Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fat Moon, Active Sun

Last night was cooler and the fat Waning Gibbous Moon was blinding, as it hung just over my treeline. Jupiter was to the right and I did see Antares. The Tea Pot was there, but dimmed in moonlight. I observed the brightest stars. I found Cassiopeia, but lost Pegasus in the moonlight. The Square of Pegasus is a great jumping off point for finding the famous Andromeda galaxy, also known to astronomers as M31. If you can’t see this fuzzy patch of light with the unaided eye, maybe your sky isn’t dark enough. Try binoculars! I swept the sky with binoculars and gave in...just too much moonlight. I ran across this blog in cyberspace and he had the same sky last night. But he did take some shots of the moon in a washed out sky. We might get some clear (darker) nights after the next High Pressure moves into our area next week, when the moon rises later. The Last-quarter Moon is on Wednesday(exact at 1:22 p.m. EDT).

The days are still sizzling under a Hot Summer Sun. No significant rain in the month of August. Are the Sun spots increasing? This past week a massive Coronal Hole was captured by the SDO and could indicate an increase in Solar Activity. Years ago, when active Sun Spots covered our sun, I kept count and viewed those sunspots from the BBSO website. This is a first light adaptive optics image from the New Solar Telescope (NST) at the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. "With a 1.6-meter primary mirror, the NST is the largest solar telescope in the world," says Nicolas Gorceix of the observatory staff. "It has realtime correction for atmospheric distortion (adaptive optics), so we can see things in very high resolution--as small as 65 km wide on the sun." Researchers believe that high-resolution studies of sunspots can help them understand how sunspots evolve and anticipate when they're about to erupt. "Next year, we plan to upgrade the telescope with a much higher-order adaptive optics system to get even better images," says Gorceix. Stay tuned to the BBSO home page for updates.

Tuesday, a quarter Moon is near the Pleiades star cluster. Look for the Moon in the predawn sky. Venus and the star Spica are 1 degree apart. Look for Venus and Spica in the WSW evening sky.

Wednesday, Bright Venus and faint Spica and Mars form an almost straight line a little less than 5° long, low in the west-southwest about a half hour after sunset.

News from the Net:
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Galactic Gravity LabWatch
Watch Titan Occult a Binary Star System

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stargazing in a late August Sky

Attention area Skywatchers, the NWS forecast ‘Clear Skies’ with a low of 66 degrees tonight! This could turn out to be a great, almost fall, stargazing event. So break out the charts, binoculars and a Scope! These Constellations are waiting in the SW: Scorpius, Sagittarius and Ophiuchus. Ophiuchus is part of the Zodiac. Among the known clusters to discover, this constellation holds a group of stars named after King Stanislaus Poniatowsk of Poland. For a time, this little group was considered a constellation, as in this old star map, though it’s now part of the large constellation Ophiuchus. While “Taurus P” didn’t make the cut as a modern constellation, the name of this star group remains. In binoculars, the background is flecked with fainter 9-th and 10th- magnitude stars that straggle off the western edge of the Milky Way. The V-shaped head of the bull consists of three stars: 67, 68, and 70 Ophiuchi. Locating the Poniatowski’s Bull asterism in an August Sky.

Tonight, while the sky is clear, Jupiter shines to the right of the waning gibbous Moon once they rise after dark. Tonight's the Night Mars Will Not Look as Big as the Full Moon
By the beginning of September the Great Square of Pegasus is looming well up in the east after dark, balanced on one corner: the sign of autumn to come. This year bright Jupiter is the landmark; the Great Square is upper left of it in early evening. Tonight, after mid-night find Pegasus, Andromeda and Perseus.

Saturday, Spica is less than 3 degrees to the upper left of Venus. Watch the next few days as Venus approaches the star Spica. The two will pass just 1 degree on the last day of the month.

Sunday, Jupiter's Great Red Spot should transit the planet's central meridian within a few minutes of 2:25 a.m. Monday morning EDT

Monday, If you're up before dawn Tuesday morning, look for the Pleiades some 6° or 7° left of the waning Moon (for North America)

News from the Net:
Astounding Video Shows 30 Years of Asteroid Discoveries
Antimatter/Dark Matter Hunter Ready to be Installed on Space Station
Sound Waves from Distant Star Reveal Magnetic Solar Cycle
Kepler Discovers Multi-Planet System
Clearing the Confusion on Neptune’s Orbit

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mars & Moon Hoax…Again!

It’s late August and like clockwork, I get phone calls about the Moon and Mars appearing the same size in the night sky on August 27. Lots of folks fall victim in believing exaggerated stories of events in the sky. Everyone around the world is being bombarded by a bogus stargazing email, the contents of which have become an urban legend of sorts. This Event is a Hoax!!! Mars did in fact have a very close encounter with Earth back in the summer of 2003, when it was only 56 million km away. Looked great in a scope but not as big as the Moon! Here is a story from National Geographic News , back in 2003, check out the NASA story too.

The Universe is a dangerous place, with threats coming from any direction. But pop culture has played fast and loose with the facts, and quite often the things we know are all wrong, and when you're dealing with the universe, ignorance can be deadly. On Sunday, August 29 at 10PM ET/PT, Discovery Channel will sneak peek an episode of BAD UNIVERSE. Maybe Phil will cover this recent Hoax?

Triple digit temps have dominated our sky the past couple of weeks. The cause high pressure and La Niña. NWS stated nearly all models predict La Niña to continue through early 2011; the coming winter will not be as cold or as wet. A relatively new type of El Nino, which has its warmest waters in the central- equatorial Pacific Ocean, rather than in the eastern-equatorial Pacific, is becoming more common and progressively stronger, according to a new study by NASA and NOAA. I suppose we will have to wait to find out what effect this will have on the weather in the coming months.

This week, Jupiter – the solar system’s largest planet – rises around 8:45 p.m. local daylight time. On Thursday evening, if you’re facing east soon after 9 p.m. you’ll see the nearly full moon standing about 6 degrees above Jupiter. Jupiter and the Moon: 6 Degrees of Separation

News from the Net:
Colliding Galaxies Created the First Black Holes
Asteroids Can Create Their Own Mini Planetary Systems
Could the World Run on Solar and Wind Power?
Amazing Sunspot Image from New Solar Telescope
Preview of Phil Plait's 'Bad Universe;' Premiers August 29
Another Solar System Like our Own?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Star-Hopping in Moonlight

Scanning the night sky the past few nights, the Moon is very bright; there were some clouds moving in and out, but some features are still visible through the binoculars and a finder scope. I did not use a scope these warm muggy nights. I spotted M8 (very dim) and a few other clusters, even though dimmed by moon beams. Cygnus and Lyra still somewhat visible in the Summer Triangle. Between Beta and Gamma Lyra lies a beautiful object called the Ring Nebula. M56 is an 8th magnitude Globular Cluster visible in binoculars roughly half way between Alberio (the head of the Swan) and Gamma Lyrae. It is 33,000 light years away and has a diameter of about 60 light years. The star, Albireo, which marks the head of the Swan is much fainter, but a beautiful sight in a small telescope. This shows that Albireo is made of two stars, amber and blue-green, which provide a wonderful colour contrast. With magnitudes 3.1 and 5.1 they are regarded as the most beautiful double star that can be seen in the sky.

An easy object to spot with binoculars near Cygnus is "Brocchi's Cluster", often called "The Coathanger", although it appears upside down in the sky! Follow down the neck of the swan to the star Alberio, then sweep down and to its lower left. You should easily spot it against the dark dust lane behind. I found Antares in Scorpius and the brightes stars in the Tea Pot were visible but faded in Moonlight, as our bright satellite moved a bit farther to the east.

According to folklore, tonight's full Moon is the Sturgeon Moon, named by Native American tribes of the Great Lakes who caught lots of sturgeon during the month of August. A moon named after an ancient slimy fish? Go outside and take a look. It's prettier than it sounds.
A week away, on Tuesday, August 31, the last quarter Moon is near the Pleiades star cluster. Look for the Moon in the predawn sky.

News from the Net:
Weighing the Planets with a Radio Astronomy Telescope
Tight Binaries are ‘Death Stars’ for Planets
Our Solar System: Now 2 Million Years Older
Amazing Image: Map of Magnetic Field Lines of the Sun
Jupiter Gets Smacked Yet Again?
'Star Gazer' Jack Horkheimer dies
Observing Spotlight – Dropping In On Jupiter…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Moon and Jupiter, InThe Night Sky

A bright moon will dominate the night sky this weekend. The sky will be filled with Moonlight and the constellations stars harder to observe. Tuesday, The Full Moon (exact at 1:05 p.m. EDT) is small and farthest from earth. Time to put the moon filters on the eyepiece!

This week's night sky is full of stars to observe, even with the moonlight!
As the evening gets later and the Big Dipper goes down, watch for the coming-up of W-shaped Cassiopeia as it climbs the northeastern sky, the two circling the pole opposite one another. The Summer Triangle is still high overhead for observing. Early morning observers can catch the noticeable constellation Orion the Hunter ascending in the southeast before dawn at this time of year. One of the first deep-sky objects of summer that new telescope owners learn to find is the Ring Nebula, M57, because its location is so well marked in Lyra. But have you looked in on Lyra's other Messier object, the globular cluster M56?

Jupiter is in position for observation with a scope and with the South Band gone, the GRS is easier to identify. The "star" below the Moon late Thursday evening is Jupiter.
Telescope users may want to take a look at Jupiter in the next couple weeks. Use Sky and Telescope’s handy Red Spot calculator. Great Red Spot – times of best visibility (Central Daylight time)* 11:03 p.m. tonight Aug. 20* 4:50 a.m. Sunday* 12:41 a.m. Monday* 2:19 a.m. Wednesday* 10:10 p.m. Thursday (Jupiter low in sky)* 3:57 a.m. Friday morning and again at 11:48 p.m. Friday night.

Our Group gathered and met last Thursday night. Just four of us, but we discussed many Astronomy topics! We reviewed the Perseid Meteor Shower that occurred last week. Half of the group saw a lot and half just observed a couple. We also broke down the definitions of: meteoroids [Particles still in space], meteors [any particles moving through the atmosphere] and meteorites [on the ground]. Asteroids [Rocks orbiting in space] were discussed, as was the Dawn Mission to Vesta and Ceres. Speaking of Asteroids, Bob had photos of “Pluto” he took from his observatory last month. Pluto was a small white dot in the middle of three bright stars, in a triangle, still in Sagittarius. Four nights later, Bob took another photo and the rock had moved to the right of the triangular stars. A “Great pair of photos” showing movement of this ‘asteroid’! No plans for any stargazing events in the near future. As I left the gathering, on my way home, I saw the moon. Observed Venus [ at greatest elongation]. The bright planet was 46 degrees east of the Sun. In the coming weeks, Venus will appear to move closer to the Sun. As it does, the phase of Venus becomes a crescent. How soon can you spot the crescent shape with your telescope? Faint Mars was above bright Venus. Both can be seen in the WSW 45 minutes after sunset. Saturn is 12 degrees to the right of Venus.

News from the Net: NASA's Dawn spacecraft is now less than a year away from giant asteroid Vesta. Today's story from Science@NASA offers a sneak preview of an "alien, unexplored world" that seems sure to amaze.

Satellite Data Show Plant Growth is Declining on Earth
Astronomers Now Closer to Understanding Dark Energy
Cosmic Volcano Erupting in M87

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Red Star Antares

Last night after dark it was somewhat clear. The summer triangle was still in view. The moon was very bright and the haze in the atmosphere reflected the moonlight everywhere! I could not see Antares with the naked eye (in moonlight). The constellation Scorpius was dimmed by the moonlight. But after I put a 'finder' on the area, Antares was a singular, bright red star near the moon. I am begining to use a finder scope[hand held] in sky sweeps. Seems to work just fine too. The finder scopes are 8x30 and will pick up clusters and nebulas. I find "monocular" vision suits me since I am blind in one eye. Scanned the area and moon features with a finder and binoculars(10x50s). Just too much moonlight to pick up any deep sky objects. It was uncomfortably hot and I did not pull a scope out or stay long.

Antares, the "Anti-Mars" star, found in Scorpius, held its own[ 600 light years away] in the moonlight seen in binoculars.

Tonight, the Moon forms a nearly equilateral triangle with Antares to its right and the Cat's Eyes pair in Scorpius's tail (depending on your location and time). The bright eclipsing variable star Algol should be in one of its periodic dimmings, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 2:29 a.m. Thursday morning EDT; 11:29 p.m. Wednesday evening PDT. Algol takes several additional hours to fade and to rebrighten. Use this comparison-star chart.

News from the Net:
Great Photo of Earth and Moon, from Messenger
Venus and Mercury Blasted by Recent Solar Storms

Monday, August 16, 2010

Planets and Stars in Week Three- August

The clouds came back, they are in and out during the evening and early morning before dawn. Maybe we will see some clear skies this week. I did go out and view the sky both nights, but I rested over the weekend after a busy week of Perseid observing. I did see the moon over the trees in the West last night. According to the International Meteor Group, the Perseid meteor shower peaked on August 12th around 1800 UT with a maximum of 140 meteors per hour (ZHR). The nearly new Moon provided dark skies for excellent viewing, so the shower was widely observed. Browse the updated gallery for snapshots from around the world.

Still observing stars in these constellations:
Sagittarius and Scorpius are still in good position for viewing after dark. The Summer Triangle will still be over my portal in early evening. Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Andromeda are climbing higher in the East each night.

Observing the Planets this week:
Jupiter (magnitude –2.7, in Pisces) rises around the end of twilight and is well up in the east-southeast by midnight. It's highest in the south before dawn — the brightest starlike point in the morning sky. Jupiter's Great Red Spot is near System II longitude 150°. Assuming it stays there, here's a list to print out of all the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times for the rest of 2010. Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Pisces) is less than 3° west of Jupiter. In a telescope Uranus is only 3.6 arcseconds wide, compared to Jupiter's unusually wide 48″.
Neptune (magnitude 7.8, at the Aquarius-Capricornus border) is up high by late evening. See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune in 2010

This week Arc to Arcturus; Spike to Spica!

Tonight, the Moon will be bright and high in the night sky early. First-quarter Moon (exact at 2:14 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time). Time to find the straight wall and follow the terminator.
Tuesday, if it is clear, Antares near the moon
Wednesday evening, Moon near the stinger of the Scorpion

News from the Net:
Clockwork Planets
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Alchemy By Supernova
Amazing New Close-up Images of Enceladus
Astrophotography Spotlight – Centaurus A

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseid Meteor Count

The annual Perseid meteor shower peak was underway last night. According to the International Meteor Organization, dark-sky observers were counting more than 35 Perseids per hour, including many fireballs. Be alert for Perseids from 10 pm on Thursday, Aug. 12th, until sunrise on Friday, Aug. 13th. The darkest hours before dawn are usually best. Updated: 2010 Perseid Photo Gallery

Early Friday morning, I did take the binoculars out. With no Scope, we started observing at 2 am. The sky was clear and the constellations were in place over my portal to the universe. In view were Perseus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Andromeda. Jupiter was high in the SW. I could see Deneb and the wings of Cygnus in the NW. The meteors were seen every 6 minutes, sixteen(16) an hour. Many were short and dim, high along Pegasus. The brightest and longest were lower running, east to west under Jupiter and under Cassiopeia. These were yellowish and very bright [fireballs?] with a distinctive bullet shaped head and very fast. I watched the Pleiades rise above the trees just after 3 am. Soon after, Capella began to climb out of the trees. A Cloud bank rolled in at 3:30, the observation ended; the portal closed.

The Perseid meteor shower isn't done yet. According to the International Meteor Organization, dark-sky observers are counting as many as 80 Perseids per hour, including many fireballs. The show could continue for another 12 hours or so as Earth continues its passage through the debris stream of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Last night the shower was very active in Arizona. "Here are a dozen Perseids seen flying over the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon,"

Tonight, if the bright planet is above your tree line, Jupiter's Great Red Spot should cross Jupiter's central meridian (the imaginary line down the middle of the planet's disk from pole to pole) around 11:18 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Here's a list to print out of all the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times for the rest of 2010. The crescent Moon is to the left of the gathering of planets. Look for the crescent Moon, Venus, Mars and Saturn in the west and hour after sunset. The star Spica is to the upper left of the Moon.

The weekend night sky will bring: Arcturus is the brightest star high in the west after dusk, high above the place where Venus declines and sets in twilight. At about the same height in the northwest, look for the Big Dipper now turning right-side up. Equally high in the northeast, W-shaped Cassiopeia is climbing.

Sunday, Soon after dark at this time of year, Vega crosses nearest the zenith. Whenever this happens, Altair is high in the southeast with its little companion Tarazed almost directly above it. And the Sagittarius Teapot is at its best lower in the south.

Monday, Mars remains within 2° above bright Venus this evening through Friday evening. They're both moving rapidly eastward against the stars, so their positions with respect each other change only slowly. First-quarter Moon (exact at 2:14 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

News from the Net:
The Sun's Conveyor Belt May Lengthen Solar Cycles
New Trojan Asteroid Discovered Around Neptune
Tonight the Planets and Perseids Put on a Show For Free
What is Causing Weather Extremes in 2010?
Tumbling Boulders Leave Trails on the Moon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catching Falling Stars

The Perseid meteor watch continues and the Earth is entering the debris stream of comet Swift-Tuttle and this is causing the annual Perseid meteor shower. According to the International Meteor Organization, observers are now counting as many as 25 meteors Perseids per hour during the dark hours before dawn. 2010 Perseid Meteor Gallery. It's going to get even better: The shower is expected to peak on August 12th with rates as high as 100 per hour. Stay tuned for updates. [live meteor radar] [2010 meteor counts]

StarLog ^^100810-11B
Last night was a Clear, Dark Sky!! Seeing was Good, again. I set up the DOB, red lights and the charts. At 8:35 I stepped out and saw the summer triangle stars and Antares in twilight. Ten pm, I began scanning Sagittarius and Scorpius with the binoculars. I focused the DOB on the clusters around the lid of the Tea Pot. M28, ngc6638 and ngc6642, plus a few cluster/nebulas a bit above the lid like M8 and M20. I found a tight cluster to the East of Antares and M4. I think it was NGC6144? I will review my notes and the charts on that location. Also took notes on the clusters and nebula locations, scanning the Tea Pot. Located and took another look at the “Coathanger” with the binoculars, put the scope eyepiece on Albireo. A beautiful sharp close double in blue and gold! Shut down and came out again at 2:30 Am.

Put the Scope on Jupiter and those four moons.


Three on the right, not aligned tonight. There was one lone moon on the left. All were bright, along with the planet. And that missing southern belt, is a curious sight in the eyepiece.

I focused in on the Andromeda Galaxy. In the scope early Wednesday, the bulging core was bright and the dust clouds of the spiral shape were distinctive in the eyepiece. @ 2:40am I logged a meteor coming out of the bottom of Cassiopeia, moving NW. Very bright and long. for the next hour and half I logged 12 short, dim to bright meteors from the high box shaped Pegasus, south to Jupiter. Not bad for a laying under the stars a couple of hours on a clear night. I had commitments in the morning, so I had to shut down at 4 am.

Thursday, Hoping it’s clear. A thin crescent Moon is to the lower right of Venus. After dark, watch for the Perseid meteor shower. This year, the Moon sets before the end of twilight, leaving the sky dark, perfect for meteor watching. The Perseids appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus. Perseus is near the northeast horizon around midnight.

News from the Net:
Giant Ultraviolet Rings Found Around Ancient Galaxies
Ambitious Survey Spots Stellar Nurseries
WISE Cryostat is Depleting

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Perseid Meteor Watch

The 2010 Perseid meteor shower is underway. Early Monday morning I went out at 1:30 am. The sky was blanketed in clouds. Tuesday morning was Clear at 1:30 am, but seeing not the best. posted this: "Last night I counted 28 Perseids between 1 am and 4 am--including this bright one zinging past Jupiter," says Pete Glastonbury of Devizes, Wiltshire, UK. Across the Atlantic in Mahaffey, Pennslyvania, sky watcher Kristin Troilo reports seeing "5 or 6 fantastic Perseids per hour." Rates should increase 10-fold by Thursday, August 12th, when the shower peaks. These early reports are a promising sign of things to come. [live meteor radar] [2009 Perseid gallery] [2010 meteor counts] A nice video of a Perseid fireball from this year is here and another one here. And here are some images from Singapore. After you find the radiant point for the Perseid shower, be ready for some bright meteors! The past two nights my sightings have been poor, my count has been minimal, so far!

While waiting for those falling stars this week, focus on The Sagittarius Teapot. It has no less than eight globular clusters around its spout. Make it a project to scan for them with your scope. Arcturus is the brightest star high in the west after dusk (high above the place where Venus declines and sets). At about the same height to its right in the northwest, look for the Big Dipper now turning right-side up. Nearly as high in the northeast, W-shaped Cassiopeia is climbing upward. While you are in Cassiopeia find and focus on NGC 457. The Owl Cluster or ET is easy to find and is great in the scope!

News from the Net:
Space Storm Alert from New CME
A new solar space storm from a significant M-1 class coronal mass ejection [CME] is heading directly into the path of the Earth and will impact the planet's magnetosphere late today (Tuesday, 10 August 2010 and Wednesday) likely causing some anticipated minor disruptions to telecommunication signals.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Exploring Perseus

Getting ready for the Perseid Meteor Shower, I took some time to explore that area of sky that surrounds the Greek Myth and story about a Royal Family ( King and Queen, a Princess), a Prince and a Flying Horse. If you don’t like reading these Greek stories, go see the movie, “Clash of the Titans” .

Early Saturday morning @ 3:30 AM, the sky was somewhat clear and the morning air was not as humid. Do I dare say..."Cooler"! As I stepped out, the first object in the sky I spotted was the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters). High in the SE, those seven stars in the dipper shape, led the way through Perseus to Cassiopeia then up to Andromeda. Getting oriented to the sky took a few minutes but after several chart reviews and finally locating Pegasus over the roof of the house, I found my boundaries for the Perseid watch. I did a Binocular scan from the eastern treeline. I started at Aldebaran, up to the Seven Sisters into Perseus, stopped at the double cluster then went down to Capella. I found the Andromeda Galaxy, Looking straight up.

I did several scans in Perseus. Kept scanning Multiple stars grouped near Mirfak in a loose cluster. This turned out to be Mel 20/ Perseid cluster.

Then there was that crescent moon. Started out in the trees as a bright beam of light and I could make out a crescent shape in the binoculars as it started to climb out of the trees.

Fingers of Clouds moved in and out, shrouding Cassiopeia to the North then really came in from the SW at 5 AM. @ 6 AM I saw red Betelgeuse, the left hand and[Rigel] the right foot of Orion just over the treeline in the east. By 6:15 Orion and belt were fully reclined over the trees.
Getting on to 7 AM, the crescent Moon is higher and more clouds in the sky as twilight erases the night. It’s time to strap my legs on and get some coffee and breakfast.
Only 2 meteors streaked across the sky during the time I was docked and locked. One of the falling stars was very bright and did originate from Perseus. "The Perseids are booming here in Alabama," reports astronomer Bill Cooke of the Marshall Space Flight Center. "Although the peak of the shower is almost a week away, we saw five Perseid fireballs last night (Aug. 5-6). It's a good sign that this year's shower will be a good one." [live meteor radar] [Perseid gallery] [meteor counts].

Next week, on August 12th, the trio of Planets will become a quartet when the crescent Moon joins the planets for an amazing four-way conjunction. Even more amazing, it happens on the peak-night of the Perseid meteor shower. Astronomy doesn't get much better than this!
sky maps: August 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. Bring on the clear skies, I am ready for the 2010 Perseid Meteor Shower!

Monday, New Moon (exact at 11:08 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

Wednesday, The Perseid meteor shower will be very active late tonight. See Dark Nights for the Perseids.

Thursday, The Perseid meteors should be at their peak late tonight.

News from the Net:
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Strange Stars

Friday, August 6, 2010

Event Horizon: The Planets, Perseid Meteors

Sunday, August 8 is a planet conjunction! But each night, through the weekend and into next week, find a good horizon and scan the western sky for Mars, Venus and Saturn. With some luck, Mercury too. If your tree lined backyard dominates the western horizon find a clear spot away from your backyard. Then come back home and look for falling stars while scanning the Night Sky. The Night of the Perseids is Aug 12!

Tonight another scan south in Sagittarius and Scorpius. Move North East for Cygnus, Lyra and Aquila[summer triangle].

Here are a few Binocular highlights:
Early morning scans while watching for those meteors, scan Cassieopea and Perseus to locate the Double Cluster. While your up, look for Cepheus, and locate "Hershels Garnet Star". Looks better in a scope! A red star, five degrees SE of the star Alderanmin[check your charts on this one]. In the evenings scan Lyra for the Ring M57 and a Globular cluster M56. Fuzzy in the binos, M56 is bouyed between gamma Lyra and Albireo. They say 10x50s are better to view these. I think I have a pair around here somewhere? If M13 in Hercules is not too far NW in the horizon, catch the fuzzy glow in the keystone. Find Antares in the south then focus on M4, a bit to the right of the bright star. Look for a double star, omega scorpii, another star that is to the right and above Antares [T.U.B.A. charts]. Back to the summer triangle and locate the "coathanger". Near the hanger is a double star, alpha Vulpeculae, found between Albireo and the hanger. Delta Lyrae is a colored double[like Albireo], just scan around the harp, you should see it.

Sunday, Aug. 8 Watch the Venus-Saturn-Mars triangle as it changes shape day by day in the western twilight. Spica too is now moving in on the scene from the left, as shown here. Can you also make out Gamma Virginis, magnitude 2.7? For this one you'll probably need binoculars. Have you seen any early Perseid meteors yet? The peak of the annual shower is expected to arrive next Thursday night, the night of August 12-13. Start planning now! See the S&T article Dark Nights for the Perseids
I'll scan with binoculars first, then focus a scope on the target to get a "closer" look. Start counting and tracking those meteors spotted streaking across the sky. Clear Skies

News from the Net:

Space Telescopes Team Up to Capture Spectacular Galactic Collision
There's Water On the Moon's Surface, But Interior Could Be Dry
Observing Spotlight – Whatever Happened to M71?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stars in a Summer Night

Along with summer heat, the coastal breezes and some Clouds returned. The Clouds are back!? Two nights ago I stepped outside at Ten o’clock, with binoculars in hand. The stars were out but dim, covered with a haze over my backyard! Tuesday night was clearer, a bit north of my location. Wednesday morning I stepped out at 5 AM to see the Space Station pass over. Patches of Clouds every where but that did not deter me from waiting. I caught one fast moving meteor as it streaked below the moon and Jupiter. It was bright, long and colorful. This was the only one I saw during the time I waited, but listed it as a “Wow”. The Clouds did break at 5:35 and I did see the ISS arc across the NW - NE part of my Portal. It was high and bright and dimmed as it reached Cassiopeia. In the moonlight, before the clouds covered the sky again, I spotted Capella [the little she-goat], high in the East. The red star Aldebaran[the follower of the Pleiades] was just above the treeline. Last night the clouds were scatterd. These summer coastal breezes do bring cooler mornings. A welcome break from the sweltering nights with no breeze. At least getting some rain would give reason to continued cloudy skies. If it rains, as predicted, at the first part of the coming week. I am hoping for clear skies during the Perseids, this weekend and beyond!

Note: Yesterday was day 107 since BP’s Deep Water platform blew and dumped a mess of oil into the gulf. They have finally capped the beast and now we wait for results that could take years to find out the impact of what they did to our gulf waters and the environment.

Tonight, if it is Clear… Venus and Saturn are 3.5 degrees apart. Saturn and Mars are also 3.5 degrees apart. Mars and Venus are 5.5 degrees from each other. Look for the isosceles triangle of planets in the west at dusk. Venus is the brightest of the three, shining at -4.2 magnitude. Mars is the dimmest at +1.5 magnitude.

Friday, Starting this evening, Mars and Saturn spend more than a week sliding just above brilliant Venus low in the west as twilight fades.

Saturday, Venus, Mars, and Saturn are gathered most tightly this evening, fitting in a circle 4.8— in diameter — just small enough to qualify as a "planetary trio," a grouping within a 5° circle.

Sunday, The Summer Triangle in a stream of stars, the milky-way.

News from the Net:
Telescope's Laser Pointer Clarifies Blurry Skies
Latest from Mars: Exposed Ice in Fresh Crater, Plus 100's More New Images
Solar Storm Update: Best Times for Viewing Aurorae
Aurora Alert! Solar Storm Reaches Earth
NASA Schedules Two "Emergency" EVA's to Fix Cooling System
Radar Images Reveal Tons of Water Likely at the Lunar Poles
Instruments Chosen for Joint ESA/NASA Mission to Mars

I watched Carl Sagan’s, “Back Bone of the Night” on the Discovery website, from the Cosmos TV Series. Carl tells great stories of the Stuff of Stars and Planets. Glad his legacy remains on video.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

August Dark Sky Events

As the Sun moves more toward the fall equinox, the heat is on in this final month of summer. This weeks forecast is hot and hot, with clear nights ahead. Take a minute to review and observe the night sky for the month of August. Most info is from the One Minute Astronomer:

Mars, Saturn, and brilliant Venus continue their square dance in the western sky at sunset. They are never far from each other, or from the brighter stars of Leo and Virgo. These three planets show you the dynamic solar system in action. They gather to within 5 degrees of each other on August 8, then spread out a bit by August 12 when they’re joined by a slender crescent Moon. The Planets at Sunset on August 8.

That other Planet Jupiter: The next two months will give you the best view this year of the “Lord Planet”. Jupiter rises in Pisces about 9:30 p.m. local time by mid month. Even a small scope will show you the four largest moons of Jupiter, and the dark belts and white zones running across the planet. Great to observe, note and compare.

You can’t beat lying back on an August night under dark sky to examine the stunning celestial sights along the Milky Way. This is a great month to look at star clouds, dark nebulae, and naked-eye clusters along the “backbone of the night”. One knot of stars is so dense and bright, Messier included it in his catalog as M24. It’s just north and east of the lid of the “teapot” shape of Sagittarius, and south the the lovely Swan Nebula. No less than eight globular clusters pepper the area around the spout of the Sagittarius Teapot.

Tonight, Cassiopeia is Queen on summer evenings, Mercury is at its closest to Venus. Look for Mercury 18 degrees to the lower right of Venus. In the coming days, the distance increases slightly and Mercury fades in brightness. How many more nights can you spot Mercury? Look low in the west at dusk. Binoculars will help. The ISS is making early morning passes over my backyard this week. I will be thinking about the Space walk [EVA] Tomorrow morning as it glides across at 5:45 AM.

The Perseid Meteor Shower is the Event of the Month! The Perseids build slowly, starting in late July when you might see 3-4 an hour. They peak when Earth passes through the thickest part of the debris stream on August 11-12. At the peak of the show, in clear, dark sky, you might see as many as 60 meteors an hour. Unfortunately, next week, a waning gibbous moon will obscure the fainter meteors in the early morning hours, but if you have clear sky, the Perseids are well worth a look. Just don’t stare at the moon… it will ruin your dark-adapted vision.
For the best view, observe late on August 11 and the early morning of August 12. After midnight is best… that’s when the Earth turns into the stream of particles from Swift-Tuttle. Like most meteor showers, the Perseids are simply dust-sized pieces of icy debris expelled from a comet, in this case, Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the Earth passes through the comet’s debris once each year, some particles streak through our atmosphere and heat up, leaving a transient bright streak we call a meteor. The tiny particles burn up in the atmosphere. Very few, if any, make it to the Earth’s surface. Some hit the moon, too, though they’re too faint to see, even with a telescope.

News from the Net:
NASA Schedules Two "Emergency" EVA's to Fix Cooling System
Instruments Chosen for Joint ESA/NASA Mission to Mars
Radar Images Reveal Tons of Water Likely at the Lunar Poles

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Star Hopping in A Dark Sky


Saturday Evening @ Nine forty five I stepped outside and found the sky a repeat of last night. Another Clear, Dark Night! At 21:55, I spotted a Satellite - flare moving E, away from the top star in the teapot [Kaus Borealis].

I did catch a glimpse of Mars and Saturn over my right shoulder, still high(ok, not so high) in the West, just above the tree line. I missed Venus in the west behind the trees. The three planets will remain in triangular formation for many nights to come, only the angles will change. Keep an eye on the sunset! Hope your horizon is better than mine. Sky maps: August 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

It was still warm @ 10 pm, the Sky was Clear, seeing was Good, spotted a visible Milky Way from the Tea Pot running past the Swan. I had set up the 10” Dobson before dark. The Summer Triangle was at Z’. A Binocular scan found the Coathanger, still where I found it the last time. The FOV is filled with stars, but the asterism stood out sharp and clear. I moved the scope to Vega then down to the Ring -m57, sharp and clear in the eyepiece tonight. Phsycally hard to view for any length of time, strait up. Then moved down and over to Albireo. A beautiful double star, crisp gold and blue in the eyepiece. A last look at Hercules and the Keystone, moving farther to the NW. Also a tuff find at the top of the sky. I scanned the Top of the Tea Pot, east of Kaus Borealis and easily found M22. Large, dense, wide cluster in the eyepiece tonight. Moved to Antares , found M4 and found a double star in the head of the scorpion. Moved back to Sagittarius and did a slow scan above and around the Tea Pot again, picking up clusters and nebulas. This area is thick with stars to explore(location and description notes to chart these later for ID). Covered the scope and went in for a while.

3:35 am Aug 1, a bright moon lit up the night sky. Jupiter, in the constellation Pisces, was near and off to the right of the Moon. The four bright moons of Jupiter were spaced close in, all on the left of the bright planet. Two were very close to the planet and paired at a angle like a math fraction.
c…………….g.……………e..i(J) ………..u

Uranus was still visible, a dim dot to the right of Jupiter
Covered the scope and called it.....I missed a 5:45 ISS pass later in the morning as it went through time!

Tonight, Vega and Lyra shine very high during evening for observers at mid-northern latitudes. The Ring Nebula, M57, is familiar and easy to find.

Tuesday, before dawn, Last-quarter Moon Monday night (exact at 12:59 a.m. Tuesday morning EDT). Look east before dawn for the Pleiades 3° or 4° lower left of the waning Moon (as seen from North America).

News from the Net: posted: Dawn came early to New Mexico on Saturday morning when a brilliant meteor exploded near Santa Fe. "It turned night into day," says amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft who recorded the fireball using an all-sky video camera: must-see movie. The movie's soundtrack is the signal from a 61 MHz forward-scatter meteor radar also operated by Ashcraft. A ghostly echo from the meteor's debris continues long after the meteor itself explodes. Listen again.

Astronomy Without A Telescope – The Universe Is Not In A Black Hole

SciFi on TV Last Night: Surrogates
Waiting for the sky to get darker Friday evening, this was on one of our Sat-TV channels. Glad I waited to see this one on TV and did not pay to see it when it came out last year. Plot and Characters not the best. Mad Scientist trying to correct his mistake on Lazy humans. I Robot and even WestWorld were much better "Robot" SciFi movies. Sorry Bruce!