A Tail of Two Comets

   April 1990 Comet Austin (1989c1) now getting brighter approaching naked-eye visibility.
   April 2020 Comet ATLAS (2019c1) predicted to brighten to naked eye visibility has now apparently broken apart.

   30 years ago, April 1990, I wrote the first of what was to become a continuing column about Earth and Space called Scope on the Skies for Science Scope Magazine. This is the Professional Journal for Middle School Science Teachers and is published by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA)

   That April 1990 column, Comet Watch – “Comet Austin”, was about a potential naked-eye visible comet discovered by New Zealand Astronomer Rod Austin during December 1989. The comet was appropriately named Comet Austin 1989c1. The comet increased in brightness over the months following its discovery reaching around 4th magnitude and naked-eye visibility the following May of 1990.

   This month as Comet ATLAS (2019c1) was showing signs of becoming a bright comet it broke apart. This was reported a few days ago and the break-up has since been tentatively confirmed.

   
   
   

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Moon – Venus/Pleiades/Asteroid Vesta Conjunction

   It is Earth Hour on Saturday evening March 28th. So while you have the lights off step outside, if possible and weather permitting, and look toward the western horizon for the 4.5-day old waxing crescent Moon to be near the inner planet Venus (about 7o) and about 2-3o from Asteroid Vesta over the western horizon at sunset local time. With binoculars you can almost fit the Moon, Pleiades, and Venus within the field of view.

   Keep an eye on this area because over the next week or so Venus will move across and then past the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This animated graphic is set to 1-day intervals from April 2nd to April 5th.
   The Moon is also in motion as it continues its eastward motion across the sky but the dates for the graphic the Moon has moved past this area.

   
   
   

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November Moon at Perigee

   Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest distance to Earth), for this orbit on Monday November 26th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 28.74 Earth diameters 227,809 miles (366,623 km) from the Earth.

   The 18-day old Waning gibbous rises after sunset and is visible all night between the Gemini Twin stars and the bright star Capella in Canis Minor. Off to the east is the inner planet Venus shining brightly with an apparent magnitude of -4.6, and within about 4o from the blue-white star Spica (0.9 apparent magnitude) in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. About 10o east from Venus is the closest Dwarf Planet, Ceres. With an apparent magnitude of 8.0 Ceres is not visible to the unaided eye.

   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 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”

   
   
   

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.


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Dwarf Planet Ceres at Solar Opposition


   Sunday October 7th Dwarf Planet Ceres reaches solar opposition – on the opposite side of the Sun as (not) seen from Earth.
   Dwarf Planet Ceres, formerly classified as an asteroid, is the largest member of the inner asteroid belt. Read and learn more about the closest Dwarf Planet to Earth.
   
   
   
   
   

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.


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Asteroid Vesta Passes Saturn

   For the next several evenings Asteroid Vesta will be passing within 2-3o from the outer planet Saturn. Currently Vesta is only a couple of months past opposition, June 20th, and is still bright enough to be seen and followed as its position relative to Saturn slowly changes each evening. Saturn has an apparent magnitude of 0.47 while Asteroid Vesta has an apparent magnitude of 7.0.

   With binoculars Vesta is visible under dark enough skies and with careful observation and a star map of that area the motion of Vesta may be followed. In that same general area, within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars, at least 3 Messier objects may also be seen. The Lagoon Nebula, M-8; The Trifid Nebula, M-20; and open star cluster, M-21.
   This animated graphic shows a binocular view of Saturn and Vesta each day from September 25th 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.


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2018 Quadrantid Meteor Shower

   The annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower reaches its peak Wednesday morning January 3rd officially at 14:19 UT (9:14 am CST). The Quadrantids are one of the best meteor showers of the year but does not get much attention possibly because it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, and this area of the sky is not easily seen from south of the equator.
   The ZHR (average hourly rate) for this meteor shower ranges from 60 to several hundred. Best time for viewing is before sunrise as your part of the Earth is rotating toward the east sort of putting you headfirst into the meteor shower. To find the radiant for this meteor shower look for the stars of the Big Dipper and then look below the end stars in the handle.
click on graphic to see it larger
   Adding to the thrill of seeing a shooting star are the the planets Jupiter and Mars about 1o apart and closing in on a very close 0.2o separation on the 6th. Look closely and you may see Zubenelgenubi, one of the stars making up Libra the Scales. All three fit comfortably within the field of view of binoculars and contrast nicely in their respective apparent magnitudes (magnitudes shown on graphic).

Boötes the Herdsman

Boötes the Herdsman

   The radiant is the area from where the meteors seem to radiate outward from. Meteor showers owe their name to the constellation region the radiant is located within, and as this graphic shows the radiant is within the boundary of the constellation Boötes the Herdsman. So why the name Quadrantids?
   On some of the older star charts there is a now ‘extinct’ constellation called Quadrans Muralis, the Mural. This was a constellation located between Boötes and Draco the Dragon that was created in 1795 by French Astronomer Jérôme Lalande. It is a picture, or mural, of a Quadrant that had been used to map the stars. The Quadrantids Meteor Shower was named for the no longer used constellation.

   
   
   

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.

Moon – Dwarf Planet Ceres Conjunction

   Friday morning September 15th the waning crescent Moon will be within about 6o from the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres should be just visible with binoculars with an apparent magnitude of between 7th and 8th. Within the binocular field of view, about 3o above Ceres is 3rd magnitude kappa Geminorum. And about 5o from Ceres is the star Pollux, one of the ‘Twin’ stars in Gemini the Twins.

   
   
   

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.