Moon and Saturn

   Saturday evening, August 22nd the first quarter Moon will be a few degrees to the east (left) from the planet Saturn, and just out of reach from the Scorpion’s pincers.

   
   
   
   

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.

Neptune at Western Quadrature

orbital-positions   On Sunday May 31st the position of the planet Neptune with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called western quadrature. At that orbital position Neptune, and actually any outer planet, is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think third quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Neptune leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Neptune rises before the Sun and also sets before the Sun.

   Neptune currently is within the boundaries of the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. At around 9th magnitude Neptune is too dim to see with the naked-eye but easily seen with a telescope. In binoculars it may be visible just to the right from 4th magnitude Lambda Aquarii, and just below the point of a small triangle arrangement of 6th stars.

   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.

   
   
   
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.

Uranus at Eastern Quadrature

   Saturday January 3rd the position of the planet Uranus with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Uranus is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as the banner graphic at the top of this page shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Uranus follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Uranus rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.

   Can’t find Uranus? The 7th planet from the Sun is currently within the constellation of Pisces the Fishes and has recently completed its retrograde motion. Finding Uranus is somewhat of a challenge given that it has an average apparent magnitude of 6, putting it at the naked-eye limit of visibility. However the planet is visible with binoculars as a faint pale-bluish star and its location may be found by using the corners of the Square of Pegasus as ‘pointer stars’. With some planning and a good finder chart like those from the Sky Live web site an observer could make an observation perhaps once a week and follow the motion of the Uranus amongst some of the stars of Pisces.

   This is a short piece from a video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Uranus and some of its moons as viewed from the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

   
   
   
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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.

ISS, The Moon, and a Comet

   This evening, December 27th, weather permitting, the International Space Station should be visible as it travels across northern mid-latitudes of North America. From my location near Kansas City Missouri the ISS will appear over the west-northwest horizon at approximately 6:13 pm CST, and be visible above my local horizon for 6 minutes before it disappears below the south-southeast horizon. Along the way it will reach a maximum altitude angle above the southwest horizon of 42 degrees; pass between two stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’, Altair and Vega; pass above the Planet Mars and Comet Finlay, and below the nearly first quarter Moon. At its greatest brightness the ISS will be between 1st and 2nd magnitude, brighter than the stars of the Big Dipper.

   Much of my information for the ISS comes from NASA’s ISS Sightings web site. From there you may tailor the predictions very specifically for your location. I then use an Astronomy program on the PC and also one on my Kindle to see the path it will follow and what if any other celestial objects it may pass. Read a little more about viewing the ISS and Iridium Flares, as well as suggestions for taking pictures of these Earth orbiters.

   The slideshow below shows the ISS at 1-minute intervals. Since this event is after sunset I have touched up the graphics – brightened and re-colored to make the scene more visible.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

   
   
   
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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.

Neptune at East Quadrature

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Thursday November 27th the position of the planet Neptune with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Neptune is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Neptune follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Neptune rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.
28nov-bino   Where is Neptune now?The 8th planet from the Sun is currently within the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer and has recently completed its retrograde motion. Finding Neptune will be made a little easier as Neptune and the Moon will be a few degrees apart on the evening of the 28th. Despite the close proximity Neptune ‘shines’ at 8th magnitude compared to the -12th magnitude for the first quarter Moon. However after a couple of days and the Moon has moved further east leaving Neptune in relatively darker skies Neptune will be visible in binoculars.

   This is a short 1 minute clip of a video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Neptune and some of its moons as viewed from the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

   
   
   
[centup]
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.

Twins Drop Kick the Moon!

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Early Tuesday morning, October 14th, the waning gibbous Moon will be rising near the feet of the celestial tag-team, the Gemini Twins, Pollux and Castor. Within the field of view of binoculars, (about 7o), from the Moon, is the open star cluster M-35. This open star cluster is estimated to be 2800 light years away. With its apparent size of nearly one-half degree and its overall apparent magnitude of 5 allows M-35 to be just visible to the unaided eye in dark enough skies.

m35-bino-ani   With the use of binoculars M-35 begins to be seen as more than a fuzzy patch of light, however through a low power telescope eyepiece M-35 resolves into a nice somewhat close grouping of stars.
   Caveat Astronomer! Since the nearly last quarter Moon is close to M-35 it is not unreasonable to assume that moonlight will brighten the sky enough to dim out many of the stars in M-35. If that proves to be the case wait a few more days until the Moon has moved far enough east to no longer interfere.

   
   
   
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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.

Scorpius Grabs the Moon!

scorpius-moon-ani   Monday September 1st the nearly first quarter Moon will be rising within the clutches of Scorpius the Scorpion as the banner graphic shows.
   When looking for or recognizing the star pattern for Scorpius most look for what could be described as the English letter J, or as I tell my younger students a ‘lazy J’.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   This part of the northern hemisphere late summer skies is always a treat to observe especially if the skies are dark enough to see the Milky Way. If you can find the teapot-shaped asterism for Sagittarius then look for the pour spot on the right side. Under dark skies the Milky Way looks like steam rising from the teapot. Look just off to the right, west, from the pour spout and you are looking toward the center of our galaxy, some 27,000 light years away. Here is an infrared image of the galaxy center from NASA’s 2MASS mission.

   
   
   
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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.