Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 30 Aug to Sat 05 Sep 2015

AstroTitlePhoto Aug 30

Sunday August 30


The Moon will rise in perigee tonight, due east. This is the Moon’s closest point to us in its monthly orbit. But look to Libra in the southwest. Saturn in a telescope is a great sight. The ringed planet is leaving us until next season, and will soon disappear into the glare of sunset. While you can, also compare the color of Scorpius’ star Antares.

Monday August 31


Tonight Neptune is at opposition. The Earth lies directly between Neptune and the Sun. That means Neptune rises at sunset, is in the sky all night, and sets with sunrise. This is the best time to view the distant world! Here you can see it low in Aquarius, and how to use two of the constellation’s stars to point to it. Neptune is at magnitude 7.8, and can be seen in binoculars, but it is much easier to recognize its blue tone with a telescope. It is only 2.4 arcseconds in size, and with high power will appear a small bluish disk. The planet is its closest to us tonight, at almost 29 AU (astronomical units; 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun).

Tuesday September 01


Venus is at its longest western elongation today, at 25 degrees from the Sun. Find it in the predawn sky in Cancer, near the head of Hydra, and below Gemini the twins. That red “star” nearby is Mars. Venus is inside our orbit just over 30 million miles away, and shows a very generous 51 arcseconds in size, as a 10% illuminated crescent. If you can view it through a telescope, you’ll be in for a visual treat! Mars is outside our orbit 150,000 million miles away, showing only a 3.7 arcsecond size disk. You can imagine a point during the year when the earth would be between the two!

Wednesday September 02


Here’s a challenge for those viewing through telescopes in somewhat dark evening skies. NGC globular clusters 7006 and 6934 lie in the constellation Delphinus, roughly between Altair in Aquila, and Enif in Pegasus. Both are small, at 3.6 and 7.1 arcminutes, respectively. They shine at magnitudes 10.6 and 8.9. Both will be unresolved, you can’t see individual stars in them. So, they will both appear as somewhat granular, fuzzy glows.

Thursday September 03


Lying between the paws of the Great Bear, Ursa Major, and the twins of Gemini, is the dim constellation Lynx, the cat. It has only one star brighter than magnitude 4.5, Alpha Lyncis, at magnitude 3.12 and 223 light years distant. It is a supergiant star, at 118 solar radii, and has the luminosity of 1622 suns!

There are only four main stars in the constellation, and they seem to get dimmer as you progress from Alpha. Can you make out the figure? This area has many dim open clusters and one famous globular cluster, which we’ll discuss Saturday.

Friday September 04


How far can you see with the “naked eye”? Try for M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Distance estimates range from 2.3 to 2.9 million light years. It will appear as a dim fuzzy patch, a short hop above the orange star Beta Andromedae. Find the sweep of the constellation Andromeda between the famous ‘W’ of Cassiopeia, and the Great Square of Pegasus. Once you identify the two arc comprising Andromeda, jump up from the star Beta, to dimmer star just above it, the up again about the same distance. Do you see the dim elongated glow? If so, grab some binoculars and try again.

Saturday September 05


Here’s another challenge object. NGC 2419 is a globular cluster in the constellation Lynx. It measures a bit over 2 arcminutes in size and shines dimly at magnitude 10.4. It appears unresolved in most amateur telescopes, but will break up into individual stars at high power in larger telescopes. Thought to be 200,000 light years from Earth, it is the farthest such object in our galaxy. Most globular clusters in our galaxy are less than 1/3 that distance. Speculation exists that it was captured from another passing galaxy, and has been named “Intergalactic Wanderer.”

Happy viewing!