Tonight: Scorpion’s Claws Grasp Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 30, 2012 – 12:36 pm -

Sky-watchers  tonight (June 30) get to watch the moon within the northwest corner of the constellation Scorpius low in the southern sky.  If you superimpose the mythological figure of the arachnoid in the heavens then the Moon would actually appear to be held within the claws of the beast. The bright orange star to the Moon’s left is Antares located 600 light years from Earth. By the next night (July 1) the Moon will have skipped over to the other side of Antares.

The three brightest stars that are in a line above and below the Moon, form the celestial claws but are sometime referred to as the crown of Scorpius too. This stellar trio, all located about 500 light years from Earth are likely related to each other, along with Antares and hundred other stars-  all probably born in the same cloud of gas and dust hundreds of millions of years ago.


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Star Blows its Stack!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 28, 2012 – 4:54 pm -

Astronomers around the world have their telescopes and cameras pointed to a certain corner of the late summer night sky occupied by the Sagittarius constellation. That’s because on June 26, 2012 backyard astronomers witnessed a new star that became visible within the northwest corner of the mythical archer’s stellar patten,  where none had been seen before.

While it’s still early on, experts believe it’s probably a nova – a type of erupting star that can rev up in brightness many orders of magnitude than normal. While not quite as spectacular as a supernova this one appears to be in our local galactic neighborhood, making it at least an easy target for small backyard telescopes.

To get a complete viewer’s guide to this new nova discovery with links to skycharts check out my new National Geographic article.

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Space Station and Planets Galore!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 23, 2012 – 6:00 pm -

Next couple of night are great for spotting the International Space Station making flyovers right across North America. Best of all you don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see it – and you don’t have to be in the dark countryside either. You can watch it glide over your driveway or backyard even in big cities! How cool is that?

You can go to my Sky Tonight page and scroll down to the city links to get your personal viewing timetable OR you can go to and enter your zip code or postal code and you can generate your timetable.  It’s as easy as that.

And if that ain’t enough… here is this week’s Night Sky episode too…now all you need are some clear skies and you are set 😉

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

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Great Aurora Show Last Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 23, 2012 – 1:05 pm -

On June 16 and 17 a particularly strong cloud of charged particles slammed into Earth’s magnetic field and spawned an amazing display of northern and southern lights. The colours were particularly vivid and rare – with many reporting sightings of purple and blue auroras – where are indicative of more intense charged particles penetrating deeper in the atmosphere and hitting nitrogen atoms in the lower atmosphere.

Fortunately there were many astrophotographers at hand who managed to capture the fireworks show in all their glory.

Here are few of the best submitted to National Geographic that I have pulled together for your viewing pleasure.

BTW – we are heading towards the solar maximum early 2013 when the sun reaches peak activity in its 11 year cycle.  So what this means for skywatchers is that we are on the upswing for auroral activity

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What is the summer solstice?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 20, 2012 – 3:23 pm -

Today, on June 20th at 7:09 pm Eastern Time everyone in the Northern Hemisphere will be officially kicking off the summer season. But did you know that the June solstice is actually  a special astronomical moment we are marking on the calendar?

Here is my short video explanation of what is going on celestially speaking on the solstice (Taped in 2011 – so date mentioned is wrong – but applies to every year)

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AstroPic: Mickey on Mercury

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 18, 2012 – 11:40 am -

It’s amazing the shapes the human mind can see in nature – especially in the cosmos. Check out this iconic shape of Mickey Mouse made of a collection of craters found on the surface of the innermost planet in the solar system – Mercury.  This neat snapshot was taken by the NASA orbiter MESSENGER on June 3, 2012, as part of its mapping mission of the planet.  The largest crater in the center measures some 115 km across!

Credit: JPL/NASA

Credit: JPL/NASA

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New Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 16, 2012 – 3:27 pm -

nightskyIn this latest installment of Night Sky video series we take a look at the celestial return of two of the brightest planets visible in the heavens. Venus and Jupiter were hidden in front and behind the Sun for the last couple of weeks but are now becoming more easily visible with the naked eye in the morning sky.

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Saturn’s Giant Moon Has Tropical Lakes!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 13, 2012 – 4:11 pm -

After circling Saturn for 8 years the Cassini spacecraft has captured new infrared  radar images of its largest moon  Titan, showing for the first time evidence of lakes near the moon’s equatorial region, according to a new study.

With a diameter just less than half of Earth’s , Titan is a mysterious moon eternally enshrouded in a thick, smoggy atmosphere made mostly of methane, and surface temperatures hovering around a chilly – 297 degrees Fahrenheit.  Other than Earth, it remains the only other world that is host to large bodies of liquid, ie. lakes,  on its surface.

For all the details on why scientists are so surprised by these new-found lakes on Titan read my story at National Geographic News.

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Night Sky Hits for June 2012

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 8, 2012 – 6:57 pm -

With all the excitement of the recent solar eclipse and transit of Venus across the face of the Sun behind us, the starry heavens have  a few more cosmic treasures for skywatchers.

Scan the evening skies towards the high eastern horizon this month and explore that ancient classical Greek hero Hercules.  While the constellation’s stars are not the brightest, four do make a distinctive wedge-shaped trapezoid of stars marking this superhero’s chest – known as the ‘Keystone’.  Look carefully with even binoculars and you’ll find one of the greatest showpieces in the entire night sky; the Great Hercules Cluster or M13.

M13 is a globular cluster made up of a swarm of a half a million stars packed into a ball, stretching over 100 light years across. On a dark moonless night binoculars will easily show it as a fuzzy grey ball, while small telescopes will begin to resolve the edges of the cluster into individual stars.

Located 24,000 light years away, it is one of about 150 globular clusters scattered in a halo around the outside of our own Milky Way galaxy. The light from M13 that you see tonight left the cluster when Earth was still locked in its last ice age.

Meanwhile much closer to home, the planets are putting on their own sky show. The first couple of weeks in June the most challenging of all naked-eye planets makes an appearance very low in the northwestern sky just after sunset. The innermost planet will slowly be rising higher as the planet moves farther away from the Sun – which will be easily visible if you keep an eye on the planet from night to night.

Mercury will position itself within the constellation Gemini in June  and on June 21st will sitting on top of the waxing crescent Moon. The cosmic pair will be separated by about 6 degrees – a little more than the width of your three middle fingers at an outstretched arm.

Then as an extra observing challenge on June 24 the little planet will appear to line up with the two brightest stars  Castor and Pollux very low towards the horizon just after sunset.  A pair of binoculars will help you track down all three.

The red coloured Mars is high in the southwest evening sky and appears between two bright, white stars. To its right is 78 light year distant Regulus. While to the far lower left of Mars you will find the ringed jewel of the solar system, Saturn in the constellation Virgo. The bright star below Saturn is 263 light year distant Spica.

Not sure which is which? The moon will conveniently point the way starting on June 25,when it first pays a visit to the Red Planet, and then on June 27 and 28 it will glide below Saturn, Spica stellar pair.

Finally for those early bird skywatchers, the two brightest planet – Jupiter and Venus – which earlier this season dominated the evening sky will now appear in the predawn twilight very low towards the eastern horizon by mid- June. Look for the razor-thin crescent moon in a super-close encounter Jupiter low in the east at dawn on June 17.

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Venus Transit LIVE Videos!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 5, 2012 – 4:05 pm -

Here are some  virtual views today of the Venus Transit from around the world….the last one until 2117!

This one comes from Japan…

Video streaming by Ustream

Here is the feed from Hawaii…

another feed from Mt.Lemmon Observatory….

Another feed from NASA in Hawaii

Live streaming by Ustream

The SLOOH Space Camera will broadcast the transit of Venus live from locations around the world, starting at 6p.m. (EDT).

Finally check out Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center  broadcasting the transit in three different sites around the world…including from a team in Mongolia!

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