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Observing tips for July 4th, 2018 July 2, 2018

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The forth of July brings a lot of people outside after dark. While you’re waiting for those fireworks to begin, here are a few things to look for.

I recommend taking along a pair of binoculars.

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Venus and Mercury in the West July 3, 2018, 9:30 PM.

Start about half an hour after sunset (or about 9:30 in SE Michigan) and look west. About 20º ( 2 sideways fists) above due west is Venus. As the skies darken, it stands out like a beacon! look 16º (index finger to pinky) down and to the right for Mercury. Mercury can be a tough object to spot because it’s never far from the Sun, so it’s never visible in really dark skies. The first map is for July 3, 9:30 PM in Ann Arbor, but should be good for the 4th as well.

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Jupiter and Saturn in the south at 10 PM July 4

Fireworks usually begin around 10 PM (especially if you’re farther north.) Get a seat facing south for some of the summer’s best celestial show. Jupiter is about 30º above the southern horizon, and Saturn about 10º up in the SE. While you’re looking that way, be sure to check out Scorpio and Sagittarius too. Bright Antares, the heart of the scorpion, falls between Jupiter and Saturn right now.

With binoculars or a small telescope, you can pull in the 4 brightest moons of Jupiter. They’ll be lined up in a tight row on the 4th, which helps make it easier to pick them out at low magnification.

From left to right, Io, Europa, Jupiter, Ganymede, and Callisto

The Galilean Moons of Jupiter at 10 PM July 4, 2018.

If you actually have a small telescope and can pull your eye away from Jupiter, check out nearby Zubenelgenubi, a nice double star whose name means “southern claw” because it was once considered part of Scorpius.

Saturn is sitting on the top of the teapot. If your skies are dark enough later in the evening, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way trailing up the sky next to it. With binoculars or a small scope, the rings should be visible, if only as a strangely oblong shape. Some of the brighter moons may also be visible, though they aren’t nearly as easy as Jupiter’s moons.

From left to right, Iapetus, Rhea, Saturn, Tethys, and Titan, which is actually much lower that the other moons.

Saturn and its moons, July 4, 2018 at 10 pm

It’s early days yet for Mars, but if you’re out past midnight, look back to the same are Saturn was at 10 PM. Mars rises ESE around 11 PM, so it’s up nearly 10º in the SE at midnight. It’s the brightest thing in that area right now, and only getting brighter, so if your skies are clear, it’ll be hard to miss. Keep an eye on it the rest of the month as it moves toward closest approach on July 31!

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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.

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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.

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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.

View all the naked eye planets at dawn January 20, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The return of Mercury to the morning skies means all the naked eye planets are visible at dawn now. We have a couple weeks’ worth of great morning observing coming up, which might make you glad for late sunrises.

Start with January 24th. At 7 AM, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and the Moon spread out across the entire sky.

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The sky at 7 AM on January 24

The 25th marks the day of least span. From Mercury to Jupiter will cover only 112º 3′ that day, or about 2/3 of the sky from southeast to southwest.

By the 28th, the planets will have spread out to 112º 40’ (not a noticeable change to most of us), but the Moon will be inside that span. It’ll be right next to bright Jupiter, so if you like taking pictures, it’s a good opportunity.

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The sky at 7 AM on January 28. Jupiter and the Moon make a good pair.

The Moon tends to overwhelm the other planets, but if you like conjunctions, look for the Moon and:  Spica on the 30th; Mars on February 1; Saturn on the 3rd; and Venus and Mercury on the 6th.

If your goal is a glimpse of illusive Mercury, take your binoculars out on February 4th, when Mercury is more than 5 1/2° above the southeast horizon at 7 AM. That’s about the same as holding 3 fingers at arm’s length, so a clear horizon is a must.  It’ll be up 10° by 7:30, but by then it will also be very bright out. 

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Mercury is farthest from the horizon at 7 AM on February 4th.

On February 6, head out with the binoculars again and use Venus to find Mercury and an old crescent Moon. 

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Bright Venus can guide you to an old Moon and Mercury on Feb. 6th.

Mercury, the fleet footed messenger, and Venus, goddess of love, will be at their closest on February 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day. May he speed your messages to the one you love.

 

October 2015 Urban Observing October 8, 2015

Posted by aquillam in MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Special Events

Meteor showers

October begins the most active time of year for meteor showers. While few individual showers are as active as August’s Perseids, several overlapping showers make fall a great time to bundle up and get outside.

The showers actually started at the end of September with the southern Taurids. This is a low activity shower, so you’ll barely notice it’s active. However, it’s especially good for southern sky watchers, and a lot of its meteors are fireballs. It doesn’t have a district peak, but remains active in to early November.

Next up are the Orionids. They are active early October to mid November, with a peak on October 21-22. Most years this is a moderately active shower with about 20 meteors per hour. In some years it’s very active, with rates comproble to the Perseids, but at this time we don’t know how to predict if it’s an average or better than average year. Check the AMS weekly blog for the most current predictions.

Finally the Northern Taurids are a close cousin to the Southern Taurids. Like the Southern Taurids, this is an extended shower with a low rate but a high number of fireballs. It is active from mid October to early December.

If you prefer to listen to meteor showers, check out the Draconids. Because of its position in the sky, the best time to observe these is actually late afternoon and early evening. That makes this a great shower to try out the radio observation techniques.

Moon

New on October 13

Full October 26 – this is the last “super moon” of the year.

Planets

Morning planet watchers are in for several treats this month. Even if you aren’t normally in early riser, you may want to get up on October 28 for a rare three planet conjunction. Mars, Venus, and Jupiter will all be within 1° of each other on that morning.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Mercury reaches greatest Western Elongation on October 16, so the second and third week in October should be a great time to observe Mercury  in the morning.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Venus reaches greatest western elongation on October 26. It will be a good morning object for the rest of the year. However, it’s approaching a new Venus, so although it’s getting closer to us, it’s actually getting dimmer as well. It makes a tight group with Regulus and the Moon on October 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

Mars is overshadowed by the other brilliant morning planets. A thin crescent Moon passes it on October 9. It is less than half a degree from Jupiter on the 17.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17p

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17

Jupiter has fully emerged into the morning skies by the beginning of the month. If it weren’t for Venus, it would be the jewel of the morning skies. Look for it in conjunction with Venus on the 26th.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

Saturn quickly disappears into the evening twilight. Look for it with a crescent Moon at sunset on October 15 & 16.

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

If you have a telescope, October will be a great time to look for Uranus. It reaches opposition on October 11. If you can get away from the urban lights, you might even be able to catch it naked eye.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.