Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rocks in Space...near and far

Newly-discovered asteroid 2011 MD will pass only 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) above Earth's surface on Monday June 27 at about 9:30 a.m. EDT. NASA analysts say there is no chance the space rock will strike Earth. Nevertheless, the encounter is so close that Earth's gravity will sharply alter the asteroid's trajectory.

Two more big Rocks farther out there.....
Dawn Nears Start of Year-Long Stay at Giant Asteroid!
An Asteroid Occultation: Dwarf Planet-Pluto

The clouds are back after we did manage to get 2 inches of rain last week. That High Dome is back over our Portal to the Universe this last week in June. A few of us from the Group spent some more time at the Dome Site last week and finished cleaning the Dome. Discussed trees again (to be cut). The past week, I have observed Saturn near the Star Porrima, high in the SW, floating in a hazy, partly cloudy sky. I am still waiting to put Albireo in my FOV. Over the tree line after 11pm. Two things to look for this week: a chance the clouds will break so we can observe and a chance for some more rain at the end of the week?

Monday, About an hour before sunrise Tuesday morning, look east. Above and below the waning crescent Moon are the Pleiades and Mars, respectively, as shown at right. Binoculars will help. A tiny new near-Earth asteroid named 2011 MD, discovered by the LINEAR project on June 22nd, passes less than one Earth diameter from Earth's surface. It's estimated to be 8 to 18 meters (25 to 55 feet) wide.

Thursday, Low in the west-northwest during twilight, Mercury finally forms a straight line with fainter Castor and Pollux. Look about 45 minutes after sunset.

Friday, New Moon phase begins (exact at 4:54 a.m. EDT). A small telescope shows Saturn's largest moon, Titan, about four ring-lengths east of the planet this evening and tomorrow evening. They're a little less that 3 arcminutes apart. Bright Porrima is 32 arcminutes to Saturn's northwest. And a little closer to Saturn's northeast is a yellow star of 6th magnitude.

News from the Net:
Close Approach: Images and Animations of Asteroid 2011 MD
Final Shuttle Voyagers Conduct Countdown Practice at Florida Launch Pad
Getting Closer: Images, Video of Asteroid 2011 MD
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Backgrounds
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
More to Meets the Eye in M33
Globular Clusters and the Age-Metallicity Relation
Gale Crater Reported Front-Runner for MSL Landing Site

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stars behind the Clouds this week

This Third week of June brings a change in the surface High that has kept us in 100+ temperatures the past week. That Dome of High pressure is finally supposed to move away. This will bring us clouds and a slight chance of rain through Thursday. Not a drought breaker…..but maybe some relief! With these clouds, our sky dome will be covered with maybe a chance to put the stars in the FOV between the clouds, this week.

The Group met last Thursday and only four were there. We discussed the stars, moon and space flight for a couple of hours at the restaurant. Saturday members of the Group participated in a Clean-Up with RavenStar at the Dome Site below Canyon Dam. Cleaned off the top of the dome, and trimmed low branches in the South horizon line. Cut a large cedar tree. Lots more to do…..Working toward getting the Dome ready for use this fall?

Clouds remain in our early morning Sky.

If the clouds break Monday, Venus, Mars and Jupiter span 40 degrees. Look for Venus very low in the ENE in the morning twilight. Jupiter is to the upper right of Venus.

Tuesday, June 21 Mars passes 4 degrees south of the Pleiades star cluster. Look for Mars and the Pleiades in the predawn sky. The June solstice occurs at 1:16 p.m. EDT. This is the moment when the Sun is farthest north for the year and begins its six-month return southward. Summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere, where this is the year's longest day. In the Southern Hemisphere, winter begins. If you have a good view of the west-northwest horizon (from mid-northern latitudes), mark precisely where the Sun sets. In a few days you should be able to detect that it's again starting to set a little south of this point. Build your own Stonehenge?

Wednesday, Now that the Moon is gone from the evening sky, try hunting out galaxies hear the head of Serpens using Sue French's "Deep-Sky Wonders" chart, photos, and article in the June Sky & Telescope, page 62. Clouds are forecast over our sky tonight, maybe this weekend will clear for Galaxy hunting?

Thursday, The Last-quarter Moon (exact at 7:48 a.m. EDT). The Moon rises very late tonight, around 1 a.m. EDT on the 24th depending on your location. Look above it for the Great Square of Pegasus.

Friday, With summer here, look south-southeast after dark for the bright constellation Scorpius, "the Orion of summer," now reasonably high and standing upright. Like Orion, Scorpius is marked by several 2nd-magnitude blue-white stars and one of the two brightest red supergiants in the sky (Antares in Scorpius, Betelgeuse in Orion). However, Scorpius is some 30° farther south.

News from the Net:
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Star Seeds
Final Payload for Final Shuttle Flight Delivered to the Launch Pad
Exomoons Could Be Excellent Incubators
Yikes! Lightning Strike Near KSC Launchpad
Black Hole Devours Star and Hurls Energy Across 3.8 Billion Light Years

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Three Planets / Triple Digit Temps

Hot, triple digit days…. Blue skies turn to overcast in the evening hours, so far, this time of year as we get close to Summer Solstice next Tuesday. The heat wave continues..... Start looking for the moon in the daytime. Last Tuesday (Flag Day), some of the group went to a RavenStar Astronomy 101 day camp at Cypress Bend Park (pavilion) here in the city. The kids had been studying the moon phases on Monday. Couple of Scopes set up for review and one was a Solar Scope. Looked at the Sun and discussed the moon plus a few Constellations. Hard to set up scopes for kids (this age) at night in summer, it gets dark too late for them.

Three Planets can be seen before dawn!
I missed this event Thursday morning-to many clouds: Venus is 36 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter. Jupiter is easy to spot. Venus is more of a challenge. Look to the east, 45 minutes before sunrise. Venus is very low in the ENE. Mars is 12 degrees to the upper right of Venus.

If the sky clears Friday morning, Jupiter and Mars are 25 degrees apart. Look for Jupiter in the east, 45 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter shines bright at -2.2 magnitude. Mars is much fainter at +1.4 magnitude. Venus is 12.5 degrees to the lower left of Mars.

Keep hoping for Rain..... and a few clear - dark nights to put something in the FOV.

News from the Net:
Hubble’s Stunning New View of Centaurus A
Lunar Eclipse Images from Around the World; June 15, 2011
Surf’s Up! Solar Wave Clocked At 4.5 Million Miles Per Hour
Voyager Pushes Boundary of Interstellar Space
Ovation For A Stellar Senior
How Much Do Binary Stars Shape Planetary Nebulae?
Can We Put Weather On A Budget?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Triangle in Hot Summer Sky

Next week is forecast HOT with a chance or two for a clear night and a bright moon. The two brightest stars of summer are Vega, high in the east these evenings, and Arcturus, even higher in the southwest. They're both fairly near neighbors of ours as stars go: they're 25 and 37 light-years from the solar system, respectively. But that's only part of why they appear so bright. Vega is hotter, larger, and 50 times more luminous than the Sun. Arcturus puts out 150 times the light of the Sun. I talked to a couple of fellows that went to the 2011 TSP the first week June. Conditions were not too good, with only two good nights of clear sky. Dark, clear nights are harder to come by with our cloudy conditions. First Quarter Moon Thursday night and if we have a dark clear nights we can see Saturn plus Spica near by. There is a great video of Cassini’s view of Saturn on the web. The Rings, Titan and the smaller moons, the Planet Saturn: Taking the raw images from the Cassini mission and making a long flip-book style movie. Not to forget the Red Planet Mars at Dawn: Opportunity continues to work on the planet.

This weekend, if it is clear, time to put the "Straight Wall" in the FOV.
Monday, The thick gibbous Moon shines near the head of Scorpius this evening. Look for Antares farther to the Moon's lower left.

Tuesday, Look for Antares to the right of the Moon. The nearly Full Moon is to the left of the star Antares in Scorpius. Look for the Moon low in the southwest.

Wednesday, Full Moon, in Sagittarius (exactly full at 4:14 p.m. EDT). A total eclipse of the Moon is visible from Africa, Australia, much of Asia, and parts of Europe and South America.

News from the Net:
NOAA forecasters have downgraded the chances of a geomagnetic storm on June 9th to 20%. The disturbance, if it occurs, would be in response to a glancing blow from the CME of June 7th . A coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled into space by the magnificent flare of June 7th has either missed Earth or its impact was too weak to notice. According to NOAA forecasters, the chance of geomagnetic storms during the next 24 hours has dropped to 15%.
Rosetta… Stoned Again
Zoom into the Epic Images of Endeavour Docked to the ISS
New VLT Survey Telescope Opens Wide Eyes to the Universe
Comet Elenin: Just Passing By
SpacePod: Tour of Atlantis and the Launchpad
Young Supernova Has Bright Future
New Class of Stellar Explosion Sings the Blues
More Eye-Popping Video from the June 7 Solar Explosion
Nearby Galaxy Has Two Monster Black Holes
Are YOU the Next Astronomy Photographer of the Year?
Aquarius Satellite Launches to Observe Earth’s Oceans
Video: Soyuz Arrives at Space Station
Voyagers Find Giant Jacuzzi-like Bubbles at Edge of Solar System

Friday, June 3, 2011

Star Hop Thursday Night

It was clear last night….seeing was not the best 6/10, there was a haze (smoke?) Are you light-polluted where you live? Most of us are. But don't be discouraged by the astronomy you can't do; instead, figure out what you can. For instance, see Hugh Bartlett's "Binocular Sights for City Nights," with finder photos, in the June Sky & Telescope, page 52. I set up the 10” DOB before dark in the drive. At 9:30 I found Vega and Arcturus. I centered bright Saturn (Magnitude = 0.7mag ) in the FOV at 10pm. Four moons were visible to the right of the golden planet, with the star Porrima within the same FOV, far to the left.

Moons of Saturn tm-(S)e-------d------R-----T

Saturn's rings were tilted 7 degrees to my line of sight (all this month), the dark shadow of the rings were across the center of the globe.

I waited for Vega in Lyra and Hercules to get a bit higher before scanning those areas. It was too hazy for a nebula. I found M13 and centered this cluster at 10:30. I have viewed this cluster in better conditions. It was not as sharp tonight! I went back to Saturn for another look. Antares and the head of Scorpius were rising above the tree line at 11pm. I wanted to come back out after Cygnus was above the trees and put Albireo in the eyepiece but I did not make it back out.

Current Forecast is for cloudy nights in the coming week, maybe it will clear again?
Tonight, Look west in twilight for the thin waxing crescent Moon far below Pollux and Castor, as shown here.

Saturday, In twilight, look for Pollux and Castor to the upper right of the Moon, and look for Procyon disappearing about equally far to the Moon's lower left, as shown here.

Sunday, Venus and Jupiter are 25 degrees apart. Look for both planets in the morning sky. Look for Jupiter in the east and Venus very low in the ENE 45 minutes before sunrise. Faint Mars is 6 degrees to the upper right of Venus. Well to the right of the Moon as twilight fades are Pollux and Castor. They're lined up to point almost back at the Moon. As soon as the sky grows dark, use binoculars to look for M44, the Beehive Star Cluster, roughly a binocular field above the Moon and perhaps a little to the right.

Monday, Sparkly, summery Scorpius is rearing up in the south-southeast these evenings. Its brightest star is fiery Antares. Look for the other, whiter stars of upper Scorpius on either side of Antares and farther to its upper right.

Tuesday, A small telescope will always show Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Tonight and tomorrow night Titan is about four ring-lengths to Saturn's west. A 6-inch telescope will begin to show the orange color of its smoggy atmosphere. To identify fainter satellites closer to Saturn, use our Saturn's Moons tracker. Saturn is very close to the star Gamma Virginis this week. The planet and star are just 1/4 of a degree apart. The gap will start to increase after June 12th when Saturn ends its retrograde motion.

Wednesday, Find the First-quarter Moon (exact at 10:11 p.m. EDT), The Moon shines south of Leo.

News from the Net:
Supernova Discovered in M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy
Cassini at Saturn, the Movie
Revealing A Hybrid Star Cluster
Old Star Clusters Shed New Light on Starbirth
Opportunity Surpasses 30 KM Driving and Snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Moon, first week of June

New Moon means... NO MOON Light to interfere with catching distant light in dark skies!
We’re now approaching the time of year when full astronomical twilight doesn’t end at dark-sky locations until nearly 10:30 pm. Morning twilight starts to send out its first tendrils before 4:00 am, which makes for a rather short time of astronomical darkness to enjoy the views of remote faint celestial objects. The forecast says we might have a clear sky Friday night, but the clouds are never ending. Summer is here…the trade winds are in place/east to west, with clouds coming from the SW coast. Good if it rains, bad for viewing the night sky. If the Clouds Break: The Big Dipper is high in the North during the month of June! Saturn is low in western skies by dark early this month and will SET nearly due west at about 2 a.m.local time by month's end. Look for the ringed planet to the right of the bright star SPICA, in the constellation of Virgo. NOTE that on the evenings of June 9-11, about one hour after sunset, Saturn and the bright star PORIMA will be less than ONE QUARTER degree (!!) apart in the sky....this will allow both of them to appear in the same moderately wide fieled of view of any telescope; Saturn is "below" Porrima and both are about the same magnitude. Saturn slowly drifts eastware and away from the star during the rest of June.- in VIRGO. Jupiter - The mightiest of planets, JUPITER rises about the same time - 3:30 a.m. local time, but just ahead of Venus and Mars (above) and is in the glow of morning dawn shortly after. Not a good month for this huge planet, since it is located so close to the eastern horizon and it is quite far from Earth at this time, showing a disk only aotu 35 arc seconds across - In PISCES.
Beginning in late may and extending through June, this is a month-long minor meteor shower. The Tau Herculid Meteors overhead for mid-northern latitudes at about 10 p.m.; this will be a great month for observing these meteors, since the moon is at NEW phase and the radiant will be in the sky all night; the meteor shower is overhead at midnight when most of the 15 meteors per hours might be seen. THIS YEAR, nearly new moon will not hamper observations of any of these meteors throughout the night!
Planet and Meteor info from

10 Binocular targets in June:
M24-sgr cloud
IC4665 in Ophiuchus
IC4756 in Serpens
NGC6633-Serpens, in same field as 4756
NGC6940 in Vulpecula
Nu Draconis- a double star, cats eyes
Taurus Poniatovii, Poniatowski’s bull –V shaped

The HST will glide over our portal with multiple passes the first two weeks of June in evening skies. If we are lucky, the clouds will break and skies will clear!

News from the Net:
Bringing the Solar System Down to Earth
MOST… Cutting To The Heart Of A Wolf-Rayet Star
Atlantis Goes Vertical for the Last Time
Voyager 1 Measures Magnetic Mayhem
And The Moon Is Eclipsed By The Earth
Twisted Ring Of Gas Orbits Galactic Center
Globular Clusters Are Real Oddballs
Dead Galaxy? Don’t Think So.
Spirit’s Last Panorama