Uranus at Western Quadrature – 2020

   Sunday August 2nd the position of the planet Uranus, with respect to the Earth and the Sun, places this ringed planet at what is called western quadrature. At that orbital position Uranus, and actually any outer planet, is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows, and also this graphic. Think third quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Uranus.
    At western quadrature Uranus leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Uranus rises before the Sun and also sets before the Sun.

   
   
   This is a short video clip from a much longer video that I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” at the Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City Missouri during May 2011.

   
   
   

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Mercury at Western Elongation

   On Wednesday July 22nd Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 20.1o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.

   From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (inferior conjunction) between the Earth and the Sun to western elongation. From there the inner planet moves eastward going behind the Sun (superior conjunction) and eventually reappearing on the eastern side of the Sun for an eastern elongation. Repeat over and over – do not stop!

   There is a lot to see and a few things you cannot see on the morning of Mercury’s western elongation. Going by relative apparent magnitudes Mercury (0.33), Venus (-4.43), Mars (-0.89) are all easily visible as bright to very bright star-like objects. On the other hand those not seen with the naked-eye but are still above the horizon in the morning skies include: Uranus (5.80), Eris (18.64), Neptune (7.84), Ceres (7.40)

   
   
   
   
   

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Comet in the Clouds

   This morning, July 13th, the sky was generally overcast with thin status type clouds in most directions, including the northeast where the comet was just starting to appear over the trees marking my local horizon. Fortunately the clouds were still transparent enough for the comet to be just barely visible to the naked-eye, but very visible with time exposure pictures.
   I was hoping to position my camera so that the Baseball player would look as if he were swinging at the comet but the clouds started to thicken in that direction as I moved off the road and into some tall grasses.
   The other planets that were very visible yesterday morning were hidden or blurred by the clouds. Jupiter shined through the clouds but not Saturn or Mars. The Moon light was reflecting off clouds brightening the sky in that direction. And Venus and Aldebaran were somewhat visible but it took a time exposure picture to catch the light from the rest of the stars making the v-shaped part of the Hyades.

   
   
   

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Comet NEOWISE or NEOWOW!!

   Could it get much better than this? Five visible planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, Earth); Moon-Mars conjunction; Venus-Aldebaran conjunction; 2 outer planets and a Dwarf Planet not naked-eye visible, and Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE). Icing on the ‘cake’ would have been to have the ISS orbit through the sky this morning.

   
   
   

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Crescent Moon – Venus Close Conjunction

   Friday morning June 19th about an hour before sunrise look toward the eastern horizon for the 27.5-day old waning crescent Moon and the inner planet Venus. The two will be separated by about 1-2o and both will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars making for a striking view.
   You will be looking at a Moon that is about 24-hours from new Moon phase, and shines with an apparent magnitude of -8.90 compared with Venus shining with a -4.29 apparent magnitude.
   Off to the west over the eastern-southern horizon are the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, Mars, and Dwarf Planet Ceres. Further to the west are the planets Jupiter and Saturn.

   
   
   

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I Should’ve Gone to Mars!

   Let’s face it. I am a ‘closet geographer’! Can you say Geomorphology? That is my passion when not looking skyward. I am fascinated by landforms and how they came to looking the way they do now. What were the weathering and erosional process that were involved and how did the patterns of those process do what it did? And that leads into this blog, sort of a repeat of a previous blog about taking a road trip on Mars, and two more recent blogs about this trip. This time a road trip, or actually an air trip to my brother’s home in Sun City Arizona, a northwest suburb of Phoenix.
   So imagine the diverse landforms you could see along the way either from the ground in a car or by plane as I did traveling across the United States from my home in Lee’s Summit, Missouri to my brother’s place near Phoenix Arizona. From the wooded and hilly and green western Missouri southwest across the Great Plains of Kansas and Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle where the terrain takes on a more brownish and rugged look. From the Panhandle the route takes you across New Mexico through Albuquerque then into eastern Arizona to Flagstaff and then south to Phoenix.

   So imagine using the same latitudes and longitudes on Earth, but this time put them on the surface of Mars. Assuming that something like this will become a reality in the future what types of terrain would you see along the way?
(Mars Geologic Map – source: USGS)

   
   
   

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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)

   
   
   
   
   
   

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