Moon, Jupiter, and ISS

   Last night proved to be too overcast to get a good picture of the Moon and Jupiter rising together. This was about the clearest picture I was able to get as the sky got progressively cloudy throughout the evening.
   This morning it was nearly as cloudy and especially in the direction of the setting Moon and Jupiter. However there were breaks in the clouds and at the predicted time of 6:09 a.m. CST the International Space Station popped into view above the northwest horizon. This particular fly-over took the ISS to an altitude of 65 degrees as it headed southeastward toward Venus and Saturn. It faded from view 3 minutes later, before reaching that part of the sky though, again at the predicted time.

ISS and the Big Dipper

   I did manage to get one picture of the ISS, the short blurred line, as it crossed the stars on the Big Dipper.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Moon by Jove

November 28 – Moon near Jupiter

   During Wednesday evening, the 28th, and after sunset, the rising full Moon will be very close to the planet Jupiter. Earlier in the day, as the Sun rises and the full Moon sets the Moon passes through the Earth’s outer dimmer shadow, the penumbra. This type of lunar eclipse is one that is difficult to see because the Moon does not darken as it would if its path through the Earth’s shadow took it part way or all the way into the darker inner shadow, the umbra. This eclipse if noticed would be seen as a slight darkening of the northern half of the Moon. From my longitude of 94 degrees west the eclipse occurs at around moonset. And for those keeping track of such things this full Moon is the smallest of the year – a Super-Mini Moon!
   Click here to see a NASA page showing where the eclipse will occur while still above the horizon. Basically the eclipse will be visible from most of eastern Africa, Europe, Asia and South Pacific between moonrise and moonset.

Click here to download my October 2012 Scope on the Skies column ‘Apparent Sizes, It Was This Big‘, about apparent sizes and how we have ‘super’ and ‘mini’ Moons.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Moon Near the Pleiades

27 November – 8 p.m. CST

   This evening the waxing gibbous Moon is within 4-5 degrees from the open star cluster the Pleiades as this graphic shows.
   The Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters, is open star cluster of several hundred (to possibly more than 1,000) stars with the brightest dozen or so visible to the naked eye at about a combined 1st magnitude brightness. This star cluster has been observed and named by many cultures around the world and was designated as M-45 by French Astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier in his catalog of celestial objects he had ruled out as non-comets. Given its size at about 2-degrees the Pleiades are hard not to notice, even at times like this evening when the near full Moon is close. When you observe this star cluster you are looking at relatively young stars located around 300-400 light years from us. In time-exposure images there is often some nebulosity shown surrounding some of the stars. This is not remnants of the material the stars formed out of but rather is an interstellar cloud of dust and gases that the star cluster is passing through.

   Tomorrow the Moon meets Jupiter, is eclipsed, and is this year’s “Super-Mini” Moon.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Earth Rising

   This morning, despite the cool temperature, had some clear skies that allowed for a good view of Venus and Saturn, as well as the bright star Spica and Arcturus, and several other winter morning favorites. Were this morning a web page I might have Bookmarked it!! So, while enjoying the viewing I was also sort of counting down the remaining days for observing Venus. As this small animated graphic shows, over the next couple of weeks Venus will grow smaller (isn’t that a contradiction!) in apparent size but will at the same time wax, or increase its phase appearance, toward a full Venus. However we cannot see Venus, nor Mercury, in a full phase. These changes in appearance are a result of Venus (and or Mercury), as an inner planet, moving in its orbit around the Sun toward the opposite side of the Sun from us – to what is known as superior conjunction. It is at superior conjunction when an inner planet is at full phase. So at best we can observe Venus or Mercury in all phases except when at full phase unlike all phases for our Moon.

Sunrise on Venus

   Venus is a curious planet in many ways including that it has a retrograde rotation (east to west) compared with Earth and that one rotation (day) on Venus lasts 5,832 hours (243 Earth days). That is 19 Earth days longer than its 224 Earth day year! Because Venus rotates ‘backward’, compared with here on Earth, from Venus the Sun and other celestial objects would rise in the west and set in the east – as this animated graphic is showing. Each frame in the animation is 1 Earth day, so instead of hours before sunrise, on Venus it would be days before sunrise!
   Click here to download one of my Scope on the Skies columns about an activity to do with Moon phases and phases of Venus.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Preview December Qué tal

   The December issue of Qué tal is online at its temporary location. Click here to see the December issue. It will move to the regular location by the end of this month.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Saturn Rising

Saturn Meets Venus

   Following its solar conjunction during October the planet Saturn now moves into the pre-dawn morning skies on the western side of the Sun. As the Earth moves along its orbital path around the Sun, the Sun with its apparent motion along the ecliptic toward the east gives the appearance of moving away from Saturn. Gradually the distance between the Sun and Saturn increases resulting in Saturn rising earlier each day.
Try this: Observe Saturn at the same time each morning and you will notice that Saturn is appearing higher above the horizon at the same time.
   Venus is also on the move eastward and since its orbital speed is greater than the Earth and the Sun’s apparent speed it (Venus) will catch up with the Sun in the next month or so. Along the way Venus will pass by Saturn, coming within 1-degree, on the mornings of November 26th and 27th as this animated graphic shows. The graphic is set at 1 frame per day and shows the sky at 6:40 a.m. CST.

   The video below is a clip from a longer one I developed for a Planetarium performance last year. The longer video, Orbit, was part of a series of full-dome videos that were developed to be accompanied by original musical scores written by Daniel Eichenbaum, and performed live by Dark Matter under the 60-foot dome at the Arvin Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City, MO.

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Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Follow the Arc

The ‘Evening Arc’

   There is an ‘old’ Astronomical saying, a sort of memory aid, for finding at least two constellations by way of their alpha, or brightest star in their respective constellation. In Bootes the Herdsman there is the orange-reddish star Arcturus, and in Virgo the Harvest Maiden the bluish-white star Spica. The saying – “follow the arc to Arcturus, then speed to Spica” is how you connect these two stars with the curve, or arc, in the handle of the Big Dipper. Simply look toward the north to find the 7 stars making up the Big Dipper, look for the curved handle and follow the arc or curve toward Arcturus and then continue on to Spica. This is typically done during the Northern Hemisphere spring and summer season when Bootes and Virgo are in the evening skies. However you can start this observation at sunset by looking northwest for the Big Dipper and then toward the southwest for the star Arcturus. Do this early enough as Arcturus sets about an hour after sunset and in the next couple of weeks Arcturus will become too close to the Sun and will not be visible again until later during the winter as a morning visible star.

The ‘Morning arc’

   And you could continue this observation the following morning as this part of the sky rises before the Sun and you trace out the arc passing through Arcturus and ending at Spica. As the ‘Morning Arc’ graphic shows the planet Venus is close to Spica.
   Keep an eye on this part of the sky as later this month the planets Saturn and Mercury start becoming visible before sunrise. On the 26th Venus will be very close to Saturn. As the graphic shows the two planets will be close enough for both to fit within the field of view of binoculars.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

100 K Worth of Stars

100,000 Stars

   Folks at Google have just released an interesting display for the Chrome web browser that shows 100,000 stars in the area around our part of the Milky Way Galaxy. The display includes background music and is capable of allowing one to zoom in and out, roll the display in different directions, and select the display to show the spectral index and star colors. Clicking on individually labeled stars zooms into a closer view of the star (artwork), and some text describing some of the features/properties of that star. There is also a tour option that starts close to the Sun and then slowly zooms out with pauses at selected distances to briefly explain that particular point in space.
   Coming across this web site is rather timely as my classes are just now starting their unit on stars, with this week about spectra. Two other similar web sites they will be examining are NASA’s Mission Science web site, and the Chromoscope web site.
   While the 100,000 Stars display is interesting and fun to play around with there are other web-based tools for visualizing our space. There is the World Wide Telescope that does similar things as well as much much more. On a more local perspective there is the Solar System Scope web site, and NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Solar Eclipse Video

   Here is a link to the BBC web site showing the total solar eclipse as seen from Cairns, Queensland, Australia. The video starts just before totality and ends shortly after totality.
   Total Solar Eclipse BBC video.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Jupiter Rising

Jupiter Rising

   This month brings the largest planet, Jupiter, into view as it is now rising in the east at around 9 p.m. local time and remains visible above the horizon throughout the remainder of the night. If you somehow miss Jupiter in the evening and are up and out before sunrise look west for Jupiter. On the other hand, if you are still outside facing east at sunrise check out Venus shining even brighter than Jupiter.

Daily Position of the Galilean Satellites

   Jupiter’s Moons
   One enjoyable pasttime is to observe the constantly changing four largest moons orbiting Jupiter. Sometimes known as the Galilean Satellites, they are: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Named after Galileo who made many observations of the moons and from these observations and others led him to question the Geocentric model of the solar system. These four planet-sized moons are visible as small bright stars on either side of Jupiter and depending on the time and date of viewing their arrangement around Jupiter is never the same as this animated graphic is showing. Each change is one day and this graphic shows the Moons at 9 p.m. from today through the end of this month.

   Recreate Galileo’s observations of the Galilean satellites through the use of an online simulation, the Java applet, Juplet. Input dates or times to see the position of the four Galilean satellites. The Juplet will display the planet and the satellite configuration for the date and time on the computer, or you could easily edit the date and time, and after pressing the Enter key see a different configuration. To keep track of these changes the position of each satellite relative to Jupiter could be drawn on a data table similar to Galileo’s data table.

   This video, ‘Orbs of Jupiter’, was one of the videos I made for a live musical performance at the Gottleib Planetarium at Science City in Kansas City MO. The original videos were made for full-dome projection – this one has been flattened. Music was written by Richard Johnson and performed by Rebecca Ashe (Flute) and Cheryl Melfi (Clarinet). Live and pre-recorded Electro-acoustical sampling by Richard Johnson and Daniel Eichenbaum. The soundtrack for the video is from the live performance by Dark Matter.

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Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.