Heads UP! for August 2017

As you may have heard, there is an all-American eclipse on Monday the 21st of this month. For those of you watching here in the New York City Metro area, the Moon will cover 71 percent of the Sun,

Viewing the Partial Eclipse sun

How the sun will look at maximum eclipse in the NYC metro area.

most at 2:44pmEDT when the sun is 53 degrees above the horizon. The first nibble will began at 1:23pm and it’s all over at 4pm.  This is one time you can see the Moon at the exact moment of new moon! The high altitude of the Sun in the sky makes it harder to see if you only can view the eclipse from an office building. Use only certified solar viewers or indirect methods of watching the eclipse.

One additional note of caution; be especially careful if the sky has a layer of clouds that allow the Sun to be dimly visible. It may frustrate people with solar viewers and tempt people to stare unprotected at the dimmed Sun. Don’t take the risk – our eyes don’t have pain receptors, so we don’t know if damage has been done until too late.

In the night sky, Jupiter is low in the southwest, up for 2½ hours after sunset to start the month and only 45 minutes by the end of the month. We still get enough time to gaze at Jupiter’s belts and moons.

We have Saturn for a few hours more than Jupiter, starting nearly a third of the way up in the south when the sky goes dark.  You can’t get much more of a tilt to its rings this year.

Going out further, Neptune, then Uranus, rise in the evening sky. Pluto is really deep, just to the left of Sagittarius’ teaspoon and much fainter.

Returning closer to home, Venus is highest above our morning horizon on the 2nd, even though it’s well after June’s greatest elongation from the Sun. Sunrise moves up into the 6am hour this month, so take a peek before work. Find Venus even as the sky brightens and look there any clear morning for a friend for your morning commute.

Mercury starts out in the evening sky, but it’s a struggle to find it so low in the west. Mercury just claimed the title of closest planet to Earth and keeps the title for the rest of the year.

Our favorite summer meteor shower struggles to be seen in the glare of the chunky morning moon.  The peak number of Perseids run into Earth during Western Hemisphere daytime on the 12th, but the Perseids keep falling near the peak rates for a few days. We see less meteors in the pre-midnight skies as they fall on our ‘rear window’ of our moving planet. So, while there are less crumbs of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle dropping in on us in the evening, there’s no moon to brighten the sky. Or, we can try to spy the brighter meteors that are visible through the moon-bright pre-dawn of either the 12th or 13th.

Our Moon poses with other members of the solar system, twice with Saturn this month, including that very close conjunction with the Sun on the 21st.  Saturn’s turns are on the 2nd/3rd and 29th/30th, Neptune’s on the 9th. On the mornings of the 18th and 19th, there is a great photo op with Venus and the reemergence of Orion from his time behind the Sun.


Early morning sky on the 18th. On the 19th, the Moon will be just below Venus.

The full moon on the 7th will give us practice for photographing the solar eclipse, since the moon is about the same size as the Sun (which is why we have eclipses). The other side of the Earth sees part of the full moon pass through the Earth’s shadow, but not for us.

This is vacation time for the people who run the Mars orbiters and rovers! With the spacecraft and marscraft behind the Sun from Earth, the managers of these ships have loaded them with housekeeping programming and taken a vow of silence for several weeks. Attempts to send commands to these craft through the strong radio emissions from the Sun could have unintended results if the code is corrupted.

The Beehive cluster in Cancer buzzes off to the right edge of the SOHO C3’s view by the 8th of the month. Mars is already in the scene and hangs out through the 20th – but at magnitude plus 1.8 it may not stand out much. Mercury sails wide to the south of the sun from the 23rd through the 31st. And, if you don’t get to see Regulus next to the Sun during the Total Solar Eclipse, look for it in the C3 view around mid-month.

The International Space Station passes over in the evening sky through the 14th.




JUNO images the Great Red Spot…

One of my favorite bloggers from across the pond. . .

Cumbrian Sky

If you felt a disturbance in the Force on Wednesday night it’s because the first images JUNO took of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot were released at teatime on that day, a couple of days earlier than expected, and both the astronomy media and the world’s “image processors” went into a feeding frenzy. (I couldn’t because I was stuck at work, but I was able to sneak a look at the images on my phone during my break). The original images are very pretty but quite muted and low contrast, so since they have been released the processors have been working hard to bring out detail, boost contrast and enhance the features around and within the Spot, using a variety of image processing techniques. Some of the results are eye-wateringly dramatic, psychedelic explosions of vivid colour. Others less so. None are “right”, none are “wrong”, they’re all just someone’s personal…

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Watch out for Severe Weather for the northeast USA Monday, June 19th.

If memory serves me correctly (and it often doesn’t serve as well these days), it’s rare for NOAA’s severe storms center to include parts of the northeastern United States in an area of ‘enhanced’ risk for severe storms on Monday.  So, it’s a good time to take this seriously and be ready for mid-west USA-style severe weather on Monday.

Click here for the Capitol Weather Gang’s take on this.  The comments also have helpful and interesting information. day2otlk_0600



Looking for Saturn?

This week, Saturn is closest to the Earth at 841 million miles away.  You can find it rising in the east-southeast just after sunset. Give it an hour or two to get up in the southeast above the horizon’s haze, then turn a scope with more than 30x power on it.  The rings often get brightest this week, as the particles in the ring scatter light back toward the Sun, and, now in our direction.  Check back with Saturn next week and see if the rings really looked brighter.

The rings are tilted almost as wide open as they can be, so they are even more splendid than usual.  If you are not too dazzled by the rings, look for one or more tiny dots near by, Saturn’s moons.



Clearer skies for Thursday night, June 1st

There’s a chance of clear skies on Thursday evening for the NYC metro area! (and perhaps your area, too!) Check the Canadian model for updates.

Can you make it an ‘all nighter’ on Thursday night/Friday morning?
Here we go!
How early in evening twilight can you see Jupiter?
How red is the Great Red Spot? Check within a few hours of its crossing the center of Jupiter’s disk at 11:15pm.
Don’t need sleep? Europa and Io cross in front of Jupiter starting at 1:18 and 2:38am, respectively, and their shadows dot the planet starting 3:31 and 3:42. Can you see both shadows at once from 3:42 to 3:46?


Jupiter and Io and Europa at 1am Thursday night/Friday morning.

Saturn rises by 9:30pm with its brightest moons clustered closely around the planet and its wonderful rings. How many can you see?


Saturn Thursday Evening. Another moon, Iapetus is not shown, but is just north of Saturn.

There’s even a comet to be seen in good binoculars: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/…/comet-johnson-makes-a-spl…/

The ISS passes over us in twilight, low in the north at 9:36pm. China’s latest space station passes Leo at 9:53. (And on Wednesday evening, the Tiangong-2 passes through Gemini, Ursa Major and Hercules starting at 9:15pm, if you get a break in the clouds.) The ISS passes low in the north again at 11:15 and 12:45am.

Did I mention the Moon? See how much detail you can see during twilight and afterwards. It’s a wonderful half-lit moon with lots of detail to be found.

Get a good star chart at heavens-above.com or http://www.skymaps.com/ for the ‘fixed’ objects in our skies.

If you have a dark sky and a clear northern horizon, take a time exposure of the northern sky. Aurora have been active lately and you might catch something the eye can’t pick up!

If you make it to the end of night, watch Venus, as bright as it gets from our point of view, rise in the pre-dawn sky.  With Venus, you win some and lose some depending on the amount of twilight – in the dark, about 4am, find faint Uranus a few degrees to Venus’ upper left. After the sky brightens, the decreased contrast will allow you to see Venus at half-phase.

Get out there and enjoy!

Venus low in the west right after sunset.

Venus is setting seven minutes earlier each evening and soon will also be rising before sunrise as it curves between us and the sun on the 25th. Here’s two photos from tonight (Sunday March 19th) just above the trees from the parking deck at the DiCicco’s in Ardsley. Venus got tangled up in the trees by 7:35pm, even though it didn’t set below the horizon until 8:03pm.


Wide view shows how Venus – the bright dot left of center just above the trees – Canon XS 55mm 1/8 second f11.


Zoom lens 250mm 1/8 sec f/11. Zoomed in shows the (blurry) crescent Venus.


A shorter exposure with the zoom lens, 1/100 sec to try to reduce the blurring of the crescent Venus.

IMG_6099 (2)

Enlarged from the previous photo (for some reason I can’t get wordpress to publish the photo full size).




Well, we got a lot of something.

Lunchtime; posting during a workday due to the extraordinary nature of the weather today.  Working at home – the office is closed and for good reason!

Woke up to several inches of snow. Thus began a strange weather day. The snow changed back and forth to ice pellets. The snowflakes varied in size from tiny to 20 minutes of snow flakes the size of tortilla chips (my wife verified this; could hardly believe it herself).  Then, ice pellets like tiny ice cubes. As of 12:40pm, rain is starting mix in .

The barometer is 976mb, down 6 mb in two hours and falling 33mb in 12 hours.

It think the crazy mixes are from the storm developing so rapidly and warm and cold air getting streaked into the mix over us, like a marble swirl cake.  Thunder reported at Newark.  Some high wind gusts, scary at times, but not all the time.

With rain mixing into the ice pellets. May go back to snow for a couple of inches before ending.  Radar has been interesting. Longer range radar reports precipitation ending in central NJ, but the storm may still be developing there and it may be a false back edge.

With the storm moving faster and mostly because it is a bit closer to the coast than predicted, about the same amount of precipitation, but less snow accumulation.  That’s what happens sometimes. Looks like the forecast majorly busted, but with the storm substitutes ice for snow, accumulations are less than expected, but no easier to travel in.