Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sky: First week of December

OK that Cold Front came earlier this week. We have a couple of clear cold nights before the clouds make a return visit. Becky Ramotowski’s Sky Watch article has a lot of favorites that I will try and put in my FOV. There is Jupiter and the GRS, Orion plus the Pleiades in the evening. Three brilliant belt stars of Orion rise in a vertical line and point toward Aldebaran. The fiery eye of the bull, Aldebaran, is an orange giant star about 65 light-years away from us. Taurus the bull follows the Pleiades and rises as a large V-shaped group of stars. Look for Saturn, Venus and the Moon before dawn this week.

Dress warm and point a scope at Jupiter. Observe the moons of Jupiter in December. I get my Jupiter satellite information from CalSky when I set up a scope and observe.

Wednesday and Thursday morning, The waning crescent Moon is to the lower right of Saturn. Spica to to the lower left of the Moon. Venus is below and to the left of Spica. Look for the celestial gathering in the southeast and hour before sunrise.

Will we see a launch this month? Discovery, STS-133, is currently scheduled to go into orbit Friday December 17, 7:51 p.m. my time.

News from the Net:
News on local Science Teacher Stef Paramoure
Russia Wants to Build “Sweeper” to Clean up Space Debris
An Apertif to the Next Radio Astronomy Entrée
Christie’s to Auction off 1st Edition Works by Newton, Galileo
Exoplanet Discovery Lists top 500

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A December Sky

After a week of Thanksgiving hustle and feasting, the Sky was clear for a little while this past weekend. Had a great visit and dinner with family. Black Friday started off very cold and brought a few nights of clear skies. So I was thankful for time with family and those nights when the stars moved across my sky! I’m still working on left over turkey and those great deserts that came with the feast. As the month of November closes, the sky will render a meteor shower (fingers crossed for a clear night) and a Total Lunar Eclipse (fingers crossed again for a clear night) in December. Jupiter and Orion are center stage in the evening sky! We have a few more cloudy nights forecast next week but another cold front will bring us a chance for clear skies later in the week. Looking forward to a New moon coming December 5!

Tonight if the clouds break, Last-quarter Moon (exact at 3:36 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). As is always the case when the Moon is last quarter, it rises around the middle of the night. The exact time depends on your location.

Monday, Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 9:30 p.m. EST. Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt Outbreak crosses the central meridian about 3 hours and 40 minutes later, 1:10 a.m. Tuesday morning EST. Uranus is 3 degrees to the east of Jupiter. Look for Uranus with binoculars in the evening sky. The gap between Jupiter and Uranus is closing. In the early part of 2011, the pair will be just a half a degree apart.

Tuesday, In early dawn tomorrow morning, North Americans can look southeast to find Saturn, Spica and Venus left of waning crescent Moon.

Thursday, Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 7:00 p.m. EST. Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt Outbreak crosses the central meridian about 3 hours and 40 minutes later, 10:40 p.m. EST. In dawn Friday, look for the thin Moon far below Venus in the southeast.

Friday, After dinnertime at this time of year, the M-shaped constellation Cassiopeia floats nearly overhead when you face north (for skywatchers in the world's mid-northern latitudes). Far below Cassiopeia, find Polaris, the North Star. And far below Polaris lies the Big Dipper. Jupiter's moon Europa reappears from eclipse out of Jupiter's shadow around 8:34 p.m. EST. A small telescope will show it gradually swelling into view just east of the planet.

News from the Net:
Moon’s Mini-Magnetosphere
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Black Hole Evolution
Gravitational Redshifts: Main Sequence vs. Giants
Tenuous Oxygen Atmosphere Found Around Saturn’s Moon Rhea
Soyuz and 3 ISS Crewmembers Return Home
J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!
How Jupiter is Getting Its Belt Back
Cassini Spacecraft Back in Operation
Shuttle Launch Could Be Delayed Into Next Year

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Event Horizon: Cloudy Forecast Covers my Sky

A Pacific front is passing through and has raised the temperatures (too warm for November!) and brought the clouds back. This will last until after Thanksgiving when another cold front will enter our area. No Stars for a while, so the Scopes are covered, put away and we are dealing with layers of clouds. We had our monthly Group meeting last Thursday night. Seven of us discussed a bunch of topics and had a lively debate on Time/longitude and the upcoming lunar eclipse. Larry reviewed a new automated scope that takes a photo of star that it is aligning with, like Canopus. So can we see Canopus? Yes according to this article, in March from NM. If you look just above the southern horizon around 7 p.m., you will see a bright star twinkling just five degrees above the horizon. Our Texas location is: 29.4200°N. Canopus never even rises above the horizon for locations north of about 37 degrees north latitude. Here is a link to a Texas observation of Canopus in February. More interesting questions discussed:
Does the shortest/longest day occur on Solstice/Equinox?
Does the sun rise and set equally if you are on an island, on the equator?
The real equality of day and night only happens in places far enough from the Equator to have a seasonal difference in day length of at least 7 minutes, actually occurring a few days towards the winter side of each equinox. The date at which sunset and sunrise becomes exactly 12 hours apart is known as the equilux. Because sunset and sunrise times vary with an observer's geographic location (longitude and latitude), the equilux likewise depends on location and does not exist for locations sufficiently close to the Equator. The equinox, however, is a precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth. So was that person in the book on the island during equinox?

It was decided not to have a meeting in December, just too close to St. Nicks day!? I did purchase the 2011 Sky Guides and started reviewing events that will be in my sky in the coming months.

Last Wednesday night I had a chance to view the ISS as it soared across my backyard. High, bright and a nice long run.

Tonight, if the clouds break, Full Moon (exact at 12:27 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). Tonight the Moon is not far from the Pleiades, too many clouds to see this!

Monday, The Moon this evening shines between Aldebaran to its right and Beta Tauri (El Nath) closer to its left. Venus is 14.4 degrees east of Saturn. Look for Saturn to the upper right of Venus. This is the minimum distance between these two planets. Venus is in the ESE an hour and a half before sunrise.

Wednesday, For telescope users, Jupiter's moon Europa casts its tiny black shadow onto Jupiter's face from 8:22 to 11:03 p.m. EST. Seven minutes after the shadow transit begins, Io emerges out of eclipse from Jupiter's shadow just off the planet's eastern limb.

Thursday, Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey, Pie and Football. More Turkey and More Football!

Friday, Bright Jupiter shines in the southern sky after dark. By about 8 or 8:30 p.m. this week, when Jupiter has moved a little to the right of due south, is stands directly above Fomalhaut, the Autumn Star, far below it.

News from the Net:
Astronomy Without A Telescope – So Why Not Exo-Oceans?
Rock Bridge on Mars
Light Speed Animation
Twinkle Twinkle Little Missing Stars, How I Wonder Where you are?
Breathtaking Recent Aurora Images from Earth and Space
Rover Teams Keeping Spirits Up on Fate of Frozen Mars Rover
Red Sky In The Morning…
Exoplanet of Extragalactic Origin Could Foretell Our Solar System’s FutureWISE Captures a Glowing Cylinder in Space

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Meteors Last Night

This year's Leonids was a no show in my backyard. No meteors last night? Try between moonset and dawn November 18 The best viewing time is after midnight, in the hours just before dawn. At most, expect to see approximately 15 meteors per hour. I might try again early Tomorrow morning. The annual Leonid meteor shower is peaking today, Nov. 17th, as Earth passes through a thicket of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. So far the shower has been a modest one, with fewer than ~25 meteors per hour according to international counts. The reason: Earth is missing the densest swarms of comet dust. A better shower is coming. The Geminids of mid-December are expected to exceed today's Leonids four- or five-fold. Stay tuned for that! Major Meteor Showers (2010-2011) .

The moon – it is not the meteor watcher’s friend. Light reflecting off a bright moon can be just as detrimental to good meteor viewing as those bright lights of the big city. There is nothing you can do except howl at the moon, so you’ll have to put up with it or wait until the next favorable shower. However, even though the 2010 Perseids and Geminids share the night sky with the moon, they are still expected to produce more visible meteor activity than other major showers that don’t have an interfering moon.

The best thing you can do to maximize the number of meteors you’ll see is to get as far away from urban light pollution as possible and find a location with a clear, unclouded view of the night sky. If you enjoy camping, try planning a trip that coincides with dates of one of the meteor showers listed below. Once you get to your viewing location, search for the darkest patch of sky you can find, as meteors can appear anywhere overhead. The meteors will always travel in a path away from the constellation for which the shower is named. This apparent point of origin is called the “radiant.” For example, meteors during a Leonid meteor shower will appear to originate from the constellation Leo. (Note: the constellation only serves as a helpful guide in the night’s sky. The constellation is not the actual source of the meteors.

News from the Net:
A Cosmologist’s Wish List: Four Most-Wanted Discoveries
Dissolving Star Systems Create Mess in Orion
Mini-Asteroid Flying By Earth Tonight
Cosmologist Allan Sandage Dies
Cool Chang’E 2 Videos
The Lion Tamer – Leonid Meteor Shower 2010
Confirmed: Hayabusa Nabbed Asteroid Particles
Has a Recent, Nearby Supernova Become a Baby Black Hole?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Tuesday Night, The Leonid Meteor Shower

We are still dealing with clouds this weekend! From evening into dawn our sky is covered. We had a shower last night, early evening, with not much left in the rain gauge. Another cold front has passed through and the outlook for Tuesday night is Clear!

The 2010 Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak before dawn on Wednesday, November 17, or Thursday, November 18. If you have a dark sky – far from city lights – you might see as many as 10 to 15 meteors per hour at the shower’s peak. The best time to watch will be after the moon sets in the wee hours before dawn. This year the bright waxing gibbous moon won’t set till 3 or 4 a.m. Hope to head out to the pasture where the horizon is lot better for viewing these flashes of light entering our atmosphere. Plan to take one scope and catch the morning comet Ikeya Murakami that was in the same field with Saturn and it’s headed toward Venus. How easy can it get? Simply aim your binoculars at Saturn and slowly follow the trajectory towards Venus. By November 30 Ikeya Murakami will be about 2 degrees north of the stunningly bright planet and also a same field object in most binoculars.

Tonight if the clouds break, First-quarter Moon (exact at 11:39 a.m. EST). This evening the Moon forms a nearly equilateral triangle with Jupiter to its left and fainter Fomalhaut below them both. Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 10:25 p.m. EST.

Monday the waxing gibbous Moon poses to the upper right of Jupiter this evening. Although they look close together, Jupiter is 1,630 times farther away — and 40 times larger in diameter.

Tuesday evening the Moon is to Jupiter's upper left. The Leonid meteor shower should be at its best in the early hours of Wednesday and/or Thursday — after the Moon sets around 3 a.m.

Wednesday morning, and 4 a.m. Thursday morning. But the Leonids have been far from spectacular in these off-years. You might see 20 Leonids per hour, and 4 Taurids, from a dark, rural site. In the Wednesday dawn, Venus is the closest it will get to fainter Spica: 3 3/4° below it.

Wednesday evening, It's a busy for telescope users focused on Jupiter! Io reappears from eclipse out of Jupiter's shadow, just off the planet's eastern limb, around 6:33 p.m. EST. A small telescope will show it gradually swelling back into view. Ganymede reappears from behind Jupiter's eastern limb itself around 7:15 p.m. EST. The tiny black shadow of Europa is on Jupiter's disk until 8:28 p.m. EST. Then, out in the clear, Ganymede goes into eclipse in Jupiter's shadow at 9:04 p.m. EST and re-emerges at 12:00 midnight EST.
(For a complete listing of all such Jupiter satellite events in November, good worldwide, see the November Sky & Telescope, page 58.) Oh, that's not all. Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 9:33 p.m. EST. And Jupiter's new South Equatorial Belt Outbreak spot crosses the central meridian 3 hours 40 minutes after that, around 1:13 a.m. Thursday morning EST.

News from the Net:
Hubble Provides Most Detailed Dark Matter Map Yet
Video: Stellar Occultation by Eris
Aurora Alert! Solar Flare Heading Our Way
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Necropanspermia

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another Comet, Launch Scrubbed Again

We have been busy and away from the screen since my last post. Started catching up with news and blogs today. Only had a chance to scan the night sky a few times this past week. No time for Scopes! I’ve been cutting trees and splitting wood, keeping the wood pile high for cold winter nights. That is, If we have a cold winter this year? Long term forecast, down here, is “not as wet and not as cold”! Anyway, we also took a “road trip” to Lost Maples. The trip was tiring, but the hill country colors are “Great” this time of year. The Gateway to the park was not a good as in 2005. There were too many folks in the park, we did not stay long.

Weather Forecast for the coming week is not good. Clouds are returning and rain is expected at the end of the week. We could use a little rain! Catch Venus and Saturn in the early pre-dawn sky. Now there is a comet close to Saturn. Comet Ikeya-Murakami, easy to find, too, little more than a degree from Saturn in the eastern sky before dawn. Set your alarm and happy hunting! [Sky maps: Nov. 9, 10, 11] [3D orbit] [ephemeris]. Clouds should keep me from seeing this, but I will be up early for the search!

More trouble with Shuttle Discovery! The flight is on hold until at least Nov. 30.

If the clouds break tonight, The crescent Moon is low in the southwest at dusk. Explore the Moon with binoculars or a telescope too, see the many craters and mountains near the lunar terminator. If you have a 10-inch or larger telescope, have you ever tried for the major moons of Uranus and Neptune? They're not easy. See the guide in the November Sky & Telescope, page 56.

Wednesday night, Using binoculars or a telescope, have you ever found the little star cluster M29 near the center of the Northern Cross? See Gary Seronik's Binocular highlight article in the November Sky & Telescope, page 45.

Thursday Night, Look for meteors if the clouds break.

Saturday, First-quarter Moon (exact at 11:39 a.m. EST). The Moon forms a nearly equilateral triangle with Jupiter to its left and fainter Fomalhaut below them both.

News from the Net:
PSA: Bars Kill Galaxies
Cassini Instruments Offline Until Nov. 24
Missing Milky Way Dark Matter
Solar Explosions Spark Controversy
Sagan Day Essays
New Supernova Lights Up Leo
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Indigenous Australian Astronomy
Hartley 2 in Motion: Stunning Morph Animation of Flyby Images
What was SN 1961V?
Stubborn Shuttle Discovery Refuses to Launch on Final Mission
Herschel Provides Gravitational Lens Bonanza
Eyes On The Solar System
Two New Kinds of Moon Rocks Found

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Launch Delayed, Clear Dark Skies ahead!

Discovery Launch Scrubbed! Wednesday's planned launch of space shuttle Discovery was postponed at least 24 hours to give technicians additional time for troubleshooting the electrical problem with the main engine controller circuitry. There will be another attempt to launch Discovery Thursday at 2:29 pm CDT. The low clouds, showers and winds were in violation of NASA flight safety rules and the Mission Management Team decided to call off Thursday's launch attempt. Launch delayed another 24 hours to Friday at 2:04 p.m. CDT. While conditions will improve in the wake of a cold front, forecasters are predicting a 40 percent chance of high winds that could cause another scrub.

A Cold Front moved through our area last night and skies are clearing. Winds may be too high tonight for a scope, but we are supposed to have a couple of Clear Dark Nights this weekend. Possible Meteor shower tonight! During dawn Friday morning, skywatchers in North America can use binoculars to try spotting an extremely thin waning crescent Moon. Look 2° to 5° below and perhaps a bit left of Venus, very low in the east-southeast, starting about 20 minutes before your sunrise time.
Friday, By 11 p.m. this week, Orion is sparkling in the east-southeast, with Aldebaran and the Pleiades high above it.

News from the Net:
First Close Images of Hartley 2: It’s a Peanut with Jets
Hartley 2 Spawns Meteor Shower
Watch Live Coverage of EPOXI’s Hartley 2 Encounter on Nov. 4
Calculate the Effect of an Asteroid Impact on Earth

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Event Horizon: Shuttle Launch, Three Planets and New Moon

After the thunder and rain past last night, another cold front will move through Wednesday, leaving us with a few clear, dark nights to observe. Several of this week's events will happen in the early morning hours.

Tonight if it's clear, by mid-evening, bright Capella is shining well up in the northeast. Look off to its right, in the east, for the little Pleiades star cluster — and, below the Pleiades by about a fist-width at arm's length, the orange giant star Aldebaran.

Wednesday, Shuttle Discovery is due to launch 2:52:13 p.m. CDT. VCRs on, set and ready……Docking at the ISS's forward port will be complete around 11:36 p.m. on Nov. 5. It will be Discovery's 13th and final docking. At the heart of the mission is the permanent multi-purpose module, or PMM, that will be carried aloft in Discovery's cargo bay. Mounted in Discovery's cargo bay, the PMM measures 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter and tips the scales at 21,817 pounds, including 6,536 pounds of equipment and supplies. Another 1,568 pounds of station-bound gear was mounted in the shuttle's crew cabin. The station-bound hardware includes and an experimental robot known as Robonaut 2. Shaped like a human's upper torso, Robonaut 2 weighs about 300 pounds and measures nearly four feet from waist to head and nearly three feet across the shoulders. The robot will be operated remotely by engineers on the ground.

During dawn Thursday morning, spot Venus very low in the east-southeast starting about a half hour before your local sunrise time. The waning crescent Moon is about a fist-width at arm's length to Venus's upper right. Use binoculars to pick out Saturn and Spica.

Dawn Friday morning, skywatchers in North America can use binoculars to try spotting an extremely thin waning crescent Moon. Look 2° to 5° below and perhaps a bit left of Venus, very low in the east-southeast, starting about 20 minutes before your sunrise time.

Saturday, New Moon (exact at 12:52 a.m. on this date Eastern Daylight Time).
If you're on daylight-saving time in North America, clocks "fall back" an hour to standard time at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

News from the Net:
10 Years of the ISS: First Commander Reflects on Anniversary
Astrophotos: Halo Around the Sun in South Africa Today
Stunning Timelapse Video of Earth and Sky
Can’t Get to Kennedy Space Center? See Launchpad Up Close in Gigapan
Mystery of Saturn’s Wonky B Ring: Solved
The Dark Dunes of Mars
Planets and their Remnants around White Dwarfs
Ancient Hot Springs Spotted on Mars
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Warp Drive On Paper
Mitigating Asteroid Threats Will Take Global Action
A Comet that Gives Twice?
Carbon Dioxide — Not Water — Creating Gullies on Mars, New Study Says