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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A Lunar Eclipse and 2 Planet Conjunction

   Our Moon reaches full phase on July 5th and will be rising around sunset local time. Two of the giant outer planets, Jupiter and Saturn will be passed by the Moon over a two day period. On the 5th the full Moon will be about 6-7o to the west from Jupiter. The next day, July 6th, the waning gibbous Moon will have passed the two planets and the Moon will about 1-2o from Saturn. Both days should prove to be ‘binocular-worthy’ with the morning of the 6th having the Moon the closest to the planets.
   There will also be a partial penumbral lunar eclipse however this type of eclipse has the Moon passing through the faint outer shadow cast by the Earth. Even a total penumbral lunar eclipse is barely noticeable so as a partial do not expect to see much change in the Moon’s brightness.

   
   
   

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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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2 Mornings – 2 Conjunctions

   Monday morning June 8th in the hours before sunrise look toward the western horizon for the 17-day old waning gibbous Moon to be within a few degrees from the outer planet Jupiter, and a bit further to the east the planet Saturn. With binoculars this conjunction could be followed for the next two mornings as the Moon will have moved to the other side of the two planets and closer to Saturn by Tuesday morning.


   
   
   
   


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Mars at Western Quadrature

orbital-positions   Saturday June 6th the position of the planet Mars, with respect to the Earth and the Sun, places this planet at what is called western quadrature. At that orbital position Mars, and actually any outer planet at their respective quadrature, is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows, and the banner graphic at the top of the page shows. Think last quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Mars. At this position Mars leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Mars rises before the Sun.

   Saturday morning finds Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Dwarf Planet Ceres, Neptune, and the waning gibbous Moon spread across the morning skies from southeast to southwest.

   
   
   

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June Apogee Moon

   Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest to Earth), for this orbit, on Wednesday June 3rd. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 28.56 Earth diameters, 226,406 miles (364,366 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the perigee Moon the 13.3-day old waxing gibbous Moon rises a couple of hours before the Sun sets placing the Moon over the southeastern horizon around mid-evening.

   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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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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May Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Monday 18th. At that time the 26.5-day old waning crescent Moon will be at a distance of 31.88 Earth diameters 252,028 miles (405,600 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee the thin waning crescent Moon rises about 1-2 hours before sunrise local time. Looking carefully with binoculars you may be able to see nearby 4th magnitude star 20 Ceti, one of the many stars that are part of the constellation Cetus the Whale.

   

   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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Mars – Jupiter at Heliocentric Conjunction

   Saturday May 16th the outer planets Mars and Jupiter will reach a point in their respective orbit that has them at nearly the same heliocentric coordinates. This a system of tracking the planets as they make their 360o orbit around the Sun. Each Sun orbiting object’s orbital position is measured using degrees, minutes, and seconds of heliocentric longitude. Each object orbits the Sun at a daily rate determined by dividing 360o by the number of days an object takes to complete one orbit around the Sun.
   As the above graphic shows the two planets are arranged in a straight line out from the Sun. The Earth is not part of the line-up. This is a heliocentric view of their orbital positions with the Sun at the Center. A heliocntric longitude based view is not the same as a view from the surface of the Earth where there is a distinctly different view of the two planets.


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Say it Ain’t So!


   According to the web site Physics-Astronomy on May 16th the crescent Moon will be in a conjunction with the inner planet Venus and an outer planet, Jupiter, in a formation looking like a smiley face.

   This type of conjunction has happened in the past including one in 2 B.C. that has been suggested to be the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. More recently this triple conjunction did happen in December 2008, according to the article.
   Click here to see a list of future planetary conjunctions.

   Looking down from above the solar system on May 16th showing the orbital positions of Venus, the Earth, and Jupiter. From this graphic it shows that from the Earth you would have to look toward different directions to see either planet.

   No this will not happen.
   Here are reasons why this article about the conjunction is “fake news”.

   Venus is visible in the evening skies at sunset over the western horizon and sets around 9-10 pm local time. (Rises: 7:23 am – Sets: 10:24 pm)
   Jupiter is visible in the morning skies over the southern horizon and sets during the afternoon local time. (Rises: 12:45 am – Sets: 10:47 am)
   The article does not indicate which crescent Moon. Is this a waxing crescent Moon in the evening or a waning crescent Moon in the morning?
   The Moon is in fact a 22.8-day old waning crescent Moon in the morning skies. However the Moon is closer to Neptune and Dwarf Planet Ceres than it is to either Venus or Jupiter.



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