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!



Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 21 Jun to Sat 27 Jun

astrotitle shot


Sunday June 21

Summer Solstice for 2015 occurred this morning at 09:39 PDT (12:38 pm EDT). At this time, the most direct rays of the sun fall on the northern-most position possible on Earth, at the Tropic Of Cancer. Summer officially began today. The most daylight of the year occurs, and daytime gets progressively shorter until the Winter Solstice in December.


Monday June 22

Morning deep-sky object today is NGC 6946, a beautiful face-on spiral galaxy with bright knots in its arms. It has the most recorded supernovae, so some call it the Fireworks Galaxy. At 2/3rds of a degree in angular size, it appears dimmer than its 9th magnitude, but in darker skies it is a great sight. Although close to the constellation Cepheus, it resides in Cygnus. See if you can also get NGC 6939, a nice open cluster of about the same size and a bit brighter, into the same field of view.


Tuesday June 23

This will help show what an asterism is. In the left panel, the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is shown. The right panel shows the asterism we know as the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is a shape we recognize, made by stars, but is not a constellation. The Big Dipper asterism is part of Ursa Major.


Wednesday June 24

First Quarter Moon occurred this morning at 03:04. Here you see the moon in the constellation Virgo, forming a right angle with the constellation’s brightest star Spica, and Arcturus in Bootes above it.

Mercury also reached greatest elongation this afternoon at 16:23. It was visible this morning in Taurus in the eastern predawn skies. You can see it again tomorrow morning.


Thursday June 25

Moon targets are always fun, with lots of detail on the easiest of all objects to find.

Copernicus is a classic view. A well-defined circular crater 35 miles in diameter, with very steep and tortured slopes. It contains a smooth floor with a central crater featuring several peaks.

Reinhold is right on the terminator tonight. It is smaller than Copernicus but also has steep slopes. Watch the light move across it.

Then check out Bullialdus, also on the terminator. A 50mm refractor at minimum for these craters


Friday June 26

This evening see if you can find the constellation Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs. It has only two stars, Cor Caroli the brighter of the two, and Chara, the other “dog.” They follow The Great Bear, Ursa Major. Cor Caroli was named in 1660 by physician Charles Scarborough in honor of the King Charles of England, and means The Heart of Charles.

Of course, you should be watching Venus and Jupiter too, as they approach their conjunction on 30.


Saturday June 27

If you have a clear eastern horizon, try finding Mercury as the sky brightens. It will be next to Taurus’ brightest star Aldebaran. Equally bright Capella will be higher up nearby to the north.

Happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 7 Jun to Sat 13 Jun

The recent appearance of the June Full Moon, aka the Strawberry Moon and the Rose Moon, signaled the final full moon of spring.

The recent appearance of the June Full Moon, aka the Strawberry Moon and the Rose Moon, signaled the final full moon of spring.


Sunday June 07

The morning Moon is at 74% illumination, waxing gibbous phase, in the constellation Aquarius. It is bright enough to wash out all but the brightest stars in the area. See if you can find these:

Beta Aquarrii (B) at magnitude 2.87

Delta Capricornus, magnitude 2.84


Monday June 08

Look how the Moon has moved since yesterday morning, deep into Aquarius and away from Capricornus. The constellation Capricornus is due south just before sunrise. Its “smile” shape is distinctive. Look closely at Alpha (A) Capricornus. It is an optical double star, with six arcseconds separation, much like Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper. Can you “split” them easily? This is an “optical” double, not a binary (two stars gravitationally bound together), with the A component 687 light years distant, the B star only 109 light years away.


Tuesday June 09

The Last Quarter Moon occurs today at 8:42 a.m. PDT. You can see it in the predawn sky in eastern Aquarius, approaching the washed out Circlet in Pisces.

The Last Quarter Moon begins a week of dark skies in the evening hours, as we approach New Moon. This lack of moon in the evening sky makes it prime time to hunt “faint fuzzy” objects, like nebulae and galaxies.


Wednesday June 10

Look to the east in the early evening and you’ll see bright Vega in the constellation Lyra, and Saturn low in Libra. Up above them is Arcturus, brightest stars in Bootes.

Bootes constellation shape is shown here, in the image. But it also has an asterism, a shape made by stars that is not a constellation. Look at the part of Bootes leaving off the two spurs that come off Arcturus to its right. What remains, to the left of and including Arcturus, is called The Kite, easily recognizable by its shape.


Thursday June 11

Tonight’s western horizon is graced by Venus and Jupiter as twilight deepens. These are the third and fourth brightest objects in our skies. What are the first and second brightest?

Tonight Venus shines magnitude -4.33, and it is 0.66 AU (1 AU = 93M miles) from Earth. Jupiter is much dimmer at magnitude -1.86, and 5.85 AU from us. Between them rides the orbital path of Mars and the asteroid belt!


Friday June 12

The Zodiacal constellation Libra is rising in the southeast in the early evening. It is easy to find as Saturn is currently in it, and bright Antares is just below Saturn.

Libra is the “Scales”, but in ancient times, it formed the claws of Scorpius the scorpion (of which, Antares is the heart). Libra is another constellation whose Alpha (A) star is dimmer than its Beta (B) star. Here are their names, magnitudes and distances:

A: Zubenelgenubi, 2.75, 77 LY

B: Zubeneschamali, 2.59, 160 LY


Saturday June 13

Libra contains on “bright” globular cluster. But don’t be fooled, this is dimmer than you might think. NGC 5897 has a bright magnitude of 8.4, but its ample size of 13 arcminutes spreads its light out, making it appear dimmer. It is close to the disk of the Milky Way and 40,000 light years away, so perhaps there is also dust obscuring our view.

Happy viewing!



Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 31 May to Sat 6 Jun

Astro photography


Sunday May 31

Neptune is at western quadrature this at 05:52. Our chart is a bit earlier, to keep a dark sky. Find it in the southeast, between Fomalhaut in Pisces Australis, and Alpha (A) Aquaraii, Neptune can be hopped to off two naked eye stars, 1 and 2, magnitudes 4.2 and 3.7 respectively

Quadrature is when a planet is precisely between opposition and conjunction. Western quadrature puts a planet in the morning sky, eastern, the evening sky.

Neptune is small, at 2.3 arcseconds, and distinctly blue, at magnitude 7.80.


Monday June 1

Lyra is an easy constellation to identify constellation in the northeast, just as the sky darkens. Its alpha, or brightest, star is Vega, shining at magnitude 0.55, it is the second brightest stars in the northern sky, and fifth brightest overall. Along with Deneb in Cygnus, and Altair (not shown) in Aquila, it forms the Summer Triangle.

Lyra is easy to identify due to Vega’s brilliance, and the notable rectangular shape of the eastern part of the constellation. All four stars in the rectangle are double stars!


Tuesday June 2

The final Full Moon of spring occurred this morning at 09:20 PDT. But the moon will still appear full when it rises tonight in Ophiuchus at 20:30. Your local horizon may make moonrise appear later, if there is an obstruction such as trees, buildings or mountains.

This is the last full moon of spring, and is called the Strawberry Moon, or in Europe, the Rose Moon. At 3821,117 miles from earth, this is almost as distant as the moon can be. So, instead of a “super moon”, can we call it a “midget moon”?


Wednesday June 3

Will this be the last of Jupiter’s double shadow transits of this apparition?

Io’s shadow begins before its dark, at 20:54, and ends at 23:15. Ganymede starts at 21:51 and ends after Jupiter sets, at 01:41 on 6/4.

Grab your telescope and see if you can tell the difference in shadow sizes, and watch how quickly Io’s smaller shadow transits the planet compared to Ganymede’s.

Also, enjoy the nice unaided view of Jupiter and Venus in the darkening western sky.


Thursday June 4

Look to the southwest an hour before sunrise and see Saturn about to set. The planet rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise, having just passed opposition.

Our morning constellation this week is Ophiuchus, directly over the ringed planet. It is large and mostly rectangular, with a nice line of four stars forming its lower boundary in this view. Its brightest, or alpha star is Rasalhague, high atop the constellation, shining at magnitude 2, and only 47 light years from our sun. Ophiuchus contains more globular clusters than any other constellation.


Friday June 5

Venus reached it greatest elongation today at 15:09, PDT. While at its farthest position in the sky from the sun, it forms a stunning pair with Jupiter, our two brightest planets. Nearby Venus is Castor and Pollux in Gemini, and Procyon in Canis Minor. Jupiter is west of Leo’s brightest stars Regulus. Between them, unlabeled, is the dim constellation Cancer.


Saturday June 6

Let’s have some fun with a nice morning double star. On Thursday I mentioned Rasalhague as the alpha star in Ophiuchus. Today, its neighbor in our sky, Rasalgethi, is the alpha star of Hercules. Even their names seem similar.

Rasalgethi can be split in most telescopes, with a separation of 4.6 arcseconds. Its primary component is a variable, ranging from magnitude 3.0 to 4.0, and yellow color. Its companion is a white-yellow dwarf at magnitude 5.4. The pair are about 360 light years away, and appear to shine at magnitude 2.75. If the primary component were placed where our sun is, it would extend past the orbit of Mars.

Happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Mon 18 May thru Sat 23 May

MilkyWay in Mountains


Monday May 18

The constellation Bootes, The Herdsman, is well up in the east now, an hour after sunset. It is very recognizable by its kite shape, and the bright star Arcturus, anchoring its southern vertex.

This is an ancient constellation, and one of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations. Its roots are in Greek mythology, telling the tragic story of Icarius, the grape farmer, his daughter Erigone, and winemaking. The daughter is remembered as Virgo, and Icarius’ dog, Canis Major or Minor.


Tuesday May 19

The star Izar, also known as Epsilon Bootes, is a fine tight double, which may be split into its two components in a three-inch or larger telescope. The primary component shines at magnitude 2.37, easily visible with the unaided eye. Its companion sits 2.8 arcseconds away, and is magnitude 5.12. They have a 1,000 year orbital period, around their barycenter, and sit 203 light years from our eyes.


Wednesday May 20

The Fall constellations Pegasus and Andromeda are rising over the eastern horizon in the predawn skies. A great sight in a pair of binoculars is M31, also known as the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Grab your binos for a nice view of this very large close neighbor of ours. Its extent, seen in a dark sky, spans over three Full Moons. Your view will be of a large oval haze. Find the Square shape of Pegasus, then follow the arcing chain of stars to Beta Andromeda, and move slightly upward past the dimmer star in the upper chain of stars. M31 should be pretty obvious.


Thursday May 21

Tonight, let’s do some astronomy with just our unaided eyes. The western skies an hour after sunset features three solar system objects. Jupiter is highest up, and brilliant Venus lower to its right midway in the constellation Gemini, which seems to stand upright, heading toward sunset. To Venus’ left, a four-day-old waxing crescent Moon is visible. Surrounding these objects are some of the brightest stars in the sky. Regulus by Jupiter, in Leo, Castor and Pollux above Venus, Capella to its right in Auriga, and Procyon, near the Moon in Canis Minor. Go enjoy this rich view as twilight fades to night.


Friday May 22

Saturn is at opposition tonight. In the image at left we show a flat featureless horizon, showing the planet just visible at sunset. It will remain visible in the sky until sunrise. This is called opposition, as Saturn is directly opposite the Sun from Earth. Watch it rise, in the zodiacal constellation Libra, and below Virgo. Saturn’s rings are nicely inclined, and will be a pretty view in any size telescope. Tonight, it is 8.9667 Astronomical Units from Earth (an Astronomical Unit is the average distance between earth and the sun – 93,000,000 miles).


Saturday May 23

The great globular cluster M2 (Messier 2) is often overlooked due to a lack of bright landmark stars nearby. But it is easily visible in binoculars, about midpoint between Altair in Aquila, and Fomalhaut, in Pisces Austrinus. The Alpha (A) and Beta (B) stars of Aquarius, though not first magnitude, are easy to find, and serve as jumping off markers to this big cluster.

M2 is just beyond average naked-eye threshold, at magnitude 6.47. It is easily visible in binoculars, and resolves into hundreds of stars in a telescope. Its distance is about 37,000 light years.

Happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 5 Apr to Sat 11 Apr 2015

Sunrise in Space via the ISS. Credit: NASA & ESA

Sunrise in Space via the ISS.
Credit: NASA & ESA


Sunday April 5

Pluto is at Western Quadrature this morning, 90 degrees west of the sun from us at is heads toward morning twilight. It is located conveniently in the Teaspoon asterism of Sagittarius, an easy location to see with the naked eye. Pluto will require a telescope and detailed chart.


Monday April 6

Between Leo and Hydra is the dim constellation Sextans, a modern creation introduced in 1687 by Johannes Hevelius. Use Regulus in Leo and Alphard in Hydra to help locate it. Sextans is rich in deep sky targets, as it covers an area away from the Milky Way.

Today, just before sunrise, Uranus reached conjunction with the sun. The sun lies between us. You can imagine this, as the constellation Sextans near tonight’s “anti-solar point”, the point in the sky the sun. In a truly dark sky, you can see the anti-solar point, it’s called “Gegenshein”.


Tuesday April 7

It’s time to bid a fond adieu to some favorite winter constellations. Canis Major, Orion and Taurus are now sinking into the early evening twilight. They will make a lovely sight this evening!


Wednesday April 8

A bright waxing gibbous moon, 85% illuminated, pairs closely in the southwestern morning sky with creamy yellow Saturn, in Scorpius. The pair are under a degree and a half apart, and will look great together in binoculars or a wide-field telescope. This also presents a great imaging opportunity!


Thursday April 9

Two solar system events occur today. Beginning at 22:51 PDT Jupiter’s moon Io begins a transit across the disk of the planet. At 23:12 you’ll see the Great Red Spot (GRS) appearing on the planet’s limb, then at 00:02 on 4/10, its shadow ingresses, quickly catches up to and passes the GRS. By 02:23 all the Io action comes to an end. Get out your telescope and watch, you’ll be amazed at Io’s speed!

Today Mercury is at Superior Conjunction. Just like Uranus a few days ago, this speedy little planet is on now the exact opposite side of the sun from us.


Friday April 10

M51 is the famous Whirlpool Galaxy, near the equally famous asterism called The Big Dipper, part of the constellation Ursa Major. M51 lies just across the constellation boundary in Canes Venatici, the Hunting Dogs, anchored by the bright star Cor Caroli (the Heart of Charles). In a dark sky, M51 shows nice spiral structure in a telescope. This is the beginning of the season to observe it in the early evenings, as it is rising. It lies 23 million light years distant, and shines at magnitude 8.4, but seems somewhat dimmer due to its large size of 9.8 arc minutes. This is a great target to observe!


Saturday April 11

The last quarter Moon is tonight, giving us Saturday with plenty of time for dark sky astronomy. Spica, rising east after sunset ushers in galaxy season, with Virgo, Leo and Coma Berenices chock full of treasures.

Enjoy & happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 15 Mar to Sat 21 Mar 2015


Sunday March 15

Aquila “the Eagle” is a summer constellation that can currently be seen in the southeast before sunrise. It is dominated by its brightest star, magnitude 0.75 Altair, which is 17 light years from us. The distinctive diamond shape of Aquila defines the eagle’s wings, as it flies along the Milky Way. Aquila is sometimes called “the graveyard of stars” as it contains many planetary nebulae, stars at the ends of their lives. Out in front of Aquila are several smaller constellations, created to fill empty spaces in the sky.


Monday March 16

Two famous constellations in the morning sky currently are Sagittarius and Scorpius. Scorpius, on the right, is the very familiar shape of a scorpion. Sagittarius though is rarely seen as the constellation, but rather, an “asterism” known as The Teapot. An asterism is a shape made from stars that is not a constellation. Here you can see Sagittarius (The Archer) includes The Teapot (highlighted), but extends around and below the asterism. On a dark night, look at The Teapot and see if you can discern the “steam” coming from its spout, in the form of the Milky Way.


Tuesday March 17

It’s always fun to observe solar system events, as we can see changes occurring.

Shadow transits on Jupiter are a favorite, as the shadows from Jupiter’s moons make inky black spots on the disk of the planet. Late tonight Io and its shadow transit.

Here are two transits you can observe this week:

Moon Date Start Date Finish
Io 3/17 23:49 3/18 02:10
Europa 3/21 20:17 3/22 02:17


Wednesday March 18

NGC 2359 is an emission nebula in Canis Major. While often overlooked, it is rich in detail and very pleasing to observe. You’ll need darker skies and a narrowband filter such as Orion’s UltraBlock will help bring out its details. Once you observe this object, it will become a favorite.

It is located 16,000 light years distant, and has a size of 8 arc-minutes. Radiation from a super-hot Wolf-Rayet star is causing the nebula to fluoresce. Another object similar to this in the summer sky is the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus.


Thursday March 19

Antares is well known as the heart of Scorpius, the scorpion. A red giant star, if placed where our sun is, it would extend out beyond the orbit of Mars. And, it is so light, it would float in water.

Did you know Antares is a double star? Its companion is known as The Green Pea. It takes good seeing (steady atmosphere) to separate the pair, and the Green Pea is often lost in the glare of bright Antares, but you can do in a telescope at moderately high power. Antares is magnitude 0.96, and the companion 5.5. Antares is 370 times brighter!


Friday March 20

New Moon is here! A full night of dark sky observing to welcome spring. Occasionally the New Moon is directly along the ecliptic, and we experience a solar eclipse. Today there is a Total Solar Eclipse, but it is mostly over the Arctic and north Atlantic. A partial eclipse will be visible to observers in Europe and Africa.

Today also marks the Vernal Equinox, beginning of spring. It occurs at 3:45 P.M. PDT.


Saturday March 21

NGC 2169 is a fun open cluster to observe in Orion, discovered by Italian astronomer Giovanni Batista Hodierna in 1654. At magnitude 5.9, it is at the threshold of naked-eye visibility. It is actually two open clusters in one, Collinder 38, and Collinder 83, around 3800 light years from us. What makes this object fun is its striking resemblance to the number 37. It’s hard to believe when you see it!

Happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Sun 01 Mar – Sat 07 Mar 2015


Sunday March 1

Lepus “The Hare” is a small constellation below Orion, due south an hour after sunset tonight. Its Alpha magnitude 2.56 Alpha star Arneb is 1,305 light years distant and has the luminosity of 13,561 suns! Compare that to Nihal, the mag 2.78 Beta star, at 159 light years, luminosity 191 suns.

Two objects are of special interest. M79-a smallish mag 7.7 globular cluster, and Hind’s Crimson Star (R Leporis), a variable ranging from magnitude 5.5 to 11.5 over 427 days. It is very red when at its dimmest.


Monday March 2

M3 is a giant globular cluster in the constellation Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). It is easy to locate today, an hour before sunrise, almost half way between Canes Venatici’s brightest star Cor Caroli, and Arcturus in Bootes. Find Canes Venatici below the handle of the Big Dipper. View M3 in binoculars or a telescope.

Discovered by Charles Messier in 1784, its radius is 90 light years, apparent size of 18′ and above average distance of 33,900 light years. Its age? Estimated at 11.3 billion years!


Tuesday March 3

A favorite double star is Alberio, because of its great color contrast. But here’s a bit dimmer twin to Alberio – Gamma Andromedea, or Almach, the last star in one of the twin-arcs of the constellation Andromeda. With Andromeda heading down in the west, Almach is at the end of the southernmost arc. With a separation of 10 arc-seconds, it is an easy split, with the sapphire blue and golden yellow colors showing nicely

And, don’t forget to look at Venus and Mars, still putting on a nice show due west after sunset.


Wednesday March 4

Stay up late tonight to enjoy Io’s shadow transit across Jupiter. It begins at 00:48 a.m. with Io already on the disk near the meridian. As Io prepares to leave the disk the shadow passes the meridian at 02:12, and the Great Red Spot (GRS) is about to enter. As the shadow leaves at 3:45, the GRS is in prime view.


Thursday March 5

This is the last Full Moon of winter. Among its many names are Worm Moon, Crust Moon, Crow Moon, Sap Moon and Lenten Moon.

This full Moon rises almost due east and is also “average” looking in size. At 384,000 km. distance, it is nearly midpoint between apogee and perigee.

Notice too, the ecliptic (green line) is very high, near the spring equinox. The moon and Jupiter are close to it, as is Regulus in Leo.


Friday March 6

Moving stealthily through the northern skies is the dim constellation Lynx. It is made of very faint stars, the brightest of which zigzag between the Big Dipper and the stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini

This is a “modern” constellation, one of ten conceived of by 17th century celestial chart maker Johannes Hevelius.

The most notable deep sky object in Lynx is NGC 2419, a small globular cluster known as the Intergalactic Wanderer, the most distant Milky Way globular cluster at 300,000 light years from earth.


Saturday March 7

With spring skies on the rise, beginning with Leo, let’s enjoy one of the last great winter Messier objects visible easily in binoculars. The Beehive open cluster in Cancer appears as a faint glow at magnitude 3.7, between Regulus in Leo and Procyon in Canis Minor. Jupiter is currently a great locator. The cluster is best in wide field binocular, as it is huge in angular size at 1-1/2 degrees. At about 600 million years old, it is still a young cluster, and is among the closest objects of its type to us, at around 550 light years distant. This is an object everyone can enjoy!

Also tonight, don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour before turning in for the night!

Happy viewing!


Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Mon 23 Feb thru Sat 28 Feb


Monday February 23

Today Saturn is at western quadrature. The earth and Saturn are at a 90-degree angle from each other relative to the Sun. Quadrature occurs at 5:38 A.M. PST.

Saturn will culminate (reach its highest point above the horizon) at sunrise today. This means Saturn is visible in the night sky for almost half the dark hours, rising at 01:05 and fading into the sunrise which occurs at 06:47.

As the Earth catches up in our orbit, Saturn will be visible in the night sky during more dark hours.


Tuesday February 24

Crash Test: Have you been watching the Venus and Mars show the last several days? Mars was just above Venus last week, and has now moved below. Which planet is moving faster across our sky?

The two are just under 1 and 1/2 degrees apart from our viewpoint, but separated by 0.815 AU (Astronomical Units) in actual distance. An AU is the measure of the Earth’s average distance from the sun, approximately 93 million miles.


Wednesday February 25

Today’s first quarter Moon is 1 degree north of the giant red star Aldebaran, in Taurus. They form a striking pair set above the giant Orion, and its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel. Early in the evening, you can also see Jupiter to the east and the pair of Venus and Mars to the west.

Today also marks Neptune’s conjunction. It is on the opposite side of the sun from the earth.


Thursday February 26

Everyone loves a two-for-one deal, and here’s one to start your day with.

The constellation Hercules is up in the east before sunrise. You can make out its shape above the bright star Vega (in Lyra). It contains two great globular clusters, M13 and M92. They are easy to find in binoculars using the “keystone” shape of Hercules’ body. M13 is 2/3rd along one side of the keystone. Using the other side of the keystone, hop twice that distance to a star, then go about 1/3rd the way back toward the top star in the keystone. Both giant globular clusters are about 25,000 light years distant.


Friday February 27

The summer constellation Scorpius is up nicely in the morning skies. Saturn is in the same field of view as the multiple star Nu Scorpii. Antares burns red as the heart of the scorpion. The stinger is easy to imagine as the stars Shaula and Lesath.

Nearby are the binocular objects M6 and M7, two lovely bright open clusters in the heart of the Milky Way.


Saturday February 28

The Moon now dominates the evening sky, growing in waxing gibbous phase and 82% illuminated tonight. Its brightness will obliterate our view of the winter Milky Way running between Orion and Gemini. Only the brightest stars and Jupiter will be visible in the nearby constellations. Look for Procyon in Canis Minor – it shines at magnitude 0.37. Can you spot it with a bright moon so nearby?

Happy viewing!


Night Sky Events Oct 24 – 26

oct24Thursday, October 24th is a good evening to learn another constellation. Rising in the east after the night sky has darkened, you can trace out the dim constellation Pisces, the fish. Find it below the Great Square of Pegasus, a very familiar landmark. The Southern Fish is notable for the asterism The Circlet. Both fish are tied together by Alrescha, The Knot. It is also Alpha Piscium, the brightest star – a close double star you can split in a telescope. The Northern Fish ascends from there, toward the star Beta Andromedea.

oct25Friday, October 25th step outside around midnight and look east to see Jupiter, 5.1 degrees north of the Moon, in Gemini. East of Jupiter are the Twins, Castor and Pollux, famous from Greek mythology. Southeast of the Moon is first magnitude Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor.

oct26Saturday, October 26th, the month’s last quarter Moon rises well after midnight, and can be seen in the southern portion of the constellation Cancer. By the time the Moon is well up, you can also see the head of Hydra, the Sea Snake (and the longest constellation), and Leo, both emerging over the eastern horizon.

Happy Viewing!