Mars-Mercury Conjunction

feb7   This evening, and for the next several evenings the planets Mars and Mercury will pass by one another coming within about one-half degree on February 8th. Both planets are low above the southwestern at local sunset time however given a flat horizon as in this graphic it may be possible to see the two planets.

Mercury and Mars: 7 to11 February

Mercury and Mars: 7th to 11th February

   Both planets are in motion as they follow their respective orbits toward the east. However the Sun’s apparent motion eastward, a result of the Earth’s actual orbital motion, is faster than the actual motion of Mars so the Sun, in effect, will catch up with Mars. This results in us seeing Mars set earlier and earlier. Mercury, on the other hand, is closer to the Sun than we are so it will be moving eastward noticeably faster than Mars and the Sun, and as this animated graphic shows, it only takes Mercury a few days to move right past Mars.

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

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

   Ok- as having once taught middle school grades 6 through 8 I have always enjoyed this part of the lessons about the solar system. That is, when I can explain to students about a debate over the pronunciation of this particular planet. Of course saying ‘Your Uh Nuss’ is not as humorous as the kids preferred ‘Your Anus’! I like to describe this debate (with tongue in cheek), that there are two sides to the pronunciation debate – sort of split down the middle if you will. Eventually we get to the planet and its characteristics. Eventually.
Uranus in the Evening Sky

Uranus in the Evening Sky

   So what about this East Quadrature? This is a position of an outer planet with respect to the location of the Earth and the Sun. Outer planets at eastern quadrature are located at a 90o angle from the Earth and the Sun as shown in the first graphic above. This is one of the three positions that are used to describe an outer planet location during the Earth’s orbit around the Sun — not the outer planet’s orbit. An outer planet will be at eastern quadrature, then approximately 3 months later at opposition (Uranus-Earth-Sun), 3 months later at western quadrature, 3 months later at superior conjunction (Earth-Sun-Uranus), then the pattern repeats.
Uranus in Motion

Uranus in Motion

   So where exactly is Uranus (the correct answer is not behind you!!)? This outer planet currently rises before sunset local time and is over the southern horizon as shown in the second graphic above. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye, or at least right at the fringes of what we can see – so if your skies are really dark then you may be able to discern the faint glow of reflected sunlight from Uranus.
   With binoculars it will become, in a sense, one of the stars in your binocular field of view. In this simulated 7×50 binocular view Uranus is slightly brighter that the 6th magnitude stars nearby. To verify that you are actually viewing Uranus use this animated graphic as a star field guide. Wait a couple of weeks to allow the slower moving planet to move in its orbit. Then observe this same area to see if there have been any changes. This graphic starts with the Uranus near a pair of equal in brightness stars on 26 November. The graphic dissolves into showing the position of Neptune today, and then dissolves one last time to show where Uranus is with respect to the pair of stars.

   Here is a couple minute long clip from a video I produced that was used during a live music performance by the group Dark Matter under a 60-foot diameter planetarium dome.

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

Luna, by Jove!

December 25th - 7 p.m. Local Time

December 25th – 7 p.m. Local Time

   Happy Holidays to all of my friends and readers of my humble attempts at writing interesting blogs about our place in space. Here is to a prosperous and healthy new year.

   This evening watch for the waxing gibbous Moon to be within a few degrees of the planet Jupiter. Within the field of view in binoculars you will be able to see Jupiter, Aldebaran, and the stars of the Hyades open star cluster, the v-shaped face of Taurus the Bull.

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

Stairway to the Horizon

7:00 a.m. CST - 8 December

7:00 a.m. CST – 8 December

   The waning Moon this morning was poised to start the first of several conjunctions with planets and a star over the next few mornings. Go out around sunrise your local time each mornig and look toward the southeast horizon for the Moon as it sort of stair-steps its way toward the horizon.
   The Moon is also passing through a part of the sky housing a menagerie of characters including a Harvest Maiden, a Crow, a Wine Goblet, an Equal Arm Balance, and of course a many headed snake! Click here to see a graphic illustrating what I am writing about.

Sunrise - 9 December

Sunrise – 9 December

   The Moon will be near the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden on Sunday morning 9 December.
Sunrise - 10 December

Sunrise – 10 December

   The Moon will be near the planet Saturn on Monday morning 10 December.
Sunrise 11 December

Sunrise 11 December

   The Moon will be near Venus and Mercury on Tuesday morning 11 December.

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