Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Andromeda...Far Away

Wow! 2.5 million light years away and we can still see it in our night sky!

Last night was another clear night and pretty good sky conditions. Jupiter was over my right shoulder and no moon tonight. The Andromeda Galaxy is located near Pegasus the Great Square. Start with the bright star Alpheratz. Follow that star down to the left by two stars. Move up 2 stars by the star Nu Andromedae, the fuzzy glob is just down and to the left of it. In my backyard M31 comes up over the trees in the NE about an hour afterAstronomical twilight, when it is dark-dark.

Scanning the NE sky with binoculars, I found the fuzzy spot near the Big Box without too much trouble. I swung the "Dob" to that area and found the target in the finder scope. In the past, the Galaxy has been a lot sharper as seen through a scope. Our sky is not as dark as in past years and getting more polluted! The W shaped Cassiopeia was well up when I started after 9 pm. After viewing the Galaxy I swung the scope to view the Dragon Fly cluster. I found and viewed several open clusters while searching. Also along the way I spotted a few doubles. There are lots of things to see in Casseopeia but tonight NGC 457 eluded me, my legs gave out so I went in. I will catch that Dragon Fly another night.

The nights are getting longer....more time to explore and discover
Skywatchers Alert: As of Tonight there are 986 PHAs identified and being tracked.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mars will be back

Mars started out this year as an orange point of light in the east and moved through the constellation Gemini in the spring of this year. The planet that orbits between Earth and the Asteroid belt has left our night sky moving farther out of our view. Mars was easily seen at night under a clear sky, grouped with other stars in May of this year. Mars then turned direction in a retrograde motion and apperared to move backwards away from our planet.

Even though Mars is no longer in our night sky we have not lost site of the Red Planet in our mission to get there. Buzz Aldrin said, "Mars is there, waiting to be reached".

This year we downloaded many pictures and much data from Phoenix and the Rovers as NASA prepares for the next mission to the Red Planet in the fall of next year. In September 2009 the JPL will launch another rover, the Mars Science Labratory . Seven landing sites on Mars have been selected to choose from. One will be selected soon by the mission team.

The next opposition is January 2010. That's the next time Earth comes between the Sun and Mars and the fourth planet from our sun will be in closer to our planet for better viewing. In the meantime, I will be downloading pictures and data from the Rovers, Phoenix, Mars Odyssey and the MRO.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Movement in the night sky

Tonight Jupiter is moving east. Those wandering stars[the planets] move through the night sky based on their orbits around the sun as seen from our planet. Each evening brings a different look to the night sky. Andromeda is in the east at sunset and in the west at sunrise. The sky seems to move east to west and the stars are fixed. That constellation you looked at tonight will be in the area of the sky four minutes earlier tomorrow night. Rotation of the earth and is why constellations are seasonal. Orion will be well up in the evening sky in late November but not in July. A star chart will help with the search and tell you which stars will be up a given night.

Looking at the sky tonight the bright stars you can see with the naked eye are Altair, Arcturus, Deneb, Vega, Fomalhaut, Antares and that wandering star Jupiter.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Space Odyssey

The Chinese have three Taikonauts orbiting our world today. They will not stay long in Orbit after one spacewalk. News is the Shenzhou 7 is scheduled to go back to China Sunday the 28th. The ATV "Jules Verne"is due to deorbit and crash into the Pacific Monday. The Hubble Service mission is still on for October 14. On Mars the Rovers are still active and collecting data and Phoenix is still kicking up dust. I have been watching the ISS fly over my backyard since 1998 and waiting for it to be completed. Soon we will be shuttling crews to a Multi Nation Moon Station. From there I can only imagine colonies on Mars and Stations orbiting the Moons of Jupiter. The stuff of Science Fiction is morphing into reality. Space truly is the Final Frontier.

The Hubble is making some early morning flybys over my backyard this next week. Jupiter and those four prominent moons are still in good position for viewing. I will be tracking the constellations Andromeda, Cygnus, Lyra and Hercules in the evening. Discover the star Capella in the east after the sunsets. A waxing crescent moon will appear again October 1 in the west. Today we are tracking 983 known PHAs .

The Odyssey continues...

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Starry, Starry Night

Some time has past since my last viewing of the night sky but last night I set up the 10 inch Dobsonian scope in the drive not too far from the porch. The Sun set at 7:25 pm. The sky darkened at 8:43pm. I started viewing through the scope at 8:30 pm.

There was an event going on in town. As I scanned the sky there were two spot lights beaming across the sky during my viewing time. The Sky was clear, seeing was not the best.

The Summer Triangle stars were visible while setting up… Altair, Deneb and Vega.

Antares quickly fell behind the trees not too long after I spotted the red star low in the SW.

Several satellites were spotted moving through the sky.

My main targets for tonight would be Jupiter then the Great Hercules Cluster M13. Jupiter was still buoyed far above the trees and appeared to have 6 moons, but two were stars in the constellation Sagittarius. In the scope there were 3 moons on the left. They were Callisto, Ganymede and Io. The one on the right was Europa.

The constellation Hercules was resting above the roof of the house and M13 was still where I left it the last time I put it in my eyepiece . The cluster is positioned between the not so bright stars Eta and Zeta Herculis. Tonight this cluster was a dull ball of stars. I have viewed this great cluster many times and this night was not as sharp and crisp as times past. The trick to finding these objects is to turn the chart to where the feature drawn matches what you see of the constellation, then find the stars to follow in the line that the objects lies.

Cassiopeia was still climbing out of from behind the trees

Cygnus was straight up, too much of a strain on my neck and wobbly legs to view comfortably. Lyra’s bright star Vega was higher than the strong man, I thought of grabbing the ring but my legs were giving out and I needed to rest. End of session 9:30 pm.

I left the scope in the drive in hopes of an early morning look at Saturn and the moon. But I checked the Celestial Calendar at CalSky and the ringed wanderer will rise in the east at 5:58 am. The time and position of the planet will not make it high enough to view from my position.

Early Friday morning I was back out moving the scope at 5:45 AM. Twilight started at 6:03. The Sky was clear with good seeing. Those troublesome beams of light were not present this morning.

The Moon was still below the tree line with no sign of the ringed planet. Saturn is positioned below Regulus in Leo. The crescent moon can be seen through the limbs. Those limbs make the moon a harder target to focus on.

Orion and Gemini spotted easily. Sirius led the way to the Belt and the Sword. Rigel and Betelgeuse were bright in the early morning sky. I moved the scope to M42. The Orion Nebula was there along with the bright stars of the Trapezium. The morning light was getting brighter. I took a quick look at the Pleiades before ending the session.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forecast: a clear sky and a bit cooler

Daily temperatures are finally getting a little cooler after the arrival of Fall three days ago. Today's news included a delay for the Hubble launch, now set for October 14.

It should be clear tonight and cooler with our moon near Saturn. Will try to get a peek at the ringed planet early in the AM, before sunrise. The rings of Saturn are soon to be edge-on... by late December. It will be my first glance at Saturn through a scope while edge-on, after a fifteen year tilt.

Clear Skies