On this very special week we celebrate Valentine’s Day the sky is full of romance too with the moon pointing to a giant lion’s heart and the mythical goddess of love shining at its most brilliant.
Over the course of the next few days there is a whole line-up of stargazing targets for both the unaided eyes to backyard telescopes.
The brightest planets in the sky remain both Jupiter and Venus. Meanwhile you can still catch Mercury as it is fading fast low in the evening twilight in the southwest horizon. Your best chance to see the innermost planet now is with binoculars.
Mars aficionados will have to wait until near midnight for it to rise in the east and will be at its highest in the south in the pre-dawn hours. If you have good atmospheric conditions a telescope will show off some of its largest surface features. Best views of the Red Planet though will be in April when its apparent diameter will be 50% wider.
Finally Saturn rises around local 1 am and climbs to its highest point in the southern sky by dawn. You can get a two-for-one deal since Mars will be its far right.
Get all your observing details for these and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, Constellations, Jupiter, Mars, Planets, skywatching, space, Stargazing, stars, Valentine, Venus
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A giant asteroid, first seen 110 years ago, is making a rare appearance for backyard astronomers this month.
Usually so far away from Earth that only very large telescopes can spot it, 532 Herculina will be coming closer to Earth than usual, thereby allowing small backyard scopes to observe it as it sails through the horns of Taurus, the bull constellation in the evening skies. Making the hunt even easier, the 230 km wide space rock will be gliding past a naked-eye star this week and then a famous supernova remnant- the Crab nebula.
Despite its high asteroid number – referring to the order of its discovery – Herculina probably ranks in the top 10 in terms of mass. The giant rock has also been at a center of a mystery surrounding the possibility of it having an orbiting satellite asteroid. Despite multiple observations by amateur astronomers watching Herculina during occultations of stars back in the late 1970’s and 80’s, Hubble Space Telescope failed to find any evidence of a moon when it looked in 1993.
Miss this encounter with Herculina and you will have to wait until 2019.
Check out my full viewer’s guide with finder charts at National Geographic News.
Tags: asteroid, astronomy, constellation, Herculina, meteor, space, Taurus
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As we head towards the end of the month comets dominate the pre-dawn skies and their flybys of neighboring planets offer observing challenges for early bird sky-gazers.
Also the moon plays with the stars and offers some amazing opportunities to track down constellations. Skywatchers should also be aware that comet ISON is waking up with lots of activity.
Comet ISON has increased in brightness tenfold in less than a week, thanks mainly to ice vaporizing off its surface and producing a super-long tail that stretches some 8 million kilometers into space. Look for it in the pre-dawn skies low in the east. But you have to hurry since it is heading for a close encounter with the Sun on November 28.
If you miss it now, don’t fret, because if predictions hold true, the best skyshow will be in December as ISON heads back to the outer solar system from where it came.
Get all your observing details for ISON and other sky events this week at my weekly skywatching column at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, comet, ISON, science, skywatching, space, Stargazing, The Moon
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Any backyard stargazer worth his or her salt will tell you that bigger is better when it comes to telescope size and one amateur astronomer in Utah is living the dream, having built a 70″ optical instrument.
While Guinness Book of Records has not officially taken a look at the monster scope, it looks like it may take the title of largest backyard telescope ever built by an amateur.
Check out my full story on this behemoth at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, science, space, Stargazing, telescope
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In the Sahara, a team of scientists claim to have found the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth.
About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.
Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.
Read the rest of my comet story at National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, comet, impact, science, space, Tutankhamen
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New deep-sky images of the Milky Way’s central core reveal picturesque butterfly-shaped gas clouds left behind by dying stars called bipolar planetary nebulae.
And all appear to be mysteriously aligned with one another. Dozens upon dozens of these hauntingly beautiful stellar remnants are oriented in the same direction – despite being separated by many thousands of light years, and each exhibiting unique physical properties. Researchers are searching for how nature could come up with such a bizzare phenomena.
Learn more about this spectacular new discovery that has left astronomers scratching their heads in my story at National Geographic News
Tags: astronomy, Hubble, nebula, science, space
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The most common, humble star in the universe could be a mecca when it comes to astronomers hunting for planets hospitable to life. That’s because a new study is suggesting that red dwarfs – stars that are smaller, dimmer and cooler than our Sun – may have twice as many planets that are in the habitable zone than ever thought. In fact the number of these worlds- ones that have just the right temperature to support liquid water – may number as much as 60 billion. And that’s just in our own Milky Way galaxy.
Read more about this amazing new finding and what impact it will have on exoplanet research in my new article for National Geographic News.
Tags: astronomy, exoplanet, red dwarf, science, space
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Check out some of the cool space news coming out this week I highlight on my weekly CTV News channel interview.
Tags: astronomy, exoplanet, galaxy, Hubble, ISS, space news, TV
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