Crescent Moon – Neptune Conjunction

   Saturday February 13th the 2-day old thin waxing crescent Moon will be about 2-3o from the outer planet Neptune and about 6-7o to the west from Dwarf Planet Ceres. The Moon will pass by Ceres over the next 24 hours and by about this time tomorrow the Moon will be to the east from Ceres.
   I should point out that Ceres with an apparent magnitude between 8th and 9th and Neptune with an apparent magnitude between 7th and 8th neither will be visible to the unaided eye.
   However when you are looking toward the Moon you will be looking in the direction of these two distant members of our solar system. This graphic shows the position of the Earth, our Moon, Ceres, and Neptune on February 13th. From this perspective objects to the left of the Sun will be seen in the evening skies as the Earth rotates.

   
   
   

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January Moon at Ascending Node

   Sunday January 24th the 12-day old waxing gibbous 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 day of the node crossing the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be over the southeastern horizon around sunset local time. Mars is higher over the southern horizon while Mercury is low over the western horizon. In between are three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Dwarf Planet Ceres.

   Uranus has an apparent magnitude of 5.8 and could be viewed with binoculars and certainly with larger aperture instruments and camera time exposures.

   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 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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November Moon at Apogee – And the Ecliptic

click on graphic to see it larger   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday November 26th. For this apogee the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.82 Earth diameters, 252,211 miles (405,894 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 12o to the east from the planet Mars. The Moon will also be about 11o west from the outer planet Uranus. Currently Uranus has an apparent magnitude of around 5.7 meaning that it could be seen with the unaided in dark enough skies, or with telescopes and even binoculars – as long as the Moon is not in that part of the sky.

   Along the Ecliptic
   You may notice the arrangement of the planets spread across the horizon as shown in the graphic. Many objects in our solar system orbit the Sun in a path that is somewhat parallel with the Earth’s orbit, the ecliptic. All of the orbits are tilted or inclined away from the ecliptic however the 8 classical planets all have orbits that are inclined less than 7o from the ecliptic. Dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, for example, have orbital inclinations greater than 7o.
   The ecliptic also defines the Sun’s apparent path against the background of stars throughout the year. The planets are also in motion as they orbit the Sun as the video below illustrates.
   Take a short cruise along the ecliptic with the Sun!

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   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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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.

   
   
   

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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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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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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Moon – Mars/Neptune Conjunction

   Friday June 12th and Saturday June 13th before sunrise local time look toward the eastern horizon for the waning gibbous Moon to be near the planets Mars and Neptune. On both mornings the 20-22 day old Moon will be within about 7-9o from the two planets. Depending on your binoculars all three may fit within the field of view. However given the range of apparent magnitudes the reflected sunlight from Neptune (7.88) and possibly from Mars (-0.20) will be overshadowed by the much brighter Moon’s apparent magnitude (-12.0).


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Mars – Saturn Heliocentric Conjunction – 2020

   Monday June 1st two of the outer planets, Mars and Saturn, will be more or less at the same heliocentric longitude of about 280o, and would be in what is called a heliocentric conjunction. Heliocentric (Sun-centered) coordinates uses an overhead view of the solar system with planet location given as degrees of heliocentric longitude. The heliocentric longitude is based on a view from the Sun and is given as the angle between a planet and the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox, 0o, is located within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes, and is the intersection between the ecliptic and the celestial equator.
   As the Earth revolves around the Sun it ‘gives’ the Sun its apparent motion eastward along the ecliptic. When the Sun crosses the celestial equator at this intersection it is moving north. At the crossing northern hemisphere winter becomes spring – the opposite seasonal change for the southern hemisphere.

   Despite having the same heliocentric longitude, when viewed from the surface of the Earth, the two show an east to west difference of about 2 hours of right ascension.

   
   
   

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Moon Mars Conjunction x2

   Thursday morning May 14th the last quarter Moon will be about 8-9o to the west from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. The following morning, Friday May 15th the waning crescent Moon will be about 6-7o from Mars but this time on the east side.


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