Descending Moon Occults Uranus

2dec-descending-node   Tuesday December 2nd at 08:34 UT (2:34 pm CST) our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

1dec-uranus-moon   Earlier, at 0 UT, the waxing gibbous Moon will occult the outer planet Uranus. The occultation will be visible from parts of northwestern North America including eastern Alaska and western Canada. Depending on your latitude and longitude, and sometime during the evening before – on the 1st, the two may just be close together as this graphic shows. This is a simulated view through a 25 mm eyepiece on my 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope from my home location.

1dec   The Moon and Uranus rise several hours before local sunset time so the two will be well above the horizon by the time the sky darkens. Keep in mind that apparent magnitudes of the two differ by quite a bit. The 9.5 day old waxing gibbous Moon shines at an apparent magnitude of -12.0, compared to Uranus’s 5.7 apparent magnitude. Wait a few nights for the Moon to move further east and the sky may be bright enough to then pick out Uranus with the unaided eye or binoculars.

   
   
   
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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.

Ophiuchus Gets a Hotfoot!

   Sunday November 30rd at 7 UT (1 am CST) the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Ophiuchus the Healer. 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.

ophiuchus-serpens   So who is this Ophiuchus the Healer? Originally named Serpentarius this rather large constellation depicts a ‘man of medicine’ holding a snake in his hands. The snake is actually a two-part constellation known as Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda. This mythological character, because of its position and its boundaries, is the 13th sign of the zodiac, but to be correct it is part of the Astronomical Zodiac. The right foot and the southern boundary of Ophiuchus is below the ecliptic path and so since the ecliptic path crosses the boundary of Ophiuchus it is considered part of the zodiac by how the zodiacal constellations are determined. If the ecliptic path crosses a constellation’s boundary then that constellation is a zodiac constellation.

   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.
   
   
   
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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.

November Perigee Moon #2

nov27perigee_moon    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*.

   The 5.5 day old waxing crescent Moon reaches perigee this month on Thursday November 27th at 22:54 UT (4:54 pm CST). At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 28.99 Earth diameters (369,518 km or 229,608 miles) from the Earth.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Thursday evening the waxing crescent Moon sets about 4 hours after sunset local time.

   
   
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
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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.

Neptune at East Quadrature

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Thursday November 27th the position of the planet Neptune with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Neptune is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Neptune follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Neptune rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.
28nov-bino   Where is Neptune now?The 8th planet from the Sun is currently within the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer and has recently completed its retrograde motion. Finding Neptune will be made a little easier as Neptune and the Moon will be a few degrees apart on the evening of the 28th. Despite the close proximity Neptune ‘shines’ at 8th magnitude compared to the -12th magnitude for the first quarter Moon. However after a couple of days and the Moon has moved further east leaving Neptune in relatively darker skies Neptune will be visible in binoculars.

   This is a short 1 minute clip of a video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Neptune and some of its moons as viewed from the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

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[centup]
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 Near Mars

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.


   Tuesday evening, November 25th the 3.5 day young waxing crescent Moon is 6-7o away from the planet Mars as this graphic shows.

   
   
   
[centup]
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 Enters Scorpius

23nov-view-from-earth   Sunday November 23rd at 11 UT (5 am CST) the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Libra the Scales and into the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. 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.

   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 Sagittarius

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

  According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer on Saturday November 22nd at 10 UT (4 am CST. When in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Libra the Scales.

   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.

November Moon at Ascending Node

nov19-ascending-node   On Wednesday November 19th our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

Note the ecliptic is the line with ‘Oct’ however that is a reference to when the Sun will be at that point along the ecliptic and not the date for this node crossing.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Look for the 26-day old waning crescent Moon to rise a few hours before sunrise near the bright bluish-white star Spica.

   
   
   
[centup]
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 at Solar Conjunction

18nov-view-from-earth   Tuesday 18 November at 9 UT (3 am CST) the planet Saturn will have reached the astronomical coordinates that officially place it at solar conjunction. From our perspective the planet is behind the Sun, or on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth.
   In reality it is not as much as Saturn moving behind the Sun as it is the Sun passing in front of Saturn – or so it seems. As a distant outer planet Saturn moves more slowly around the Sun than the Earth does. One year on Saturn is equal to 29.7 years (10,832 days) on Earth. So in one day Saturn would travel how much of the 360o orbit around the Sun? That would amount to approximately 0.033o each day.
saturn-sun-ani   The Sun, in its apparent motion along the ecliptic moves at the rate the Earth is moving which is 0.99o each day. So the Sun appears to zoom past Saturn while both are moving eastward. By the end of the year the Sun will have moved east of Saturn enough so that Saturn, now on the west side of the Sun, will rise before the Sun rises and be visible in the pre-dawn morning skies.
   
   
   
[centup]
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.

2015 Leonid Meteor Shower

   During the early winter months of A.D. 902, Chinese astronomers recorded what were probably the first written accounts of a meteor shower. This event was described as a time when the stars fell like rain.Click on graphic to see it full size. Centuries later, in November 1799, the stars again fell like rain during a spectacular display witnessed across the colonies by North American astronomers. The shower activity was also recorded by the famous German scientist and geographer Alexander von Humboldt while he was on an expedition in Venezuela. During one intense period, witnesses described seeing as many shooting stars as actual stars. Approximately 33 years later (November 12-13, 1833), the skies over eastern North America were streaked with so many meteors that during a nine-hour period, observers calculated the Zenith Hourly Rate (ZHR) to be a few thousand, totalling to about 240,000 meteors.

   Following the 1833 meteor storm, interest in and study of meteors increased tremendously. By studying records, astronomers noted that meteors originate from a specific area of the sky within a certain constellation; hence the Leonids, Perseids, and so on. Observers also noted that as the night wore on and Leo “moved” westward, the shower’s point of origin stayed with the constellation. Thirty years later, after much study, Yale astronomer Hubert Newton pieced together a history of the Leonid meteor storms.

   The Leonid meteor storms (periods during a meteor shower of intense meteor activity) have been recorded approximately every 33 years dating as far back as the A.D. 902 shower observed by Chinese astronomers. Hubert Newton and other renowned astronomers predicted that another meteor storm would occur during November of 1866 or 1867, 33 years after the recorded meteor activity in 1833. Coincidentally, in 1865-66, two astronomers working independently, Ernest Tempel and Horace Tuttle, discovered a faint comet, the source of Leonid activity, which was named Comet 1866I (now referred to as Comet 55P{Tempel-Tuttle). Comet Tempel-Tuttle’s orbital period around the Sun was determined to be about the same as that of the Leonids, 33 years.

leonid-meteor-storm   The Leonid shower’s spectacular peak nights during November of 1866 and 1867 validated the two astronomers’ prediction. (Different portions of the Earth may encounter Comet Tempel-Tuttle’s meteor trail in two consecutive years because of the Earth’s changing position.) In 1866, sky observers in Europe noted that the shower’s intensity reached an average of 5,000 meteors per hour; in 1867, observers in North America counted an average of 1,000 meteors per hour. Because Tempel and Tuttle had so accurately predicted the source of the 1866/1867 Leonid meteor storm, the storm of 1899 was much anticipated and promoted by the astronomical community. Unfortunately, the Leonids did not display spectacularly that year. As a result, public interest in the storm waned tremendously. Ironically, the following year, 1900, brought storm displays with peak ZHRs of 1,000. During November 1901, the Leonids averaged about 2,000 meteors per hour.

   The Leonids’ return in the 1930s was also disappointing. Astronomers were concerned because the source comet had not been sighted since its 1866 passage. This suggested that perhaps the comet had broken apart and that the comet debris cloud would no longer be refreshed providing the source for the meteors. However, peak night averages during the 1930s were still impressive with hourly averages in the hundreds.

comet-temple-tuttle   During the early 1960s, the Leonid meteor showers started showing an increase in the hourly rate, similar to the intensity of the showers during the 1800s. In 1965 Comet Tempel-Tuttle was rediscovered. That year the shower’s intensity climbed to over 100 meteors per hour. One year later on November 17, 1966, the most intense meteor storm recorded in history occurred over the Midwestern United States-its average intensity was several thousand per hour, and at one point the storm rates were estimated at more than 100,000 meteors during a 20-minute period.

   So here it is 2015, and we are about mid-way through the 33-year period for the Meteor Storm. So no storm this year or for the next several years. Expect to see a few meteors streaking outward from the radiant within the backward questions mark shaped asterism of Leo, but with an average hourly rate (ZHR) of 10-20 there are often long stretches of time between sightings. And remember that all meteor showers have a span of time before and after the peak when meteors will be visible. This year the activity for the Leonids is for about one week from November 14-21 this year with the peak time calculated for 4 UT 18 November (10 pm CST 17 November). The radiant is near the hook part of the ‘backward question mark’ shape.
   Best viewing for a meteor shower is during the hours before sunrise as the part of the Earth you are on is turning into the direction that the Earth is moving as it revolves around the Sun. In effect you are moving ‘head first’ into the cloud of cometary debris. In the Midwest United States where I live Leo rises at around 3am CST so the timing for viewing the Leonids around 94o west longitude is pretty good. And this with a thin waning crescent Moon rising after Leo rises.

cleardarkskieschart   Use this web site to see a forecast for how clear the skies will be for your location.
   
   
   

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.