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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Late night on Friday, October 30, the waning gibbous moon will be parked just beneath one of the brightest supernova remnants in the entire sky, an expanding cloud that sits about 7,000 light-years from Earth.
Just above the moon is Zeta Tau, one of the stars that mark the tips of Taurus’s long horns. The star acts as a convenient guidepost to the famed Crab Nebula, the remains of a supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers in A.D. 1054.
Look for the faint Crab Nebula, also known as Messier 1, approximately 1 degree above Zeta Tau and 5 degrees above the moon—slightly less than the width of three middle fingers at arm’s length. The nebula shines faintly at magnitude 9.0, making it just visible through binoculars and an easy target for even small backyard telescopes.
For more information about night sky events, visit my National Geographic column, Starstruck.
Tags: Crab nebula, nebula
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In the early dawn hours on Tuesday, October 6, skywatchers can use the moon to find the Beehive star cluster (Messier 44) nearby. This open cluster lies in the heart of the zodiacal constellation Cancer in the southeastern sky.
This cluster is one of the closest to our Sun, sitting at 610 light-years distant. Seen with the naked eye in dark skies, the Beehive appears as a nebulous mass. Through binoculars or telescopes, though, the cluster reveals itself as a loose grouping of sparkling stars.
Tags: Beehive cluster, M44, Open Star Cluster, The Moon
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Everyone with clear skies across the Americas will have a front-row seat Sunday night to a rare total eclipse of the super-harvest moon.
On the evening of September 27, three separate lunar events converge. The total eclipse coincides with the full moon nearest the fall equinox, known as the harvest moon. What’s more, the moon is at its closest approach to Earth for the year, making it also a supermoon or perigee moon. That’s why it’s being coined by some as a Super Harvest Blood Moon—a mouthful to be sure.
This confluence has happened only five times since 1900. According to NASA, the last time we saw this celestial triple combination was in 1982, and it won’t repeat until 2033.
The most spectacular part of the eclipse will be the totality phase, when Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon and turns it an eerie red. The moon will dip into the deepest and darkest part of Earth’s shadow, or umbra, during the totality phase, which lasts as long as 72 minutes.
This week’s eclipse is even more special because the lunar disk will appear slightly larger than usual. The moon will be at perigee—its closest point to Earth—just 59 minutes before the height of the eclipse. This will make the lunar disk appear 13 percent larger than average.
During the total eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface.
As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color during the partial phase of the eclipse to a reddish-orange color during totality. The moon’s color during totality can vary considerably depending on the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. Active volcanoes spewing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere, for instance, can trigger blood-red eclipses.
No one can predict exactly what color we’ll see before each eclipse.
What Time Do I Watch?
The first part of the eclipse will be the partial phase, when the moon enters Earth’s dark shadow (umbra) beginning at 9:07 p.m. EDT or 01:07 GMT. From that point, the dark umbral shadow will spread across the moon’s disk from left to right.
At 10:11 p.m. EDT, totality begins—when the moon is fully engulfed in the umbral shadow and turns a shade of orange-red. Totality will last as long as one hour and 12 minutes, with the rest of the visible eclipse ending at 12:27 a.m. EDT.
Eclipse Event EDT CDT MDT PDT
Partial eclipse begins 9:07 p.m. 8:07 p.m.
Total eclipse begins 10:11 p.m 9:11 p.m 8:11 p.m 7:11 p.m
Midpoint of eclipse 10:47 p.m. 9:47 p.m. 8:47 p.m. 7:47 p.m.
Total eclipse ends 11:23 p.m. 10:23 p.m. 9:23 p.m. 8:23 p.m.
Partial eclipse ends 12:27 a.m 11:27 p.m. 10:27 p.m. 9:27 p.m.
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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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After nightfall on Sunday, May 17 look towards the southeast for asteroid 532 Herculina as it reaches its biggest and brightest in our skies for the year. The 9th magnitude space rock is now gliding through the backdrop of stars within the constellation Serpens, the snake between the bright orange-colorer star Arcturus, to its north, and yellow-hued Saturn to its south.
Herculina is currently 3 degrees southeast of the the faint naked-eye, 3.7th magnitude star Epsilon Serpentis which should make it easier to hunt down with a small backyard telescope.
This 140 mile-wide (230 km) space rock is in the top 20 of the largest asteroids known to reside in the main belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
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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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The Virtual Telescope Project and Astronomers Without Borders are teaming up to present the total lunar Eclipse on April 15 to everyone on the planet through live broadcasts from telescopes located throughout North America.
Catch the action starting at 2:30 am EDT / 06:30 UT right here. If video does not load on this page then go directly here.
Also check out this alternate broadcast provided by the Coca-Cola Science Center at Columbus State University in Georgia. Feed should start Monday @ 11 pm EDT.
Tags: lunar eclipse, space, The Moon
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On Tuesday, March 18 at 10:24 pm EDT a super-bright fireball lit up southwestern Ontario skies.
Here is a photo captured by Univ. Western Ontario all-sky camera of the meteor event. Researchers now estimate it was a meteor the size of a basketball that entered Earth`s atmosphere. The cosmic intruder spend about 5 seconds traveling through North American skies before the air pressure pulverized it. Meteor experts say this is the first time in a half decade that such a bright event happened in Ontario.
The space rock most likely fragmented with pieces probably making it to the ground. Now the hunt is on for meteorites just 5 km NW of St. Thomas, Ontario. According to researchers the odds of finding a fragment of the meteor are small since it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack but the general public has the best shot.
Stay tuned for more details as they are made available.
Tags: asteroid, fireball, meteor, meteorite, space
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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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