Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Night Sky Moves into March

Leo and Virgo in the East

Taurus and Orion move South West

With spring less than a month away, Orion is starting to tip over toward the southwest fairly early in the evening now. Look for Jupiter in Taurus higher in the SW. Saturn rises in Virgo just before midnight now.

Monday, Full Moon this evening (exactly full at 3:26 p.m. EST). The Moon is south of Leo.

If the clouds break in your backyard this week, steer toward the Pleiades and then check out the features on the moon when it is full. 

Note: we had the monthly Group meeting and set the dates for the rest of the year at the TPML:
We are hoping for clear nights on the following Event Dates:
March 2     
April 6      
May 4
June 15      MOON Event
July           NO EVENT  Scheduled
Aug           NO EVENT Scheduled
Sept. 14     MOON Event
Oct. 26      
Nov. 23     
Dec. 28      

Monday, February 18, 2013

Two Planets, Bright Moon

OK we might have one night this week that will be clear! If it is clear in your backyard, you can still observe: The Moon > Sunday was at first-quarter and was to the right of Jupiter just after dark. Both these items in the sky set around 1 or 2 a.m.

Jupiter (bright at magnitude –2.4, in Taurus) is moving west but still a good target along with all those good things nearby. It dominates the high south at dusk and the southwest later. To its left is orange Aldebaran; to its right are the Pleiades. This whole group sets around 1 or 2 a.m. local time the Pleiades, Aldebaran in Taurus.

Saturn: (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast around 11 or midnight, well to the lower left of Spica. By the beginning of dawn Saturn is highest in the south — more or less between Spica, 18° to its right, and Antares farther to its lower left. Saturn is 4½° northwest of the wide double star Alpha Librae.

In a telescope Saturn's rings are tilted 19.3° from edge-on, their most open of the year (by just a trace).

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Moon, Planets and an Asteroid

We start this week to view the stars under dark skies and a beginning of the Chinese New Year, the year of the Snake. Sunday, was our New Moon; exact at 1:20 a.m. CST. These days feel like spring may be early! But we are still under a winter constellation sky.

Next Friday is the Close flyby of asteroid 2012 DA14. This gymnasium-sized asteroid will miss Earth by just 18,000 miles (28,500 km) around 19:25 Universal Time today. It will then be as bright as 8th magnitude, moving across the stars by 0.8° per minute — and it will be in nighttime view from easternmost Europe (in late evening) across Asia to Australia (before dawn on the 16th local date).By its visibility in North America it will be down to 11th to 13th magnitude, receding into the distance near the Little Dipper. See the S&T article Asteroid 2012 DA14 to Zip Past Earth, with detailed telescopic finding instructions.

Two Planets dominate the night sky:  Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, in Taurus) dominates the high south sky in early evening and the southwest later. To its left is orange Aldebaran; to its right are the Pleiades. This whole group sets around 2 a.m.

Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast around midnight, well to the lower left of Spica. By the beginning of dawn Saturn is highest in the south — more or less between Spica, far to its right, and Antares farther to its lower left.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dark Moon, Cloudy Sky

Sunday the moon went third quarter, so darker skies ahead. However the forecast for the week calls for some damp days ahead. We may not get that much rain, but the sky will be cloudy this week. Last Saturday night’s TPML event was cancelled. The forecast was partly cloudy with 40% cloud coverage. However, the report from the site was clear skies Saturday night. Larry had to make the NO GO call, based on the forecast information.

This week’s highlights, if your backyard is clear: With the Moon gone from the evening sky, this week is a fine time to look for the zodiacal light at a clear, dark site. Look west at the end of twilight for a dim pyramid of light. It will be tilted left to align along the constellations of the zodiac. So it points toward toward Jupiter. What you're seeing is sunlit interplanetary dust — comet and asteroid debris — orbiting the Sun near the plane of the solar system.

Saturn highlights the early morning sky. The ringed Planet (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast around midnight or 1 a.m. local time. By the beginning of dawn it's at its highest in the south — more or less between Spica, far to its right, and Antares farther to its lower left. Saturn's rings are tilted 19° from edge on, the widest they've appeared in seven years.

Look South for Jupiter: (magnitude –2.5, in Taurus) dominates the high south in early evening, and the southwest later. To its left is orange Aldebaran; to its right are the Pleiades. The whole group sets around 2 or 3 a.m. In a telescope, Jupiter is shrinking (from 43 to 42 arcseconds wide this week) as Earth pulls farther ahead of it in our faster orbit around the Sun.

Orion is center stage late evenings: Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star on his shoulder, and it’s likely to supernova anytime. The three stars across Orion’s middle. Just beneath them the Orion Nebula. It’s about 1,500 light-years away from us and it just blazes with hot clouds of gas and dust that are forming stars.

Comet PanSTARRS update. The incoming comet that we hoped would make a fine showing in March has been weakening. It may not even reach naked-eye visibility, what with its low altitude in evening twilight.