Moon and Spica makes Pretty Pair

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 29, 2009 – 4:18 pm -

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click to enlarge

Over the next two nights watch the gibbous Moon glide by the bright star Spica in the southwest horizon after dusk. The pair promises to be quite eye-catching. While the Moon makes it easy to find this 16th brightest star in the sky the next couple of evenings, there is another way you can hunt down Spica when it’s by its lonesome.  A good stargazing trick is to start off at the Big Dipper - which is upside down, high overhead in the evenings. Draw an imaginary line through the Dipper’s handle, out its end and down to the next brightest star – named Arcturus. Then continue following that imaginary line to the next brightest star, which is Spica.  So you Arc to Arcturus, and Spike to Spica. It’s as easy as that.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

By tomorrow night the Moon will have moved again towards the southern sky, and will have shifted to the left of Spica. Look carefully and you might notice that the two are much closer together than the night before, making it more interesting sight.

By the end of the week the Moon will slowly continue its daily motion and will pair up with sparkling orange coloured star Antares, the lead star in the constellation Scorpius – another cool cosmic event. More details on that coming later this week, so stay tuned.


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Posted in Constellations, Solar System, Stargazing, The Moon, stars | 474 Comments »

Saturn, Moon, Spica Sandwich in the Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 28, 2009 – 12:51 pm -

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click to enlarge

The Moon continues its trek towards the southern sky tonight, Sunday.  Look carefully and you will notice that our closest neighbour is now sandwiched between two bright stars.
The one on the right is planet Saturn, while the on to the moon’s far left is Spica, the lead star of the Virgo constellation.

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Posted in Constellations, Planets, Solar System, Stargazing, The Moon, stars | 287 Comments »

Moon Snuggles with Saturn this Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 27, 2009 – 4:19 pm -

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click to enlarge

This evening the Moon has shifted towards the southern sky a bit so that it hangs just below planet Saturn. The pair together will look quite impressive to the unaided eye – even if you live in the city. It’s amazing to think that while the Moon is only about 400,000 km away, the ringed-planet sits over 1.2 billion km from Earth. Despite its vast distance, Saturn shines so bright in the sky because of it’s massive size – 9 times larger than Earth, and its highly reflective cloud-tops. To the naked eye the 6th planet in the solar system shines with a creamy-yellow colour- which is the actual colour of its gaseous atmosphere. 

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

 To see Saturn’s famous rings however you will need a small telescope.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy instrument- anything bigger than a pair of binoculars should give you a glimpse. These rings are made of billions of chunks of ice and rock - everything from house-size down to a the size of a particle of dust. They are about 250,000 km wide, which would make the planet with its rings fit snuggly in between the Earth and the Moon. The rings have been getting narrower in the eyepiece over the past year as the tilt of the planet – to our line of sight – has made the rings appear extremely thin. A small telescope will also reveal a handful of the largest of the 60 or so moons Saturn has zipping around it.


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Posted in Planets, Solar System, The Moon | 99 Comments »

Luna and the Lion’s Heart Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 26, 2009 – 10:53 am -

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click to enlarge

If you have clear skies tonight check out a beautiful crescent Moon pairing up with the  bright star, Regulus in the southwest horizon at around 10 pm. Up until a few hundred years back, this blue-white star was called officially by its Latin name – Cor Leonis – The Lion’s Heart’. It is the brightest star in the constellation Leo and if you lookat the outline of the mythical figure, Regulus definitely does mark the spot where the lion’s heart would be.

Regulus is about 77 light years away and is larger and much younger than our own Sun - 3.5 times bigger and only a few hundred million years old.  What you may not know is that it is in fact a multiple star system consisting of 4 different stars that revolve around each other in pairs. Also recent observations of this bright star has revealed that its spins so fast around its axis, that its shape is distorted resembling an egg. While our Sun rotates on its axis in about 24 hours, Regulus takes only 16 hours !


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Posted in Constellations, Solar System, Stargazing, The Moon, stars | 238 Comments »

Brightest Summer Star is Magnetic

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 24, 2009 – 11:38 am -

Astronomers today announced the first detection of a magnetic field on the star Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky. Vega is a famous star among amateur and professional astronomers. Located at only 25 light years from Earth in the Lyra constellation, it is the fifth brightest star in the sky. It has been used as a reference star for brightness comparisons. Vega is twice as massive as the Sun and has only one tenth its age. Because it is both bright and nearby, Vega has been often studied but it is still revealing new aspects when it is observed with more powerful instruments. Vega rotates in less than a day, while the Sun’s rotation period is 27 days. The intense centrifugal force induced by this rapid rotation flattens its poles and generates temperature variations of more than 1000 degrees Celsius between the polar (warmer) and the equatorial regions of its surface. Vega is also surrounded by a disk of dust that suggests the presence of planets.

Find Vega near overhead summer night skies

Find Vega near overhead summer night skies

This time, astronomers analyzed the polarization of light emitted by Vega and detected a weak magnetic field at its surface. This is really not a big surprise because one knows that the charged particle motions inside stars can generate magnetic fields, and this is how solar and terrestrial magnetic fields are produced. However, for more massive stars than the Sun, such as Vega, theoretical models cannot predict the intensity and the structure of the magnetic field, so that astronomers had no clue to the strength of the signal they were looking for. After many unsuccessful attempts in past decades an observing campaign have made this first detection possible.

The strength of Vega magnetic field is about 50 micro-tesla, which is close to that of the mean field on Earth and on the Sun. This detection suggests that magnetic fields exist but have not been detected yet on many stars like Vega. Astronomers believe that this discovery will be a key step in understanding stellar magnetic fields and their influence on stellar evolution. As for Vega, it is now the prototype of a new class of magnetic stars and will definitely continue fascinating astronomers for years.

- Adapted from material from Astronomy &  Astrophysics journal press annoucment

 


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Posted in Constellations, Stargazing, stars | 177 Comments »

Watch NASA Moon Probes LIVE

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 23, 2009 – 11:06 am -

NASA’s two lunar orbiters are closing in on their final destination this morning and you can catch the latest views with streaming video being sent by one of the spacecrafts visible light camera LIVE on the internet along with real-time telemetry of exactly where it is in space.  Click here to watch!


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New Snapshots from Saturn

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 22, 2009 – 4:04 pm -

In anticipation of the upcoming equinox at Saturn, the imaging science team on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is releasing today a series of images and movies capturing scenes possible only once every 15 years. This bounty of sights, that includes time-lapse sequences in which Saturnian moons eclipse each other and cast long shadows onto the planet’s famous rings, represents only some of the fruits expected for the extended “Equinox Mission” for Cassini, the robotic explorer that has been orbiting Saturn since July 1, 2004.
 
Saturn’s spin axis is tilted relative to its motion around the Sun, and its year is equal to 29.5 Earth years. Equinox, the twice-yearly period when the Sun passes through the plane containing the planet’s rings, will happen for the first time in almost 15 Earth years on Aug. 11, 2009. The novel illumination geometry created by the approaching equinox lowers the Sun’s angle to the ring plane and causes some of Saturn’s moons, as well as out-of-plane structures in the rings, to cast long shadows across the rings, creating vistas never before seen by any Saturn-bound spacecraft.

The shadow of Saturn's moon Mimas dips onto the planet's rings and straddles the Cassini Division  Shadow of moon Mimas dips onto the planet’s rings

 check out more amazing new images here.

Courtesy of THE CASSINI IMAGING CENTRAL LABORATORY FOR OPERATIONS AT THE SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE IN BOULDER, COLORADO


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Final Moments during Kamikaze Dive into Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 20, 2009 – 12:24 pm -

Check out this amazing video taken by the Japanese lunar orbiter’s final plunge into the lunar surface last week. The HD cameras kept rolling up until the last moments.


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Posted in Solar System, The Moon | 141 Comments »

Worlds Assemble in the Morning Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 18, 2009 – 6:37 pm -

Starting tomorrow morning (Friday) at dawn the Moon will start a multi-day journey across the eastern sky, stopping by the planets Venus, Mars and Mercury and even a bright star cluster.  I invite you to check out all the details in my article I wrote for National Geographic News.  Below is a skychart of what you should see, pendning clear skies of course. Best part of the show is that you don’t need any optical aid to enjoy it.

Moon pays a visit to the innermost planets

Moon pays a visit to the innermost planets


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Lost Moon Recovered

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 17, 2009 – 8:37 pm -

Here is what I call the ultimate in data recovery. Hi-rez images of the Moon, including the Apollo 12 landing site were taken by a lunar orbiter back in 1967 (couple of years before the mission) and stored on its tape drives, only to be dusting away for decades.  Now before they are totally lost to history they are being recovered- and they are yielding spectacular imagery of our closest neighbour. These photos will hopefully be useful in planning for potential landing sites for future human missions. 

 Check out digitized, salvaged versions that shows off amazing details of the lunar surface the public has never seen before. Tip of the hat goes to nasawatch.com for this cool find.


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Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration, The Moon | 1 Comment »