Moon – Mars Conjunction

   Over the next two evenings the 12-13 day old waxing gibbous Moon will pass by the ‘Red Planet’ Mars coming within about 7-8o on Wednesday October 28th and within about 3-4o on Thursday evening October 29th.

   
   
   

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October Moon at Descending Node

   Tuesday October 20th the 4-day old waxing crescent 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.

   On the date of the descending node the waxing crescent Moon will be over the southwestern horizon at sunset local time. Spread across the horizon from west to east are Jupiter, Saturn, Dwarf Planet Ceres, Neptune, and Mars.

   
   
   
   
   

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Saturn at 2020 Eastern Quadrature

   Sunday October 18th the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.

   Where is Saturn now? Saturn is over the southern horizon at sunset and is about 6o east (to the left) from the planet Jupiter. Further east is the Dwarf Planet Ceres, then Neptune, and over the eastern horizon is the still brightly shining Mars.

   
   
   Learn a little (or a lot) more about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site. Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.

   This is a short 5 minute 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 Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.

   
   
   

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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Mars at 2020 Opposition

Mars at Opposition   Tuesday October 13th Mars will reach a point in its orbit around the Sun where it is at opposition relative to the Earth. At opposition The Earth is between the Sun and Mars, or for that matter, between any of the outer planets and the Sun. At opposition both the Earth and the planet at opposition will have near identical heliocentric longitude. The opposition of Mars sometimes happens around the time that Mars is at its respective perihelion, closest to the Sun. If opposition happens during or near when the Earth is at its respective aphelion, furthest from the Sun, (first few days of July) then Mars will appear larger relative to when these dates are further apart.

Where is Mars Now?

What is opposition?
orbital-positions   The outer planets reach opposition when the Earth has moved into a position with the Sun on one side and the outer planet on the other side. Because all planets orbit in the same direction (toward the east), and all follow orbits that are slightly more elliptical than circular, oppositions occur at regular intervals of about 12 months (except for Mars). Mars is considerably closer to Earth and is moving faster than the other outer planets, so it takes approximately 26 months for Earth to catch up with Mars for an opposition.

   
   
   

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Mercury- Spica & Moon – Antares

   Tuesday September 22nd shortly after sunset local time look toward the western horizon for the innermost planet Mercury to be about 1o from the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. The two should make for an interesting comparison in apparent magnitudes with Spica at 0.96 and Mercury with a -0.01 apparent magnitude.
   The nearly first quarter but still waxing crescent Moon will be about 7-8o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. Both are positioned over the southern horizon.

   
   
   

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Neptune at Opposition – 2020

   Friday September 11th the outer planet Neptune reaches a position in its orbit around the Sun when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. This coincidentally is known as opposition, and it is an orbital position which only the planets further from the Sun than the Earth may reach.
   At opposition an object orbiting the Sun beyond Earth’s orbit rises and sets in a fashion similar to our Moon when it is at full phase, in that the object at opposition rises at sunset and sets at sunrise.
   Currently Neptune rises at sunset and by late evening is over the southeastern horizon. Neptune has an apparent magnitude of 7.88 so it is beyond unaided-eye visibility but could be visible with large aperture telescopes or with a camera.

   
   
   

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September Moon at Ascending Node

   Wednesday September 10th the 22-day old last quarter 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 morning of the node crossing the 22-day old last quarter crescent Moon will be to the east of the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. If you are a late night type watch for the Moon to rise around midnight local time giving you an opportunity to see Mars, Saturn and Jupiter arranged across the sky.

   On the other hand if you are like me and an early morning type then look for the Moon to be high above the southern horizon an hour or two before the Sun rises. Venus will be over the eastern horiozn and Mars over the southwestern horizon.

   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 2006 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.


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Planetary Line-Up Ecliptic Style

   Look at the arrangement of the planets in the graphics below. One of the defining aspects of our solar system is the arrangement of the planets outward from the Sun. Not by size or distance but rather how their respective orbital paths around the Sun are all vertically arranged near the Earth’s orbital path, or as it is typically referred to as the Ecliptic or the Plane of the Ecliptic. The 8 classic planets all orbit the Sun with an orbital path that is up to about 8o from the ecliptic. This is called inclination. The table shows inclination relative the Earth’s orbit and also relative to the Sun’s center, its equator.
    Click on this link to read a previous posting (Tales Along the Ecliptic) about the ecliptic and inclination.
   During this week as the Moon moves eastward it will pass by the outer ringed planet Neptune Tuesday and Wednesday evenings September 1st and 2nd as the graphics show. However given the tremendous difference in apparent magnitude between the two (full Moon: -12.64 ; Neptune: 7.81) Neptune will not be visible, at least not while the Moon in nearby.


   Keep following the Moon as it orbits eastward toward the planet Mars when on September 5th Mars and the waning gibbous Moon will be less than 1o apart.
   
   
   

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Venus at Western Elongation

inner-planets-positions   Wednesday August 12th the inner planet Venus reaches the point in its orbit called greatest western elongation. As this graphic shows the inner planet Venus, or Mercury, is more or less at a right angle (90o) from the Sun and Earth at western elongation. From the surface of the Earth, your backyard, for example, Venus is to the right, or western side of the Sun and is rising before the Sun.

   On the day of the elongation Venus will be very visible over the southeastern horizon at or before sunrise local time. Venus is joined by a few other planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Mars, and Dwarf Planet Ceres. The waning crescent Moon is nearly straight overhead (at least from 40oN) and a few degrees from the open star cluster the Pleiades. In this graphic the orbital path of Venus has been added, and also an arrow to show the direction Venus will now be moving toward (eastward).

   At western elongation Venus, or for that matter Mercury the other inner planet, is as far out from the Sun as we see them and as a result Venus or Mercury will rise at the earliest time for this orbit. Locally Venus rises that morning at around 3:00 am CDT. On the day of the western elongation Venus will be 45.8o from the Sun. From western elongation forward Venus or Mercury will be moving eastward toward the Sun and each day rising closer and closer to the time of sunrise. As the planet moves eastward it is moving further away from the Earth toward superior conjunction on the opposite side of the Sun.


    As the distance between the Earth and Venus, or Mercury, increases combined with the decreasing angle between the planet, the Earth, and the Sun, Venus or Mercury decreases in apparent size and also waxes through gibbous phase shapes but we never see it at a full phase since that is at superior conjunction.

   
   
   

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Moon – Mars Conjunction

   Early mornings before sunrise the waning gibbous Moon is working its way eastward toward new Moon phase. Along the way the 20-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 1o from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars on Sunday morning August 9th . Both will fit within the field of view of binoculars and should fit within the field of view of a low-power widefield type telescope eyepiece.
   The contrast in apparent magnitude is quite a range, from the Moon’s -12.0 to the -1.22 apparent magnitude of Mars.

   
   
   

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