First Walk

   This morning was a first of sorts for our dog Tyler. He had been ‘imprisoned’ (Tyler’s words!) for the past 8 weeks in the den – a relatively small confined area in our house. This was part of the healing and recuperating process following surgery on a torn ACL, the anterior cruciate ligament of his left hind leg. He has been outside off and on during that time for potty breaks as well as very short walks on a short leash. So this morning was special for the two of us as it was our first sunrise walk since his injury. As we walked about a mile around the neighborhood Tyler had a great time recognizing familiar smells. In between stops I would just hang on to the leash without slack. I was “skating with the dog” as they say in Ecuador!
In addition to all of the stop, sniff, and pee pauses (those were for Tyler of course) the sun was rising and the morning clouds were breaking the sunlight into shafts of light reminding me of one of the stories I would tell the younger audiences in the Planetarium.
    This was a story about how light came to the world – a world were the ‘People’ lived without light. Different animals were sent to bring the light (the Sun) to the people but all failed except for Grandmother Spider. She wove a web around the Sun and brought it to where the ‘People’ could have light. So when you see the sunlight broken into rays like it was this morning you are reminded about the web that Grandmother Spider wove around the Sun.

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 the Beehive Cluster

Click on image to see it full screen size.

Click on image to see it full screen size.

   I finally had a chance to get outside to take some pictures of Mars and the Beehive Cluster this morning. Having missed the last two mornings when Mars was alongside of the Beehive Cluster I was eager to get at least some pictures before Mars moved away from the star cluster. This morning it was sort of a race between sunrise and a steadily brightening sky and waiting for Mars to rise above the trees on the east side of my house. This picture was taken at 6 am CDT using an 18mm lens set to F5.6, 6 Seconds, and an ISO setting of 1600. The banner picture at the top of the page was taken with a 55 mm lens and the same shutter settings as before.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Stairway to the Horizon-Part 3

January 5th to 10th  - 7 a.m. Local Time

January 5th to 10th – 7 a.m. Local Time

   This month, as in the previous few months at sunrise, you will be finding the Moon in its late waning phases passing by bright stars (Spica and Antares) and planets (Saturn and Venus) that are located near the ecliptic path. This occurs as the Moon moves eastward along its orbital path toward new Moon phase on the 11th. This animated graphic shows the sunrise skies at the same time each morning starting with tomorrow the 5th, and stepping one day at a time ending on the 10th with a very thin waning crescent Moon near Venus. (Click on the image to see it full size)
   You may have noticed that there is more going on in this animated image then just the Moon moving past the stars and planets. The stars are moving toward the right, westward a little bit (about 1 degree) each day due to Earth revolution around the Sun. Additionally watch Venus as it moves eastward and appears a little lower above the horizon each day. This is due to the orbital motion of Venus carrying it eastward toward superior conjunction, ‘behind’ the Sun as we would view it from Earth.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

ISS and Uranus

29 December - 6:42 pm CST

29 December – 6:42 pm CST

   After complaining about cloudy skies the other day I got a break last night and had very clear skies. As a result I was able to capture a sequence of images of the ISS flying over my part of the world. I use the Starry Night Pro program to simulate the flight path of the ISS so I can determine where best to aim my camera. My technique is basically to use a wide angle (18 mm) lens and once I determine the appropriate F-stop and shutter speeds I lock the tripod and wait until the ISS appears. Then I take pictures either manually from the laptop or with a digital cable release set to take a sequence of pictures. My preference, however, is to use the utility program that came with the camera. I connect the camera with a USB cable to the laptop and this gives me a real-time view on my laptop computer screen as well as remote control of the camera settings and picture taking. The camera is on a tripod several feet away to reduce any camera jitters.
ISS in Motion

click on the image to see it full size and animated

   During the fly-over the ISS was traveling toward the southeast and crossed the ‘Square of Pegasus’ asterism, and then past the ‘Circlet’ asterism in Pisces coming within a few degrees from the planet Uranus. The images are each 3.2 second time exposures – long enough to capture the dim stars making up the ‘Circlet’ – but also so long in the sense that in 3.2 seconds the ISS has moved enough to show up as a streak of light, like star trails in longer time exposures. This animated graphic is slightly faster than the actual event but I have set it to give a sense of how quickly the ISS moves and how its brightness increase, peaks, then fades.
Click to see this image larger   Looking toward the east were the stars of the Pleiades and, lower toward the horizon were Jupiter and the Hyades. Obviously I couldn’t resist!
   And then this morning there was a neat contrast between the reds and pinks toward the west, the setting waning gibbous Moon, and some high thin cirrus clouds.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Stairway to the Horizon

7:00 a.m. CST - 8 December

7:00 a.m. CST – 8 December

   The waning Moon this morning was poised to start the first of several conjunctions with planets and a star over the next few mornings. Go out around sunrise your local time each mornig and look toward the southeast horizon for the Moon as it sort of stair-steps its way toward the horizon.
   The Moon is also passing through a part of the sky housing a menagerie of characters including a Harvest Maiden, a Crow, a Wine Goblet, an Equal Arm Balance, and of course a many headed snake! Click here to see a graphic illustrating what I am writing about.

Sunrise - 9 December

Sunrise – 9 December

   The Moon will be near the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden on Sunday morning 9 December.
Sunrise - 10 December

Sunrise – 10 December

   The Moon will be near the planet Saturn on Monday morning 10 December.
Sunrise 11 December

Sunrise 11 December

   The Moon will be near Venus and Mercury on Tuesday morning 11 December.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Earth Rising

   This morning, despite the cool temperature, had some clear skies that allowed for a good view of Venus and Saturn, as well as the bright star Spica and Arcturus, and several other winter morning favorites. Were this morning a web page I might have Bookmarked it!! So, while enjoying the viewing I was also sort of counting down the remaining days for observing Venus. As this small animated graphic shows, over the next couple of weeks Venus will grow smaller (isn’t that a contradiction!) in apparent size but will at the same time wax, or increase its phase appearance, toward a full Venus. However we cannot see Venus, nor Mercury, in a full phase. These changes in appearance are a result of Venus (and or Mercury), as an inner planet, moving in its orbit around the Sun toward the opposite side of the Sun from us – to what is known as superior conjunction. It is at superior conjunction when an inner planet is at full phase. So at best we can observe Venus or Mercury in all phases except when at full phase unlike all phases for our Moon.

Sunrise on Venus

   Venus is a curious planet in many ways including that it has a retrograde rotation (east to west) compared with Earth and that one rotation (day) on Venus lasts 5,832 hours (243 Earth days). That is 19 Earth days longer than its 224 Earth day year! Because Venus rotates ‘backward’, compared with here on Earth, from Venus the Sun and other celestial objects would rise in the west and set in the east – as this animated graphic is showing. Each frame in the animation is 1 Earth day, so instead of hours before sunrise, on Venus it would be days before sunrise!
   Click here to download one of my Scope on the Skies columns about an activity to do with Moon phases and phases of Venus.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.