Saturn Gets Pinched!

   This morning as I was walking with Tyler and trying to neither step on him or miss a step and stumble, it was because I was looking at the sky more than the sidewalk. The sky was unusually clear and made for good seeing, maybe stars as dim as 3rd or 4th magnitude. Seriously, that is good where I live with the lights from the Kansas City metropolitan area lighting up the sky over my west to north horizon.
   Jupiter was very bright over the western horizon, the ‘twins’ stars Pollux and Castor were side by side off to the right, west, from Jupiter. On the east or left side from Jupiter is the heart of the Lion, Regulus.
30-31jan-southeast   But as I walked toward the west I kept glancing toward my left, south, to see the stars of Scorpius the Scorpion as they were rising. The Scorpion’s pincers and reddish Antares were easy to see, and it looked like the scorpion was grabbing Saturn in its pincers.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Interior and Inferior

inner-planets-positions

   Friday January 30th at 14 UT (8 am CST) the innermost planet Mercury reaches inferior conjunction. This is one of four points along an inner planet orbit, and at inferior conjunction Mercury is between the Earth and the Sun – like a new Moon phase.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

When the Moon Hits You in the Eye

   Thursday January 29th the waxing gibbous Moon passes by the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. From my latitude and longitude the two will be separated by 2-3 o and should make for an interesting binocular view.
   Aldebaran is one of the stars making up the open star cluster known as the Hyades. This v-shaped group of stars forms the Bull’s face with the point of the v-shape as the nose, and Aldebaran is one of the two stars making up the eyes.

   Asteroid 3 Juno, aka Juno, was the 3rd asteroid to be discovered as well as being one of the larger of the main belt asteroids. This asteroid, like all solar orbiting objects, have their own respective orbital position where the Earth is between the object and the Sun. This is know as opposition and Asteroid Juno, located just out of reach from the many headed serpent Hydra, reaches its opposition on January 29th.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

An EarthKam Mission

iss_flyover-ani   This coming week, the last one in January, is going to help make this month a more memorable month than I had previously thought.
   How so?
   Firstly January marks my 200th monthly column of Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine, the NSTA‘s Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers. In that column I wrote about Earth viewing missions.”A New Year, A New Earth View”. take-pics   Secondly, and very coincidentally, earlier this month an opportunity came up to apply to take part in the next scheduled Sally Ride EarthKam Mission. I was accepted and so this week will be for requesting images on the orbits between Sunday and Friday.
   “Doing this alone?” You ask.
   I have teamed up with two Science Teachers at Summit Lakes Middle School here in Lee’s Summit Missouri, and starting Monday morning students will begin making their requests. Also my college Astronomy class students will be requesting images as part of a lab lesson on tools Astronomers and Earth Science (among others) use.
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    Making requests is a simple 10 or so step process beginning with logging in to the web site. However the Teacher first needs to register at the mission website, and then register for the next mission. The teacher will receive a list of codewords a few days ahead of the actual mission dates. Each codeword may only be used once; one codeword = one picture request. I’ve prepared a guidebook of sorts using screen captures that steps through the process or logging in and making a request. A more detailed and useful guidebook is the one prepared by the Sally Ride EarthKam Mission folks. Some time ago I wrote a short blog about the EarthKam mission.
orbits-ani

   Our week looks promising for getting pictures of the southern hemisphere according to the mission orbit plotter. That is weather permitting. By clicking on the desired orbit group the map will then display the paths for that group. Remember that red lines show where it will be daylight and only when pictures could be taken.
zoom-ani

   Using Google Earth means that you are able to zoom in to better place your marker for a picture. There are limits to getting a ‘good’ picture, one taken from as directly overhead as possible. Specifically it is the distance from the ISS orbit path. The further away from the orbit path the lower the ISS will be relative to the horizon.

   I’ll share the pictures sometime next week after we get them.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon at Descending Node

25jandescending_node   Sunday January 25th at 10:23 UT (0:23 am CST) our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   
   
   
   
   
   That evening, Sunday, the waxing crescent Moon will be over the western horizon below the stars of Aries the Ram. The three brightest stars form a small bent line with the brightest star, Hamal, at the top end of the line.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon Meets Planets

   This evening, Wednesday January 21st the very thin waxing crescent Moon will be ‘binocular’ close to Venus.

   
   
   
   See my post previous post for more about these two evening conjunctions.

   Tomorrow evening, Thursday January 22nd, the Moon will have moved further east and will be close ‘binocular’ close to Mars and Neptune.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

January Perigee Moon

jan21perigee-moon    Our Moon orbits around the Sun with the Earth and from our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth, however in reality the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*.
   The 1.5-day old thin waxing crescent Moon reaches perigee this month on Wednesday January 21 th at 20:10 UT (2 pm CST). At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 28.2 Earth diameters (359,645 km or 223,473 miles) from the Earth. Adding to the evening viewing will be four planets above the western horizon, three of which are naked-eye visible.The Moon will be close enough to both Mercury and Venus that all three will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars. A little higher above the horizon is Mars within 2o from the planet Neptune, both of which will also fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars. Neptune at nearly 8th magnitude may be too dim to be visible with binoculars.
waxing-crescent-moom   This could be one of those opportunities to see a very young Moon, not a record youngest but nonetheless, worth trying to see. Because of the low angle of the Sun relative to the Moon the higher portions of crater rims and lunar mountains are in sunlight while their respective lower portions are still in shadow.
   On the side, so to speak, use binoculars or a low-power eyepiece and look at the unlit edge and along the cusps to see some of the higher peaks sparkling in sunset while their lower parts are still in shadow. The peaks look like they are not connected to the Moon as you can see in the lower left of this picture of a 2-3 day old waxing crescent Moon.

   
   
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.