Saturn at Opposition – 2020

   Monday July 20th the outer planet Saturn reaches its orbital position known as opposition. This is a position which has the faster moving Earth passing Saturn and at opposition is centered between the outer planet and the Sun. Picture the arrangement with the Moon at full phase; Sun – Earth – Moon, and that is similar to the arrangement for Saturn at opposition.
   When an outer planet, like Saturn, reaches opposition that planet rises around local time for sunset and is visible all night.
   Saturn shares the evening skies over the eastern horizon with Jupiter as both are rising around the local time for sunset. Both will be visible all night, setting around sunrise. The reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion is off to the west from the two giant ringed planets. The ‘Summer Milky Way’ arcs across the sky from the south overhead toward the northeast and if your skies are dark enough should make for awesome viewing. And off to the northwest is Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE).
    And rising over the eastern horizon are the three stars making up the ‘Summer Triangle’.

   
   
   
   
   

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July Moon at Ascending Node

   Saturday July 18th the very thin 27-day old waning crescent 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.
   click on picture to see it largerOn the day before the node crossing the thin waning crescent Moon was a few degrees from the inner planet Venus, and a few more degrees from the reddish star Aldebaran in the open star cluster the Hyades.
   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)


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An Evening Comet

   Despite clouds along the northern horizon the comet was still easy to see with the naked eye. Well not really easy, easy, but it was certainly visible as an elongated fuzzy object. I was observing near a family using a telescope and they were the first to spot the comet. So, by using the pointer stars of the Big Dipper I looked down from the bowl toward the horizon and there was the comet. In one of the pictures below you can see the pointer stars near the top of the picture.
All pictures have been processed to adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature, and all have been resized.
   While waiting for the sky to darken enough the ISS orbited overhead moving across the stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’ passing closely by the stars Vega in Lyra the Harp and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan (aka the ‘Northern Cross’).
   Adding to the viewing were the planets Jupiter and Saturn rising in the southeast along with the stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius, and the summer Milky Way.
   The morning after there were a few clouds blocking a view of the comet, however the waning crescent Moon and Venus were shining brightly and hard to miss.


   
   
   

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Comet on the Run!

   Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has moved to the evening skies after its close approach to the Sun earlier this month. The comet is now outbound from the solar system and will pass by the Earth coming the closest on the 22nd – 23rd. Over the next month or so the comet will gradually move into the polar circumpolar region of the sky and will be above the horizon all night.

   On the evening of the comet’s closest approach to the Earth it will be somewhat lined up with the ‘Pointer Stars’ in the Big Dipper. However instead of going toward the North star, Polaris, go in the opposite direction to find the comet.

   Click here to go to the Sky Live web site for accurate finder charts for this comet and other comets.

   Watch this short video to follow the comet’s path:

   
   

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Jupiter at Opposition

Zooming in on Jupiter at Opposition   Tuesday July 14th the outer giant ringed planet Jupiter reaches the point in its orbit around the Sun that places the Earth in between Jupiter and the Sun. This is known as opposition, and opposition is an orbital position that applies to solar system objects (outer planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, etc.) orbiting the Sun beyond the Earth’s orbit. An object at opposition will have approximately the same heliocentric longitude as the Earth’s heliocentric longitude. So on Tuesday both planets will have a heliocentric longitude of around 228o.
   An opposition of Jupiter occurs approximately every 13 months because both Earth and Jupiter are moving. After one Earth Revolution, an Earth year, the planet Earth will be where it was the previous year at opposition with Jupiter. However Jupiter will not be there because it has moved during the past year as well. It will take the Earth about an extra month or so to catch up with Jupiter. Earth moves 360o each year while Jupiter moves approximately 12o each Earth year.
Sunset Local Time Sunset Local Time.
   When an object is at opposition it rises at approximately the same time as local sunset and that same object at opposition sets at approximately the time of local sunrise. In other words an object at opposition will be up all night from sunrise to sunset.
   Picture our Moon at full phase and how it is directly opposite the Sun, with the Earth in between. The full Moon in effect is at opposition but we call it the full Moon instead. And so both the full Moon and Jupiter at opposition, rise at sunset, set at sunrise, and both will be visible all night.

   Jupiter is currently a few degrees to the west from Saturn and both rise and set together, although Saturn will not reach its opposition for a few more days, on the 20th of this month.

   
   
Take a brief tour of the Jovian (Jupiter) system. Music by Dark Matter.
Live recording of music written by Richard Johnson. Video by me!

   
   
   

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Comet in the Clouds

   This morning, July 13th, the sky was generally overcast with thin status type clouds in most directions, including the northeast where the comet was just starting to appear over the trees marking my local horizon. Fortunately the clouds were still transparent enough for the comet to be just barely visible to the naked-eye, but very visible with time exposure pictures.
   I was hoping to position my camera so that the Baseball player would look as if he were swinging at the comet but the clouds started to thicken in that direction as I moved off the road and into some tall grasses.
   The other planets that were very visible yesterday morning were hidden or blurred by the clouds. Jupiter shined through the clouds but not Saturn or Mars. The Moon light was reflecting off clouds brightening the sky in that direction. And Venus and Aldebaran were somewhat visible but it took a time exposure picture to catch the light from the rest of the stars making the v-shaped part of the Hyades.

   
   
   

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Comet NEOWISE or NEOWOW!!

   Could it get much better than this? Five visible planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, Earth); Moon-Mars conjunction; Venus-Aldebaran conjunction; 2 outer planets and a Dwarf Planet not naked-eye visible, and Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Icing on the ‘cake’ would have been to have the ISS orbit through the sky this morning.

   
   
   

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Taurus Eyes Venus

   Saturday morning July 11th the inner planet Venus will be about 1o from the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran marks the ‘angry eye’ of the bull and is at one end of a v-shaped group of stars, the Hyades, that make up the face of Taurus.

   Venus has just spent the past several days traversing the Hyades, an open star cluster composed of hundreds of stars. The Hyades, at a estimated distance of 150 light years, is the closest open star cluster in our galaxy to the Earth.
    With binoculars the view of Venus, the Hyades, and Aldebaran is striking with Venus brightly shining at about a -4.5 apparent magnitude and Aldebaran with a 0.9 apparent magnitude.

   Also on this day the 20-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 4-5o from the planet Mars.

   
   
   
   
   
   

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Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) and Venus-Hyades Transit – Follow up

General location of the comet

   Here are pictures of the inner planet Venus in transit across the Hyades open star cluster, and of Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) as both appeared over the northeastern to eastern horizon.
   Pictures were taken around 5:00 am CDT with a Canon Rebel EOS T7i DSLR using a variety of settings for exposure, shutter speed and so on. Location was near a baseball field at Legacy Park in Lee’s Summit, MO.
   
   
   
   
   
   



   
   
   

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Venus, the Bull, and a Comet (yes!)

   The next several days offer some exciting opportunities for viewing: a few of the visible planets; the waning phases of our Moon and a few conjunctions with stars and planets; Venus crossing the stars of the Hyades open star cluster; and Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE).
   Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is one of the many comets discovered by the NASA NEOWISE mission.
   NEOWISE is a space-based telescope used to find and track ‘Near Earth Objects’, comets and asteroids, that may pose a threat to our planet.
   Click on this link to go to the SkyLive web site for viewing information about Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).

   
   
   

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