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Nature Science Stargazing Universe

The Perseids Meteor Shower

You can start preparing for an amazing stargazing event: the Perseids meteor shower! The event has already started in mid-July, and can still be observed until the 24th of August. Its peak will occur on August 12, so make sure you organize a stargazing session soon! Thus, if the weather is clear and the nights are dark – make sure you go out somewhere and look up in the night sky, in the direction of the Perseus constellation!

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower on Earth usually occurs when our planet’s path intersects with the orbit of a comet. When a comet approaches the Sun, some of its ice vaporizes, leaving behind a stream of dust and debris, called a “dust trail” (which is different from a comet’s tail). When such debris – called meteoroids or micrometeoroids, in function of the size, and which is most of the time the size of a grain of sand -, enters Earth’s atmosphere at very high speeds (typically 70 km/s), it heats up because of the friction with the air in the atmosphere, which causes the particles to light up and glow. This streak of light crossing the night sky is called a meteor, or shooting star. So no, a shooting star is not a real “star” 😉

Meteors

Meteors usually occur in Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of above 50 km, and under 100 km. The glow can be fainter and shorter for smaller particles and it becomes brighter and longer as the size of the particle increases. The colour of a meteor can also vary, in function of the chemical composition of the particle!

And, by the way, a meteor that doesn’t burn up and which finally hits Earth’s surface, is called a meteorite!

Radiant

What is very interesting is the fact that the meteor particles in a meteor shower originate from a point called the radiant, and are all travelling in parallel paths. But if we look at the sky, we see the meteors radiate in all directions. So how can this be? This is the effect of perspective! For example, if you sit in the middle of a straight railroad track and you look along it, you see that the two tracks converge at a single point, somewhere far away. This is exactly what happens with meteors in a meteor shower, but the effect is a lot more intense, due to the great distances where the meteor shower occurs!

The two parallel tracks seem to converge at a single point.

The Perseids

Concerning the Perseids now, you should also know that meteor showers are named in function of the constellation where they originate. So, the Perseids seem to originate in the constellation of Perseus, hence their name! The same goes for another well-known meteor shower: the Lyrids, which seem to originate in the constellation Lyra.

Moreover, the Perseids is a predictable event – that is, they occur because of the crossing of Earth’s path with the orbit of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which was last visible from Earth in 1992 (and will next be visible in 2126!). The intersection of Earth with Swift-Tuttle’s orbit occurs each year around July-August, thus, the Perseid meteor shower is then expected!

So, what should you do?

Go outside, away from big cities. Ideally, avoid any source of nearby lighting, including your car’s lights or your phone’s screen. Make, of course, sure that the sky is clear of clouds and try to find the Perseus constellation. To do this, guide yourself with bright stars (with lower magnitudes), such as the Big Dipper asterism and the Cassiopeia constellation: imagine a very thick line between the two and look just below this line, towards the “W”-shaped Cassiopeia. There will be Perseus, and the Perseids will seem to originate from there.

Best is to use your own eyes to see, in order to have a larger field of view, thus no binoculars or telescopes. And make sure you let your eyes adapt to the darkness first! And then comfortably sit somewhere and just look at the sky and let the show begin!

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Nature Science Universe

The Polar Day

Regions way above the Polar Circle, in the High Arctic, have already started to experience the polar day. Other Arctic regions are going to experience the phenomenon in the coming days. In Vadsø, the polar day already started on May 17 this year, and the Midnight Sun has been visible since, as well.

But what is the polar day?

Earth carries out two types of rotations: one around the Sun, during the course of a year, and the second around its own axis, during 24 hours. At the same time, Earth is inclined in respect with the Sun, at an angle of approximately 23°, and remains tilted at this angle during the whole year.

This means that the Earth is illuminated by the Sun differently during one year. At and around the summer solstice (sometime around 22nd June each year), Earth is inclined in such a way that the North Pole and the region around the North Pole, points towards the Sun, thus it is illuminated more and longer.

Just take a look at the first part of this video from the California Academy of Sciences, and see how Earth is illuminated by the Sun during a whole year.

You can see that the length of the polar day varies in function of latitude: closer you are to the North Pole, longer the polar day is. At the exact location of the North Pole, the polar day lasts no less than 6 months! At lower latitudes, but still above the Arctic Circle, the Sun never sets for a shorter period. The shortest polar day occurs on regions exactly on the Polar Circle (at 66°N), where the Sun never sets for only 1 day, which is exactly the day of the Summer Solstice!

The Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun is a wonderphul phenomenon. It is what makes the sky bright at “night time” during the polar day, just like the Northern Lights brighten the sky during the dark period. It is a typical Arctic (and Antarctic) phenomenon, which occurs only during the polar day.

As the name suggests, here in the Arctic, the sun is visible in the sky at midnight, as well as the whole night and day, and it never sets below the horizon during this period. In Vadsø, the Midnight Sun will be visible this year until July 26.

And did you know that Aurora Labs has designed a special activity dedicated to discovering the midnight sun differently? Check it out here!

Regions below the polar circle experience a normal day/night cycle, which varies also in length, in function of the exact latitude.

And, by the way, the opposite of the polar day is the magnificent polar night! Have you ever experienced one or the other?

During the polar day, the Sun never sets below the horizon.
Categories
Nature Science Stargazing Universe

The Lyrids Meteor Shower

Stargazers (almost) all around the world, get ready for an amazing stargazing event which starts tomorrow: the Lyrids meteor shower! Keep on reading to discover what a meteor shower is, and to find out how to see the Lyrids and other interesting facts about them! And don’t forget to prepare your wishes – maybe they will get granted, once you see the Lyrids!

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower on Earth usually occurs when our planet’s path intersects with the orbit of a comet. When a comet approaches the Sun, some of its ice vaporizes, leaving behind a stream of dust and debris, called a “dust trail” (which is different from a comet’s tail). When such debris – called meteoroids or micrometeoroids, in function of the size, and which is most of the time the size of a grain of sand -, enters Earth’s atmosphere at very high speeds (typically 70 km/s), it heats up because of the friction with the air in the atmosphere, which causes the particles to light up and glow. This streak of light crossing the night sky is called a meteor, or shooting star. So no, a shooting star is not a real “star” 😉

Meteors usually occur in Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of above 50 km, and under 100 km. The glow can be fainter and shorter for smaller particles and it becomes brighter and longer as the size of the particle increases. The colour of a meteor can also vary, in function of the chemical composition of the particle!

And, by the way, a meteor that doesn’t burn up and which finally hits Earth’s surface, is called a meteorite!

The radiant

What is very interesting is the fact that the meteor particles in a meteor shower originate from a point called the radiant, and are all travelling in parallel paths.

But if we look at the sky, we see the meteors radiate in all directions. So how can this be? This is the effect of perspective! For example, if you sit in the middle of a straight railroad track and you look along it, you see that the two tracks converge at a single point, somewhere far away. This is exactly what happens with meteors in a meteor shower, but the effect is a lot more intense, due to the great distances where the meteor shower occurs!

The two parallel tracks seem to converge at a single point.

The Lyrids

The Lyrids are a meteor shower starting on April 16 and lasting until April 26 every year. This spring, its peak will be on April 22, so make sure you go out around this date, if you’d like to see this meteor shower in all its beauty; weather permitting, of course!

To locate the radiant of the Lyrids, you will need to find the Lyra constellation in the night sky. It’s not so difficult to find it, as Vega, the brightest star of this constellation, is one of the brightest stars in the night sky, with a magnitude of around 0, thus easy to see even in light polluted areas.

One way of easily finding Vega, is by drawing an imaginary line between two stars forming the well-known Big Dipper asterism, as shown in the below image:

Extend this imaginary line in the arrow’s direction, until you reach your first (very) bright star, which will be Vega. Be sure not to extend the line too long, as you will reach another quite bright star – Altair.

However, to see the actual meteor shower, you would need to find a place away from light pollution, as the shooting stars are not as bright as Vega! Their magnitude average somewhere towards the value +2, sometimes culminating with “Lyrids Fireballs”, which is the name given to some brighter meteors of this event. In addition, the Moon may make it more difficult to see this year’s Lyrids, so, if our natural satellite is troublesome, just wait for it to set, before trying to spot the meteor shower.

Naming and predicting meteor showers

Meteor showers are named in function of the constellation where they originate. So, the Lyrids seem to originate in the constellation of Lyra, hence their name!

The source of the dust creating the Lyrids comes from the C/1861 G1 Thatcher Comet – a long-period comet (415 years).

The Lyrids is a predictable event – that is, they occur because of the crossing of Earth’s path with the orbit of the aforementioned comet, which was last visible from Earth in 1861, when it was discovered by A. E. Thatcher (and is expected to be seen again in 2283!). The intersection of Earth with this comet’s orbit occurs each year in April, thus, the Lyrids meteor shower is then expected!

Did you know?

The Lyrids are the oldest reported meteor shower – since 687 BC!

Categories
Nature Vadsø

Birdwatching in Varanger

Vadsø, just like the region of Varanger in Northern Norway, are well known for birdwatchers across the world. Not only that it is a place where an astonishingly lot of bird species can be found, but it is one of the most accessible Arctic birdwatching destinations. If not the most accessible!

Milder winters

Even if Varanger is well above the Arctic Circle, the winters here are milder than in other regions of the Arctic. This is the reason why some bird species, choose to come here from more northern latitudes for overwintering. Thus, Varanger is perfect for observing these species, which otherwise could be seen only by travelling to the more inaccessible High Arctic.

Smaller distances

Moreover, the Arctic region of the world is “smaller”. As the Earth is somewhat a sphere, the region towards the North Pole is smaller than the regions below the Arctic circle and even smaller than the region covering the Earth’s equator.

North America, Europe and Siberia sort of “meet up” here in the Arctic, thus the distance that birds, which normally live on these continents, need to fly, is shorter.

Exclusive birdwatching destination

Varanger’s climate and natural richness ensure that birds have all the resources and conditions they need when they meet up here during their migration or breeding periods. Birdwatchers not only get to see an exclusive display of bird species in their natural habitat, but they get to see this display in a breathtaking Arctic natural scenery, dominated by the warmth of the Midnight Sun in summer, or by the elusive Northern Lights in winter.

Just take a look at the pictures in our gallery below, to get only an idea of what birdwatchers can enjoy if they visit us!

Where to see the birds across Varanger

In Varanger, there are a number of special, well-known places, where to look for nature’s feathery inhabitants, without interfering with their natural course of life.

The small island of Vadsøya is one such place, due to fact that in the sea area between the island and the mainland the birds can easily find food. The Dammen pond on the island is especially known as being a nesting and feeding place, because of the rich vegetation around, which provides shelter for numerous species of birds. Oyster catchers, red-backed sandpipers, red shanks, ruff sandpipers, tufted ducks or the Arctic terns are just a few of the birds that can be seen here.

Another well-known place is the Ekkerøy nesting cliff, near Vadsø, where you can treat your eyes to kittiwakes and eider ducks, including the King and Steller’s eider, which are known to breed in Alaska and Siberia, but overwinter in Varanger.

Hornøya, near Vardø, is a must for a true birdwatcher, as this is a protected nature reserve where literally hundreds of species live their lives right in front of your eyes: guillemots (including the Brünnich specie that can only be found in the Arctic), puffins, eiders (including Steller’s and King eiders), just to name a few.

The region around Nesseby church is also a natural reserve where birdwatchers can delight themselves with seeing flocks of waders, ducks, geese or gulls, or even birds of prey, such as gyrfalcons or Northern hawk owls!

The region across Berlevåg, Båtsfjord and Kongsfjord in Northern Varanger is also a perfect place if you would like to observe and even study King and Steller’s eiders and some species of falcons from the specially designed hides, from where you can’t interfere with the birds’ natural course of life.

Finally, in the Pasvik Valley in South Varanger, species of typical Siberian birds, as well as owls may be seen.

Rare birds

Varanger is the place where birds, that are rarely seen in Europe, can be observed: cattle egrets, Egyptian vultures, spotted eagles or Ross’s gulls, just to name a few.

Categories
Nature Science Universe

The Polar Night

This period of the year means the beginning of the end of the Polar Night for regions in the Arctic. The polar night in Vadsø will end on the 17 of January, when the Sun will rise for the first time this year in the Arctic sky, for only 50 minutes. After this date, each day will mean the Sun will come out higher and higher in the sky and for longer periods. And this until May 17, when the Sun will never set for almost 2 months, marking the beginning of the Polar Day.

But what is the polar night?

Earth carries out two types of rotations: one around the Sun, during the course of a year, and the second around its own axis, during 24 hours. At the same time, Earth is inclined in respect with the Sun, at an angle of approximately 23°, and remains tilted at this angle during the whole year.

This means that the Earth is illuminated by the Sun differently during one year. At and around the winter solstice (sometime around 22nd December each year), Earth is inclined in such a way that the North Pole and the region around the North Pole, points away from the Sun, meaning it is not illuminated by our star, which translates into a continuous night – phenomenon which we call the Polar Night.

Just take a look at the first part of this video from the California Academy of Sciences, and see how Earth is illuminated by the Sun during a whole year.

You can see that the length of the polar night varies in function of latitude: closer you are to the North Pole, longer the polar night is. At the exact location of the North Pole, the polar night lasts no less than 6 months! At lower latitudes, but still above the Arctic Circle, the Sun never rises for shorter periods. The shortest polar night occurs on regions exactly on the Polar Circle (at 66°N), where the Sun never rises for only 1 day, which is exactly the day of the Winter Solstice!

Moreover, in function of latitude, the Polar Night may be experienced differently, concerning the position of the Sun below the horizon. This means that during the polar night, closer to the Arctic Circle, the Sun will still be near the horizon (but still below it) during the normal “day” hours. Which means that twilight occurs – thus indirect light from the Sun beautifully illuminates these regions, and you are able to see the landscape and the surroundings. And it does it in a surreal blue lighting – which is what the amazing polar blue is! Vadsø in Northern Norway experiences this phenomenon during the whole period of the polar night.

Me during the Blue Hour outside of Vadsø, during the polar night
Dogsledding in the Varangerhalvøya National Park, during the Polar Night

Further up from the Arctic Circle, the Sun does not have time to get so close to the horizon, which means that no indirect light will illuminate these regions at all, which leads to a 24-hour long pitch-black night, which can last for months!

And the best part about the Polar Night? You can see the Northern Lights even during the “daytime”!

Regions below the Polar Circle experience a normal day/night cycle, which varies also in length, in function of the exact latitude.