March Moon at Ascending Node

   Tuesday March 31st the 7.5-day old first quarter 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.

click on graphic to see it larger   While the first quarter Moon is at its ascending node further to the west, lower than the Moon, is the planet Venus. Over the next couple of days Venus will pass across the open star cluster the Pleiades.
  

   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 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   

   

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Planets on the Move

   Sometimes there are opportunities to observe the visible planets as they move along their respective orbital paths. Right now is one of those times when there are visible planets in both the evening and morning skies. And they are arranged such that you are able to see, not directly, but over a day at a time you are able to observe how planets closer to the Earth or Sun move relative to planets further away.
   The inner planet Venus, by itself in the evening skies, will pass across the stars of the Pleiades as this animated graphic shows. It is set at 1-day intervals and goes from April 2nd-5th.
   In the morning skies you will find three planets, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter close together over the southeastern horizon before the Sun rises. Keep an eye on Mars as it moves past the slower moving Saturn.
   Shortly before sunrise the innermost planet, Mercury, rises and will also be visible as this graphic set for March 31st shows.


   
   
   

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Moon – Venus/Pleiades/Asteroid Vesta Conjunction

   It is Earth Hour on Saturday evening March 28th. So while you have the lights off step outside, if possible and weather permitting, and look toward the western horizon for the 4.5-day old waxing crescent Moon to be near the inner planet Venus (about 7o) and about 2-3o from Asteroid Vesta over the western horizon at sunset local time. With binoculars you can almost fit the Moon, Pleiades, and Venus within the field of view.

   Keep an eye on this area because over the next week or so Venus will move across and then past the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This animated graphic is set to 1-day intervals from April 2nd to April 5th.
   The Moon is also in motion as it continues its eastward motion across the sky but the dates for the graphic the Moon has moved past this area.

   
   
   

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Orion, Batter Up!

   Late evening Tuesday March 3rd the 9.5-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be near the stars that make up the weapon held in Orion’s upraised right arm. Sort of looks like Orion is swinging a baseball bat at the Moon. And given the shape of the Moon’s orbit the pitch must be a curve ball!

   
   
   

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The Moon and the Sisters

   Sunday evening March 1st the 7.5-day old nearly first quarter Moon, but still a waxing crescent Moon, will be 7-8o from the open star cluster the Pleiades. A few degrees from the Pleiades is another open star cluster the Hyades.
   These two open star clusters are part of the constellation Taurus the Bull. The Hyades make up the face of the Bull, while the Pleiades are located on the Bull’s shoulder. The Pleiades are also known as the “Seven Sisters”.
   
   
   

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Mornings Have Hang Ups!

   Northern Hemisphere winter in addition to chilly or cold mornings may sort of warm you, at least in your mind. If you are outside looking at the sky, over the eastern horizon is a large triangular shape of three bright stars. One star each from three different constellations. Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. This is the asterism (star pattern but not a constellation) the Summer Triangle. There, warmer now?!
   So if you are outside checking out the Summer Triangle, or perhaps Mars and nearby Antares and you have an optical aid like binoculars or a lower power wide-field eyepiece in your telescope aim them and your eyes toward the star Altair. In dark enough skies you can make out the stars making up Sagitta the Arrow a few degrees away from Altair.
   As Altair is rising and with binoculars move the field of view up to the left until the stars of Sagitta fill the field of view. This small constellation, yes a constellation, could be used as a sort of pointer stars to look a few degrees away for a small open star cluster, Brocchi’s Cluster, or more commonly known as the ‘Coathanger Cluster’.
   So if mornings with stars like this don’t warm you up then wait a few months of Earth revolution and these same stars will be showing up in the warmer evening skies of Northern Hemisphere summer and fall.

   
   
   

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From a Crab to a Lion

   Over the next two evenings, January 11th and 12th, the waning gibbous Moon moves from near the Beehive Cluster, M-44, an open star cluster in Cancer the Crab to near the bright star Regulus in Leo the Lion. M-44, with an apparent magnitude of 3.50 in a dark sky without the Moon nearby is visible to the unaided eye and is easily seen with optical assistance like binoculars, or a low-power wide field eyepiece.


   
   
   

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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