Winter is Coming

   It is still summer in the northern hemisphere and we are still more than a month away from the September equinox however take a look toward the eastern horizon some morning before sunrise and you will see some of the familiar constellations of the winter season (northern hemisphere) rising and coming into view. In this group of constellations is the Gemini Twins, and at their feet is the 25-day old waning crescent Moon.
   Near the Moon, within about 5o, is an open star cluster, M-35. This is a 5th magnitude collection of stars located about 2500-3000 light years from the Earth. M-35 is not, as some may think, a 2.5 ton U.S. Army all terrain truck.

   
   
   
   

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.

Siriusly Bright

   Seriously? Siriusly! “Bad it is,” as Yoda would say.
   The point of this is that it is during this time of the year when, for northern hemisphere observers, a large group of the brightest stars in our night skies are all above the horizon. These include the bright stars that make up what is called the winter hexagon, a six-sided shape connecting 6 different constellations. The stars, apparent magnitude, and constellation making up the Winter Hexagon are Rigel (0.15) in Orion; Aldebaran (0.84) in Taurus; Capella (0.06) in Auriga; The Gemini Twins, Pollux (1.15) and Castor (1.56); Procyon (0.37) in Canis Minor; and Sirius (-1.47) in Canis Major.
   Also adding to the seriously bright celestial group are our two brightest planets, Venus (-3.98) in the west, and Jupiter (-2.45) in the east.

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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.

Moon Near Jupiter – By Jove!

14jan-bino   This evening as the nearly full Moon rises it will be within about 4-5 degrees from the planet Jupiter. As the graphic shows both will fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars.

14jan-sm-ani    This part of the northern hemisphere winter sky contains several of the brightest night time stars arranged into a six-sided hexagonal shape asterism sometimes known as the ‘Winter Circle’ or the ‘Winter Hexagon’. Back in my Planetarium Director days I often worked with groups of scouts on their Astronomy badges under the dome. One of the requirements was to learn 6 constellations. So if it was during the winter months I would show them this group of stars and by finding the six stars forming the shape they have also located six constellations: Taurus, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Minor, Canis Major, and Orion.
   
   
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.

ISS This Morning

dolphin   Earlier this morning the ISS, International Space station, flew over the midwest in a path that lasted 4 minutes and at its peak the ISS reached 85 degrees in altitude – nearly straight up. The path it followed took it from the southwest horizon across the summer triangle past the star Altair in Aquila the Eagle, towards the east northeast horizon.
   I was hoping to catch the ISS as it flew past some interesting groups of stars like the two small constellations of Sagitta the Arrow and Delphinus the Dolphin however the sky was too bright at this early hour for those stars to show up against the brighter background.
   In this sequence of images the sky at 0530 CDT was fairly bright and there were some high cirrus clouds but the ISS was as bright as Venus appears and was very easy to follow with my camera. The images are 2 second time exposures with an aperture setting of f4, and the lens was backed out to 18mm for a wide field of view.

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

A Snake, Bird, and a Cup

Click on this graphic to see it animated

Click on this graphic to see it animated

   Above the southern horizon during the northern hemisphere mid-winter pre-dawn hours is an interesting grouping of four constellations of which three are centuries old classical constellations linked together in mythologies, while the fourth constellation, Sextans the sextant, is a ‘modern’ constellation.
   As perhaps the longest constellation the stars of Hydra the Watersnake, known in mythology as the many-headed snake that Hercules battled, meanders across the sky from east to west.
   According to mythology the constellation’s great length represents the long time it took for Hercules to defeat Hydra. Hydra had nine heads, and as Hercules found out, simply cutting off each of its heads was not sufficient to slay the snake. For as soon as one head was cut off, two more would grow back in its place. So, in order to defeat Hydra, Hercules had to burn each decapitated stump. The Sun’s progression in the skies down the length of the constellation Hydra represents Hercules’ progress in killing the snake.
   During northern hemisphere summer, the Sun is in Cancer the Crab as Hydra’s head rises in the East. Both Leo and Virgo stretch end to end, parallel to the snake’s body. So as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Sun appears to move from Cancer eastward into Leo, and then into Virgo. Throughout this period, the Sun’s light drowns out more and more of the stars in Hydra and the ‘fire’ from the Sun sears the stumps as Hercules continues to successfully cut off additional heads.
corvus-crater   Riding on the back of Hydra are two inconspicuous constellations, Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup . These two constellations have been associated with the god Apollo. Crater has been known as Apollo’s goblet, and Corvus has been known as the bird of Apollo that sometimes performed special deeds for him.
   
   
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Oh – Orion

The starry skies around Orion

   The Orinids Meteor shower, at least for me, is now history. The sky was very clear however with the ambient light from Kansas City to the south and west the skies had a limiting magnitude of around 2 to 4 depending on which direction I faced. I saw 7 meteors during a 2-hour time span between 3:30 and 5:30 this morning. All were at least 1st magnitude, and none were captured on film despite running the video for nearly the entire time.

Jupiter, the Hyades, and Pleiades

   However I did manage to capture the area around Orion from Taurus over to the Gemini Twins. In the picture above, Orion’s right knee, the star Saiph, is seen between the leaves and branches of a tree. Near the top of the picture is bright Jupiter and the two open star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades. This picture is a closeup of Jupiter and the two star clusters.

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