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September 2015 Urban Observing September 1, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Urban Observing.
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Special events

Star party

If you happen to be in southeast Michigan on September 25 or 26, head to Kensington Metropark! Kensington Astronomy at the Beach is the biggest astronomy event in the area, and a very unique one. Amateurs and professionals alike work together to put on this event that includes everything from guided sky tours to big ‘scopes you can look through. Talks, planetarium shows, demonstrations and activities go on no matter what the weather is like. Visit GLAAC.org for more information.

Meteor showers

September marks another lull in significant meteor shower activity. However, minor showers and the ambient meteor level are slightly higher at this time of year, so if you happen to be out late, or early, it’s worth watching for a few. As usual, it is much better to look for meteors under dark skies than the normal urban skies. Check out the weekly update form the american meteor society for week-by-week predictions.


The autumnal equinox occurs on September 23 at 8:22 UTC , which is 4:22 AM in Michigan.

Lunar eclipse

A well timed total lunar eclipse occurs on September 27, starting just after sunset in Michigan. Maximum eclipse occurs in Ann Arbor and 10:47 PM, when the Moon will be high in the southeast. For timing details and more information, or information on another location, see http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/ann-arbor.

Of course if there’s a lunar eclipse there must be a solar eclipse too. In this case, it’s a partial eclipse visible from parts of Africa and the Indian Ocean.


Full: September 27. This is the closest full moon if the year.
New: September 11
Observers in the northeast may have the chance to see the Moon occult Aldebaran on September 5th. Unfortunately in southeast Michigan, it ends just before moonrise.


Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation on the 4th, so it’s visible in the evening at the start of the month, but look for it soon. The ecliptic is low to the horizon at sunset for northern hemisphere observers at this time of year, so it gets really hard really fast to spot. On the other hand,southern hemisphere observers get their best chance all year! It’ll be in conjunction on the 30th, so no one will really get to see it by the last week of the month.

Looking west at 8 PM on 9/4

Looking west at 8 PM on 9/4

Venus is the gem of the morning skies. Just passed conjunction at the start of the month, it’s so bright it’s easily mistaken for plane or other terrestrial object. A pair of binoculars should be all you need to pick out it’s crescent shape. It’s headed for maximum westward elongation at the end of October so you’ll have plenty of time to spot it. It lines up with the Moon and Mars between Regulus and Procyon on September 9. Use binoculars or a small ‘scope to pull the objects out of the morning twilight.

Looking east before dawn on Sept 9.

Looking east before dawn on Sept 9.

In a mythically appropriate pairing, Mars is near Venus all month. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as bright as Venus so it’ll be tough to spot in the morning twilight. Also look for Mars and Regulus to make a close pair on September 25.

Looking east before dawn on 9/25

Looking east before dawn on 9/25

Jupiter is just past conjunction at the start of the month. Look for it in the morning twilight after the first week.

Saturn is well up at sunset now, the only naked eye planet in the evening skies. The ring tilt is big enough to be visible with just a pair of binoculars. A small ‘scope should enable you to pull out the Cassini division. It makes a nice pair with red Antares all month, but be sure to look on the 18th & 19th when the moon joins the pair.

Saturn, the Moon, and Antares on 9/18

Saturn, the Moon, and Antares on 9/18

Rising around 9:30 at the start of the month, Uranus is not a bad target no matter what time of night you observe. It pairs with the moon on the 1st and again on the 28th.

The Moon passes within a degree of Uranus on 9/28

The Moon passes within a degree of Uranus on 9/28

Neptune opposition is September 1, which actually makes this the best month this year to spot this distant blue planet. It’s a bit tough though. There aren’t many landmarks to guide you. The Moon will help on September 25.

The Moon can help you find Neptune on 9/25.

The Moon can help you find Neptune on 9/25.

April 4 lunar eclipse April 3, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Here in the midwest, we’ll have a partial lunar eclipse at dawn on April 4. Further west observers get to see the whole eclipse of course, and if you go far enough west, it’ll be Friday night when the eclipse happens. check out Timeanddate.com for timing and how much will be visible from your area.

If you want some details on what features to look for, check out Fred Espenak’s eclipsewise site. He includes information on things like how to photograph it, what to look for, and even data amateurs can collect.

If it’s not visible for you, here are some places you can watch online:





One interesting thing about this eclipse is that there’s actually a little debate about whether or not it’s really a total eclipse. Even the best shadows don’t have a shape edge. Add the fact that Earth has an atmosphere, and it’s not perfectly round, and it’s seriously challenging to figure out exactly where to draw the line.  Because of that hint of uncertainty, most eclipse predictions call this the shortest total eclipse of the century, but a few people consider it the deepest partial eclipse of the century. You can find out more about it in the comments on the Sky and Telescope article about the eclipse.  And of course, you could go and look for yourself!

Resources for the Oct 8 2014 lunar eclipse October 7, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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This is a straight-up list of resources for the eclipse on Oct 8, 2014.

Information on observing the eclipse:







Live feeds (so you can watch if the Moon isn’t out or it’s cloudy)







Urban Observing October 2014 October 6, 2014

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

October makes up for a couple fairly quiet months with several events.


October gets off to a great start with a lunar eclipse on the 8th. You can read my earlier post about it, or check out http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2014-october-8 to get details about observing it where you are. If it isn’t visible or the weather is bad, check out one of the many live feeds from the Griffith Observatory, Slooh.com, or Stargazers.

The Moon and Uranus in the west

Uranus is just off the limb of the partially eclipsed Moon ot 5:45 AM on October 8.

Whenever there’s a lunar eclipse, there should be a Solar eclipse two weeks latter. Most of the US will get at least a piece of this partial eclipse on October 23. I’ll post more about that in a couple weeks. To check if you’ll be able to see it and how much of the Moon will be obscured, check out http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsearch/SEsearchmap.php?Ecl=20141023 or http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/2014-october-23.

Meteor Showers

The Draconids run roughly Oct 6 – 10, and peak on the morning of the 9th. The nice thing about this shower is this is circumpolar for anyone in the US or Canada. The bad thing is the peak rate is only about two meters per hour, they tend to be faint, and it’s the day after the full moon, so it’s only really worth watching for the diehard meteor fans.

The Orionids on the other hand are much more worth watching. They run October 1 through November 14 but peak on the evening/morning of October 21 – 22nd. In a typical year the peak is 20 to 25 fast-moving meters per hour. Exceptional years can produce 50 to 70 meteors per hour. Check the American Meteor Society homepage, http://www.amsmeteors.org/ a few days before to find out if this is expected to be an exceptional year. Orion rises at 11:15 on the 21st, and transits at about 5 AM on the 22nd. With sunrise just before 8 AM, the best time to watch for these meteors will be about 4 – 6 AM.

The starfield centered on the stars of Orion.

The radiant of the Orionid shower is just above the constellation. The map is for 5 AM on Oct 22.

A Comet at Mars

On October 19, comet Siding Spring has a close encounter with the planet Mars. It will pass a mere 132,000 km away from the planet, which is close enough for their atmospheres to interact. What better time for two new space probes to arrive at Mars! In fact, the Mars exploration teams at NASA are so excited they dedicated a page just to comet Siding Spring: http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/. Expected to be around magnitude 10, you’ll need a telescope to spot the comet.

Stick figures of Sagittarius and Ophiuchus  highlight the position of Mars and comet Siding Spring

Mars and comet Siding Spring low in the southwest at 9 PM on October 20.

Moon phases

Full on Oct 8
New Moon Oct 23


Mercury is sinking fast in the west as the month begins. Look for it in the morning skies beginning around Oct 21. Greatest westward elongation is actually on Nov 1, so the last few days of the month should be a great time for morning observers to catch this elusive planet.

Mercury in the twilight sky.

Mercury before dawn on Oct 25. Venus and the Sun are aligned just below the horizon.

Already lost in the Sun’s glare at the start of the month, Venus is headed for superior conjunction on Oct 25. It’ll appear in the evening skies around early December, and those long winter nights should make for spectacular Venus observing.

Mars is getting farther away from us as it approaches the Sun this month. Matched with it’s rival Antares, and not far from Saturn, it makes a beautiful naked eye observing opportunity at the beginning of the month. It slowly drifts away from Saturn as the month progresses. On Oct 27 & 28 a fat crescent Moon passes it.

The Moon and Mars at 8 PM on Oct 27.

The Moon and Mars at 8 PM on Oct 27.

Jupiter is the gem of the morning skies this month. A fat waning crescent Moon passes it on Oct 17 and 18th.

The crescent Moon and Jupiter.

The Moon passes near Jupiter on the mornings of Oct 18 & 19. Chart for 6 AM on Oct 18.

Saturn disappears slowly into the sunset this month. Look for a very young Moon in conjunction with Saturn on Oct 25.

Neptune hangs out in Aquarius this month. It’s actually quite close to the 4th magnitude star Sigma Aquarii.

Uranus, Neptune and Sigma Aquarii are marked in the starfield.

Looking SSE at 10 PM on Oct 17. Neptune is just above Sigma Aquarii in the south. Uranus is in the southeast.

Uranus is at opposition at the start of the month, so it’s a great time to observe this distant world. Catch it on the morning of October 8 when it sits just off the limb of the eclipsed Moon!