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Morning Planets Conjunction November 8, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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Mother Nature provides a huge reward for early risers in the coming week. Venus and Jupiter will practically merge in the pre-dawn skies!

You’ll want a pair of binoculars or a small telescope when you head outside at around 7 AM on November 10 – 15. The more mornings you can look, the better!

Venus will be easy to spot, assuming you have a good horizon, low in the ESE. Pan around a bit to spot Jupiter nearby. They’re only a couple degrees apart on the 10th and 15th. Be sure to look for Mars and Spica while you’re out there.

10Nov0700ESE_VEJU

Mars, Spica, Venus and Jupiter in the pre-dawn skies November 10

Between the 10th and 15th, Jupiter and Venus will close the gap. On the morning of November 13, you might need those binoculars to see that there are still two planets there! At minimum separation, they’re about a third of a degree apart. That’s less than the diameter of the Moon!

13Nov0700_VEJU

A crescent Moon, Mars, Spica, Jupiter, and Venus in the ESE before dawn on November 13. Venus and Jupiter are too close together to appear as separate objects in this map.

That’s about the time the Moon starts trying to join the group as well. If you’re up for a couple more mornings, you can watch the Moon slide past Mars on the 14th –  15, Jupiter and Venus on the 16th, and *maybe* catch the very old Moon on the 17th (it’s a tough observation though, and you’ll need a really good horizon!)

17Nov0715ESE

Mars, Spica, Jupiter, Venus, and a very tiny crescent Moon in the ESE before dawn on November 17.

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The Moon and Aldebaran November 3, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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The Moon will be full at 1:23 AM on November 4 in Ann Arbor. But November 5th is the day to watch it.

Get out a telescope or a pair of binoculars and head outside a little before 8 PM. Look in the direction of the Moon, but find Taurus, and the red star Aldebaran. Keep your eye on that star, because at about 3 minutes after 8 PM, it’ll disappear behind the Moon! (See a map of where it’s visible and local times for more places on the The International Occultation Timing Association website.)

If you miss the disappearance, you can try and catch the reappearance. It is best if you have a relatively wide field, so you can see most if not all of the Moon. The Moon moves west to east with respect to the stars, so you’ll want to watch the western edge of the Moon. Unfortunately, whether you should watch the top, middle, or bottom depends on where you’re observing from. In SE Michigan, Aldebaran should reappear from about the middle of the western edge at about 8:57 pm. Give yourself several minutes lead time to prepare, because it’s really easy to miss the moment of re-appearance!

If you miss this one, your next chance will come December 30.

Cassini’s Legacy September 11, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Science.
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As the Cassini mission comes to an end, NASA and JPL ponder what its legacy will be.

When the mission started, I had just recently started working as the outreach coordinator for Michigan Astronomy, and the presentations I did about it were some of the first of my career here.

My how the time flies.

Venus and the Beehive August 30, 2017

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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If you happen to be up around 6 AM local time the next few mornings (August 31 – September 2, 2017) grab a pair of binoculars. Venus skims past one of my favorite open clusters in the pre-dawn hours.

Look east, between the Big Dipper and Orion, just below Gemini. You won’t be able to miss Venus. It’ll even shine through light cloud cover! If it’s clear, point your binoculars that way and you’ll see the Beehive cluster, so called because it sort of looks like a bee skep tipped on its side with the bees buzzing around it (a skep is the round, woven grass type of beehive.) It’s a fairly bright cluster, so even a small pair of binoculars will do. You probably won’t want to haul out the telescope for this because you need a 2º field of view, which most telescopes won’t do.

If you live in really dark skies, plop a camera down on a tripod and try taking a 1 – 2 second exposure. Longer will capture more stars, but overexpose Venus.

Here’s a chart looking east at 6 AM on August 31 from Ann Arbor:

31Aug0600E