Update! Mid-May 2020 Swan Song, ISS all-night, Venus/Mercury, Morning Planets

  • Summary:
  • Is Comet Swan going to re-brighten?. It’s low in the northeast just before sunrise. Also later in the month low in the northwest right after sunset.
  • This week, try for as many ISS overflights as you can see in a night – every 90 minutes or so for a few nights, then just in the evening sky. Check heavens-above.com or the NASA site for times.
  • Venus stands bright, but getting lower, in the west-northwest. Watch for Mercury’s pop-up appearance, arcing above Venus later next week. The very thin Moon joins them in twilight on the 24th/25th.
  • Jupiter and Saturn are still outstanding low in the southeastern sky before sunrise. Check out their moons! Mars socially distances to the left.

Comet SWAN: Another one falls to dust (I think there is a song there!). It may be showing signs of re-brightening. Best resource for SWAN is Astro Bob (no relation) at https://astrobob.areavoices.com/ .

ISS overflights! The night of the 15th /16th has as many as six (!) overflights, some better than others. Here’s a list from heavens-above.com for White Plains, NY. This is also a great night of ISS viewing for the northeast and middle-atlantic states of the USA. See heavens-above for times for your location. The ISS has a “high beta angle” near the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere. This year beta season is very early and here’s a link to why. Thanks to space station guys for the reference!

15 May-2.420:51:2310°S20:53:5420°SE20:56:2610°Evisible
15 May-2.822:27:1210°WSW22:30:2749°NNW22:33:4510°NEvisible
16 May-0.700:05:4010°NW00:07:5216°NNW00:10:0410°NNEvisible
16 May-0.501:43:4010°NNW01:45:4115°N01:47:4310°NEvisible
16 May-2.203:20:0110°NW03:23:1137°NNE03:26:2210°Evisible
16 May-2.804:56:5810°WNW04:59:5327°SW05:02:4810°SSEvisible
Times you can see the International Space Station from the NYC metro area.
Thanks to heavens-above.com !

The best overflight over NYC is on the 16th, overhead, across the Big Dipper, about 9:43pm. After the 19th, the overflights are after sunset through mid-night.

At Four-so-early-in-the-morning (Daylight Time), see the outer planets. (Pluto’s location marked for completeness. Not visible.)

4:30am Local Daylight Time sky May 16th. Good for rest of May
(However, the Moon will move on each day toward new moon on the 22nd.)

Cute break for today: When I wear my Planetary Society shirt, My two-year old grandchild points to the tiny dots at the bottom of the shirt, out beyond Neptune, and says “planets”. I guess she’s in favor of Kuiper-Belt objects as planets!

Mercury joins the morning crew

The moon has dropped down from Venus’ neighborhood and Mercury, the nearest planet to the Sun is peeking up from the sun’s glare.  Here’s my photos from Wednesday morning.

Mercury is down among the trees, but the sky is too bright for it to show up in that photo.

Here’s the moon.  Mercury is to the lower left, a tiny dot among the trees.

Here’s a close-up of the moon in the telephoto lens.  It’s not as good as a telescope view, but it shows the earth’s light on the moon and indications of craters where the sun is setting on the moon.

For those who missed Binocular Saturday…..

….. here’s some photos that give some indications of what you can still go out and see this week!
Mercury and Venus were closest on Saturday, but Mercury will be visible lower each day to the lower right of Venus for a week.
Here’s the scene last night…. click for full size…

Canon XS on tripod attached to street sign, f/2, 1/30 seconds, ISO-400, 50mm.
Canon XS on tripod attached to street sign, f/2, 1/30 seconds, ISO-400, 50mm.
Venus is the brightest dot and Mercury is just to its lower right.

Here’s the V-shaped Hyades and dipper-shaped Pleiades at top and Comet Lovejoy down at the bottom as a tiny blue-green fuzzball….(Sorry, I didn’t turn the photo, so ‘down’ is to the left.

Click the photo, below, to see Jupiter and the tiny moons next to the planet
[caption id="attachment_1980" align="alignnone" width="300"]F/5.6, 1/10 second, 250mm zoom lens, ISO-1600 F/5.6, 1/10 second, 250mm zoom lens, ISO-1600

Binocular-like view of Pleiades with a 250mm focal length lens…

Here’s a glimpse of the Orion Nebula through the camera’s 250mm lens – it’s even better with your own eyes and binoculars or telescope – see for yourself!

Orion nebula with 250fl Canon XS on tripod 1 second exposure
Orion nebula with 250fl Canon XS on tripod 1 second exposure

Heads UP! for January 2014

For the first week of January, Venus is very low in the southwest, just after sunset. It’s a tiny crescent if you look in binoculars or a telescope. Some can even see the crescent shape without optical aid. Not me. Binoculars help, as does looking at Venus in a bright sky. By the end of the month, Venus rises before the beginning of morning twilight, the start of a long run in the morning sky through October.
It’s on our side of the sun, and Venus is the closest planet to Earth until Mars takes the title in late March.

Saturn is up at dawn in the southern sky, its rings tipped open toward us, making a magnificent sight in the telescope. You can find it without a telescope, but use a finder chart to find it the first time – once you see where it is, you’ll know for the future. To the unaided eye, Saturn doesn’t look like anything special – a bit steadier point of light, equal in brightness to many of the brightest stars. But in any telescope at 40 power or more, it’s tiny, but distinctly unlike anything else in the sky with its tiny-looking ring.

Jupiter is more than happy to take the spotlight as Venus exits to the morning sky. Jupiter is up all night, as it’s closest to us for the year on the 5th. It’s brighter than any of the stars and planets in the evening sky, and draws the eye to the twin brightest stars of Gemini and the nearby star clusters in Orion and Taurus. Any size telescope can tease out variations in Jupiter’s cloud belts and track Jupiter’s moons.

Mars gets brighter; at its highest before sunrise. Its reddish color makes it stand out, but it’s small. Part of the reason for its small size is that Mars is at its furthest distance from the Sun. Try to see if the shrinking northern polar cap is still large enough to show up in your telescope. Use high power!

Mercury makes an appearance in the evening in the second half of January. It is a poor substitute for brilliant Venus, but it’s an accessible apparition for fans of the innermost planet and those who haven’t seen Mercury in a while – or ever.

The sun will rise over the landing site for Yutu, China’s rover, on the Mare Imbrium, around the 11th. The faint variations in gray across the Mare show different lava flows. Yutu has ground-penetrating radar that may see these layers.

The Moon provides close company for Jupiter on the 14th/15th. Does the furthest away full moon about midnight on the 15th/16th really look further away and is it less glarey? The Moon glides between Mars and Spica on the morning of the 23rd. Saturn gets a close pass two mornings later and the Moon swings by Venus in the morning on the 28th and 29th. When the Moon comes back to the evening sky, it’s a thin crescent below Mercury on the 31st and above Mercury on the 1st of February.

If you can pull your eyes from Orion and his neighbors, look overhead at Auriga for the Goat. The constellation is a charioteer; the goat is one star, Capella, the brightest star in Auriga. The triangle of stars nearby is the goat’s kids or the kid goats. Auriga has star clusters worth seeing: M36, 37 and 38. Then slide over to Perseus for the Double Cluster and M34. Just to their south is M45, the Pleiades, leads us back to Taurus. If you keep moving west, you’ll get to Cassiopeia and the galaxies in Andromeda that were the stars of the fall sky. So bundle up, lay out and tour the sky above you with binoculars or do stand up with a wide-field telescope.

You’ll need binoculars and a finder chart to catch Comet Lovejoy in the eastern pre-dawn sky, falling between Hercules and Ophiuchus. It’s readily visible in a dark sky, which is great for a comet this bright.
[Let us not speak any more of that Christmas gift that didn’t come – Comet ISON. It broke up into pieces of dust before closest approach, which made it impossible for us to see it after perihelion.]

The International Space Station is also a bright morning sky object for a few minutes arcing across our skies most mornings starting on the 7th through the end of January. China’s orbiting outpost, Tiangong 1, is also a morning traveler across our skies for the second half of January, peaking just under magnitude +1 on the overflights with the highest azimuth in our skies.

Clouds part to reveal the planetary pile-up

The clouds of the past few days have moved out, so we have a chance to see the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter low in the northwest sky Monday night (if clouds from the next system don’t start to filter in). No telescope needed!

See Sky and Telescope’s web page for good maps of the sky and where to look.

These three planets were closest together in our skies last night, and some saw them between the clouds.

Here’s a photo I took on Thursday night of the planets… click to view it full size. Venus is the brightest dot, Jupiter is to its upper left and Mercury is the faint dot to Venus’ right.
IMG_9617 contrast

They will be lined up diffrently tonight, as seen via the above link and this map from Carte du Ciel…

sky 25 minutes after sunset monday may 27...planets are 10 degrees above the horizon and getting lower - less than a fist held out at arm's length
sky 25 minutes after sunset monday may 27…planets are 10 degrees above the horizon and getting lower – less than a fist held out at arm’s length

Lots of evening sky photos – Jupiter, Venus, Mercury – Orion and star clusters – Mars – and stars around them

Look for Mercury – a tiny dot down to the right of the tree. The two bright dots above are Venus (brightest) and Jupiter (highest and not as bright as Venus).

Mercury (lower right), Venus and Jupiter

Canon XS 20 seconds, F/20, 29mm, ISO 200.

If you turn around, Mars is rising in the east. It’s a red dot, brighter than the other stars around it from the constellation Leo the Lion. Leo looks like he’s jumping up into the sky (sorry I left off some of his head at the top of the frame).

Mars is the brightest 'star' in this photo. It's white, instead of red, because I overexposed the photo (20 seconds) to get the background stars.

As a bonus, here’s a photo of Orion (on the left) and the Pleiades (looking like a little dipper) to the upper right and the V-shaped Hyades cluster in between.

Orion, Hyades, Pleiades.

Click to enlarge and look for the little out-of-focus star in the stars below the bright three belt stars of Orion! That’s the Orion Nebula.
(Canon XS 20 seconds, F/4, ISO-400, 18mm.)
Also, I used the custom white balance feature on the Canon XS, which makes makes the sky look more normal, without the reddish glow often seen on long exposures in light-polluted skies.

Now go out and see it all for yourself – get where you can see the sky and block out bright lights!

Heads UP! for March 2011

Evening’s Bright Dot is Jupiter, Which Leads Us to Mercury
The Moon Runs Over a Star
March Comes in Like a Lion – Leo Rises
The Space Station and Solar Sail Make Appearances
Where are Saturn, Venus and Mars?
Don’t Forget Daylight-time Starts March 13th
Which Planet is Closest to Us?

Watch that bright dot in the western sky right after the sky gets dark in the evening. That’s the planet Jupiter. It will get lower in the sky every night, but as it gets down, it will pass the planet Mercury from the 13th through the 16th. If you have never seen Mercury in the sky, this is a great opportunity to see it. Mercury will be dimmer than Jupiter, but easy to see without optical aid with Jupiter nearby pointing the way.

Look out for the Moon this month as it cruises though our skies. On the 1st and the 31st, it lines up with Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise. It shares the evening twilight with Jupiter on the 6th and 7th. And the first quarter moon, when the moon looks half-full, is stuck high in the horns of Taurus the bull on the 12th. If you want to take up a challenge with your binoculars or telescope, the sight of a star instantly winking out when the dark limb of the Moon passes in front of it is exciting and educational (showing the lack of a substantial atmosphere on the Moon). The Moon covers μ Geminorum, a star normally easily seen without optical aid (magnitude 2.9) at the foot of one of the Gemini twins, on the evening of the 13th about 7:00pm in the New York City area. The moon’s glare may make it hard to find the star, so find the moon high up in bright twilight sky in advance of 7pm and look to the left of the moon with your optical aid to see the star. Then wait and watch for the moon to run it over.

Does March come in like a lion? Is our skies, it does, as Leo the lion rises into our evening skies from the eastern horizon. The bright winter constellations we have been enjoying seem to move quickly westward, as if in fear of our not-cowardly lion of the east.

Saturn is an object for late evening object through early morning. At 800 million miles away, it is tiny, but in a telescope, unmistakably Saturn with its ring. In your telescope, you’ll also see a nearby star. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is fainter, but visible in telescopes larger than 3 inches wide.

Venus is still out there in the pre-dawn sky, only about one fist-width or so above the horizon.

Mars is still hiding in the glare of the Sun, but it is far enough from solar conjunction that scientists are listening again for signals from the Spirit rover, which hasn’t been heard from since the beginning of its Martian winter last March. The Opportunity rover is trundling along toward the large crater called Endeavour. Opportunity has been on Mars for 2511 Martian days and has 16½ miles on its odometer.

The International Space Station has bright evening-time overflights of our area now through the 13th and in the mornings starting on the 24th. The Nano-sail D solar sailing satellite has unfurled and NASA is having a contest to encourage photos of it as it travels across our skies like a moderately bright star. The best times for viewing Nano-sail D are in the evening through the 6th, and in the morning after that. Check spaceweather.com or heavens-above.com as the viewing times may change as the sail’s orbit is modified by solar wind pressure and bumps from the few atoms that make up our atmosphere at that altitude.

Remember that daylight time starts on March 13th, making the time of sunrise and sunset 6:59am and 7:07pm, respectively. Note that it’s not exactly a 12-hour period of daylight; one reason is due to the refraction of sunlight by Earth’s atmosphere from below the horizon lengthening daylight by a few minutes.

Which planet is closest to Earth most often? The surprising answer is Mercury. This year, for example, Mercury is the closest planet to Earth from March 14th through December 27th, when Mars becomes the closest planet to Earth. The distance from Earth to Venus is more than the distance from Earth to Mercury until January 7th, 2012, as Venus spends most of 2011 moving away from Earth in its slightly faster, inner orbit.

Heads UP! For July 2010

Show your support for your local planets !

Not much darkness this time of year, but with Venus, Mars and Saturn lining up for you in the evening twilight, how can you not go out and see them!

After sunset face yourself toward where the bright twilight is leftover from the sunset earlier in the evening.  The planets are easiest to see about 9 to 10pm, after the sky gets a bit less bright and before the planets disappear over the horizon.  It helps to not have hills and trees in the western sky, as well.

Details on the planet lineup

Binoculars make viewing the planetary lineups more striking, but are not necessary!  First start with dazzling Venus.  Once the sun sets, it’s the brightest thing out there, unless the Moon is nearby or a bright aircraft comes along.  So pick out Venus and then move to its upper left. The next bright dot is much fainter, but gets easier to see as the sky gets dark.  For the first part of the month, that’s the first magnitude star Regulus.  Venus pushes past Regulus on the 8th and 9th (the pair are a pretty sight even by themselves).  Then, ruddy Mars is next, then Saturn.  By the end of the month, the spacing between the planets tightens up while the grouping moves lower in the western sky.  You may have to wait for the sky to darken a bit, but the close encounters are worth seeing and showing off to friends[1].

Waiting on Jupiter

The King of the planets is still sleeping late, and you have to stay up to midnight or get up super-early in the morning to see him.  I hear Jupiter is so bright, you can’t miss it.   I cheated and found Jupiter at 10:30am in the daytime (see bkellysky.wordpress.com for a photo).  The king will reign supreme in the evening sky starting in September.

Mercury Joins the Party

Anytime Mercury gets up from the horizon, it’s a good time to find it.  Look low to the right of Venus from mid-July through early August.  If you find Mercury, then it’s easy to see all five classical planets in one night.  Move up to Venus, Mars and Saturn (especially easy when they get close together – closest on August 8th!).  Then stay up for Jupiter to rise and you’ve done all the five planets that are easily visible to the unaided eye.

The Moon Swings By the Planets:

By Venus on the 14th – zoom in with your point and shoot for a nice photo!  Near Mars on the 15th, Saturn is on the right on the 16th.  Jupiter is near the moon after it rises after 11pm on the 30th.

Sunset Block Party in Manhattan on July 8th

See http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/resources/starstruck/manhattanhenge/ for details on the setting sun shining down the cross streets of Manhattan on July 8th.

See the International Space Station

Looking like a bright dot of light, the ISS soars over us on many evenings between now and July 14th.  In late June the ISS is in sunlight almost all the time, so it’s visible about every 90 minutes all night.  See nasa.gov or heavens-above.com or spaceweather.com for times for your location.

Two flights of the Space Transportation System remain!

STS-133 was planned for September, but may be moved to launch on October 28th or 29th.   STS-134 may be moved to February 2011.  There is a booster rocket set for another flight if NASA can get the funds for one additional flight.  The STS has been the major source of water and supplies for the ISS.

Chcck out http://www.westchesterastronomers.org/ for the July newsletter and come to the July 10th star show under the stars!

[1] Of course, less patient people may not believe you.  See my encounter with an inquiring mind at the June 16 entry on the Brightness of Venus folder at the unmannedspaceflight.com blog: