Friday, February 25, 2011

Discovery's Last Mission, Stars first week of March

The final voyage of space shuttle Discovery is underway. The orbiter lifted off at 4:53 p.m. EST Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a 12-day mission to deliver Robonaut 2 and supplies to the International Space Station. Adventure photographer Mike Theiss sends this video from the launch site.
Space shuttle Discovery rode a brilliant trail of fire and smoke Thursday afternoon as it soared into orbit. Just as Discovery's tank finished being fueled, a cargo-carrying Automated Transfer Vehicle from the Eurpoean Space Agency docked to the station. The spacecraft, which carried no people, launched from South America last week on an Ariane V.

Keep up with the daily photo postings during the mission on the STS 133 multimedia web site. Saturday’s docking with the International Space Station, scheduled for 2:15 p.m. EST.

The sky was clear Thursday night! Put Orion, the Pleiades and M41 in the FOV again. Clouds may come back this weekend but the moon is no longer a problem next week. We may get a few clear nights in the first week of March.

Sunday, Make a note to look southeast at dawn Monday morning for Venus shining lower left of the waning crescent Moon. Saturn is 9 degrees northwest of the star Spica. Saturn and Spica are in the southwest at dawn. Venus and a thin crescent are in the southeast at dawn.

Have you ever done a thorough telescopic explore around the horns of Taurus? Starting with the Crab Nebula, use Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column and chart in the February Sky & Telescope, page 60. Early March is when bright Sirius shines highest due south right after dark. It's the bottom point of the equilateral Winter Triangle. The triangle's other points are Betelgeuse to the upper right and Procyon to Sirius's upper left. Mercury is at superior conjunction. Mercury will join the evening sky in the second week of March.

Tuesday, the waning crescent Moon is to the lower left of Venus. Look for Venus and the Moon in the ESE sky at dawn.

Friday, March 4, New Moon (exact at 3:46 p.m. EST).

News from the Net:
New Record: Telescope Finds 19 Near-Earth Asteroids in One Night
STS-133 Launch Day Gallery
SDO Captures a Monster Solar Prominence
STS-133 Launches on Historic Final Mission for Shuttle Discovery
Meteorites Illuminate Mystery of Chromium in Earth’s Core
Can’t Get to Today’s Launch? See the Space Shuttles in Intricate Detail
Discovery and Robonaut Unveiled for February 24 Blast OffStudents Will Attempt to Photograph Shuttle Discovery Flight At The Edge of Space

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stars and Planets behind the Clouds

The current weather system keeps producing more clouds. This week’s sky is nuttin but grey!

Tonight, if the clouds break, the waning gibbous Moon is in the SSW at dawn. Venus is in the southeast. Venus is also in the gibbous phase, but Venus is waxing.

Thursday, the almost last quarter Moon is to the right of the star Antares. Look for the Moon and Antares, the brightest star in the Scorpion, in the south at dawn. Tomorrow morning, the Moon will be to the left of Antares.

There is a NASA launch Thursday afternoon as shuttle Discovery heads for the ISS one more time! We can watch NASA TV and catch up on the current News from the Net!

Movies of Comet Tempel 1 Encounter by Stardust-NExT
As Seen from Space: Ghostly, Ethereal Island
Orrery of Kepler’s Exoplanets
Climate Change Satellite’ Gets its Day in the Sun — Finally
The Moon Just Got Bigger
Discovery: A Look Back Before Her Last Flight
20 Million Observations by Amateur Astronomers!
Video: 45 Years of Rendezvous and Docking in Space
Moon And Venus Steal The Morning Scene…
Halt, Black Hole! Gemini Captures Explosions That Deprive Black Holes of Mass

Friday, February 18, 2011

Starry Nights, the last week of February

The Clouds keep rolling in and the current weather system is still bringing us warmer days and nights that is forecast to continue into the first week of March, with too many cloud nights!? The Group met Thursday night and Five of us discussed: Gegenschien, Zodiacal light, ET, NASA missions [Kepler discoveries and Stardust rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1], and possible CME impact. We did not see a lot of stars last month, with all the clouds, but discussed observations taken on those, few, clear nights. Our next meeting is on St. Pat’s day and April’s meeting conflicts with religious events. Some may not make it the next two meetings. We did see the almost full moon among the clouds after the meeting. Canopus should be a star visible this coming week, if the clouds break.

One and possibly two CMEs hit Earth during the early hours of Feb. 18th, creating a gusty solar wind environment around our planet and fueling a relatively minor G1-class geomagnetic storm. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. NASA researchers have made a time-lapse movie of the X2-category explosion on Feb. 15th.

These next two weeks, when there's no moonlight in the sky at the end of twilight, it's 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, with Jupiter near its base. What you're seeing is interplanetary dust near the plane of the solar system, lit by the Sun. By about 10:30 or 11 p.m. the waning gibbous Moon is well up in the east-southeast. Look left of it for Saturn, and lower left of it for slightly fainter Spica. They're higher by midnight. The three of them cross the sky together for the rest of the night to pose in the southwest at dawn Monday morning.

I was able to observe the fine winter star cluster M41, visible in binoculars about one binocular field south of Sirius. Will try finding the cluster M50. Follow a line from Sirius to the tip of Canis Major's nose (Theta Canis Majoris), continue nearly as far exactly straight onward, and there you are. M50 is magnitude 5.9, quite a bit fainter than M41's magnitude 4.5. In the same field with M50 is another, fainter cluster: NGC 2343. It's a tougher catch at magnitude 6.7.

Saturday, The Moon is at perigee at 2 a.m. EST. Perigee is the point in the Moon's orbit when it's closest to the Earth. This morning the Moon is 222,604 miles from Earth. The average distance is 238,854 miles; 16,250 miles farther than today. That's about two Earth diameters.

Sunday, Uranus is 7 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter. Jupiter sets about three hours after sunset. Look for Uranus with binoculars. Jupiter and Uranus are in the WSW at dusk.

Monday night, if the clouds break, Sirius transits the meridian of the sky (i.e. is due south) around 8 or 9 p.m. this week, depending on where you live east or west in your time zone. Sirius is the brightest star in all the sky (after the Sun). The second brightest is far-southern Canopus. By coincidence, Canopus and Sirius transit at nearly the same time. If you live at least as far south as Atlanta, Phoenix, or Los Angeles, see if you can spot Canopus just above the south point on your horizon when Sirius is approaching the meridian. (Canopus transits 20 minutes before Sirius.)

Thursday, after the last-quarter Moon rises around 2 or 3 a.m. Friday morning, look to its right for Antares and the head of Scorpius.

News from the Net:
NASA Weighs Risks of Unique Photo-Op at Space Station
Sun Erupts with Enormous X2 Solar Flare
First-Time Views of Solar System Births
Hubble Zeroes in on Hot, Young Stars
Cosmology 101: The Beginning
About that Giant Planet Possibly Hiding in the Outer Solar System…

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No Stars, just Stardust

There are too many clouds to see the stars this week. The artic air is gone! We have several more weeks before the V-Eq. (March 20), but warm days and cool nights this week….with clouds. If the sky clears, the moon is bright this week and stars will be dimmer!

There is Stardust all over Cyberspace. The Starship reached Comet Temple 1. Stardust-NExT the first-ever follow-up mission to a comet will rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1 Monday. Monday was a Hallmark Day. A lot of posts had pictures of heart shaped objects from the cosmos…..

Tonight, The Moon is two day away from full, but it will look full tonight (and bright). Look for a big Moon in the east just after sunset.

If the clouds break this week, the Full Moon is Thursday night (exact at 3:36 a.m. Friday morning EST). Look left or lower left of the Moon after dark for Regulus. Farther left of them is Gamma Leonis, not much fainter than Regulus. Look farther to the Moon's lower right for orange Alphard.

This is the time of year when Orion stands at his highest due south in early evening. Upper right of him is Taurus with orange Aldebaran and, farther on, the Pleiades cluster. Lower left of Orion is Canis Major with bright Sirius.

News from the Net:
Stunning New Look at Reflection Nebula Messier 78
Fiscal Squeeze Could Freeze NASA Budget for Five Years
ATV ‘Johannes Kepler’ Launch to Space Station Delayed to Wednesday
Stardust-NExT Unveils Astoundingly Detailed and Crater-rich Photos of Comet Tempel 1
Thick Stellar Disk Isolated in Andromeda
Stardust-NExT zooms by Comet Tempel 1 for Cosmic Encounter
Sun Unleashes Biggest Flare of the Current Cycle

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stargazing Frosty Nights in moonlight

Last night I observed Orion again and M41 past Sirius. The moon was high in the west and getting bright. The open cluster was dimmer tonight. Jupiter was already behind the trees and moving west. We have two more clear frosty nights ahead before the clouds return Sunday night. Might just scan the moon along the terminator tonight! The Moon shines near the Pleiades after dusk. Binoculars give a fine view. Watch the Moon move along its orbit with respect to the cluster as the hours pass. This (before 7AM) morning we watched the ISS pass overhead from NW to SE, went dim as it glided past Venus.

Asteroid 99942 Apophis was mentioned again in a blog today. More information that this rock is not The Killer Asteroid the press is labeling it.

Saturday, the waxing gibbous Moon is near the horns of Taurus the Bull. Look for the orange/red star Aldebaran to the lower right of the Moon. Time to find the ‘straight wall’ on the moon!

Sunday, if the clouds break, the Moon this evening shines high above Orion, near the horns of Taurus: Beta (β) and Zeta (ζ) Tauri.

News from the Net:
Chandra Captures Giant Ring of Black Holes
Video Visualization of Kepler Exoplanet Data
Spitzer’s Stunning New View of the North American Nebula

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Orion and M41, Monday Night

We are in another round of Artic Air. Frosty wind and a slight chance of winter mix today? Last night went cloudy and the sky was covered all night. Monday night (clear) I was able to view Orion from the porch after dark. A bit later I scanned the area just below Sirius with the binoculars and put M41 in the FOV. The cluster was clear and sharp in a dark cold sky. Open cluster M41 in Canis Major is a large bright cluster (magnitude 4.5) which is visible with the naked eye under dark skies. It is comprised of approximately 100 member stars including four prominent bright yellow-orange stars (mags 6.91 to 7.80) as well as many others between magnitude 7 and 10. This rich cluster is widely distributed across a field spanning 38 arc-minutes including a notable core involving many bright member stars. It has been estimated to be approximately 190 to 240 million old and characteristically includes a few yellow giants as indicated by the image above. This cluster lies at a distance of 2300 light-years away and spans another 25 light-years in diameter. The cluster may have first been observed by Aristotle in 325 BC and certainly observed and catalogued by Giovanni Batista Hodierna around 1654 and later by Messier in 1765. M41 lies four degrees due south of Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major and is best observed during winter crossing the meridian in the evening.

I moved up to Orion’s belt then put the bright M42 nebula in the FOV. 1,500 light years away and still a fantastic sight in scope or binoculars! In the center of the “cloud”, four young stars make up the stellar ‘Trapezium’! Not to forget the red star Betelgeuse, glowing on left shoulder of Orion! Looks great in binoculars and spectacular in any scope!

Another Space Rock! Newly-discovered asteroid 2011 CA7 is going to fly past Earth on Feb. 9th only 63,000 miles away, or 1/4th the distance to the Moon. At closest approach around 1700 UT, the VW-Bug-sized space rock will zip through the constellation Orion glowing like a 17th magnitude star. [ephemeris] [3D orbit]. Might be a bit too windy and frosty to view Orion tonight!

Tonight, if the clouds break, the crescent Moon is near the stars of the constellation Aries. Many craters and mountains can be seen on the Moon near the terminator with binoculars or a telescope. The terminator is the line that separates the light and dark sides of the Moon.

Thursday, the First Quarter Moon is west of the Pleiades star cluster. Tomorrow the Moon will be very close to the cluster. Compare the position of the Moon and star cluster tonight with the view tomorrow. You may need binoculars to see the star cluster next to the bright Moon

Friday, The Moon shines near the Pleiades after dusk (for the time zones of the Americas). Binoculars give a fine view. Watch the Moon move along its orbit with respect to the cluster as the hours pass.

News from the Net:
Forever Endeavour: USA has Plan to Continue Flying Space Shuttles
Air Force and ULA to launch second X-37B
Ares-1 Rocket Could Be Re-born as “Liberty”
Interior of Subsurface Cave Imaged on the Moon
Universe Could be 250 Times Bigger Than What is Observable
A Galaxy With a Big “S” on Its Chest

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Week Two February, a few clear nights ahead

OK, the Snow Event shut down our highways, businesses and schools for a most of Friday morning. It did give us some white stuff(half an inch) on the ground for a while. We finally saw a clear sky and the sun, not seen since last Tuesday. The Sun was filled with ice and gave no warmth at all. (Willie Nelson song!)

Tonight and the next two nights the Moon is close to Jupiter.

Tuesday night, if the clouds break, Uranus is 5 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter. Look for 6th magnitude Uranus with binoculars. Uranus and Jupiter are in the WSW an hour after sunset. (may miss this event...clouds due to return)

In my FOV, if the clouds break, will be the fine winter star cluster M41, visible in binoculars about one binocular field south of Sirius. But what about the cluster M50? Follow a line from Sirius to the tip of Canis Major's nose (Theta Canis Majoris), continue nearly as far exactly straight onward, and there you are. M50 is magnitude 5.9, quite a bit fainter than M41's magnitude 4.5. In the same field with M50 is another, the fainter cluster: NGC 2343, a tougher catch at magnitude 6.7. For a finder chart and more about these objects, see Gary Seronik's Binocular Highlight column in the February Sky & Telescope, page 45.

Before the start of dawn Wednesday morning, the asteroid Vesta is 0.4° north of Venus. They're magnitudes +7.8 and –4.3, respectively, a 70,000-times difference in brightness!

Thursday, First-quarter Moon tonight (exact at 2:18 a.m. Friday morning EST). Look upper left of the Moon for the Pleiades. Farther left of the Pleiades shines Aldebaran.

Another dawn challenge! Just before the first light of dawn Friday morning for your location, aim your scope or binoculars at Venus low in the southeast. Look nearly 3° south (lower right) of it for the hazy little glow of the globular cluster M22 (5th magnitude). Upper right of M22, by 7½°, is the larger dim glow of the Lagoon Nebula, M8. Also nearby is the asteroid Vesta, magnitude 7.8.

Friday night, The Moon shines near the Pleiades after dusk (for the time zones of the Americas). Binoculars give a fine view. Watch the Moon move along its orbit with respect to the cluster as the hours pass.

News from the Net:
Observing Alert: Z Canis Major In Outburst
A Brief History of Observing the Sun
Small Asteroid Just Buzzed Earth
Kelly remains commander of STS-134 mission (Updated)
Brand New Look at Apollo 14 Landing Site
Earth-like Cirrus Clouds Found on Titan
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Situation Cloudy

Friday, February 4, 2011

Space Rock…Close Call

A small (4-5 meter) asteroid discovered earlier today by R. A. Kowalski of the Catalina Sky Survey will pass by Earth on Feb. 4th around 19:40UT at a distance of 11855 km. 2011 CQ1 will not hit Earth, but it will pass well inside the Clarke Belt of geosynchronous satellites. [more]

Putting a small white dot in the FOV is difficult, even with the coordinates. But, at least there are scopes and folks following these "Space Rocks". Tiny asteroid 2011 CQ1 buzzed Earth on Feb. 4th even closer than we thought. According to JPL's Near Earth Object Program office, the meter-wide space rock was only 5480 km (0.85 Earth radii) over the Pacific Ocean at closest approach. That makes it the nearest non-impacting object in their catalog. The encounter was so close, Earth's gravity altered the course of the asteroid by a whopping 60 degrees. [full story] [amateur images]

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stars, a Rabbit, a Ground Hog and Snow….really!

The artic blast came through here early Tuesday morning. Wednesday was Groundhog Day… a cross quarter day. A cross quarter day is the day about midway between a solstice and an equinox. In approximately six weeks spring will be here marked by the Vernal Equinox, whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not. I think "Punx Phil" coming out of his hole may have caused this week's Winter Storm! A dusting of Snow is forecast for our area Tonight!?

It was clear, Tuesday night, with a very cold Wednesday morning. I did a sweep with the binoculars at Gemini in the FOV, the Pleiades and Orion. To cold and windy to set up the scope. Celebrate the Chinese New Year, “Year of the Rabbit” by putting Lepus in your FOV, mentioned in Becky’s Column this week. As January turns to February, Jupiter is slowly leaving us, as it now sets a little after 9 PM, so look early in western skies( below my tree-line @ 8pm). But as has been the case for some time now, Saturn, more or less opposite Jupiter, rises about an hour later amidst the stars of Virgo to the northwest of Spica. It now crosses the meridian to the south shortly after 4 AM, about the time that obvious Venus rises in the southeast, nicely placed between Scorpius and Sagittarius.

Phil’s photo from last weekend captured these two Galaxies located in Ursa Major. Great shot Phil! I have seen M81 and M82 through the scope, in my FOV before, on a clear night and they are an awesome sight in a WF eyepiece.

Tonight, a very young Moon can be spotted low in the WSW 30 minutes after sunset. Binoculars will help. The hairline thin Moon will look like a smile on the horizon.

Friday, look for the thin young Moon in the WSW 45 minutes after sunset. The thin crescent is tilted with the tips of the crescent pointing up. The moon will look like it's smiling at you. Mars also pops up in the news (though not in the sky) as it passes conjunction with the Sun during daylight on Friday the 4th. Though it then moves into the morning sky, it will not clear the horizon before the start of twilight until late May, the Earth only slowly now gaining on it.

News from the Net:
Checkmate… Capturing the “Steed of Dust”
Kepler Discovers First Earth Sized Planets inside Habitable Zone
Kepler Discovers 6-Planet Exo-Solar System
“Marstinis” Could Help Explain Why the Red Planet is So Small