Venus Deserts the Desert

   So here I am nearly 7o further south and 16o further west with hopes of taking advantage of the clear and darker skies around the Tucson Arizona area. Unfortunately for me it is monsoon season and if the storms this morning and the mostly overcast skies are any indication of the weather to come then I am in trouble!! Nonetheless staying on the eastern side of the city allows me easy access to Mt. Lemmon or further east to dark sites around the Saguaro National Park. My plans include heading out before sunrise to try capturing Venus and maybe some of the stars in the northern hemisphere winter constellations now appearing over the eastern horizon before the Sun starts to brighten the sky.

5:30 am CDT

5:30 am CDT

   Throughout the next week Venus is visible but lower each morning as it moves east toward the Sun. This is easily seen by observing Venus at the same time of the morning. It helps to have something to use as a reference for the position of Venus above the Horizon – its altitude. So find something on your local horizon like a tree to use as a reference for how the altitude of Venus changes day by day.

5:30 am CDT

5:30 am CDT

   Venus is moving eastward toward the Sun at a daily rate that is faster then the apparent daily rate the Sun moves as the above animated graphic shows. While this animated graphic shows Venus above the horizon but then adds the orbital path for Venus and then the horizon is removed to show the Sun’s position relative to Venus.

   
   
   
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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.

Super Moon x 3

 Graphic Credit: Heart Touching Fun (red-lined by me)

Graphic Credit: Heart Touching Fun (dates red-lined by me)

   File this under the ‘here we go again’ once again. Three “Super Moon” ‘events’ in a row – the next three months starting with the full Moon of July 12th; then August 10th; and then on September 9th. And I am hoping that this graphic will help in putting this into context.
   According to this graphic which was on Facebook about a year ago the full Moon of 23 June 2013 would be the largest appearing one of that year as well as the closest one for that year – a “Super Moon”. While the part about closest and largest appearing is correct, using the term “Super Moon” is misleading in the sense that there is nothing for comparison and so there will be folks going outside expecting to see a really large appearing full Moon. But how large? As large as the graphic suggests!!
   So what is a “Super Moon”; how “super” is it in comparison to other full Moons. And how significant, if at all, is this ‘event’?
   A “Super Moon” is a full Moon that occurs very near to its time of perigee, the closest the Moon comes to the Earth for that particular orbit, or month. By definition, “very close” would be when the Moon is less than 10% of its orbital period (about 2.9 days to 3.2 days) from the time of perigee. Use the data in the table below to compare the full and new Moon dates, with the apogee (farthest) and perigee dates and distances. Dates for apogee and perigee are given showing how many days and or hours before or after the date of the new or full moon these two distances occur.
   Here is an idea – use the apogee dates to determine when we will have a “Super Mini-Moon”!
The Full Moons of 2014

The Full Moons of 2014

   By comparing the dates and distances for this year, you will see that there are several “Super Moon”s in 2014. In fact, each year there are from four to six occurrences when the full Moon and perigee are close enough to be considered a “Super Moon” – the full Moon closest to the time for perigee is the actual “Super Moon” for that year. So a “Super Moon” is not that unique nor worthy of the hype these next three will receive other than drawing people’s attention to the night skies and our closest natural solar system neighbor.
   Carry this analysis further by comparing dates for full Moon and perigee over a several year period, and you’ll find a pattern in the regularity of “Super Moon” events. How? There are two regular time periods, or cycles, involved in the pattern for “Super Moon”. First, the time period between each full Moon, the synodic month, is approximately 29.53 days; second, the time period between each perigee, the anomalistic month, is approximately 27.55 days. With a two-day difference between these two cycles, there is obviously not a super Moon every month. However, with a ratio of 14 synodic months to 15 perigee periods,the closest of the “Super Moons” to perigee will occur about every 13-14 months. Because of the ratio relationship between these two cycles, 14 full Moons after the full Moon of June 23, 2013 (356,989 km), there will be the closest full Moon of 2014 on August 10th (356,896 km), which will be followed by the closest full Moon of September 28, 2015 (356,877 km), and so on.

   The above has been adapted from my October 2012 Scope on the Skies column in Science Scope Magazine “Apparent Sizes, or It Was This Big”. Click here to download a copy of that column (PDF).

                    
            
 (N=New Moon; F=Full Moon '-' = before; '+' = after)
           2014 - All times are shown in UT (Universal Time)
             Perigee                            Apogee
---------------------------------   ---------------------------------
Jan  1 21:01 356921 km -  N+   9h   Jan 16  1:54 406536 km +  F-   2h
Jan 30  9:59 357079 km -  N-  11h   Feb 12  5:11 406231 km +  F-2d18h
Feb 27 19:53 360438 km    N-1d12h   Mar 11 19:47 405365 km    F-4d21h
Mar 27 18:31 365705 km    N-3d 0h   Apr  8 14:53 404501 km    F-6d16h
Apr 23  0:28 369764 km    N-6d 5h   May  6 10:23 404318 km    N+7d 4h
May 18 11:59 367098 km    F+3d16h   Jun  3  4:26 404955 km    N+5d 9h
Jun 15  3:35 362061 km    F+1d23h   Jun 30 19:11 405931 km    N+3d10h
Jul 13  8:28 358258 km    F+  21h    Jul 28  3:28 406568 km -- N+1d 4h
Aug 10 17:44 356896 km ++ F-   0h   Aug 24  6:10 406522 km -  N-1d 8h
Sep  8  3:30 358387 km    F-  22h   Sep 20 14:23 405845 km    N-3d15h
Oct  6  9:42 362480 km    F-2d 1h   Oct 18  6:06 404897 km    N-5d15h
Nov  3  0:22 367870 km    F-3d22h   Nov 15  1:57 404336 km    N-7d10h
Nov 27 23:12 369824 km    N+5d10h   Dec 12 23:04 404583 km    F+6d10h
Dec 24 16:44 364790 km    N+2d15h   

Data Table Source: Lunar Perigee and Apogee Calculator. http://www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/pacalc.html
   

2014 Lunar Phases — Using U.S.A. Central Time (UT-6 or UT-5) 
      New Moon	           Full Moon	            
Jan. 1 We. 05:15 AM	Jan. 15 We. 10:53 PM	
Jan. 30 Th. 03:40 PM	Feb. 14 Fr. 05:54 PM	
Mar. 1 Sa. 02:02 AM	Mar. 16 Su. 12:10 PM	
Mar. 30 Su. 01:48 PM	Apr. 15 Tu. 02:45 AM	
Apr. 29 Tu. 01:17 AM	May 14 We. 02:18 PM	
May 28 We. 01:43 PM	June 12 Th. 11:13 PM	
June 27 Fr. 03:10 AM	July 12 Sa. 06:26 AM	
July 26 Sa. 05:42 PM	Aug. 10 Su. 01:10 PM	
Aug. 25 Mo. 09:13 AM	Sept. 8 Mo. 08:38 PM	
Sept. 24 We. 01:13 AM	Oct. 8 We. 05:50 AM	
Oct. 23 Th. 04:56 PM	Nov. 6 Th. 04:22 PM	
Nov. 22 Sa. 06:32 AM	Dec. 6 Sa. 06:27 AM	
Dec. 21 Su. 07:36 PM			    

Source of Lunar Phase Data: Moon Phases.

   
   
   
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.

Imbolog 2014

shadowsGroundhog Day
   It has become a tradition in the United States to watch for a ground hog to emerge on the 2nd of February. We know this as Groundhog Day, an event that originates from ancient Celtic tradition. Groundhog Day was known as Imbolog, or sheep’s milk, a time for nurturing young sheep and planting spring crops. The belief arose that if Imbolog were to be sunny and clear, then winter’s effects would endure, foreshadowing a long winter. However, if skies were overcast, then the warmer days of spring would arrive early. To farmers then and today, an early spring means early spring planting and a subsequent early harvest. Often fires were lit to commemorate the event as fires were a sign of warmth and light, both of which increased as days lengthened.

   German immigrant farmers are credited with bringing Groundhog Day with them to the United States as they settled in Pennsylvania. To them, February 2 was called Candlemas Day, because of the practice of lighting candles on this day in celebration of early planting. The Germans believed that the badger was able to predict the weather on the basis of whether or not its shadow appeared. If the badger, or ground hog, saw its shadow on Candlemas it would be scared and return to its burrow for another six weeks-to sleep through the long winter. However if the skies were overcast then no shadow would appear, and an early warm spring would be expected.

   So year after year, since 1898, crowds have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2 to wait for a certain ground hog to emerge from its burrow. Today the belief in this as a predictor of weather is not nearly as consequential as it appears despite all the hoopla created by the news media. Yet there is some scientific rationale to the ritual, albeit not in the accuracy of the forecast. When the skies are clear temperatures tend to be cold as the ground radiates heat absorbed during the day back into the atmosphere. When skies are overcast, temperatures tend to moderate as clouds trap heat nearer the ground.

   
   
   
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.

Halley Came to Jackson

   The other day I posted about Comet Lovejoy and its proximity to the Keystone of Hercules. This morning color me frustrated! My opportunity for getting any pictures of Comet Lovejoy have vaporized! The past couple of mornings have been cloudy or hazy which is somewhat normal for this time of year, but adding to my astro-misery is the Moon, now at full phase, lighting up the sky from the west while the Sun, not quite up, is already making the eastern skies too bright to see the Keystone stars of Hercules let alone the much dimmer Comet Lovejoy.

Click on picture to see it full size.

Click on picture to see it full size.

   So as a sort of consolation here is a picture from a Science Educator colleague from Tucson AZ who takes many of his pictures from Kitt Peak where the skies are much darker and clearer than around here in west-central Missouri. Be sure to visit Robert Sparks at his Flickr pages to see more of his pictures of celestial objects.

(Click here to see the complete full-size banner graphic.)

Below is a wonderful video and song by Mary Chapin Carpenter about Comet Halley to brighten our day!

   
   
   
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.

Morning Closeness-Conjunction Style

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Before sunrise this Monday morning, 18 November, there will be several areas of interest to view, all of which have something in common – a celestial object appearing close to another celestial object. This graphic is a somewhat distorted view of the sky above the horizon stretching from the southwest to nearly the eastern horizon and shows the sky at 630 am CST.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   In the west and setting is the waning gibbous Moon about 3-4 degrees from the reddish star Aldebaran one the eyes of Taurus the Bull. The reflected light from the just past full Moon will drown out many of the stars near Aldebaran, the stars of the open star cluster the Hyades.
   This graphic is a simulated view of the pair through 7×50 binoculars at 630 am CST.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Over the eastern horizon you can easily see the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. Less than 2 degrees down to the left from Spica is Comet ISON. Spica, with an apparent magnitude of nearly 1.0, far outshines Comet ISON which by this morning may have reached 4th to 5th magnitude.
   This graphic is a simulated view of the pair through 7×50 binoculars at 630 am CST.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   A little lower, closer to the horizon, is another close pair of celestial objects. This is the planet Mercury and Comet Encke. As with Spica and Comet ISON there is a sharp contrast in the apparent magnitudes of Mercury and Comet Encke. Mercury which currently is at greatest western elongation shines at around -0.5 magnitude, while Comet Encke is between 4th and 5th magnitudes. Both are separated by less than 2 fegrees.
   This graphic is a simulated view of the pair through 7×50 binoculars at 630 am CST.

   
   
   
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.

EarthKam Opportunity

sally   Students and educators are invited to join NASA for the Sally Ride EarthKAM Summer 2013 Mission from July 9-12, 2013. Guide your students in hands-on research as they program a camera aboard the International Space Station to take pictures of specific locations on Earth. The optional online curriculum at the Sally Ride EarthKAM website is targeted at middle school students, but could easily be adapted for other grade levels.. All students and educators are welcome — including participants in summer and afterschool programs.

   Click here to go to the Sally Ride EarthKam website form more information.
   Click here to go to NASA’s Teaching from Space web site.

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

Life in Tornado Alley

   Living in western Missouri near the stateline with Kansas places us in the area of the midwest known as “Tornado Alley”. While we have been very fortunate to not have had any tornadoes close by we have had to deal with the severe weather that accompanies tornadoes – including winds over 50 mph, and like this morning some really heavy torrential rains with thunder and lightning. In the span of less than 30 minutes the creek (aka the ‘river’ as our granddaughters call it) rose over its banks and flooded into the backyard. The base of the creek is at least 3 feet below the bottom of the fence and as the pictures show the water rose more than halfway up the fence and into the yard.

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A 1-minute look at the storm and flooding this morning.

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