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Skywatch Line scripts are written by members of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers. They can be heard by calling 518-382-7890 ext. 229. Scripts are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.
Comet ISON was essentially destroyed as it passed close to the Sun on Thanksgiving, and is now just an expanding and fading cloud of gas and dust. It is not expected to be visible at all. At best, it may be a challenging target for experienced astrophotographers, and they’re probably working hard to be the first to capture an image of its remains. It will be interesting to see if anyone is successful.
Although Comet ISON turned into a dud, it was exciting watching it passing close to the Sun, almost in real time via the Internet, and then see its remnants emerge from behind the camera’s occulting disk and dissipate and fade. Scientists will certainly learn a lot from this comet, even if it didn’t put on the show we had hoped for. Alas, early predictions of Great Comets are unrelenting victims of reality. This writer hopes that future media coverage of comets will reserve the terms “Great Comet” and “Comet of the Century” for use only after a comet performs accordingly.
The Moon was new last Monday and reaches first quarter this coming Monday. Just after sunset on Friday night look for the crescent Moon in the south southwest, with brilliant Venus to the Moon’s lower right. The Moon will set at 8:55 pm. By Saturday night a fatter crescent will be higher and farther toward the south, and set at 10:06 pm. Moonset on Sunday night is at 11:16 pm.
Weather permitting; the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will hold public star party at Landis Arboretum in Esperance at 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, December 6 and 7. A variety of telescopes will be set up by club members to provide guests with views of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars, and other celestial sights. Star parties are open to all and there is no admission fee. There will be a short introductory program in front of the meeting house. For those interested, there will also be a tour of the fall constellations.
Star parties last at least an hour and usually go much longer if the skies are clear. You are welcome to stay as long or as briefly as you like. Be sure to dress warmly. It feels 20 to 30 degrees colder when you are standing under clear night skies. Having extra warm clothing on hand is better than being uncomfortable.
For directions to Landis Arboretum see this link. The star party will be canceled if the skies are mostly cloudy. If in doubt, call 374-8460.
Look to the southwestern horizon after sunset on Wednesday to see the 5% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon about 16 degrees to the west and below bright Venus. The Moon is at perigee, its closest distance to the Earth for the month, at 56.45 earth-radii or 223,856 miles. Lunar perigee occurs only 9 hours after New Moon, so expect higher than normal tides. Venus is becoming a thinner crescent, but is closing in on Earth, and reaches its greatest brilliancy on Friday. Venus will remain at magnitude -4.9 until December 17th. Thursday evening, the Moon will be 7.5 degrees north of Venus. The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, can be seen simultaneously in the evening sky. Jupiter rises just before 7 p.m. EST in the constellation Gemini to the east of Orion. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot transits at 8:06 p.m. EST. Jupiter’s moon Io begins its transit at 11 p.m. followed by its shadow a half hour later. Mars rises 45 minutes after midnight in Virgo and forms a triangle with Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, and Bootes brightest star, Arturus, before dawn. Mars’ brightness increases from magnitude +1.2 to +0.9 during December. Comet Lovejoy can be seen easily with binoculars before dawn by tracing a line from Arcturus through the two stars forming the flat side of kite shaped Bootes, beyond the last star by about 7 degrees. Saturn rises just before 5 a.m. in the constellation Libra. Mercury is 10 degrees below Saturn, but may be lost in the Sun’s glow. Take advantage of the moonless night to view M34, an open star cluster in Perseus. M34 is approximately 1,800 light-years away and is about the width of the Full Moon visually, although it spans 15 light years physically. Consisting of about 100 stars ranging from magnitude +7.9 down, and having a visual magnitude of +5.5, M34 can be seen using binoculars. To find M34, look about 20 degrees above the Pleiades star cluster. M34 will be east of Perseus’ brightest star, Mirphak. The Double Cluster will be to M34’s north, toward Cassiopeia. This weekend, the Albany Amateur Astronomers will be hosting star parties on Friday and Saturday evening at the George Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. Directions to the Arboretum can be found at http://landislive.weebly.com/hours--directions.html.
The Sun sets at 4:22 PM; night falls at 6:03. Dawn breaks at 5:27 AM, ending with sunrise at 7:08.
Monday’s sunset finds only Venus visible. Through December, Venus grows brighter, longer and thinner. Monday evening it is nineteen degrees above the horizon; binoculars or telescope shows it to be a third illuminated. Venus sets at 7:12 PM.
Shortly after Monday’s nightfall, the Moon turned “New.” Tuesday’s civil twilight exhibits a very thin lunar crescent eight degrees above the southwestern horizon. This one-day-old Moon presents a challenge to observers, since it is low and sets at 5:23 PM.
Uranus and Neptune remain in Pisces and Aquarius. Astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide observing guides. Neptune sets at 10:47 PM, Uranus at 1:52 AM.
Jupiter rises about 7 PM and, by 9, is high enough for observation. The giant planet continues to glow near the knee of Pollux, one of the twin stars in Gemini. Midnight sees Leo, the Lion, rise high enough for observation. Leo contains a challenge object, Comet Nevski. The comet is named for one of the co-discoverers of Comet ISON. ISON was found in 2012, while this new comet was located in 2013. Nevski, at fifteenth magnitude, is a challenge object for people with large telescopes. Comet Nevski is about six degrees above Regulus, Leo’s brightest star.
Mars rises after Midnight, residing below Leo’s tail and within Virgo’s head. Mars is easily identified by its distinctive orange color; it brightens slightly this month.
Saturn, rising before Dawn, in Libra, is fourteen degrees above the horizon. Mercury also rises during Dawn. It is the brightest object in the Southeast, about 10 degrees below Saturn on Tuesday, and 11 degrees below on Wednesday.
The pre-Dawn sky is busy with comets. Besides faint Comet Nevski in Leo, there is a binocular comet. It is named Comet Lovejoy. At eighth magnitude, it should be a blur in binoculars and finder telescopes. It is located about three-and-a-half degrees east of the star Nekkar, the top star in Bootes. Again astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide charts.
The comet that everybody is interested in, Comet ISON, is still uncertain. The comet attempted to swing around the Sun on Thanksgiving afternoon. Webcasts depicted the comet entering the Sun’s glare, but failed to emerge. Professional astronomers were pessimistic. However, later satellite images indicated a tiny fragment survived. It is unknown whether that fragment will be visible to amateurs. Check astronomy websites for updated information
The Moon reached last quarter this past Monday and is now moving toward new, which occurs late Monday. On Saturday morning a slender crescent Moon will be visible low in the southeast as dawn breaks, about midway between Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the Virgin, and Saturn. By Sunday a thin crescent will be low in the south southeast just before sunrise, with Saturn above the Moon and Mercury well to its lower left.
You’ll need a good view to the south southeast to spot the trio around 6:00 am. By 6:30 they will be higher, but the increasing twilight glow will make the two planets harder to spot. Mercury is more than a magnitude brighter than Saturn, but deeper into the twilight glow. Which planet can you follow the longest?
Brilliant Venus continues to linger low in the southwestern sky just after sunset. Even a modest telescope will reveal it as a fat crescent. Its brilliance and low altitude, with the telescope looking through a thick layer of image distorting atmosphere, will likely result in a shimmering view of our sister planet, probably with some dancing colors around it. Most refracting telescopes do not focus the blue and red ends of the spectrum well, so such a bright target will be surrounded by a purplish glow. Add the thick atmosphere acting like a prism on bright Venus, and it can be a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope.
Venus is now rapidly catching up with Earth as it travels around the Sun on its faster, inner orbit. As it catches up, it grows in apparent size and we see less and less of its sunlit face. By the end of December Venus will be a thin crescent very low in the west southwest just after sunset, and the crescent will be large enough to see in steadily held binoculars.
If you have an aspiring astronomer on your gift list, there are some excellent introductions to the night sky and amateur astronomy. Terence Dickinson’s “Nightwatch” is one of the best. Dickinson, with Alan Dyer, also authored “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide,” which provides a more thorough and technical introduction. Both books have excellent coverage of the tools of amateur astronomy and the sights that can be enjoyed in the night sky.
Perhaps that aspiring astronomer is a youngster. If so, you’ll find some excellent suggestions at "Books for Young Astronomers". .
The 22% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 1:36 p.m. EST on Wednesday. Crescent Venus, now shining at magnitude -4.33, can be easily seen approximately 15 degrees above the southwestern horizon in the constellation Sagittarius after sunset. Jupiter rises around 7:20 p.m. in Gemini, at the same time the Great Red Spot begins its transit across the gas giant planet. Jupiter’s moon, Io, is eclipsed by the planet’s shadow at 9:04 p.m. EST. Mars rises at 1 a.m. Thursday in Virgo, followed by the Moon approximately one hour later. Comet Lovejoy, now shining at magnitude 7.99, can be found above the northeastern horizon before dawn on Thursday, by extending the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle approximately 10 degrees, or the width of a fist at arm’s length. Comet Lovejoy made its closest approach to Earth at a distance of 36.8 million miles on November 19th. Comet Lovejoy is expected to reach magnitude 4.5 and reaches perihelion on December 22nd at a distance of .81 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of the Earth to the Sun. The comet that has been the focus of the most interest is Comet ISON. Comet ISON reaches perihelion on Thursday at approximately 2 p.m. EST, about 730,000 miles from the Sun. As Comet ISON catapults around the Sun, it will reach a speed of 845,000 miles per hour. Its closest approach to Earth will be 28 million miles on December 28th. The Great Comet of 1680 was seen at noon, 2 degrees from the Sun, on its perihelion, as its tail grew 70 to 90 degrees long!
There are three possible scenarios for the destiny of Comet ISON.
1. Comet ISON may disintegrate sometime before perihelion. It may occur while lost in the glow or too close to the Sun to see, but NASA’s satellites will record the event and obtain valuable data.
2. At Comet ISON’s closest approach to the Sun, temperatures will reach 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Sun’s heat could vaporize the comet or the Sun’s gravity could pull it apart.
3. Comet ISON could survive its trip around the Sun sporting a loooong tail for all to see!
If Comet ISON does survive its trek around the Sun, it will appear in the evening sky around mid-December.
The Sun sets at 4:25 PM; night falls at 6:05. Dawn breaks at 5:21 AM and ends with sunrise at 7:01.
As the Sun sets Venus is the sole visible planet. Moderately low in the southwest, Venus blazes at -4.6 magnitude and appears about one-third illuminated in large binoculars or telescopes. Nightfall finds Venus joined by Neptune and Uranus. Neptune still appears in Aquarius, and Uranus remains in Pisces. Astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide observing maps. Venus sets about 7:14 PM. Jupiter rises around 7:30 PM, and, by 9, is high enough for observation. Binocular observers can see the moon Ganymede disappear into Jupiter’s shadow at 10:11 PM Monday. Telescopic sky watchers can witness, on Tuesday, at 11:47 PM, the moon Io’s shadow beginning to cross Jupiter’s face, followed by Io itself marching across the planet at 12:40 AM.
The Last Quarter Moon rises at 11:55 PM Tuesday, and 12:53 AM Wednesday. Mars rises shortly after the Moon and appears between Leo’s hind leg and Virgo’s head. Last Monday, NASA launched MAVEN, a space probe that will study Mars for clues as to why its atmosphere virtually vanished.
By Dawn, Comets Lovejoy and Nevski appear in northern skies. Lovejoy appears as an eighth magnitude blur six-and-a-half degrees below the Big Dipper’s handle; do not mistake it for two nearby galaxies. Comet Nevski is a tenth magnitude haze about five degrees above the star Regulus in Leo. Both are borderline binocular objects, and definitely visible in telescopes. Saturn and Mercury emerge from the Sun’s glare at Dawn and can be spotted low in the Southeast. The two planets are about ten degrees above the horizon and separated by a third of a degree. Both will fit in binoculars or a finder telescope. Mercury is brighter and below Saturn. Training a telescope reveals Saturn and its rings, while Mercury is half Saturn’s size and about 82 percent illuminated. This is Mercury’s best appearance in our northern sky for the year.
Comet ISON lies about ten degrees below the Saturn-Mercury duo. ISON is very low on the horizon, requiring a view free of obstruction. In addition, the comet rises about 6:24 AM and is soon lost in the Sun’s glare. In three days, ISON will approach and try to swing around the Sun. Astronomers are uncertain if the comet will survive to appear in our morning sky.
Comet ISON is now very low in the south southeast, rising just after dawn breaks, and competing with the increasing glow of morning twilight as it rises higher. Look for it at 6:00 am Saturday morning, when it will be the lower right of Mercury. Mercury will be just 6.5 degrees above the horizon and you’ll need a good clear view to the south southeast free of clouds and haze. Binoculars may aid in the search for the comet. From Mercury, Comet ISON will be at about four o’clock, and five degrees away. (A fist held at arms length spans 10 degrees across the knuckles.) Also note Saturn to the lower left of Mercury.
By Sunday morning ISON will only be 1.5 degrees above the horizon at 6:00 am, at the 5 o’clock position from Mercury. By 6:30 it will have risen to 6 degrees, but the eastern sky will be brighter. Look at 6:30 am Monday. ISON will be just over 3.5 degrees above the horizon, and a bit right of directly below Mercury. It may be swallowed by the glow of encroaching dawn, but we could also be pleasantly surprised.
While much news has been focused on Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy is quite nice in binoculars and faintly visible by eye. Lovejoy is also high in the sky and near the well know pattern of stars know as the Big Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Major or the Great Bear).
Look for the Dipper high in the east around 5:00 am. You’ll see the Dipper standing upright on its handle. On Saturday morning, aim your binoculars between the middle two stars in the handle, and then scan to the right. You should soon come to a conspicuous ball of light. This is the head of Lovejoy. If you look carefully, you may see a faint tail going upward. If you are familiar with the sky, you can also find the comet by looking just to the left of the upper star in Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs.
If you go out Sunday morning at 5:00 am, start by aiming your binoculars between the two end stars in the handle, and scan to the right. On Monday start just above the end star in the handle and move to the right. On Monday, Comet Lovejoy will be half way between the end star in the Dipper’s handle, and Cor Caroli, the brightest star in Canes Venatici. Cor Caroli will be the most obvious star to the right of the Big Dipper’s handle.
It may be possible to spot Comet Lovejoy by eye alone. This writer could see it on Wednesday morning, even with a bright Moon in the sky. The Moon is getting fainter every night, but it is also moving closer to Lovejoy’s position in the sky.
Comets are unpredictable, so it’s worth keeping an eye on them, especially ISON as it moves closer to the Sun.
“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.” – Edwin Hubble, born November 20, 1889
With the distant images now provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, it’s amazing to think that as recent as one hundred years ago, it was thought that the known universe consisted of one galaxy, our Milky Way. It was Edwin Hubble, who in 1924, looking through the 100-inch Hooker Telescope on Mount Wilson, changed that perception. Hubble observed many other galaxies, all moving away from each other. Through these observations, Hubble provided the first evidence of the expanding universe and the theory the universe had began at a single point, known as “The Big Bang Theory”.
The closest galaxy to our Milky Way is Andromeda, or M31. The Andromeda Galaxy can be seen with the naked eye, and at approximately 2.5 million light years away, is the farthest object that can be seen unaided. Andromeda’s apparent magnitude, a measure of brightness as seen from Earth without the interference of atmosphere, is 3.44. Although distant, Andromeda’s brightness is a factor of its estimated billions of stars and its size. Andromeda is 120,000 light years across. You can locate the Andromeda Galaxy by drawing a line from Polaris, the North Star, through the deep “V” in Cassiopeia, which is the star, Shedir, and continue about 3 extended fist lengths, or approximately 30 degrees, to Andromeda. At 6 p.m. EST Wednesday evening, Andromeda will be about 55 degrees above the eastern horizon. At the same time, Venus will be setting over the southwestern horizon.
The 90% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon rises at 7:09 p.m. in the constellation Gemini. Look for Jupiter to the Moon’s lower left. Thursday night, around midnight, the Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter. Jupiter’s moon, Io, will reappear from behind the planet at 11:27 p.m. Wednesday night. On Thursday, Io, and its shadow can be seen crossing Jupiter below the Great Red Spot at 6 p.m., and Europa will disappear into the planet’s shadow at 7:09 p.m. EST.
Mars rises at 1 a.m. on Thursday. Before dawn, Virgo’s brightest star Spica, will rise at approximately 4:30 followed by Mercury and Saturn. You will require a clear east-southeastern horizon to see Comet ISON above and to the right of Mercury. This could be one of the last opportunities to see Comet ISON before it is lost in the Sun’s glow and onto its uncertain future.
On Friday, November 22nd at 7 p.m., the Dudley Observatory will be hosting a discussion and update on Comet ISON followed by a Star Party at the Octagonal Barn. Directions to the barn in Delanson, NY can be found at http://www.dudleyobservatory.org/index.html.
The Sun sets at 4:30 PM; night falls at 8:08. Dawn breaks at 5:13 AM and ends with sunrise at 6:52.
Venus is the only bright planet in the darkening sky. It is found moderately low in the South. In binoculars and telescopes, Venus grows brighter and larger, but presents a slimmer crescent. At nightfall, Venus appears very close to the star Nunki, in Sagittarius. Venus sets at 7:12 PM.
Nightfall also witnesses the Milky Way arch overhead from northeast to southwest. However, the view will not last long. The Moon, one day past “Full,” rises at 5:30 PM and soon overwhelms the dimmer stars. Uranus and Neptune also become visible at this time. They remain in Pisces and Aquarius, respectively. Astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide observing guides.
By 9 PM, the Moon is moderately high between the horns of Taurus, the Bull. Tuesday finds the Moon near the tip of the lower horn. The annual Leonid meteor shower peaked Sunday; however, the Moon’s brilliance will probably render all but the brightest fireballs invisible.
Jupiter rose at 8 PM and is found near Pollux’s knee, in Gemini. By Midnight, Jupiter is well placed for observation. At 12:40 AM, binocular and telescopic observers can witness the moon Io disappear into Jupiter’s shadow and reappear at 4 AM. Wednesday, at 12:08 AM, Io emerges from the Jovian shadow, followed by Europa’s shadow beginning to cross Jupiter at 12:44 AM.
Mars rose after 1 AM and, by Dawn, is high enough for observation. Mars also brightens and grows slightly larger. The Red Planet appears near Leo’s hind leg.
As mentioned last week, four comets are in the Dawn sky. Two have brightened, and two are now very challenging. Comet Lovejoy has brightened to 6.5 magnitude, making it borderline naked eye visible. Binocular users can see it near the hind leg of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Comet ISON also shines brighter, at magnitude 7.5. This makes it also easier for binocular and telescope users. ISON lies about eight degrees below the bright star Spica in Virgo. Reports say ISON has doubled the length of its tail, and also sports a second tail. Some Capital District binocular observers saw Comet ISON Friday morning from semirural towns. Comet LINEAR is difficult, due to its dim thirteenth magnitude. Comet Encke is too low to be seen.
Reaching full on Sunday, a bright waxing gibbous Moon will dominate the night sky on Friday and Saturday nights. Look for the Moon low toward the east as darkness falls. The full Moon of November is called the Beaver Moon or the Frost Moon – the Beaver Moon because this was the last chance to set traps before streams and ponds froze over.
It’s fun to watch the full Moon rising over a distant horizon. It often appears orange or even red. Our atmosphere scatters the blue end of the spectrum, which is why the sky is blue. Down near the horizon, where the light passes through a thicker layer of atmosphere, there is even more scattering and loss of light toward the blue, and the resulting predominance of red, orange, and yellow light colors the rising Moon. The full Moon rises at 4:51 pm in the east northeast on Sunday.
Near the horizon, the Moon often appears unusually large. This is purely an illusion. It has often been attributed to its proximity to objects on the horizon, but the illusion persists over an ocean or desert horizon. Even the constellations look larger when near the horizon.
Brilliant Venus, now shining at magnitude -4.5, continues to dominate the southwestern sky just after sunset. Venus is 9 degrees above the horizon at 6:00 pm and sets at 7:11. A telescope would reveal Venus appears a little less than half full.
Bright Jupiter rises in the north northeast at 8:12 pm. By 11 pm the gas giant is just over 28 degrees above the horizon and a good object for telescopic observations. Even a modest telescope will show some dark bands crossing the planet. Most obvious are the dark north and south equatorial belts, above and below the lighter equatorial zone. The darker north and south polar regions are also fairly easy to see. Jupiter is best seen when due south and highest, when we look through a thinner lawyer of atmosphere. Right now, this is at 3:46 am, when Jupiter will be just less than 70 degrees above the horizon.
Any telescope will show Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as stars to either side of the planet. These moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, were discovered in 1610 by Galileo, who was the first to aim a telescope at the night sky and record his observations. They are often called the Galilean moons. The rest of Jupiter’s 66 moons are beyond the visual reach of amateur telescopes.
The 85% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises at 2:24 p.m. EST on Wednesday. At 10 p.m., the Moon passes 3 degrees north of Uranus in the constellation Pisces. Shining at magnitude 5.7, Uranus is the faintest of the planets visible to the naked eye. With the bright Moon close by, binoculars will provide a better view of Uranus, or waiting until the Moon is no longer an impediment. Sir William Herschel discovered Uranus in March of 1781 using a 160mm reflector telescope while looking for binary stars. Herschel, at first thought the fuzzy disk was a comet, until he observed the speed at which the planet moved against the background stars. Other astronomers, like John Flamsteed, had observed Uranus before Herschel, but categorized the planet incorrectly as a star. Sky and Telescope provides charts for finding Uranus and Neptune for the remaining of 2013 and throughout 2014. You can find the charts by accessing the following URL: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights/Uranus-and-Neptune-in-2013-190064991.html
After sunset, look approximately 15 degrees above the southwestern horizon for bright Venus. Venus’ 42% illuminated, waning crescent disk can be seen through binoculars or small telescopes. As Venus is setting, the Pleiades star cluster is rising in the east in the constellation Taurus. To the north of the Pleiades is Auriga’s brightest star, and the third brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, Capella. Appearing to be a single star to the naked eye, golden-yellow Capella is actually a pair of binary stars, but the stars are too close to be split by most telescopes. The separation was first observed by J.A. Anderson using the 100-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson. Capella is the closest of the first magnitude stars to the northern pole.
Jupiter rises at 8:20 p.m. EST in the Gemini, to the lower right of the constellations brightest stars, Castor and Pollux. Mars rises below the constellation Leo at 1 a.m. EST Thursday. Comet ISON is now approximately 20 degrees below Mars and 10 degrees above Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Mercury rises at 5:30 a.m. and can be seen to the lower left of Spica.
The Sun sets at 4:36 PM; night falls at 6:13. Dawn breaks at 5:06 AM and ends with sunrise at 6:43.
The nine-day-old Moon rose in early afternoon Monday, and by civil twilight, is the brightest object in the southeastern sky; Tuesday’s Moon appears about three-quarters illuminated.
Venus, the next brightest, glows moderately low in the southwestern constellation of Sagittarius and sets after 7 PM.
Civil twilight finds Neptune and Uranus in Aquarius and Pisces, respectively. However, the brilliant Moon nearby will probably overwhelm these distant members of our Solar System. Jupiter rose at 8:27 PM and hovers near Pollux’s knee in Gemini. By 10 PM, Jupiter is high enough for observation. Telescope observers can witness the moon Io’s disappearance behind Jupiter at 10:47 PM and see it reappear at 2:11 Tuesday morning.
Comet Lovejoy rises after 10 PM and, by Midnight, should be high enough for observation. Internet reports are that it is about eighth magnitude near Leo’s nose – bright enough for telescopic views.
By Dawn, Mars is 40 degrees high, near Leo’s hind feet. Mars is starting to become bigger and brighter in our telescopes. Besides Mars and Jupiter, Comet Lovejoy, as mentioned, is reportedly visible, as is ninth magnitude Comet ISON about three-and-a-half degrees West of Virgo’s star Porrima, Comet Linear three degrees from Arcturus in Bootes and Comet Encke six-and-half degrees from Spica in Virgo. Observing aids for these comets can be found in astronomy magazines and websites.
Although the Chelyabinsk meteor happened this past February 15th, repercussions continue through the scientific community. The meteor was far bigger than originally estimated – now at 19 meters (62 feet) – and weighing at 12,000 metric tons. As it blazed in the morning sky, it shone 30 times brighter than the Sun and sent shockwaves 30 kilometers in diameter. The event forced astronomers to drastically revise their estimates of how frequently asteroids hit earth; now they say about every 25 years. If that is true, how did we miss witnessing so many? The answer is that since Earth is 70 percent water, most splashed harmlessly into oceans. The US already has a search for potentially harmful asteroids. However, they were concentrating on large bodies, not bus-sized rocks. Now NASA and others are planning to widen their searches for Chelyabinsk-sized rocks as well as mountain-sized ones.
Dudley Observatory will hold a Skywatch Lecture and Urban Star Party on Friday evening at miSci. At 7:00 pm Dr. Harry Ringermacher will speak on “Discovering Planets around Other Suns.” Weather permitting; his talk will be followed at 8:00 pm by an Urban Star Party, with telescopes set up on the museum patio to provide guests with views of celestial sights. A donation of $5 to $10 is suggested for this event.
For further details, visit Dudley Observatory's Website.
The Moon reaches first quarter very early Sunday, so the early evening sky will be graced by a waxing Moon. As darkness falls Friday night, a fat crescent Moon will be in the south southwest. Moonset is just before 10 pm. By Saturday night the Moon will be toward the south as darkness falls, and the Moon will be a little less than half illuminated. It will set just after 11 pm. Sunday’s Moon will be a bit more than half full, and set after midnight.
This weekend would be an ideal time to turn a telescope toward the Moon. Craters and mountains are most prominent along the terminator, the line dividing the sunlit and dark portions of the Moon. This is the sunrise line now, where the Sun is low in the lunar sky and shadows are longest, bringing details into bold relief.
Venus continues to dominate the southwestern sky just after sunset; It sits just over eight degrees above the horizon at 6:00 pm and sets at 7:08 pm. Venus is the second brightest object in our night sky, only the Moon is brighter. This evening appearance of Venus sees the planet moving unusually far south, and never getting very high above the horizon.
Venus is sometimes called our “Sister Planet,” because it is our closest planetary neighbor and similar is size and composition to our Earth. Conditions on its surface, however, are quite different. The atmospheric pressure is almost 100 times that of Earth. It is the hottest planet in our solar system, with a mean surface temperature over 850 degrees Fahrenheit.
The weather did not cooperate with the sunrise partial solar eclipse on November 3 and I have heard not reports of anyone seeing it from the Capital District region. It was, however, visible from New York City and photographer Chris Cook’s took a wonderful photograph. From here, the Moon would have covered a bit less of the Sun.
On November 6, 1572, Wolfgang Schuler observed a supernova in the constellation Cassiopeia. The supernova was noticed on November 11th by Tycho Brahe, who began to record the appearance. Brahe’s observations led to the book that gained him fame, “Stella Nova”. For weeks, this new star was brighter than any other in the sky and visible in daytime. Brahe wrote of the new supernova, “I noticed that a new and unusual star, surpassing all others in brilliancy, was shining almost directly over my head; and since I had, almost from boyhood, known all the stars of the heavens perfectly, it was quite evident to me that there had never before been any star in that place in the sky, even the smallest, to say nothing of a star so conspicuously bright as this.”. Recently, 10 year old Canadian, Nathan Gray, discovered a 600 million year old supernova in the constellation Draco, making Nathan the youngest to discover a supernova. Nathan’s sister also discovered a supernova when she was 10, and only 33 days older than when Nathan discovered his supernova. Supernovae occur when a star culminates in an explosion at the end of its stellar life. A supernova hasn’t been observed in our galaxy since Kepler’s Star in 1604, but remnants indicate a supernova occurs in the Milky Way about three times each century, and some astronomers have predicted that supernova within the Milky Way galaxy may be visible in the next 50 years.
On Wednesday, the Moon reaches perigee, its closest distance from Earth this month, at 57.28 earth-radii or 227,094 miles away. After sunset, look above the southwestern horizon for the 15% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon, approximately 7 degrees to the upper right of Venus. If you are fortunate to be under dark skies, Venus will appear to be steaming from Sagittarius’ Teapot asterism. According to Sky & Telescope, on Thursday, Venus will reach its farthest southern declination (-27° 10’) since 1930. Venus will not be this far south until November 2021. Jupiter rises minutes before 9 p.m. EST in the constellation Gemini. On Thursday at 2 p.m. EST, Jupiter will be stationary and begins its westward or retrograde motion as the Earth catches up to Jupiter in its orbit. As we pass Jupiter and look back at the giant planet, it will appear to make a loop against the background stars over the next four months. Mars rises at 1:17 p.m. EST on Thursday.
The Dudley Observatory invites you to join them at their new home in the Museum of Innovation and Science (miSci) in Schenectady on Friday, November 8th at 7 p.m., for a Skywatch Lecture by Dr. Harry Ringermacher. Dr. Ringermacher’s topic will be “Discovering Planets Around Other Suns”.
Now that Standard Time is back in effect, the Sun sets at 4:44 PM; night falls at 6:20. Dawn begins at 4:58 AM and ends with sunrise taking place at 6:35.
As the sky darkens, Venus is the brightest object in the southwestern sky. Observing with a telescope just after sunset, a person could see that Venus is about half illuminated. This month, Venus grows brighter and larger, but presents an increasingly slimmer crescent. Venus is at the greatest separation from the Sun, and the lowest in the sky since 1930. Venus sets after 7 PM.
Monday’s Moon, usually the brightest object in the sky, takes second place. At -1 magnitude, Venus easily outshines it with -4.4 magnitude. Monday night, the two-day-old Moon hugs the southwestern horizon; Tuesday finds it closer to Venus, fatter and slightly brighter than Venus.
Nightfall witnesses Neptune and Uranus at their usual stations in Aquarius and Pisces. Astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide finder charts.
If the sky watcher sees meteors coming from the northeast, these are likely from the Taurid meteor shower. The Taurids are sparse; the occasional fireball makes up for the low meteor count. The Taurids last from mid-October to mid-November.
By Midnight, Jupiter is moderately high in the East; it is the brightest object in Gemini. For telescope observers, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a giant storm, is visible at 1:28 AM, Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, at 22 minutes past Midnight,
the moon Io reappears from behind Jupiter; at 9:55 PM, the ice covered moon Europa begins to cross Jupiter’s face.
Mars rises after 1 AM, and, by Dawn is high enough for observation. But Mars and Jupiter are not the only Solar System members visible. Four comets are detectable in the pre-sunrise hours. Comet ISON is about three degrees from Beta Virginis on Tuesday morning and half that on Wednesday. ISON is about 10th magnitude. Comet Lovejoy brightened by 250 times to reach eight magnitude; it lies about four degrees from the Beehive star cluster in Cancer. Comet Encke, also eighth magnitude, is about six-and-a-half degrees from Porrima in Virgo. Finally, Comet Linear, also eighth magnitude, lies about seven degrees from Arcturus, in Bootes. Comets ISON, Lovejoy, Encke and Linear are observable in medium sized telescopes. Some, however, are low and may require a clear eastern horizon.
A thin crescent Moon graces the morning sky before dawn, so the evening sky is dark and moonless, making this weekend a perfect time for stargazing.
Weather permitting; the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will hold public star party at Landis Arboretum in Esperance at 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2. A variety of telescopes will be set up by club members to provide guests with views of star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars, and other celestial sights. Star parties are open to all and there is no admission fee. There will be a short introductory program in front of the meeting house. For those interested, there will also be a tour of the fall constellations.
Star parties last at least an hour and usually go much longer if the skies are clear. You are welcome to stay as long or as briefly as you like. Be sure to dress warmly. It feels 20 to 30 degrees colder when you are standing under clear night skies. Having extra warm clothing on hand is better than being uncomfortable.
For directions to Landis Arboretum see this link. The star party will be canceled if the skies are mostly cloudy. If in doubt, call 374-8460.
This weekend we set our clocks back to return to standard time. So don’t forget to turn your clocks back an hour before bed on Saturday night, and enjoy your extra hour!
If the skies are clear, and you have a good view to the east southeast, you have chance to spot a partial solar eclipse as the Sun rises on Sunday morning. From Albany, the Sun rises at 6:32 am EST and maximum eclipse is at 6:33 am EST. By 6:50 the Sun will be just over two degrees above the horizon and the Moon’s bite out of the Sun should be easy to spot using a safe solar filter. The eclipse ends at 7:12 am. (The times will not differ much for people in the rest of the Capital District region.)
Make sure you are set to safely observe the Sun! Your retina does not feel pain and it does not heal, so read the information below and check the Sky & Telescope link about safe solar viewing. If in doubt, enjoy the eclipse online at the SLOOH website. You’ll be able to see more of the eclipse there too, but coverage will start earlier.
The easiest way to safely observe the Sun is through a shade #14 welders glass or a pair of eclipse glasses, which some of you may have from a previous eclipse. A shade #14 welders glass is available at many welding supply shops, but call ahead – some don’t carry this darker glass. The 2 inch by 4-1/4 inch plate is inexpensive and can easily be held in front of both eyes to safely observe the Sun. (The welders glass is not safe for use with a telescope.)
Sky & Telescope has more information on the eclipse here. Be sure you also read their article about viewing the Sun safely.
The Moon is moving toward last quarter, which it will reach at 7:41 pm Saturday. A slightly gibbous Moon rises at 11:18 Friday evening, and a slightly crescent Moon on Saturday at 12:15 am. By Monday morning’s moonrise at 1:13 am the crescent phase should be obvious. The early evening hours this weekend will be dark and moonless, making them ideal for star gazing.
By 8:00 pm the last hints of evening twilight will be gone and the sky completely dark. If you are away from city lights and the effects of light pollution, the Milky Way will be visible as a hazy band of light stretching from the southwest horizon, passing overhead, and then headed down toward the northeastern horizon. The Milky Way is most obvious in the southern half of the sky, and it has quite a bit of structure.
Look high overhead for the star pattern of Cygnus, the Swan. Bright Deneb marks the Swan’s tail, and his long neck stretches south southwestward. Pairs of stars to either side of the star just south of Deneb mark the outstretched wings. The double star Albireo, a pretty and colorful sight at low power in any telescope, marks his head. Part of Cygnus is known to many as the Northern Cross.
Note how the Milky Way is divided into two bands of light starting in Cygnus and going toward the south. The darkness dividing it is known as the Great Rift. It is a series of molecular dust clouds between us and the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way, blocking the light of the stars beyond.
The hazy band of light we call the Milky Way is simply the combined light of many distant stars as we look along the plane of our galaxy. Binoculars and a lawn chair are great tools for exploring the beauty of the Milky Way, showing hordes of stars and groups of stars invisible to the unaided eye.
Venus continues to dominate the southwestern sky just after sunset, appearing just eight degrees above the horizon at 7:00 pm. Our sister planet, similar in size to Earth, sets just after 8:00 pm. Like the Moon, planets closer to the Sun than our planet show phases. Through a telescope Venus now appears slightly more than half full. In its trip around the Sun it is now catching up with Earth, and will move lower in the evening sky in November and December. It will also grow larger and move toward a thin crescent.
Early risers will find bright Jupiter high in the southeast. Any modest astronomical telescope or spotting scope will show its four brightest moons, appearing as stars to either side of the planet.
Astronomer Ernest Julius Öpik was born in Estonia on October 23, 1893. Öpik was best known for his studies of the solar system’s minor bodies, meteors, asteroids and comets. Öpik correctly predicted comets originated from a cloud beyond Pluto, now known as the Oort Cloud. Öpik was also the first to determine the Andromeda nebula’s distance from Earth. During an expedition in Arizona with Harlow Shapely, Öpik detected approximately 22,000 meteors. Astrologers will tell you that the Sun enters the astrological sign Scorpio on October 23rd. Astronomers will correctly inform you the Sun is still in Virgo. The reason Astrologers are misinformed, and misinforming, is due to the gradual change in the Earth’s rotational axis, known as precession. This slow movement of the Earth, like the wobble of a top, takes place over a 26,000 year period. The Sun may have been in front of the background stars of Scorpio at this time years ago, but it isn’t now. So, think twice if you think you are a “Scorpio”, and how that may affect your life. On Wednesday, the 80% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon sets at 11:36 a.m. EDT. Venus appears approximately 15 degrees above the southwest horizon after sunset. Venus shines at magnitude -4.2 and a telescopic view will show the planet 54% illuminated. A bright International Space Station pass will occur over our region at 7:49 p.m. Wednesday evening. Look for the ISS emerging from the west-northwest horizon and sail under the Big Dipper before fading into Earth’s shadow before reaching Polaris. With the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus high in the northeast, the Double Cluster, or Caldwell 14, is a wonderful binocular or small telescope target. The Double Cluster consists of open clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884. Each cluster has about 300 blue-white super giant stars. The estimated age of the stars is 12.8 million years old, compared with the stars of the Pleiades star cluster at 75 to 150 million years of age. Look for the Double Cluster between Cassiopeia and Perseus, but closest to the shallower “V” within Cassiopeia. Moonrise occurs in the constellation Orion at 10:19 p.m. followed by Jupiter in Gemini at10:40 p.m. EDT. Mars rises at 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Comet ISON will be about 2 degrees to the lower left of Mars. The latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope indicate the comet is still intact. On Friday, October 25th, the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting a public Star Watch at the Deerfield Pavilion in Grafton Lake State Park. Directions to the park can be found at http://www.dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/Directions.html.
On October 16, 1982, Halley’s Comet was observed and recorded for the 30th time. Astronomers using the 200-inch Hale Telescope at the Mount Palomar Observatory located the comet beyond the orbit of Saturn, about 11 astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun. Halley’s Comet is a short-period comet and is visible from Earth every 76 years and will appear again in mid-2061. The latest data on Comet ISON indicates it will survive its close encounter with the Sun on November 28th and provide us with naked eye views in December. On Wednesday, the 95% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises in the constellation Pisces around 5 p.m. EDT. As the sky darkens, Venus will appear over the southwestern horizon. Scorpius’ red supergiant star, Antares, will be approximately 2 degrees below Venus. Between Venus and Antares is 22 Scorpii, a blue star 413 light years away and shining at magnitude 4.79. Saturn and Mercury will be lower on the west-southwestern horizon. Jupiter rises a few minutes after 11 p.m. in the constellation Gemini, flanked by Castor and Pollux to the north and Orion’s brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel to the east. Mars rises around 2:30 a.m. in the constellation Leo and will be about 2 degrees below Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. Comet ISON can be found one degree to the north of Mars. On Thursday evening, Uranus will be 3.3 degrees north of the nearly Full Moon. Celebrate the Full Hunter’s Moon Friday night with the Dudley Observatory and Albany Area Amateur Astronomers. We will host a talk and telescope observing at the Octagonal Barn in Knox. Click here for directions.
The Moon is new at 8:35 pm on Friday so the weekend skies will be dark and moonless – perfect for enjoying the beauty of the star strewn sky.
Landis Arboretum in Esperance is away from the lights of our larger cities, and the open field near the meeting house provides a fine view of the sky. It makes a superb setting for public star parties held by the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers, and the club will host observing at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, October 4 and 5. These events are free and open to all ages. Star parties are canceled if the skies are mostly cloudy. (If in doubt, call 37-8460.)
At a star party club members set up a variety of telescopes to provide guests with views of various celestial sights, including star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and galaxies. There will also be a brief introductory program near the meeting house at 8:20 followed by a short constellation tour for those interested. There is no set ending time for star parties, and club members often stay quite late if the skies are clear. You’re welcome for a short visit or a long one.
You don’t need anything special to attend a star party, but it is very important to dress warmly. People are used to being out in the cold when they are active. When you are standing under the clear night sky it feels 20 to 30 degrees colder, and having extra warm clothing along is far better than being cold and uncomfortable. A warm hat is essential.
Directions to Landis are at http://dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/Directions.html.
A young Moon will return to the early evening sky on Sunday, but you’ll need an excellent, unobstructed view to the west southwest to spot it. Look just above the west southwestern horizon at 7:00 pm. The slender crescent Moon will be just three degrees above the horizon. (For reference, if you hold your pinkie at arm’s length, it spans one degree at its tip.) Mercury will be just to the lower left of the Moon, two degrees away and two degrees above the horizon.
The Moon will be higher and not far from brilliant Venus on Monday and Tuesday nights.
On October 2, 1608, Johannes Lippershey demonstrated the first refracting telescope. An apprentice of Lippershey had discovered that, by separating a long focal-lens and a short focal-lens in front of the eye, distant objects were magnified. Galileo replicated this product to study the cosmos, and at a banquet on April 14, 1611 honoring him, a guest called the new optical instrument a “telescope.” On Wednesday, the 5% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 5:11 p.m. EDT. After sunset, look to the west-southwest for Mercury low on the horizon. Saturn can be found approximately 6 degrees above Mercury and bright Venus, now shining at magnitude -3.77, will be about 15 degrees south of Saturn. Venus sets a few minutes after 8 p.m. EDT. As Venus is setting, you will notice a bright star 15 degrees above the western horizon. That star is Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. At magnitude -0.04, Arcturus is the fourth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest star north of the celestial equator. At a distance of about 37 light years, Arcturus is one our Sun’s nearest neighbors. Its diameter is 25 times that of the Sun and its luminosity approximately 115 times greater. Acturus is moving towards the constellation Virgo at the speed of 90 miles per second and is almost at its closest approach to our Sun. In about 4,000 years, Arcturus will be a hundredth of a light year closer to Earth than it is today. Using the proper coordinates, Arcturus can be seen in the daytime sky with a telescope, as it was by astronomer Jean-Bastiste Morin for the first time in 1635. Jupiter rises just before midnight on Wednesday. The shadow of Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, can be seen transiting the planet until 1:30 a.m. At 5.26 a.m., there will only be one Galilean moon visible. Callisto, will be far off to one side of the planet. Ganymede and Io will be transiting, and Io’s shadow will be above Ganymede. Europa will be hidden behind Jupiter. Mars rises around 2:45 a.m. Thursday. Comet ISON can be located approximately 2 degrees to the upper left of Mars. Uranus reaches opposition at 10 a.m. EDT, and reaches its 2013 peak magnitude of 5.7. Look for Uranus rising in the constellation Pisces in the east after sunset. Uranus will appear as a bluish “star” 5 degrees south of Epsilon Piscium. On Thursday evening at 7 p.m., Venus will reach aphelion, its furthest distance from the Sun at .7282 Astronomical units, about 67.7 million miles away. The Zodiacal Light may be visible from October 3rd through the 16th in dark sky locations. Look for a tall, broad pyramid of light tilting right above the eastern horizon with Jupiter at its apex, 80 minutes to 2 hours before sunrise. Celebrate the New Moon by joining the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers for Star Parties this Friday and Saturday nights at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. Directions can be found at http://www.dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/Directions.html.
Wednesday’s moonrise occurs approximately 40 minutes prior to sunset. The Full Moon occurs at 7:13 a.m. Thursday morning when it is exactly opposite the Sun. Traditionally, the Full Moon occurring nearest the Autumnal Equinox is known as the Harvest Moon. During most of the year, moonrise occurs 50 minutes later each day, but during the time of the Harvest Moon, moonrise occurs 30 minutes later each night when the Moon’s path along the ecliptic is at its most acute angle to the horizon. At twilight on Wednesday evening, look to the west-southwestern horizon to see Venus passing 3.5 degrees below Saturn. Saturn will be to Venus’ upper right. This will be the closest the two planets will appear in our sky until January 9, 2016, when the two planets will be separated by less than 1 degree in the morning sky. A telescopic view of Venus will reveal a 67% illuminated, gibbous phase. Venus shines at magnitude -4.0 and will brighten to magnitude -4.5 by the end of the year as the planet’s distance from Earth decreases from .97 astronomical units to .32 astronomical units, or approximately 60.5 million miles. The pair will set one hour and 46 minutes after sunset. Jupiter rises in the constellation Gemini a half hour past midnight followed by Mars at 2:55 a.m. in Cancer. Comet ISON can be located about 2 degrees left of Mars. On Thursday morning, there will be a bright International Space Station pass at 4:41 a.m. over our region. The ISS will appear left of Polaris and travel northeast below the Big Dipper for approximately two and a half minutes before reaching the horizon. The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be providing solar views on Saturday, September 21st at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center’s Fall Festival beginning at noon. Joining club members will be Barlow Bob, a solar observing specialist who will be providing his expertise and a wide variety of safe solar observing instruments. We hope to see you there!
The Moon was at first quarter Thursday, so a waxing gibbous Moon will dominate the early night sky over the weekend. Moonset is at 12:57 am Saturday morning, 2:06 am Sunday, and 3:17 am Monday. The next Full Moon is on the morning of September 19.
This weekend we have two nice chances to see Tiangong 1, the Chinese space station, passing over the Capital District region. At first magnitude, it should be easy to spot gliding across the sky. On Friday night the station will pass directly overhead. It will first appear just after 7:51 pm in the western sky, and will be overhead seconds after 7:54. It will move into the Earth’s shadow and fade from view at 7:56:26 in the east. On its way up from the western horizon Tiangong will pass by bright Arcturus, the brightest star in Bootes, the Herdsman, and just at its reaches overhead it will pass close to bright Vega.
Saturday’s appearance of Tiangong will be later and the skies will be darker. It will appear rising up from the western sky at 8:15 pm, will be highest just before 8:18 when 61 degrees above the south southwestern horizon, and will vanish as it moves into the Earth’s shadow at 8:19 when 31 degrees above the southeastern horizon. Its path will again take it past Arcturus, and it will pass very close the Altair, the luminary of Aquila, the Eagle. There is no one aboard the Chinese space station now, but there are six crew members on the International Space Station, which now passes over our area in the morning sky. Early risers on Monday morning will have a fine view of the ISS as it passes high in the sky. When high in the sky, it will shine at magnitude -3.4, almost as bright as Venus appears in the early evening sky, and should be very easy to spot. The ISS will move out of the Earth’s shadow and come into view at 5:28:46 when 24 degrees above the west southwestern horizon. It will be highest at 5:30:36 when 83 degrees above the north northwestern horizon – essentially overhead – and will vanish at 5:34 in the northeast. It will pass through Aries just after moving out of the Earth’s shadow, and will pass through Perseus just before reaching its highest point.
We can see many satellites cruise across the sky during the hours just after sunset and just before dawn, when we are in the Earth’s shadow and they are still up in sunlight. On Friday night, for example, 24 satellites shining at magnitude 3.5 or brighter will be visible from here. Including satellites down to 5th magnitude, the number increases to 165.
The Moon reaches its First Quarter phase at 6:56 a.m. EDT on Wednesday and rises at 2:08 p.m. local time. The First Quarter phase is generally considered the best time to observe the Moon. It is during this phase when shadows provide detail of the features along the terminator, the dividing line between the illuminated and dark side of the Moon. Sunset occurs around 8 o’clock. At that time, Venus will begin to appear approximately 14 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon. Venus is shining at magnitude -3.8 and a telescopic view will reveal a waning gibbous phase. Venus will set at 9:25. Look for Saturn in the constellation Virgo, 23 degrees above the southwestern horizon, between Venus and the First Quarter Moon. Look left of the Moon for the constellation Scorpius low on the horizon, with its bright reddish star, Antares. Antares, or Alpha Scorpii, is the fifteenth brightest star in the night sky shining at magnitude 1.05, and is approximately 550 light years from Earth. This red supergiant star has a radius 850 times that of our Sun. Antares, meaning “anti-Mars” because of its similarity in color, is one of four 1st magnitude stars within 5 degrees of the ecliptic. The other 1st magnitude stars are Spica, Regulus and Aldebaran. Because of their proximity to the ecliptic, these stars are occasionally occulted by the Moon. The next lunar occultation of Antares won’t occur until 8/25/2023, but on October 5th of this year, Spica will be occulted by the two-day old crescent Moon. This occultation will be visible over North America. The Moon sets at 6 minutes past midnight. Jupiter rises at 2:32 a.m. followed by Mars about 40 minutes later, both within the constellation Gemini. On Thursday, August 15th, at 7:30 p.m., the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be having their monthly meeting at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. The meeting will be followed by a public Star Party. On Friday, The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers welcome you to join them at a public Star Party at Cherry Plain State Park. Directions to the park can be found at http://www.dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/Directions.html.
On July 31, 1971, astronaut Dave Scott became the first person to drive a vehicle on the Moon when he took the Lunar Rover out for a spin in the Hadley-Apennine region. The Lunar Rover traveled 17.4 miles and carried 168 pounds of lunar rocks. On Wednesday, the 30% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 3:30 p.m. EDT. Venus appears over the western horizon after sunset and sets at 9:45 p.m. EDT. Saturn will reveal itself approximately 30 degrees over the southwestern horizon after sunset and sets around midnight. After midnight, look above the southwestern horizon, toward the constellation Aquarius, for meteors emanating from the radiant of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower. The radiant can be found above the sole bright star, Fomalhaut, in the southwest. With the Moon absent from the night sky, expect to see approximately 10 meteors per hour away from city lights during this minor shower. Take advantage of the dark skies to observe the globular cluster, M2, in Aquarius. M2 shines at magnitude 6.5 and is about 50,000 light years from Earth. This globular cluster contains over 100,000 stars and spans 150 light-years. M2 can be located 5 degrees north of the star Beta Aquarii.
Friday, July 19th, marks the 200th day of the year. There are 165 days left in the year. The Sun rises at 5:34 and sets at 8:30.
The Moon is at gibbous phase, 3 to 1 days before full and rising in the southeast after sundown. Times of moonrise are 5:29 for Friday evening, 6:29 for Saturday evening, and 7:23 for Sunday evening. The Moon is at perigee on Sunday afternoon and becomes full on Monday afternoon.
Saturday, July 20th, marks yet another anniversary, the 44th to be precise, of the first humans to walk on the Moon with the landing of Apollo 11. The same day also marks the 37th anniversary of the landing of Viking 1 on Mars, the first spacecraft to successfully do so.
This weekend will cap the week with a number of close conjunctions between the planets and the stars and two wonderful photo-shoots of Earth from deep space.
Venus, at magnitude -3.9, will be setting in the west after sundown. On Sunday it will be 1.2 degrees above the star Regulus. Venus sets about 10:00 in the evening.
On Monday morning, one hour before sunrise, Mars, at magnitude 1.6, will be 8/10ths of a degree to the north of Jupiter, which shines at magnitude -1.9. Look to the east-northeast for the two planets rising low above the horizon. The nearly full Moon will be behind you setting in the west.
Saturn will be found in the southwest as the Sun sinks below the horizon. Though it is low in the sky after dusk, you can still catch a breathtaking view of the magnificent planet and its rings. Saturn sets just after midnight.
The big news for Saturn this weekend is that NASA's photo-shoot of Earth and Saturn is still on. On early Friday evening, NASA's Cassini spacecraft that is currently orbiting Saturn will take a series of photographs of Saturn and its rings beautifully backlit by the Sun, similar to the photo taken by Cassini in 2006. This time though, a high resolution camera will be used so that Earth will be in the composite photo as a blue and white speck just outside the rings. The 15 minute exposure will take place from 5:27 to 5:42 Eastern Daylight Time in the evening. Only the continents North and South America will be facing Saturn at the time of the exposure. North America during this time, though, will still be in broad daylight, so Saturn will not be visible to the naked eye, although it is there high in the east at that time. From South America, which will bask in the early evening darkness, Saturn will be prominently visible. This is history in the making folks, as this is the first time ever that the planet Earth is being photographed from a planetary spacecraft with we Earthlings having been given advanced notice. NASA is asking the fellow citizens of these two continents to face the ringed planet during the photo-shoot and to wave. NASA is also asking to have pictures taken of yourselves waving and shared with others through the Internet. Of course, you may dress in your Sunday best if you wish, but don't jump up and down while you are waving lest the image of Earth should appear as a blur in the photograph. Go to http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/waveatsaturn/ for more details and also on information on obtaining a certificate that you participated in the Wave-at-Saturn campaign.
But that's not all, folks. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, orbiting the planet Mercury, is searching for natural satellites of the innermost planet with its own high resolution camera and in doing so, will also be taking photographs of the Earth in the background. The targeted dates and times for these photos are July 19th and 20th at 7:49, 8:38, and 9:41 Eastern Daylight Time in the morning for both dates. On both of these dates, Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia will be facing MESSENGER and Mercury. Mercury is currently too close to the Sun to be seen.
July 17th is the anniversary of the first photograph taken of a star other than the Sun. In 1850, William Bond and John Adams Whipple imaged the star Vega from Harvard University’s 15 inch refractor using the daguerreotype process. Vega, or Alpha Lyrae, is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, and the fifth brightest star in the night sky. Vega, along with Deneb and Altair, form the Summer Triangle. Vega, about a tenth the age of our Sun, is 25 light-years from Earth and shines at a magnitude of +0.03. Vega completes a rotation once every 12.5 hours, a speed that creates temperatures at its poles thousands of degrees hotter that those at its equator. Earlier this year, scientists announced the discovery of an asteroid belt circling Vega. This discovery has led scientists to believe there also may be a planetary system surrounding the star. Look for Vega almost directly overhead as the sky darkens. After sunset, Venus and Regulus are about 6 degrees apart over the western horizon. Above and to the south, the 70% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon, shares the sky with 0.80 magnitude Saturn, and 0.95 magnitude Spica. The planet Uranus rises around midnight in the constellation Pisces, just 4 hours after it is stationary. Uranus will begin its retrograde or westward motion against the stars until December 18th, when the Earth once again moves away from the outer planet. Thursday morning’s eastern sky features the planets Jupiter and Mars, which rise less than 2 degrees apart at approximately 4:30 EDT in the constellation Gemini. The International Space Station returns to our skies this week. On Friday morning at 4:21, look to the southwest horizon to see the ISS appear in the constellation Capricornus, sail past Uranus in Pisces, fly over the Pleiades in Taurus and pass Mars and Jupiter as they rise on the northeastern horizon. Check www.heavens-above.com for the exact times for your location.
The Sun sets at 8:31 PM; night falls at 10:39. Dawn breaks at 3:24 AM and ends with sunrise at 5:31.
The First Quarter Moon is the first object visible in tonight’s sky. It rose about 1 PM and sets after Midnight. The Moon shares Virgo with Saturn. Monday night sees the Moon near the star Spica; Tuesday evening finds it cuddling up to Saturn.
Saturn, despite the Moon’s brilliance, is always a treat. The planet just passed “Quadrature,” which means it is ninety degrees from the Sun. The giant planet casts it shadow on the famous rings, a sight visible in amateur telescopes under moderate power.
Venus, second only to the Moon in brightness, lies low in the West. Observers should work quickly to see it, before our murky atmosphere blurs the view. Venus sets about 11 PM.
Midnight witnesses the appearance of Neptune, in Aquarius, and Uranus, in Pisces. The giant outer planets travel imperceptibly through these constellations and seem to remain fixed in their positions. Finder charts are available in astronomy magazines, websites and apps.
Mars and Jupiter join Neptune and Uranus in the early morning. Mars rises about 3:35 AM, with Jupiter following fifteen minutes later. Both are moderately high in the East. Tuesday morning finds Mars close to the star cluster M35; Wednesday finds it slightly nearer to Jupiter.
As appropriate for the upcoming racing season, two horses appear by midnight. The largest horse is, of course, Pegasus. The smallest is Equuleus. This dim constellation is easy to find. Pegasus flies upside down and is easily identified as a Great Square. Two thin chains sweep northward from the upper left. If one sweeps across the chains, binoculars reveal a large hazy oval; this is revealed, in telescopes, to be the Andromeda Galaxy – about two and a half million light years distant, accompanied by two smaller satellite galaxies. You can see it with the naked eye under rural skies. Pegasus’ neck flows from the lower right corner and angles up. Equuleus is the small angular line of stars West of the Pegasus’ nose. A globular star cluster, M 15, lies exactly halfway between Pegasus’ nose and Equuleus. This too is easily seen in binoculars.
Friday, July 12th, marks the 193rd day of the year. There are 172 days left in the year. The Sun rises at 5:28 and sets at 8:34.
The Moon is a waxing crescent, 4 to 6 days after new, and found setting over the western horizon after sundown. Times of moonset are 10:35 for Friday evening, 11:04 for Saturday evening, and 11:33 for Sunday evening. The Moon turns first quarter on Monday afternoon.
Venus is also found after sunset above the west-northwestern horizon and to the right of the Moon. Shining very brightly at magnitude -3.9, Venus sets about 10:00 in the evening. Although the elongation of Venus from the Sun is increasing each week, its orbit currently lies at a shallow angle with respect to the horizon and thus for its current evening apparition, Venus does not set that much later nor does it get all that much higher as each week passes.
Saturn, at magnitude 0.5 and long past opposition, is found at its highest above the south-southwestern horizon after sundown. Saturn gets lower in the sky as the evening progresses and sets about 1:00 in the morning.
About one hour before sunrise, look for Jupiter and Mars rising together above the east-northeastern horizon. Ruddy Mars at magnitude 1.6 rises 25 minutes before bright Jupiter does at magnitude -1.9. Jupiter and Mars are currently at about 4 degrees away from each other and are closing in for a conjunction next week when they will be less than a degree apart.
On Sunday July 14th, in 1965, history was made when the Mariner 4 spacecraft took the first ever close-up photos of a planet. Launched from Cape Kennedy eight months earlier, Mariner 4 performed a simple flyby of the planet Mars at 10,000 km away from the surface. The spacecraft was equipped with four solar panels at right angles to each other, a star tracker that was set to the star Canopus to properly align the spacecraft, and a television camera that sent back digital images of the Red Planet. During its quick flyby, Mariner 4 took 22 images of the surface of Mars, or 11 pairs of mosaic photos. The resolution was very poor by today’s standards, although of good quality for its day. Yet when scientists, and the public, got humanity’s first close-up views of Mars, they saw a landscape not much different than that of the Moon. Craters, craters, and more craters. Photo number 11, depicting a very large impact crater 120 km across, was the most famous photo taken of the 22 and was published in many then current astronomy textbooks.
But unknown to the scientists at the time, and by sheer happenstance, the spacecraft’s camera took photos of a region of Mars that happened to be more highly cratered than the rest of Mars. The camera missed the huge, deep valleys, the vast plains, and the sky high volcanoes. Those 22 photos covered only 1% of the total surface area of Mars. Still, however, they dashed the hopes of many who were looking for a landscape more conducive to life. Gone were the canals of Percival Lowell. Gone, too, were the simple vegetation that many scientists were convinced was growing on Mars. Mars was a dead planet. But in spite of that view, over the next five decades more spacecraft would be sent to our sister planet and the debate over life on Mars would become even more unsettled than ever before.
Photo number 11, by the way, was presented by the Mariner 4 project manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. From JPL to LBJ.
American Astronomer, Alvan Graham Clark, was born on July 10, 1832. Clark, along with his father and brother as ‘Alvan Clark & Sons’, became the famous refracting telescope lens makers for the United States and Europe. In 1861, Clark observed Sirius’ companion star, Sirius B, and went on to discover a total of fourteen double stars. After his father and brother died, Alvan made the 40 inch lens for the Yerkes Observatory Telescope, which is the largest operating refracting telescope in the world. On Wednesday, the 7% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon sets at approximately 9:30 p.m. EDT. Before setting, the Moon will be 6.3 degrees south-southwest of the Beehive Cluster (M44), and 6.7 degrees south-southwest of Venus. The bright star, Regulus, will be joining the crescent Moon and Venus on Thursday when it will appear 5.3 degrees north-northwest of the Moon. Saturn can be found a little more than halfway up in the southwest, in the constellation Virgo, as the sky darkens. A telescopic view of the ringed planet will reveal its largest moon, Titan, and Tethys on one side and Mimas, Dione, Enceladus, and Rhea extending out to the other side. Sunrise occurs at 5:30 on Thursday. On Thursday morning, about 50 minutes before sunrise, look to the east-northeast to see Mars 5 degrees above Jupiter. On July 11, 1801, the astronomer Jean-Louis Pons discovered his first comet. Charles Messier observed the same comet the next day and shares the discovery. Pons went on to discover or co-discover 37 comets. His first discovery, Comet Pons, was Messier’s last. The much anticipated, Comet ISON was recently photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. ISON is traveling at 48,000 miles per hour and is 403 million miles from Earth and is crossing between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. On November 28, ISON will be within 800,000 miles of the Sun’s surface. This close encounter could cause the comet to flare to the point of being naked-eye visible in our December night sky. On Friday, July 12 at 8 PM, Siena assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Dr. John Moustakas, will give a lecture on “Building Blocks of the Universe” as part of Dudley Observatory’s Octagonal Barn Star Party program. The link for directions can be found on the Observatory’s main page http://www.dudleyobservatory.org/.
The Sun sets at 8:35 PM; night falls at 10:47. Dawn breaks at 3:14 AM and ends with sunrise at 5:26.
After sunset, Venus is the first and brightest object to become visible. It lies low in the West, about eleven degrees above the horizon. Notice Venus’s height and position among the stars. While Venus speeds through various constellations, it remains the same height through October.
Deeper into twilight, Saturn appears in the Southwest, twelve degrees to the upper left of the slightly dimmer star Spica. Saturn, still near Quadrature, casts its shadow on its rings, a telescopic sight not to be missed. Saturn sets around 1:20 AM.
The Moon turns “New” on Monday. Tuesday evening sees a very thin crescent Moon about five degrees above the western horizon. Binoculars may help. Wednesday’s sunset will present an easier Moon for observation. Tuesday’s Moon sets after 9 PM; Venus sets an hour later.
Midnight finds Neptune in Aquarius; Neptune rose at 10:46 PM, and is best observed before Dawn. Uranus occupies its usual spot in Pisces, having risen after Midnight. Astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide finder charts for both planets.
Both Mars and Jupiter rise during daybreak. Mars rises first and is about nine degrees high at Civil Dawn. Jupiter follows at 4:21 about five-and-half degrees to Mars’ lower left. The brightening sky makes detailed observation difficult; however, both can be spotted through the solar glare through binoculars or telescopes.
July ninth is an important date for variable star observers. It is the day that Mira, a star in the constellation Cetus is predicted to be at peak brightness. Stars vary their output for many reasons. Mira was the first variable star discovered. Mira is a Red Giant – an old, bloated Sun-like star nearing the end of its life. It is also a double star; a companion white dwarf steals matter off of the main star and onto a Saturn-like ring. Mira pulsates in a 332-day (11 month) cycle. Unlike other variables, Mira does not have fixed maximum and minimum levels. Peak brightness is about magnitude three; minimums can be as low as ninth. In 2007, ultraviolet cameras on NASA’s GALEX spacecraft captured Mira with a long tail. Mira, and its white dwarf, are rocketing across space at 130 kilometers per second, leaving behind a 13 light-year long trail of gas and dust.
Friday, July 5th, marks the 186th day of the year. There are 179 days left in the year. More than half the year is now over with. The Sun rises at 5:23 and sets at 8:37.
On Friday, July 5th, at 10:44 in the morning, the Earth is at aphelion at 152 million Km, the furthest distance form the Sun for the year. This distance has little to no effect on the climate and weather for the Earth is only 3% farther than it is at perihelion, when it is closest to the Sun in January, although one would like to hope otherwise judging from the sultry weather and the wildfires we have been having.
The Moon is a very thin waning crescent rising over the eastern horizon before dawn. Times of moonrise are 4:10 for early Saturday morning and 5:01 for early Sunday morning. The Moon turns new at 3:16 Monday morning.
Venus is the star of the early evening. About one hour after sunset, look for brilliant Venus setting in the west-northwest. Venus sets about 10:00 in the evening.
Saturn is still hanging above the southern horizon after sundown. You have only a few hours to observe it for the ringed planet will set at 1:30 in the morning.
One hour before sunrise you can catch Jupiter rising in the east-northeast with a dimmer, ruddy looking Mars to its upper right and the old Moon to the right.
This weekend, hopefully the soggy weather and cloudy skies will be history, if only briefly. If so, we have a chance to look into the dark skies above us. Grab your binoculars or a telescope and a star map for the Milky Way will present its finest views as it arcs high overhead from Cassiopeia the Queen in the north to Cygnus the Swan overhead to Scorpius the Scorpion in the south.
By 11:30, the star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp will be at the Zenith, directly overhead. Shining like a brilliant diamond at magnitude 0, Vega is 25 light years away. It was the first star, other than our Sun, to be photographed with the advent of photography in the 1840s. In Lyra, also look at the star Epsilon Lyrae. It's a double-double star - a multiple star system consisting of four stars 160 light years away from Earth. Look also at Zeta Lyrae. This is another double star with very contrasting colors - red and blue. Of course there is the famed Ring Nebula, also called M57, in between Beta and Gamma Lyrae, the remains of a Sun-like star that had shed its outer shell in the form of a spherical nebula near the end of its life span.
Now turn to Cygnus the Swan. It doesn't take much imagination to see that this constellation's pattern of stars resembles a goose with a long neck and short tail along with its outstretched wings. The head of the Swan is Albireo. Albireo is another strikingly beautiful double star - one star being orange and the other blue, and both 410 light years away. The star at the opposite end of the Swan marks the tail of the Swan. It is called Deneb, which is Arabic for the word tail. While this star doesn't appear to be all that impressive to look at, Deneb, a blue-white supergiant star 2,600 light years away, is one of the most luminous star known. It is 200 times larger than the Sun and up to 200,000 times more luminous than the Sun. It is so bright that it produces more energy in the single night you are looking at it than our Sun does in 100 years. As for the name Deneb, it's interesting to note that other animal constellations with tails, including Capricornus the Sea Goat, Leo the Lion, and Cetus the Whale all have tails named Deneb, or a slight variation of that name.
Speaking of Cetus the Whale, stay up late to look for this constellation. While it rises in the east after midnight, it appears highest over the south-east at 4:00 in the morning and there is no better time than now to observe the star Omicron Ceti, or Mira the wonderful star in the Whale's neck.
Mira is a long period variable red giant star nearly 400 light years away and with a period of 331 days, or about 11 months. Most of the time Mira is not visible to the unaided eye. But this month it is nearing its peak brightness of magnitude of 3.0 to 2.0, up from its from a faint minimum of about 10.0. Peak brightness is predicted to occur around July 21 to July 31 before the star begins to drop back towards minimum.
Mira was the first star to be identified as a variable, since at least 1596 by David Fabricius, a German pastor who dabbled in astronomy. What causes the periodic brightening of Mira? Mira periodically sheds the outer layer of its atmosphere which in turn causes its brightness to fluctuate. In doing do, it leaves a trail of plasma material that is grabbed by Mira's faint companion star 70 astronomical units away. The Hubble Space telescope has photographed the shed material as a long nebulous stream starting at Mira and ending at the dwarf companion. Hubble photographs also show that Mira is not perfectly spherical but is actually a distorted blob, with a plume like feature pointing towards Mira's companion star.
Look at Mira this weekend, compare it with other, non-variable stars, photograph it if you can, and then look at it again in October about midnight when Cetus the Whale will be at its highest over the south. This will give you the chance to see how much Mira will fade and then completely disappear until its next maxima in June of next year.
Lastly, join the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers this weekend on the evenings of July 5th and July 6th at 10:00 for two nights of star watching. The public is invited to attend and the events are held only if the skies are clear. Go http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/event-view.cfm?Event_ID=44899 for more information or call 374-8460.
The 17% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets around 4:42 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, leaving us with a dark night sky for observing. After sunset, Venus appears over the west-northwest horizon. A challenge will be to spot the Beehive Cluster, M4, in background of Venus. The planet and star cluster will be 5 degrees above the horizon an hour after sunset. To the south, Saturn shines at magnitude 0.6, about 35 degrees above the horizon, in the constellation Virgo. Saturn’s retrograde motion ends July 8th and 9th when it returns to its normal eastward journey. On July 19th, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn, will take the third-ever picture of the Earth from the outer solar system. On that day, Cassini will be aligned where Saturn will eclipse the Sun. With the Sun’s light blocked, NASA’s scientist will direct Cassini to look back at Earth and image our planet. The first and most distant image of Earth from deep space was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 from a distance of 3.7 billion miles away at the request of Carl Sagan. This image is known as “The Pale Blue Dot”. East of Saturn, in the constellation Scorpius, is the bright star Antares. Antares, meaning “anti-Mars”, is a red supergiant star and the sixteenth brightest star in the nighttime sky. Antares is about 550 light years from Earth and has a radius 883 times that of the Sun. Just 1.3 degrees to the right of Antares, is the globular cluster M4. M4 is approximately 7,200 light years away, and along with NGC 6397, is one of the closest globular clusters to our solar system. Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 have helped scientists determine that the white dwarf stars with M4 are the oldest known stars in the Milky Way Galaxy at 13 billion years old. Neptune rises in the constellation Aquarius at 11:10 p.m. and Uranus rises in Pisces one and one half hours later. The pre-dawn sky on Thursday morning features a 14% illuminated crescent Moon in Taurus between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters. Mars is challenge, rising later at 4 a.m. and Jupiter is still lost in the Sun’s glow. This weekend, on Friday and Saturday nights, the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers invite you to join them for Star Parties at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. Directions can be found at http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/event-view.cfm?Event_ID=44899 .
The Sun sets at 8:37 PM; night falls at 10:52. Dawn breaks at 3:06 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 5:21.
Venus is the brightest object, low in the early evening sky. Forty-five minutes after sunset, it stands nine degrees above the horizon. Telescopic views show the planet ninety percent illuminated. Venus sets about 10:11.
As the sky darkens, Saturn appears in the Southwest. Saturn seems as a zero magnitude object, twelve degrees to the upper right of slightly dimmer Spica, the brightest star of Virgo. This is a great time to observe Saturn. The planet is at “Quadrature,” which means it is ninety degrees away from the Sun and casts its shadow on the famous rings. Observers can see the shadow through small-to-moderately sized telescopes under medium powers.
Neptune rises in Aquarius at 11:14 PM and is well placed for observation before Dawn. Uranus follows by rising at 12:41 AM in Pisces. Both planets require finder charts from astronomy magazines, websites and apps.
The Moon, past Last Quarter, rises at 1:27 AM Tuesday, and 2 AM Wednesday, occupying Aries both days. The beautiful Pleiades star asterism should be visible. The Moon continues to be observable after sunrise.
Mars rises during Dawn and might be seen low in the East with binocular help.
The dwarf planet Pluto reaches opposition tonight, but most people cannot see it. Pluto is notoriously dim and small; it is 1600 times dimmer than the faintest naked-eye star. It took Clyde Tombaugh years and thousands of photographs before he found it. In addition, it lies low in Sagittarius within the Milky Way, amid thousands of similar looking stars. Observers with large telescopes and very dark skies have a chance to find it. Pluto orbits the Sun every 246 years. Its closest approach was in 1989, which means that Pluto is on its way out to the far reaches of the Solar System. The New Horizons space probe was launched towards Pluto in 2006; it will fly by Pluto in 2015. Pluto’s first moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978; since then, the number of Plutonian satellites swelled to 5, including Nix, Hydra and two unnamed moons. The two newest, discovered after New Horizon’s launch, created some concern for NASA, as it tries to safely pilot the spacecraft through their orbits, and worry about more possibly undiscovered moons.
Friday, June 28th, marks the 179th day of the year. There are 186 days left in the year. The Sun rises at 5:20 and sets at 8:38.
The Moon is waning towards last quarter, which occurs on Sunday morning at 12:55. Look for the waning Moon rising over the eastern horizon about midnight or thereafter. Times of moonrise are 11:56 for late Friday evening, 12:26 for Sunday morning, and 12:56 for Monday morning.
As we move into the month of July, during the short but dark evenings expect to see the Milky Way arcing nearly high overhead. This month it will be possible to have a good view of the central bulge of the Milky Way, which is rich with dense, colorful nebula and stars and located among the constellations of Sagittarius the Archer and Scorpius the Scorpion.
About an hour after sunset, only the planet Venus will found above the west-northwest horizon. The planet Mercury has sunk back into the solar glare and will soon be in conjunction with the Sun on the 9th. Look for Venus to be to the left of the stars Castor and Pollux of Gemini the Twins. Of course, Saturn, located in the constellation Virgo the Virgin, is still visible, found above the southwest after sundown at 12 degrees to the east of Spica. Saturn sets a bit too early at midnight.
In the early morning twilight, Mars is now visible rising in the east-northeast and located in between the tips of the horns of Taurus the Bull and the Hyades open star cluster. And the giant planet Jupiter is finally reemerging from the solar glare in the morning twilight. You can find it to the lower left of Mars.
And of course, there is a little bit of astronomy history to cap this weekend's Skywatch Line. The United States is not the only country with space telescopes. Although it's own Hubble Space Telescope is certainly the most popular and gets much press for its dramatic and colorful photos of deep space objects, Sunday, June 30th, marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of Canada's own space telescope. Called the MOST, or Microvariability and Oscillations of STars, telescope, this suitcase-sized telescope, at 65 cm wide and tall and 30 cm deep, is also the world's smallest space telescope, tiny compared to the bus-sized Hubble Space Telescope. It also has a 15-cm mirror compared to the Hubble's 2.4-meter mirror. Hence the MOST space telescope was nicknamed the Humble Space Telescope. The purpose of MOST is not to take dramatic photos of the Orion Nebula and other deep sky objects. It's primary mission is to monitor variations in light coming from a star using the science of stellar seismology. Stellar seismology is the study of pulsating stars through the oscillations or propagation of density waves that occur within the interior of the stars, similar to the seismology of the Earth. This is done by monitoring the light intensity of a star over time, or rather the star's light curve. This in turn can give clues to the star's interior. The advantage of MOST is that it can observe a single star for up to 60 days in order to detect any oscillations, whereas with the larger Hubble telescope, such long observing times are simply unavailable due to the competition among many astronomers with different research projects. Shortly after its launch into orbit, MOST determined that the star Procyon, in the constellation of Canis Minor, has no oscillations at all, contrary to earlier scientific measurements. MOST is also capable of detecting exoplanets transiting a star. It discovered a carbon rich, super-Earth size exoplanet, called 55 Cancri e, orbiting a yellow dwarf star, much like our Sun, in the constellation of Cancer the Crab.
Orbiting at 800 km above the Earth, higher than the Hubble telescope, MOST is still going strong at 10 years of age and continues to monitor the variations of light from many stars. To date, it has collected light curves for over 5,000 stars and is currently observing its 226th Primary Target Field. It also continues to collect data on 55 Cancri e, the super-Earth carbon planet, making more accurate measurements of the planet's radius, orbital period, and albedo. For such a humble telescope, MOST has certainly made major contributions to the field of astronomy.
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