Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Star events, last week March

March winds and Clouds have made it tough to view a night sky this month! This last week of the March brings early morning events and evening highlights. Saturn is more visible this weekend and the Big Dipper will be in the FOV. Catch these events if the clouds break! Tonight, The fast-changing double star Gamma Virginis or Porrima, fairly conspicuous to the naked eye close to Saturn, has become resolvable again in medium-size amateur telescopes this year on nights of good seeing. Its two equal components appear 1.7 arcseconds apart this season. The crescent Moon is about 20 degrees to the upper right of Venus. Look for the Moon and Venus in the ESE 45 minutes before sunrise. Wednesday, In early dawn Thursday morning, look low in the east-southeast for Venus lower right of the waning crescent Moon, as shown above. Can you follow them all the way through sunrise? The crescent Moon is about 10 degrees to the upper right of Venus. Look for the Moon and Venus in the ESE 45 minutes before sunrise. Thursday, At dawn Friday morning, North Americans now see the thin crescent Moon 13° or 14° left of Venus. Friday, Early spring is when Orion tilts downward in the southwest after dark, with his three-star belt horizontal as shown at right (for north temperate latitudes). Orion's Belt points left toward bright Sirius (out of the photo) and to the right more or less toward orange Aldebaran (ditto). Farther to the right from Aldebaran are the Pleiades. News from the Net: Amazing Image: Kepler’s Transiting Exoplanets Fancy doing a Messier Marathon this Weekend? Astrophoto: A Mexican Orion Opportunity Rover Completes Exploration of fascinating Santa Maria Crater Astronomy Without A Telescope – Dark Statistics

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spacecraft Rendezvous

The spring season will move quickly into summer here on earth. In the cold dark reaches of space, these spacecraft will reach targets and launch toward a target soon! Messenger has rendezvoused and is in Mercury Orbit with instruments working. On March 29, 2011, the Mercury Dual Imaging System will be powered on and will take its first images. The year-long science observation campaign will begin on April 4, 2011. Follow Messenger’s journey at the "Where Is MESSENGER?" website. Spacecraft Dawn sails toward Vesta for a July rendezvous. After a hibernation of about six months, the framing cameras on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft have again ventured a look into the stars. In the news this week: Revolutionary Dawn Closing in on Asteroid Vesta with Opened Eyes. This summer, the spacecraft Juno will be launched in August. A five year cruise on it's way to Jupiter arriving in July 2016. An orbital plan of one year with 32 times around the big planet. This week, NASA's Juno spacecraft has completed its thermal vacuum chamber testing.

If the clouds break this weekend:

Friday, Saturn shines in the east-southeast these evenings, with Spica below it. Far left of them sparkles brighter Arcturus. Less far to their right or lower right, look for the four-star pattern of Corvus, the Crow.

Saturday, Last-quarter Moon (exact at 8:07 a.m. EDT). The half-lit Moon rises in the middle of the night and is high in the south before sunrise.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dim Stars and a Super Moon at Equinox

Spring break! The local parks are crowded. We have been busy with yard work and the evenings have been filled with moon light, dimming the constellations. However, Orion was still visible several times between the clouds and I continue to track Betelgeuse. This past week the clouds have moved in after dark and covered the stars. On March 19th, a full Moon of rare size and beauty will rise in the east at sunset. It's a super "perigee moon"--the biggest in almost 20 years. Indeed, contrary to some reports circulating the Internet, perigee Moons do not trigger natural disasters. Last night the moon was big, bright and super, before the clouds covered the sky. Attended the "Group" meeting Thursday night. The group was somewhere else "spring breaking". Just two of us, Larry and I caught up on happenings.

The March winds keep blowing in the clouds! Catch as catch can on the stargazing this week. Forecast is continued cloudy skies in the evening and early morning skies.

Looking for Uranus? Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun. Uranus will reappear in the morning sky in mid April.

Tonight is the V. Equinox, spot Saturn, Spica and a bright moon.
Spica is near the Moon tonight. The March equinox comes at 7:21 p.m. EDT, marking the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This is when the Sun crosses the equator heading north for the year.

Monday, Mercury is at its highest in the evening sky from now until Wednesday

Tuesday, These next two weeks, when there's no moonlight in the sky at the end of twilight, are a fine time to look for the zodiacal light (from mid-northern latitudes) if you have a very clear, unpolluted sky. As the last of twilight is fading away, look for a vague but huge, tall, narrow pyramid of pearly light extending up from the western horizon. It slopes to the left, following the ecliptic. What you're seeing is interplanetary dust near the plane of the solar system, lit by the Sun.

Wednesday, By mid-evening Orion is tilting into the southwest, with his three-star belt now level — a sign of spring's arrival.

A binocular challenge: See it you can hunt out the trio of Messier galaxies under the belly of Leo: M95, M96, and M105. Use Gary Seronik's "Binocular Highlight" article and chart in the April Sky & Telescope, page 45. You'll need a really dark sky! A telescope shows them much more easily.

Thursday, early morning stargazing….Scorpius and the moon

News from the Net:
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Coming to a Sky Near You: The Realm of Galaxies
Your Pictures of the “Super” Full Moon
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Doubly Special Relativity
Hopes Dim for Contacting Spirit Rover
How to Recover a Solid Rocket Booster
New Horizons Flies by Uranus
Success! MESSENGER First Spacecraft to Orbit Mercury

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mercury, the Messenger of Spring

Changes in current weather patterns focus on Spring, the Earth is tilting back. The rule makers also force us to make adjustments in Time ( I lost an hour, somewhere). The winds of change have brought more Pacific fronts and lots more clouds! We have had a few clear nights to catch the stars in the night sky before the clouds cover the portal. Orion is still center in the FOV and the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel stand out each clear night. Leo is rising in the east, setting a new chart of constellations moving into March and April. During this coming week, before the vernal equinox next Saturday, there are a couple of events worth mentioning.

As Mercury rises in the west each evening, the NASA probe Messenger gets closer to orbit on St. Pats Day, Thursday. The Full Moon Friday will be historic! This Full Wolf Moon will be the closest apogee until 2016. That makes this full moon bigger than usual! Worth a look see Friday night. Perhaps the "Supermoon" will empower our spring to last longer, before the heat of summer devours us!

News from the Net:
Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Star Hop Saturday Night…

I have been busy this past week and too tired to set up and scan the night sky the few clear nights we had. A front will push the clouds away and we should have a clear sky Saturday night. Stargaze and Star Hop Saturday and Sunday night with scope and binoculars. Focus on a last look at Jupiter, then put Saturn, Orion and Gemini in the FOV.

Tonight, Early March is when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, shines at its highest due south right after dark. It's the bottom point of the equilateral Winter Triangle. The triangle's other points are orange-red Betelgeuse to the upper right, and Procyon to Sirius's upper left. A dark sky with the New Moon (exact at 3:46 p.m. EST). Algol is at minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 8:53 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Look for Arcturus, harbinger of Spring! Try looking for the zodiacal light in the evening. The zodiacal light is a faint glow coming from interplanetary dust. Look to the west more than two hours after sunset. You'll need to look from a very dark observing sight and have very clear weather. It will look like a cone of faint light poking up from the western horizon.

Saturday, If the sky is clear very low in the west soon after sunset, binoculars may show Mercury lower left of the very thin waxing crescent Moon, as shown here. Brighter Jupiter higher up guides the way to them. Bring binoculars. Could this be the youngest Moon you've ever seen?

Sunday, Jupiter shines to the left of the waxing crescent Moon in twilight, as shown here. If you're near latitude 40° north, the crescent is almost exactly level like a cup.

News from the Net:
Ground-Based Observations Capture Spacewalking Astronaut in Action
X-37B launch delayed due to weather
Spitzer Captures a Pink Sunflower in Space
NASA Mission to Europa May Fall to Budget Cuts
‘Climate Change Satellite’ Fails to Reach Orbit, Crashes in Ocean
Always a Good Show: SRB Camera Views from Discovery’s Last RideIncoming! New Camera Network Tracks Fireballs