Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hot summer days, clear summer nights

It is getting hotter! Triple digits are on the way, but the forecast has several clear nights ahead in the coming week. We have a few nights to scan the sky and observe before the moon gets too bright.  Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern hemisphere is to the southeast of the Big Dipper. In the northeast find the semi-circle of Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, which lies between Arcturus's Bootes (which stretches like a kite to the north-northeast) and the pair of boxes that makes central Hercules.

Vega is in the east, next in view is Altair. Close by is Delphinus the leaping Dolphin. A small constellation but the asterism is easy to pick out. Popularly in England Delphinus is now Job’s Coffin [Allen, Star Names]. A pithos is a jar that is womb-like in shape. Anything could be placed in a pithos; however, they were used primarily for grains, seeds, wine and oil. In many ancient Helladic burials, the pithos was used as a coffin.

Tonight look for Mars in the west. Our First-quarter Moon is Tuesday evening (exact at 11:30 p.m. EDT). The Moon shines in Virgo.

Thursday, look for Saturn and Spica to the right of the waxing gibbous Moon.

News from the Net:
Mars Has Watery Insides, Just Like Earth
Astrophoto: Supernova PTF11kly During and After
Early “Elemental” Galaxy Found 12.4 Billion Light Years Away
NuSTAR Successfully Deploys Huge Mast
Recent Earth-Passing Asteroid is Much Bigger Than Originally Estimated
The “Deep Blue Sea” of the Sun

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Constellations

Summer begins in three days, which happens on June 20 at 23:09 (11:09 p.m.) Universal time (6:09 p.m. Central Daylight Time)! Look for Scorpius in the southeast at nightfall. Its brightest star is orange Antares. Start looking for Sagittarius too, later in the evening. It’s a great area to explore with a sky atlas and binoculars. In the East the Summer Triangle begins with Vega in Lyra. That Swan follows, so don’t miss the great double Albireo as Cygnus flies by! The Summer Constellations are here......

Our New Moon is Tuesday, exact at 11:02 a.m. EDT.

With a good horizon, look for Mercury Friday at sunset. Spot the crescent Moon in the western twilight this evening, and look far to its right for Mercury, Pollux, and Castor. Soon the nights will be filled with Moonlight….again.

News from the Net:
Astronomers View Asteroid 2012 LZ1′s Bright FlybyMickey Mouse on Mercury?

Mickey Mouse on Mercury?
China to Send Its First Woman to Space on June 16
Astronomers Measure Sunlight’s Shove
Sun Spews Earth-Directed Flares
Terrestrial Planets Could be More Common Than Gas Giants
Hubble Captures ‘Fake’ Cosmic Collision
Cassini Spies a Possible ‘Oasis’ on Titan
Coming Soon: World’s Largest Optical Telescope
 Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast: June 18-24, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

June Nights, Dark of the Moon

Warm, humid nights tells me summer is already here! Clouds are moving in and out this week, but we have a period of dark nights ahead. With a little luck, we can scan the night sky a few nights this week! With June well under way, the Big Dipper has swung around to hang down by its handle high in the northwest during evening. The middle star of its handle is Mizar, with tiny little Alcor right next to it (almost hidden in the glow here at right). On which side of Mizar should you look for Alcor? As always, on the side toward bright Vega, which is now shining in the east-northeast. With summer beginning a week away, Scorpius is already rearing up in the southeast at nightfall. Its brightest star is orange-red Antares. The "outrigger" stars of Antares are just below and upper right of it. Farther upper right is the row of stars marking Scorpius's head. This is a grand area to explore with a sky atlas and binoculars.

The Last quarter Moon was 6:41 a.m. Monday morning EDT. The Moon, half-lit, rises in Aquarius in the middle of the night. By that time the Summer Triangle is very high in the east, high above it.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Virgo) shines high in the south as twilight fades.  Jupiter is coming into view deep in the glow of sunrise. Venus, having crossed the Sun from east to west during its transit on June 5th, is now very deep in the brightest glow of dawn. The two planets are 14° apart on the morning of June 9th and 9° apart by June 16th. Use binoculars as daylight brightens; look just above the east-northeast horizon. Jupiter and Venus are on their way up for a grand showing high in the morning sky this summer. 

News from the Net:
Engineers Able to Narrow Landing Ellipse for Curiosity Rover
Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast: June 11-17, 2012
Lightning From Space!
Upcoming First Human Mission to Chinese Space Station May Include Female Taikonaut
Transit of Venus Redux: More Great Images
Clouds part for Transit of Venus from Princeton University
On the Edge of Titan
Dang, These Features on Mars are Groovy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tuesday's Transit

The 2012 Transit of Venus is history, and it lived up to the hype. The inky-black silhouette of the second planet was a wonder to behold as it glided across our star on June 5th. Photos from around the world are posted at the Realtime Transit of Venus Photo Gallery. Additional historic photos were captured from the Big Bear Observatory and The SDO. Watch SDO movies of Venus at


The clouds did break for the Event! Just goes to prove any forecast can change! Setting up a scope in summer sunshine is hot and sweaty business, but this event is the last one in my lifetime! I set up the four inch scope at 4:45 in an area I could catch the beginning of the event. Attached my Mylar filter and at 5:05 we saw the first part Venus creeping onto the limb of the Sun! I took note of several sun spots, made a sketch of their locations. I moved the scope twice to a better spot as the sun was beginning set behind the tops of trees. At 6:30 the black dot was below the tree.  Nearly the same size as Earth, roughly 40 million kilometers (25 million miles) from Earth, back lit by a star 110 million km (70 million miles) farther away yet and well over 100 times bigger than Venus! Our horizon is not the best with the TREES! As Venus moved onto the Sun’s surface we took several photos with a digital camera in the eyepiece.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cloudy Transit...Maybe

The past few nights have been filled of moon light! Every warm night the deafening sounds of the Katy-did breaks the silence of night! The full moon was Sunday. I did see dim stars outlining a few constellations around 10 after dark when I looked up. The Big Dipper has now swung around to hang down by its handle in the northwest. The middle star of its handle is Mizar. A great Double in binoculars! 

Looks like that Transit of Venus across the face of the Sun Tuesday June 5, may not be seen here! Partly Cloudy Skies forecast…..really!  Seems we can’t catch a break. I did watch the 2004 event. I set up my 4” scope with a Mylar filter. If it clears, I hope to set up again this week to watch the event! I will need to go to a better horizon. After the June 2012 transit of Venus (the last one in your lifetime), the next such alignment occurs in 2117. A transit of Venus occurs when Venus passes directly between the sun and earth.  This alignment is rare, coming in pairs that are eight years apart but separated by over a century.  Observers in North America will see the transit in the evening on June 5, 2012, through sunset, so you want to have a clear western horizon. Transit of Venus pairs since the invention of the telescope:
  • 1631 (not witnessed) & 1639
  • 1761 & 1769
  • 1874 & 1882
  • 2004 & 2012
If Venus and the earth orbited the sun in the same plane as the sun, transits would happen frequently.  However, the orbit of Venus is inclined to the orbit of earth, so when Venus passes between the sun and the earth every 1.6 years, Venus usually is a little bit above or a little bit below the sun, invisible in the sun’s glare. A similar thing happens with our moon.  Every month the moon passes between the sun and the earth, yet we do not see a solar eclipse every month.  That’s because the moon’s orbit is also slightly inclined to earth’s orbit, so the new moon is usually a little above or a little below the sun.  The transit of Venus is essentially an annular eclipse of the sun by Venus.

If it is cloudy, lots of pictures and videos from the Net! Clear Skies…….

News from the Net: 
A Cotton Candy Pinwheel Galaxy   Was Pluto Ever REALLY a Planet?  It’s Inevitable: Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy Heading for Collision   Stunning Visualization of 56 Years of Tornadoes in the US  A Tribute to Hubble… and Humanity     Dragon Heading to Ocean Splashdown