October 26, 2014

Astro-Vid Of the Week: the Virtual Star Party

Jupiter +Europa (arrowed) from last night’s VSP.

(Photo by Author).

 

Looking for a good reason to join Google+?

We’ll give you a universe full of reasons with the Virtual Star Party. Hosted by the Universe Today’s Fraser Cain, the Virtual Star Party links up telescopes from all over the world every Sunday night to broadcast images of celestial objects over Google+ and YouTube. You can expect to see anything from nebulae to galaxies to planets and more. And they take requests! [Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Catch the First Launch of 2014

A May 2012 night launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 from the Cape. (Credit: NASA)

Breaking News: Word is that the Falcon-9 launch has now been pushed back to Monday, January 6th… stay tuned for updates!

The year in spaceflight starts with a bang this Friday, as SpaceX launches the Thaicom 6 satellite atop a Falcon 9 rocket headed for geostationary orbit. The launch is set to occur out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Florida Space Coast, and the 132 minute window opens at dusk on January 3rd at 22:50 UT/5:50 PM EST. This is just 10 minutes after local sunset, guaranteeing that the launch will be visible across the Florida peninsula as it heads out over the Atlantic. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Catch the Launch of LADEE!

LADEE at Wallops, ready to go! (Credit: NASA EDGE/Franklin Fitzgerald)

On Friday night at just before midnight, history will be made as NASA returns to the Moon with the launch of LADEE, its Lunar Atmosphere & Dust Environment Explorer.  Liftoff is set to occur at 11:27PM Eastern Time/ 3:27 Universal Time on September 7th. LADEE will light up the night sky atop a Minotaur V rocket as it launches out of Wallops Island Virginia.  The launch will be visible for millions of U.S East Coast residents as LADEE streaks out across the Atlantic to cross into sunrise over central Africa. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week: A MAVEN for All (Martian) Seasons

An artist’s conception of MAVEN in orbit around Mars. (Courtesy NASA/GSFC).

Its almost here.  Mars mission launch season is almost upon us. About every 24 to 26 months, the orbits of the Earth and Mars align, making a launch possible using minimal expenditure of energy. This usually occurs about 5-6 months before Opposition season, which comes up for the Red Planet next year on April 8th. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Catching the Flyby of Asteroid 2012 DA14.

Passage of 2012 DA14 by the Earth.

(Credit: NASA/JPL).

By now, you’ve heard the news. On the night of February 15th, Near Earth Asteroid 2012 DA14 will make a close passage by our fair world. It happens sometimes; hey, it’s a shooting gallery out there, with rogue space rocks roaming the inner solar system at will, seemingly looking for the occasional planet to smash into. This isn’t the closest near miss (or near hit?) of an asteroid; [Read more...]

Review Rising Sun by Robert Conroy.

On sale now!

History is filled with “What Ifs”. What if Einstein had never immigrated to the US? What if Lincoln had never gone to Ford’s Theatre? While many decisions in history might have been inconsequential, others may have radically altered the course of history and our role in it today.

[Read more...]

Mercury-Spotting during the First Elongation of 2013.

Mercury as seen by Messenger during its

3rd flyby in 2009.

(Credit: NASA/JPL).

I SEE IT! Catching a glimpse of fleeting Mercury can be an unforgettable experience; orbiting the Sun once every 88 days, the innermost planet never strays far from its perch low in the dawn or dusk sky. February offers your first shot at catching the world low in the dusk as it approaches its first of six elongations in 2013. Though not the best of 2013 for most viewers worldwide (see below), this month’s elongation does offer roughly equal prospects for both northern and southern hemisphere observers as the ecliptic approaches near-perpendicular to the horizon headed towards the March equinox. And as you’ll see, this apparition will set us up for some of the best prospects for catching Mercury later this spring. [Read more...]

On the Hunt for Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon.

Comet Lemmon (arrowed) passes through

the Southern Cross on January 20th.

Photo by Luis Argerich. Used with permission.

Astronomy in 2013 already has one great thing going for it; the potential for several bright comets. While the astro-pundits debate the potential for comets C/2011 L4 PanSTARRS later this Spring and C/2012 S1 ISON later this year, we’d like to turn your attention southward to what could become the first naked eye comet of 2013. [Read more...]

Addendum: Further Asteroid Occultation Highlights for 2013.

The January 26th path of the 106 Dione

occultation over the US SE.

(Created by the author using Google Earth).

You asked, and we answered. No sooner than our “Astronomy Top 100” hit the cyber-doorstep than we received “what about event X?” from several astute readers and lovers of the cosmos.  We love the feedback. That what makes this site tick and makes every year’s list of must-see events ever more weird and wonderful, just like the cosmos itself. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: Scoping Out the Jovian Action.

Jupiter & moons + shadow transit.

(Photo by Author).

These next few weeks are a great time to keep an eye on the largest planet in our solar system. The planet is fresh off of opposition, which occurred on December 2nd of last year, and resumes direct motion eastward through Taurus towards quadrature on February 25th. In fact, Jupiter doesn’t even reach opposition this year, something that hasn’t happened since 2001 and won’t happen again until 2025. This is because Jupiter orbits the Sun once every 11.9 years and thus successive oppositions occur approximately every 400 days apart. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Monitoring Luyten’s Flare Star.

Artist’s conception of a flare star in action.

(Credit: NASA).

It’s ironic that the most common type of star also lies hidden from view in the night sky.  Our Sun and others like it make up a paltry ~20% of the fusion-burning stellar engines in the Milky Way; the vast majority of stars are red dwarfs with less than %50 the mass of our Sun. And although Alpha Centauri’s C companion Proxima lies just over 4 light years distant, not a single red dwarf is visible to the naked eye. We’ve written about other red dwarfs in the range of a backyard telescope, such as Groombridge 34 & Omicron Eridani; this week, we’d like to turn your attention to a curious specimen in the constellation Cetus.

[Read more...]

A Meteor Shower Rings in the New Year.

We love it when obscure defunct constellations work their way into modern usage. This week brings with it the first meteor shower of 2013 by way of the Quadrantids. And let’s get the most frequent question out of the way right now, one that we always get around the beginning of each year; where the heck did the name come from? Ah, for that little bit of trivia, we refer you to our handy post on obsolete constellations of yore. The Quadrantids derive their name from an obsolete constellation known as the Mural Quadrant or Quadrans Muralis. [Read more...]

The Top Astronomy Events for 2013.

It has arrived. Welcome to our official guide to the fascinating, the unique, and the down right bizarre in the realm of astronomy coming to a sky near you in 2013. As always, we strive to make this almanac a monument not only to the most awesome astronomical spectacles in 2013 but a conglomeration of some little known but also fascinating sights. Some events you’ll only find gathered here on these pages, and we pride ourselves on ferreting out these events over the year. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: A Fine Holiday Conjunction.

The Moon+Jupiter on Dec 25th at 7PM EST.

(Created by the Author in Starry Night).

Looking forward to Christmas? The sky has a present for all on the evening of December 25th. On this date, the 95% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon will make a splendid pairing with the -2.7 magnitude planet Jupiter. Look to the east for the pair at sunset. In fact, this is also a great time to try and pick out Jupiter in the daytime, a feat that is made simpler by the nearby and easy to spot Moon. Use binoculars to guide your eyes to the ghostly disc of Jupiter against the daytime sky, and then attempt a naked eye sighting. The “bluer” the sky, the better chance you have of picking out a low-contrast Jupiter against the background near the Moon… a fun feat to attempt!

A daytime Jupiter as seen on September 8th, 2012.

(Photo by author).

The Moon will actually occult (pass in front of) Jupiter and its retinue of moons for observers in South America and South Africa. The occultation is centered on 00:10 UTC December 26th, and will occur in the daytime for observers west of Brazil. (see graphic below) This is actually part of a short cycle of three Jovian occultations by the Moon occurring over the next few months, with the next ones occurring on January 27th & February 18th of 2013 (also occurring in the southern hemisphere). For North American observers, Jupiter will pass from 29’ arc minutes of the limb of the Moon as seen from Miami (25° 30’ north latitude) to 39’ arc minutes as seen from Montreal (45° 30’ north). This occurs around 6:15PM EST with the Moon at about 30-40° degrees elevation above the horizon. The Moon rises around 3:30PM from middle northern latitudes on the evening of the 25th.

The occultation path for December 25th-26th. (Created by the author in Occult 4.0).

Now for the obligatory “Wow!” factor. The Moon appears about half a degree (30’ arc minutes) across, while Jupiter appears about 1/38th the size with a disk 47” across. But of course, that’s just an illusion; Jupiter is 41 times larger than our 2,084 miles in diameter Moon, but is over 1,600 times farther away.  And that also means the reflected sunlight took only just over a second to leave the lunar surface and enter your eye, but took over 34 minutes to depart Jupiter for your viewing convenience. What madness is this, that tiny rocky satellites can cover gas giant worlds? Sometimes, the universe just makes you say “Wow!”

Jupiter just passed opposition on December 2nd, and will not do so again until January 5th, 2014. Neither Jupiter nor Mars reach opposition in 2013. I’ll leave it to any astute readers to calculate when that last happened… the Moon also reaches Full this week at 10:23 UTC on the 28th. This is the last Full Moon of 2012. The December Full Moon is also known as the Full Frost, Winter or Oak Moon. This is also known as the “Moon before Yule” when it falls before Christmas (which it doesn’t this year) and the “Long Nights Moon” being the closest to the northern hemisphere Winter Solstice. This is also the most northern Full Moon of 2012, (a direct result of the solstice tie-in) with a 19° 49’ north declination. Happy holidays; expect our action-packed look at “all things astronomical” in 2013 before 2012 is out!

Astro-Event: Of Meteor Showers & Near Earth Asteroids.

Toutatis near Aldebaran on December 19th.

It’s a shooting gallery out there. As the scarred surface of our Moon attests, the inner solar system is routinely criss-crossed by comets and asteroids that would do our precious niche of the universe harm.

[Read more...]

Astro-Event: See Mercury at its Best.

Looking east the morning of December 3rd an hour before dawn.

(Created by the Author in Starry Night).

By now, you’ve no doubt been thrilled by last week’s dramatic passage of Venus and Saturn in the dawn sky. Well, as the old Late-night TV ad cliché says, “But wait, there’s more…”

Fresh off of inferior conjunct and a near transit of the Sun that missed the solar limb by less than 8’ minutes on November 17th, the planet Mercury joins the pair for a stunning gathering. [Read more...]

Astro-Events: A Close Conjunction and a Penumbral Eclipse.

Looking east Nov 27 two hours before sunrise.

(Created by the author in Starry Night).

This week sees the second eclipse of the November eclipse season and the spectacular return of the ringed planet to dawn skies.

First up is the penumbral eclipse of the Moon on November 28th. A Penumbral eclipse occurs when the Full Moon misses the dark inner umbra and instead passes through the indistinct, bright outer penumbra of the Earth’s shadow. You may not even notice the subtle shading of the Moon unless you’re looking for it. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: Prospects for the 2012 Leonids.

Looking northeast at 2AM local.

(Created by the Author in Starry Night).

There’s one yearly meteor shower that’s always worth watching out for. This weekend, the Leonid meteors are set to peak on November 17th. The bad news is: this is a bad year for this shower; although the Leonids can reach storm levels of +1,000 per hour as last happened in 1998 & 1999, this year the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) isn’t expected to top 15. [Read more...]