Life in Tornado Alley

   Living in western Missouri near the stateline with Kansas places us in the area of the midwest known as “Tornado Alley”. While we have been very fortunate to not have had any tornadoes close by we have had to deal with the severe weather that accompanies tornadoes – including winds over 50 mph, and like this morning some really heavy torrential rains with thunder and lightning. In the span of less than 30 minutes the creek (aka the ‘river’ as our granddaughters call it) rose over its banks and flooded into the backyard. The base of the creek is at least 3 feet below the bottom of the fence and as the pictures show the water rose more than halfway up the fence and into the yard.

A 1-minute look at the storm and flooding this morning.

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

Preview June Issue of Qué tal

wordpress-voki   As the subject line states, the June preview issue of Qué tal in the Current Skies is now online and available at this temporary web address:
   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.

Planets ‘Close Dancing’

   This evening, Sunday 26 May, the three planets, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus, will be at their closest to each other during this series of conjunctions. All three planets are moving eastward following their respective orbital paths. The Sun is also moving eastward however this is an apparent motion as it is the Earth doing the moving while the Sun appears to be moving. By comparing the respective orbital speeds in terms of how many degrees each planet and the Sun moves each day it is easy to see how the Sun is able to overtake and pass Jupiter, while the two inner planets are able to move ahead of the Sun as they are doing currently.

Along the Ecliptic

Along the Ecliptic

   Our view and subsequent perspective of the motions of the planets and the Sun come about from all of the planets essentially orbiting the sun at about the same plane, or level as this graphic shows. From this perspective planets seem to move from one side of the Sun to the other. The ecliptic is the sun’s apparent path – the Earth’s orbit. The other seven planets and one dwarf planet, Ceres, all have orbits within about 7 degrees from the ecliptic.
   The banner picture at the top of the page shows the arrangement of the three planets in conjunction and the position of the Earth for today. As you can see the conjunction is nothing more than a line of sight arrangement of the three planets.

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

Scorpion Grabs the Moon

25 May - 11 pm CDT

25 May – 11 pm CDT

   This evening as the full Moon rises in the east it will be in the grasp of the Scorpion’s pincers as this graphic shows. Just below the Moon is the reddish ‘anti-Mars’, Antares, the heart of the Scorpion. I say ‘anti-Mars or more correctly anti-Ares as the name given to this reddish star was meant to distinguish it from the similarly reddish colored planet Mars. Ares is the Greek name for Mars.
   Over the next several evenings the Moon will be rising about an hour later each evening and will be further east from where it is today. Were it not for the bright reflected light coming off the Moon it would be possible to appreciate this area of the starry skies as this is where the Milky Way is very visible arcing down toward the south horizon from nearly overhead. aug25Looking toward the tail of the Scorpion is looking toward the center of our galaxy, some 20,000-30,000 light years away. It is also in this part of the sky where there are many nebula and star clusters visible to the naked-eye and binoculars. Best views of this part of the sky will come later during northern hemisphere summer months as this sneak peek at this part of the sky during August shows.

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

Dance of the Planets

23 May to 11 June - 8:30 pm CDT

23 May to 11 June – 8:30 pm CDT

   In my posting yesterday I described the orbital motions of these three planets without the use of a graphic to help visualize that explanation. This animated graphic that is set to one-day intervals starts with today’s date and then runs for a few weeks. This gives enough time to see how both Mercury and Venus are moving eastward while it appears that Jupiter is moving in the opposite direction, west towards the Sun. Jupiter is in fact moving eastward but considerably slower than the Sun’s apparent eastward motion. The net effect is that Jupiter sets earlier and earlier as the Sun gets closer, and eventually Jupiter moves behind the Sun.

   Both Mercury and Venus were recently on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth at superior conjunction. Coming from that relative position both planets travel eastward until they reach a point with respect to the Sun that we see as the furthest apart, or the greatest angular separation between the Sun and Mercury or Venus. This happens on either side of the Sun and are known as elongations. Since both planets are on the east side of the Sun they are both heading toward eastern elongation. In the animated graphic above you can see all of Mercury’s orbit on the east side of the Sun including the part where Mercury reaches eastern elongation and heads back toward the Sun. Because Venus is further from the sun it has a longer orbital period around the sun and likewise a longer orbital path so Venus’s orbital path on the graphic extends past the edge.


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

3 Amigos!

3planets-text   This evening, Wednesday 22 May, at sunset or shortly after look toward the west northwest horizon to see a trio of planets – Jupiter with Mercury and Venus lower to the right. All three planets will be close enough to be seen in the same field of view of binoculars through the end of this month as this animated graphic shows.

   What is going on? Jupiter is getting closer to the Sun – setting earlier each evening. This is due to the Sun’s apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic which in reality is the Earth’s orbital motion. Since the Earth orbits faster than Jupiter the Sun will catch up with Jupiter as is happening over the next weeks. Meanwhile Mercury and Venus both orbit faster than the Earth and certainly Jupiter so they are able to quickly catch up and pass Jupiter in a manner of days. Both of the inner planets are moving eastward currently.

   Looking Ahead: Starting with 1 June, Mercury and then Venus will pass through a part of the sky near the feet of the Gemini Twins. In this area are several open star clusters that may be visible with binoculars given good sky conditions. Easily seen with low power telescopes with a low magnification or wide field of view eyepiece.

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

Moon, Spica, and Saturn

21-23 May - 10 pm CDT

21-23 May – 10 pm CDT

   Tonight, 21 May, and tomorrow the 22nd, the waxing gibbous Moon will pass by the bright blue-white star Spica and the planet Saturn to the east (left) from Spica. This part of the sky is interesting, as are all parts of the sky, however in this area is a menagerie of animals including Corvus the Crow, Crater the Cup (or wine goblet), Hydra the Many Headed Snake, Leo the Lion, and of course the Harvest Maiden Virgo.

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

Free Engineering Book

book   Just a quick note to alert you to a free book download for the Kindle. The book, Engineering Stories, is written by an engineer colleague of mine, and contains seven short fiction stories about engineers and how they do what they do. The stories are well written and allow the reader to follow the path an engineer takes from initial brainstorming through the development process to the final product.
   If you are doing anything related to STEM education or are just a curious type then I would recommend this book for you and your students.
   The entire book is available as separate stories and are all free and each may be downloaded from the author’s web site address.
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.

Sun Not in Gemini Today

4:00 p.m. CDT

4:00 p.m. CDT

   Monday 20 May at 4 p.m. CDT the Sun will cross into the constelltion of Gemini the Twins according to the pseudoscience of astrology. However in reality the Sun is within the constellation of Taurus the Bull due to circumstances beyond our control.
   The Earth wobbles on its axis and causes precession of the axes which in turn, among other things, causes the celestial grid system to shift moving the original signs of the zodiac at least one constellation to the west. In effect whatever your zodiacal sign may be according to astrology, you are really the constellation before it according to Astronomy and on this day, the real position of the Sun is still within Taurus the Bull.

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

Moon, Meets A Lion

leo1   This evening the first quarter Moon is close to the star Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion.

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