Friday, October 31, 2008

Venus Rising

The evening finds Venus shining in the southwest after sunset. I spotted this bright planet just above the tree line at was below the trees quickly! I caught a glimpse of the crescent moon through the trees too. Viewing Venus now in a scope will show a full globe but soon our sister Planet will be in Crescent stage. Use Binoculars to look for the dim red star Antares near the moon. Higher up and to the left is the bright wandering star Jupiter.

No wolves howling at a full moon this Halloween, just a nice view of a Crescent Moon on this Cross - Quarter day. Our mid-point of the astronomical season of autumn which, along with the seasonal markers, were traditional dates in feudal times. Halloween is traditionally a night to respect long-dead ancestors and other spirits.
This year the crescent moon was not be high enough to view, so I focused on Jupiter and found four moons: two[Europa and eclipsing Io] on the left very close the globe and two on the right farther out[Callisto and Ganymede]. No goblins rambling down the drive but there was a trailer full being pulled by a tractor at the top of the road. They went across the street. There are more targets to view this weekend under clear skies. Link to Universe Today's Weekend Skywatcher's Forecast.
As we close the month of October there are 995 PHAs on the list of NEO rocks being tracked.
Photo of Venus is crescent stage from a SLOOH Telescope session back in 2004.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Asteroid Vesta

The word is out that the Asteroid Vesta has moved into our sky, straight from the Asteroid Belt past Mars. This rock is the brightest Asteroid on the list @ 355 miles in diameter. A white dot in binoculars or telescope can be found in the Constellation Cetus (the Sea Monster).
RA-2h34.2m/Dec-3.42"and is 6.6 in magnitude.

While observing this rock the next couple of nights, remember DAWN is on the way to Vesta. The spacecraft left Earth in September 2007 and should catch up to Vesta in August 2011. I am sure the pictures will be great and we will learn more about this rock. I am looking forward to viewing these snapshots as my Odyssey continues...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Planets and a Crescent Moon

Last night was a moonless clear dark night. The planet Venus was near the red star Antares. It was a night for an event with Andromeda and the double cluster in prime viewing position. Jupiter still outshines the brightest stars in the Summer Triangle. Early in the morning Saturn was close to the moon with Mercury near the horizon. You can find a thin crescent moon near Mercury Monday morning ; use binoculars and look low in the east.

As of Saturday there were 992 PHAs out there roaming near our earth, some closer; some bigger than others. This weekend Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft crossed the 150,000 km distance mark from Earth, officially entering deep space, on course for the moon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How dark is the sky? Counting Stars...

The World Wide Star Count is underway this week until November 3.

I have been out twice to view and count. This group [Windows to the Universe] uses the constellation Cygnus as a guide. Using the number of stars you can visually see in Cygnus as the formula to determine how many stars are visible from my backyard. My backyard is on the rim of the City. My sky has some light pollution from the city and not surprising the sky above my backyard is not the best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Last Quarter a blue sky

When the Moon is in third quarter~you can see it high in a blue sky.
Man has been tracking moon Phases across the sky and following the seasons since Cro-Magnon viewed the sky from the sheltered plains of early history. This month the third quarter moon is no different. This phase rises early in the morning and sets in the afternoon, moving toward the new phase. Tonight's Third Quarter Moon rises at 12:24 AM and sets at 2:40 PM. The Third Quarter moon in October is special. It means cold Canadian air will soon move down from the North to Central Texas. Time to start chopping that firewood that has been stacked for the fireplace and get ready for the first Winter's Chill.

If you were watching for the Orinid meteors in moonlight early this morning, that bright Moon went to Third Quarter at 5:55 AM! Look for that slice of moon in a blue sky for the next couple of days.\Photo is with a digital camera through my 4" refractor.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cloudy Sky and Orionid Meteor Shower

Entry~081020 /Orionids

The biggest problem during a meteor watch is whether to sleep in or stay up late. I opted to sleep in then went out at 4AM Monday morning to look at Orion. It was a dark, clear; cold predawn morning. The Orion Constellation was high and in the SE. The waning gibbous Moon was hanging to the left of Orion in the Gemini Constellation like a bright torch filling the sky with moonlight. I counted 5 meteors within the first fifteen minutes. I'm sure I missed more dim ones with all the moonlight. They originated from just left of Betelgeuse moving downward and across the Orion Constellation. 2 were very bright and they all were very fast!
Clouds are forecast to roll in overnight tonight but if it is clear, I may try another look at Orion early Tuesday morning.

Friday, October 17, 2008

8 Planets...Seven Wandering Stars

Most of us learned to follow the Planets we can see with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets Uranus and Neptune are harder to see in the night sky. Our Solar System is one Planet short this year after the IAU demoted Pluto to a Dwarf Planet/Plutoid. Ancient Greeks tagged the Planets “Wandering Stars”. Currently there are four Planets that can be seen wandering in our night sky.

Jupiter shines bright in Sagittarius, Venus rises with Scorpius in the evening, getting brighter as this month’s moon wanes toward new; bringing frost on the pumpkin. Saturn is in Leo and can be seen before dawn. Mercury in the constellation Virgo, will soon be a bright morning star at the end of the month. After sunset or before sunrise we can follow a planet floating among a sea of stars, moving through the night sky.

Plasma from our Sun reaches out past our planets in the Solar System into the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the area that our first probes Voyager and Pioneer are sailing in [Outer Space]. Voyager 1 failed early in the mission, so it is impossible to get a direct measurement of the decrease in plasma velocity. Voyager 2 is, however, approaching the termination shock and it continues to provide accurate plasma velocity measurements. It is hoped, and highly likely, that Voyager 2 will soon make the first direct measurements of the flows in the heliosheath.
Sunday NASA is launching IBEX, a new probe set to sail past our planets into that dark sea of the cosmos to study more of the heliosphere.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pluto... in seven more years

Today the spaceship New Horizons went past 1,000 days since it was aimed and launched toward what Mr. Thombaugh discovered back in 1930.

I have never been a big fan of Pluto one way or the other.
I have viewed Pluto many times through a telscope over the past decade, while it swung close to our orbit. Like most distant objects and Asteroids in the telescope, it is just a white dot that moves slowly through the night sky. The only way to tell you have it in the eyepc is to compare pictures or placement from consecutive nights and watch that dot move around the other white dots in view.

Now only a 14 magnitude speck near the Planet Jupiter in Sagittarius, this rock is far, far away in a very cold and dark corner of the Solar System. If I wanted to visualize it again, I would have to use a 10" or larger scope and let the computer find it and goto that white dot.

The Minor Planet Center (MPC) assigned Asteroid # 134340 to Pluto back in September 2006. Then in 2008 the IAU classified this rock as a "Plutoid". The Planet debate continues after it was dropped as a Planet.

We should not forget the Mission to this Plutoid and the Kuiper Belt is on it's way, launched January 2006 and should arrive in 2015. Hopefully the camera and instruments on the ship will wake up and function to send us some great photos and information from that dark and cold corner of our Solar System.

Maybe it will be re-classified a Planet by then... then again, maybe not!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October Hunter's Moon

The past few nights have been filled with moonlight and clouds, so it has been difficult exploring the night sky. Tonight is the Full Moon, the Hunter's Moon and if the clouds do not gather tonight we will be able to view Selene. There are lots of features that can be viewed even in all that moonlight. Bright features like: Craters Tycho, Thales, and Anaxagoras. Twin craters Menelaus and Manilius. The smaller crater Dionysius and the larger crater Proclus. All these and more can be seen in a bright night observing the Moon.

The Chandrayaan-1 Mission is almost ready to visit the moon. Scheduled to launch next week, October 22, the satellite will target our moon to Map the lunar surface features from space and observe the presence of radioactive isotopes to help researchers determine the origins of the Moon.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Orion…Midnight to Dawn


Orion, the great hunter is one of the best known patterns in the night sky. This asterism is prominent in our evening sky in late November. But in October we can catch it early in the morning after midnight. The constellations are constantly moving across our sky. By midnight tonight Orion will be starting his climb higher with the bright star Sirius that leads you to the belt and the sword. There M42, the Great Orion Nebula, glows like a beacon in the night sky. I always check the red super- giant star Betelgeuse has not gone super- nova yet. In addition you can see the Pleaides and the red star Aldebaran near by in Taurus.

The Orion meteor shower will peek on October 21. This year the moon will be in the third quarter and give a favorable night sky to view these falling stars. Normal rate = 30-40 per hour. Will try to view and do a count during this event. The cooler months of October and November are great for exploring the night sky.

M42 wide field photo / taken during a SLOOH Telescope session in 2004

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hercules is moving West

Entry~ 081008

The Constellation Hercules is finally behind the trees from my location. The strong man continues his nightly voyage farther West on one of his twelve Herculean Adventures. I took my last look at the Key Stone and found the Great Hercules Cluster, M13. Globular Clusters are billions of years old. This ball of stars is 25,000 light years away and is packed with around 500 thousand suns. It can be seen on a clear night in binoculars as a fuzzy patch near the star Eta Her on the wider side of the Key Stone. Always a prime target for the Telescope and always a great site in the eyepiece. M13 bw/photo is from SLOOH Telescope session I took in 2005.
Tracking Near Earth Asteroids: There are now 990 PHAs as of October 9, 2008.

Sun activity is still low

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More Moonlight

The photo is from a SLOOH Telescope session back in August 2004 /First Quarter Moon.
Lots of moonlight in the night sky this evening and the stars are getting dimmer. The moon phase is just past first quarter and hangs near Jupiter in the tonight’s sky. Looking down the Terminator you will find unique features to view in a scope, starting with the Sea of Nectaris and the Sea of Vaporum. Along that dark divide are the craters and mountains that really stand out in the eyepiece. The Craters: Plato, Archimedes, Copernicus, Aristillus, Autolycus, Hipparchus, Ptolemeaus, and Tyco. The mountain ranges of Montes Alpes and Montes Apenninus top off the tour. The moon continues to get brighter as our satellite moves through the night and will reach maximum Albedo value at next Tuesday’s full Hunter’s Moon.

Asteroid 2008 TC3 hit the Earth Tuesday morning above Africa and put on a good sky display.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The International Space Station

Photo from the NASA STS 122 mission in February 2008

Entry~081006. Last night the first quarter moon was bright and Jupiter shined bright near by. The stars in the Constellations were dimmer tonight. Clouds were moving in and out. Time to research the ISS upcoming fly- bys. The Space Station will start moving across my sky tonight for the next five days. The new ISS crew will launch from Russia this Sunday, October 12. Expedition 18 includes the American from Texas, Richard Garriott, another millionaire Space Tourist. The Soyuz will Dock with the ISS next Tuesday, October 14. Crew members Volkov and Kononenko will be joined by Garriott when they return home in their Soyuz TMA-12 on Oct. 23.

I have tracked the ISS from the first launch in 1998. Still under construction, I have watched a dim point of light grow into a larger brighter "shining star"moving across the sky and have logged countless sightings in the last decade. Look forward to the next decade as it glides across my backyard. You can find the pass information for your location @ the Heavens Above website.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Early morning discoveries

Entry~081005 Last night was breezy with stars going in and out the clouds. October is a month of transition. Cooler weather and a different set of Constellations are moving into the Night Sky. The Constellation Orion is well up in the early morning sky and Saturn can be viewed this month a couple of hours before sunrise in the constellation Leo. Photo: October 2005 during a viewing session through the SLOOH telescope.
October is also the month to start looking for the Zodiacal Light. That mysterious glow we can see early in the morning before sunrise made from Space Dust. I have yet to view this phenomenon but many Star Gazers have.

Asteroids have made several close passes by Earth and more folks are following these orbiting rocks. There are several PHAs that will swing past our Planet this month. A Small Asteroid was Predicted to Cause a Brilliant Fireball over Northern Sudan tonight at 9:30 CDT. There is a daily list of PHAs posted at

Get up early, have a cup of coffee and scan a clear morning sky this month with a telescope. Observe Saturn while you search for the Zodiacal Light then watch the sun rise.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Clouds are Back!

After several clear nights this past week the clouds are beginning to cover the stars in the evening. Forecasters are predicting some rain Monday and Tuesday... maybe. I worked in a building with NO windows. Before I left my desk job, I used to ask people coming into the office "How high are the clouds?" As a Skywatcher, I watch the weather...daily. Our clear skies have changed over the past ten years. With an increase in population and Urban sprawl, Light Pollution has increased in the area. Most of the clubs and organizations just seem to go farther away from the city lights for the events. Those of us that no longer Trek to distant sites....make due with Urban Astronomy.

Entry~081004 Viewed the Crescent Moon just after sunset- Clouds rolling in....
Cloudy skies are a good time to catch up on reading, transcribing all those notes; penciled symbols you wrote from past observations and add them to your journal.

Today the folks with eyes on Minor Planets are tracking 988 PHAs
Keep Skywatching...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Galileo's View in the Telescope

In a Universe Today article they wrote: "400 years ago, officials in the Netherlands were pondering over a patent application by a spectacle maker named Hans Lipperhey. The patent was for a "device by means of which all things at a very great distance can be seen as if they were nearby." This is the earliest known record of a telescope. A few months later, scientist Galileo Galilei would get his hands on one."

I am sure Galileo focused on the moon along with Jupiter and its moons that first night after his telescope was delivered. I felt as if I was as old as Galileo while I broke out the 4'' Celestron and pointed it toward the moon to look at the Terminator then Jupiter with its four moons trapped in orbit. The Celestron has a German mount on a heavy tripod. That makes viewing difficult but I managed to complete the viewing without tripping over myself.

Last night's waxing crescent moon was up at sunset, high above the tree line but sinking fast. I placed the camera on the back of the scope but I got nothing but blurred images. I forgot to attach the auto shutter release... Next Time!!

I did enjoy the Terminator and the Craters along the darkened rim before the jagged moon glided down below the trees.

Jupiter is easy to spot and there were three moons showing. In my eyepiece there was one on the left and two on the right. But my Celestial Calendar tells me the spacing on the left was off because Europa was tight on the rim of the Planet. Europa should be visible at 10 pm.
Went back out at 10 pm and Europa was close to edge of the Planet... there were four moons visible.

As of Friday October 3, 2008 there are 987 known PHAs.

That's lot of Rocks* moving past my Planet!

*Amors, Apollos, and Atens are the three categories of Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). Amor asteroids approach the Earth's orbit from the outside, Apollo asteroids cross the Earth's orbit, and Aten asteroids approach the Earth's orbit from the inside. Potentially Hazardous asteroids (PHAs) are larger than ~0.2 km (0.1 mile) and approach close enough to present a potential hazard but not a current hazard.

Never stop watching the sky and keep Tracking.....

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thin moon at sunset

The Moon was two days old last night.
Thursday evening in the twilight, I had to trek a little to get a good horizon but I did not have to go too far. Just 10 minutes after the sun set the moon was hanging in the SW sky. Another 10 minutes the planet Venus was shining to the west of the moon. Too few clouds at sunset left the canvas of the sky fairly plain. There was one group of distant clouds low to the NE near the horizon. Took this photo then drove home. Look close to the far right for Venus.
Sorry, I don't have a telephoto lens.

The Moon is in it's waxing stage and in a week our natural satellite will be at First Quarter.

Watch the moon as it climbs higher and moves East each night.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Waiting for...

Last night you could easily see Jupiter, and the bright stars Vega, Capella, Fomalhaut, Arcturus, Deneb and Altair. Andromeda is getting higher. Plus a Crescent Moon hung low in the West. Now the Seven Sisters [“Pleiades”]are low in the NE after night fall. Taurus and Orion will soon follow this group of stars, that tells me that frost will soon visit the pasture. I missed the thin Crescent Moon and Venus last night because they were behind the trees from my backyard.

A waxing crescent moon–sometimes called a “young moon”–is always seen in the west after sunset. At this moon phase, the Earth, moon and sun are located nearly on a line in space. If they were more precisely on a line, as they are at new moon, we wouldn’t see the moon. The moon would travel across the sky during the day, lost in the sun’s glare. Instead, a waxing crescent moon is seen one day to several days after new moon. It rises one hour to several hours behind the sun and follows the sun across the sky during the day. When the sun sets, and the sky darkens, the moon pops into view in the western sky.

Every night sky is different from the night before. Last night was clearer than the night before. Tonight the moon will be higher and I will be waiting to view that evening crescent moon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Hubble Space Telescope… Service Call

We can still see the HST moving across our night sky. The first nine days of October it will pass over my backyard in the early morning darkness before sunrise. Like the NASA photo to the left, it is still in orbit, waiting for upgrades. The latest Hubble Service Mission has been postponed…again. A mystery malfunction on Saturday crippled the observatory's ability to transmit data to Earth. The planned fourth service mission has been put on hold. Hopefully the mission team will correct the problem and have a new component ready to go by the end of January 2009. The NASA Mission team will stand down then go through the paces for an addition service routine to correct the added problem.

I have downloaded hundreds of NASA photos and marvel at all of them. Take some time and look at those Photos again while you wait for the next Service Mission to keep the HST capturing new Discoveries.

I have followed each Launch plus each Spacewalk and viewed the Telescope sailing across my back yard multiple times. We have Five months to review those past three missions.

STS 109 the third service mission March 2002

STS 103 the second service mission December 1999

STS 82 the first service mission February 1997

Edwin Hubble said: "The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons."