Leo and the Planets

   Friday morning September 25th the planet Mars will be within 1o from the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. Both shine with nearly the same apparent magnitude, Regulus (1.34) and Mars (1.78), making them look sort of like a binary system composed of a reddish star and a blue-white star. Interestingly Regulus is a multiple star system composed of at least 4 stars, with Regulus the brightest.
mars-regulus-venus-cropped   Here is a picture from that morning.
   You may also notice that there are three planets now visible in the hours before sunrise. Things will only get better with morning planet viewing as this year comes to an end. Saturn will join the group and then by the end of January Mercury will become the fifth morning planet visible. This animated graphic is set for 7:15 am local time on the 15th of each month.
Pay attention to the graphic for December. It is possible that Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) may still be visible – that is assuming that it has brightened as predictions have suggested.

Stay tuned!

 

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.

It’s Spring on Mars

A Martian Year

A Martian Year – at One Earth Month Intervals

   Thursday June 18th at 13 UT (8 am CDT) is the spring equinox on the planet Mars as the planet transitions from winter during its 684 Earth day orbit around the Sun.
   Seasons on Mars are marked by the planet’s heliocentric longitude coordinates using the position of Mars along its orbit around the Sun. At the Martian spring equinox Mars is at 0o longitude. Each seasonal start/ending point is 90 degrees apart, but because of its elliptical-shaped orbit each Martian season is of varying lengths. Mars is at its greatest distance from the Sun, aphelion, before it reaches the Martian summer solstice when Mars is at 70o longitude. Perihelion, its closest to the Sun, is when Mars is at 250o longitude.
   I’m not exactly sure why this particular date is used but by international agreement astronomers have selected 11 April, 1955 as 0 degrees for year 1 of this Martian calendar. What this means is that Thursday June 18th at 13 UT (8 am CDT) Earth time, is the start of spring for year 33 using the Earth-designed Martian calendar system.

   Mars is currently at solar conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun, and will not be visible until later next month, July.

Year 32
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — Jul 31 2013
90 degrees — Summer solstice — Feb 14 2014
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — Aug 17 2014
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — Jan 11 2015
Year 33
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — Jun 18 2015
90 degrees — Summer solstice — Jan 03 2016
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — Jul 04 2016
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — Nov 28 2016
Year 34
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — May 05 2017
90 degrees — Summer solstice — Nov 20 2017
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — May 22 2018
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — Oct 16 2018

Learn a little (or a lot) more about Mars at the NASA/JPL Mars Curiosity mission web site.

Here is approximately 3 minutes worth of Mars from the Orbit performance.

   
   
   
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.

Mars at Solar Conjunction

mars-solar-conjunction-above   Sunday June 14th the planet Mars will be at solar conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. Mars will reappear on the west side of the Sun as a morning planet next month and gradually will become more visible in the morning skies.
    So while Mars is out of sight for observers it is also out of ‘radio sight’ for all of the spacecraft at Mars – either on the surface or in orbit. For about a two week period between June 7th to 21st mission controllers will stop sending messages to the spacecraft at Mars, however the orbiters will continue their science observations and collecting data. The rovers on Mars on the other hand will not rove until after the radio silence period.

   
   
   
   

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.

Triangulate to Mars

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.


   Wednesday evening, December 17th, the planet Mars sits low above the southwestern horizon at sunset. Mars is not particularly bright and it may be difficult to pick out amongst the stars in that part of the sky. However the three bright stars that make the asterism known as the Summer Triangle are over the western horizon forming a right triangle. Imagine a line extending east from the lower side of the triangle, from Vega to Altair, and you will point at Mars as this animated graphic shows.

   
   
   
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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.

Mars at Perihelion

mars-perihelion   Friday December 12th the planet Mars reached a point in its annual orbit around the Sun when it is the closest to the Sun. This is known as perihelion and for Mars it will be 1.3812 AU (206,624,579 km; 128,390,561 miles) from the Sun. An ‘AU’ is an Astronomical Unit, or the average Earth to Sun distance of 93,000,000 miles.
   Mars is tilted on its axis of rotation by about the same as the Earth so it too has a cycle of seasons. And coincidentally like the Earth, Mars is also closest to the Sun during its northern hemisphere winter. The Mars winter solstice is January 11th 2015.

   Take a brief tour of Mars and its two moons in a short video clip from a longer solar system tour video I made as part of a live musical performance at the Gottlieb Planetarium in Kansas City a few years ago.

   
   
   
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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.

Mars and A Comet

Viewing Mars and the Comet from the Sun.

Viewing Mars and the Comet from the Sun.

   On 3 January of last year Australian Astronomer Robert McNaught captured images of a new comet, Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1), with the use of a telescope at the Siding Springs Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. As this animated graphic shows the comet’s path is from south of the ecliptic moving north across the ecliptic and past the planet Mars during October.
The View From the Comet.

The View From the Comet.


   
   Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) comes the closest to Mars, about 82,000 miles (131,966 km), on October 19th at 18:28 UT (2:28 pm CDT).
The View from Earth.

If we could see the comet and Mars from Earth it might look like this.


   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   Visit the special web site from NASA about the comet.

   
   

   
   
   
   
   
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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.

Mars at East Quadrature

orbital-positions   Saturday 19 July at 6 UT (1 CDT) the position of the planet Mars, with respect to the Earth and the Sun, places this planet at what is called eastern quadrature. At that orbital position Mars, and actually any outer planet, 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 first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Mars. At this position Mars follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Mars rises after the Sun and then sets after the Sun.

   This is a short video clip about Mars 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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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.