Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cloudy SkyWatching...Seeing Red

This past week Red Mars was bright in my night sky. Like a lantern, hanging under Leo, but I had to look fast before the clouds moved in and covered my backyard nights! Next week is forecast with cloudy nights...again! As we close this month of February 2012, a reminder that it is Leap Year. The leap year was invented in 46 BC under Julius Caesar, whose astronomer Sosigenes added a day every four years (now our February 29) to make the average length of the calendar year 365.25 days, very close to the true value of 365.2422...days. Good but not perfect. In the 16th Century, Pope Gregory XIII ordered (on advice from his astronomers) leap years to be dropped in century years not divisible by 400, making for an average over 400 years of 365.2425 days, almost perfect, allowing the calendar to stay in close synchrony with the seasons.

The constellations of winter are still in my FOV. And I continue to follow the Planets Jupiter, Venus and Saturn on any Clear nights that might linger through the night Sky.

Our seasonal change in weather will bring us more clouds this next week. Rain is forecast for part of the week. Catching a star in my FOV will be tuff! But here is what’s up in my backyard as we move into March:

Sunday evening the crescent Moon pairs with Jupiter, and it's Venus's turn to be the spectator. The Beehive Cluster in Cancer is as easy and well-known binocular target high in the late-winter sky. Farther and fainter is another cluster in Cancer, M67, an interesting and not-hard binocular catch. See Gary Seronik's Binocular Highlight column and chart (and the all-sky constellation map for finding Cancer) in the March Sky & Telescope, page 45.

Monday, see the six or seven brightest night objects at once. The last few days of February and first few days of March offer a rare chance for people at mid-northern latitudes to see at least a half dozen of the night sky's brightest objects simultaneously, 30 to 60 minutes after sunset. In order of brightness these are the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Sirius, Mars, Mercury, and (for southerners) Canopus. See S&T’s article, with pictures.

Tuesday, the evening Moon shines left of the Pleiades.

The First-quarter Moon is Wednesday, (exact at 8:21 p.m. EST). The Moon shines near Aldebaran in Taurus.

News from the Net:
Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast – February 27-March 4, 2012
The Sky Is Falling, Scientists Report
Curiosity Rover Acting as Stunt Double for Humans
RoboScopes – Real Armchair Astronomy
Astrophoto: The Veil Nebula by Nick Howes
Rare Amateur Video of Challenger Disaster Surfaces
See Venus in Daylight This Weekend
Mercury Down Under

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Early Spring? Mars!

Spring seems to be arriving early this year. Leo is climbing in the eastern sky with Mars, about magnitude –1.0, in western Leo. Speaking of Mars, SciFi character John Carter will be on the local screens the first week of March! Very Cool! Cool nights, warm days and more chances of rain, bring more cloudy nights. Catch a starry night when you can. Friday night is forecast-Clear!
This is the time of year when landmark W pattern of Cassiopeia stands vertically on end high in the northwest. Canopus transits right when Beta Canis Majoris (Mirzim) does. That's the fairly bright star about three finger-widths to Sirius's right. When Mirzim is due south, look straight down from there.

We're in the dark of the Moon, which means its deep-sky observing time, if the clouds break! Tuesday we are in the New Moon (exact at 5:35 p.m. EST). Wednesday, An ultra-thin, one-day-old crescent Moon floats to the right of Mercury very low in the west a half hour after sunset, as shown above. Bring binoculars. Friday, Jupiter and Venus form a line pointing down to the crescent Moon during and after twilight.

Last Thursday, the Group met and discussed the Event at the TPL this past Saturday night. Some 50+ Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts from the area will take a look through several telescopes. Hopefully the clouds broke for a couple of hours observing time?!

News from the Net:
More Details from Hubble Reveal Strange Exoplanet is a Steamy Waterworld
Timelapse: Atacama Starry Nights
Recent Geologic Activity on the Moon?
A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing The International Space Station (ISS)
Bright Peaks, Dark Shadows
Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast: February 19-25, 2012
Can You Find the Lost Soviet Mars 6 Lander in this Image?
SOLID Clues for Finding Life on Mars

Monday, February 13, 2012

Planets in the clouds this week

Spring like temperatures will bring more clouds this week. We might have a couple of nights with clear skies? Monday and Tuesday Night...maybe? Look upper right of Jupiter this week for the brightest stars of little Aries. Monday night, Io reappears out of eclipse from Jupiter's shadow around 9:06 p.m. EST. A small telescope will show Io gradually swelling into view just off Jupiter's eastern limb. Our evening star, Venus (magnitude –4.2, in Pisces) is blazing in the southwest. Mars (about magnitude –0.9, in western Leo) rises bright fire-orange in the east soon after dark. Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Virgo) rises in the east around 11 and is shines highest in the south an hour before dawn.

If the clouds break, cruise the NE sky for Perseus and the Double Cluster this week. Other targets to observe in clear skies: The asteroid 433 Eros, making a rare pass by Earth, is still magnitude 8.6 but starts to fade this week. Bright star Canopus lies almost due south of Sirius.

News from the Net:
‘Stealth Merger’ of Dwarf Galaxies Seen in New Images
Scientists Find New Clues About the Interiors of ‘Super-Earth’ Exoplanets
Flawless Maiden Launch for Europe’s New Vega Rocket
A Continent Ablaze in Auroral and Manmade Light
Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast – February 12-18, 2012
Earth-Facing Sunspot Doubles in Size

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Full Moon Behind the Clouds this Week

Lots of Clouds are in the forecast this week….again! Action at Jupiter will be missed this week behind the clouds! Moons Io and Europa events will happen on or just off the planet's eastern (following) limb. Jupiter's Great Red Spot transits the planet's central meridian after dark on Monday evening. More events that we will miss in my cloudy sky this week are:

Saturday, The Moon shines in the feet of Gemini this evening, with Castor and Pollux to its left and Orion farther to its right. Well below the Moon sparkles Procyon.

Sunday, This evening spot Pollux and Castor upper left of the Moon, and Procyon to the Moon's lower right. Farther below the Moon is the much dimmer Head of Hydra asterism.

Tuesday, Full Moon (exact at 4:54 p.m. EST). The Moon shines in western Leo. Look lower left of the Moon for Regulus, as shown here.

Wednesday, The evening Moon in the eastern sky is to the lower right of Regulus and farther upper right from Mars. Saturn is at its stationary point. It now starts moving west against the stars (retrograding), on its way to opposition April 15th.

Thursday, The waning gibbous Moon rises in mid-evening with Mars and fainter Denebola lined up to its left. Uranus is 0.3° south (lower left) of Venus right after dark.

Friday, In the western sky, bright Jupiter and brighter Venus are 30° apart and closing. Watch the gap between them narrow by 1° per day as they approach their March 13th conjunction.

News from the Net:
The Milky Way’s Magnetic Personality
New Study Shows How Trace Elements Affect Stars’ Habitable Zones
Beautiful Conjunction: Comet Garradd Meets M92
Can We Land On a Comet?
Hubble Captures a Classic Barred Spiral Galaxy
NASA’s Blue Marble…Side B.
Astrophoto: Jupiter and Venus at the Beach by Brendan Alexander