Blue Moon Controversy

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 30, 2009 – 4:16 pm -

This New Year’s Eve there will be a full Moon popularly referred to as a blue moon – something that hasn’t happened for 19 years and won’t again until 2028.  But what many today  refer to as the blue moon – the second full moon of the month – is considered just plain wrong by astronomers.

Can the moon actually appear blue and where did this urban legend originate…you may be surprised by the answers.  Check out my National Geographic article just published on the blue moon.  Also for my Canadian readers, stay tuned to your local CBC Radio One station New Year’s Eve. afternoon for a special interview on the topic.

Posted in Solar System, The Moon | 190 Comments »

New Weather Network Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 28, 2009 – 11:17 pm -

If you missed tonight’s TV segment then you can check out my Night Sky spot right here. Regular Friday shows return next week.

Posted in Uncategorized | 85 Comments »

Tonight: Moon Dances with Seven Sisters

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 28, 2009 – 5:33 pm -

Moon and Pleiades in Taurus; click image to enlarge

Moon and Pleiades in Taurus; click image to enlarge

Take a gander at the gibbous moon anytime tonight with a pair of binoculars and you may notice a nice compact group of stars hanging on to its upper left side. The Pleiades or Seven Sisters open cluster will be less than 0.5 degrees away in the sky from the Moon – that is less than a full moon disk! In fact for most of of North America the Moon will glide right through the bottom portion of the Pleiades in the early evening.  The pair are located in the constellation Taurus, the Bull.

Start looking around 5 pm and you will notice that hour by hour thereafter the disk of the Moon will appear to slowly creep across the stellar members of this family of stars. Try and see if you can spot the Pleiades using just your eyes. It won’t be easy because of the glare from the near full Moon.


Moon occults cluster members; click to enlarge

Try blocking the disk of the moon out using your thumb – that way the fainter stars will come into view better as your eyes adapt to the darker surrounding sky. Interesting to note is that while the moon is only around 360,000 km away from us, the Seven Sisters is a whopping 400 light years away.

Remember where in the sky you see the cluster tonight, and by tomorrow evening you will have a much better view of it – even with the naked eye – since the bright, blinding Moon will have moved away.


Don’t  forget you can also get late-breaking stargazing news anytime by following me on Twitter and Facebook, or get  email alerts sent directly to your inbox

Posted in Stargazing, stars, The Moon | 279 Comments »

Red Planet Coming

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 26, 2009 – 12:45 pm -

Courtesy of Ruinerwold, Drenthe, The Netherlands

Courtesy of Ruinerwold, Drenthe, The Netherlands

The planet Mars is quickly getting closer to Earth the next few weeks until January 27, 2010 when it will be only 99 million km away.

Backyard astronomers have been snapping some amazing photos of our neighbouring world showing surprising amounts of detail.

Check out this awesome animation put together from individual images taken by a Dutch stargazer on Dec.15th using only a 10 inch reflector.  Tip of the hat to for this cool find.

Nasa orbiter snapped this close-up view of the 4 volcanoes; This image is upside down and reversed from animation

Unbeleivably you can actually see white clouds (smudges on the left limb of Mars) above three volcanoes in a vertical row. The lone white cloud to their right is a cloud covered Olympus Mons, the solar system’s largest volcano –  3 times higher than Mt. Everest!  

Meanwhile the white area at the bottom of the disk is the water-ice and frozen carbon dioxide covered Martian south pole. Visible in the late night sky, orange coloured star-like Mars will get brighter and bigger in the telescope as it gets closer to Earth – making for a great target for backyard instruments. Stay tuned for more observing tips in the coming weeks.

Posted in Planets, Solar System | 262 Comments »

Merry Cosmic Christmas!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 25, 2009 – 6:25 am -

Early this month the Hubble Space Telescope snapped a striking picture postcard of a giant starforming region that many say looks a lot like a festive wreath. Wishing all my fellow stargazers all the best for the holiday season- may you all experience dark skies and bright stars!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Watch Moon’s Wall Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 24, 2009 – 5:01 pm -

It’s Christmas Eve and you are looking to maybe try out that new telescope before putting it under the tree – just to make sure it works fine. How about pointing it to the Moon and observing one of its wonders. 

Every month just after the first quarter phase of the Moon, like it is tonight (Christmas Eve) is the best time to hunt down in a small telescope, one of the most striking features on the lunar surface called the Straight Wall or Rupes Recta. As the name implies, this giant 120 km long lunar fault looks like a straight dark line through the eyepiece.

The view is so dramatic right now because the rising sun is casting a long deep shadow the entire length of this cosmic slope. Current estimates are that the cliff is in fact a gentle slope of 7 degrees, about 400 meters in height. 

 First described by 17th century astronomer Christian Huygens, the straight wall lies in the Mare Nubium and is impressive in any sized telescope you have.  

You can have another chance to see the Straight Wall during last quarter Moon when the setting sun illuminates the face of the long cliff, making it appear as a bright, white straight line – equally as dramatic.


You want to know what kind of other cool features you can track down tonight on the Moon? Check out the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Moon – a very detailed website dedicated to showing you exactly what you can see on the surface of the moon – generated for every day of the calendar.

Posted in The Moon | 37 Comments »

Saturnian Moons Dance

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 23, 2009 – 10:23 pm -

“Like sugar plum fairies in The Nutcracker, the moons of Saturn performed a celestial ballet before the eyes of NASAs Cassini spacecraft. The new movies frame the moons silent dance against the majestic sweep of the planets rings and show as many as four moons gliding around one another.”

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Space Exploration | 18 Comments »

Solar System Hits Local Fluff

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 23, 2009 – 4:06 pm -

“The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist. In the Dec. 24th issue of Nature, a team of scientists reveal how NASA’s Voyager spacecraft have solved the mystery….Astronomers call the cloud we’re running into now the Local Interstellar Cloud or “Local Fluff” for short. It’s about 30 light years wide and contains a wispy mixture of hydrogen and helium atoms at a temperature of 6000 C.”

Read the full Breaking NASA news story here.

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Posted in Solar System, Space Exploration | 116 Comments »

This Week in Space

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 23, 2009 – 10:40 am -

Check out this new weekly video venture by former CNN’s space beat reporter Miles O’Brien. It does a great job of reporting on what the big space exploration and space science news makers are for the week.


Welcome to the premier of “This Week In Space With Miles O’Brien,” a new show dedicated to keeping space lovers up to speed on the stories and issues making news off the planet . This week: an in-depth look at the future of human space flight as the Obama Administration prepares new marching orders for NASA…an interview with astronaut Nicole Stott, recently home from at three month tour of duty on the International Space Station…and a news roundup from around the space beat.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Tonight: Little Bear Shower

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 22, 2009 – 3:35 pm -

Shower radiates out from near Polaris

As with all meteor showers, the Ursids are named after the constellation they appear to radiate out from in the sky – in this case Ursa Minor.  Meteors appear to shoot out from a region of sky just above the bowl of the Little Dipper.

Considered a minor show – the Ursids only produce on average about 10 to 15 shooting stars per hour -rare times there are bursts of 30 or more per hour. The parent comet is 8P/Tuttle and Earth plows through the debris shed from this icy visitor between Dec.17 and Dec.23.

Best time to see the Ursids is about an hour before local dawn, and because most tend to be faint, they are best viewed from the dark countryside, facing toward the northern  sky as this is where the Little Dipper can be found. This year looks to be favourable as the glaring crescent Moon will not be in the sky at peak time. For more details check out the American Meteor Society’s webpage and short blurb at EarhSky.

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Posted in Meteors | 179 Comments »