Neptune Closest to Earth

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 27, 2014 – 9:46 pm -

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Friday August 29 is when Neptune, 8th planet from the sun, will be in opposition.

Being the farthest from the sun also means that it will be the closest approach to our little blue dot and visible all night long. During this time, Neptune will be 2.7 billion miles (4.3 billion kilometers) away from Earth. So distant, that it will take the light reflecting off of the planet’s icy clouds  four hours to reach us.

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Neptune cannot be seen with the naked eye however with a small telescope or binoculars it can be seen in the Aquarius constellation less than one degree northeast of the 5th magnitude star, Sigma Aquarii. Look for a tiny blue-gray disk among the background of faint stars in the region.


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“Siding Spring” Swings by in Southern Hemisphere

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 27, 2014 – 7:18 pm -

Comet Siding Spring. Sky-watchers using binoculars and telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere can preview comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1). The icy visitor will brush by Mars later this fall.
Starting Thursday, August 28, the comet will pass by a series of deep-sky wonders and make for a fine astrophotographic opportunity for the more experienced sky hounds.
First, on Thursday evening, the comet will pose with the globular cluster NGC 362, then on Friday, August 29, it will slide next to the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of our Milky Way’s companion dwarf galaxies.
Finally, Siding Spring will pay a visit to the bright globular cluster called 47 Tucanae.

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Starting Thursday, August 28th, the comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) will be passing by a series of deep-sky sights making for a great opportunity for a cosmic paparazzi.

Viewers with binoculars or telescopes can see this icy visitor will swing by globular cluster NGC 362 on Thursday, then on Friday, August 29, it will slide next to the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of our Milky Way’s companion dwarf galaxies. Finally, Siding Spring will pay a visit to the bright globular cluster called 47 Tucanae and later this fall, the grand finale, brush by Mars.

So grab your scopes and snap some pics!  Good Luck!


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Hubble Reveals Age of Globular Cluster

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 26, 2014 – 5:45 pm -

IC 4499 can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere very close to Crux, the Southern Cross.

IC 4499 can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere very close to Crux, the Southern Cross.

Just outside our Milky Way glows a globular cluster, IC 4499, suspended in a halo around our galaxy that Hubble’s eye happened to spy.

Floating among hundreds of other clusters, these conglomerations seem to have some of the oldest stars in our universe. After our orbiting observatory dug into the cosmic ball, astronomers have now determined that this globe contains stars as old as 12 billion years old.

Mid-sized IC 4499 can be seen through a small telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, very close to Crux, the Southern Cross, about half way up August’s late evening sky.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Send Message to Mars, Donate Future Space Projects

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 23, 2014 – 8:51 am -

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A new fundraising campaign is giving everyman a chance to send a message to Mars in celebration of the 50th anniversary of launch of NASA’s first successful mission to the Red Planet.

UWINGU, a Colorado based non-profit promises to “Beam Me to Mars” for a small donation ranging from $5 to $100. Messages can be as little as a name to a note  or even a photo! Half of the fee will go to transmission costs but the rest will fund scientists, teachers and students through UWINGU’s research grant program. Already Seth Green, comedian and actor, and astronaut Chris Hadfield have added their messages to the campaign.

For the full story read my Yahoo science column, Geekquinox.


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Morning Sky Show

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 22, 2014 – 11:02 am -

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Early bird sky-watchers get a chance to check out a morning sky this weekend.

The crescent Moon is joining Jupiter and Venus to form a bright triangle above eastern horizon. The best time to look is Saturday, August 23rd about 30 to 45 minutes before local sunrise. By Sunday the moon will have sunk below the planets.


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Could Life Live Under the Ice Layers of Other Worlds?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 22, 2014 – 10:13 am -

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A study conducted in West Antarctica has revealed a whole ecosystem living under an ice sheet.

The surprising discovery centres on an extreme dark and frozen habitat  dominated by a highly diverse amount of microorganisms, about 4000 species.  Finding an isolated biosphere teaming with organisms gives scientists an indication that life could be hidden on planets or moons beyond Earth.

For the full story read my Yahoo science column, Geekquinox.


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Glowing Star Factories Captured

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 20, 2014 – 10:21 am -

Two giant star clusters tucked away in one of the neighboring arms of our Milky Way galaxy glow in full display in a dramatic new portrait. They also offer a fun opportunity for backyard astronomers.
Using the giant eye of the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured two dynamic star-forming regions in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. A minor limb of our galaxy, the spiral arm consists mostly of gas and dust. Recent research shows that it is surprisingly devoid of stellar activity, making these two star factories real standouts in our galactic neighborhood.
The star cluster on the left side, named NGC 3603, is located some 20,000 light-years from Earth. Its companion on the right, a colorful gas cloud known as NGC 3576, sits much closer to Earth at only 9,000 light-years distant.
NGC 3603 is real stellar jewel box filled with hundreds of young, massive stars, one of the richest open star clusters in the entire galaxy.
Originally, these stars formed behind a veil of gas and dust. However, as they matured, they cleared away much of this material and left behind the glowing clouds that we see today surrounding the hot, young stars.
Meanwhile, NGC 3576 brandishes the same horn-shaped clouds of gas. They were carved by strong stellar winds billowing out from the young stars cocooned within the colorful nebula.
Above the nebula, the two conspicuous black clouds called “Bok globules” are ripe for future star formation as well.
Star formation in the southern Milky Way

From ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two swirling star formations in the southern Milky Way in a smaller arm of our galaxy. Courtesy of ESO/G. Beccari

In a neighbouring arm of our Milky Way lay two glowing giant star clusters that produced this new dramatic photo. These stunning star factories can be seen from viewers’ own backyards in southern latitudes.

At the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured what appears to be swirling dust and gas in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Surprisingly this minor arm showed very little stellar activity making these beauties standout in this mostly dark part of our neighbourhood.

While visiting South Africa in 1834, British astronomer John Herschel first noted these fiery clusters in the Southern Hemisphere. Now backyard sky-watchers can see these same nebula using a small telescope.

Read all the details and get sky charts for these and other events on my National Geographic Viewer’s Guide.


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Moon Sees Red Eye of Bull

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 19, 2014 – 10:58 am -

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The crescent moon was hanging just 8 degrees (just a fist held at arm’s length) to the lower left of the red eye of Taurus that happened Tuesday, August 19 just before dawn.

Otherwise known as Aldebaran, the eye of the celestial bull is a orange giant star located 66 light years away and located in the middle of the Taurus constellation. If you missed this event, there’s much more the see.

On Wednesday August 20, with Venus and Jupiter will be in close conjunction and will become a trio of beauties. Try taking out some binoculars and looking to the upper left of Jupiter to see a cluster of stars called the Beehive (Messier 44).

Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.

Moon visits Aldebaran. If you managed to stay up for the Perseids, then why not check out the moon parked near the bright orange star Aldebaran? The lunar rendezvous will come to pass just before local dawn on Tuesday, August 19.
The waning crescent moon will be to the lower right of the 66-light-year-distant red giant that marks the eye of the constellation of Taurus, the bull.
The cosmic pair will be appear separated by about 8 degrees, a bit less than the width of your fist held at arm’s length.

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Scooped Dust Sampled by Stardust Spacecraft

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 14, 2014 – 10:17 pm -

337882main_galex-20090428-516Microscopic sized dust particles have been scooped up by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft and may be our first samples from beyond our solar system.

Launched in 1999, the craft journeyed through the solar system, swung by a comet, and all throughout, steadily holding out its aerogel panels in hopes of collecting this tiny treasure.

For the full story read my Yahoo science column, Geekquinox.


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August Sky: Sayonara Saturn and Milky Way

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 10, 2014 – 5:36 pm -

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August tends to be some of the best times to glimpse the ghostly glows of the mythical Milky Way galaxy in the late night sky.

The best place to observe its faint band of light is away from light pollution, however with binoculars even Montreal suburbs can offer lots of stunning sights.

The Milky Way is a collection of stars, clouds of gas and dust we call a galaxy. Our Sun and its family of planets live inside this vast spinning pinwheel shaped island of stars. Home to about 100 billion suns, this Frisbee-shaped disk stretches some 100,000 light years across and is about 1000 light years thick. Yet, the Milky Way is only one of over 100 billion other galaxies that are thought to inhabit the Universe.

Look for the misty, white powder trail that is our Milky Way galaxy, stretching up from the northeastern horizon, arching high up the eastern sky, and then reaching down to the southern horizon.

The splash of Milky Way that we see in the summertime consists mostly of stars from one of its spiral arms and stars from its dense, bright core. The core hangs above the southern horizon when viewed from northern latitudes.

Sit back comfortably on a reclining lawn chair and cruise this entire swatch of glittering sky with binoculars, and you will notice that the galaxy’s hazy glow is actually a river of countless stars, all of them thousands of light-years distant.

Turning to planets, look for Venus, our next-door neighbour, shining like a stellar beacon throughout August in the early evening skies.

Gaze towards the low western sky about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset – you can’t miss it since it will be the brightest celestial object visible after the Moon.

If you have a telescope, check the planet out because its partially illuminated and looks like a miniature crescent moon.

If you have not looked out Saturn this summer yet, then do so now since the ringed marvel will be quickly sinking towards the western horizon by next month.  Look for a yellowish star in the west after nightfall and remember that to see those famous rings and its retinue of moons, you will need a small telescope.

Finally mark August 31 on your calendar as when to catch sight of the crescent Moon posing with Saturn. The cosmic pair will appear spectacularly close – less than the width of the disk of the moon will separate the two.

Make sure you grab your binoculars or telescope to get a high powered, ring-side seat for this pretty sky show.


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