Discovering New Planets and Down to Earth Astronomy in Everyday Life

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut, Martz/Kohl Board of Directors

Earth’s next great voyage of discovery is about to launch this month with the blast off of NASA’s New Planet Hunter, TESS, from Cape Canaveral, setting out on a new 2-year mission. It will spy on 200,000 of the nearest bright stars and is expected to discover at least 1,500 new worlds, called “exoplanets.” Astronomers have already discovered more than 3,700 of them orbiting distant stars, many with strange and exotic solar systems.

The ultimate goal is to discover life on Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars.

Guests at the Martz-Kohl Observatory often enjoy viewing our own sun’s planets “up close and personal.” To see Saturn with one’s own eyes, crowned by its golden rings and floating in the velvet black of deep space, almost close enough reach out and touch, is inspiring.

Martz-Kohl’s astronomers, however, have also been asked whether any of those thousands of exoplanets can be seen through the observatory’s telescopes. Unfortunately, they are billions of times more distant than the planets in our own solar system and cannot be seen directly even by the world’s most powerful telescopes on Earth or in space.

Down to Earth

This month, while we wait to hear about the most distant planets we can find, the Martz-Kohl Observatory invites visitors to come on Wednesday evening, April 11 at 8:00 to hear about “Down to Earth Astronomy in Everyday Life” right here on Planet Earth.

This month’s speaker will be the always entertaining, informative and sometimes just plain fun presenter, Mr. Phil Evans, a long-time Martz-Kohl member and supporter.

Evans is an eclectic historian of the space age and a collector of space tales and events of every sort. His presentations are always a special event at the Observatory. Come hear him at 8:00 and stay for a tour. And if the skies are clear, stay for a chance to view the universe for yourself through some of the Northeast’s finest research telescopes at the Martz-Kohl Astronomical Observatory.

Looking Up

Start looking for Lyrid meteors, shooting stars, from April 14 through 30. The annual Lyrid meteor shower is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861, as it orbits the sun on a path that crosses Earth’s orbit.

The meteoric sky show will peak on the 22nd and 23rd. In the early morning sky, after the bright, first-quarter moon has set and left the sky darker, patient sky-watchers will see up to 20 meteors per hour. Because of the position of the U.S. and the direction of Earth’s travel through space, observers are also likely to see high rates on the nights before and after the 22-23 peak.