International Moon Night!

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Clouds and thunderstorms here in the NYC area are limiting our view of the Moon, making it hard to celebrate , so here’s some photos via my camera and telescope of our Moon…..

See the big overview in the photos I took with my Canon XS Rebel through my 8-inch dobsonian reflector telescope Thursday and Friday night. Click to see the photos full size – then using the back arrow on your browser should bring you back to this page. Tonight’s moon will be a bit fuller (Full Moon is Monday evening). If you super-enlarge the photo, you’ll notice how fuzzy the details are at very high magnifications. With the enlarging lenses I’ve used (2 and 5 times the natural ability of the camera to make the Moon look larger) it makes the magnification more than the telescope’s diameter can give us. Some can do better by taking thousands of photos and taking the absolute best and combining them to make a very sharp detailed photo similar to what the eye can see if the air is very steady in the atmosphere between the telescope and the Moon.
But these photos give a good idea of what the Moon looks to people viewing it in my 2-inch wide 40 power lens.
77 76 copy

IMG_5255 sharp contrast xhotpx (2)

Here’s a section of one of the photos of the northeastern corner of the Moon where the sun is high in the lunar sky and the rays of material thrown out of the crater are very bright. The fan-shaped rays happened because the meteor hit the moon at a low angle. Very little of the material thrown out of the crater went in the direction the meteor came from.
On the photos of the whole moon, you can even find a double crater to the right of the fan-rayed crater, with rays extending out in one direction. This may be an impact by one meteor that bounced and hit a second time or a binary object with both pieces hitting the moon at the same time.
IMG_5278 levels
You can see many of the features in these photos even in a small telescope, just the objects will look smaller.

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Heads UP! for early September 2014

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment

This month, for those going back to school, you might say the brighter planets are working in the margins of our paper, except for Jupiter, which gets higher in the eastern sky each morning, making it easy to see as late as 45 minutes before sunrise each clear morning. This makes Jupiter available for pointing out to fellow commuters on the way to work. If you’re up early with your telescope, a few minutes spent observing Jupiter, its dancing moons and neat cloud belts will brighten your day.

As for the other bright planets, Venus will be continue to be brilliant, but low in the east as sunrise moves rapidly earlier as we approach the equinox.

You should also go out in the evening and look low in the southwest, to the left of where the sun just set. Mars and Saturn will make lovely changing patterns, along with the bright star Antares. Mercury, near Spica, will be hard to see, even as it gets further from the sun through the 21st.

When Mars moves near Antares in the sky early in September, does Antares live up to its name ‘rival of Mars’? Does one look brighter than the other? Officially, they are about the same magnitude this month. Mars looks very tiny, even in a telescope, appearing only twice as wide as Uranus, so details are hard to see even in a telescope.

Saturn will be sliding into the twilight, but its rings continue to reward persistent followers. Saturn will have an additional neighbor in early September, a +7.8 magnitude star looking like an additional moon. One of Saturn’s moons, Rhea (perhaps out of jealousy?), will block out the 7th magnitude star on the evening of the 12th, as seen from parts of the northeast US and eastern Canada. At the time of the occultation, about 8:38pm ET, the Sun will be about 14 degrees below the horizon and Saturn will be only 11 degrees above the southwestern horizon at that time. Rhea will be hard to find in a telescope at magnitude +10, so train your optics on the 7th magnitude star, east of Saturn, since it will be noticeably brighter than Saturn’s moons. It would be rewarding to see the star appear to dim if Rhea passes in front of it for your location.

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Jupiter and Venus looking like cat’s eyes in the morning sky + bonus moon photos

August 21, 2014 Leave a comment

On the morning of the 18th, I got to see Venus and Jupiter in close conjunction. I had to look low in the east and between two houses. Scroll down to see…..and click for full size, use back arrow to return to the blog page!

IMG_5119 50mm Canon XS at f2

IMG_5153 Canon XS through my 8inch wide dobsonian telescope

IMG_5149 venus and jupiter bands and moons cropped from a larger photo through my telescope

IMG_5129 Canon XS with 250mm lens

IMG_5174 Moon with Canon XS through telescope with added mini-amplifier lens

IMG_5167 south crop sharp levels Portion of previous photo to show craters extending to the south pole of the moon, cropped, light levels adjusted and sharpened.

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Heads UP! for August 2014

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Sesame Street had an entertaining and educational segment called ‘Near and Far’ with a Muppet running away from and toward our television screen, getting progressively more out of breath with each trip. Our ‘near and far’ in the month of August is more exhilarating than exhausting, with bright celestial objects passing near each other in our skies where one of the pair is near and the other is…well…farther.

On the 18th, low in the eastern morning sky, the two brightest planets in our skies align. Jupiter makes a close pass by Venus on its way to morning sky domination. Venus is “near” us at 150,600,000 miles and Jupiter “far” at 576,300,000 miles. Find a good vantage point open to the eastern sky. Venus and Jupiter will be within a degree or two of each other from the 16th through the 19th.

On the 31st, shortly after 1pm EDT, our Moon jumps in front of Saturn, from our point of view. Because Saturn is about a billion miles beyond the Moon, it is looks about the size of a lunar crater. The midday Sun and the low elevation of the Moon and the low surface brightness of Saturn will make either of the pair hard to see, but Saturn will be near the Moon the night before and after, making a pretty pair.

Mars and Saturn will waltz closer to each other this month, after Mars, Saturn and the first magnitude star Spica do a line dance across the southwestern sky after sunset, each about a fist-width apart in the sky for the first week of the month, with Mars 10.6 light minutes away, Saturn 1.3 light hours away and Spica 250 light years away.

Venus has been hanging out in the morning sky for a long time, since January, and Mars is going to have a long goodbye as well, staying low in the southwestern evening sky well into next year. In contrast, Saturn will be lapped by the Sun in a few months. They are so tiny, even in a telescope.

However, Saturn will be great fun to watch in a telescope! This month, the planet’s shadow will make a small notch in the rings, making Saturn look especially three-dimensional. Even with Saturn low in the sky, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is visible.

This month, our Moon is closest to Earth the same day it is full, making our largest full moon of the year. This has little astronomical effect, but produces large effects on tides and internet bloggers as well as providing an opportunity for great photos with foreground scenes at moonset and moonrise on the 10th. Be alert for any coastal storm or hurricane, since the higher lunar tides will enhance any tidal surges around this time.

The Moon passes some lovely planets this month: Jupiter and Venus on the 23rd and Mars, Saturn and Spica for few nights around the beginning and end of the month. Uranus is visible near the Moon on the morning of the 18th, which will make Uranus easier to find. It was easier to find in my telescope, even with some twilight interfering.

The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of the 12th/13th. This is a reliable shower, but the nearly full moon will wash out the fainter meteors. To see some bright meteors, block out the Moon and look in the darkest part of the sky. It’s worth looking even a few days before and after the 13th.

This is a great month for the Milky Way overhead, on moonless nights, especially nice from places with dark skies. If you have an electronic camera with manual exposure settings, lock it down on a tripod or other study object and see how long an exposure you can take before the stars start to make trails. See how many stars you catch.

You’ll need clear skies and an open southern horizon to see the star clouds rising like ‘steam’ out of the ‘spout’ of the teapot at Sagittarius. Find a friend with south-facing beach-front property! Years ago, I had a great view of at star clusters in Sagittarius and Scorpius with my 60mm refractor at my wife’s uncle’s house near Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts. Binoculars can help find where to aim the telescope. It’s also better without the Moon; the first few days of the month and the last half of the month.

If you are packing the car for an August vacation at oh-so-early-in-the-morning, look east to see our friend Orion lying on the horizon. He’s probably resting before beginning the long ascent high into our winter skies.

The International Space Station sails through our skies every 95 minutes, but it is best seen in twilight; in the morning until through the 4th, and in the evening from August 2nd through the 24th.

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Heads UP! for July 2014

July 4, 2014 Leave a comment

The Fourth of July weekend has a sky full of astronomical sights. If you can see around all the fireworks, you’ll have two of the brightest asteroids near each other, with the Moon near Mars nearby and wonderful Saturn and its rings put on a show it a telescope.

Asteroids 1Ceres and 4Vesta appear to be flying in tandem. (The numbers are the order they were discovered.) They come closest together around the fourth of July. You’ll need a good pair of binoculars or a telescope and a sky chart to tell them from the many other points of light out there. Look a few days before or after the 4th to see how they moved. Despite appearing near each other, Ceres is 46 million miles behind Vesta.

Also, the Moon passes close by Mars on the 5th. Mars is very tiny at 9 arc seconds (Saturn is 18 arc seconds across, and that’s smaller than a large crater looks on our Moon, for comparison.) Sometimes in a larger telescope, you can still see Mars’ color is a mix of gray volcanic rock and salmon-shaded dust.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun (always) but did you know it is mostly often the closest planet to the Earth? It holds that title until the 28th when Mars is left as the closest planet to us as Mercury and Venus flee from us to the other side of the Sun in their faster, inner orbits.

In our skies, Mercury shows up in the morning sky, down and to the left of Venus, in the latter 2/3rds of the month. Mercury approaches Venus, getting closest on the 16th, but still doesn’t reach Venus’ height above the horizon.

The Moon joins the scene from the 23rd through the 25th, making a nice photo opportunity. .

Have you seen the live camera views from new cameras installed outside the International Space Station? It’s worth a look to see what you can see from these cameras, although sometimes they are dark when out of range of ground stations or when the ISS is in the Earth’s shadow.
The HD camera is often the most interesting:
and some of the other cameras’ websites show work inside the space station when needed:
Sometimes just before the Sun comes up on the station (every 90 minutes) you can see the brilliant planet Venus as a bright dot rising before the Sun.

Saturn’s rings have a jaunty tilt this year, making it easier to see the space between the rings and the planet. Even the Cassini Division between the A and B rings can be seen at high power. The two main rings are slightly different shades of white. The bright rings make it harder to see some of Saturn’s smaller moons, but Titan is readily visible at magnitude +9. You may see another dot to the west of Saturn; it’s Iapetus, which is brightening up to magnitude +10 by July 3rd, as it turns its brighter face toward us during its 79-day trip around Saturn.

3 Saturn’s and it moons in a telescope’s view. Cartes du Ciel software.

Jupiter is hiding behind the Sun this month. Track it with the SOHO C3 camera from July 14 through August 2.

Even fans of Pluto find it hard to find, even at opposition and at its brightest for the year this month at magnitude +14.1. Pluto is the closest of the Kuiper Belt objects to Earth, unless, as suspected, Triton, in orbit around Neptune, and Phoebe at Saturn may be Kuiper Belt objects that were thrown inward.

ISS sightings are in the morning sky. One of the better overflights (no one will see, since it’s so early!) at 4:37am on July 18th .

The Moon’s monthly closest approach to Earth (perigee) is on the 13th and within 24 hours of the Full Moon. Lining up with the Sun will create larger than normal tides. The Full Moon occurs near the Moon’s perigee for the next three months.

The Sun, on the other hand, is at its furthest from the Earth on July 3rd.

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Heads UP! for June….

June 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Heads UP! for June 2014

Jupiter heads for the exits this month – on its way out watch for its changing alignments with 1st magnitude stars Castor and Pollux.

Mercury starts June low to the right of the dancing Gemini and Jupiter; just above the horizon as twilight fades. Mercury doesn’t hang out with the boys for long, so check early in the month. It becomes the closest planet to Earth this month, getting larger, with a crescent phase. As Mercury passes through the glare of the Sun, check it out at the SOHO C3 web site

Just to the upper left of the dancing twins, the backward question mark making the head of Leo looks more like a sickle about to harvest the Moon and Jupiter after sunset late in June.

Saturn is as high as it gets in the sky after dark this year, a bit smaller but with its rings 21 degrees open, it’s a fantastic site in any telescope. After taking in the rings and the butterscotch bands of the planet’s atmosphere, count how many of Saturn’s moons you can see in the telescope. Titan, is easiest to see. You might see a few more moons. The two-faced moon Iapetus passes to the south of Saturn on its way to turning its brighter face toward us in early July, when it brightens to magnitude +10.1 .

Mars is nicely placed in the southwestern sky at the start of June. But the reddish planet fades and shrinks like a color cotton t-shirt in a hot water wash.

Asteroids Ceres and Vesta offer us a two-for-one deal in late June. They get within a full moon’s width from each other in our skies from June 29th through July 5th. They are dimmer than they were a few months ago, now at magnitudes +8.4 and +7.1, respectively, so it helps to have a finder chart from an astronomical website to pick out which of the points of light in your telescope are the asteroids.

Venus is still the brightest planet at magnitude minus 3.9, but getting smaller and looking like a gibbous Moon in a telescope. Look low in the east northeast before sunrise. Venus is racing out ahead of us, but we keep up enough so Venus stays in our morning sky though the summer. It’s noticeably close to the Moon on the 24th. During the last week of June, with binoculars, can you see the wide star clusters, Hyades and Pleiades in the neighborhood of Venus as they come out from behind the Sun?

Uranus and Neptune are getting up earlier in the morning sky. Will you?

Moon points out the way to:
Jupiter on May 31st/June 1st and June 28th
Mars on the 7th
Spica on the 8th
Saturn on the 10th
Venus on the 24th
Aldebaran on the 25th/26th.

The Milky Way climbs out of the horizon’s mists where it hid in May.

The International Space Station spends most of early June in sunlight, so we can see it up to 5 times a night at first, then in the evenings from the 10th through the 21st. Watch continuous live video from a camera mounted outside the ISS (except for when it’s out of the range of tracking stations or the Earth is too dark when the ISS passes through the Earth’s shadow) at .

The northern summer solstice occurs on the 21st at 6:51am EDT. The earliest sunrise is on the 14th and the earliest sunset is on the 27th.

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Heads UP! for May 2014

April 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Also, the Westchester Astronomers’ newsletter has been published….

Go out and find Jupiter, a bit lower in the west, still a joy in telescopes, even as it gets a bit smaller. Even without a telescope, go out and get a wide-field photo of Jupiter and the twins as the Gemini stand up on the horizon! The Moon joins their dance line, bouncing on Pollux’ knee, on the 3rd and the 31st.

Mars also shrinks quickly as it moves away, but still attracts attention as the third brightest planet in the evening sky, after Jupiter and Mercury. Clouds over the Hellas desert look like a large polar cap in a telescope; the large contrast with the rest of the ruddy planet making Mars look a bit strange in a ‘scope. The northern polar cap is tipped toward us, but is very tiny since it is summer in the northern hemisphere on Mars. Asteroids Vesta and Ceres are lurking a just few degrees from Mars, with Ceres about to get a visit from the Dawn space probe next February. How long of a camera exposure do you need to get all except Dawn in the same photo? The Moon ‘photobombs’ the scene around the 10th.

Mercury starts out May as the second brightest planet in the evening sky. But it’s deep in the solar glare after hiding behind the Sun at superior conjunction.

It gets dimmer all month but easier to find by mid-May as it moves out from the Sun into the evening sky. It’s the best show for Mercury in our evening skies this year. Catch it before it fades away after the Memorial Day weekend. Use high magnification to watch its rapidly changing phases.

Saturn is closest to us for 2014 around the 10th. The ringed planet makes a splendid appearance in any reasonable optical device over 30 power. Saturn’s moons are a highlight all by themselves. Titan is in reach of smaller scopes. Rhea and Dione are noticeable much of the time in moderate scopes. Iapetus’ orbit is tilted more than the others, so it passes to the north of Saturn in early May. Even at magnitude +11 it is sometimes easier to find, away from the distracting bright rings. If you follow Iapetus’ progress this month, it will get dimmer as it revolves to Saturn’s east. That’s when we’ll see the darker side of the two-faced moon. Saturn’s rings often look brighter for a few days near opposition on the 10th. The Sun is behind us from Saturn’s point of view, so the tiny particles in Saturn’s ring reflect more light back toward its source, making the rings look brighter than usual. The Moon rings in with a very close pass on the 14th.

Venus must be very comfortable, settling in well to right of the rising Sun all through the summer months. In a telescope, our ‘evil twin’ planet looks smaller each week as it moves swiftly away from Earth, but will be 2/3 lit and getting fuller this month. These two factors will offset to keep Venus near a blazing-bright magnitude minus 4.0. You’ll need to find Venus in a bright sky to see the shape of the planet. Just don’t try when the Sun is up, since the Sun follows Venus and will burn out your eyes and your telescope. The Moon is nearby during the Memorial Day weekend.

We may have a new meteor shower this month. Set your alarm before 3am EDT on the 24th. Look overhead or in the darkest, least obstructed part of your sky to see the most meteors. Mathematicians calculated the debris trail from Comet 209P/LINEAR’s will be thick enough to produce a good meteor shower when the comet’s orbit intercepts the Earth’s orbit. Don’t be disappointed if you only see a few meteors; the ones you see are likely to be brighter and slower-moving than meteors you typically see. And there’s always the chance of a meteor storm! The comet itself is predicted to be 11th magnitude or fainter when it passes at a safe distance from Earth five days later.

Lovers of the Moon might want to view the Moon around the 19th, when it will be near perigee for the month. The heavily-cratered south polar region will be tipped a bit more than usual toward Earth. The rugged terrain has lots of details, and may be the site of a future Moon base, so no matter what size telescope you have, crank up the power and see for yourself!

Another comet discovered by the PanSTARRS sky survey – C/2012 K1 – will be a binocular object inside the handle of the Big Dipper in early May.

ISS sightings will resume in the morning sky after the 14th. In early June, as many as five passes a night can be seen.

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