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San Juan College AstroFriday series finds new home online

Program returns this weekend via Zoom meeting

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The monthly sessions are led by San Juan College astronomy professor David Mayeux.
  • This month's presentation will feature a video entitled "From Earth to the Universe."
  • Mayeux plans to follow that video with a 15-minute presentation on the November night sky.

FARMINGTON — The monthly online AstroFriday presentations led by San Juan College astronomy professor David Mayeux have struggled to attract the same size audience as his popular in-person sessions at the Planetarium did before they were halted last spring by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They moved to a virtual format in August.

But as he prepares for his next presentation this weekend, Mayeux said there are indications that local stargazers have warmed to the online offerings.

"They're starting to pick up. I was so pleased with my last one," he said, explaining that approximately 40 people logged into the two sessions to enjoy his presentation on Mars.

"To me, that's really good," he said. "I think it takes time for people to catch on to a new format."

This month's presentation will feature a video entitled "From Earth to the Universe." The 30-minute video was produced by the European Southern Observatory, which bills itself as the preeminent intergovernmental science and technology organization in astronomy. The presentation offers a tour of the universe, beginning with Earth and leading the viewer past various planets, stars and nebulae through the Milky Way and then past other galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Mayeux plans to follow that video with a 15-minute presentation on the November night sky using Stellarium software. He said there are some interesting things taking place in the heavens right now.

David Mayeux

"Something I'm telling my students to watch out for is that, while Jupiter and Saturn have been visible in the night sky for several months, Jupiter is starting to overtake Saturn now," he said, explaining that as they draw closer to each other, they will go into a phase known as conjunction, a relatively rare astronomical event.

The two largest planets in the solar system will reach their closest point on Dec. 21, according to earthsky.org, and this conjunction will be their first since 2000. It also will be their closest conjunction since 1623.

"I think conjunctions are always fun," Mayeux said. "And Mars is still bright in the evening sky."

This month also will bring a comparative wealth of meteor shower activity, Mayeux said, citing the Leonids as perhaps the most notable. That shower will reach its peak in the overnight period between Nov. 16-17, a night when the moon will be only 5% full, according to the American Meteor Society. The Southern Taurids meteor shower reached its peak in late October, but it will remain visible through Nov. 20 and is expected to team with the Leonids to provide an impressive show.

Those features are just part of the reason why Mayeux looks forward to this time of year.

"I think, despite the cold, I prefer the shift in the winter sky. It sucks all the haze and humidity out of the air," explaining that visibility is generally much better beginning this time of year.

Mayeux also enjoys seeing the return of Orion and especially Sirius, the Dog Star.

"It's always amazing to behold," he said. "I'm still amazed at how bright it twinkles."

San Juan College astronomy professor David Mayeux says the clarity of the winter sky allows for better observation of deep-sky objects, such as the Andromeda Galaxy.

Mayeux said the clarity of the winter sky makes it easier for those with telescopes to see deep-space objects.

"Galaxies are some of my favorite objects," he said. "My favorite is the Andromeda galaxy, even though it tends to be kind of fuzzy. I love galaxies."

Mayeux conducts the AstroFriday presentations via Zoom meeting. He begins by signing into the meeting, then invites participants to join him by signing into the Zoom URL. Those wishing to take part need to download or install the Zoom app on their device and set up a Zoom account.

AstroFriday sessions are planned for 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. Mayeux said he will offer a third session at 8:30 p.m. if there is sufficient interest.

To log in, copy and paste the URL https://zoom.us/j/93987729233 or type it into the browser. Participants will be placed in a virtual waiting room until Mayeux invites them into the meeting.

This crescent view of Jupiter was taken by NASA's Voyager 1 on March 24, 1979. Jupiter and Saturn are going into conjunction and will reach their closest point to each other in late December.

Mayeux said the virtual sessions have gone well so far, although his first presentation was interrupted by a Zoom bomber. He said he is now encouraging participants to choose a regular-sounding name when they create an account, because Zoom bombers tend to have flamboyant account names.

"That's a red flag for me. If I see something that looks really funky, I may not invite them to the meeting," he said.

For more information about the AstroFriday series, call Mayeux at 505-566-3361 or email him at mayeuxd@sanjuancollege.edu.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.