NSTA @ Nashville


   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

OWN A Supernova

   Last month I wrote about a new supernova recently discovered in M-82, an irregular shaped galaxy in the constellation of Ursa Major the Great Bear. Supernova 2014J has been a challenge for me to image due to either cloudy skies and or very low temperatures. So I turned to a celestial paparazzi’s next best friend – an automated telescope operating in a location where the skies are usually clear. My choice for very easy access and of course a good price (free) is the OWN, Observe With NASA telescope in Arizona. I have written about this stellar opportunity previously in ‘OWN Your Own Astrophotos’, and ‘OWN The Sky’.
   Latest reports suggest that since the supernova has not continued to brighten it may have reached its maximum magnitude which currently is around 10th magnitude.

   The slideshow below has some of the most recent images requested from the OWN telescope. The first three are of the galaxy M-82 with the supernova and the others are some of the other galaxies that were up that night (31 January). These pictures are the unretouched GIF images I received by e-mail and are not the image processed images from the FITS file.

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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Uranus at Opposition

Click on graphic to see full size

Click on graphic to see full size.

   While just saying this, “Uranus is at opposition” would certainly be the butt of many jokes, this seventh planet from the Sun, a gas giant nonetheless, has reached the point in its orbit around the Sun where it is at what is called opposition. Picture the arrangement of the Sun, Earth, and the full Moon, and this is the arrangement for an outer planet such as Uranus when it is at opposition. At opposition the outer planet rises at local sunset time and sets at local sunrise time and so is visible the entire length of night.
Click on graphic for help in finding Uranus.

Click on graphic for help in finding Uranus.

   Uranus has a magnitude that is just under 6 meaning that is at the edge of naked-eye visibility. However to see Uranus without any optical assistance would require extremely dark skies and some seriously good eyesight. With binoculars and telescopes this 7th planet from the Sun is visible as a pale greenish dot. Over time it is possible to follow its relatively slow motion as it moves past the stars in the background. Currently Uranus is within the boundaries of Picses the Fishes and below the ‘Square of Pegasus’. If you can find the ‘square’ use Alpheratz and Algenib as pointers to aim your binoculars or telescope toward Uranus. Uranus takes approximately 83 Earth years to orbit the Sun so each year it moves between 4-5 degrees, or about 0.01 degree each day. Not exactly jettin’ along! The point is that it will essentially stay in the same location relative to the surrounding brighter stars for next few months allowing for many observations of Uranus.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

ISS Belts Orion

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   This morning the ISS flew in path lasting about 4 minutes that took it from my west toward the southeast. At its maximum visibility at -3-4 magnitude, slightly west of south, and at an altitude of 57 degrees I knew before looking up its path that it would traverse part of the constellation Orion the Hunter somewhere around the belt stars. This graphic from the Starry Night program shows the predicted path the ISS would follow, and based on my direct observation and pictures the predicted path was reasonably accurate.
labeled   Clearly showing up in the pictures are the Pleiades, the Hyades, the pentagon-shaped Auriga, the Gemini Twins forming a sort of right triangle with the bright Jupiter. Click on the thumbnail graphic to see a full-size picture with stars and constellations labeled.
   
   
   
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   For the fly-by pictures, taken with a Canon Rebel EOS T3i, I attached a fish-eye lens and set the shutter speed for a 6-second exposure time with the aperture at F3.5, and the focal length backed out to 18mm. Clicking on this picture will open an animated series of full-size pictures showing the path of the ISS as a bright line.

Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   About an hour later the thin 27-day old waning crescent Moon became visible as it rose above the trees on the east side of my backyard.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

ISS This Morning

Click on picture to see it full screen size.

Click on picture to see it full screen size.

   This morning was picture perfect, literally, despite a few high cirrus clouds and the threat of dense fog moving in. Overnight the temperatures dropped to around 50F after a day of rain so it was cool and wet in the backyard as I set up. For this labeled picture the camera had been set to an ISO of 1600, aperture to F5.6, shutter speed was 2.5 seconds, and the lens was backed out (focal length) to 18mm. The original that this was cropped from is 5184×3456 in size.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   This was the second sighting, or fly over, for the ISS this morning with the first one around 4:30 am. The path that one followed was too low for me to see it, however this one lasted for about 6 minutes from 6:46 am – 6:52 am, and its path took it to an altitude of 85 degrees, or nearly straight up. It passed close by the star Capella in Auriga the Charioteer as it reached its greatest altitude heading for the southeast horizon. Along the way, as this graphic shows, the ISS went between the stars marking the Gemini Twins heads, Castor and Pollux and the planet Jupiter.
   
ISs and Moon

ISS and Moon

And then went right past the waning crescent Moon as this picture shows. This is cropped from the original 5184×3456 picture. Specs for that picture are aperture at F8, 1/3 second shutter speed, ISO 800, and the lens (focal length) was set at 25 mm.
   The slideshow below is a series of pictures taken as fast as I could click the shutter release. Each exposure is at the same settings as the cropped picture of the ISS and Moon. In each of the pictures the ISS appears as the moving small dashed line.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   

                  Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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   Some software and websites for tracking and planning photo opportunities. A Kindle App, ISS Detector Pro, the ISS Sightings web site, SATVIEW web site, and the Starry Night software.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Tracking Satellites: An App

   As a followup to my posting from yesterday I thought it would be worthwhile to do sort of a review of the things I use for planning photo opportunities for the ISS and Iridium Satellites. You have seen some of what is possible with them so the review will be more of a description and how I use it. So watch for these reviews over the next week or so.

ISS Detector Pro

ISS Detector Pro

   My posting yesterday included the App ISS Detector Pro, one of the programs I use for setting up a photo opportunity for the International Space Station, or Iridium Satellites specifically. This particular App is available for Android phones and Android devices such as what I use, a Kindle Fire HD. With that in mind I can only describe how it works on my ‘handheld’ device. (By handheld I mean web enabled and capable of running Apps or software – like cell phones, tablets, or other small screen device held in the hand as opposed to the typical laptop or notebook type of computer.)

bottom bar   An additional couple of features are located at the bottom of the locator display screens. Tap or click on the left button to go online with your default web browser to a web site describing the particular Iridium satellite or the ISS. The button on the right side brings up a map showing the current location for the satellite or the ISS and a plot of the orbital path relative to the Earth’s surface as the banner picture on the top of the page shows.
Top Bar   At the top of the locator display are some other things you could do with the information shown on the display. The 3 dots icon takes you where you could share by e-mail, or by social media sites, for example. You could add the event to your Google Calendar; the 3 vertical dots take to a configuration page where you have control over a variety of things.

   The slideshow below cycles through 3 screen shots from the ISS Detector Pro App: The Home page showing any sighting opportunities for the ISS and Iridium satellites; a locator for the Iridium flare; and a locator and path for the ISS.

   Click here to read about and see additional pictures of the ISS and Iridium flares.

   
                              Move the cursor over any picture to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

3 Amigos – The Line Up

'3 amigos'

‘3 amigos’

   This evening, Saturday 1 June, look westward shortly after sunset to see three planets arranged in a diagonal line – from ‘top to bottom’ – Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter as this graphic shows.

Click on image to see it full size

Click on image to see it full size

   As the sky darkens and the planets are setting grab your binoculars or telescope and take a closer look at Mercury. This innermost planet is very close to the open star cluster M-35, also described as NGC-2168, located near the feet of the Gemini Twins. Just below M-35 is a fainter and more compact open star cluster NGC-2158. Click on this image to see it full size and as an animated zoom in showing more detail.

   Celestial objects with the letter ‘M’ preceding the number refers to objects observed and catalog by the French astronomer Charles Messier. Objects having the letters ‘NGC’ preceding the number refer to objects that are listed in the New General Catalog of celestial objects.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.