Monday, April 29, 2013

Saturn: May Dark Nights

The first week of May brings us a last quarter Moon and a better chance to view Saturn. However the first few nights will be covered with clouds again. The week’s end looks better, maybe? There is an Event set for the TPML site Saturday night and the skies might clear by then! Saturn is center target for the finder scopes: The planet reaches its peak when it lies opposite the Sun in our sky April 28, which means it rises near sunset and remains visible all night. At opposition, Saturn also shines brighter and appears larger through a telescope than at any other time of the year. "Saturn will look stunning through any size telescope near opposition," says Astronomy Senior Editor Richard Talcott. "The planet's rings are more open than they have been since 2006, so now is a great time to explore their structure. Through a telescope, Saturn’s disk spans 19" across its equator while its rings cover 43" and tilt 18° to our line of sight. “You’ll easily spot the Cassini Division that separates the outer A ring from the brighter B ring,” Talcott says. “And on nights with steady viewing conditions, you should even be able to spot the semitransparent C ring that lies closest to Saturn as well.”

The small but distinctive constellation Corvus, the Crow, is an icon of spring evenings (in the Northern Hemisphere). Look for its four-star quadrilateral in the south-southeast after dark, to the right of Saturn and Spica.

The three brightest stars of the May dusk are all zero magnitude: Capella in the northwest, Vega lower in the northeast, and Arcturus high in the east. (Jupiter, far lower left of Capella, is brighter but doesn't count.)

Thursday, Last-quarter Moon. The Moon, between dim Capricornus and Aquarius, rises around the middle of the night (far below Altair). By daybreak Friday morning it's high in the south.

Saturday after dark, we hope set up at the TPML site under dark skies. I plan to bring out the LX90.
Clear Skies....

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Meteor Shower, Bright Moon and Saturn

After a frosty, clear night this past Friday, the clouds may hide even the brightest stars this week! Spring brings lots of upper atmosphere changes. A chance of rain and another cold front mid week keeps the night sky cloudy. We will miss the meteor shower!  Maybe the night sky will be clear in your backyard?

Look for the Lyrid meteor shower to peak before dawn Monday morning. Most years it's quite weak, but there have been surprises. See the S&T article for the Lyrid Meteor Shower in 2013. The week is highlighted by the Lyrid meteor shower, which is expected to reach its peak the morning of Monday the 22nd. Though capable of greater numbers, it usually produces 10 to 20 meteors an hour. Seeming to emanate from the constellation Lyra (marked by bright Vega), the meteors are the flakings of the great Comet Thatcher of 1861, which visits the inner Solar System every 415 years or so. Look especially in the narrow window when the sky is dark just before dawn following Moonset.

This Thursday is the Full Moon. The "star" near the Moon all night is Saturn. Saturn (magnitude +0.1, in Libra) is nearing opposition. It glows low in the east-southeast as twilight fades, well to the lower left of Spica and farther lower right of brighter Arcturus. Saturn rises higher all evening and shines highest in the south around 1 a.m. daylight saving time. It's at opposition on the night of April 27th. So far, too many clouds or I have not been up later to view this planet.

The rings brighten for a few days around opposition due to the Seeliger effect: the solid particles of the rings preferentially reflect sunlight back in the direction it came from, more than Saturn's cloud tops do.

Note: Saturday night I attended a wedding reception at a Winery a few miles northwest of town. When the festivities ended, a bit after dark, I scanned the clear night sky and had a great view of Jupiter and Aldebaran in the west. Near by was Sirus and Orion, Betelgeuse was shining red that night!  I looked north and found the big dipper...arced to Arcturus, but did not find Saturn above the horizon, yet! This location would be a great site to set up our scopes!

News from the Net:
Kepler Discovers Smallest 'Habitable Zone' Planets
Zoom into the Moon with this Insanely High-Resolution Mosaic

Monday, April 15, 2013

Waiting for Saturn

It is time to observe the “Lord of the Rings”. This planet is taking its time rising above my tree line. Saturn is at magnitude +0.2, in Libra near Spica, below Arcturus. Saturn rises higher all evening. It shines highest in the south around 1 or 2 a.m. Our weather is influenced by Pacific fronts this week. Cloudy nights and a chance of rain are in the forecast this week. We might get a clear night or two at the end of the week. Then we have to contend with the Moonlight. Thursday, The Moon is exactly first quarter at 8:31 a.m. EDT in the morning, this will bring on lots of moonlight for the next two weeks. The Moon Thursday evening is in Cancer, inside the big, long triangle of Procyon, Pollux, and Regulus. If you have no clouds in your backyard, focus on the Terminator. Another Planet, Jupiter, is still a good target in the west at magnitude –2.1, in Taurus. The planet sets around 11 or midnight. Take time to count the number and positions of the moons before this Planet leaves the night sky.

Monday, April 8, 2013

April Constellations on the Horizon

This Week: Look for Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo and Virgo…Bootes

Look for Arcturus, the "Spring Star," shining brightly low in the east-northeast in twilight and higher in the east after dark. The constellation Bootes extends to its left. High to Arcturus's upper left is the Big Dipper. From bright Arcturus in the east, look lower right by about three fists at arm's length for Spica and, lower down as evening grows late, Saturn. To the right of Spica by a little more than a fist is the four-star quadrilateral of Corvus, the Crow.

The New Moon is up (exact at 5:35 a.m. EDT) early Wednesday morning. This means we still have a few more days with dark nights. Another cold front blowing in will give us a couple of clear nights, Thursday and Friday night..

Next Saturday look west in the evening: The thin crescent Moon floats between Aldebaran and the Pleiades in the west as twilight fades, with Jupiter above it.

News from the Net:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Stargazing Event at the TPML

Star-Log Y2K+130406 
April 6, sunset @ the TPML Site. Sky was Clear, Seeing not the best

The ISS Expedition 35 made a pass around 8:40. High enough for all to see and wonder, are the six crew members looking down at us? I had the 10” Dob set up and on Jupiter… Crowd Line started at 8:30 and was non stop until 9:45. I pointed out Taurus, Aldebaran, Jupiter and the Seven Sisters. Also in the sky: Orion and the bright star Sirius. There were several comments on the position of Jupiter and moons as seen in other Scopes! Reversed!

Moons of Jupiter: C                        I     |J|         E G 

After about an hour into the observing, I lost the planet when it moved behind a huge tree. I tried to put the scope on the Orion nebula, but I was having difficulty with my physical position, so I did a little “Star Hopping” and swung over to Mizar. I also arced to Arcturus. I then swung the scope over to the “dog star”, Sirius. I was not able to split the double! I was able to view the Pleiades in my large binoculars. It was low and to the left of Jupiter at 10pm. I did find the Gemini twins. And saw the sickle in Leo that was above the tree in the east. Saturn did not rise until late, I never saw Spica above the trees. The crowd thinned and several late guests were still wanting to view the sky. The HST made a pass at 9:40 to the amazement,WOW, of many still there.

I had the laptop on and charts set up on the table with a red lamp. Larry, Bob, Jeff and Ron all had scopes up and running. There were several other additional Amateur Astronomers that came and set up scopes too. I believe nine scopes all together. Largest group to set up at the site, so far! A non-stop line kept me from visiting the other scopes. There were lots of questions while observing and several guests asked about the group and were interested in the night sky…we all enjoyed the event. Close to 100 visitors.  I still need to get a lighter weight, go-to scope for events…..Newtonian maybe?

The 11” Celestron was on and aligned in the dome, operated by two volunteers from the Library……

Started breaking down the scope at 10:15, Home by 11. Next Event at the TPML is the Astronomy Day Event April 20. Next Astronomy Star Gazing Event is the night of May 6.

Monday, April 1, 2013

More Clouds… No Fooling

Our cold fronts will make it bit cooler, but this mix brings on the Clouds! We have some chances of rain through the week. Next weekend looks good to see Stars, so far! The moon is in third quarter and the night sky is getting darker too. Last-quarter Moon is Tuesday night (exact at 12:37 a.m. Wednesday morning EDT).

Check out Orion brightly framed between Jupiter on its right and Sirius on its left. Start looking for Saturn: (magnitude +0.2, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast only about a half hour after the end of twilight now. Watch for it to make its appearance well to the lower left of Spica, and farther to the lower right of brighter Arcturus. Saturn shines highest in the south around 2 or 3 a.m.

Find yourself a good open horizon Thursday evening, Comet PanSTARRS is passing 2° west (lower right) of the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. They may appear about equally dim low in the northwest just as twilight is ending.

Dark skies with no moon at the end of the week. With clear skies, a good chance to observe Saturn!

News from the Net: