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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

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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.

Mars Opposition 2016 May 18, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Galileoscope, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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On May 22, Mars will be at opposition. That means it’ll be opposite the Sun in the sky, so Mars rises as the Sun sets, and is out all night. It also means that Mars is relatively close to us. In fact, closest approach will fall on May 30. So don’t forget to take your binoculars or telescope on your Memorial day camp out!

25May2300SE_Mars

Looking southeast at 11PM on May 25. Saturn is also in Scorpion now.

One particularly nice aspect of the opposition is that Mars is in Scorpio. If you’re familiar with Scorpio, you know the brightest star goes by the name Antares. Ares is the Greek equivalent of Mars, so the name Anti-Ares, really means something like “opposed to Mars”, which most people interpret as “rival of Mars”. Personally, I like to think of it as “this is a star, as opposed to the planet Mars”, or more simply, “not Mars”. Usually, when Mars passes through Scorpio, you kind of need that reminder – the two objects look awfully similar, especially naked eye. During opposition however, there’s no mistaking the two. Antares is a poor rival, and definitely not Mars.

The Moon will be full on the 21, and passes through Scorpio the next two nights, so those aren’t the best days for comparing the star and planet. By the 24th it has moved out of the immediate area, and by the 30th you’ll have Moon-free observing most of the night.

As long as you’ve got your ‘scope or binoculars out, be sure to check out Saturn too. It’s headed for opposition on June 3. Hopefully I’ll have time to post about that at the end of the month.

 

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.

28Jan0700_z

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. 

06Feb0700_SE

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.