Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 2nd and 3rd

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November Second and Third written by Joe Slomka.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the Sun sets at 4:47 PM; night falls at 6:22. Dawn breaks at 4:55 AM and ends with Sunrise at 6:31.

The darkening sky reveals only one bright planet – Saturn. During Civil Twilight, Saturn is seven degrees above the western horizon. Earth’s turbulent atmosphere ruins views of its ring system; still, a binocular observer can find it amid the solar glare before it sets at 6:06 PM.

Nightfall unmasks the dim planets Neptune and Uranus. Neptune rises first and is still located in Aquarius. It is highest at about 6:30 PM. Uranus rises next, but is brighter in Pisces. It is best viewed at about 10 PM. Neptune sets after 1 AM and Uranus hangs on until 4:38 AM.

Asteroid 4Vesta is also visible during late evening. It hovers about two degrees from the star Iota Ceti and is best observed about 9:20 PM. All three objects require finder charts from astronomy magazines, website and apps.

By midnight, the constellations Orion and Taurus are relatively high. If a meteor streaks across the sky from the Northeast, chances are it belongs to the Taurid Meteor shower. This shower lasts most of November. The stream of meteors is rather weak – the debris of periodic Comet Encke. Taurids are relatively slow, traveling about 31 kilometers per second, but very bright. Their radiant lies near the beautiful Pleiades star cluster; bright meteors seem to streak in different directions from that point. Even the bright Moon will not hinder the frequent bright fireballs for which the Taurids are famous.

Midnight also sees Moonrise. The Last Quarter Moon rises in Cancer at 10:42 PM Monday. It rises at 11:40 PM on Tuesday in Leo. The Moon remains up for the rest of the night.

Astronomical Dawn sees the rise of three bright planets. For the past month, we have been tracking the progress of Jupiter, Venus and Mars. These two dawns now see Jupiter alone by Leo’s hind foot, while Venus and Mars experience their very close third conjunction in Virgo. Tuesday finds Venus and Mars the closest they will be – only a half-degree apart. Wednesday finds them about three-quarters of a degree separated. Venus is also pulling away from Jupiter. The once compact cluster is now too large for binoculars; Venus lies seven degrees from Jupiter on Tuesday’s Dawn, and eight degrees on Wednesday.

Mercury brings up the rear and presents our challenge object for the week. Mercury rises about 5:44 AM but only appears about three degrees above the eastern horizon. It sinks daily into the Sun’s glare. An observer must have an unobstructed horizon and probably binoculars if there is any change of observing this elusive planet. Do not mistake the bright star Spica for nearby Mercury. Mercury is lower and dimmer than first magnitude Spica.

Skywatch line for the weekend of Friday, October 30, through Sunday, November 1

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch line for the weekend of Friday, October 30, through Sunday, November 1.

First, a reminder that Daylight Saving Time ends early Sunday morning. Don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour before you go to bed Saturday night. In exchange for an extra hour of light in the morning, darkness will fall an hour earlier. Arizona and Hawaii do not change their clocks and stay on Standard Time all year.

Reaching full last Tuesday, a waning gibbous Moon rises late in the evening over the weekend. Moonrise is at 8:50 pm Friday, 9:46 pm Saturday, and 9:44 pm Sunday evening. (Remember that we set the clock back an hour early Sunday, hence it seems like the Moon rises earlier. In reality, it rises 58 minutes later.)

The end of October and the beginning of November feature a modest meteor shower called the Southern Taurids. These meteors, like most showers, occur when the Earth travels through debris, small bits of sand and rock, in the orbit of a comet. In this case it’s debris left by Come Encke as it orbits the Sun.

In late October, 2005, Earth passed through an unusually dense portion of debris from Comet Encke and lucky sky watchers caught some bright fireballs from October 28 through November 10. They were dubbed “Halloween Fireballs.”

The 2005 show was predicted by astronomer David Asher, who works at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. He believes we might have another such show when the Earth passes through a denser filament of debris from Comet Encke this weekend. The best time to watch will be around midnight. Don’t expect lots of meteors, but a patient observer might see a bright fireball in an hour or two of watching. A really good fireball is worth the wait. Just be sure to bundle up against the cooler weather.

If you just happen to be outside for a while, even if you don’t plan on a serious watch for Halloween Fireballs, keep your eyes on the sky. You might be pleasantly surprised.

As Venus has been moving lower and away from Jupiter in the morning sky, it has been approaching Mars. If you look toward the east-southeast on Saturday morning at 6:45 am Saturday you’ll easily spot brilliant Venus 34 degrees above the horizon. Bright Jupiter will be just less than five degrees to its upper right, and fainter, reddish Mars just 1½ degrees to its lower left.

If you look at 5:45 am Sunday morning, Mars will be just over a degree from Venus, and not as far below it. By Monday morning the pair will be just under a degree apart.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 28th and Thursday, October 29th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 28th and Thursday, October 29th written by Louis Suarato

The Moon is one day past full Wednesday. The 97% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon rises at 6:50 p.m. in the constellation Taurus. Look for the Pleiades star cluster to the Moon’s upper left. The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, and M45, is comprised of hot blue stars approximately 100 million years old. These highly luminous stars cause nebulosity as they reflect off the dust in the interstellar medium, the area in space between stars. At a distance of 444.2 light-years, the Pleiades is one of the nearest star clusters to Earth, and was first seen through a telescope by Galileo in 1610. Galileo sketched the star cluster, sighting 36 stars. The bright stars of the Pleiades travel close to the ecliptic, and are occasionally occulted by the Moon. The next Pleiades/Moon occultation will take place in 2023.

Thursday night, as the Moon rises, look for Taurus’ brightest star, Aldebaran, approximately one degree to the Moon’s upper right. The Moon will occult Aldebaran as viewed from other parts of the world, but not from our region. The two will be close enough to view in the same field of view of some binoculars and small telescopes. Aldebaran, also known as Alpha Tauri, is an orange giant star, about 65 light-years from Earth. Aldebaran, meaning “The Follower” in Arabic, shines at magnitude .85. On nights when the Moon is not so bright and close, look for two open cluster to the left of Aldebaran. The closest, NGC 1647, is about 3 degrees away and NGC 1746, is about 10 degrees to the north.

The dawn close triumvirate of planets continues with Venus now below Jupiter and above Mars. By 6 a.m., the three planets are over 25 degrees high the pre-dawn sky, and are within an area of 5 degrees or each other. A clear view of the eastern horizon around 6:30 will reveal Mercury rising far below the other planets.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 26th and 27th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 26th and 27th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 5:56 PM; night falls at 7:31. Dawn breaks at 5:48 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:23.

The Moon turns “Full” on Tuesday morning. On Monday night, it appears in Pisces and sets before sunrise; Tuesday finds it in Aries. Tradition names this Moon the “Hunter’s Moon” because it enabled natives to find prey more easily and stock up before Winter sets in.

Saturn is the next brightest object, but low on the western horizon. Saturn glows at 0.6 magnitude and appears about ten degrees high. Binoculars may be necessary to find it amid the setting Sun’s glare. Our thick atmosphere will ruin views of Saturn’s glorious ring system. Binocular users may want to try to spot Saturn for another reason. It appears two-thirds of a degree from Beta Scorpii, also known as Graffias. Graffias is a double star. This will be tonight’s challenge object. Now is the time for last looks as Saturn, which sets at 7:31.

Nightfall should reveal Neptune in Aquarius, Uranus in Pisces and asteroid Vesta in Cetus. However, the Full Moon will probably overwhelm views of Uranus and Vesta. Neptune, further West, may be observable; but requires a finder chart from an astronomy magazine, website or app. Neptune sets at 2:38 AM, Vesta sets at 4:15 AM and Uranus sets at 6:07 AM.

Early risers will witness a celestial dance between three bright planets, all in Leo. Jupiter, the first to rise at 3:16 AM, shines at minus 1.8 magnitude. Binocular or telescopic views of Jupiter reveal several Galilean moons; astronomy magazines, websites and apps provide tables for these moons. Venus, next to rise at 3:24, outshines Jupiter by blazing at minus 4.4 magnitude; in a moderately powered telescope, Venus appears about half illuminated and is at its greatest elongation from the Sun. Mars rises at 3:36 and shines at 1.7 magnitude. All three congregate around Leo’s hind leg and form a tight cluster, which occupies a binocular or low power telescope view.

As remarkable this scene is, the dance of these planets is even more outstanding. Monday morning, Venus was in conjunction with Jupiter. Tuesday and Wednesday finds it fleeing its companion. Venus is 1.5 degrees from Jupiter on Tuesday, and 2.4 degrees on Wednesday; it also approaches Mars by being three degrees away on Tuesday and 2.5 degrees on Wednesday. Venus meets up with Mars in early November. Mars, also on the move, is one degree from the star Sigma Leonis on Tuesday, and 1.7 degrees on Wednesday. Early risers can enjoy the day-by-day exchange of these planetary positions.

Mercury brings up the rear, rising at 6:11 AM, low on the eastern horizon. Again, binoculars may assist in finding it amid the solar glare. Under high powers, it appears about 88 percent illuminated.

Skywatch Line for Friday, October 23, through Sunday, October 25

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, October 23, through Sunday, October 25, written by Alan French.

The Moon reached last quarter this past Tuesday, so a waxing gibbous Moon will dominate the night sky this weekend. It will each full this coming Tuesday.

Early Friday night we can start our weekend with a view of the International Space Station (ISS) as it glides through the stars in the southwestern sky. It looks like a bright star moving across the sky.

The ISS will first appear at 6:54 pm moving up from the west northwestern horizon. It will be highest just after 6:57 pm when it will appear 45 degrees above the southwestern horizon. Finally, seconds after 7:00 pm, it will vanish below the southeastern horizon.

Its path will take it above bright, reddish Arcturus, below Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, and then through Aquila, the Eagle, and below its bright luminary Altair. It will pass below the Moon as it approaches to horizon.

The dance of four planets in the morning sky continues, but Mercury is now rapidly moving lower each morning.

Look for the morning planets at 6:20 am on Saturday morning. Mercury will be just south of due east and a little over three degrees above the horizon, so you’ll need a good view down to the horizon and skies clear of haze and clouds. Brilliant Venus will be easy to spot, more than 30 degrees above the east southeastern horizon. Jupiter will be 1 ½ degrees to the lower left of Venus, and Mars will be about three degrees to the lower left of the pair.

By Sunday morning Mercury will have sunk to just under three degrees above the horizon at 6:20 am. Jupiter will be just over one degree to the left of Venus, and fainter reddish Mars will be to the lower left of the pair and 3 ½ degrees away.

By Monday morning Jupiter will be a above and to the left of Venus, still just over a degree away, with Mars remaining 3 ½ degrees below the duo. Mercury will be just two degrees above the horizon.

If the skies are not cooperating and Mercury is elusive because of its low altitude, you can try looking again later, perhaps at 6:45 am. On Saturday morning Mercury will be almost 8 degrees above the horizon by then. It will be a bit on Sunday and even lower on Monday morning – just over 6 degrees high.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 21st and Thursday, October 22nd

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 21st and Thursday, October 22nd written by Louis Suarato

Wednesday evening, after sunset, the 62% waxing gibbous Moon will be 32 degrees over the southern horizon. Saturn will be setting to the Moon’s lower right, over the southwestern horizon. In between the Moon and Saturn, is the constellation Sagittarius and the Milky Way, replete with deep sky objects. A binocular or telescope scan of this area, from an altitude of 16 degrees to the southwestern horizon, will reveal the Eagle, Omega, Trifid, and Lagoon nebulae. Intertwined between these nebulae are the open clusters M25, M23, M22 and M21.

October 22nd is the birth date of American physicist and radio engineer, Karl Jansky. Jansky, born in 1905, discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way in August 1931. While working at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Jansky built an antenna designed to receive radio waves. While recording and categorizing these radio waves for months, Jansky discovered that the strongest radio waves repeated every 23 hours and 56 minutes, the time period of the Earth’s complete rotation relative to the stars, or sidereal day. Jansky concluded that the strongest signal originated from the center of the galaxy, within the constellation Sagittarius. Radio Astronomy has led to discoveries beyond the capabilities of visual astronomy, including cosmic microwave background radiation, regarded as evidence for the Big Bang theory.

The constellation Orion can be seen above the eastern horizon before midnight. The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks Wednesday night but the best time to observe will be Thursday before dawn, after the Moon sets. The meteors from this shower originate from debris left by Halley’s Comet. The radiant for the Orionids is to the east of Orion, left of Betelgeuse, the star at the shoulder of The Hunter. Expect to see 10 to 20 meteors per hour, depending on the darkness conditions in your area.

Thursday morning’s sky also features the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the east. The three planets are now separated by 5 degrees. Venus shines brightest at magnitude -4.6, followed by Jupiter at -1.8 and Mars at 1.8 magnitude.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 19th and 20th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 19th and 20th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 6:07 PM; night falls at 7:41. Dawn breaks at 5:40 AM and ends with sunrise at 7:14.

The six-day-old Moon brightens the evening sky. Monday’s Moon, in Sagittarius, blazes at minus 9.3 magnitude and appears about forty percent illuminated. Tuesday, the First Quarter Moon, also in Sagittarius, appears half illuminated. On both days, the Moon sets after 6 PM.

Saturn, the sole easy planet, has migrated from Libra to Scorpius. At 0.6 magnitude, it shines quite low on the western horizon. Earth’s turbulent atmosphere makes viewing the planet difficult by smearing details of the beautiful ring system. Saturn sets before 8 PM.

Nightfall contains three dim, distant solar system bodies. Neptune resides in Aquarius; but the nearby Moon may make observation difficult. Uranus, in Pisces, is further away and needs detailed charts to find it. Asteroid 4Vesta is in Cetus, about one-and-a-half degrees below the star Iota Ceti. All four require finder charts available from astronomy magazines, websites and apps. Neptune sets about 3 AM and Vesta follows at 4:43 AM. Uranus is up all night.

Dawn presents four bright planets for our enjoyment. Venus rises first at 3:18 AM, and, before sunrise, blazes between Leo’s hind legs. High-powered binocular or telescope views show Venus about half illuminated. Jupiter, less brilliant than Venus, lies about four-and-a-half degrees below Venus. Much dimmer Mars is about one-and-a-half degrees below Venus. Notice their locations, the three switch positions in the coming days.

Mercury brings up the rear by rising at 5:43 AM in Virgo. It is moderately low in the eastern sky, but its minus 0.8 magnitude should permit views despite the Sun’s glare. Do not confuse the bright star Arcturus for Mercury. Under high powers, Mercury appears about three-quarters illuminated.

When the Moon is out of the way, observers are able to study dim or obscure objects. Several dim but lovely constellations are sandwiched between brighter Pegasus, Aquarius and Cygnus. One of these is Delphinus, the Dolphin. It looks like a diamond with a tail and replicates a dolphin leaping out of the water. It is found midway between Pegasus’ and Cygnus’ noses.

There are two Greek myths about Delphinus. One states that covetous crewmen threatened Arion, a rich poet, while he was traveling. When he was flung overboard into the sea, he was rescued by a dolphin, which safely transported the poet to the Greek coast.

Most star names are derived from legends or description. Delphinus is an exception. Its two brightest stars, Alpha and Beta, were the subjects of a practical joke. An Italian astronomer, Niccolo Cacciatore, decided to give them proper names. In Latin, his name was “Nicolaus Venator”. He assigned the name “Sualocin” to Alpha, and “Rotanev” to Beta. These names are “Nicolaus Venator” spelled backwards. The practical joke stuck! Today, these are accepted proper names for Alpha and Beta Delphini.

Skywatch Line for Friday, October 16, through Sunday, October 18, 2015

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, October 16, through Sunday, October 18, 2015.

The Moon was new last Monday and will reach first quarter next Tuesday so much of the weekend’s nights will be dark and moonless. The Moon sets at 8:37 pm Friday, 9:22 pm on Saturday, and 10:12 pm on Sunday.

Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury now grace the morning sky. Mercury is not far above the horizon and can be hard to spot, but the other three are easily seen and will form an increasingly tight grouping during the coming days.

At 6 am Saturday morning Mercury will be 4 degrees above the eastern horizon (a pinkie held at arm’s length spans 2 degrees). You’ll need a good clear view of the eastern horizon to spot the elusive inner planet. Brilliant Venus, outshining everything else in the predawn skies, will be obvious and easy to spot, just less than 30 degrees above the eastern horizon. Jupiter and Mars will be below and a bit left of Venus, with bright Jupiter just under 7 degrees from Venus. Fainter, reddish Mars will be just half a degree to the upper left of Jupiter.

If you can’t spot Mercury, try again at 6:15 am, when it will be almost 7 degrees above the horizon.

Look at the planetary grouping again Sunday and Monday mornings, and you’ll find Venus is moving closer to Jupiter and Mars, while Mars is pulling away from Jupiter. Keep an eye on the trio during the coming week.

The weather was not very cooperative for last weekend’s star parties at Landis Arboretum. Friday’s was canceled and Saturday’s was held under rather hazy skies. Fortunately, this weekend offers star parties at two locations.

Dudley Observatory will hold a public lecture and star party at 7 00 pm on Friday, October 16, at the Octagon Barn. The barn is located at 588 Middle Road, Delanson, New York 12053. The talk, “Do Black Holes Destroy Information?” by Dr. Oleg Lunin from the University at Albany, will be held rain or shine. If the skies are clear, it will be followed by a star party, where telescope will be set up to provide guests with views of various celestial showpieces. The Octagon Barn is a lovely, dark location for enjoying the night sky, both by eye and through a telescope.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers, in association with NYS Parks, will hold a public star party at 6:45 pm on Friday, October 16, at the Deerfield Pavilion in Grafton Lakes State Park. Telescopes will provide guests with views of galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and double stars.

All ages are welcome and there is no admission charge. For directions visit this web site, call the Park office 279-1155, or use the address 100 Grafton Lakes State Park Way, Grafton, NY, 12082.

The star party will be canceled if the skies are mostly cloudy. If it is canceled and the weather permits, it will be rescheduled for 6:45 pm on Saturday, October 17. (It will only be held Saturday if the Friday event was canceled.) In case of possible cancelation, or for more information, call one of the coordinators, Ray (658-3138) or Bernard (658-9144).


Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 14th and Thursday, October 15th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 14th and Thursday, October 15th written by Louis Suarato

Wednesday evening, just after sunset, the 3% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon will be low on the west-southwestern horizon. The Moon will set a few minutes after 7 pm. To the south, about 10 degrees over the horizon, Saturn offers its final evening views of the year. Look for Saturn to reappear in dawn’s twilight in mid-December. Saturn will be closer to the thicker 8% illuminated crescent Moon Thursday night. Look for Saturn 8 degrees to the left of the crescent Moon after Thursday’s sunset. 

Thursday morning features four planets 28 degrees apart. Venus will be highest, and brightest, rising first. Dimmer Mars will be approximate 8 degrees below Venus, and just 1 degree above Jupiter. October 15th is the birth date of astronomer Asaph Hall, who in 1877, discovered and named the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, and calculated their orbits. Mercury is the last to rise, and can be found about 20 degrees below and left of Jupiter. Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation at 18 degrees at 11 p.m. Thursday night.

Take advantage of the moonless night to hunt for some galaxies near the handle of the Big Dipper. During the early evening, the Big Dipper’s handle is parallel to the northwestern horizon. About 7 degrees above the last two stars of the Big Dipper’s handle is the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as M101 or NGC 5457. The Pinwheel Galaxy, with a magnitude of 7.70, was first discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 27, 1781. It is roughly the size of the Milky Way, with a diameter of 170,000 light-years. About 4 degrees below the last star of the Big Dipper’s handle, Alkaid, is the Whirlpool Galaxy, or M51. The Whirlpool Galaxy was discovered on October 13, 1773 by Charles Messier. Its companion galaxy, NGC 5195 was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781. At magnitude 8.40, the Whirpool Galaxy is about 23 million light-years from our Milky Way galaxy. M51 is best seen through an 8 to 10 inch telescope.

The Dudley Observatory will be hosting an Octagonal Barn Lecture and Star Party beginning at 7 pm on Friday, October 16th. The lecture, “Do Black Holes Destroy Information?” will be given by Oleg Lunin, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Physics, University at Albany. The Octagonal Barn is located at 588 Middle Road, Delanson, NY. The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will also be hosting a Star Party this Friday at Grafton Lake State Park. If this event is cancelled, it will be rescheduled for Saturday night.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 12th and 13th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 12th and 13th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 6:18 PM; night falls at 7:52. Dawn begins at 5:32 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:06.

The Moon officially turns “New” on Monday night; Tuesday sees a very young Moon very low on the western horizon, which sets at 6:49 PM.

The twilight sky reveals only one bright planet, Saturn. Saturn is now low on the western horizon and sets at 8:21 PM, two hours after sunset. It becomes lower daily. Our turbulent atmosphere is now smearing the view of the famous rings. The best time to observe Saturn is as soon as possible after the Sun sets.

Nightfall reveals three dimmer Solar System members. Neptune still resides in Aquarius. At magnitude 7.8, it requires dark skies, telescope and detailed sky charts. It sets after 10 PM.

Uranus rose in Pisces shortly before Sunset; it is brighter at magnitude 5.7. It is visible in binoculars, for those who know where to look. Uranus is best observed at about 12:39 AM, and sets at Sunrise.

Finally, as we mentioned last week, sixth magnitude asteroid Vesta can be found in the constellation Cetus. It lies near the star Iota Ceti; it remains in this neighborhood all month. It is best observed around Midnight.

All three can be found with the aid of astronomy magazines, websites and apps.

Tuesday, the bright star Algol, in Perseus, dims at 1:06 AM. A much dimmer companion eclipses the main star every 2.87 days.

Dawn bring four bright planets onto the scene. Venus rises first at 3:14 AM.  At magnitude minus 4.5, it is the brightest object in the sky, appearing beneath Leo’s belly.

The Red Planet Mars is next to rise at 3:47 AM, appearing about eight degrees to Venus’ left. Finally, Jupiter rises at 3:58 AM, and is about two degrees to Mars’ left. These three planets are slowly converging toward conjunctions this month.

Mercury rises in Virgo at 5:34 AM. At minus 1 magnitude, it should be visible about eleven degrees above the eastern horizon.

Monday is Columbus Day. Most people are familiar with the story of Columbus sailing west to reach China. When he landed in the Caribbean, he thought he had found Japan. How could he have made that mistake? Finding latitude is easy, sight on the Pole Star and measure its height above the horizon. But longitude could not be calculated without very accurate sea-borne clocks; such clocks were not invented for another 200 years. Two ancient Greeks measured the Earth. Eratosthenes accurately estimated the Earth’s diameter; Claudius Ptolemy underestimated it. Arab scholars provided other approximations of Earth’s size. They used a smaller Arabic mile, which Columbus mistook to be equal to nautical miles. Using “dead reckoning,” a navigational estimation of a ship’s course, it was natural for Columbus to mistake the island of Jamaica for Japan.