Martz Observatory: A Holiday Shower Lights the Skies

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Pictured above is glimpse of the annual Martz-Kohl Christmas and Holiday party, held on Wednesday, December 11 at Belle-View East in Falconer, NY. For the future, the association is looking forward to developing an enhanced remote-control capability for our main research telescopes for use by local and regional school systems, colleges, and universities.

The next decade will see the 70 th anniversary of Marshall Martz’ first experiments in astronomy and telescope construction, the 35 th anniversary of the establishment of the Martz observatory as a 502 (C)(3), non-profit, all-volunteer educational association, and the 10 th anniversary of the addition of the Kohl Observatory through the generous gift of Jamestown’s Dr. Ron Kohl. The Martz-Kohl Observatory is proud to be building for the future based on its long and successful history.

Another Big Show

The Geminids meteor shower put on a great sky show last week, but unfortunately, our cloudy winter skies blocked the view from the Martz-Kohl Observatory atop Robbin Hill Road in Frewsburg. If you’ve never seen a spectacular sky show like the one the Geminids put on, check out “Geminid Meteor Showers” on YouTube to see what we can see at Martz-Kohl whenever the sky permits. We’re at just about the highest, darkest place in Chautauqua County and we love company.

The Geminids meteor shower, observed every year since the mid-1800s peaked last Friday night to Saturday morning, though they can be seen any night between December 7 and 17. At the peak, around 80 meteors are seen in an hour, and occasionally more than 100. The parent body of the Geminids is an object called “3200 Phaethon,” which appears to be an asteroid, not a comet, perhaps a “worn-out comet.”

Amateur astronomer David Brewer livestreamed the entire shower in 4K from Denver, Colorado, beginning between 10:00 p.m. Eastern, (8:00 p.m. mountain), through the shower’s peak around 4:00 a.m. Eastern (2:00 a.m. Mountain) until about 6:00 a.m. Eastern (4:00 a.m. Mountain), now archived on YouTube, as are previous years.

Watching “Shooting Stars”

Anyone watching the night sky long enough will see a “shooting star,” a streak of light flashing across the sky in a second. That is a meteor, the glowing trail of incinerated celestial debris cast off from a comet and entering Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes between 50 and 75 miles and as fast as 30,000 to 50,000 mph or even more. At that speed a grain of cosmic sand carries so much momentum it can light up the whole night sky when it is almost instantly incinerated, rarely bigger meteors make a fireball even brighter than the Moon. Such a fireball is called a bolide. It’s all part of Earth’s dusty neighborhood here in the inner solar system.

When Earth encounters swarm-trails of small particles dusted off a comet, the number of meteors can increase to 60 or more in an hour, rarely as many as a thousand. That makes it a true meteor shower. In 1833, Earth passed through a full-blown storm with 60,000 meteors an hour that startled the whole world.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.