New Year’s Eve 2020

   The evening skies of this year’s New Year’s Eve begins at sunset with two of the giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn, low over the western horizon at sunset, but still within about 1o from each other. Higher over the southern horizon is the planet Mars. And with optical assistance or a camera the other two gas giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, as well as Dwarf Planet Ceres could be seen.

   Later, at around midnight and centered over the southern horizon will be the ‘regular’ Northern Hemisphere winter display of stars. This is a familiar groups of bright stars in a rough circle around the constellation of Orion the Hunter, and sometimes referred to as the “Winter Hexagon” or ‘Winter Circle”.

   As the winter hexagon the member stars are Rigel in Orion the Hunter, Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull, Capella in Auriga the Charioteer, Pollux and Castor in the Gemini Twins, Procyon in Canis Minor, and Sirius in Canis Major.


   
   
   
   We’ve survived another orbit.
   
   
          Happy New Year!
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

The Twins Get Mooned!

   Wednesday morning December 30th watch for the full Moon to be in the grasp of the Gemini Twins. Hard to miss the full Moon, but just in case, it is over the western horizon near the ‘Twin Stars’ stars Pollux and Castor, on the right shoulder of Pollux.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

December Moon at 2nd Ascending Node

   Monday December 28st the 17-day old waning gibbous 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 has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.

   On the day of the node crossing the 14-day old waning gibbous Moon will be over the southern horizon around sunset local time. Mars is to the west while Jupiter and Saturn are low over the western horizon or they may have already set.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? 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*
*Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

December Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday December 24th. For this apogee the 10-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.75 Earth diameters, 251,662 miles (405,011 km) from the Earth.

click on graphic to see it larger   On the date of the apogee, and high above the southern horizon, is the 10-day old waxing gibbous Moon. The Moon will be about 13o to the east from the planet Mars, and about 2-3o from the outer planet Uranus. Jupiter and Saturn, still close together, are low over the southwestern horizon.


   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? 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*
   *Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

Venus and the Heart of the Scorpion

   Over the next several mornings the inner planet Venus will be passing by the ‘Heart’ of Scorpius the Scorpion, the reddish star Antares. The closest the two will be is on the 23rd when Venus and Antares will be 5-6o from each other. A conjunction between Venus and Antares is a regular event in that both are near the ecliptic and will, at times during Venus’s orbit, appear close and other times not as close.

   This animated graphic is set to 1-day intervals and shows the movement of Venus relative to Antares between December 20th to the 30th.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

2020-Winter Solstice

sag-cap-ani   According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Capricornus the Sea Goat this month when in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer.
   In Astronomical terms the December Solstice is official when the Sun will have reached the celestial coordinates of 23.5o degrees south declination; 18 hours right ascension. With regard to the Earth’s surface this places the Sun over the Tropic of Capricorn, which is at 23.5o south latitude. We also know that it is the Earth’s tilt on its axis that is the cause for seasons on Earth rather than the distance between the Earth and the Sun. And of course we know that this signals the start of northern hemisphere winter and the southern hemisphere summer seasons.

   The official time for the change of seasons is at 10:01 UT on Monday December 21st, or 5:01 am CST.
earth-in-gemini

   And for those ‘insanely curious’ like me, while the Sun is at 23.5o South declination and ‘in’ Sagittarius the Earth is opposite at 23.5o North declination and at the feet of the Gemini Twins.

   The animated graphic below sets the stage, so to speak, to illustrate the Sun’s actual location with respect to the zodiac constellations in the background. This is as opposed to the location of the Sun according to the pseudoscience of Astrology. The scene is set for 12:15 CST, or mid-day when the Sun is at an azimuth of 180o, or south, and is mid-way between rising and setting. Starting with the Sun at mid-day the scene changes as first the daytime sky is turned off, followed by the horizon being turned off.
   This leaves a sky view like during a total solar eclipse except that the Sun is not blocked out by the new Moon. And like during that solar eclipse the zodiac constellations in the background become visible.
   Then the following are added starting first with Sagittarius, then Capricorn, and then the ecliptic and celestial equator are added to show the relationship between the two constellations and what makes them plus another 11 constellations the astronomical zodiac of 13 constellations. The animation ends with the addition of the constellation boundary lines and labels for the rest of the constellations in this setting.
   It is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun which, if it crosses the boundary of a constellation, makes that constellation one of the zodiac. And during December the Sun’s apparent path takes it across the constellation of Sagittarius rather than Capricorn.

   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.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

How Close is Close?

   There has been a lot of discussion about what the Grand Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn will look like to the unaided eye. The separation will be as close as 1/5th the width of the full Moon, which is hard to visualize. Astronomically, using angular angle measurements of degrees, minutes, and seconds, the separation will be 10.0′ (10 minutes). The full Moon, for comparison, is approximately 0.50o , or one-half of a degree.

   Still hard to visualize? Hold a quarter or a nickel at arms length and look at the edge of the coin. The width of the coin’s edge at arm’s length is approximately the separation between Jupiter and Saturn on the 21st.

   Still trying to visualize the 0.10′ separation? From whenever the old days were, there was a test of visual acuity (eyesight!) that involved being able to see the double star in the bend of the handle of the Big Dipper. There are actually 3 stars there but Mizar and Alcor are the two that are more easily seen. So, if you are able to see Mizar and Alcor then you should be able to see the separation between Jupiter and Saturn.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

Sun Enters Sagittarius

   Friday December 18th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer. 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.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

Crescent Moon – Jupiter/Saturn Conjunctions


   As we are getting ready for the Grand Conjunction on the 21st the Moon reappears in the evening skies and waxes its way past Jupiter and Saturn on Wednesday the 16th and Thursday the 17th.


   The three set around 1-2 hours after local time for sunset, and all will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars as the graphic is showing.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.

A December Moon 3 for 1

                              New Phase, Descending Node, and a Solar Eclipse!

   Monday December 14th the new Moon crosses 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. This is an event that happens 2-3 times each month, but when a node crossing happens at new or full Moon phase there will be either a solar eclipse at new Moon or a lunar eclipse at full Moon.
   It’s all about timing, and the closer the node crossing time is to the time for the new or full phase that increases the chances for an eclipse. The time for the descending node crossing is 11:00 UT December 14th and the time for new Moon phase is about 5 hours later at 16:16 UT.

   So we get a total solar eclipse this time around. Hopefully my two camera amigos in Esquel Argentina will get some good pictures. Hint, hint Pablo y Checho!


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.