Celebrate New Year with the Moon and Planets in the Southwest Sky

With a forecast of clearer skies* for the evening of Sunday, January 1st, 2017 (Happy New Year!), there is still time to see Neptune still near Mars – 1 degree (two crescent-moon-lenghts apart) to the lower right of Mars. You’ll need strong binoculars or a telescope to see much fainter Neptune.
Look early (6 to 6:30pmEST) and see Mars plus Venus and a very thin Moon further down to Mars’ right. (No optical aid needed, although the Moon will look nicer with some magnification.)
There is even a comet glowing faintly at magnitude plus 7.2 even lower down (use binoculars or a telescope- fuzzy objects are even fainter than advertised near the horizon)!
See attached charts from Mobile Observatory zoomed in on Neptune and Mars and showing the wider scene.

[*Forecasts from http://www.cleardarksky.com/c/DrprPrkNYkey.html?1 and National Weather Service http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php… – check for updates after noontime.]

Dollop of snow, chill of ice, wash down with rain….

The National Weather Service’s forecast discussion has the story:

Snow should change to rain at the coast around 8 am and by 10 am
across the interior. Along the coast, there could be an hour or
two of freezing rain due to the cold ground temperatures, while
the interior could see up to a tenth of an inch of ice, possibly
as much as quarter inch, before changeover to all light rain/drizzle
late morning/early afternoon. Snow accumulations will range from
1-2 inches at the coast, to as much as 4 to 6 inches across
northern portions of the Lower Hudson Valley and SW interior CT.
Thus, winter weather advisories remain in place.

Mid levels dry out tomorrow afternoon with light rain and drizzle
through Saturday night. 
. . .
Looking for about a 1/2"
of [rain on Sunday] QPF. Temps Sunday running nearly +15 F despite the rain,
 but fall short of records (perhaps KISP - but that has a short POR).  
PCPN ends before temps support any frozen.  Windy on Sunday as well with
gusts up to 30 mph - especially in the afternoon just after the

Cold. Really cold. Really windy. Did I mention cold?

Hold on tight! Here comes the cold air! A series of cold fronts will bring strong wind and cold air. At NWS Forecast Discussion, you can read about their thoughts about this and some snow due Saturday morning.

Here’s some highlights:

Temperatures drop to the mid-20s tonight, hold steady on Thursday, and fall further Thursday night as winds gust to perhaps 55 miles per hour.

Temperatures will moderate on Saturday, after we get some snow….

 Thermal profiles will be plenty cold
enough for a light and powdery accumulating snow Friday Night into
early Sat morning areawide. A change over to a wintry mix then rain
is likely Saturday morning as temperatures aloft rise rather
quickly. Before the change over to rain, 1 to 2 inches of snow is
forecast for SE LI/SE CT...2 to 3 inches for
NYC/NJ metro...increasing to 4 to 6 inches for the NW interior.

Of concern...with primary surface low pressure tracking well to the
W of the region Sat and sub-freezing ground temps...low level cold
air will likely be hard to scour out across the interior. This will
bring potential for a lingering freezing rain threat well into the
day Saturday across the interior...with even a transitional threat
along the coast in the morning. Eventually all wintry precip should
changeover to plain rain across the interior with continued waa
later in the day.

Just when you’ve had enough, plain rain for Sunday. Temperatures rise to the mid-40s on Sunday morning and slide down to below freezing and staying there though Tuesday.


Computer forecast map for Thursday night showing low pressure over the Gulf of St. Lawrence dragging cold air into the eastern United States. The red and blue dashed lines are a calculated temperture from the surface to 18,000 feet.  Farther into the area of the blue dashed lines, the colder the air is.

It’s all about the warm front

Warmer and moister air from the south will push over a warm front tonight. The rising air will cool and produce snow. This snow is already happening above us now. The air just above the ground is dry, so the snow is sublimating before it gets to the ground.

How much snow anyone gets will depend on how quickly the warmer air moving at the surface. Warm fronts are less well defined and the warm air has to push out the denser cold, dry air. The National Weather Service is expecting that to happen and change the snow to rain, with some moderately heavy rain, by early morning. A coating of snow for NYC and an inch for Westchester and Rockland and nearby Connecticut is the most likely outcome.

Forecasts with warm front snow have less certainty that cold fronts or coastal storms, so be ready; if the change over is delayed, a period of freezing rain could occur before sunrise.

Here’s the NWS forecast discussion from early afternoon…..


However, if temperatures at the surface closer towards the coast,
such as Rockland, Westchester, Eastern Passaic, Western Essex,
Western Union, trend just a few degrees colder for overnight, the
wintry mix would include freezing rain with a possibility of the
winter weather advisory getting expanded. However, recent model
runs, such as the NAM12 continue to show temperatures and even wet
bulb temperatures a few degrees above freezing for the
precipitation overnight into Monday morning. So, confidence of any
ice accumulation is lower because of this but a chance of freezing
rain is in the forecast.


Manhattanhenge coming up

Here’s a preview of the line up of the sunrise with the Manhattan street grid, which usually occurs around December 5th.

I took these photos on November 28th, on Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. Less than 30 minutes after sunrise, the sun lined up down the street, reflecting off Freedom Tower on the other end of the street.

The alignment at sunrise should be on Monday the 5th. Some offices in our building were lit by the rising sun and the reflection from Freedom Tower.


Last night’s Venus and Jupiter close encounter

Venus and Jupiter are going their separate ways.

It was nice while it lasted, but they are so different – they travel in different orbits, one’s a gas giant and the other a terrestrial rocky planet. Even when we saw them together last night, so close, so inviting, you could see it could never work.

Venus is slowly climbing out of the solar glare, Jupiter is sliding down and to the right behind the Sun.  They are only 25 degrees out from the Sun, so they set less than an hour after the Sun sets.  They were hard to find, but once found this bright couple was stunning.

We could just barely pick them out with the unaided eye after finding them in a low-power telescope, peeking around the clouds that looked like they exploded from a storm far to our west. Venus was intensely bright and Jupiter, so much further away and faint, like a ghost with tan bands.

The photos don’t do it justice. Venus in the photo is larger is than it looked to the eye in the telescope due to its intense brightness. Jupiter looks so much larger than Venus; even though it’s much further away.

jupiter venus IMG_4394

Venus and Jupiter about to be engulfed by the wavy cirrus clouds. Canon XS with a 250mm telephoto at f/5.6, 1/250 sec ISO 800.

jupiter venus IMG_4388

Venus (overexposed) ghostly Jupiter through an 8-inch dobsonian with a Canon XS 1/160 second at ISO 800.

Wed. Night’s Very Dark Sky

In the following photos notice the details in the shape of the Milky Way and the star clusters, expectantly as the exposure gets longer.

Here’s some photos with my Canon XS, but this time on a iOptron camera mount that follows the stars.  It’s a fancy clock that matches the rotation of the Earth and keeps the stars on the same place on the camera.

Here’s a photo of Sagittarius and Scorpius with a wider lens that came with the camera. It gets less light than my regular one I use for star photos.


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker; 18mm lens 30 second at f/4

A narrower view of the same area, but also more light taken in.


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 30 sec at f/2

Note the starclusters!

Now, a longer exposure…..


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 66 seconds

More light! Note the stars don’t show up as trails, even though after 15 seconds (see previous nights), the stars trail when you look at a full size photo.

One more…. let’s double the exposure time again….


Canon XS on iOptron Skytracker 124 seconds. Little or no trailing (except the trees in the foreground – they are blurred because the tracker moved to follow the stars, the trees didn’t move!).