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August 2015 Urban Observing August 1, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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Special Events

Meteor Showers

August is known as the month of meteor showers. The Perseids and the best known and the best shower in August, and should peak on the 13th this year. That means you should observe sometime between midnight and 5 AM on the morning of the 13th and/or 14th. There are a few other meteor showers too, but they aren’t as big, so I think I’ll leave that for another post so I can get this one finished before the 1st!

Moon

Full Aug 29 18:38 UT (2:38 EDT).
The Moon is at perigee about 20 hours latter, at 15:22 UTC (11:22 EDT), making this a supermoon.
Being late summer, it’ll be higher in the sky than the last few full moons, so it’ll be even more problematic for deep sky observers. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the August moon is the Sturgeon or Green Corn Moon.

Planets

Mercury

Mercury peeks out of the evening twilight this month. on the fist it sets 35 minutes after the Sun so you’ll have to work to find it. By mid month it’ll hang out nearly an hour after the Sun sets. It reaches aphelion on August 29, and greatest eastern elongation on Sept. 3, so it really doesn’t get farther from the Sun than this! It’s still a tiny planet in twilight though, so binoculars or a small ’scope are very helpful. Look for a Jupiter-Mercury conjunction on August 6, and for Mercury with a young crescent Moon on the 16th.

The Moon and Mercury in the evening twilight

The Moon and Mercury on August 16 at dusk

Mercury and Jupiter in twilight

9 pm on August 6, 2015

Venus

Venus reaches Inferior conjunction on August 15, so it’s not visible most of the month. If you happen to be up before 6:30 though, start looking for it in the east beginning around August 21. It zips past Mars at the end of the month / early September.
Venus and Mars just before dawn on August 31

Venus and Mars just before dawn on August 31

Mars

Mars is for morning observers this month. A very old Moon will be near it on August 12, but it’ll be tough to spot without binoculars. It crosses M44 on Aug 19, but you’ll need a ‘scope to pull the cluster out of the twilight.

Mars and the Moon near Gemini

Mars and the Moon pair up in the pre-dawn sky on August 12

Jupiter

Jupiter disappears quickly into the twilight this month, reaching conjunction on August 26. Before it disappears, catch it pass half a degree from Regulus on August 8 – 11
Mercury, Regulus, and Jupiter in twilight

Jupiter and Regulus are less than a degree apart on August 8, 2015.

Saturn

Saturn continues to drift slowly from Libra to Sagittarius this month. Look for it with a first quarter Moon on August 22.
The Moon and Saturn near Scorpio

The Moon passes Saturn

Neptune

Opposition is at roughly 03:00 UT September 1, which is about 11 PM Aug. 31 here. That means Neptune is closer the Earth at the end of this month and beginning of September than at any other time this year, so it’s your best chance to see it as something more than a faint dot. There isn’t much around it to guide you though, so you’ll probably want some more detailed maps than I can post here, or (of course) a computerized ‘scope.
Neptune on August 31

Neptune on August 31

Deep Sky

Double Stars

The nice thing about stars is that they are point sources. You just look at the magnitude and you pretty much know whether or not you’ll be able to see it. However, stars don’t look too much different though the ‘scope than naked eye, so they aren’t the most exciting things to look at. Unless it’s not just 1 star…
The easiest double is Alcor & Mizar. It’s a naked eye double in the handle of the Big Dipper. A telescope reveals Mizar as a double, and a fourth star in the system.
Albireo is also fairly easy to find, at the head of Cygnus. A telescope reveals it as a yellowish star and a blueish star (though different people will see the colors differently.) Nearby, you can test the resolution of your ‘scope on Epsilon Lyrae, the double-double. A small ‘scope separates it into two stars, which each resolve as two stars in a bigger ‘scope..

Globular star clusters

The summer skies are full of globular clusters. Three of the nicest are M13, M92, and M3. M13 and M92 are high overhead at the start of the month, one M3 is to the west. At the end of the month, M3 is low in the west and M13 and M92 are high in the west.

Open clusters

The summer Milky Way is high overhead, and of course it is full of open clusters. Two of the nicest clusters are M6 ( the butterfly cluster) and M7 (the northern jewel box). They transit at 9 PM at the end of the month, when it’s still twilight, so look for them soon!

Nebula

Bright skies make it really hard to see nebulae. M57 (the ring) is a nicely compact object, so even though it’s faint you might be able to pull it in with a small ‘scope. M27 (dumbbell) has a brighter magnitude, but it’s also bigger, so it has a lower surface brightness, which makes it much harder to see in urban skies. If you happen to have a good night, or a nebula or oxygen filter, it’s worth trying. Also worth trying is M8, the lateen nebula. Unlike M27 & M57, which are the remnants of dying Sun-like stars, M8 is a star forming region. In dark skies, M8 is visible to the naked eye as a large fuzzy patch in Sagittarius, sometimes even referred to as the steam from the tea pot. Binoculars are enough to pull out the associated star cluster and bright inner region, even under fairly bright skies. A small ‘scope might pull in some of the wider dust lanes.

Galaxies

One of the great things about August is the return of M31. Look for it low in the northeast at 10 PM at the beginning of the month, or mid height in the east-north-east at the end of the month.
15Aug2200z_map
Full sky map on August 15, 10 PM.

Full sky map on August 15, 10 PM.

News | NASA Hosts Media Telecon About Latest Kepler Discoveries July 21, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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It’s been 20 years since the first confirmed exoplanet discovery.  Now, nearly 2000 are known, mostly thanks to the Kepler space telescope.

Get the latest update Wednesday July 23, 2015 at noon EDT:

News | NASA Hosts Media Telecon About Latest Kepler Discoveries.

New Horizons on NASA TV July 9, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Science.
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If you’re a space exploration enthusiast, things are very exciting right now. We are getting our first real look at Pluto and those distant, peculiar worlds.

Pluto has a lighter colored, heart shaped feature

Turns out: Pluto may be the Solar System’s biggest Valentine

If you’d like to follow the coverage live on NASA TV, here’s the latest plan (excepted from an email from the media relations office)

Highlights of the current coverage schedule, all in Eastern time, include:
July 8 – 12 – mission updates on NASA TV at 11:30 a.m.
Monday, July 13
11 a.m. to noon – Media briefing: Mission Status and What to Expect; live on NASA TV

Tuesday, July 14
7:30 to 8 a.m. – Arrival at Pluto Countdown Program; live on NASA TV

At approximately 7:49 a.m., New Horizons is scheduled to be as close as the spacecraft will get to Pluto, approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface, after a journey of more than nine years and three billion miles. For much of the day, New Horizons will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data about Pluto and its moons.

The moment of closest approach will be marked during the live NASA TV broadcast that includes a countdown and discussion of what’s expected next as New Horizons makes its way past Pluto and potentially dangerous debris.

8 to 9 a.m. – Media briefing, image release; live on NASA TV

8:30 to 9:15 p.m. – NASA TV program, Phone Home, broadcast from APL Mission Control

NASA TV will share the suspenseful moments of this historic event with the public and museums around the world. The New Horizons spacecraft will send a preprogrammed signal after the closest approach. The mission team on Earth should receive the signal by about 9:02 p.m. When New Horizons “phones home,” there will be a celebration of its successful flyby and the anticipation of data to come in the days and months ahead.

9:30 to 10 p.m. – Media Briefing: New Horizons Health and Mission Status; live on NASA TV

Wednesday, July 15 

3 to 4 p.m. – Media Briefing: Seeing Pluto in a New Light; live on NASA TV

Release of close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons, along with initial science team reactions.

To Watch: 
http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Other ways to follow and engage:

The public can follow the path of the spacecraft in coming days in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s online Eyes on Pluto.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

or

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

July 2015 Urban Observing July 6, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Special Events

Aphelion

Aphelion (ap-HE-lee-on) occurs on July 6 at 19:41 UT (3:41 EDT). That’s the point in the orbit where a Earth is farthest from the Sun.

Blue Moon

The first full moon of July occurs on July 2 at 2:20 UT (that’s 11:20 on July 1 here in Ann Arbor). The second is on July 31 at 10:43 UT (or 6:43 AM EDT). The popular definition of “blue moon” is the second full moon in a month, and that makes the July 31 moon a blue moon. Another (older) definition is the third of four full moons in a season. Since summer started on June 21, the full moons of July are actually the first and second full moons of summer, and there are only 3 full moons this season.

Meteor Showers

The Delta Aquariids bring to an end the quietest months for meteor watchers. Unfortunatly, they should peak on the 28 – 29, just before the second full moon of the month. Start looking for them in the pre dawn skies about a week before that, after the Moon has set. That means looking for them between 2 – 4 AM local time from July 21 – 26. For the peak and a few days around it, your bet bet will be around 3 -5 to avoid as much moonlight as possible and the morning twilight. After the peak, the waining moon is impossible to avoid, and the Moon passes through Aquarius on August 2. The radiant will be highest around 3 – 4 AM both weeks.

Location of the Delta Aqu. radiant on July 29 at 3:42 AM in Ann Arbor.

Location of the Delta Aqu. radiant on July 29 at 3:42 AM in Ann Arbor.

Planets

Mercury

is a morning planet at the start of the month. It will be difficult to spot, but if you’re up for a challenge and have a pair of binoculars, look for Mercury, Mars, and an old Moon half an hour before sunrise on July 14. It disappears into the glare of the Sun not long after, but look for it’s return to the evening skies in August!

Mercury, Mars and the Moon align on July 14, about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury, Mars and the Moon align on July 14, about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Venus

is spectacular in the west all month. A waning crescent, it is getting ever closer to us, which means bigger and brighter too. By the end of the month, you should be able to tell it’s a crescent with just a small pair of binoculars. Here are a couple images to help you compare size (both simulate a 15″ field of view.)

The appearance of Venus on July 31 in a telescope with a 15 arcminute field of view (approx.)

The appearance of Venus on July 31 in a telescope with a 15 arcminute field of view (approx.)

The appearance of Venus on July 1 in a telescope with a 15 arcminute field of view (approx)

The appearance of Venus on July 1 in a telescope with a 15 arcminute field of view (approx)

Mars

emerges from the glare of the Sun this month. It is less than half a degree from Mercury on the 16th! Unfortunately for most of us, you’ll have to be up before the Sun to see it.

Conjunction of Mercury and Mars on July 16 about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Conjunction of Mercury and Mars on July 16 about 20 minutes before sunrise.

Jupiter

After the conjunction with Venus on June 30, Jupiter works his way slowly to the east, winding up in a conjunction with Mercury and Regulus around August 6. Look for Venus, Jupiter and a young moon together on July 18.

Venus, Jupiter, the Moon, and the star Regulus on July 18 at 9:30 PM (about half an hour after sunset)

Venus, Jupiter, the Moon, and the star Regulus on July 18 at 9:30 PM (about half an hour after sunset)

Saturn

It’s a great month for observing Saturn. It is high in the south at 10 PM, but getting farther from us all the time. The quarter moon passes by it on July 25 – 26.

Saturn and the Moon on July 25 at 10 PM.

Saturn and the Moon on July 25 at 10 PM.

Deep sky

July snuck up on me, so I don’t have any deep sky stuff prepared. Maybe I’ll get a few things posted as the month progresses. In the meantime, I’ll just throw a couple things out there.  ‘Tis the season for Albireo, a maize & blue binary in Cygnus. Not far from M13, a globular cluster in Hercules, which is a naked eye object in dark skies. Compact planetary nebula M57 sits between the two stars at the bottom of the harp in Lyra. It’s smaller size helps it stand out against a pretty bright sky in a small ‘scope.

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