Late on Sunday, January 10, and into the overnight hours, telescope users can watch as Jupiter’s three largest moons travel in front of the largest planet in the solar system.
The sky show begins at 11:37 p.m. ET, when Europa’s tiny disk begins its trek across the planet, a journey that ends at 2:21 a.m. ET on Monday. Calisto then starts its transit at 3:04 a.m. ET, followed by Io’s shadow, which will touch the gas giant’s disk at 4:22 a.m. ET. Finally Io itself will begin to move in front of the planet at 5:27 a.m. ET.
All this action takes place so far away that the sunlight reflected off Jupiter and its moons takes 41 minutes to reach our eyes here on Earth.
For this and other celestial events, check out my National Geographic column, Starstruck.
Tags: Calisto, Europa, Io, Jupiter, Moons of Jupiter
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At dawn on Saturday, January 9, skywatchers get a chance to witness a spectacularly close encounter between two bright planets that will be visible with the naked eye. On this day, Venus and Saturn will appear closer together than at any other time in the last decade.
Europeans will be able to see the pair at their tightest, when they are just 5 arc-seconds apart, at 4 a.m. GMT. By the time the planets become visible in the low southeast skies of North America they will have separated a bit but still be less than half a degree apart, less than the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.
The two worlds are quite low to the horizon, so they may be a little challenging to see through the glare of dawn. Also, Venus will be far more brilliant than Saturn and may overwhelm the ringed world’s light. However, binoculars will easily show off the two worlds, and the planets will readily fit within the same field of view through a telescope.
For more information about this and other celestial events, visit my National Geographic column, Starstruck.
Tags: conjuction, Saturn, Venus
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After nightfall on Saturday, December 19, the waxing gibbous moon will be parked next to the planet Uranus.
Look for the green-hued ice giant less than two degrees above the the moon: equal to about four lunar disks apart. Also the moon, Uranus and the faint (4.2 magnitude) star Epsilon Piscium will form a straight line, with the planet nearly exactly in middle.
Shining at magnitude 5.8 magnitude, Uranus is best spotted using at least binoculars, through which it appears as a distinct but tiny greenish colored disk against a backdrop of faint stars of the constellation Pisces, the fishes.
For more about this and other celestial events, check out my Starstruck column at National Geographic.
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During early morning twilight on Sunday, December 6th, skywatchers get a real sky show as the Red Planet gets its chance to hang out with the thinning crescent moon.
The dramatic pair will appear only four degrees apart—less than the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.
For this and more celestial events, check out my National Geographic column, StarStruck.
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The morning of Friday, November 6, the moon will shrink to a crescent, snuggling up to the right of Jupiter, the king of the planets.
The pair will be very eye-catching at only two degrees apart, equal to the width of four lunar disks. Adding to the beauty will be the Venus-Mars pair, hanging just ten degrees below.
For more celestial events, consult my Starstruck column at National Geographic.
Tags: conjunction, Jupiter, Mars, The Moon, Venus
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Look for the beacon of Venus about a half-hour after sunset on Saturday, June 6, above the southwest horizon.
The second-to-innermost planet, affectionately called the ‘evening star,’ will today appear at its farthest point from the sun, also called its greatest elongation. Sitting some 45 degrees east of the sun, Venus will shine at -4.4 magnitude, making it about 10 times brighter than Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, visible to its upper left.
After Saturday, Venus will sink closer to the horizon and the sun each day. By August 10th it will disappear in the glare of the sun and will reappear in the morning sky.
While Venus appears impressive to the naked eye all summer long, through even small telescopes, high magnification reveals the planet to be half-lit, much like a miniature quarter moon—a sight worth enjoying.
For more skywatching events check out my weekly National Geographic viewer’s guide.
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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.
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.
Tags: opposition, planet
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On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.
Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.
The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon. Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.
Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.
Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn. You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.
Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, Constellations, Jupiter, Mars, Planets, skywatching, space, Stargazing, stars, Valentine, Venus
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In the Sahara, a team of scientists claim to have found the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth.
About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.
Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.
Read the rest of my comet story at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, comet, impact, science, space, Tutankhamen
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Researchers have come up with a detailed model for how and when life on our planet will be snuffed out. But no worries – it will be at least 500 million years from now when plants will begin to die and another 2 billion years before the final microbe fries. All this thanks to our parent star. When it begins to die so will our planet.
Read all the details about this sobering study in my story at National Geographic News
Tags: doomsday, Earth
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