Friday, January 29, 2010

Event Horizon: Mars, Saturn and a Big Moon!

The Night Sky will be clear for Weekend Observing. A full Moon will light up the night but the rain is gone until Tuesday.
In a Clear Sky Tonight:
Mars
is at opposition, opposite the Sun in Earth's sky. So is the full Moon next to it! Moreover, the Moon is at perigee, making this the largest and brightest full Moon, by a little bit, of the year. (The Moon is exactly full at 1:18 a.m. Saturday morning EST).
Once Saturn rises into good view late tonight, a small scope will show its largest satellite, Titan, about four ring-lengths to the planet's west.
Saturday: The Moon is at perigee, the point in its orbit closest to the Earth. At 4 a.m. EST the Moon will be 221,577 miles from Earth. The Moon is full at 1:18 a.m. EST. This will be the closest Full Moon of the year. The Moon will appear 14% larger than the average Full Moon. Mars shines above the Moon this evening, by about 1½ fist-widths at arm's length. Much closer to the Moon's lower left, look for Regulus. Moon in Leo, Mars in Cancer on January 30
Spaceweather.com explains Mars and the Moon event: In a coincidence of celestial proportions, the Moon and Mars are having close encounters with Earth at the same time. Moreover, the two will spend Friday night gliding across the sky side-by-side. It's a must-see event: sky map.
Readers with backyard telescopes should train their optics on Mars. It looks bigger through a telescope now than at any time between 2008 and 2014
If you think tonight's Moon looks unusually big, you're right. It's the biggest full Moon of 2010. Astronomers call it a "perigee Moon," some 14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons of the year. Johannes Kepler explained the phenomenon 400 years ago. The Moon's orbit around Earth is not a circle but an ellipse, with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other. Astronomers call the point of closest approach "perigee," and that is where the Moon will be Friday night through Saturday morning: diagram.
A good time to look is around sunset when the Moon is near the eastern horizon. At that time, illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through foreground objects such as buildings and trees. Why not let the "Moon illusion" amplify a full Moon that's extra-big to begin with? The swollen orb rising in the east may seem close enough to touch.

Tammy Plotner reviews the orange Planet, Orion and Sirus in her Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast: January 29-31, 2010. More Event information from Universe Today.com: Big Full Moon and Mars Put on a Show Friday Night.

More News from the Net:
President Can't Cut Constellation Without Congressional Approval
Long Anticipated Eruption of U Scorpii Has Begun
Remembering Challenger
Next Shuttle Launch is Go; Universe Today Will Be There
Supernova or GRB? Radio Observations Allow Astronomers to Find Unusual ObjectNew Amazing Mars Flyover Videos

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bright Mars and a Full Moon by Week's End

Last Night we watched the ISS sail across a clear sky just after sunset before the clouds rolled in. The bright orbiting lab moved from WNW to the SW. Forecast notes indicate Cold, Cloudy, Wet Nights Ahead! More Canadian Air will bring freezing temps with a chance of wet stuff for the next three days. We should see stars and Mars in a very cold Saturday evening. A Full Moon will hamper night viewing Saturday night. (The Moon is exactly full at 1:18 a.m. Saturday morning EST).

If the Clouds break Tonight:
Mars comes closest to Earth on January 27, 2010, Mercury is at greatest elongation. Mercury is 25° west of the Sun. Look for Mercury low in the southeast at dawn. Mars is at its closest approach to the Earth at 2 p.m. EST. The red planet is 0.664 AU or 61.7 million miles from the Earth. Mars is at opposition on Friday, January 29th. Does Mars ever appear as large as the full moon?
If it is Clear Thursday Night: The nearly full Moon is near the twin stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Aim a telescope or binoculars at the Moon and look for the lunar rays. Rays are spoke-like lines radiating from some of the Moon's craters. The crater Tycho has one of the best ray systems. Rays are best seen around the time of full Moon.
If the Clouds break Friday: A full Moon next to Mars! Moreover, the Moon is at perigee, making this the largest and brightest full Moon, by a little bit, of the year. Mars is at opposition. Opposition is when a planet is on the opposite side of the sky from the Sun. The red planet is shining bright at -1.3 magnitude. Watch the planet rise around sunset and set around sunrise. This opposition is not as favorable as the perihelic opposition of 2003. The next close opposition of Mars is in 2018.

Lots of News from the Net this week:
Extra-Galactic Whopper Black Hole Breaks Distance Record
Path clear for STS 130 to attach Tranquility module
Could Mars Dust Be "Levitated" Away?
Twin Tails Tell a Crazy Tale of Star Formation
Satellite Captures Solar Eclipse from Space
Debunking Astrology: Mars Can't Influence You
No More Roving for Spirit; Stationary Science Ahead
A Double-Dose of Cassini Goodness
New Edition of "This Week in Space"
WISE Bags its First Near-Earth Asteroid
One of Jupiter's Moons is Melted!
NASA advanced Solar Observatory nearing February launch; will send IMAX like movies daily

Monday, January 25, 2010

Orion and Mars in the Night Sky

The Moon is bright but Orion and Mars can be observed just after dark. Forecast says a few more clear nights before the clouds blanket the sky. Orion was highlighted on line today: Astronomy Without A Telescope – More Than Meets The Eye

If it is clear Tonight:
The waxing gibbous Moon is east of the Pleiades star cluster and north of the star Aldebaran. A prominent feature on the Moon tonight is Sinus Iridum or the Bay of Rainbows. It's a semicircular formation on the edge of the Sea of Rains. The Jura mountains form the northwestern side of the bay. The Moon is close to Aldebaran, Pleiades on January 25
If it is Clear Tuesday:
If you draw a big X with one line from Capella to Betelgeuse, and another line from Aldebaran to Castor, the Moon shines near their crossing point this evening.
If it is Clear Wednesday:
Mars is closest to Earth, appearing bigger through a telescope (14.1 arcseconds) than anytime from 2008 until 2012. It remains essentially the same size for another week or two. This is an unfavorable showing as Mars apparitions go, however; Mars reached an apparent diameter of 25.1″ in August 2003 and will be 24.3″ in July 2018.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Event Horizon: First Quarter Moon

Last night the Group (seven) met and discussed Astronomy. Topics ranged from future star parties to the Space Shuttle and the Constellation Program, to Meteorites. Observed Mars and Orion after the meeting. The forecast will bring cloudy nights this weekend, to clear nights Sunday and Monday with a bright moon.

Tonight by 9 p.m., the Big Dipper is already standing nearly upright on its handle in the northeast. This means we're a third of the way through winter! Mercury is very low in the southeast at dawn. Mars, magnitude –1.2, rises in the east-northeast in twilight and shines high in the east by late evening. Mars is highest due south around 1 a.m. Saturn (magnitude +0.8, in Virgo) rises in the east around 10 or 11 p.m. and stands highest in the south around 4 a.m. The Moon and stars of Aries point to a hard-to-see galaxy.

Saturday, The Moon is a bit past First Quarter this evening (exact at 5:53 a.m. on this date EST). Two fine looking craters are near the lunar terminator. Plato with its smooth flat bottom and Eratosthenes near the Apennine Mountains. The Straight Wall is also visible on the Moon tonight. The Straight Wall is about 70 miles long. It appears as a thin dark line.

News from the Net:
Cluster Satellite Detects Rifts in Earth's Magnetic Field
Asteroid Detection, Deflection Needs More Money, Report Says
ISS Now Has Live Access to the Internet
Endeavour aiming for on time launch with coolant hose fix ahead of schedule
Meteorite Smashes Through Roof of Doctor's Office (Video)
Airborne Observatory Passes Next Stage of Testing
Solar Flares Can Now Be Predicted More Accurately
No Word Yet From Phoenix; Spirit's Days May be Numbered

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Meteor Shower, Three Planets and a Moon

The Coma Berenicid Meteor Shower Peaks now but clouds keep moving in to cover my night sky, making it harder to observe these shooting stars.
If your sky is clear tonight, look for Monoceros: the constellation of the Unicorn
Tonight: By mid-evening, bright Mars is well up in the east. Notice the gigantic, flattened letter M that it forms with (to its right) Pollux, Procyon, Betelgeuse, and Rigel — like an enormous Cassiopeia, enlarged five times. The real Cassiopeia is high in the northwestern sky, tipped on end. The waxing crescent Moon is about 20° above and to the left of Jupiter. Look to the WSW after dark for the Moon. Uranus is about 6° to the left of the Moon. Uranus looks like a 6th magnitude star as seen through binoculars. Uranus is in the faint constellation of Pisces the Fish.
Wednesday evening the Great Square of Pegasus poses to the right of the Moon. It's tilted on one corner. Also Wednesday night, The Moon is a waxing crescent. The triple crater grouping of Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina are visible near the lunar terminator. Look with binoculars or a telescope to see the three 60 mile diameter impact craters.

News from the Net:
Annular Eclipse Photos, Videos From Earth and Space
Physicists Tie Beam of Light into Knots
Are We Just 'Lucky' to See Activity on Enceladus?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gathering Clouds

I observed one star to the NE between the gathering clouds last night. Larry’s Event was a GO last night. He noted that the site at the lake, twenty minutes north, was clear. He also noted that several of the scouts and parents did show up to view the night sky with four scopes working. Current forecast calls for a week of warmer temps and nights with cloudy skies in the future.

If it is Clear tonight:
Moon and Jupiter move eastward through the stars
The crescent Moon is above Jupiter. Look for the pair in the WSW at dusk. Look for earthshine. Earthshine is the faint glow that illuminates the dark side of the Moon. It's caused by sunlight reflecting off the Earth and onto the Moon.
Tuesday: The waxing crescent Moon is about 20° above and to the left of Jupiter. Look to the WSW after dark for the Moon. Uranus is about 6° to the left of the Moon. Uranus looks like a 6th magnitude star as seen through binoculars. Uranus is in the faint constellation of Pisces the Fish.
News from the Net:
Stunning New Views From HiRISE; Plus Big Announcement?
How Do You Pronounce ‘Uranus’?
The Coma Berenicid Meteor Shower Peaks
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Getting Orientated

Friday, January 15, 2010

Event Horizon: New Moon and Cloudy Skies

The Rain Event continues and the Clouds will linger into the weekend. Stars are visible in Cyberspace. The Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast: January 15-17, 2010 discusses Comets, Globular Clusters and Nebulas.

If the clouds break over your sky:
Tonight: the New Moon passes in front of the Sun forming an annular eclipse. The eclipse won't be visible from North America. The best place to view the eclipse is from the Indian Ocean. During an annular eclipse, the Moon is farther from the Earth than usual, so the Moon appears a bit smaller than the Sun. The result is a ring of sunlight around the Moon.
Saturday: A young crescent Moon is to the lower right of Jupiter. Look for the very thin waxing crescent about 16° to the lower right of bright Jupiter in the WSW evening sky.
Sunday: The thin crescent Moon is to the lower right of Jupiter. Look for the pair in the WSW at dusk. Jupiter is shining bright at -2nd magnitude. Neptune, at 8th magnitude, is to the lower left of the Moon, but requires a telescope to be seen.

Other News in Cyberspace:
Searching for Moon Rocks Here on Earth
Latest GeoEye Satellite Imagery of Haiti Devastation Now Available on Google Earth
Latest from Hubble: Star Formation Fizzling Out in Nearby Galaxy

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Asteroids, Rovers and Saturn

Clouds continue to cover my night sky. Rain is forecast through Saturday. Larry's Event Sunday night is in Jeopardy with possible cloud cover.

The Asteroid that passed through Orion last night missed us. Follow up articles today:
Images and Videos of 2010 AL30, Earth Dodges an Interplanetary Bullet.
Speaking of Asteroids, asteroid number 134340 [ Pluto ]was mentioned in the News regarding the current location of the probe- New Horizons.

Lots of News from Cyberspace:
Latest from Hubble: Star Formation Fizzling Out in Nearby Galaxy
STS 130 flight pressing forward to launch as NASA resolves coolant hose leak
Maps of Earthquake and Aftershocks in Haiti
Giant Magnetic Loop Stretches Between Two Stars
Mysterious Alien Dust Hints at Violent Planet Formation
First Direct Spectrum of an Exoplanet Orbiting a Sun-like Star
Dark Energy Model Explains 'Hubble Sequence' of Galaxies
Unprecedented Images Show Betelgeuse Has Sunspots
Time running out for Spirit on Mars

If the sky is Clear tonight:
Saturn starts moving retrograde. Look for Saturn 20° WNW of the star Spica in Virgo. Saturn will move 7° farther west by May 30 when is stops moving retrograde.

The red long-period variable star R Leporis, known as Hind's Crimson Star or the Rabbit's Ruby, should be at maximum light this week, about magnitude 6.8. It's not far from Rigel; see the photo, chart, and article in the January Sky & Telescope, page 61. R Lep gets its unusually deep color from carbon in its atmosphere as molecular C2 gas, which acts as a red filter.

Friday: Annular eclipse in Africa and Asia on January 15

Sci-Fi on DVD Last night: The Day the Earth Stood Still
This remake of the 50's Classic was OK, but not what I expected. The Klaatu Character was a stiff shirt, the young boy a brat; the Secretary of Defense was Clueless. There should have been more interaction with the Professor. I was disappointed in Gort. Having this robot turn into nano bugs was a cheap affect. I was thankful the DVD came with the original 1951 version.
Sci-Fi on TV Tonight: Star Trek Nemesis
The action film brings together the entire Star Trek Next Generation crew from the series for a Grand Finale. With Bad Romulans and a vilinous Reman, that are the focus of the plot. By the end of the movie, The USS Enterprise-E is torn apart and almost destroyed. Data gives up his live to save the ship and crew. I liked TNG and it will always be part of the Star Trek Saga.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Asteroid in Orion the Hunter

I have observed Orion gliding across the night sky several times this month. The Hunter is above the trees when the sun goes down and is high after midnight. The Orange/Red Star BETELGEUSE is easy to see and the Belt leads the way to the bright Nebula below. The Clouds have already started to move in and will blanket the night sky far into this week, with rain forecast into the weekend.

Asteroid Alert:
On Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 12:48 GMT, a newly discovered asteroid with temporary designation 2010 AL30 will fly by the Earth at the distance of 0.000 86 AU (129,060 km; about 33% of the distance to the Moon). The asteroid has a diameter of approximately 10-25 meters and poses no risk to anyone, as not only is the calculated perigee distance quite accurate, but in a case of the encounter with Earth’s atmosphere, it would certainly break up and rain down only a few small fragments (meteorites).At around 10 UT on January 13, the object could reach a maximum brightness of 13.8 magnitude and despite a large relative motion (about 10 arcsec/second) should be easily observable with a medium size equipment.
From Spaceweather.com: A curious object is about to fly past Earth only 130,000 km (0.3 lunar distances) away. Catalogued as a 10m-class asteroid, 2010 AL30 has an orbital period of almost exactly 1 year. This raises the possibility that it might not be a natural object, but rather a piece of some spacecraft from our own planet. At closest approach on Jan. 13th, 2010 AL30 will streak through Orion, Taurus, and Pisces glowing like a 14th magnitude star. Experienced amateur astronomers are encouraged to monitor the flyby: ephemeris.
News from the Net:Asteroid or Space Junk? Object Makes Close Pass by Earth Wednesday

If it is Clear Tonight:
Cassiopeia and Big Dipper are opposite each other
Wednesday, A very thin old crescent Moon is to the lower right of Mercury. Look for the crescent and Mercury very low at dawn in the southeast. Binoculars will help you spot the Moon, 45 minutes before sunrise.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Event Horizon: More Cloudy Skies Forecast

After serveral cold nights of temperatures in the "Teens", the nights will fill with Clouds next week. Chances of rain and warmer weather will bring a blanket of clouds. Still way to cold to set up the scope, I did view the stars in the frigid night sky the past few evenings.

The Star Mira, the Planet Mars and a Black Hole are discussed in this Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast – January 8-10, 2010
Tonight: The waning crescent Moon is in the SSE dawn sky. The large crater Copernicus is easily visible through a telescope or binoculars. It's near the lunar terminator in the Ocean of Storms. Copernicus crater was famously photographed by NASA's Lunar Orbiter 2 in 1966. Sunday, Mercury is very low in the ESE at dawn. Look for Mercury 45 minutes before sunrise. Mercury will be easier to spot later in January. The star Antares is almost 30° to the upper right of Mercury. The crescent Moon is about 12° to the upper right of Antares. Look for Orion and the Legend of the celestial Hunter and Scorpion. Observe the Constellation Taurus and the open cluster of blue and orange stars called the Hyades.

The News from Cyberspace:
More Saturn System Beauty from Cassini
Opportunity's Vacation at Marquette Island
Second Smallest Exoplanet Found
Keeping the Spirit of the International Year of Astronomy Alive
UK's Big Snowfall, As Seen From Space

FINAL NIGHT LAUNCH OF THE SHUTTLE: On Feb. 7th at 4:39 am EST, space shuttle Endeavour will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission (STS-130) to the International Space Station. It will be the final night launch of NASA's soon-to-be-retired shuttle program. After STS-130, only four missions remain and all of them will leave Earth in broad daylight. Readers, if you are ever going to travel to Florida to witness a launch, Feb. 7th would be a good choice. Shuttle Endeavour Rolled to Pad; Countdown to the Final Five Begins

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Big Freeze

Artic Air is on the way and should be blowing frigid air early in the morning. No Stars tonight, the clouds are thick and we have had periods of drizzle. The Blast of Artic wind should clear the skies by Thursday night. No plan to set up and observe for the next few evenings... way to cold!


Tonight if the Clouds break: Quarter moon, Spica in wee hours after midnight
Thursday if the Clouds break, The Last Quarter Moon is to the lower right of the star Spica. Look for the Moon in the morning hours. The Apennine Mountains are a prominent feature that can be seen on the Moon with binoculars or a telescope. Look for this mountain range near the lunar terminator. The tallest peaks of the Apennines reach to 16,000 feet.
Last-quarter Moon (exact at 5:39 a.m. EST).
Friday
, Saturn's rings are tilted at 4.91° from edgewise. This is the maximum angle until September. Saturn is high up in the dawn sky now, but will be hard to see in September. Enjoy the telescopic view of Saturn now. Look for Saturn at dawn in the SSW sky.
If you want to observe the deep-sky depths of Orion at their highest and best — through the least amount of atmosphere and light pollution — you now have to wait up until only about 10 p.m. for Orion to get there.

News from the Net:

WISE "First Light" Image Released
Spitzer Peers Into the Small Magellanic Cloud
Welcome Back, Mars…
Chandra Stares Deep into the Heart of Sagittarius A*
Early Release Science from Hubble WFC3 at AAS Conference
New Images Suggest More Recent Lakes on Mars

Monday, January 4, 2010

Look for Planets in Cold, Clear Nights

An Artic Blast is on its way from up North, the Frozen Tundra . Mid week will be Cloudy and Cold. The Forecast for the End of this week will feel Very Cold, with Clear Skies. I saw the Moon this morning in a sharp blue sky.

Today: The Sun moves toward star Vega in journey around galaxy
Tonight if the Clouds Break:
If you're out with a telescope in the early-morning hours of Tuesday or Wednesday, you'll find Saturn's largest moon, Titan, about four ring-lengths to Saturn's east. A 6-inch scope will begin to show the orange color of its smoggy atmosphere. A guide to identifying other Saturnian satellites often visible in amateur scopes is in the January Sky & Telescope, page 51.
Mercury is at inferior conjunction and cannot be seen. Mercury will emerge from the glare of the Sun in the second week of the month. Start looking for Mercury at dawn in the ESE around the 10th of January.

Today's News from the Net:

Kepler Discovers Planets-like Objects Hotter Than Stars
NASA to Unveil Kepler Space Telescope Discoveries, ALMA Telescope Links Third Antenna
Water on the Moon Revisited
New Year’s Greetings from TEAM ISS and 2010 ISS Calendar
Get Ready for "Largest Meeting in Astronomy History"Blue Moon Eclipse Photos from Santhosh Nandakumar



Sunday, January 3, 2010

Event Horizon: The Clouds are Back

2010 starts with Cloudy Skies! No stars...lots of football/ bowl games and NFL. Getting the wood pile ready for the upcomming frosty weather at the end of the week. 2010 appears to be picking up where 2009 left off--with sunspot activity on the rise.

News from the Net:
New Year's Eve Blue Moon Eclipse from Cornwall
MN112 – A New Luminous Blue Variable Found From Its Nebula?
New Year's Resolution: Find the Mars Polar Lander
Will the Spirit Rover Survive 2010?
Russia May Head Mission to Deflect Asteroid Apophis
Galactic Building Blocks
Where To Next for NASA's Solar System Exploration?
New Horizons Spacecraft Now Closer to Pluto Than Earth
Wolfram Alpha – A Handy Tool for the Casual Astronomer.
An Exotic Source for Cosmic Rays: 'Baby' Black Holes

Saturday, The Earth was at perihelion. Perihelion is the point in the Earth's orbit that is closest to the Sun. Today the Earth is 0.983 AU or 91.4 million miles from the Sun. That's about 2 million miles closer than usual.

If the sky Clears tonight:
The annual Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Jan. 3rd at 1900 UT (2 pm EST) when Earth passes through a stream of debris from shattered comet 2003 EH1. Bright moonlight will spoil the show for visual observers.
The waning gibbous Moon is near the planet Mars. Look for Mars and the Moon in the morning sky. Mars is 12° west of the star Regulus. At dawn Mars is in the WSW sky.