Conjunction – Elongation – Conjunction

   Saturday evening watch for the 11-day old waxing gibbous Moon to be in conjunction with and about 3o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

   Earlier in the evening the innermost planet Mercury was visible over the western horizon shortly after sunset. Mercury, on this date, will be at its Easternmost Elongation for this orbit. At elongation, eastern or western, Mercury, and also Venus, will be as far ‘out’ from the Sun to the right or left as we see the inner planets from Earth. At eastern elongation the inner planets follow the Sun across the sky during the day and appear as evening planets over the western horizon. At western elongation the inner planets ‘lead’ the Sun across the Sky during the day which means they rise ahead of the Sun and are seen as morning planets.

   But Wait – there’s still more!
   Saturn reaches solar conjunction on this date. During solar conjunction for an outer planet that outer planet will either be too close to the Sun to be seen or is on the opposite side of the Sun. When an outer planet reaches solar conjunction it moves from the evening skies to the morning skies.

   
   
   

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Sun Is in Capricornus not Aquarius


   Tuesday January 19th at 15 UT the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic enters the boundaries of the constellation Capricornus the Sea Goat. This is the actual location of the Sun.
   Interestingly, according to the pseudoscience of astrology, 6 hours later, at 21 UT Tuesday January 19th, the Sun should be entering the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer.

   
   
   

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Grand Conjunction Part 2: A Triple Conjunction!

   Just when you thought it was over, it is not! Yes Jupiter and Saturn are certainly low over the western horizon and both are setting closer to sunset, however…
   The innermost planet Mercury will be passing by Saturn then Jupiter over the next several evenings (January 7th to 12th) in a series of conjunctions as the graphics below are showing.
   Each of the conjunctions brings the three planets all within the field of view of binoculars and should make for an interesting contrast in apparent magnitudes. Jupiter: -1.94; Saturn: 0.60; Mercury: 0.89.

   
   
            Be careful observing because the Sun is close.

   
   
   

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Earth at Perihelion – 2021

   Feel the Heat?
   As the Earth continues its annual trek around the Sun, Saturday January 2nd at 13 UT (7 am CST), the Earth reaches a point in its orbit that is called perihelion. Perihelion is the minimum distance that separates the Earth from the Sun, and we are the closest to the Sun for the year at this point in the orbit. So this year, 2021, the Earth is 0.9833 AU; 91,403,445 miles; 147,099,586 km from the Sun.

   Approximately one-half year or one-half revolution later, on July 5th, the Earth is at aphelion and is 1.0167 AU (94,508,169 miles; 152,096,155 km), its maximum distance from the Sun for 2020. This approximately 3% difference in distances between perihelion and aphelion is due to the shape of the Earth’s orbit being elliptical rather than circular. However the Earth has a mildly elliptically shaped orbit that is closer to being slightly out-of-round than the incorrect, very elliptical orbit that is often shown – like the illustration used here.

sun2014-ani   In Astronomy the shape of a planet’s orbit is called eccentricity, with 0 being a circle and 1 a straight line. Any value between 0 and 1 represents an ellipse. The shape of the Earth’s orbit is so close to being circular that the apparent size of the Sun does not appear to change as this animated graphic shows. The difference between perihelion and aphelion is about 3%.

   Eccentricity for each planet is listed below for comparison.

Planet	   Eccentricity	
Mercury	   0.2056
Venus	   0.0068
Earth	   0.0167
Mars	   0.0934
Jupiter	   0.0484
Saturn	   0.0542
Uranus	   0.0472
Neptune	   0.0086
Pluto	   0.2488

   To read more about the Earth’s orbit and get some teaching ideas click here to download a PDF copy of my January Scope on the Skies column Solar Explorations.


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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Sun Enters Sagittarius

   Friday December 18th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.

   
   
   

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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A December Moon 3 for 1

                              New Phase, Descending Node, and a Solar Eclipse!

   Monday December 14th the new Moon crosses the plane of 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. This is an event that happens 2-3 times each month, but when a node crossing happens at new or full Moon phase there will be either a solar eclipse at new Moon or a lunar eclipse at full Moon.
   It’s all about timing, and the closer the node crossing time is to the time for the new or full phase that increases the chances for an eclipse. The time for the descending node crossing is 11:00 UT December 14th and the time for new Moon phase is about 5 hours later at 16:16 UT.

   So we get a total solar eclipse this time around. Hopefully my two camera amigos in Esquel Argentina will get some good pictures. Hint, hint Pablo y Checho!


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Sun Enters Ophiuchus-2020

ophiuchus   Sunday, November 29th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion and into the constellation of Ophiuchus the Healer. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.

ophiuchus-scorpion   Ophiuchus is the 13th constellation of the zodiac (Astronomical) but does not appear in the astrological zodiac nor in the astrology column found in many newspapers. A constellation of either zodiac is defined the same way, using the ecliptic path. If the ecliptic passes through a constellation boundary then that constellation is a zodiac constellation. In the graphics I use the ecliptic path clearly crosses across the boundary for the constellation Ophiuchus the Healer.

   Ophiuchus is described in a mythology story as a healer. In one story following a mortal fight between Orion and Scorpius the Scorpion Ophiuchus kills the scorpion by stepping on it; extracts the venom from the scorpion; and then uses it to bring Orion back to life.
cadeuces   In Ophiuchus’s hands he is holding a long snake, the 2-part constellation of Serpens – Serpens Cauda (tail of the snake) and Serpens Caput (head of the snake). There are many stories about Ophiuchus and the snake including one where this is the origin of the symbol for medicine, the caduceus. However the caduceus is used primarily in the United States as the symbol for medicine, and is depicted as 2 snakes wrapped around a staff with wings. rodIf there is a connection with a medical symbol then it should be with the Rod of Asclepius, a staff with one snake.


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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Inner Planets on the Move

   This past month, November, the inner planets Mercury and Venus were very visible in the early morning skies before sunrise. Both of the planets were at or near their respective western elongation. Venus was there during August and Mercury reached its western elongation on November 10th.
   What I wanted to capture was the daily change in the position of Venus as it passed the star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. Venus moves about 1.6o each day so its eastward motion should be obvious after a day or so. It was – it is!. Mercury, if you are wondering, moves about 4o each day.
   Both inner planets were somewhere around their maximum separation from the Sun – as we see it the inner planet is to the right side of the Sun, or toward the west.
   The series of pictures were taken from two locations near my house. One is from an empty lot near U.S. Highway 50 looking east. The other pictures are from somewhere along the street I live on! The first picture was taken at Legacy Park and includes the ISS orbiting over my location.


   
   
   

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Sun Enters Scorpius

   Monday November 23rd the Sun, in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Libra the Scales and into the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.
   
   
   

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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Sun is not in Sagittarius

  According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Sagittarius the Archer on Saturday November 21st. When in fact the actual position of the Sun is still within the boundaries of the constellation of Libra the Scales.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.
   
   
   

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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