photo by Kevin Cole via Creative Commons

You also may see newly arrived Pied-billed Grebes on the lakes and small ponds of Central Texas. These very small water birds are common in most of the U.S. year-round, but they gather in larger flocks come winter (which, for birds, is approaching fast, even though we humans might not think so). These grebes are brown and compact, with very short bills and no tail to speak of. They are noticeably smaller than other birds out on the lake, with heads that are large relative to their bodies.

They do lots of diving and can actually control their buoyancy, sinking into the water like submarines. In spring and summer, the bird’s bill is pied — white with a black stripe — but in winter is a yellowish brown.

Monthly Meeting — Where to Bird in Central Texas
6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Hyde Park Christian Church, 610 E 45th St.

It’s the weekend and you have a few spare hours and a desire to bird some place new — but where? It’s a weekday and you could slip in to work a little late, or leave early; where can you get the best birds for your time invested? In this talk by Laurie Foss you will get lots of ideas about places to go and birds to look for when you get there.You will also learn how you can use eBird to find out where the birds are. As a member of Travis Audubon, as well as other local, state, and national birding organizations, Laurie Foss is active leading field trips, teaching birding classes and making presentations to various groups, as well as working and advocating for habitat conservation.

Field Trips — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website for details.

http://travisaudubon.org/get-outdoors/field-trips

Monthly Bird Count at Hornsby Bend
Saturday, October 11, 7 a.m. & 4 p.m.

Big Sit! at Balcones Canyonlands NWR
Sunday, October 12, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Two-hour Tuesday! at Platt Lane, led by Ken Zaslow
Tuesday, October 14, 7:30 to 10 a.m.

Commons Ford Monthly Walk with Diane Sherrill (plants this time)
Saturday, Oct. 18, 8:30 a.m. to noon

Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird Walk
Saturday, October 18, 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Super Tuesday! at Berry Springs Park, led by Dan Callaway
Tuesday, October 21, 8 to 11:30 a.m.

Two-hour Tuesday! at Devine Lake, led by Ray and Ginny Steelman
Tuesday, October 28, 8 to 10 a.m.

Balcones Canyonlands/Water Quality Preserves – Part 2
Friday, October 31, 8 to 11 a.m.

Compiled by Travis Audubon volunteers Jane Tillman and Raeanne Martinez


Join EarthSky’s Deborah Byrd at online viewing of total lunar eclipse

October 7th, 2014 at 1:33 pm by under Weather

(EarthSky.org)  Slooh.com invites stargazers worldwide for an online viewing of the total eclipse of the moon early Wednesday morning, October 8. Deborah Byrd will be on hand as a special guest.

Deborah Byrd inside the observer's cage at the Palomar 200-inch telescope

Deborah Byrd inside the observer’s cage at the Palomar 200-inch telescope. Join her at Slooh.com for the total eclipse of the moon.

EarthSky.org editor-in-chief Deborah Byrd will join Bob Berman of Slooh.com and stargazers around the world during an online view of this week’s total eclipse of the moon on October 8, 2014. Byrd will be speaking with Berman from  (4:15 a.m. CDT – 4:40 a.m. CDT) at Slooh’s website, which you will find here.

Byrd and Berman will talk about the moon’s unique placement among the stars during the eclipse, touching on the exciting fact that the planet Uranus – a world barely visible to the eye – will be near the moon as the eclipse is taking place.

Join them!

Stargazers worldwide are invited to watch this spectacular eclipse of the moon on October 8, as it unfolds live in your night sky … and at Slooh.com. The free, real-time broadcast will begin on October 8th starting at 4:00 AM with live feeds from multiple locations located in Australia and North America.

Total lunar eclipse in 2004 by Fred Espenak

Total lunar eclipse in 2004 by Fred Espenak

Bottom line: Slooh.com invites stargazers worldwide for an online viewing of the total eclipse of the moon on October 8. Deborah Byrd will be on hand as a special guest.


Following heat and storms, great weather ahead

October 2nd, 2014 at 11:11 pm by under Weather

The summer-like weather of the past few days is history, thanks to the cold front which brought rain and thunderstorms to Central Texas Thursday night.  Here’s the weekend ahead–don’t forget to wear sunscreen!

10-2 ACL WEEKEND FX


Storm Prediction Center issues Severe Thunderstorm Watch

October 2nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm by under Weather

The Storm Prediction Center has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch, effective until 9 PM, for the following counties: San Saba, Lampasas, Llano, Burnet, Williamson, and Milam. This Watch does not include Austin, but does include Williamson County in the Austin metro area. Strong to severe thunderstorms are expected to develop northwest of the Hill Country this afternoon, then transition into a squall line that moves southeast across much of Central Texas this evening. A few storms could become severe, with large hail, dangerous lightning, and damaging wind gusts. The tornado threat is low. Stay with KXAN-TV for updates, or click here for Interactive Radar…

 

\  WW0518 Overview WOU Image
 URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
   SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH NUMBER 518
   NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
   155 PM CDT THU OCT 2 2014

   THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A

   * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF 
     FAR SOUTHEAST OKLAHOMA
     NORTH-CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST INTO CENTRAL TEXAS

   * EFFECTIVE THIS THURSDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING FROM 155 PM UNTIL
     900 PM CDT.

   * PRIMARY THREATS INCLUDE...
     ISOLATED VERY LARGE HAIL EVENTS TO 2 INCHES IN DIAMETER POSSIBLE
     ISOLATED DAMAGING WIND GUSTS TO 70 MPH POSSIBLE

   THE SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 80
   STATUTE MILES EAST AND WEST OF A LINE FROM 35 MILES NORTHWEST OF
   PARIS TEXAS TO 40 MILES SOUTHWEST OF TEMPLE TEXAS.  FOR A
   COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED WATCH OUTLINE
   UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU8).

   PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

   REMEMBER...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE
   FAVORABLE FOR SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
   AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
   THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
   AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS. SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAN AND OCCASIONALLY
   DO PRODUCE TORNADOES.

   OTHER WATCH INFORMATION...CONTINUE...WW 515...WW 516...WW 517...

   DISCUSSION...TSTMS ARE EXPECTED TO INCREASE IN COVERAGE AND
   INTENSITY ALONG A SEWD-MOVING COLD FRONT THIS AFTERNOON AS
   LARGE-SCALE FORCING FOR ASCENT IS ENHANCED BY A MID-LEVEL TROUGH
   MOVING ACROSS THE SRN PLAINS. MODERATE AMOUNTS OF INSTABILITY AND
   VERTICAL SHEAR WILL SUPPORT SUPERCELLS AND BOWING STRUCTURES WITH
   THE MAIN HAZARDS BEING DAMAGING WINDS AND LARGE HAIL.

   AVIATION...A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL SURFACE AND ALOFT
   TO 2 INCHES. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE WIND GUSTS TO 60
   KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO 550. MEAN STORM
   MOTION VECTOR 26025.