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Venus brightest around February 16 | EarthSky.org February 16, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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If it’s clear where you are this evening (or the next several evenings really), look high in the west about half an hour after sunset. That incredibly bright point of light you see is not a star, it’s Venus! If you happen to have a small telescope or good pair of binoculars, take a look at it. You’ll see it’s actually a crescent!

As long as you’ve got your telescope/binoculars out, be sure to check out the little red point nearby. That’s Mars. In fact, it’s pretty much a full Mars. How can two planets be so close in the sky and so different in appearance? Because one of them is nearby, almost between us and the Sun, while the other is far away, with the Sun in between.

For more on Venus, check out this story from Earth-Sky:

 

Venus is brighter around February 16-17, 2017 than at any other time during its ongoing, approximate, 9.6-month reign in the evening sky.

Source: Venus brightest around February 16 | EarthSky.org

Summer 2016 meteors July 26, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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It’s meteor shower season, and The summer meteor showers are ramping up!

The Delta Aquariids are in progress now. Although the peak is expected to fall on July 28, this is a long, slow shower, worth watching for at least a week after the peak. Don’t expect to see a lot of meteors though. Even at its peak there are only 10 – 20 meteors per hour (or about 5 minutes between meteors.) The radiant is highest at around 3 AM this time of year, so that would be the best time to observe if it weren’t for the waning Moon in the last week of July. Going out around 1:30 – 2:30 on the 28th gives a good combination of reasonably high radiant and a low Moon.

While you’re out looking for delta Aquarius, watch for Perseids too. Luckily, Perseus isn’t far from Aquarius. Check out this story from EarthSky on how to tell them apart.

While the Perseids don’t peak until August 11 or 12, you should already be able to spot a few. The real show should be the early morning of August 12, and continue through the morning of the 13th and maybe the morning of the 14th. Some experts think this could be a spectacular year, with rates of 200 per hour at the peak (that’s about 3 meteors per minute!) Better still, a waxing moon means dark skies most of the early morning hours. The best time to view will be around 3 – 5AM, when the Moon has set, Perseus is high, and twilight hasn’t really started yet. Here is a map for 4:30 AM on August 11 with both radiants marked.

11Aug0430_SE_meteors.png

Urban Observing June 2016 – Planets version June 7, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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I’m a little overloaded these days, but there’s so much good stuff in planets I wanted to get those out there.

Mars Opposition was on May 22, and it’s closest approach on May 30, so early June is still a great time to check out the red planet.

It’s not far from Saturn, which is at opposition on June 3. It has a nice tilt now too, so it’s a great month for cell phone pictures through a telescope.

Jupiter is still a great evening target. Look for it high in the south at sunset. It’s only 1º from a first quarter moon on the 11th.

11June2300SE-W.png

Morning observers get some of the easiest viewing of Mercury the first 2 weeks of the month. Of course, the early sunrise means you’ll have about a 15 minute window 30 – 45 minutes before sunrise to catch it. Greatest western elongation is on the 5th, but the best angle relative to the horizon is the 13th (at least at 42º latitude.) Binoculars will help.

13June0520ENE.png

Venus fans are out of luck. Superior Conjunction is on the 6th, so it’s lost in the Sun’s glare most of the month. If you’re up for challenge, start watching for it in the evening at the end of the month.

The lowest full moon of the year will be on June 20. If you’re a fan of optical illusions, check it out – the low altitude enhances the Moon Illusion.

Blue Moon of May May 19, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The Moon will be full on May 21, and according to some, it’ll be a blue moon. Now if you’re familiar with the common definition of a blue moon, you’ll look at that date and say “hey, that can’t be a blue moon!” That’s because the modern, common definition of a blue moon is the second blue moon in a single month. Since it takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to go through a cycle of phases, the earliest date for a blue moon is the 29th of the month.

However, there’s another definition of blue moon: the third of four full moons in a season. The seasons start on an equinox or solstice, and are 3 months long, so they normally have 3 full moons. The current season (spring) started on March 20 at 12:30 AM and the first full moon after that was on the 23rd. Spring will end on June 20 at 6:34 PM, just 12.5 hours after the moon is full. If you’re curious for more, EarthSky has the next few blue moons (of both types) and references for further reading.

If you want to observe, the full moon is just about the worst time. The bright light washes out the sky around it, and the glaring noon (on the Moon) light makes it hard to see any surface features. So much for astronomy. However,if you like atmospheric phenomena or optical illusions, it’s great. A full moon is much more likely to give you a moon-bow, arcs, or rays. And if you like the moon illusion, only the June full moon will be better at tricking your mind.