The ultimate guide to watching meteor showers

Here’s how you can wish upon a shooting star this year

The ultimate guide to watching meteor showers

Despite being pieces of space debris, meteors put on a magnificent display when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, decorating the night sky with vivid colours of blues, greens, yellows and reds. Whether you are an avid meteor shower watcher or a first-time goer, here are tips to help you catch a better glimpse of Earth’s rocky visitors.

Where do I go?

Although this may come as a surprise, it is actually not very difficult to find a good location to view meteor showers. Just keep in mind the following points when hunting for your spot of the night:

Look for an open area like a field or a park. Steer clear of places where your view of the sky is obstructed by buildings, trees, or other tall objects.

Make sure it’s dark enough. City lights can be a huge distraction and take away from the visibility of the meteors. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Associate Professor Michael Reid recommends that you refrain from looking at your phone. “Your eyes take about ten minutes to fully adapt to darkness,” said Reid. “If you look at a cell phone screen or streetlight even briefly, you’ll degrade your night vision.”

How do I prepare?

You don’t need any fancy equipment to view this celestial event. However, the following tips can make your viewing experience more pleasant:

Grab a lawn chair. Keeping your eyes on the skies so you don’t miss a single second of stars shooting across the darkness requires a lot of upwards gazing. Bring a chair or a blanket to spread on the ground so you can do so in comfort.

Pack bug spray and a jacket. Summer nights spent outdoors entails mosquitoes and other little critters. Stay bite-free with bug spray and have a light jacket to throw on when it gets chilly.

Gather your friends. “Meteor watching requires patience, so it is a great chance to pick out constellations in the sky,” said Professor Raymond Carlberg, Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Having your friends to share the moment can make wait times between meteor fly-bys a lot more entertaining. You could try to spot stars or play a round of astronomy trivia.

Check the weather. Nothing can be worse than a rainwstorm on the night you scheduled your outing, or the moon outshining all the meteors in your area. Be sure to check the weather and location of the moon prior to making your trip.

When is the next meteor shower?

Now that you’re ready to go, be on the lookout for more accurate predictions of the best times to catch each of these events. Meteor showers typically occur over the span of a couple of days, so if you miss the days listed below, try your luck another time. The International Meteor Organization also has a detailed calendar of upcoming meteor showers.

October 21 – peak for the Orionids showers

November 17 – peak for the Leonids showers

December 13 – peak for the Geminids showers

Happy meteor shower watching!

A day — or millennium — in the life of a star

PhD candidate Alysa Obertas hosts Life and Death of Stars planetarium show

A day — or millennium — in the life of a star

It is truly a shame that light pollution prevents Torontonians from gazing at the stars because, as Alysa Obertas demonstrates, they are some of the most beautiful objects in all of existence. Admittedly, stars being beautiful isn’t exactly news. But Obertas, a PhD candidate with U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, breathes new life into this tired cliché in the brilliant planetarium show Life and Death of Stars.

Originally created by U of T astrophysicist and Outreach Coordinator of the Department of Mathematics Dr. Ilana MacDonald, the show is presented in the basement planetarium of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Building. Life and Death of Stars opens with a sweeping view of the Toronto skyline, familiarly devoid of stars and overwhelmingly polluted by the glaring city lights. Obertas soon shows us city dwellers what we’ve been missing by transforming a murky screen into a majestic illumination of the skies outside the city.

From there, the audience is brought on a voyage from the surface of our planet into the sprawling grounds of the cosmos. Moving from one celestial object to another, Obertas meticulously explains each astrophysical concept and fundamental law governing the birth, life, and death of stars. Notable curiosities like the red supergiant Betelgeuse and goldmine supernova SN1987A are given special attention, with their unusual traits fully exposed via high-resolution images on-screen, and a comprehensive commentary given by Obertas off-screen.

“One thing I hope audiences take away is that stars aren’t fixed they change and evolve throughout their lifetimes,” wrote Obertas in an email to The Varsity. “Even more incredible is that as stars evolve and eventually end their lives, they create heavier elements. This material gets mixed back into surrounding clouds of gas, which new stars and planets form out of. We wouldn’t be here on Earth if it weren’t for dead stars.”

It is important to note that the experience is not at all a tedious lecture. No physics foreknowledge is required; Obertas explains everything clearly, concisely, and without technobabble. In fact, portions of the presentation have little to do with astrophysics at all as they focus on constellations and what can be seen with the naked eye. Dazzling visuals that fill the room delight children and adults, alike. “I hope that people who are curious about science, space, and astronomy attend the shows and leave with a new perspective and appreciation for our place in the universe,” said Obertas. “You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the cosmos we all share the night sky.”

Altogether, Obertas deftly weaves astronomy with entertainment to create an experience accessible for all educational backgrounds and recommendable for all ages. Obertas’ stunning visuals and eloquent descriptions are an excellent primer for anyone seeking a comfortable introduction to the cosmos. In both the literal and the metaphorical sense, the show is absolutely stellar.

The show is roughly an hour long and costs $10 per person. More information can be found here.

We are all #UnitedByTheStars

New planetarium series from the Dunlap Institute to deliver aid to Syrian refugees

We are all #UnitedByTheStars

With Canada welcoming approximately 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, U of T is full of exciting student initiatives to raise funds that will help landed refugees resettle. These initiatives include a special series of planetarium shows, organized by graduate students, Jielai Zhang and Pegah Salbi of the University of Toronto, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The show is called “Astronomy’s Golden Age,” and the students intend to give 100 per cent of the proceeds from ticket sales to Red Cross Canada. The Varsity sat down with Zhang and Salbi to discuss the upcoming series.

The Varsity (TV): How did you come up with this idea?

Jielai Zhang and Pegah Salbi: We had been watching the news and heard about this huge problem about people being displaced both in Syria and to the neighbouring regions. There were all these problems about people not having enough food to eat or places to stay and everyone was helping to solve this issue. So we thought that we should do something to help them too. We thought that there is a planetarium in our department, and we should use astronomy to educate people and at the same time, they can do good too by supporting Syrian refugees. We set a target for raising $10,000 and we are already at 20 per cent [of that amount].

TV: When you first came up with this idea, how did the department respond?

Zhang and Salbi:We first pitched this idea to the graduate students, because we wanted to see what the response would be, and also because we couldn’t do all the shows and advertisement by ourselves. The response was phenomenal and very positive. All the people in the department also helped us to take care of the financial and administrative aspect.

TV: What is the show about?

Zhang and Salbi: We wanted to relate the show somehow to the cause that we’re trying to raise money for. One of our colleagues gave us an idea of representing Islamic contributions to astronomy so we can relate the show to Syria. There are a lot of connections between modern-day astronomy and Islamic astronomy. For example, a lot of the stars’ names are derived from Arabic. Astronomers present our planetarium shows, and they start from Earth and can travel to different planets, etc. The room is a black dome, and it can simulate the night sky.

TV: Why did you choose to support Red Cross Canada?

Zhang and Salbi: Red Cross has many programs designed to help refugees, and we were interested in two of them. One of them is focused on internally displaced Syrians as well as refugees in neighbouring countries, and the money directly goes to buying them food, emergency kits, medication, water, and basic survival needs. The other program helps Syrian refugees coming to Canada resettle smoothly and help them transition into the Canadian culture. The reason we picked Red Cross was because it is one of the most efficient organization[s] in terms of providing food, healthcare and shelter. Ninety-five per cent of the funds go directly to helping the Syrians. In total, we have scheduled 24 shows up to March. Each show holds 26 people.

TV: What was your favourite part about organizing the shows?

Zhang and Salbi: Our favourite part was the enthusiasm and positive energy we received from the department to pursue our idea. We have four people who [have] worked endlessly to formulate the presentation[…] We have been working on this project for the past two months, [and] about 30 people have been a part of this process.

TV: Do you have anything else you’d like to say to the readership?

Zhang and Salbi: As an endnote, we want to pose a challenge for the rest of the U of T community to support the Syrian refugees in any way possible. We, as astronomers, are teaching about astronomy so we want to see what other departments and faculties can do to support the refugees. By investing in their health and well-being, they will become resettled in Canada, and they will gain knowledge and may advance the field of science. The stars unite us all, and humanity should too.

The series will be held at the planetarium at 50 St George St. Tickets are $10; the first show is scheduled for January 22 and the second for January 28.