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.

june30-2012


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Scorpion Stares Down Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 17, 2012 – 3:21 pm -

On Thursday (Jan.19) morning the waning crescent moon will park itself just off to the upper left of the bright orange star Antares low in the southeastern sky. Representing the eye of Scorpius, the scorpion,  Antares is a super red giant star 600 light years from Earth and shines as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Nearly 900 times the diameter of our Sun, if Antares were placed at the center of our solar system, its outer atmosphere would almost reach out to Jupiter’s orbit- meaning Earth would be a cinder block within the belly of this stellar monster.

Antares and the moon will be separated by only 3 degrees – equal to the width of your first three fingers at an outstretched arm. Best time to see their close encounter will be about an hour before local sunrise – and make sure you have a clear line of site as close to the horizon as possible.

Look SE at predawn on Thursday to see the moon join Antares. Credit: Starry Night Software

Look SE at predawn on Thursday to see the moon join Antares. Credit: Starry Night Software

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Moon and Star Dance Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 21, 2009 – 3:33 pm -

Skywatchers who have clear skies late this afternoon and early evening can catch the waxing crescent moon slide by the brilliant Red giant star Antares. You can even spot the 600 light year distant star during daylight hours if you know exactly where to look – about the 4 o’clock position from the Moon.

The pair will be separated by only 1 degree or 2 full moon disks, so this will be quite a beautiful sight. Binoculars will help you pick off the star in the blue sky. Of course once the Sun has set it will be much easier to see the lead star of the constellation Scorpius.


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Tonight: Moon next to Antares

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 23, 2009 – 2:57 pm -

Tuesday night

Tuesday night

For skywatchers in the western hemisphere the waxing crescent Moon will swing by the Scorpion’s heart, Antares, early this evening.

Look for the Moon in the low southwest sky after sunset. About seven full moon disks to its upper left will be the bright orange supergiant star that is the lead member in the constellation Scorpius. While this ancient pattern of stars is well above the horizon for northern latitude observers in the late summer, by end of September its lower half is hidden below the horizon – except for 600 light year distant Antares.

For observers in most of Asia and Pacific basin, the Moon will actually occult – or eclipse – Antares in the late Wednesday afternoon.

Did you know that the portrait of this beast in the sky has no claws -like a real scorpion does? Actually when the ancient Greek’s fomed this constellation it did have claws.  But later in Roman times around the first-century AD, Julius Ceasar and his senator buddies decided that Rome needed a cosmic  tribute – so they cut off the Scorpion’s claws and made it into its own constellation representing scales of justice, we call Libra. Legends had it that the Moon was in the part of the sky occupied by Libra when Rome was founded, hence its special place in history.


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Scorpion Stings the Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 4, 2009 – 10:00 am -

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Late summer is the best time to catch sight of the most dramatic of mythical creatures in the night sky – the Scorpion. Known officially as Scorpius (often incorrectly referred to as Scorpio), it’s one of the few patterns of brighter stars that actually resembles the creature it’s supposed to represent.  It’s also one of the true celestial celebrities being a member of the 12 zodiacal constellations associated with horoscope signs.  According to ancient Greek legend Scorpius killed Orion in a great battle by stinging him in the heel. As a result it was placed in the sky as far away as possible from the great hunter, so as to protect him from further mishap. That’s why we find Scorpius shining brightly in the summer sky while Orion dominates the winter nights.

The main body of this cosmic arachnoid is formed by a line of glittering stars dipping down to the southern horizon with its tail curving back up the sky to form its starry stinger.  From bright suburban skies you may find it easier to recognize this association of stars forming a giant slanted letter ‘J’. Hawaiian fisherman looked at this stellar group and saw a dangling Fish Hook – another easily recognized and widely used landmark.  Be aware however that if your observing site is above  40 degree latitude, you will likely find the bottom of the tail or hook obstructed because of its proximity to the local horizon.

Bright deep-sky objects visible close to the Scorpion's tail and heart. click image to enlarge

Bright deep-sky objects visible close to the Scorpion

Crawling through the low southern skies throughout late summer nights, Scorpius can easily be tracked down by its brilliant heart, the constellation’s brightest star – orange-hued Antares. It’s name means the ‘Rival of Mars’ since it reminded ancient astronomers of the Red planet, which looks very similar in the sky. Despite Antares being located just over a whopping 600 light years from us it still ranks as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Astronomers classify it as a red super giant star – and for good reason. Antares’ shines 10,000 times brighter than our puny Sun and has a diameter that is truly monstrous- 800 times bigger than the Sun.

M6, Click to enlarge

M6, Click to enlarge

Continuing your tour of this cosmic creepy crawly, the surrounding sky is rich with a number of deep sky treasures you can spy with the naked eye and binoculars.  Just north of the stinger are two splashy open star clusters.
The Butterfly Cluster or M6 is a collection of  about 130 stars contained in an area of sky equal to half the full Moon’s disk. Wing-like strings of stars gives it its name-sake appearance. Astronomers believe that these are stellar youngsters no more than 100 milion years old. Look for a hazy blob of light with the naked eye or use binoculars or a small telescope at low power to show off the brighter members.
M7, Click to enlarge

M7, Click to enlarge

Meanwhile closer to the stinger lies another, even brighter, more obvious gang of stars known as M7 or Ptolemy’s Cluster. Named after ancient Roman astronomer who first mentioned this cosmic jewel in 130 AD., it is home to about 130 stars and shines brightly enough to be seen as a fuzzy patch in the sky with just the unaided eye - but is best observed with binoculars because of the wide scattering of its members.
These stars are about twice as old as those in the previous cluster and lies a respectable 1000 light years from Earth.
M4, Click to enlarge

M4, Click to enlarge

Finally rounding out our quick to of Scorpio’s highlights, use your binoculars to scan over to the lead star Antares. The Cat’s eye is seen easily with binoculars but really shows off through a telescope. It is a true metropolis of stars, easily containing 10,000 residents. Sitting at about 7000 light years away it is one of the cloest examples of a globular cluster. Because of its proximity even a small telescope can easily resolve some of its stars swarming near its core. It gets its name from the strange  distinct bar-like structure that appears to cut across its centre – making it appear like a feline eye looking back at you in the eyepiece.


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Moon and Mars’ Rival Clash Today

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 27, 2009 – 12:57 pm -

Skywatchers across eastern North America will get to watch the bright Red Giant star Antares slip behind the dark side of the quarter Moon late this afternoon at around 4:30 pm EDT. The occultation event is best seen through binoculars or a small telescope – so as to counter the wash out effect from the daytime blue sky and bright Moon.  Illustration on right shows what this kind of close encounter between the Moon and a star looks like.

For those in the western half of the continent, the lead star of the constellation Scorpius will appear to just brush by the right side of the Moon. Detailed viewing time tables available here.  Let’s cross our fingers for clear skies.


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Moon Meets with Mars’ Rival Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 3, 2009 – 2:00 pm -

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Face the southern horizon tonight after dusk and you can see the waxing gibbous Moon pointing the way to a brilliant orange coloured star known as Antares.  If you have never seen this star before, this is a nice opportunity to track it down thanks to the Moon – Antares is a beauty as it sparkles near the horizon. It’s name means the ‘Rival of Mars’ since it reminded ancient astronomers of the Red planet, which looks very similar in the sky.

Despite Antares being located just over a whopping 600 light years from us it still ranks as the 16th brightest star in the entire sky. Astronomers classify it as a red super giant star – and for good reason. Antares’ shines 10,000 times brighter than our puny Sun and has a diameter that is truly monsterous- 800 times bigger than the Sun. Anteres is the lead star in the constellation Scorpius, which is a landmark for summer skywatchers. Over the course of the next couple of months,  the Scorpion will rise a bit higher above the southern horizon in the evenings, making it an easier target to observe.


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Watch as Star Clashes With Moon

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 5, 2009 – 3:13 pm -

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Tomorrow night, Saturday, get set for some of the ultimate in doorstep astronomy you can do- no telescope needed. Every now and again the Moon swings by and even covers a handful of the brightest stars in the evening sky. Face the southeastern horizon around 10 pm and you will see the near full Moon either have a really close encounter with the orange star Antares or even begin to cover it. For most of North America the advancing Moon will slowly go in front of the red giant Antares.  When the moon eclipses a star astronomers call it a lunar occultation.  In Canada, from west of Winnipeg the show will be over by the time the Moon rises above the horizon. But for most of northwestern and southwestern Ontario, including folks in Toronto should see the entire occultation as the 1st magnitude star winks out behind the Moon starting at 10:44 pm ET and reappearing on the other side of the Moon by 11:29 pm ET..  From Ottawa through Quebec and eastward, the Moon will skirt just underneath Antares in a near miss. Get more detailed local occultation times here.

Sky and Tel and Space.com have more info on the event too.

Beware though that because the Moon is so blinding, you might want to bring out your binoculars to see the show and pick out the star better.  It is amazing to think the vast difference in distance these seemingly close sky objects truly are. While the moon is only just shy of 400,000 km from Earth, Antares is 604 light years distant! Something to think about while soaking in this cosmic close encounter above our heads.

 

Note: Talking about the Hercules constellation this Sunday! So check back…


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