Preview of Observing Guides for 2020

The 2020 guides have not been delivered yet.

Click here to go to a revised version of last year’s review of observing guides. Also including what I liked and didn’t like about the ones I used in 2019 and some info about how to get them for 2020 (or not, in some cases), so you can plan ahead.

Photos of the Winter Sky to Come

6am. Orion, on the left, setting into the trees.
The head of Taurus pointing the way to the horizon.
Pleiades looking like a little dipper on the right.
We’ll see this scene in the evening sky after 9am starting around Thanksgiving weekend.
Canon XS on tripod lens set at 21mm; f/4, 15 seconds, ISO-800.
Auriga – a constellation I need to spend more time with.
Why? Go to this site to find out more.

Canon XS on tripod 15 second exposure with 21mm zoom lens for 15 seconds at ISO 800, levels adjusted to bring out the fainter stars and deep sky objects.
One last look at Moon in this morning’s sky.
Canon XS on tripod.
Lens at 55mm f/4 1 second ISO 800.

Morning Moon has lots of contrast

Look up at the ‘banana’ moon this morning and Friday. If it’s still dark when you get up, you are more likely to see the soft glow of Earthshine on the Moon. If you glance up after sunrise, the Moon rides high in the eastern sky. Our Moon will start to fade into the daytime sky as the crescent slims down as it approaches the Sun in our skies.

Moon, with Sunshine and Earthshine,
via Canon XS 250mm zoom lens, at f/7.1 1/2 second exposure with ISO 800.

Below, a shorter exposure of the Moon, with the lighting settings changed in Photoshop Elements to show the details on the part of the Moon with more intense lighting from the Sun vs. showing the roughness where where the Sun is lower in the sky on the Moon:

Big Dipper Framed by my Front Door

In what is becoming a bi-annual (maybe annual) event, I love when I can see the Big Dipper framed by my front storm door.

It’s a wonderful way to wake up to the world on October mornings. When we go back to standard time on November 3rd, the sky will be too bright to see this. So, if you are up before dawn brightens the sky, look out to your northeast (left of where the Sun will rise in an hour or so) and look for the Big Dipper standing on its handle. There’s a lot of other great stuff out this at that time (winter constellations, and, for a limited time only, a banana Moon). But that would require going outside where it’s cold, and this morning, wet. Can’t have that.

Big Dipper out my front door.
Canon XS on tripod
With variable lens set at 21mm at f/4, 15 seconds, ISO-800.
Manual focus.

Getting Jupiter and Saturn in the some photo frame, the Canon XS sequel

In the prequel, I said:

A friend of mine was talking about a friend of his taking a photo with both Jupiter and Saturn together in the same frame.

So, I took some snaps with my iPhone.

WordPress doesn’t seem to show photos as large as they used to do. (To enlarge, right click on the photo, click on view photo and click on the photo.)

Here’s a shot with a 50mm lens on my Canon XS:

Five second exposure with a Canon XS; 50mm lens at f/2 and ISO 400.
Saturn on the upper left and Jupiter on the lower right.
Stars of Sagittarius trying to poke through the deck of high clouds illuminated by late twilight and light pollution.
To the human eye, this scene was a lot darker and I could only see Saturn and Jupiter.

Getting Saturn and Jupiter in the same photo frame

A friend of mine was talking about a friend of his taking a photo with both Jupiter and Saturn together in the same frame.

So, I took some snaps with my iPhone.

WordPress doesn’t seem to show photos as large as they used to do. (To enlarge, right click on the photo, click on view photo and click on the photo.)

iPhone snapshot 7:49pm EDT Fri. Oct 4 2019.
Moon even looks a bit like it’s first quarter phase.
iPhone data says it’s a 4mm lens at f 1.8 1/15 second at ISO 1600.
iPhone snapshot with NightCap app. Moon very overexposed, but some fainter objects are visible.
The app has forced the camera to expose like a camera at f1.8, ISO-7040 for 1/4 second for its 4mm lens focal length.

Heads UP! for October 2019

Saturn pulls a quadrature early in the month, which is less painful than it sounds.  The ringed planet is 90 degrees (a ‘quarter’ of the way, thus the ‘quad’ part) across the sky from our Sun.  It’s time to get our best peek ‘around the corner’, including seeing the planet’s shadow on its rings.

Get out early, even in the evening twilight, to see Jupiter before it sets about 9pm, followed by Saturn-set 1¾ hours later.  With the Sun setting just after 6pmEDT, we still have several hours to view the giant planets.  Just come on out and look at Jupiter’s moons, and sometimes their shadows on the striped planet, while we still have the King of the Planets for the next month or so!

Iapetus starts the month as Saturn’s third brightest moon at magnitude +10.2, looking out of line with the others, well to the west of Saturn.  By the 22nd, Iapetus swings just to the north of Saturn, a bit dimmer as we see more of its dark side.  Saturn appears with its maximum ring tilt for the year, its sombrero tipped 25 degrees toward us, giving us a fine view of the rings.    

Start making plans to view Mercury’s five-and-a-half-hour-long transit across the Sun’s face on Monday, November 11th, a federal holiday in the USA. 

Text Box: CAUTION: Looking at the Sun, especially through a telescope or binoculars, will seriously damage your eyes, unless you have a good, solidly attached solar filter in front.  
Do NOT try to use those solar glasses you have hanging around from the solar eclipse with a telescope or binoculars.

Tune in next month for more about viewing Mercury’s transit.  You will need access to a telescope with a good, solidly attached, solar filter in front.  Mercury will look so tiny you’ll need to use 50 or 100 power or more to see the tiny black dot on the Sun.  Mercury will be only 1/10 the apparent size Venus was during its 2012 transit of the Sun.  

In the meantime, no filter needed to watch Mercury get a little high in the evening sky. The best view of its excursion from the solar glare is from the southern hemisphere.  Mercury will be farthest from the Sun on the 19th.  As Mercury’s right hand woman this month, Venus will help us find the fainter inner planet, even though neither gets more than ten degrees above the horizon, even at sunset.  In a telescope, Venus and Mercury both appear at more than half full this month.  A thin 44-hour-old moon floats above them on the 29th.

The Orionid meteor shower peaks during American daytime on the 21st, so best viewing is pre-dawn on the 21st or 22nd.  The 20 or so meteors an hour will be competing with light scattered from the last quarter moon.

Find the ice giants.  Far out Uranus is magnitude +5.7 and opposite the Sun from us on the 28th.  Only 3.7 arc seconds wide, compared to Jupiter at 35 arc seconds, it’s a tiny thing to see.  But, with a good finder chart (like Sky and Telescope’s Uranus and Neptune finder charts at ), Uranus is worth some study with a telescope, which will show it as a distinct disk.  It’s even farther out buddy, Neptune, just past last month’s opposition, is well up in the evening sky at magnitude +7.8 and 2.3 arc seconds wide.  Compare these two disks in a telescope with the point-like stars around them.  Add your observations to the discussions about the color of these ice giants are and how they differ.   

In case you missed it, our Moon shows the best view of the Apollo 11 landing site on the evening of the 4th.  My favorite phase, the waning gibbous phase just before last quarter, is highest in the sky this month on the 19th and 20th.  It’ll be a great time to spy the moon in the morning, even after sunrise.  At that time of the month, we’ll be able to peek at an extra six degrees of longitude around the western limb of the Moon.

If you want to reconnoiter the upcoming winter sky, the post-midnight sky is the place to watch.  It’s easier than usual since sunrise is very late in October.  Thanks to Daylight Time, the Sun will rise after 7am for most of the month, with total darkness lasting until 5:30am EDT. 

Mars is the only bright planet up before dawn, showing up low in the east later this month.  At +1.8 magnitude, Mars is only about as bright as the brightest stars in the Big Dipper.  Mars is too tiny to see details in a telescope now, but next October it’ll appear six times wider and four magnitudes brighter.   

Mars celebrates its northern hemisphere Summer Solstice on the 7th.  The effects of solstices are more complicated on Mars than on Earth because Mars’ orbit is much more elliptical than Earth’s.  This solstice, only two months after Martian apogee, makes for a very cold winter in the Southern Hemisphere and perhaps a weaker summer for the North.  Something to consider when you book your vacation trip to the red planet. 

The International Space Station is visible to the unaided eye sailing across the evening sky through the 11th and the morning sky starting on the 23rd

Halloween Information for White Plains NY and nearby: Sunset on Thursday, October 31st is at 5:52pm EDT.  Bright twilight ends at 6:20pm.  A crescent Moon provides a scenic background until it sets at 8:45pm.  Can you get a selfie with the slim Moon in the background?  It’s not easy since our Moon is smaller than we think it is.  We get an extra hour of daylight and twilight in the afternoon, since it is still Daylight Time.