Saturday October 20th is International Observe the Moon Night. That evening the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon rises around 5 pm local time and will be over the southeast horizon during the evening hours. Joining the Moon are several planets – all located to the west, right, from the Moon. Early, shortly after sunset the inner planet Mercury will be just above the western horizon. Moving east from Mercury is Jupiter, then Saturn, then Mars. The planet Neptune is only a few degrees above the Moon but because of the Moon’s reflected light Neptune will not be visible.
Over the next 2 evenings, Wednesday October 17th and Thursday the 18th the waxing gibbous Moon will be passing the planet Mars coming within about 2-3o from Mars.
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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Wednesday October 17th the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.
Also on the same day the waxing gibbous Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), on Wednesday October 17th. At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 31.69 Earth diameters, (251,175 miles (404,227 km), from the Earth.
Thursday October 4th the waning crescent Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north relative to the ecliptic. 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.
On the day of the node crossing the 26-day old thin waning crescent Moon will be about 1o from the open star cluster known as the ‘Beehive Cluster’, M-44. Given that the Moon has an apparent magnitude of 14.0 compared with the 4th magnitude of the Beehive Cluster it may be difficult to see the star cluster.
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*
Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”
For the next several evenings Asteroid Vesta will be passing within 2-3o from the outer planet Saturn. Currently Vesta is only a couple of months past opposition, June 20th, and is still bright enough to be seen and followed as its position relative to Saturn slowly changes each evening. Saturn has an apparent magnitude of 0.47 while Asteroid Vesta has an apparent magnitude of 7.0.
With binoculars Vesta is visible under dark enough skies and with careful observation and a star map of that area the motion of Vesta may be followed. In that same general area, within the field of view of 10×50 binoculars, at least 3 Messier objects may also be seen. The Lagoon Nebula, M-8; The Trifid Nebula, M-20; and open star cluster, M-21.
This animated graphic shows a binocular view of Saturn and Vesta each day from September 25th to the 30th.
Tuesday September 25th the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.
Where is Saturn now? Saturn is over the southern to southwestern horizon at sunset and is east (to the left) from the reddish star Antares in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Further toward the west is the planet Jupiter, and to the east from Saturn is the planet Mars. And the 16-day old waning gibbous is above the eastern horizon.
Saturn currently has a 0.47 apparent magnitude and is centered on the Milky Way within about 2o from a few easy to see Messier Objects. These include M-21 a 7th magnitude open star cluster; 5th magnitude M-8, the Lagoon Nebula; and 5th magnitude M-20, the Trifid Nebula.
Learn a little (or a lot) more about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site. Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.
This is a short 5 minute 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 Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.