Monday, December 26, 2011

A Feast of Stars and Planets this week

Merry Sol Invictus! The Feast of Christmas started in the Fourth Century by Christians to celebrate the Sun's movement past that season of darkness with a promise of New Life and Light to come. Lot's of gifts exchanged and food consumed over the past weekend. We can work off the celebrations with fair skies and clear nights this last week of 2011! A clear, cold night will start us off with Venus and a Crescent Moon Monday evening. At seven degrees apart use the binoculars to scan the scene. Alpha Capriconi is near the moons right or upper right and is a double star. Tuesday evening we get a second shot at this scene. If you are using a scope, be sure and check out Jupiter this week for the GRS and Moon crossings! The bright wandering star is high in the South at 9pm. Near by, you can spot the planet Uranus, not far from Jupiter and is worth a look in a telescope because of its intense teal color. It will not be very bright, but you will be able to see it is round and not just a blue-green speck of light.

News from the Net:
Happy New Year from the Crew of the International Space Station
NASA’s Dawn Orbiter snaps Best Ever Images of Vesta
Astrophotos: The Great Orion Nebula
Astrophoto: Comet Lovejoy from Canberra by Barry Armstead
Absolutely Spectacular Photos of Comet Lovejoy from the Space Station
Soyuz Rocket’s Comet-like Re-Entry Captured on Video
Why Do We Live in Three Dimensions?
Two More Earth-Sized Planets Discovered by Kepler, Orbiting Former Red Giant Star
Astrophotos: Christmas Crescent Moon from Around the World
Phobos-Grunt Predicted to Fall in Afghanistan on January 14
An Enlightening Mosaic: Sunsets in 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Longest Night Before Christmas

It’s another wet and cloudy week! We may get one or two clear, cool nights to observe this week, before Christmas.…maybe not!

Wintry Orion is up in the southeast after dinnertime and higher later in the evening. Introduce it to someone! The bright, fire-colored star marking Orion's left corner is Betelgeuse, a prototype red supergiant. The bright star forming Orion's right corner is white Rigel. Midway between them is Orion's three-star Belt, nearly vertical. In the evening at this time of year, the Great Square of Pegasus balances on one corner high in the west. The vast Andromeda-Pegasus constellation complex runs all the way from near the zenith (Andromeda's foot) down through the Great Square (Pegasus's body) and almost to the western horizon (Pegasus's nose).

Before dawn Tuesday morning, look above the waning moon for Saturn and Spica.

Wednesday, Dec. 21 : Longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). Winter begins at the solstice: at 12:30 a.m. on the 22nd EST, 9:30 p.m. on the 21st PST. This is when the Sun reaches its farthest south of the year and begins its six-month return northward. Happy Yule.

Saturday, Dec. 24, Christmas star: On this date every year, you can go out around 8 p.m., spot Orion well up in the southeast, and look down below it for bright Sirius on the rise. When Sirius is low it often twinkles vigorously with vivid, flashing colors, an effect that's especially visible in binoculars. All stars do this, but Sirius is so bright that the effect is especially pronounced. Our New Moon is Saturday afternoon, (exact at 1:06 p.m. EST).

News from the Net:
DARPA’s New Spy Satellite Could Provide Real-Time Video From Anywhere on Earth
First Earth-Sized Exoplanets Found by Kepler
Underwater Neutrino Detector Will Be Second-Largest Structure Ever Built
Curiosity Starts First Science on Mars Sojurn – How Lethal is Space Radiation to Life’s Survival
Missions that Weren’t: NASA’s Manned Mission to Venus
Astrophoto: The Flaming Star Nebula by Robert Collins
NASA Considers Sending a Telescope to Outer Solar System
NASA Terminates Power, Locks Cargo Doors on Retiring Shuttle Discovery

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dodging Meteors and Asteroids

Mostly Cloudy with Damp Skies are forecast for the upcoming week.
We may not see stars, so we will miss a bunch of events that are due to happen this second week of December. Kick the Tires and light the fires, make a Journey to the outer regions and keep dodging those shopping asteroids at the malls this week.

What we will miss this week:
The annual Geminid meteor shower should be strongest late tonight and tomorrow night. But the light of the waning gibbous Moon will hide all but the brightest meteors. The shower's radiant, or perspective point of origin, is near Castor and Pollux above the Moon. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but their paths, if traced backward far enough across the sky, would cross the radiant.

Wednesday, Wintry Orion is up in the east-southeast after dinnertime, and higher in the southeast later in the evening. Introduce it to someone! The bright, fire-colored star marking Orion's left corner is Betelgeuse, a prototype red supergiant. The bright star forming Orion's right corner is white Rigel. Midway between them is Orion's three-star Belt, nearly vertical. GEMINID METEOR UPDATE: Today, Earth is passing through a stream of debris from near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon, source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Often the encounter produces more than 100 Geminids per hour, but this year many of the meteors are obscured by bright moonlight. Visual rates are currently in the dozens, not hundreds.

Thursday, The waning Moon rises in the east late this evening with Regulus to its left or upper left. Mars follows them up an hour later.

Friday, The waning Moon rises around 11 or midnight tonight with Mars to its left and Regulus higher above it.

Saturday, will give us a Last-quarter Moon (exact at 7:48 p.m. EST). The Moon rises in the east around the middle of the night tonight. Above it are Mars and, higher, Regulus and the Sickle of Leo.

News from the Net:
Opportunity Discovers Most Powerful Evidence Yet for Martian Liquid Water
In The Dragonfish’s Mouth – The Next Generation Of “SuperStars”
Astronomy Without A Telescope – How Big Is Big?
Skywatchers Share Lunar Eclipse Photos, Videos
Massive Stars Start Life Big… Really BIG!
International Measure The Moon Night – December 10, 2011
Mars Orbiters Will Attempt to Take Pictures of the Curiosity Rover as It Lands
Twisting and Eclipsing on the Sun

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bright Moon, Cold Nights

This week the moon will dominate the night sky. We may have a few clear, cold nights to enjoy the moon light this first week of December. Our first hard freeze the first part of the week will give us a couple of clear very cold nights, then the the clouds come back Friday. The week ends with a lunar eclipse. A total eclipse of the Moon happens for western North America before dawn Saturday morning. Look for the dim, ruddy eclipsed Moon sinking low in the west-northwest before or during dawn.

Between the clouds with a few clear nights, we can see these events from my backyard:
Monday Jupiter shines lower left of the Moon this evening. Although they look close together, Jupiter is 1,550 times farther away — and 40 times larger in diameter.
Tuesday, Jupiter shines to the right of the Moon in twilight. Later in the evening it swings to the Moon’s lower right.
Thursday, The Moon shines in Taurus near the Pleiades this evening, as shown above. You may need binoculars to pick them out of the lunar glare.
Friday, if the clouds break, Look lower right of the full Moon for Aldebaran this evening, and higher above Aldebaran for the Pleiades. Way off to their left shines Capella.
Saturday evening among the clouds, the Moon shines amid Capella to its upper left, Aldebaran to its upper right, Betelgeuse to its lower right, and Pollux and Castor farther to the Moon’s lower left.

News from the Net:
Pinning The Tails On Galaxy Clusters
Astrophoto: Tracking Curiosity by Glen James Nagle
Astronomers Find the Most Supermassive Black Holes Yet
Coming Attraction: Geminid Meteor Shower 2011
Rainbow of Colors Reveal Asteroid Vesta as More Like a Planet
Armadillo Aerospace Successfully Lauches a Sounding Rocket from Spaceport America
Voyager 1 Spacecraft Enters New Region of Solar System
Kepler Confirms First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-Like Star
Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy – A Beast With Four Tails?