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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

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.

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.

 

October 2015 Urban Observing October 8, 2015

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Special Events

Meteor showers

October begins the most active time of year for meteor showers. While few individual showers are as active as August’s Perseids, several overlapping showers make fall a great time to bundle up and get outside.

The showers actually started at the end of September with the southern Taurids. This is a low activity shower, so you’ll barely notice it’s active. However, it’s especially good for southern sky watchers, and a lot of its meteors are fireballs. It doesn’t have a district peak, but remains active in to early November.

Next up are the Orionids. They are active early October to mid November, with a peak on October 21-22. Most years this is a moderately active shower with about 20 meteors per hour. In some years it’s very active, with rates comproble to the Perseids, but at this time we don’t know how to predict if it’s an average or better than average year. Check the AMS weekly blog for the most current predictions.

Finally the Northern Taurids are a close cousin to the Southern Taurids. Like the Southern Taurids, this is an extended shower with a low rate but a high number of fireballs. It is active from mid October to early December.

If you prefer to listen to meteor showers, check out the Draconids. Because of its position in the sky, the best time to observe these is actually late afternoon and early evening. That makes this a great shower to try out the radio observation techniques.

Moon

New on October 13

Full October 26 – this is the last “super moon” of the year.

Planets

Morning planet watchers are in for several treats this month. Even if you aren’t normally in early riser, you may want to get up on October 28 for a rare three planet conjunction. Mars, Venus, and Jupiter will all be within 1° of each other on that morning.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Three planets in a very short line on October 28.

Mercury reaches greatest Western Elongation on October 16, so the second and third week in October should be a great time to observe Mercury  in the morning.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Mercury at greatest elongation about an hour before sunrise on October 16.

Venus reaches greatest western elongation on October 26. It will be a good morning object for the rest of the year. However, it’s approaching a new Venus, so although it’s getting closer to us, it’s actually getting dimmer as well. It makes a tight group with Regulus and the Moon on October 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

A line of planets before dawn on Oct. 8.

Mars is overshadowed by the other brilliant morning planets. A thin crescent Moon passes it on October 9. It is less than half a degree from Jupiter on the 17.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

The Moon passes Mars on the morning of Oct 9.

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17p

Mars and Jupiter are VERY close just before dawn on October 17

Jupiter has fully emerged into the morning skies by the beginning of the month. If it weren’t for Venus, it would be the jewel of the morning skies. Look for it in conjunction with Venus on the 26th.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

A trio of planets so close you can fit them all in binoculars just before dawn on October 26.

Saturn quickly disappears into the evening twilight. Look for it with a crescent Moon at sunset on October 15 & 16.

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

The Moon and Saturn at dusk on October 15

If you have a telescope, October will be a great time to look for Uranus. It reaches opposition on October 11. If you can get away from the urban lights, you might even be able to catch it naked eye.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.

Uranus in the constellation of Pisces.