New Night Sky episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 29, 2011 – 4:20 pm -

This week’s spot highlights Jupiter’s close encounter with Earth, inner planets play peekaboo after sunset and the space station makes evening flybys. What more do you want for Halloween weekend.

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Auroras in Action Monday Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 25, 2011 – 4:51 pm -

Skywatchers across much of North America reported seeing lots of red and green lights in the evening sky. Thanks to an incoming coronal mass ejection that slammed into Earth’s magnetic field around 2 pm Eastern time on Monday, October 24th, the atmosphere was flooded with charged particles causing northern lights to appear as far south as California, New Mexico and Georgia. In Montreal, Canada, where I am located, in a very brightly lit suburb filled with bright sports fields and porch lights I could easily see green spikes cut across the northern sky (see image below), dancing in front of my eyes for well over an hour, until 11 pm, when it started to subside.


Faint green auroras pierce through heavily light polluted city suburban sky. Credit: Andrew Fazekas

Check out this neat time-lapse video taken in Georgia early this morning (Oct.25) that shows the eerie curtains of orange and reds creep across the northern horizon. These intense deep red auroras are a rare treat and usually only show up during intense geomagnetic storms like this one, generated as high as 300 km in altitude.

Stay tuned for more colourful auroras surely to appear in the coming months as the sun becomes more active as it climbs towards its peak solar cycle in 2013. Solar viewing telescopes have found a significant increase in sunspot activity – larger and more numerous – and if these sunspots produce solar flares and clouds of charged particles when they just happen to face Earth – then we get a chance to see auroral activity.

So with more and more sunspots popping up on the sun’s surface astronomers are expecting a definite uptick in the number of northern lights this autumn and winter, which means there will be more opportunities for intense geomagnetic storms that can cause really impressive sky lights as least as good, if not better than the one many witnessed Monday night.

Stay tuned for aurora alerts on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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Meteor Shower Underway!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 21, 2011 – 8:44 pm -

According the latest observational reports from skywatchers worldwide the Orionid meteor shower is currently at is peak and will be at its best until early morning hours of Saturday. Those in dark locations away from city lights will see more of the sky show with as much as 20 shooting stars per hour. Remember that while the shower is pretty light compared to others, its claim to fame is that each shooting star you see are bits and pieces shed from the famous Halley’s comet – something cool to think of when watching those streaks of light race across the skies.

Best way to enjoy the Orionids is to face the southeast horizon and sit back on a reclining chair and soak in the overhead sky – don’t forget to dress warmly. Don’t forget if you miss the peak Saturday morning then you can still catch straggler meteors throughout the weekend and into Tuesday!

For an observer’s guide to the Orionids check out my National Geographic story.

Here is a TB interview I did earlier today about the Orionids and other breaking space news

Here is a chart that shows the  LIVE Orionid meteor fall rate. Refresh browser regularly to see new updated counts as observers around the world plug in their data.

courtesy of IMO

Sky Show Extra: The International Space Station is making very bright flybys over the next week during early evening hours.If you’re lucky you may even see it twice in one evening because it only takes 90 minutes to make one orbit around Earth!

Check out this link where all you have to do is enter  your zip or postal code to get viewing timetables for when the ISS comes through your neck of the woods.

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Moon Visits the Crab on Sunday

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 15, 2011 – 11:45 am -

Newbie skywatchers get a chance to track down with relative ease one of the most intriguing deep sky objects in the entire heavens thanks to the Moon. Our lunar neighbour will act as a convenient guidepost on Sunday night, October 16th to locate the Crab nebula.

Nestled within the constellation Taurus, the Bull, the Crab nebula, also known as M1,  is the remnant of a supernova explosion – basically the corpse of a star that died a violent death in our Milky Way galaxy in 1054 A.D. Located 6,500 light years away, it was close enough that it lit up the sky for many days and nights. In fact it was so brilliant that Chinese astronomers at the time recorded it being a bright guest star visible in their daytime sky for more than 2 weeks – as bright as Venus! Can you imagine how bewildered and possibly frightened people may have been at this sight?

Nearly a thousand years later it now appears as a tiny, expanding cloud though the eyepiece of a small telescope. Measuring roughly 5 light years across it shines at about 8.4 magnitude putting it within the range of binoculars, but a telescope using high magnification is really required to show it off.

So if you have ever wanted to see a supernova remnant, this Sunday night is a great opportunity because the moon will help you find it. And remember  once you know where it is in the sky, go back and look at it again when the Moon is out of the way. The glare from it can really cut down on the views of deep sky objects like the Crab nebula.  And keep in mind you will have plenty of time to keep watching M1 because it will be rising higher in the southeastern evening sky over the course of the autumn and early winter seasons.

Moon guides you to the Crab nebula this weekend. Credit: Starry Night Software

Moon guides you to the Crab nebula this weekend. Credit: Starry Night Software

So, on Sunday night between 9 pm and midnight local time, with binoculars or backyard telescopes, simply sweep 4 degrees to the lower left of the Moon to  find the tiny, ghostly patch of light we call the Crab nebula. This separation of 4 degrees in the sky is equal to about 8 lunar disks – well within the field of view of a standard pair of binoculars.

Crab Nebula Finders Chart

Crab Nebula Finder's Chart

A real observing challenge for those with giant telescopes is to glimpse the pulsar  at the heart of the Crab. At 16th magnitude this fast spinning neutron star – which is the naked core of the long dead giant star-  is so faint that you need a large telescope, 16 inches and up under very dark and pristine skies to catch sight of it.

Finally you may ask, where does the Crab nebula get its name? Its attributed to  a drawing made by an astronomer through a 36 inch telescope in Ireland back in 1844 where the views of the nebula were said to resemble a horseshoe crab.

Here is a short video of the Moon in Taurus this weekend…

Don’t forget you can always get late-breaking, instant stargazing news anytime by joining my fanpage on Facebook, or get email alerts sent directly to your inbox

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Dragon’s Meteor Outburst Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 8, 2011 – 9:36 am -

Saturday, October 8th will see the peak of the Draconid meteor shower which astronomers are expecting to reach storm levels with rates as high as 600 shooting stars per hour at peak time.

Unfortunately for North Americans peak time occurs in our afternoon hours. After nightfall there will also be moon’s glare to contend with which will mean skywatchers will only glimpse about 20 to 30 Draconid meteors per hour from dark cottage country. Still a pretty sky show that is better than other years for this shower. More detail in my Nat Geo story.

Meanwhile the namesake constellation Draco, the dragon will be high in the northwest skies for any Northern Hemisphere observer during early evening hours this time of October. The constellation is the 8th largest in the entire sky and is so large that it wraps itself around the North Star, Polaris. Famous neigbouring constellations include Ursa Minor and Ursa Major – the small and great bears of mythology.

New Night Sky episode on the Draconids and Draco constellation:

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Observe Moon’s Giant Wall Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 5, 2011 – 2:58 pm -

Every month just after the first quarter phase of the Moon, like it is tonight (Wednesday) 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 steep cosmic cliff. Current estimates are that the cliff is about a 400 meter sheer drop.

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 Solar System, The Moon | 1 Comment »

Sky Highlights for October

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 3, 2011 – 10:46 am -

October is a transition month in northern latitudes with crisper and cooler weather bringing clear, dark skies full of stars for the backyard astronomer. Check out some of this month’s stargazing highlights which include great views of planet Jupiter – the largest planet int he solar system, a brief meteor shower known as the Orionids that are bits of famed Halley’s comet and the Andromeda Galaxy – one of the most distant objects you can see in the sky with the unaided eye!  Take a look…

Also you can get a rundown of what’s happening in the night sky – with many more events – on a daily basis on the Sky Calendar box on the left-hand side column.

Don’t forget you can always get late-breaking, instant stargazing news anytime by joining my fanpage on Facebook, or get email alerts sent directly to your inbox

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New Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 2, 2011 – 5:19 pm -

For those of you that missed it airing on The Weather Network TV channel this Friday night then here is the latest episode of my Night Sky segment. If you are an early bird and wake up before your local dawn then don”t miss watching the planet Mars near the beautiful star cluster called M44 or the Beehive. The Red planet and the 600 light year distant cluster will be together in the sky for the whole first week of October. They make for an awesome sight through binos or scope.

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Less Danger to Earth from Space?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 2, 2011 – 4:36 pm -

If you were worried about getting wiped out by a killer asteroid, here is some good news from NASA scientists. New observations by NASA’s satellite called Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, show there are significantly fewer near-Earth asteroids in the mid-size range than previously thought. In fact they believe they have identified about 90% of giant space rocks in the vicinity of Earth, similar in size like the one thought to have killed off the dinosaurs. Check out this new NASA video that explains what this means…

Courtesy of NASA

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