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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

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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

Orionid Meteor Shower October 21, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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If it’s clear where you are, you might want to get up an hour or two early for the Orionid meteor shower. The peak is today / tomorrow (sorry I’m a little late for today), but it should be worth watching for a couple more days. Especially with the morning planets! Clear, dark skies are important for meteor watching, so you’ll need to get away from city lights.

Here in SE Michigan, the weather predictions make Friday morning look good. The Moon sets at about 3 AM, by which time Orion will be well up. However, if you wait until 5AM, you’ll get your chance to see Venus, Jupiter, and Mars. Mercury rises around 7AM, but by then twilight will have begun, which means it’s not as good for watching for meteors. The best hour is probably 5:30 to 6:30 AM.

For more information, (especially if you’re not in southeast Michigan) check out the story from Earth-Sky.

Viewing Comet Lovejoy January 8, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2 is about 4th magnitude right now. if your observing sight is dark, it’s easily naked eye. Urban observers aren’t so lucky, but it’s bright enough to be picked by a camera!

You’ll need a camera you can set the exposure and focus on (some smart phone apps will do that.) I strongly recommend a tripod since you’ll need an exposure of a few seconds.

Focus first on Jupiter: it’s bright enough to see through your viewfinder, and rises by the time the sky is dark enough to see the comet.

Once you’ve got a good focus, point your camera so Orion is on the left side of your view, and Taurus at the top middle. As it gets latter in the month, adjust the position so Taurus is on the left, and Orion is out of the view. Check the maps on the Sky & Telescope website for a more precise location.

Take exposures ranging from about half a second to about 15 seconds – the longer your exposure, the better the comet will look, but too long and the sky brightness may wash out everything.  You should have a very wide field image.

DSC_1596

about 5 seconds…

Once back inside, you can zoom in and crop to get a better composed picture.

DSC_1596

Of course, if your skies are this bad, adding a little guidance might help.

There's the comet! Really!

There’s the comet! Really!

Ok, you’re unimpressed. I can tell. But consider how bright those trees are. And, it was so cold my camera stopped working. Hey, if you think you can do better, prove it! Share your photos!