Bits of Halley’s Comet Rain Down

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 19, 2012 – 9:12 pm -

Over the next week Earth will be slamming into a debris field left behind by one of the most famous cosmic visitors in history – Halley’s comet.

While the icy interloper won’t return to our neck of the woods for another five decades, it still puts on a yearly sky show in the form of the Orionid meteor shower which peaks in the early morning hours of October 21st.

Read more about the Orionid meteors and how best to catch the sky show at National Geographic News

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Video: How to Find Andromeda Galaxy Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 16, 2012 – 5:16 pm -

Latest episode of Night Sky is now online and this week I give skywatchers the basics on how to track down one of the most distant objects the unaided human eye can see in the night sky. The Great Andromeda galaxy, also known as Messier 31, sits nearly 2.6 million light years away and is actually a fairly easy target to hunt down from dark skies but also from suburban locales when using binoculars. Autumn is the best time of the year to try your hand at finding Andromeda galaxy as it rises in the east in the evenings this time of the year.

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Diamond Planet Discovery

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 12, 2012 – 12:45 pm -

The universe just got a bit richer with the discovery of an apparent diamond-rich planet orbiting a nearby star.

Dubbed 55 Cancri e, the rocky world is only twice the size of Earth but has eight times its mass—classifying it as a “super Earth,” a new study says. First detected crossing in front of its parent star in 2011, the close-in planet orbits its star in only 18 hours. As a result, surface temperatures reach an uninhabitable 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,150 degrees Celsius)—which, along with carbon, make perfect conditions for creating diamonds.

Read the rest of my Diamond world story and how researchers think this may change our understanding of how planets can form at National Geographic news.

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Night Sky Hits for October 2012

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 3, 2012 – 2:44 pm -

As weather gets colder and nights longer October starry skies are ruled by the mythical winged-horse we know as Pegasus – considered the landmark of autumn stargazing.

Beginning its ascent in the northeastern sky as twilight fades, Pegasus ends up dominating the high southern sky late nights this month.  The winged steed is the seventh largest constellation in the entire sky and the easiest way to track it down even under West Island’s light polluted skies is to look for the distinctive “Great Square” on its side, made up of four brilliant stars. You’ll find however that the rest of the constellation is a little more of a challenge to pick out, needing either binoculars or an escape to dark skies away from city lights to really see all of its stars.

A large piece of celestial real estate, the Great Square has enough size to contain more than 30 full Moons side by side. Though each corner star is only moderately bright, they’re relatively easy to locate because there are no stars in this area of the sky that are as luminous.

If you are feeling a little more adventurous then try tracking down the cosmic ‘fly’ perched on the end of Pegasus’ nose.  What looks like a tiny, fuzzy patch of light through binoculars is in fact a globular cluster – a collection of tens of thousands of stars called M15 sitting 34,000 light years from us!

Great Square of Pegasus points the way to a distant globular cluster

Great Square of Pegasus points the way to a distant globular cluster

Start your ‘fly’ hunt with the right corner star Markarb and hop from there along the dimmer set of stars marking the neck and head of the upside down horse.  Reaching the moderately bright Enif at the end of this chain of stars, use your binoculars to scan to its upper right until you spot the faint fuzzy ball of light of M15.  A telescope will really show it off a tight ball of stars lying just outside of our galaxy.

Meanwhile planet watchers get to see a slowly dimming Mars fight against the glow of the setting sun in the west.  Hunting down the Red Planet may be difficult these days but the waxing crescent moon will be joining it just after sunset on Oct.17 and Oct.18 in the low western horizon.

A much more dazzling sight for skywatchers will be Jupiter -rising in the east around 10 pm as the month opens and earlier every evening thereafter.  The largest planet in our solar system – 300 Earths could fit inside comfortably – sits within the constellation Taurus , between the horns of the Bull. Watch for the gas giant forming a pretty pair with the Moon on Oct.5 and then again on Halloween night.

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