Celestial Navigator – July 2015

JULY MOON PHASES

Wednesday, July 8, 4:24 p.m. EDT  Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around 1:30 a.m. and sets around 1:30 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

Wednesday, July 15, 9:24 p.m. EDT  New Moon

The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.

Friday, July 24, 12:04 a.m. EDT  First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around 1:15 p.m. and sets around 12:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

Second Full Moon, July 2015

Friday, July 31, 6:43 a.m. EDT  Full Moon

This is the second Full Moon in July, what is sometimes called a “Blue Moon.” It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

JULY PLANETS

Uranus and the Moon

Wednesday/Thursday, July 8/9, dawn

The moon will be close to Uranus just before sunrise. In the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean, the moon will actually occult Uranus.

Venus at greatest brilliancy

Thursday, July 9, dusk

Venus reaches its greatest brilliancy at magnitude –4.7.

Aldebaran and the Moon

Sunday, July 12, sunrise

The waning crescent moon will pass close to the bright red star Aldebaran low in morning twilight. The moon will occult Aldebaran as seen from eastern Russia, northern Japan, Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, and Iceland.

Venus and the Moon

Saturday, July 18, dusk

The moon will be close to Venus just after sunset. Venus will appear in binoculars as a tiny crescent just north of the crescent moon. The moon will occult Venus as seen from New Guinea, northeastern Australia, Melanesia, and French Polynesia.

Ceres at opposition

Saturday, July 25, 4 a.m. EDT

Ceres, the largest asteroid or smallest dwarf planet, will be in opposition to the sun. At magnitude 7.5, it will be located right on the border between Sagittarius and Microscopium, just south of Capricornus.

Planets

Mercury is well placed in the eastern sky at dawn for the first half of the month for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Venus shines high in the western sky after sunset, reaching its greatest brilliancy from the sun on July 9.

Mars is too close to the sun to be visible.

Jupiter is low in the western evening sky all month, close to Venus on the 1st and 31st of the month.

Saturn is well placed in Libra in the evening sky.

Uranus rises near midnight in Pisces.

Neptune rises in the late evening in the constellation Aquarius.

Celestial Navigator – April 2015

 April Stargazing and the Zodiacal Light

Tonight, or any night after sunset in this month of April 2015, people around the world will see the dazzling planet Venus in the western sky. Then … wait a bit zodiacal_light_600for the sky to get fully dark. After twilight ends, the elusive zodiacal light might appear in your western sky with Venus – if your sky is dark enough. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, Venus can be your guide to the evening zodiacal light this month. This is a good time of year to see the zodiacal light in the evening from mid-northern latitudes.

As twilight ends, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, look for Venus in the midst of the mysterious zodiacal light – a cone of light jutting upward from the western horizon about 80 to 120 minutes after sunset.

April 13 – 18 – International Dark Sky Week. International Dark Sky Week is held during the week of the new moon in April. It is a week during which people worldwide turn out their outdoor lights in order to observe the wonders of the night sky without light pollution. It has been endorsed by the International Dark-Sky Association, the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical League. So go ahead and turn out your outdoor lights this week to appreciate the beauty of the night sky!

April 18 – New Moon. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 18:56 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint object such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

April 22, 23 – Lyrids Meteor Shower. The Lyrids is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. The shower runs annually from April 16-25. It peaks this year on the night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for the what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

April 25 – International Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. You can also find more about Astronomy Day by checking the Web site for the Astronomical League.

Celestial Navigator – March 2015

Sky Maps and Smartphone Apps

Stargazing for Dummies

How many among us can look up at the night sky and point out prominent stars, planets, and other heavenly wonders, purely from memory?  Certainly there are some of us who are blessed with the ability to discern patterns and locations in what appears to the rest of as a completely random and endless sky full of white dots.

Even if you are not one of ‘them’, the celestial know-it-all’s, there are still simple ways to enrich your star gazing experience with the use of a few simple, and free, tools available online and elsewhere.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Sky Maps  – There are several sites that offer free downloads of printable sky maps – our favorite is http://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html   We like to use these in remote areas where other cellular or GPS based maps may not be accessible.  Printed sky maps are easy to use – simply hold them overhead, orient it to north, and you can easily sky mapstart to match up stars with your map.  Next thing you know, you’re finding constellations and planets and nebulae, and the sky patterns will begin to reveal themselves to you.

Smartphone Apps  –  These take printed sky maps to a whole new and interactive level. Working on the same principle of holding your phone overhead to align your screen with the stars, these apps can detect your location, zoom in or out, and show outlines of constellations.  The apps we prefer are: Google Sky Map, Sky Safari, and Sky Map. All are available through the App or Play Stores, and are free in their basic versions.  All of them will place more celestial knowledge at your fingertips than Copernicus had on his best day.

Also available to the amateur stargazer are affordable, GPS-guided telescopes, that combine all the functionality of the Smartphone Apps with telescopic power.  Now you can identify celestial objects, and see them up close.  Most of these telescopes start in the $400 range, and can exceed upwards of $4000.  Experience has shown us tetx-at-tchat the less expensive telescopes are more than sufficient.  Unless you want to explore deep-space objects, most telescopes will only turn small white dots into slightly larger white dots, and therefore the extra expense is not justified.  For viewing closer objects such as the moon and planets, smaller and less-expensive is the way to go.  Our favorite for many years is a slightly older version of the Meade ETX80, which starts around $300 (http://www.meade.com/products/telescopes.html?cat=16)

 

Celestial Navigator – January 2015

Tonight, if you have a clear sky, set a goal for yourself of seeing all five visible planets. Byvisible planet, we mean any solar system planet that’s readily visible to the unaided eye. In their order going outward from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, (Earth), Jupiter and Saturn. These worlds have been observed by our ancestors since time immemorial.

Best of all, you don’t have to stay up all hours of the night to see these five visible planets. You can catch Mercury, Venus and Mars in the southwest at nightfall, Jupiter in the east at early-to-mid evening and Saturn in the southeast before dawn.

As dusk gives way to darkness, or about 60 to 75 minutes after sunset, look for Venus, Mercury and Mars in the direction of sunset. Mercury poses the biggest challenge because it’s the first planet to set behind the sun. If you can’t see Mercury with the unaided eye, you can always resort to binoculars. Aim them at dazzling Venus – which is easily visible above the sunset point. Then sweep with your binoculars, below Venus in the direction of the sunset point, to view Mercury in the same binocular field. Keep in mind that Mercury follows the sun beneath the horizon about 75 minutes later. Venus does likewise, a short time after Mercury.

Fortunately, the red planet Mars stays out for a couple hours after Mercury and Venus set. Mars is only modestly bright. Nonetheless, it is easy to see with the unaided eye. Roughly four hours after sunset, or after Mars has set in the west, look for super-brilliant Jupiter to rise in the east. Jupiter should be high enough to view by bedtime, even if your eastern view is somewhat obstructed by mountains or trees.

Once Jupiter climbs over the eastern horizon, it stays out for rest of the night. Jupiter swings up to its high point for the night around 2 to 3 a.m. (that’s local time, the time on your clock no matter where you are on Earth). Jupiter shines in the west just before dawn. Jupiter will be hard to miss, for this brilliant beauty outshines any star.

Saturn, the sixth planet outward from the sun, rises several hours before sunrise, lighting up the southeast sky during the predawn hours. Shortly before dawn, look for golden Saturn to shine above the red star Antares. Both are toward the sunrise direction.

Bottom line: Given clear skies, the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – should be yours to behold on these January 2015 nights.

excerpts from earthsky.org

Celestial Navigator – July 2014

There are few things more enjoyable during a night in camp than staring at the night sky.  Now you can be a celestial expert and dazzle your camp mates with your night sky knowledge.  There’s lots going in the July night sky, so grab your telescope and your tent and get out there!

July events:

July 12 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 11:25 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Buck Moon because the male buck deer would begin to grow their new antlers at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Full Thunder Moon and the Full Hay Moon.

July 26 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 22:42 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

July 28, 29 – Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht. The shower runs annually from July 12 to August 23. It peaks this year on the night of July 28 and morning of July 29. This should be a great year for this shower because the thin crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

excerpts from seasky.org

Celestial Navigator by PahaQue May 2014

There are few things more enjoyable during a night in camp than staring at the night sky.  Now you can be a celestial expert and dazzle your camp mates with your night sky knowledge.  There’s lots going in this May so grab your telescope and your tent and get out there!imagesnewmoon

  • May 10 – Saturn at Opposition. The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.
  • May 10 – Astronomy Day Part 1. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. 
  • May 14 – Full Moon. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This phase occurs at 19:16 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
  • May 24 – Possible Meteor Storm. In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 24, the Earth will pass through the debris field left behind by a small comet known as P/209 LINEAR. Astronomers are predicting that this interaction may result in a brief but intense burst of meteor activity that could range from dozens to hundreds of meteors per hour. Nothing is certain, but many mathematical models are predicting that this could be the most intense meteor shower in more than a decade.
  • May 28 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 18:40 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.