Dawn at Sunrise

Asteroid Vesta

Asteroid Vesta

   This NASA picture of the day is from the NASA/JPL Dawn mission now more or less at the halfway point. The picture is a beautiful mosaic of asteroid Vesta showing an incredible amount of detail in surface features. Vesta is the third largest object in the main asteroid belt, following Ceres (now a Dwarf Planet) and Pallas. Vesta was the first of two stops that the Dawn spacecraft has been scheduled to make. Having left Vesta during September 2012 after a one-year visit to Vesta the Dawn spacecraft is now on its way to the largest object in the main belt – Dwarf Planet Ceres. Arrival at Ceres will be during spring of 2015.

   Click on the picture of Vesta to go to the press release page, or click here to go to the Dawn mission web site for more information, multimedia, and resources for educators, parents (the same!), and kids.

Click on image to see full size.

Click on image to see full size.

   This graphic shows a view looking eastward at 11 UT, (6 am CDT). on 1 October. There are a number of objects of interest all of which are staggered in a stair-step pattern toward the horizon. (Not shown because it is higher above the horizon is Jupiter near the Gemini Twins.)
   The very thin 26-day old waning crescent Moon is close to the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. Regulus is the bottom of a group of stars arranged in a backward question mark. Can you find those stars?.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Further down the ‘stairs’ are Vesta and Ceres. Vesta is at about 7th magnitude, while Ceres is at 8th magnitude, this means that both are too dim to be seen with the naked-eye. However just looking toward that area and knowing that we have a spacecraft that is traveling from one to the other is kind of cool. However #2 is that with a telescope or time exposure pictures a person would be able to see and follow the asteroids as they slowly move along their respective orbital paths. These two are located near the three stars forming the triangle-shaped backside of the Lion, a shape recognizable by anyone familiar with the constellation.
   As an added bonus Comet ISON is right along side of Mars. Although currently too dim in magnitude for naked-eye or binocular/small telescope viewing a person could start their personal observations of the comet as it moves toward perihelion in November, and then possibly put on a good display during December. Viewing this same part of the sky at about the same time you can follow the comet as its path takes it past Vesta and Ceres during the first week of November.

   I’ll periodically post about the comet including describing my digital camera photography attempts, however there are many easily found places on the web with information about the comet.

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

October Qué tal Now Available

october que tal   As the subject line says the October issue is now online and available.
   Many interesting celestial events this month including one minor meteor showers, a partial penumbral lunar eclipse, and conjunctions with our Moon, planets, and stars. In the east before sunrise look for Jupiter to be the point of a right-triangle with the ‘twin’ stars. Mars will pass by the star Regulus in Leo and will have a temporary traveling companion – Comet ISON. Both will be within a couple of degrees from one another but will have very contrasting apparent magnitudes. Mars is naked-eye visible and the comet is not.

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

ISS This Morning

Click on picture to see it full screen size.

Click on picture to see it full screen size.

   This morning was picture perfect, literally, despite a few high cirrus clouds and the threat of dense fog moving in. Overnight the temperatures dropped to around 50F after a day of rain so it was cool and wet in the backyard as I set up. For this labeled picture the camera had been set to an ISO of 1600, aperture to F5.6, shutter speed was 2.5 seconds, and the lens was backed out (focal length) to 18mm. The original that this was cropped from is 5184×3456 in size.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   This was the second sighting, or fly over, for the ISS this morning with the first one around 4:30 am. The path that one followed was too low for me to see it, however this one lasted for about 6 minutes from 6:46 am – 6:52 am, and its path took it to an altitude of 85 degrees, or nearly straight up. It passed close by the star Capella in Auriga the Charioteer as it reached its greatest altitude heading for the southeast horizon. Along the way, as this graphic shows, the ISS went between the stars marking the Gemini Twins heads, Castor and Pollux and the planet Jupiter.
   
ISs and Moon

ISS and Moon

And then went right past the waning crescent Moon as this picture shows. This is cropped from the original 5184×3456 picture. Specs for that picture are aperture at F8, 1/3 second shutter speed, ISO 800, and the lens (focal length) was set at 25 mm.
   The slideshow below is a series of pictures taken as fast as I could click the shutter release. Each exposure is at the same settings as the cropped picture of the ISS and Moon. In each of the pictures the ISS appears as the moving small dashed line.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   

                  Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.


   Some software and websites for tracking and planning photo opportunities. A Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro, the ISS Sightings web site, SATVIEW web site, and the Starry Night software.

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

September Apogee Moon

Click on graphic to see it full screen size.

Moonset over Canyon DeChelly

   Our Moon orbits around the Sun with the Earth and from our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle the Earth each month. The Moon also has a slightly elliptical-shaped orbit allowing for the Moon to have a furthest (apogee) and closest (perigee) distances from the Earth each month. This month the 22.6 days old last quarter Moon reaches apogee at 1 pm CDT today, 27 September, and will more or less be at a distance of 32 Earth diameters (404,308 km or 252,255 miles).
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   So, speaking of the Moon, or actually writing about it, if you are out and about before or around sunrise Saturday morning the waning crescent Moon will be near the side of Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins, and within a few degrees from the planet Jupiter.

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

Mars and Comet Nevski–Novichonok (aka ISON)

Click on graphic to see it full screen size.

Click on graphic to see it full screen size.

   Looking toward the eastern horizon before sunrise tomorrow morning, Friday the 27th, you will easily be able to see the brightly shining planet Jupiter forming the point of a right triangle that includes the Gemini Twins head stars, Pollux and Castor. Lower toward the horizon is the much fainter reddish glow from the planet Mars. On its way toward the Sun and perihelion at the end of November and passing within 2 degrees from Mars is Comet C/2012 S1 ISON as the banner graphic at the top of the page shows Mars and the comet within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars. This is not the only morning for the two to be in the same line of sight and within a few degrees of each other as the comet’s path takes it toward the southeast horizon and past Mars. By mid-month October they will be even closer.
   Comet ISON is just now becoming visible with larger telescopes or through the lens of a camera set for a time exposure picture. So how bright is the comet currently? Well for comparison Jupiter shines at -2.23 magnitude, the two ‘twins’ stars, Pollux and Castor, are both around 1st magnitude, 1.15 and 1.56 respectively. Mars, at 1.58 magnitude is about as bright as Pollux and Castor, while Comet ISON is much much fainter with an estimated magnitude around 10. Based on the initial predictions the comet is about 2 magnitudes dimmer. This does not mean it will not become a bright naked-eye comet in the coming months – that we still do not know for certain.

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

Rock On

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens - September 1980

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens – Sep. 1980

   Whether you are a teacher of Earth Sciences, a ‘closet’ Geomorphologist like me, or one who is interested in the Earth, then you will probably agree that the following web sites have a lot to offer for teaching or learning more about our active planet.
   NASA’s web site, Earth Observatory is the home of images of the Earth from the many orbiting satellites dedicated to monitoring changes in the Earth – in this case the surface features. Look for a link on the web site for the ‘World of Changes’ where you may see the many pictures of the Earth’s surface and changes in forests and oceans, for example, that have taken place over the past several decades. This picture was taken by a Landsat satellite four months after the May 1980 eruption of the volcano Mt. St. Helens. At the World of Changes web site you can view a series of images of the volcano that span thirteen years and show how the area that was devastated has slowly recovered. Click here to see the images of Mt. St. Helens.

   Here are links to three short videos on YouTube produced by the USGS, United States Geological Service, that explain in basic terms some interesting information about the ways scientists measure volcanic activity.

    Volcanic Deformation
    Gas Monitoring
    Volcanic Earthquakes

   Our National Park Service, NPS, has enhanced their web site with some useful resources for teachers on part of their web site called, Come and experience your America in a new way.

   Here is a link to a WordPress science writer I follow. Stephanie Sykora is a Geologist living in Australia. However from her writings she never seems to be at home! Instead she is somewhere in the world exploring and writing about many of the Earth’s geological features and processes. Since my blog today is about volcanoes I thought it appropriate to include a link to her recent blog, The Real Mount Doom… and The Real Mount Doom – Volcanoes in Taupo, New Zealand.

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

September Equinox

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   On Sunday 22 September at 3:44 pm CDT the Sun will have reached the astronomical coordinates of 0 degrees declination and 12 hours of right ascension, or RA. This places the Sun within the boundaries of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, or as some would say, “the Sun is in Virgo.”
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Declination is the astronomical equivalent to latitude measuring from 0 degrees at the equator to 90 degrees at either pole. Right ascension, or RA, is like longitude except that there is only east RA. The globe is divided into 24 sections, and like meridians of longitude, these hour circles are 15 degrees wide at the celestial equator and taper to a ‘point’ at the north and south pole respectively. In RA the ‘hour’ circles are counted from 0 hours to 23 hours. The 0 hour circle is at the intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator in the constellation of Pisces the Fishes.
Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   In a class lesson about seasons today would be one of the two days during the year when the Sun would be described as being over the Earth’s equator. If you were at the Earth’s equator the Sun would have an altitude of 90 degrees, or straight up in your sky at your local time for midday. At that moment there would not be a shadow. However at any other latitude, north or south at midday, the Sun would be at an angle less than 90 degrees and there would be a midday shadow. (Midday is the local time when the Sun is halfway between local rising time and local setting time. At any midday the Sun is at its maximum altitude above the southern horizon in the northern hemisphere, or is at its maximum altitude above the northern horizon in the southern hemisphere.)
   What is often most notable about an equinox day is the reminder that equinox means equal night as a reference to there being equal amounts of daylight, and night. Also on an equinox day the Sun would rise due east and set due west for virtually everywhere on the globe. The times for sunrise and sunset would be approximately 12 hours apart, and the rising time would be around 6 am local time, and the setting time would be around 6 pm local time.

Hola Moon doh

Hola ‘Moo’ndo! Think Globally.

   So why “September Equinox” instead of using the more familiar “Fall Equinox”. Primarily because the southern hemisphere is also changing seasons on this day however for the southern hemisphere this is the start of their spring season. Despite the opposite seasons it is somewhat of a northern hemisphere bias that traditionally we would call this day the “Autumnal or Fall Spring Equinox”, and in March we would say the “Spring” or “Vernal Equinox”. I favor the use of the name of the month so that regardless of which hemisphere it is just simply the March equinox or the September equinox, and by extension we would also have the June solstice and the December solstice..
   
   This short video shows students at Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a school in Quito Ecuador, measuring the altitude of the sun hourly on the day of the 2004 September Equinox. They were taking part in Project SunShIP, Sun Shadow Investigation Project. There are also some pictures showing a local midday shadow from other participating schools in the United states.

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

Tracking Satellites – Online

   In planning for a photo opportunity with either or both the International Space Station and an Iridium Satellite flare I use each of the 3 web sites displayed in the slideshow below in addition to the information provided by the Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro. If my Knidle is not available I go online to the NASA Spot the Station web site for important viewing information including where and when the ISS is visible, and the duration of its visibility. The link here takes you to where you choose a location. Once selected the sighting opportunities will be calculated for that location.
iss-ani   Another online resource is the SATVIEW web site. Your ISP will be detected and used to determine your general location like latitude, longitude, and timezone. This information is then used by the web site to calculate satellite visibilities and other data for your location. You may select from a list of satellites to track and then watch its orbital path on a larger Mercator projection type map of the Earth. Superimposed on top of this map is an animated graphic that shows the satellite from above in motion as it orbits the Earth’s surface below. Below these maps is a data stream display of location information, speed, altitude and so on, and is constantly updating.
   The AstroViewer web site shows an animated graphic as if looking down from the ISS as it orbits above the Earth’s surface. It also displays a data stream of information about the ISS as well as the orbital path plotted on a world map. The ‘ground track’ shows the path the ISS is following and is updated every second. Clicking on the snapshot button opens a new browser window with a larger and more detailed graphic of what the ISS was orbiting above. Additionally you may get a visibility listing for a location similar to the list from the NASA web site.
   This particular web site, AstroViewer, requires the use of Java and if you have heeded any of the cautionary reports about using Java then your computer should either not allow Java and subsequently not show the animated graphics, or you will be prompted to allow the use of Java.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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

Venus-Saturn Conjunction Series

Venus and Saturn 17-23 September

Venus and Saturn 17-23 September

   This evening and for the next several evenings look between the southwestern and western horizons for the very bright inner planet Venus. Just above Venus is the not nearly as bright outer planet Saturn as the page banner shows –which by the way is not drawn to scale. In this animated graphic set for 1-day intervals, Venus is moving eastward and will pass Saturn, which is also moving eastward.
   Both of these planets are in motion as each is moving at its own speed eastward as we view them from the Earth. The Sun is also moving eastward but this is an apparent motion caused by the Earth revolving around the Sun. The net result of the Earth’s actual motion and the Sun’s apparent motion is that the area of the sky where the two planets are located is moving westward and setting a bit earlier each evening. The Sun’s apparent daily motion eastward from revolution (not rotation) is at the Earth’s daily orbital rate of approximately 1 degree per day which is faster than Saturn’s daily orbital rate of approximately 0.035 degrees per day. So Saturn and its part of the sky shifts westward while Saturn is moving eastward from its own orbital motion, but obviously slower than the Sun’s apparent motion.

Venus and Saturn 17-23 September

Venus and Saturn 17-23 September

   In this simulated 7×50 binocular view of the two planets you can again see how the two planets respective daily orbital rates compare. And as you watch, the star Zubenelgenubi, a near 3rd magnitude star in the constellation Libra, moves from left to right (east to west) into the scene. Since we consider stars to be fixed objects in the sky (actually they all do have their own motions) we could use Zubenelgenubi as a means of comparing the relative speeds of these objects.

Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   What would really add to this conjunction would be to have the crescent Moon as part of it as was the situation on the evening of 1 December 2008 when the waxing crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter joined for a triple conjunction. This was taken with my older 6 megapixel Canon Powershot Camera on a tripod with the aperture set to F8; shutter speed to 1-second, and ISO was on automatic.

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

Sun Enters Virgo Today

Click on image to see it full size.

Click on image to see it full size.

   Today the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic moves out of the constellation Leo the Lion and into the constellation of Virgo the Harvest Maiden. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position. However Virgo is a wide constellation so while the Astronomical Sun today is at the western edge of the constellation boundary for Virgo, the astrological Sun is also still within Virgo but at the far eastern side of the constellation. And according to astrology in five days the Sun crosses over from Virgo into Libra. In reality the Sun will cross over from Virgo into Libra in about 1.5 months – but not until 30 October. (See slideshow below)

   
                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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