This week’s Weather Network spot highlights the lunar eclipse that occurred this morning AND the multiple, bright space station flybys occurring all this week.
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Stray light cast into the sky by poorly designed security and street lights, porch lamps, and neon signs fill the sky with so much light that they obscure the rest of the universe beyond, including the beautiful Milky Way, and hides all but the brightest meteors. Only a handful of bright stars and planets shine through it.
The McDonald Observatory in Texas has produced a three-minute video detailing easy steps that we can all take to preserve the night sky.
“McDonald Observatory is fortunate to have the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States,” said Dr. Tom Barnes, McDonald Observatory Superintendent. “The sky out here makes this a great place for big telescopes and research. For years, we’ve put on public programs and worked with schools to bring the wonders of the universe to as wide an audience as possible. Now we want to share the message that dark skies are what makes our work possible, and preserving dark skies is worthwhile for everyone.”
Light pollution isn’t only a problem for astronomers and skywatchers. The International Dark-Sky Association estimates Americans lose $10 billion each year paying for light that is wasted — as it’s shone into the sky, instead of down on the ground where it’s needed. This wasted light isn’t making people safer in parking lots and outside their homes. And this unusable light is powered by wasted electricity, unnecessarily adding thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
“This is not only a problem for astronomers, but for everyone — for wildlife and for people who live in cities where the dark skies are drowned out by wasted light,” Paul Premack said. “You can make a difference by being wise about the kinds of lighting you use to light the outside of your homes, and by supporting city and county lighting ordinances.”
– adapted from a news announcement from McDonald observatory of University of Texas, Austin.
Tags: light pollution
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Summer offically arrives at 7:28 am Eastern time today for those in the northern Hemisphere, but what exactly are we marking on this date? Known as the Summer Solstice, this is the time of the year when the Earth’s axis is tilted as far it can towards the Sun. For skywatchers this means that the Sun reaches its highest point in our skies and we get to enjoy the longest daylight hours of the year.
Enjoy the Summer Solstice – after all it only comes once a year.
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A quick observers guide to new comet visible int he early morning skies…
Tags: comet, McNaught, TV
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Over the next couple days or so check out the planet Venus as it positions just above the beautiful Beehive cluster (M44). The pair will easily fit inside the view of an average pair of binoculars. Both call the constellation Cancer – the crab – their home and are easy to track down in the northwest these nights soon after sunset. While Venus looks like a bright white coloured star to the naked eye -thanks to the planets highly reflected white clouds that totally enshroud it. The Beehive cluster however can be glimpsed easily from a dark sky location without optical aid, but really looks like a swarm of bees when you magnify the 500 light year distant cluster even a little. The cosmic odd couple are now only separated by about 0.5 degrees – equal to just one full Moon disk.
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An new icy visitor is making its rounds through the inner solar system this month and the next week or so will put on its best show. Comet McNaught, named after its Australian discoverer was first spotted back in September last year through a telescope and has been brightening ever since. In the last few days it has become just barely visible with the naked eye from a dark location away from city lights and some predict it will be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.
When and Where?
Look for it in the low northeastern sky at about 3 to 4 am local time. It is flying through the constellation Auriga and will be positioned just to the upper right of the constellation’s brightest star – Capella. This superbright, orange- hued star will make for an easy guidepost to hunt down McNaught even from suburban locales. However keep in mind, the comet is plunging closer and closer towards the Sun every day and so it is slowly becoming lost in its glare – so don’t wait – now is the time to see the comet.
Below is a general skychart showing the location of the comet now.
What does it look like?
It is a great sight however through any old pair of binoculars. Many observers are reporting that they are seeing a fuzzy ball with a faint, wispy tail trailing northward. Caused by gas and dust escaping from the nucleus of the comet, the tail is about as long as the full moon disk when viewed through binoculars., however it stretches out a lot more than that on photographs. Check this photo out below taken by amateur astronomer in Austria just a few days ago.
Astronomers say that this comet is in a hyperbolic orbit which means after it rounds the Sun at the end of June it will be quickly heading out to the farthest reaches of the solar system, into the Oort Cloud – some 12 billion km away – not returning for thousands of years. So take a peek at this once-in-a-lifetime comet while you can.
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Monday and Tuesday evening the second planet from the Sun will be joined in the low western sky by a beautiful crescent Moon. First up on Monday evening the Moon will be below Venus. Look to the right of the pair and you may notice two brilliant stars – Pollux and Castor – the Gemini twins.
By Tuesday evening Earth’s satellite will have skipped over to the left of the planet and will be a bit wider crescent. Keep an eye on the waxing Moon as it continues its trek towards the southern part of the sky over the remainder of the week.
Enjoy the free celestial show.
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If you have clear skies tonight then check out a really beautiful pairing of the planet Mars with Regulus, the lead star in the constellation Leo. What will make this event particularly neat to see is the contrasting colour between the orange-hued planet and the white star. The pair will be separated by less than a degree – 2 full moon disks apart.
Tags: Mars, Regulus
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Update Saturday, June 5: Researchers are currently analyzing the video footage taken by the two amateur space sleuths of the Jupiter impact and are trying to figure out how big the rock and resulting explosion was. Nearly two days after the collision there are no reports yet of any dark debris field developing. But very early guesstimates are that the rock may have been under 10 meters across and the explosion may have been equal in power of two Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. We are also awaiting to see what the Hubble space telescope may have picked up. Stay tuned for more details to come…
Yesterday,Thursday late afternoon (4:31 pm Eastern time) two amateur space sleuths captured live a bright flash on Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. Experts are thinking it was either a comet or asteroid that smacked Jupiter this time. Super weird is the timing…just after NASA released detailed information on last year’s impact on Jupiter – which was seen by the same backyard stargazers too!
Here is the short video…look for the pinprick burst of light on the lower right of Jupiter.
credit: Christopher Go, Philippines
The thinking is that it was either an asteroid or comet. Scientists are now racing to get both professional and amateur astronomers to train their telescopes on the gas giant to see what kind of scar will be left behind this latest impact. If it is anything like last year’s impact event it should leave behind a dark debris field in the clouds that may become visible over the next few days.
Here is a finder chart on where you will find Jupiter the next week or so. Note that the Moon will be perched just above the planet on Sunday morning, making it especially easy to find the planet if you have never seen it before.
For more details on the impact check out my new National Geographic News story.
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