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Summer 2016 meteors July 26, 2016

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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It’s meteor shower season, and The summer meteor showers are ramping up!

The Delta Aquariids are in progress now. Although the peak is expected to fall on July 28, this is a long, slow shower, worth watching for at least a week after the peak. Don’t expect to see a lot of meteors though. Even at its peak there are only 10 – 20 meteors per hour (or about 5 minutes between meteors.) The radiant is highest at around 3 AM this time of year, so that would be the best time to observe if it weren’t for the waning Moon in the last week of July. Going out around 1:30 – 2:30 on the 28th gives a good combination of reasonably high radiant and a low Moon.

While you’re out looking for delta Aquarius, watch for Perseids too. Luckily, Perseus isn’t far from Aquarius. Check out this story from EarthSky on how to tell them apart.

While the Perseids don’t peak until August 11 or 12, you should already be able to spot a few. The real show should be the early morning of August 12, and continue through the morning of the 13th and maybe the morning of the 14th. Some experts think this could be a spectacular year, with rates of 200 per hour at the peak (that’s about 3 meteors per minute!) Better still, a waxing moon means dark skies most of the early morning hours. The best time to view will be around 3 – 5AM, when the Moon has set, Perseus is high, and twilight hasn’t really started yet. Here is a map for 4:30 AM on August 11 with both radiants marked.

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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.

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.