Neptune at 2020 Solar Conjunction

   Sunday March 8th the outer ringed planet Neptune will reach a point in its respective orbit where Neptune orbits behind the Sun as viewed from here on Earth. Neptune, or any of the other outer planets (Mars to Neptune), dwarf planets, or small solar system bodies beyond the Earth’s orbit, will all eventually reach this position on the opposite side of the Sun known as solar conjunction.
   For the two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, when they are at a similar position on the opposite side of the Sun, they are at superior conjunction.
   
   
   

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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The Inner and Outer Solar System

   Friday evening January 31st there is an opportunity to see or at least visualize the inner and outer areas of our solar system. About an hour or so after local sunset look toward the western horizon for the brightly shining inner planet Venus with a -4.0 apparent magnitude. Nearby, about 5o west from Venus, is the outermost of the 8 planets, Neptune. However with an apparent magnitude of 7.94 Neptune would only be visible with an optical aid – the larger the better.
   Look further east and higher for the 7-day old waxing crescent Moon to be between the outer planet Uranus and the Dwarf Planet Eris. About 9o below the Moon is the Dwarf Planet Eris with an apparent magnitude of 18.60 – definitely not naked-eye visible. Above the Moon by about 5o is the outer planet Uranus, just barely visible to the naked-eye with an apparent magnitude of 5.80.

   
   
   

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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January Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday January 2nd. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 31.71 Earth diameters 251,394 miles (404,580 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee Moon the 8-day old first quarter Moon rises around noon local time and sets around midnight. At around sunset the Moon will over the southern 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 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 go to bobs-spaces.


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The New Year’s Eve Skies of 2019

   The evening skies of this year’s New Year’s Eve begins at sunset with the 6-day old waxing crescent Moon to be about 3-4o from the outer planet Neptune. However with an apparent magnitude of 8 Neptune is only visible with optical assistance. On the other hand the crescent Moon with an apparent magnitude of -13 would be hard to miss!

   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.


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Venus – Antares Conjunction

   Friday evening November 8th the inner planet Venus will be about 4-5o from the reddish star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. Both will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars. Along with Venus there are several planets visible as this graphic shows.

   
   
   

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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November Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday November 7th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 31.75 Earth diameters 251,693 miles (405,060 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee Moon the 11-day old waning gibbous Moon rises during mid-afternoon and sets later the following morning.

   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)

   
   
   

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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Visualize the Ecliptic

Above the Terrestrial Planets this Month

   Once in a while the planets are arranged such that they are spread across the sky. The planets are not lined up in a straight line outward from the Sun but rather are arranged along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the Earth’s orbital path around the Sun and the respective orbit of each planet is inclined from the ecliptic. And this is one of those times when it is easier to visualize the ecliptic. (see graphics below) Click here to read a previous posting about the ecliptic and planet inclination.

   As the animated graphic is showing the terrestrial planets are not arranged in a straight line. This graphic shows the solar system out to Neptune and from this perspective the planets are obviously not in a straight line.


   
   
   

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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