Taurid Meteor Shower

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 4, 2015 – 2:12 pm -

Taurid Meteor shower lights up nights from Nov. 5 to 12, late night in eastern skies.

Taurid Meteor shower lights up nights from Nov. 5 to 12, late night in eastern skies.

From late night Thursday, November 5 through November 12 skywatchers should be on the lookout from exceptionally bright meteors known as fireballs. These shooting stars will appear to radiate out from the part of the sky occupied by their namesake constellation Taurus, the bull, which rises in the east late nights this time of the year.

The shooting stars have distinct yellow-orange coloration and move a bit more slowly across the sky than the average meteor. Throughout this week, as many as a dozen per hour could be visible from dark skies.

For more celestial events, check out my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Mars and Venus

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 31, 2015 – 11:25 am -

God of War and God of Love meet in predawn hours with king of the planets, Jupiter looking down upon them.

God of War and God of Love meet in predawn hours of November 1 with king of the planets, Jupiter looking down upon them.

On Sunday, November 1, early risers get a chance to catch the goddess of love and the god of war team up in the low eastern sky just before dawn when super-bright Venus slides within 1 degree of Mars. The king of the gods, Jupiter, will be perched above, looking down on the pair.

For more night sky events, check out my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Demon Star

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 30, 2015 – 11:20 am -

Halloween night the Demon Star shines in Perseus. While trick or treating, glimpse this famous variable star!

Halloween night the Demon Star shines in Perseus. While trick or treating, glimpse this famous variable star!

On Halloween, Saturday, October 31, trick-or-treaters can hunt down a real stellar ghoul in the sky. That night, the naked-eye star Algol sits in the constellation Perseus, rising high in the northeastern evening sky. The star represents the eye of the monster Medusa from ancient Greek mythology, but what makes it so eerie is that it appears to wink at us.

Algol, which means “ghoul’s head,” sits 93 light-years away and is actually two stars that orbit each other. From our vantage point here on Earth, the two stars are lined up so that one eclipses the other every 2.867 days, or 68 hours, 48 minutes, and 59.9 seconds. That makes Algol appear to fade and brighten.

Known as an eclipsing binary variable, Algol is normally the second-brightest star in the constellation Perseus at 2.1 magnitude, which is about as bright as stars in the Big Dipper. But over a 10-hour period, Algol fades dramatically to 3.4 magnitude and then again brightens, as one star passes in front of the other. This week, Algol reaches its dimmest point at 8:50 a.m. ET on October 27 and 5:39 a.m. ET on October 30.

You can easily hunt down the demon star in the constellation Perseus, the hero, near the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia and the bright star Capella of the constellation Auriga. Perseus looks somewhat like a lopsided K, with Algol located along one of the upper arms just a few degrees from the bright star Mirfak.

For more night sky events, check out my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Moon Shows Crab Nebula

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 29, 2015 – 11:18 am -

Waning moon sits next to beautiful Crab Nebula on Friday, October 30.

Waning moon sits next to beautiful Crab Nebula on Friday, October 30.

Late night on Friday, October 30, the waning gibbous moon will be parked just beneath one of the brightest supernova remnants in the entire sky, an expanding cloud that sits about 7,000 light-years from Earth.

Just above the moon is Zeta Tau, one of the stars that mark the tips of Taurus’s long horns. The star acts as a convenient guidepost to the famed Crab Nebula, the remains of a supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers in A.D. 1054.

Look for the faint Crab Nebula, also known as Messier 1, approximately 1 degree above Zeta Tau and 5 degrees above the moon—slightly less than the width of three middle fingers at arm’s length. The nebula shines faintly at magnitude 9.0, making it just visible through binoculars and an easy target for even small backyard telescopes.

For more information about night sky events, visit my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Orionids Streak Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 19, 2015 – 2:40 pm -

Up to 20 meteors can be seen nights of October 20/21 seemingly emerging from Orion constellation.

Up to 20 meteors can be seen nights of October 20/21 seemingly emerging from Orion constellation.

From late night Tuesday through Thursday morning, ten to 20 shooting stars per hour will zip across the night sky.  As meteor showers go, this one is more of a sprinkle, but the Orionids make up for modest performance with a distinguished pedigree. Orionid shooting stars are part of the debris shed from the most famous of all Earth’s icy visitors, Halley’s Comet.

Individual meteor streaks can be traced back to the shower’s namesake constellation Orion, which rises in the northeast in the overnight hours. Absolute peak is expected sometime late night on the 21st into the early morning hours of the 22nd.


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Moon Passes by Closest Old Star Cluster

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 6, 2015 – 11:12 am -

Closest Oldest Star Cluster can be seen thanks to nearby Moon on Wednesday, October 7. (Image: Nigel Sharp, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Closest Oldest Star Cluster can be seen thanks to nearby Moon on Wednesday, October 7. (Image: Nigel Sharp, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

The moon shows the way to an open cluster in the predawn hours on Wednesday, October 7. The crescent moon will now be parked next to Messier 67, which contains hundreds of geriatric stars that are believed to be at least 3.2 billion years old.  Only a few open clusters are older than M67, but none are closer to Earth. Located in the southwestern sky, this grouping of geriatric stars is in the zodiacal constellation Cancer.


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Beehive Next to Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 5, 2015 – 2:05 am -

Pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, October 6, in the southwestern sky the moon will buzz very close to the Beehive Cluster. (Image: NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, October 6, in the southwestern sky the moon will buzz very close to the Beehive Cluster. (Image: NOAO/AURA/NSF)

 

In the early dawn hours on Tuesday, October 6, skywatchers can use the moon to find the Beehive star cluster (Messier 44) nearby. This open cluster lies in the heart of the zodiacal constellation Cancer in the southeastern sky.

This cluster is one of the closest to our Sun, sitting at 610 light-years distant. Seen with the naked eye in dark skies, the Beehive appears as a nebulous mass. Through binoculars or telescopes, though, the cluster reveals itself as a loose grouping of sparkling stars.


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Moon meets Orion

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 2, 2015 – 11:19 pm -

 

Picture of the moon perched above the star Betetegeuse that pins down the constellation OrionAwake early on Sunday morning to watch the moon meet Orion in northeastern sky.

The waning moon will rise in the early morning hours in the northeastern sky on Sunday, October 4  and will appear to be perched above the bright constellation Orion, the hunter.

Sky-watchers looking under the moon will be greeted by one of the largest naked-eye stars in the entire sky: Betelgeuse, which marks the left shoulder of Orion. Shining with a distinct orange hue, Betelgeuse is a red giant star that is 700 times the size of our sun. It’s so large, in fact, that if it replaced the sun at the center of our solar system, the edge of Betelgeuse would reach at least to the orbit of Mars.


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Bull’s Eye Blinks Out

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 30, 2015 – 11:18 pm -

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.13.34 PM
Moon covers Aldebaran in occultation on Friday, October 2 in North America.

66-light-years distant Aldebaran, the star that represents the red eye of the constellation Taurus, will appear to be eclipsed or occulted by the moon at dawn for viewers on the west coast of North America, and during daylight for the rest of the American continent.

The best way to catch a glimpse of the star-moon pair during daylight will be to use binoculars. Scan to the left of the moon for the star. Aldebaran should reach the limb of the moon at 9:55 a.m. EDT (6:15 a.m. PDT) and will reappear on the other side, the darkened limb of the moon, at 10:52 a.m. EDT (7:15 a.m. PDT).

For more information and more celestial events, check out my National Geographic column.


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Your Guide to the Total Lunar Eclipse This Sunday

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 25, 2015 – 4:35 pm -

Eclipse time for Eastern Daylight Time. Credit: Sky and Telescope Illustration.

Eclipse time for Eastern Daylight Time. Credit: Sky and Telescope Illustration.

Everyone with clear skies across the Americas will have a front-row seat Sunday night to a rare total eclipse of the super-harvest moon.   

On the evening of September 27, three separate lunar events converge. The total eclipse coincides with the full moon nearest the fall equinox, known as the harvest moon. What’s more, the moon is at its closest approach to Earth for the year, making it also a supermoon or perigee moon. That’s why it’s being coined by some as a Super Harvest Blood Moon—a mouthful to be sure.
This confluence has happened only five times since 1900. According to NASA, the last time we saw this celestial triple combination was in 1982, and it won’t repeat until 2033.

Sept2015_LunarEclipse_worldmap

This world map shows that both Americas, Europe and Africa will get to see at least part of the lunar eclipse on Sept.27, 2015. Credit: Sky and Telescope Illustration.

The most spectacular part of the eclipse will be the totality phase, when Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon and turns it an eerie red. The moon will dip into the deepest and darkest part of Earth’s shadow, or umbra, during the totality phase, which lasts as long as 72 minutes.

This week’s eclipse is even more special because the lunar disk will appear slightly larger than usual. The moon will be at perigee—its closest point to Earth—just 59 minutes before the height of the eclipse. This will make the lunar disk appear 13 percent larger than average.

During the total eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface.

 

This diagram shows why the moon does not disappear in our skies during a total eclipse. The sunlight travels through Earth's atmosphere and gets refracted by particles towards the red part of the spectrum. Credit: Sky andTelescope Illustration.

This diagram shows why the moon does not disappear in our skies during a total eclipse. The sunlight travels through Earth’s atmosphere and gets refracted by particles towards the red part of the spectrum. Credit: Sky and Telescope Illustration.

As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color during the partial phase of the eclipse to a reddish-orange color during totality. The moon’s color during totality can vary considerably depending on the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time. Active volcanoes spewing tons of ash into the upper atmosphere, for instance, can trigger blood-red eclipses.
No one can predict exactly what color we’ll see before each eclipse.

What Time Do I Watch?
The first part of the eclipse will be the partial phase, when the moon enters Earth’s dark shadow (umbra) beginning at 9:07 p.m. EDT or 01:07 GMT. From that point, the dark umbral shadow will spread across the moon’s disk from left to right.
At 10:11 p.m. EDT, totality begins—when the moon is fully engulfed in the umbral shadow and turns a shade of orange-red. Totality will last as long as one hour and 12 minutes, with the rest of the visible eclipse ending at 12:27 a.m. EDT.

Eclipse Event                   EDT           CDT            MDT              PDT
Partial eclipse begins         9:07 p.m.  8:07 p.m.
Total eclipse begins          10:11 p.m   9:11 p.m        8:11 p.m         7:11 p.m
Midpoint of eclipse          10:47 p.m.  9:47 p.m.     8:47 p.m.       7:47 p.m.
Total eclipse ends            11:23 p.m.   10:23 p.m.   9:23 p.m.      8:23 p.m.
Partial eclipse ends         12:27 a.m    11:27 p.m.    10:27 p.m.     9:27 p.m.


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