If you have clear skies in your neck of the woods over the weekend of April 13th then step outside and look west for a beautiful pairing between the Moon and some of the brightest stars and planet in the night sky.
While conjunctions like thee are not rare by any means, they do make for a great opportunity to track down some celestial objects that otherwise may be a challenge to find for beginner stargazers. And for those more experienced navigating the heavens, this cosmic close encounter makes for a pretty photo op.
Read all the details about the Moon-planet-star event, including detailed star charts, at National Geographic News
Tags: Aldebaran, conjunction, Hyades star cluster, Jupiter, Pleiades, Taurus
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Skywatcher everywhere be on the look out for two of the brightest objects in the night sky heading towards a close encounter on Monday night.
The sky show begins after local nightfall on Monday the 21st when the waxing gibbous moon snuggles up to brilliant white Jupiter in the southeast. The sky show should be easily seen even in light polluted cities!
Get an observer’s guide to the best Jupiter – Moon conjunction visible until 2026 at National Geographic
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Check out some of the cool space news coming out this past week on my weekly CTV News Channel interview.
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Warm summer nights and awe-inspiring shooting stars are an unbeatable combination! That’s why skywatchers look forward to the annual Perseid meteor shower. Visible with the naked eye from the city to cottage country, dozens of “shooting stars” will light up the late-night skies. With the waning crescent moon rising above the horizon only around 1 am tonight, the peak date of August 11th, this cosmic light show will surely put on an impressive display. Skywatchers get to see a flurry of shooting stars start 10 pm with rates increasing until pre-dawn hours Sunday. Anywhere from 20 to 80 shooting stars per hour depending on local sky conditions.
Here is my Night Sky episode that talks all about the shower and some bonus planets that are joining the show too!
EXTRA: Sky-watchers with backyard telescopes, though, might join NASA in training their lenses on the moon for an elusive, potentially flashy Perseid sideshow.
Read my National Geographic observers guide for more information on how some backyard telescope owners watch Persieds actually impact the moon!… http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/08/120810-perseid-meteor-shower-perseids-science-space-astronomy/
Tags: Jupiter, meteor shower, Perseids, Venus
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For skywatchers August will be a busy month with a meteor shower and multiple planetary close encounters!
For early bird skywatchers the goddess of love, Venus dominates the dawn skies in the east perched firmly in the constellation of Gemini, the twins. The great white beacon rises nearly 3 and half hours before the sun every morning and through a small telescope appears like a miniature version of a quarter moon.
Look below Venus for its fainter companion Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system – sits below nestled between the horns of Taurus the bull constellation. On August 11th the moon will form a celestial triangle with the jovian giant and the eye of the bull – the star Aldebaran. Two mdays later a razor thin crescent moon will park itself to the upper right of Venus.
Watch these two worlds closely and you will notice that while they have been hanging around each other for the past couple of months, the much speedier Venus will quickly increase the gap with Jupiter so that by the end of the month there will be 40 degrees apart.
On August 13 for those with telescopes, Venus will do a disappearing act as it slips behind the very upper portion of the crescent Moon during the daytime. Known as an occultation, this dramatic event however will be a real challenge to catch because it will be occurring in the late afternoon while luna sinks quickly in the low western horizon sky. The first hint of Venus creeping behind the moon will begin at 4:36pm and will take about 25 seconds to completely disappear. Since the moon will be only a few degrees in altitude (eastern N. America) your best bet to catch this event is to find a location that has a clear line of sight right down to the western horizon – like highway overpasses, hilltops and lakesides. Check out a listing of occulation times here.
But there is even more cosmic action in the evening skies. Look towards the west at nightfall for an impressive stellar grouping of the planets Mars, Saturn and the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo. Take note of the diverse colours of these three objects, with orange-hued Mars, yellowish Saturn and brilliant blue-white Spica. The most eye-catching aspect of this stellar trio will be watching them play musical chairs in the sky as they shift positions over the course of the month as they move along in their respective orbits around the Sun.
Then at dusk on August 21th the three objects form an equatorial triangle with the waxing crescent Moon just below.
Shooting Stars Galore
The big astronomical crowd pleaser this month however has to be the famous Perseid meteor shower. Peaking on the night of August 11th and into the early morning hours of August 12th, conditions promise to be good this year because there will only be a crescent moon rising after 1 am so minimal interference from its light is expected. You can expect up to 20 to 30 meteors per hour visible from suburbs and up to 60 from a dark sky.
You can expect about half that many the night before (Aug.10) and after (Aug.13). Best way to see the shower is to lie back on the ground or on reclining lawn chair facing the northeast sky with your naked-eyes. Most of these meteors are the size of a grain of sand and are travelling at about 150,000 km per hour, burning up at about 100 km above your head.
The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus – where the shooting stars seem to radiate from in the sky. The meteor shower originates from a cloud of particles in space that was shed by a comet that orbits the Sun. Every year at the same time of year, Earth slams into this cloud of debris, creating a cosmic shower in the heavens above.
BTW if the skies are clear and you are in Montreal area on August 11th, join me and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for a free Perseids star party at the Morgan Arboretum in Ste. Anne De Bellevue starting at 8pm with a lecture- rain/cloudy date is August 12th.
Tags: Mars, Saturn, Venus
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With the shortest nights of the year there is not too many hours left for stargazing however they are totally packed with beautiful celestial events.
Look up after 10 pm any night in July and you’ll easily find the famous Summer Triangle pattern formed by the bright stars Deneb, Altair and Vega riding low in the southeastern sky while the iconic Big Dipper dominates the high northwest sky. Both of these star patterns are not constellations but called asterisms – sort of a cosmic ‘connect the dots’ in the sky which the human eye and mind makes out easily. The Summer Triangle is actually three individual, classic constellations – Vega is with Lyra, Deneb is the brightest in Cygnus, while Altair is the lead in Aquila. Meanwhile the Big Dipper is actually the rump of the Great Bear – Ursa Major. While it might be hard to make out what exactly ancient astronomers were seeing in the sky with constellations, basically knowing these two asterisms is a great start in learning your way around the night sky.
But there is a true constellation visible throughout summer that kind does look like its mythical figure it’s supposed too. Face the south around 10 pm on a clear night and the S-shaped constellation Scorpius stretches up from the horizon. Pinning down the scorpion in the sky is its heart, represented by the bright orange star Antares. A red supergiant with a diameter about 830 times larger than our Sun, Antares shines 60,000 times brighter and is a distant 553 light-years away.
Not sure how to find Antares? On July 28 the Moon will be parked just above the bright star, making for a convenient guidepost.
If you have binoculars or telescope, its worth scanning this part of the sky – and even from light polluted suburbs you can see the region is chock full of clusters and clouds of stars. That’s because Scorpius lies near the same direction as the Milky Way core – making it one of the best panoramic stargazing tours of the summer.While most stars we see at night are relatively nearby ie. within a couple thousand light years from Earth, when looking at the hazy Milky Way towards Scorpius – we are looking at the light from clouds of millions of stars over 20,000 light years distant. Pretty cool eh?
Meanwhile if we look at planets now, the first two weeks of the month sees the closest world to the Sun and most challenging to observe, Mercury, quickly sink in the western sky after sunset. We’ll have to wait for the best views until August when it moves to the other side of the Sun and makes an appearance as a morning star.
Two other planets however remain easy targets in the evening skies. Saturn, the ringed planet stands to the right of the dimmer star Spica in Virgo in the lower SW sky at nightfall.
Mars appears to be moving fast towards a meeting with the Sun later this summer but not before joining Saturn in the southwest evenings. Between the 23rd and the 25th, watch a thin crescent moon first hang below Mars, and then the Spica-Saturn pair.
For the real sky showpiece this month, we must turn to the early morning sky, where Venus is now a beacon before dawn, appearing brighter even than the biggest planet in the solar system Jupiter, which just happens to be perched above it. By July 12 the goddess of love will be at its brightest it can ever get in our skies – only the Sun and moon can outshines the planet.
But first on July 9 the orange star Aldebaran – the lead member of the constellation Taurus – the Bull, will pair up with Venus.
The two will appear less than a degree apart – that’s less than the width of your finger at arm’s length. Remember however that their proximity is just an optical illusion – while Venus is a mere 57 million km from Earth, Aldebaran is a respectable 65 light year distant.
The best sky show in my opinion however will be on the 15th, when a waning crescent moon will form a neat triangle formation with Jupiter and Venus at dawn. That’s something you don’t want to miss as it will look really pretty just with the unaided eyes.
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Sky-watchers tonight (June 30) get to watch the moon within the northwest corner of the constellation Scorpius low in the southern sky. If you superimpose the mythological figure of the arachnoid in the heavens then the Moon would actually appear to be held within the claws of the beast. The bright orange star to the Moon’s left is Antares located 600 light years from Earth. By the next night (July 1) the Moon will have skipped over to the other side of Antares.
The three brightest stars that are in a line above and below the Moon, form the celestial claws but are sometime referred to as the crown of Scorpius too. This stellar trio, all located about 500 light years from Earth are likely related to each other, along with Antares and hundred other stars- all probably born in the same cloud of gas and dust hundreds of millions of years ago.
Tags: Antares, Scorpius
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Next couple of night are great for spotting the International Space Station making flyovers right across North America. Best of all you don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see it – and you don’t have to be in the dark countryside either. You can watch it glide over your driveway or backyard even in big cities! How cool is that?
You can go to my Sky Tonight page and scroll down to the city links to get your personal viewing timetable OR you can go to spaceweather.com and enter your zip code or postal code and you can generate your timetable. It’s as easy as that.
And if that ain’t enough… here is this week’s Night Sky episode too…now all you need are some clear skies and you are set
Tags: ISS, space station, TV
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Here is my shot of the May 5th supermoon rising above the St. Lawrence river off the island of Montreal. I was fortunate enough to be with over hundred people gathered by a local dock to enjoy the event. It was nice to see so many people interested enough to get outside with their families and enjoy nature at its best!
While many in astronomy circles debate all the unnecessary hype given in the general media to this somewhat regularly occurring lunar event the fact is that it got people to look up at the heavens who might otherwise not have. As an astronomy popularizer I would say that while yes it may be a ‘non’event’ to professional eggheads – it is something that everyone, ie. casual skywatchers - in the world can connect to and enjoy. It also offers a wonderful educational opportunity to space geeks like me to explain the real science that is going on behind what they are seeing. It also offers the chance to get folks excited about stargazing and the wonders of the universe.
I mean, just look at how poetically beautiful that full moon looked this weekend. Makes you start pondering what the silvery orb actually is and how humans have gazed at it for countless generations and even walked on it. Having been a skywatcher for 30 years now i can tell you it gets me excited still.
I recommend everyone at one point to take the time and look at a full moon rising. It’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring thing. So in my opinion - while all the hype might be a little overboard – in the end it’s all worth it when you are outside with your family and friends soaking up all the moonlight.
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Skywatchers looking up this Saturday night (May 5) at the full moon may sense it’s a bit more striking than usual- and they won’t be imagining it. Thanks to coincidental timing of the moon being at its closest approach to Earth for 2012 while in its full phase, our planet’s companion will appear 16% larger and 30% brighter than usual. While some are calling it a supermoon, astronomers say that the hype surrounding its supposed ’super-effects’ on Earth are unwarranted.
For thousands of years connections between the motion and phase of the moon have been made with various happening here on Earth from timing of harvests to ocean navigation, so making the leap that the Moon not only reflects, but actually controls natural occurrences is very understandable, astronomers say. But now we have physics and astronomy on our side and we know pretty well what’s possible and what is not.
Also check out this great NASA video explaing the details of Supermoons.
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