Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shadow on Saturn

I moved the 12" Dob to the porch at 10 pm. The Big Dipper was to my upper left, no moon and Saturn was way above the tree line in front of me. The sky last night was not the best seeing. We may still have smoke and dust in our night sky. It was still a bit breezy.

StarLog^^ 110427
Saturn was anchored below Porrima, the gamma star in the constellation Virgo. The constellation Virgo lies in the direction of the north galactic pole, far from the starry band of the Milky Way, so there are only a few bright stars here. Spica, a blue-white beauty of a star, is the brightest in the constellation. From the northern hemisphere, you can easily find Spica by following the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper first to Arcturus, then on to Spica. And remember… this year, the planet Saturn lies in Virgo, just south of Spica. This ringed planet stood out in the night sky, far from Spica. In the eye piece, he was bright yellow with 3 moons visible around the planet. A dark line cut across the center of the globe, the ring’s shadow. This planet viewed in a scope on a clear dark night is "the Lord of the Rings."
e------Ø--m----R---------T
Two moons on the right were visible and one to the left of the rings. Titan and Rhea were easy to pickup. I had to look a while to see Enceladus, just a small dot on the left side of the planet. Mimas was too close to the globe, I didn't see it! The Rings and shadow were awesome!

M44, that beehive of stars was straight up and to the west. Hard for me to catch in the eyepiece. Phil had a shot of this cluster on his blog page. I tried to catch the double star in Corvus, but the star was still low and not in a dark area of the sky. I will try again next time I set up the scope, maybe tonight....if the clouds stay out of the sky!

Tonight, if the clouds break and you have a good view of the Horizon. Spica is your guide star to Omega Centauri cluster. People living south of 35 degrees north latitude have a realistic chance of spotting Omega Centauri, with a good view of the Horizon! The picture is from AAPOD-Australia using an LX200- 12" scope. The folks downunder (Glenorie, New South Wales, Australia) have a great view!

News from the Net:
Endeavour still GO for launch tomorrow
A Reminder, next week, the morning May 6th head out into the country, far from the city lights. Meteors from Halley’s comet, the eta Aquarid meteor shower.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Satun, as the Crow flies

If the clouds break, I would like to catch Saturn in the FOV again. Maybe Wednesday night?
Finding the Coma Star Cluster in the FOV. Saturn is anchored above Spica in the evening sky. Close to the star "Porrima", (Gamma Virginis). Watch the movement of the ringed planet as he moves closer to Porrima, by the second week of June Saturn is only 1/4 degree apart! The Constellation Corvis, the Crow, is nesting just a 'fist' length to the right of the bright star Spica. Look for a misshapen square of stars. Find Algorab, the Raven’s Wing, a nice blue, orange double star.


Finally, I was able to get back to the News Link: It was a Service Interruption

News from the Net:
Yet as it turns out, Pluto really may not be a planet after all. It may be a comet.
More Surprises From Pluto
Lingering Lyrids…
Year One of the Solar Dynamics Observatory – Vote for Your Favorite Solar Events
And now exo-magnetospheres
Astronomy Without A Telescope – Alien Mining
Interacting Sunspots Spawn Gigantic Solar Flare

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Sunday...Stars this Week

Another cloudy midnight to dawn, warm nights then hot days. Stars between the clouds. Our group met last Thursday night. Not too many there due to the Religious events, but we did discuss how the Easter date was set. Early European astronomers determined Easter dates

How do they know it’s Easter? Ever wondered how the exact dates of the Easter break are chosen? Easter Sunday can fall anytime between 22 March and 25 April and, thanks to European observations of the Sun that go back many centuries, the exact date can be predicted as far ahead as 4099 AD. Back in 325 AD, it was declared that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full Moon following the vernal equinox (the Spring day in the northern hemisphere when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal). Over the next few centuries, theologians and scientists struggled with the problem of calculating these vital dates years in advance.

This week there are several items in the sky to observe, if the clouds break, to date the forecast for Wednesday night is clear!

Just south of Regulus is the dim but galaxy-riddled constellation Sextans, the Sextant. Dig up some of its far sights using Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column, chart, and images in the April Sky & Telescope, page 58. Capella is the brightest star shining in the northwest right after dusk. Arcturus is the brightest in the east. Both are magnitude zero — and this week, both stand at exactly the same height above your horizon around nightfall (depending on your latitude). Look for Pi Bootis in Bootes, the Herdsman, not quite eight degrees east-southeast of Arcturus) is "A neat double star...both white"

Mercury moves this week from 9 to 4 degrees to the lower left of Venus. The pair of planets can be spotted very low in the east, 40 minutes before sunrise. Use binoculars. The Last-quarter Moon is at 10:47 p.m. EDT Sunday evening. The Moon, in Capricornus, rises long after midnight tonight (daylight-saving time) and stands nearly in the south at Monday sunrise.
A dawn challenge: Set the alarm to get up Friday morning well before your local sunrise time, grab binoculars or telescope, and get to a spot with a view of the eastern horizon by a half hour before sunrise. The waning crescent Moon will be hanging in the east. If the air is clear Venus should be easy to pick up far to its lower left. Try next for Mercury, Jupiter, and, for a real challenge, tiny Mars next to Jupiter. Was it cloudy at dawn? Try again Saturday morning for the Moon, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Mars. This time the Moon is thinner and closer above Venus.

Can't link to the News page I use on the net. I will keep trying!
I did find this on Messenger Images

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meteor Shower behind a cloudy sky

Our forecast has been “Cloudy” and will be tomorrow morning and the next! We may not get a chance to see this month’s meteor shower! Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher, source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Saturdy morning, April 23nd, with as many as 20 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, bright moonlight will interfere with the display. [full story]. I'm still looking for Saturn and The constellation Hercules the Kneeling Giant can be seen ascending in the east-northeast on these spring evenings. Start looking for the Constellation Hercules and one of the best Globular Clusters, M13.

Interesting News from the Net:
Remember that Rock, used to be the “Nineth” planet? Found this on the Discovery Blog: Pluto has an atmosphere? Shocking, right? O’neill writes Pluto's Atmosphere: Big, Poisonous and Comet-like. It may not have official planetary status, but the dwarf planet does have an atmosphere. In fact, it's the only dwarf planet with a known atmosphere. What's more, it has just been announced that its atmosphere reaches nearly one quarter of the way to Pluto's largest moon Charon and swept back -- like a cometary tail -- by the weak pressure of the solar wind.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saturn in Moonlight

A clear sky last night around Ten in the evening allowed me to spot the ringed planet above the trees, even in bright moonlight. Saturn rises higher in the southeast during evening and shines highest in the south around midnight. In a telescope, Saturn's rings are 9° from edge on. Saturn's months-old northern-hemisphere white spot has spread into a light band far around the planet. I hope the clouds continue to take a brake from evening skies! Tonight, look for Regulus in Leo about 6° above or upper left of the Moon this evening (for North America). A small telescope will always show Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Tonight Titan is four ring-lengths to Saturn's east. Saturn's other major satellites are all close to the planet tonight.



  • Thursday, Saturn is far to the lower left of the gibbous Moon in the evening sky. Look for the star Spica 12 degrees below Saturn.


  • Friday, the nearly full Moon is approaching Saturn and company in the southeastern sky.


  • Saturday, Saturn and Gamma Virginis (Porrima) are upper left of the nearly full Moon this evening. They're currently 2½° apart; they'll close up in the coming weeks.


News from the Net:


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Set a Course to Spring Constellations

We are still in a season of change. Warmer “summer” temperatures are keeping us in the shade during the day. The evening brings high clouds, broken clouds or some haze that makes it tuff to view a night sky. If the clouds break this next week, I’m looking for Saturn. The top three of the sky’s 88 total constellations are visible in the early evening right now. In order of size, they are Hydra the Water Snake, Virgo the Maiden, and Ursa Major the Great Bear. The latter, In the NE sky, contains the sky’s best-known asterism — the Big Dipper. An asterism is a recognizable group of stars that’s not one of the 88 “official” constellations.



Saturday, The Moon, in the feet of Gemini, is a very thick crescent less than two days from first quarter. If your sky is really clear after dark, binoculars will show the star cluster M35 roughly 2° to the Moon's upper right (for North America). In binoculars it's a largish, dim glow. In a telescope it's a city of stars.




  • Sunday, Lunar occultation: Skywatchers in eastern North America this evening can watch the dark limb of the first-quarter Moon snap up Zeta Geminorum, magnitude 3.8. Some times: Toronto, 9:10 p.m. EDT; Washington DC, 9:17 p.m. EDT; Atlanta, 9:09 p.m. EDT; Miami, 9:29 p.m. EDT. Map and timetables for many more locations. In some places the occultation happens in twilight and you'll need a telescope.


  • Monday, First-quarter Moon (exact at 8:05 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time). Saturn is about 12 degrees above the star Spica and 30 degrees to the right of Arcturus at dusk. Saturn, Arcturus and Spica are the three brightest objects in the east, an hour after sunset.


  • Tuesday, Early spring is when Orion tilts downward in the southwest after dusk, with his three-star belt turning horizontal as seen from north temperate latitudes. The belt points left toward bright Sirius and to the right more or less toward orange Aldebaran. Right of Aldebaran are the Pleiades.


  • Wednesday, Look for Regulus in Leo about 6° above or upper left of the Moon this evening (for North America). A small telescope will always show Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Tonight Titan is four ring-lengths to Saturn's east. Saturn's other major satellites are all close to the planet tonight.


Asteroids and Fireballs in the News from the Net:


"On April 6th at 8:21:57 CDT, NASA all-sky meteor cameras detected a very bright fireball moving north across the state of Tennessee. First detected 52 miles above the Arnold Air Force base near Tullahoma, the meteor was brighter than crescent Moon and was approximately 2 feet in diameter, with a weight of 200 lbs. It was last recorded 30 miles above the town of Woodbury, Tennessee, moving at a speed of approximately 9 miles per second (32,400 mph)."



After 3 ½ years of thrusting silently through the void, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on the threshold of a new world. It's deep in the asteroid belt, less than 4 months from giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn will enter orbit around Vesta in July 2011, becoming the first spacecraft ever to orbit a body in the asteroid belt. After conducting a detailed study of the uncharted alien world for a year, the spacecraft will pull off an even more impressive first. It will leave Vesta, fly to dwarf planet Ceres, and enter orbit there.




  • WISE spacecraft has discovered a Horseshoe shaped Asteroid. The new object, designated 2010 SO16, is different. Its orbit is almost circular such that it cannot come close to any other planet in the solar system except Earth. However, even though the asteroid rides around with Earth, it never gets that close.


  • NASA has decided not to participate further in the Laser Interferometric Space Antenna, a.k.a. LISA. Too bad, I liked the direction this mission was going. The project teams working on LISA have been disbanded, and the shutters have been pulled down on a project which would have revolutionised astrophysics by opening up new possibilities of observing astronomical objects using gravitational waves, rather than electromagnetic radiation.


  • Did you ‘Juno’ we are going back to Jupiter? NASA's Juno spacecraft has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for a launch this summer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Asteroids and the Big Dipper

It's notable when an asteroid flies past Earth closer than the Moon. Today, April 6th, two asteroids will do this. Newly-discovered space rocks 2011 GW9 and 2011 GP28 will zip through the Earth-Moon system at Earth-distances of 77,000 km and 192,000 km, respectively. Both are ten-meter class asteroids two to three times smaller than the Tunguska impactor of 1908. There is no danger of a collision. A late cold front last week brought north winds and the rains missed us! These winds moved the clouds out of the way for a little viewing time. The Big Dipper is in prime position over my tree line, giving Galaxies M81 and M82 and the planet Saturn. Still trying to center these again in my FOV.


    News of Note from the Net:



    • Following discussions among the International Space Station partners on Sunday, NASA has targeted the launch of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission for 3:47 p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29. The delay removes a scheduling conflict with a Russian Progress supply vehicle scheduled to launch April 27 and arrive at the station April 29. NASA managers will hold a Flight Readiness Review on Tuesday, April 19, to assess the team's readiness to support launch. An official launch date will be selected at the conclusion of the meeting. The Progress 42 spacecraft will be delivering supplies to the station. Three more members of the Expedition 27 crew are scheduled to launch at 6:18 pm EDT on Monday, April 4, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Their arrival will return the station crew's size to six members. Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev and NASA astronaut Ron Garan are scheduled to arrive at the station at 7:18 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, to join cosmonaut Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who have been aboard the station since mid-December.


    • Astronomy Without A Telescope – Our Inferred Universe


    • ‘In Flight’ Shuttle Orbiter retirement display planned by Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex


    • SDO’s Crazy-Looking Sun Due to Syzygy


    • Webb Telescope FAQs


    • Mars’ Misty Mountains

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    The Moon is turning Dark

    The past three nights, I have tried to set up and look at the Big Dipper area. Clouds and haze have slowed me down. The current weather system is not helping. The next couple of days, during the dark of the moon phase, maybe the sky will stay clear long enough to get a scope out and observe? There are several events in this first full week of April.

    • Sunday, Saturn is at opposition tonight, opposite the Sun in Earth's sky. Look for the brightening of Saturn's rings this week due to the Seeliger effect. New Moon (exact at 10:32 a.m. EDT). This is the most distant New Moon of the year. The Moon moves into the evening sky tomorrow. Saturn is at opposition. Watch Saturn all night move from the east to the west.

    • Monday, Look very high in the northeast after dark this week for the Big Dipper starting to tip over to the left, after standing straight upright on its handle when winter was nearing its end. I will be searching for that pair of Galaxies that are anchored near the dipper, if the sky clears. A young Moon is low in the WNW. Look for the hairline thin Moon 45 minutes after sunset.

    • Tuesday, A small telescope will always show Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Tonight Titan is at greatest elongation, four ring-lengths to Saturn's west. A 6-inch telescope will begin to show the orange color of its smoggy atmosphere. Saturn's other major moons appear much closer to the planet tonight. Watch the waxing crescent Moon ascend from night to night in the twilight toward the Pleiades and Hyades.

    • Wednesday, As twilight fades, look for the Pleiades above the Moon (for North America).

    • Thursday, Look for orange Aldebaran to the left of the Moon, and the Pleiades to the Moon's lower right, as shown here. This evening the Moon's earthlit dark limb will beautifully occult (cover) Kappa and/or Upsilon Tauri for observers in much of western North America. Both stars are magnitude 4.3. Kappa also has a 5.3-magnitude companion 0.1° to its south.

    • Friday, Arcturus, the "Spring Star," is the brightest point high in the east these evenings. Wait up till after about 10 or 10:30 and you can get an early sighting of Vega, the equally bright "Summer Star," rising low in the northeast.

    • News from the Net: There is some good new about our space program... they have not dropped the "Orion" program all together! NASAs First Orion Capsule and New Space Operations Center Unveiled

    • Observing Alert – New Images from Mercury: Just the Beginning for MESSENGER in Orbit

    • New Technique Separates the Modest Red Giants From the … Giant Red Giants

    • New Image: Rosy Glow of Starbirth, Just in Time for Spring