Saturn at Opposition

saturn   On Sunday April 28th Saturn will reach a point along its orbit around the Sun that places it on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, or at opposition. At opposition, with the Earth between Saturn and the Sun, Saturn rises at local sunset time and is above the horizon all night setting at local sunrise time – much like a full Moon.

Follow the Arc...

Follow the Arc…

To help you locate Saturn and to add to your celestial thrills and chills you could recite a spring time astronomers mnemonic that connects the arc-shaped or curved handle of the Big Dipper with the reddish star Arcturus and the bluish-white star Spica. On the way from Arcturus to Spica you will pass above Saturn.

“Follow the arc to Arcturus and then speed to Spica.”

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

Preview May Issue of Qué tal

wordpress-voki   As the subject line states, the May preview issue of Qué tal in the Current Skies is now online and available at this temporary web address: http://currentsky.com/2013/may13/index.html
   It will be at its regular web address in a few days.

   Thank you for your support and encouragement.
   Clear Skies…
   Bob Riddle

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

ISS and the Twins

   At approximately 9:30 p.m. CDT this evening, 24 April, the ISS, International Space Station, flew over the midwest, and my home. The path took the ISS from the feet of the Gemini twins past the twin star Pollux. From the Twins the ISS flew through Cancer and then headed south toward the horizon where I lost sight of it because of the trees behind my house.
   The image sequence in the slideshow are a series of 2.5 second exposures and the streak of light in each picture is the light trail from the ISS. The last three pictures are as the ISS went behind trees.

moon-crop   The near full Moon and the bluish-white star Spica (Virgo) were toward the southeastern horizon but low enough to still be behind some of the trees.
   Click on the image to see the Moon and Spica.
   
   
   
   
   
   

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

Saturn, Full Moon, An Eclipse

saturn-moon   Thursday evening on 25 April the full Moon will be close to the planet Saturn, passing within about 4 degrees from the ringed planet. Both will be close enough to be viewed within the field of view of binoculars.
   Also earlier that day the upper edge of the full Moon will pass briefly through the Earth’s inner and darker umbral shadow causing a very partial lunar eclipse, as the banner graphic shows. Maximum eclipse is at 3:07 p.m. CDT (20:07 UT) and will last less than 30 minutes. The penumbral portion, when the Moon first enters the outer shadow, is at 1:03 p.m. CDT (18:03 UT). Use the NASA map to determine if any of the eclipse happens when the Moon is above the horizon where you live. For example in my time zone the eclipse will be over before moonrise.
   During the time before and following its brief encounter with the umbral shadow the Moon will be passing through the much fainter outer shadow, the penumbra. Even in dark skies noticing the slight decrease in the Moon’s brightness as it passes through the penumbra is hard to detect.

   Click here to go to the NASA Eclipse web site for more information and a map showing where the eclipse may be visible from.

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

It’s Our Home

   “It’s our home, our only home” is a quote I came across and copied into my collection. It is from a video I used in my classroom many years ago. Can’t remember the video name nor find it but nonetheless it makes a powerful statement about our home planet. So this posting is in the spirit of celebrating our home planet.
   Monday the 22nd is Earth Day, an annual event sponsored by individuals, groups, and organizations who are activists (this is a positive use of the word), or stewards striving to create a more healthy environment for all. This is accomplished through education as well as events such as Earth Day.
group-large   Two years ago I joined with a group of musicians to form Dark Matter, a group of educators, scientists, musicians, and artists with the initial purpose of producing a series of Astronomically-based videos that would accompany a live musical performance. The videos were originally developed for use in the full dome video system at the Gottleib Planetarium at Union Station in Kansas City. The dome was approximately 60 feet in diameter and could seat around 150. The original videos were warped to suit the projection system however the two below are flat screen versions of the videos.
   The performance was called Orbit and with that as a theme I developed the videos with the compositions the composers provided. The style of music is described as electro-acoustical and was a combination of live combined with digitized sound samples and real-time sound sampling as the musicians played. The videos below were the opening and closing compositions and both were called Water Meditation. In the first piece the flute is played by Rebecca Ashe, and the second piece has a clarinet played by Cheryl Melfi. Music is composed by Daniel Eichenbaum and Richard Johnson with Richard also doing the real-time sampling during the performance.

The Banner graphic is from a high altitude balloon launched as part of the production for another full dome video and live performance called Ascent. This was during the fall of 2011 and is a view from 95,000 feet of the two neighboring cities of Kansas City Missouri and Kansas Kansas City Kansas.

   Click here to go to the Dark Matter web site.

   Water Meditation – Flute by Richard Johnson: Earth is a water world with more than 70% of its surface covered with water. Gain a different perspective of the planet as you orbit the Earth with a satellite. Flute is played by Rebecca Ashe.

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   Water Meditation – Clarinet by Daniel Eichenbaum: As the closing composition I wanted to leave the audience with a sense of what it would be like to orbit the Earth with the International Space Station. So from that perspective we see a sunrise from orbit and our home planet as the rising Sun brightens the daylight side of the Earth. Clarinet is played by Cheryl Melfi.

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ed   Click here to go to the Earth Day web site.

epa   Click here to go to the Environmental Protection Agency web site for Earth Day information.

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

Aries Time – Part 2

astrological_sun   Today, 19 April, the Sun will not be entering the boundaries of Taurus the Bull as the pseudoscience astrology would suggest. In reality the Sun is currently one constellation before, to the west, from Taurus having just entered the western side of Aries the Ram yesterday.
   The Sun will cross into Taurus the Bull but not until the 14th of next month, May.
   Here is a little more information about this from a previous post.

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

It’s Aries Time

Along the Ecliptic

Along the Ecliptic

   At 5 p.m. CDT (22 UT) on the 18th, today, the sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic crosses the boundary between the constellations Pisces the Fishes and Aries the Ram as it enters the area of the sky containing the stars of Aries. This graphic shows the real position of the Sun on this date.
   The banner graphic at the top of this page shows a larger view of the area including the point, Vernal Equinox, where historically it was used to mark the starting point for the change of seasons from northern hemisphere winter to spring. This celestial position is referred to as the ‘First Point of Aries‘ even though the Sun is no longer at that position at the start of spring around March 20th. The shift of approximately one month is a result of a long term motion known as precession, or precession of the axis. precession circlePrecession is a wobble like motion the Earth has caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun and to a lesser extent, the Moon. The Earth leans at an angle of 23.5 degrees and over time, about 26,000 years the Earth wobbles and the poles of the Earth trace out a circle where any star on or near the precession circle will be the pole star.
   Another effect of precession, as the Earth wobbles, is that the celestial coordinate system, which is based on the Earth’s geographical coordinate system (latitude and longitude) moves or shifts toward the east with respect to the stars and constellations. The stars in the background stay fixed, more or less, in their location, while the celestial coordinates move as the Earth is precessing. The result is that several centuries ago the sun was in Aries at the start of spring, now the Sun is further west across Aries and has nearly precessed into Pisces.

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

Jupiter and Waxing Crescent Moon

9 p.m. CDT

9 p.m. CDT

   This evening the Moon once again begins its phase cycle – well actually it started a couple of days ago, on the 10th with a new Moon. Tonight after sunset the 4-day old waxing crescent Moon is close to the planet Jupiter and the two open star clusters in Taurus, as the banner graphic at the top of this page shows. These open star clusters are the Pleiades, marking the shoulder of the Bull, and the v-shaped Hyades forming the face of Taurus. This graphic shows the Moon and Jupiter as seen with a pair of 7×50 binoculars. The Moon will be about 3 degrees from Jupiter.

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

Tag It, Bag It, Bring It Home

Capturing An asteroid

Capturing An asteroid

   Is this a rock-hound’s dream come true or what?!
   NASA has announced plans for a proposed mission to the asteroid belt that will involve capturing a small asteroid and bringing it back to Earth orbit. Once in Earth orbit a crew of astronauts will launch and rendezvous with the asteroid, collect samples from the asteroid, and then return to Earth where the samples will be studied. Initial plans call for the asteroid capture to take place in 2019 with the astronaut crew launching in 2021 aboard the Orion spacecraft.
   The soundless video below shows the proposed mission from asteroid capture to astronaut return of samples.

   Click here to read the NASA press release about this mission.

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

Not Going To Happen

meteors   This picture was recently posted on Facebook and unfortunetaly, despite the positive ‘feel-good’ intent of the message, it is incorrect. Yes, on april 22nd there will be a meteor shower, one known as the Lyrids, named for the constellation Lyra the Harp where the origin point, the radiant for the meteor shower is located. Meteors streak outward from the radiant in all directions. The Lyrid Meteor Shower, like all meteor showers occurs over a spread of days with at least one day as the peak when the maximum number of meteors per hour happens. The Lyrids are active between April 16 and 25 with the 22nd-23rd as the peak period.
   No there will not be “thousands” of meteors, however the Lyrids have a ZHR (zenith hourly rating) of an average around 20 per hour, sometimes reaching as many as 90 per hour. This of course is assuming good seeing conditions.

april22   So what makes the above Facebook-posted graphic incorrect? It is how the viewing is described without the caveat that this will not be a good year for the Lyrid Meteor Shower simply because the waxing Gibbous Moon will be in the sky at the same time. Click on the graphic to the right to see a larger version showing the sky at 10:30 pm CDT. The waxing gibbous Moon, a couple of days away from full, will be brightening the sky enough to make any but the very brightest of the meteors visible.

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