Monday, December 27, 2010

My Sky in last week of December

There were two nights with crystal clear skies and bright stars to observe the past weekend. Orion was in my FOV those evenings and Venus in before dawn. This week started with Christmas on Saturday. Artic air moved in and gave us cold nights and frosty mornings. But the clear skies did not last long. Clouds and warmer temperatures cover our sky. Rain is on the way this week and the stars will be behind the veil again. Next weekend and the start of the New Year, may bring another round of colder temps and clear skies, with a chance to observe.

Two famous "enclosure" asterisms lie upper right of Jupiter in the evenings: the small, dim Circlet of Pisces, and, farther on, the big, brighter Great Square of Pegasus. Also, far below Jupiter in early evening, look for Fomalhaut.

If the Clouds break:
Monday, Last-quarter Moon tonight (exact at 11:18 p.m. EST). The last-quarter Moon always rises around the middle of the night, in a constellation that won't appear high in the evening sky until one season ahead. In tonight's case the Moon is in Virgo, a constellation best known in spring. Look for Saturn to the Moon's left, as shown here (on the morning of the 28th).

Tuesday, Dawn and sunrise are now happening nearly as late by the clock as they're going to. Look southeast in early dawn Wednesday morning for the Moon, Saturn and Spica. For North America, Spica is just a few degrees from the Moon — upper left of the Moon at 3 a.m. and above the Moon by dawn. Saturn at dawn is off to their upper right. Venus, much brighter, shines far to the Moon's lower left.
Jupiter's Red Spot crosses Jupiter's central meridian around 8:35 p.m. EST this evening. The eclipsing variable star Algol is at its minimum light, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 9:58 p.m. EST this evening.

Wednesday, A small telescope, or steadily held binoculars, will show the 5.5-magnitude star 20 Piscium just 4 arcminutes (six Jupiter diameters) to Jupiter's south or southeast, looking like a very out-of-place Galilean moon. With a slightly larger telescope, here's a chance to compare Jupiter's moons at high magnification with a star. In good seeing, their non-stellar nature is fairly plain. And don't miss Uranus, magnitude 5.8, currently 50 arcminutes to Jupiter's north-northeast. It looks even more un-starlike at high power. During dawn Thursday morning, spot the waning crescent Moon with Venus to its left. Can you follow Venus with your unaided eyes right through sunrise?

Thursday, Venus is to the left of the crescent Moon and Spica is to the upper right of the Moon. Look to the SSE before sunrise.

News from the Net:
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Video: Satellite Views of the “Christmas Blizzard”
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Red Moon, Red Planet
Upcoming Solar Eclipse on January 4, 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Eclipse…. behind the clouds

The Lunar Eclipse was behind the clouds over my sky last night. I went out several times and a blanket of clouds covered the sky last night and into this morning. Folks in other areas had clear skies and observed/recorded the event. As seen in Spaceweather.com’s Lunar Eclipse Photo Gallery. Photo Gallery #2. The clouds are due to continue until the end of this week, when a new front should clear the sky and bring colder temps for Christmas.

On Dec. 21, 2010, at 23:38 UT, the sun will shine straight down on the southern Tropic of Capricorn, marking the beginning of winter in the north and summer in the south. Astronomers call this event a "solstice." It's a quiet one; the Earth-facing side of the sun is blank (no sunspots) and solar activity is very low. This is the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere; winter begins at the solstice, 6:38 p.m. EST.

Tonight, if the clouds break, Jupiter and Uranus are less than 1.5 degrees apart. Look for Uranus to the northeast of Jupiter with binoculars.

Thursday, Saturn's rings are tilted 10 degrees from edgewise. Look for Saturn in the morning sky. Saturn rises in the east six hours before sunrise. At dawn Saturn will be high in the south.

Friday, December 24, 2010 Venus and Saturn are 30 degrees apart. Look for Venus and Saturn at dawn. Saturn will be in the south. Venus will be in the southeast.

Saturday, Merry Sol Invictus! In the late Roman Empire, December 25th was the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, marking the Sun's survival past its seasonal dark decline with the promise of a new spring and summer to come. Along with other solstice-period celebrations (including the birthday parties of numerous pagan deities), the date and the symbolism were taken over by Christianity and officially set to be Christmas in the 4th century. Carefully note the sunset point on your horizon from day to day. Can you see that it's already beginning to creep a little north? Christmas is the time of year when iconic Orion finally clears the east-southeast horizon and sparkles in full view shortly after twilight ends (for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes).

News from the Net:
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Lunar Eclipse Images From Around the World, Dec. 21, 2010
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Total Lunar Eclipse Information – December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Total Eclipse and Winter Solstice

The forecast for Monday night is mixed....some say cloudy, others mention the sky will be clear until early morning. Local weather on TV is begining to "crawfish" and added some clouds. I suppose the best information will be go outside and view the sky, find the moon and observe. If it is cloudy, tuff luck to the observer! But it is always clear on the Net! It has been a busy pre-Xmas week! Not much time to “surf the web” and yesterday, the Portal to the Universe web site was closed for some reason?

The Lunar Eclipse starts after midnight tonight and totality is around 2:30 AM! So break out the coffee and and the camera gear. Good Luck! A Lunar Eclipse during winter solstice....
RARE LUNAR ECLIPSE: The lunar eclipse of Dec. 21st falls on the same date as the northern winter solstice. Is this rare? It is indeed, according to Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory, who inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years. "Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is Dec. 21, 1638," says Chester. "Fortunately we won't have to wait 372 years for the next one...that will be on Dec. 21, 2094." WHEN TO LOOK: The total eclipse lasts more than an hour from 01:41 am to 02:53 am CST on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st. Any time within that interval is a good time to look. For other time zones, consult Shadow & Substance's animated eclipse.

Winter Solstice begins with warmer weather in my location! We have had the fire going the past three days to break the chill. A Pacific front has stopped the Northern "Colder" air from reaching us. On Christmas that front will weaken and we get close to freezing nights again. Until then some clouds and a lot warmer days this week.

This major event has the Sun passing the winter solstice in Sagittarius around sunset on the evening of Tuesday the 21st, the exact time 5:38 PM CST (see above for other time zones). At that time, the Sun will be as far south as possible, 23.4 degrees south of the celestial equator, will be overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, and be as high as possible at the south pole (leaving the north pole in the heart of darkness). Though the days will remain cold, at least we know that the Sun is coming back to warm the northern hemisphere once again.
A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year when the Sun's apparent position in the sky reaches its northernmost or southernmost extremes. The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the apparent movement of the Sun's path north or south comes to a stop before reversing direction.
The term solstice can also be used in a broader sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some cultures they are considered to start or separate the seasons, while in others they fall nearer the middle.

Tonight look for a Christmas star: Brilliant Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, rises around 7 or 8 p.m. (depending on where you live in your time zone). Orion's Belt points down nearly to Sirius's rising point, showing where to watch for its advent. When Sirius is low it often twinkles in vivid, flashing colors, an effect that binoculars reveal especially clearly.

Catching up on News from the Net:
Magnetic Fields on O-Class Stars
Numerous Companies Propose Possible ‘Space Taxis’
Astronomy Without A Telescope – The Edge of Greatness
M33′s “Object-X”
Tearing Apart Apollo 11 Inaccuracies
Powerful Mars Orbiter Directs Opportunity to Clays and Hydrated Minerals
Solving the Mystery of Dark Gamma Ray Bursts
Can Nearby Binary Star Systems Mimic Planets?
Herschel Looks Back in Time to See Stars Bursting to Life
Scientists from Arsenic Bacteria Paper Respond to Criticisms
Bright White Storm Raging on Saturn
An Unusual Look at the Moon’s South Pole
Landfall at Santa Maria for Opportunity on Mars

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Geminid Shower Report

This years Meteor Shower was reported to be in excess of the 20 per hour. Spaceweather's Gallery shows some nice ones, captured around the country. Phil, in Austin reported multiple flashes from his location and I heard that the show also started at 3 AM here. Timing is everything! I observed from mid night until 2:30 AM and missed the big show.

The Geminid Meteor Shower streaked across the Texas sky, seen by those who ventured out into that cold, dark, early morning hour, Tuesday Morning. Locally, those who were out at 3 AM saw the most meteors. Local Astrophotographer Phil reported “bright meteors” beginning at 3 AM from his location a bit North of Austin. One local Skywatcher reported seeing a lot of bright meteors above his sky just North of my location. I did enjoy the FOV with Pleiades, Aldebaran and the constellation Aries , but missed the 3 AM meteor show. “Timing is everything. The Xmas rush continues! There is too much traffic with too many busy shoppers and longer lines in the shops.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Meteor Shower, Quarter Moon - December, Week Three

The sky is clearing and the air is frosty, with lots going on in the sky. A busy week with cutting trees near the creek, a rock wall at the homestead and Christmas shopping. Getting into the Christmas spirit, dragging out more stuff and will begin to explore the night sky for those Christmas Stars! The yard and front of the cottage are beginning to glow! Nights may be too windy for a scope but binoculars will do. It is time for the Geminids! Start looking skyward. Keep an eye out for early Geminid meteors! If you see a shooting star, trace its path backward far across the sky. If this line passes near Castor in Gemini, a Geminid is almost certainly what you've seen. Article. Jupiter shines far upper left of the Moon after dusk. A similar distance to the Moon's right is Altair. Look lower left of the Moon for Fomalhaut, sometimes called "the Autumn Star."! If the sky is clear where you live, this Tuesday morning will provide one of the few nights of the year when it’s almost guaranteed that you will be able to observe a meteor after about 10-20 minutes of observing.

Tonight, The Geminid meteor shower is active for the next two nights. The peak will occur in the early morning hours of the 14th. The Moon sets early enough to leave the sky dark for the shooting stars.

Monday Night, A twilight challenge! Mercury and Mars appear closest, 1° apart, very low in the southwest after sunset. You'll need optical aid; their visibility in the still-bright sky 20 or 30 minutes after sunset. The Geminid meteor shower should peak late tonight. Best viewing is after midnight. See our article. First-quarter Moon (exact at 8:59 a.m. EST). Jupiter is below it at dusk, and lower left of it later in the evening.

Towards week’s end, Orion will be in the FOV!

News from the Net:
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Astronomy Without A Telescope – Forbidden Planets
WISE Captures an Infrared Shock Wave
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Akatsuki Encounters Problems at Venus
Akatsuki Update: Fuel Pressure Drop Likely Caused Insertion Failure

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Moon, Old Planets

The Sky is moving into the second week of December. The Holiday Rush is on! This morning was clear then cloudy!? Darker (new moon), colder nights ahead and one clear night is forecast for Wednesday night. Catch the stars when the clouds move out of the way. Bright Venus in the early AM, plus Saturn before dawn. The launch of the shuttle Discovery on a space station re-supply mission will be delayed until at least Feb. 3! A launch on Feb. 3 would be targeted for 1:34:28 a.m. EST. A list of December events to check out when you can.

Today, the New Moon or No Moon: (exact at 12:36 p.m. EST). Tonight, Uranus ends its retrograde motion. Uranus is 2.7 degrees northeast of Jupiter. Use binoculars to see Uranus next to Jupiter in the evening sky. Use the finder chart here to identify Uranus.

Monday, Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 10:18 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, Today's sunset is the earliest sunset of the year, if you live near 40° north latitude. This is true even though the longest night of the year doesn't come until December 21st (on the equinox). The difference is balanced out by the year's latest sunrise coming on January 4th, a similar distance on the other side of the equinox.

Wednesday, By 7 or 8 p.m. bright Capella is well up in the northeast. To its right in the east is the little Pleiades cluster, with baleful, orange Aldebaran looking on down below it.

Thursday, Jupiter's Great Red Spot crosses the planet's central meridian around 7:48 p.m. EST. Have you made plans yet for North America's total eclipse of the Moon on the night of December 20–21? The Moon will be high in the late-night sky. See the December Sky & Telescope, page 61.

News from the Net:
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Through A Lens Darkly
Exploring the Solar System with Binoculars
Gallery: X-37B Space Plane Returns to Earth
Mars Rover Tracks Erased From Existence
Will V445 Puppis Become a Ia Supernova?
Shuttle Launch Delayed to February of 2011
Q & A with Mike Brown, Pluto Killer, part 2
I Sing the Bacterium Arsenic: Post-NASA Press Conference Reflections
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A Peek Inside NGC 7538
SOFIA Telescope Makes First Science Flight