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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.

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Mercury and the Moon binocular challenge June 2, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Urban Observing.
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Using binoculars, and a clear ENE horizon, you can spot a very old Moon and Mercury tomorrow morning. About 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise, go out and look for the bright Star Capella in the north east. Drop your view about 5° toward the horizon, and scan to the east. With a little luck, Mercury and a very old old moon will pop into view.

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Blue Moon of May May 19, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The Moon will be full on May 21, and according to some, it’ll be a blue moon. Now if you’re familiar with the common definition of a blue moon, you’ll look at that date and say “hey, that can’t be a blue moon!” That’s because the modern, common definition of a blue moon is the second blue moon in a single month. Since it takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to go through a cycle of phases, the earliest date for a blue moon is the 29th of the month.

However, there’s another definition of blue moon: the third of four full moons in a season. The seasons start on an equinox or solstice, and are 3 months long, so they normally have 3 full moons. The current season (spring) started on March 20 at 12:30 AM and the first full moon after that was on the 23rd. Spring will end on June 20 at 6:34 PM, just 12.5 hours after the moon is full. If you’re curious for more, EarthSky has the next few blue moons (of both types) and references for further reading.

If you want to observe, the full moon is just about the worst time. The bright light washes out the sky around it, and the glaring noon (on the Moon) light makes it hard to see any surface features. So much for astronomy. However,if you like atmospheric phenomena or optical illusions, it’s great. A full moon is much more likely to give you a moon-bow, arcs, or rays. And if you like the moon illusion, only the June full moon will be better at tricking your mind.

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.