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Weird and Wonderful Above Oregon Coast, Portland: Milky Way Gone, Meteors

Published 05/16/2019 at 5:53 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Weird and Wonderful Above Oregon Coast, Portland: Milky Way Gone, Meteors

(Oregon Coast) – Some weird and wonderful things are in the sky above the Oregon coast right about now – as well as the rest of the state, such as Portland, Eugene, Bend and so on. (Above: top of Cape Foulweather, Depoe Bay, with the Milky Way still around).

Look for some decent meteor shower action just before dawn, but you may also be looking and finding something glaringly missing.

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Where is the Milky Way? You may be wondering that as you wander the nocturnal beaches of locales like Brookings, Seaside, Newport or maybe even the Washington coast. According to OMSI astronomer Jim Todd, the Milky Way will be missing in May.

“At our mid northern latitudes during the month of May, the great band of stars known as the Milky Way simply vanishes from the evening sky,” Todd said. “On May evenings, the disk of our Milky Way galaxy lies flat, nearly parallel to the plane of your horizon.”

The Milky Way – from our perspective – is lying on its side and has dipped itself below the horizon. Todd said the equator of the rest of our home galaxy – stars, nebulae, black holes and all – are circling the rim of what we see as the horizon of Earth. What’s called the North Galactic Pole is standing high overhead in the constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenice's Hair.

“In this direction, where the glare and the dust of the Milky Way are minimal, the sky beckons you to look at the deep-sky objects beyond the Milky Way,” Todd said.

Todd said if you were standing on a world near that North Galactic Pole, you would see our sun and the solar system revolve clockwise around the center of the galaxy – otherwise known as the nucleus of our galaxy. The galactic plane is the area where the majority of the mass of the galaxy resides, within that disc-shaped field of stars that are thicker, which is what we see and culturally recognize as the galaxy. Technically, just about all the stars we see are the galaxy, actually.

“The directions perpendicular to the galactic plane point to the galactic poles,” Todd said. “Most often, in actual usage, the terms ‘galactic plane’ and ‘galactic poles’ are used to refer specifically to the plane and poles of the Milky Way."

Unfortunately, we can’t see other galaxies from here without extremely high powered optics. It was less than 100 years ago that Earth people realized there were other galaxies beyond this one.

Luckily, as it gets later in May, the Milky Way returns closer and closer to midnight. Even now, you can see it in the wee hours of the night - a perfect stay-in-one-spot exploration when the bars get out. By early June it shows up before midnight again.

Now, from the vantage of places like Portland or the Oregon coast, May brings our home galaxy to a weird spot just below where we can see it. Todd said this means we’re halfway between the March equinox and the June solstice.

“It's easy to imagine that the hoarfrost of winter is giving way to the fireflies of summer,” Todd said.

There are some meteors to look for around the state, although they will be sporadic, with one publication predicting only two or three per hour in the evening hours. However, closer to dawn, with the Oregon coast being right around the 45th parallel, scientists say the early morning hours – close to dawn – should yield as much as 11 per hour for a little while. The Eta Aquarids reached their peak in Oregon and along the coast on May 5 and 6, but they linger through May 28.

The 45th parallel runs right through an area just north of Salem and very close to Neskowin.

Th Eta Aquarids are named for the Aquarius constellation, the point in the sky from which they may seem to emerge. This is called the radiant. They come from the remnants of Halley’s Comet, which Earth passes through twice a year. It will happen again in October, creating the Orionid meteor showers. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour









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