Mercury at East Elongation

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Mercury reaches a point in its orbit called greatest eastern elongation. As this graphic shows the inner planet Mercury is more or less at a right angle (90o) from the Sun and Earth. From the surface of the Earth, your backyard, for example, Mercury is to the left, or eastern side of the Sun and is setting after the Sun.
mercury-orbit-ani   At eastern elongation Mercury, or for that matter Venus the other inner planet, are as far out from the Sun as we see them and as a result Mercury or Venus will set at the latest time in this orbit. From eastern elongation forward Mercury or Venus will be setting earlier each evening as the planet is moving in retrograde, westward, toward the Sun and inferior conjunction. With luck and a clear horizon the very thin waxing crescent Moon, approximately 30 or so hours old, may be just visible to the right from Mercury.

   
   
   
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’s 2nd Perigee Moon

jan30perigee   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.
   This month the 28.92 day old waning crescent Moon reaches perigee for the second time this month, Thursday 30 January, at 9:52 UT (3:52 am CST). At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 27.99 Earth diameters (356,774 km or 221, 664 miles) from the Earth.
   The Moon reaches the new phase about 11 hours later at 21:39 UT (3:39 pm CST).

   
   
   
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.

Thin Moon – Thin Venus

28jan   Tuesday morning look toward the southeast sky for a thin 26.8 day old waning crescent Moon about 7 degrees to the right (west) from the bright Venus. Both objects will fit within the field of view of most binoculars.
   Both Venus and our Moon show a similar phase appearance for the same reason – the relative angle between the Earth, Sun, Moon, and Venus. The banner graphic is an exaggerated view of Venus and our Moon but I did this to show their similar appearance.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

    Venus and the Moon are in the same approximate direction, and Venus is moving westward out away from the Sun while the Moon is moving eastward toward the Sun and 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.

Dude! What’s That on your Ankle?

oph-ani   Monday morning look toward the southeast horizon an hour or so before sunrise local time and you will see the 25.5 day old waning crescent Moon. What you may not see is the 13th constellation of the zodiac, Ophiuchus the Healer. As my cleverly animated graphic is showing Ophiuchus is indeed part of the zodiac based on the ‘rule of thumb’ for determining this. If the Sun’s apparent path, aka the ecliptic, cuts across the boundary of a constellation, then that constellation is a zodiac constellation. Of course I am referring to the Astronomical Zodiac as opposed to the 12 signs acknowledged by the pseudoscience astrology.

   
   
   
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.

Saturn-Moon Conjunction

   This morning the waning crescent Moon passed within 1 degree from the planet Saturn. I spent about an hour outside, from 6:30 to 7:30 or so, and in that time waited until the Moon and Venus moved out from behind the occulting tree branches of an Oak tree in the backyard; took pictures of Saturn and the Moon, then an ISS flyover, and then back to Saturn and the Moon. I completely forgot about Mars near Spica and the very bright Venus rising through the trees. Next time!
    The two pictures below represent my efforts to find the right settings to not overexpose the Moon, but still manage to get something not as bright like Saturn in the same picture. The settings are on each one and are more legible if you click on either image to see it full size. I used a 250 mm lens by the way. These pictures below are actually cropped pictures from the originals.
f9ISO1600_1-60th
f9ISO800_1-60th

   
   
   

   
   
   
   
   
   

   
   
   
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.

ISS and Earth Rotation

Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   This morning, Saturday 25 January, the International Space Station flashed its reflected sunlight in my direction as it traveled from the northwest to the southeast. at its greatest altitude it was at around 80 degrees, 10 degrees from straight. It’s path toward the southeast took it past the bright star Vega in the constellation of Lyra the Harp.
    This picture is a stacked series of several 1.3 second time exposure pictures taken as fast as I could hit shutter release. The length of each line represents the length of time exposure. The first 3 lines were before I lowered the angle of my camera bringing up into view more of the horizon. So there is an offset of the lines. As the ISS got lower in the sky the angle between the ISS and my position on Earth changed such that the streak of light got shorter.
    The arrows indicate the direction that the ISS is taking relative to the horizon, while the short line labeled Vega represents the westward direction the star Vega is following due to Earth rotation.

   
   
   
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 Snuggles Up To Saturn

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   The planet Saturn will rise on Saturday morning, tomorrow, within about 1 degree from the just past last quarter Moon – now a waxing crescent Moon. The banner graphic at the top of the page is an exaggerated view of the two but it is also showing how close the Moon passes by Saturn. Closest is at 8 am CST – 14 UT when the two will be separated by about 0.5 degrees.
saturn-moon9am   Daytime Saturn Sighting? Since the Moon will be so close to Saturn it is possible that you could do a daytime sighting of the planet. This simulated view through 7×50 binoculars is set for 9 am CST – 14 UT. If my skies are clear I will be outdoors taking pictures. If successful I’ll post a follow-up blog.pictures from after Saturn rise and as long as I am
   
   
   
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.

A New Supernova

Click on graphic to see full size.

Click on graphic to see full size.

   In a galaxy not that far away there is a supernova taking place. The galaxy is M-82 and along with its nearby companion galaxy M-81 are in the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The pair of galaxies is around 10-15 degrees from the pointer stars in the Big Dipper’s Bowl.
   Supernova 2014J is currently at around 12th magnitude so it would only be visible with a telescope or with a time exposure picture taken with a camera as the banner graphic at the top of the page shows. However just knowing that when you look in that direction, near the Big Dipper, this type of event is happening. To me this is like the nights when the Moon is near one of the outermost planets or dwarf planets. So far away that like the supernova these objects are not visible to the naked eye, but still they are there where you are looking.

   Banner picture at top of the page is one of many excellent astro pictures by Robert Sparks.

m81-82   M-82 is an irregular galaxy 12 million light years distant that is undergoing ‘turmoil’ on a galactic scale as you can see in the animated picture below. Click here to see a Hubble Space Telescope picture of M-82. Use this link to read more about M-82.
   The supernova in M-82 was first observed about a week ago and has brightened from around 15th magnitude to around 12th magnitude currently. Based on its rate of brightening it is thought that within a week or so the supernova may brighten to around 8th magnitude, making it bright enough to be seen with binoculars. This is considered to be a Type 1a Supernova. Click here to read more about this type of supernova.

Animation of Supernova in M82 - January 22, 2014 by E. Guido, N. Howes, M. Nicolini photo new_animation_supernova_m82_22_gennaio_2014_zpsbd4116c7.gif

   
   
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.

She’s Back!

venus20-31jan-ani   Did you notice a bright star rising just ahead of the Sun this morning? If so you are looking at the planet Venus as it moves westward away from the Sun in the morning skies. Venus was recently at inferior conjunction, between the Earth and the Sun on 11 January. Over the next two months Venus will continue moving out away from the Sun rising earlier each morning as this animated graphic is showing. The graphic is set at 1-day intervals and runs from the 20th, today, through the 31st of January.

phases-ani20-31jan   Venus moving away from inferior conjunction will undergo phase changes similiar to our Moon. Inferior conjunction is sort of like a new Moon and so as Venus moves westward away from the Sun and increasing the angle between the two Venus will first appear as a relatively large and very thin crescent. Over time Venus’s apparent size will decrease and Venus will wax toward a gibbous phase shape before we lose sight of it later this year as it approaches superior conjunction.
   
   
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 Aquarius Today

The view from Earth.

The view from Earth.

   According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer today, 19 January at 10 pm CST (20 January 4 UT). When in fact the actual position of the Sun today is within the boundary of the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat, as this graphic shows. Actually the Sun had just entered Capricornus 2 hours earlier.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.
   
   
   
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