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 – October 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 September night sky, so grab your telescope and your tent and get out there!

Here is something to think about – even in the vastness of the American West, the glow from cities has become so bright that places with truly dark skies at night are becoming an endangered species. In the continental US, experts predict that in a decade, there will be just three areas where the sky will be dark enough to see the Milky Way clearly, the Arizona Republic reports. One area covers part of eastern Oregon and western Idaho, another includes parts of Nevada and western Utah, a third takes in parts of northern Arizona and southern Utah-and the latter two are in danger from the bright lights of Las Vegas and Phoenix, which can be seen for more than 200 miles. Take time to look up now and then, and especially this month – lots to see in the October night sky!

October 4 – Astronomy Day Part 2. 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.
October 7 – Uranus at Opposition. The blue-green 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 Uranus. Due to its distance, it will only appear as a tiny blue-green dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
October 8 – 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 10:51 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This moon has also been known as the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon.
October 8 – Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, eastern Asia, and Australia.
October 8, 9 – Draconids Meteor Shower. The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900. The shower runs annually from October 6-10 and peaks this year on the the night of the 8th and morning of the 9th. Unfortunately the glare from the full moon this year will block out all but the brightest meteors. If you are extremely patient, you may be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Draco, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
October 22, 23 – Orionids Meteor Shower. The Orionids is an average shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from October 2 to November 7. It peaks this year on the night of October 21 and the morning of October 22. This will be an excellent year for the Orionids because there will be no moon to interfere with the show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
October 23 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 21:57 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.
October 23 – Partial Solar Eclipse. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers only a part of the Sun, sometimes resembling a bite taken out of a cookie. A partial solar eclipse can only be safely observed with a special solar filter or by looking at the Sun’s reflection. The partial eclipse will be visible throughout most of North and Central America.

Celestial Navigator – August 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!

  • August 10 – 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 18:09 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Sturgeon Moon because the large sturgeon fish of the Great Lakes and other major lakes were more easily caught at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon. This is also the closest and largest full Moon of the year, an annual event that has come to be known as a “supermoon” by the media. The truth is that it is only slightly larger and brighter than normal and most people are not really able to tell the difference.
  • August 12, 13 – Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. It peaks this year on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The waning gibbous moon will block out some of the meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • August 18 – Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Conjunctions are rare events where two or more objects will appear extremely close together in the night sky. The two bright planets will come unusually close to each other, only a quarter of a degree, in the early morning sky. Also, the beehive cluster in the constellation Cancer will be only 1 degree away. This rare, double-planet event is definitely one not to miss. Look for the bright planets in the east just before sunrise.
  • August 25 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 14:13 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.
  • August 29 – Neptune at Opposition. The blue giant 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 Neptune. Due to its extreme distance from Earth, it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.

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.

Celestial Navigator by PahaQue April 2014

There are few things more enjoyable at night in camp than staring at the fire and the night sky.  Now you can be an astrological expert and dazzle your camp mates with your night sky knowledge.  There’s lots going in this April, including a meteor shower, a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse!  So grab your telescope and your tent and get out there!images (18)

  • April 8 – Mars at Opposition. The red 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 Mars. A medium-sized telescope will allow you to see some of the dark details on the planet’s orange surface. You may even be able to see one or both of the bright white polar ice caps.
  • April 15 – 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 07:42 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Pink Moon because it marked the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the first spring flowers. This moon has also been known as the Sprouting Grass Moon and the Growing Moon.
  • April 15 – Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, and Australia.
  • 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 night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The second quarter moon will be a slight problem this year, blocking the less bright meteors from view. 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 29 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 06:14 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.
  • April 29 – Annular Solar Eclipse. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun. This results in a ring of light around the darkened Moon. The Sun’s corona is not visible during an annular eclipse. The path of the eclipse will begin off the coast of South Africa and move across Antarctica and into the east coast of Australia.

Celestial Navigator November 2013

2013 has been called the Year of the Comet – and November has some great star-gazing events that you wont want to miss!  Starting with a full moon, followed by two meteor showers, and ending with a view of newly discovered Comet ISON as it passes by our Sun. Will Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) be the comet of the century? We’ll find out soon, as estimates have the object visible through binoculars in early November.  So grab your PahaQue Tent and your telescope, and enjoy some great Fall camping and awesome stargazing in November.

  • November 3 – New Moon. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This phase occurs at 12:50 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.
  • November 3 – Hybrid Solar Eclipse. A hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is almost too close to the Earth to completely block the Sun. This type of eclipse will appear as a total eclipse to some parts of the world and will appear annular to others. The eclipse path will begin in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of the United States and move east across the Atlantic and across central Africa.
  • November 4, 5 – Taurids Meteor Shower. The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains from Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 4. This is an excellent year because there will be no moonlight to spoil the show. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • November 17 – 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 15:16 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Beaver Moon because this was the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze. It has also been known as the Frosty Moon and the Hunter’s Moon.
  • November 16, 17 – Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids is an average shower, producing an average of up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The shower runs annually from November 6-30. It peaks this year on the night of the 16th and morning of the 17th. Unfortunately the glare from the full moon will block many of the meteors this year, but if you are patient you should still be able to catch quite a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
  • November 28 – Comet ISON Closest Approach to the Sun. Newly discovered comet ISON will make its closest approach to the Sun on November 28. If the comet survives its encounter with the Sun, it could be one of the brightest comets in recent memory. Some astronomers estimate that it could even be bright enough to be seen during daylight hours. In August and September, the comet will begin to be visible in the morning sky in dark locations with telescopes. In October it will start to be visible to the naked eye and will continue to get brighter until November 28. If the comet survives, it will be visible in the early morning and early evening sky and could be nearly as bright as the full Moon. Some astronomers are already calling it the comet of the century.