Skywatch Line for Friday, November 27, through Sunday, November 29

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 27, through Sunday, November 29, written by Alan French.

Having reached full last Wednesday, a bright waning gibbous Moon will rise early in the evening this weekend. Moonrise is at 6:28 pm Friday, 7:27 pm Saturday, and 8:27 pm Sunday. The Sun will be setting around 4:24 pm and the last vestiges of twilight will not vanish until just after 6:00 pm, so there will be only a short window between full darkness and moonrise.

If you look toward the northeast around 6:30 pm you’ll easily spot a very bright star. This is Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, the Charioteer. In older star charts, which often depicted the mythological figures represented by the constellations, this star marked the left shoulder of the Charioteer.

While it may be difficult to picture a charioteer made up of the stars of Auriga, it’s not hard to find the main stars in this conspicuous constellation. Anchored by and including Capella, they form a rough pentagon stretching downward and right. The Charioteer was responsible for the king’s livestock, and the lovely atlases of long ago often depicted him carrying a goat and kids.

The name Capella means “little she-goat.” A small triangle of stars to the right of Capella is known as “the Kids,” representing the young goats.

Capella is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and is just slightly fainter than Vega, which we found high in the sky in the summer. You can still spot Vega in the early evening sky, fairly high toward the north northwest in the early evening, and low in the northwest by 9:30 pm. Like Vega, Capella shines brightly in our skies because it is one of our nearer neighbors, lying at a distance of 42 light years. The light you see tonight left the star in 1973.

Swedish astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Anders Celsius was born on November 27, 1701. He is best known for the Celsius temperature scale. In astronomy he used colored glass plates in the first attempt to make actual measurements of the brightness of stars. All previous estimates were done by eye.

On November 28, 1961, North American Aviation was awarded the contract to design and build the Apollo spacecraft. The first manned Apollo mission blasted off less than 7 years later, on October 11, 1968 and man landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became to the first humans to set foot on the Moon.

Amazingly, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has taken photographs of the various Apollo landing sites so detailed that they show evidence of our visits. The LRO’s view of the Apollo 11 landing site shows the base of the lunar module and two experiments left on the lunar surface.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 25th and Thursday, November 26th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 25th and Thursday, November 26th written by Louis Suarato

The Full Beaver Moon rises in the constellation Taurus at 4:24 p.m. Wednesday, and will reach 100% illumination at 5:45 p.m..  The bright star to the upper right of the Moon is Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest. Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri, is an orange giant star with a diameter 44.2 times that of our Sun. Aldebaran is 65 light-years from Earth and is occasionally occulted by the Moon. Thursday morning, Aldebaran will be less than a degree from the Moon as seen from our region in the pre-dawn sky, and will be occulted by the Moon around 5:38 a.m. EST, and should reappear about an hour later. Use binoculars or a small telescope to see this occultation. Aldebaran, Spica and Regulus are the three first magnitude stars that are occulted by the Moon, since they reside within 5 1/2 degrees of the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit.

The pre-dawn sky is till filled with planets as Jupiter, Mars and Venus form a line of about 40 degrees. The star 2 degrees to the left of Mars, is Porrima, a double star in the constellation Virgo. Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, can be seen 5 degrees to the lower right of Venus. A Thanksgiving Day challenge will be to see Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) approximately 15 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Comet Catalina, now shining at magnitude 4.7, will be easier to see in the coming weeks as it climbs higher on the horizon. Put a reminder on your calendar for the morning of December 7th, as Comet Catalina will be 5 degrees to the left of Venus, and both will be below the 14% illuminated, waning crescent Moon.

C/2013 US10 Catalina is an Oort cloud comet discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey on October 31, 2013. The trajectory for this comet indicates that it will be ejected from our solar system and will not return. Traveling at a speed of 103,000 miles per hour, Comet Catalina reached perihelion on November 15, 2015. Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina will be closest to the Earth on January 12th, when it can be seen near the star Mizar in the Big Dipper’s handle.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 23rd and 24th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 23rd and 24th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:26 PM; night falls at 6:06. Dawn begins at 5:18 and ends with the Sun rising at 6:58.

As the sky darkens, only one bright object is seen – the Moon. The twelve-day-old Moon rises in the afternoon and appears about 94 percent illuminated. It borders Pisces and Taurus. Tuesday’s Moon appears fatter and rises about 4 PM. The Moon is due South between eleven and twelve PM on both nights. The Moon sets between five and six AM.

The night sky also contains outer planets Neptune and Uranus, along with asteroid 4Vesta. Neptune is located in Aquarius; Uranus is in Pisces. Vesta lies about two-and-a-half degrees from the star Iota Ceti. The almost “full Moon” is bright enough to make observations of these Solar System members difficult. Neptune sets at 11:47 PM, 4Vesta at 1:24 AM, and Uranus at 3:12 AM.

The famous variable star Algol, in Perseus, dims for about two hours centered on 12:15 AM Wednesday. All night observers can witness the star fade from second to third magnitude.

Pre-dawn skies continue the planetary parade. Bright Jupiter rises first near Leo’s hind leg at 12:48 AM. By 3 AM, it is high enough for observation. On Tuesday at 3:39 AM, sky watchers can see Jupiter’s moon Europa reappear from behind its planet. Wednesday, at 3:22 AM, astronomers can see the Great Red Spot, a giant storm, on Jupiter.

Mars rises, in Virgo, at 2:13 AM. Mars appears much dimmer than Jupiter. However, it brightens a little this month. The Red planet appears about sixteen degrees below Jupiter. Venus is the last to rise, at 3:06 AM, and lies about 11 degrees below Mars. Venus, at minus 4.2 magnitude, is second only to the setting Moon in brilliance. By Dawn, all three are in ideal heights for observation.

Followers of the Skywatch Line know that the Milky Way, which tonight stretches from horizon to horizon, represents the rim of our galaxy. They also know that the faint glow in Andromeda is that of a giant galaxy, similar to ours. However, these “island universes” are not isolated from each other. Their gravitational fields clump galaxies into groups. The Local Group is made of our Milky Way, Andromeda, M 33 in Triangulum, and about a dozen other galaxies. This group is traveling together through space. Some galaxies also interact with each other. A prime example is M 51, off the Big Dipper’s Handle. A telescope shows one galaxy stealing material from another. Some astronomers think that giant galaxies like our own grow by absorbing smaller ones. Colliding galaxies are common telescope sights. It is thought that two spiral galaxies will merge to form an elliptical galaxy. In about three billion years, Andromeda and the Milky Way will probably collide and merge. The result will be a giant galaxy marked by very active star formation.

Skywatch Line for Friday, November 20, through Sunday, November 22

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 20, through Sunday, November 22, written by Alan French.

Reaching first quarter last Thursday, a waxing gibbous Moon will dominate much of the night sky over the weekend. The Moon sets at 1:29 am Saturday, 2:41 am Sunday, and not until 3:53 am Monday. Full moon occurs next Wednesday.

If you have a friend or family member with an interest in amateur astronomy, there are two books I can strongly recommend. “Nightwatch,” by Terence Dickinson, is an excellent introduction to amateur astronomy and telescopes, and includes star charts of some brighter celestial objects that are easy to find. “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide,” by Dickinson and Alan Dyer, goes into more depth, but does not include star charts. At least one of these books is a must read before investing in a telescope. Without a little background it’s easy to buy a $250 disappointment!

If you’re up early, you’ll have two fine chances to catch the ISS (International Space Station) this weekend. At its highest the station appears brighter than any star, so it is easy to spot gliding through the stars. I will give most times in hours, minutes, and seconds. (The ISS will remain in the morning sky all this month.)

On Sunday morning the ISS will appear at 5:54:23 am, emerging from the Earth’s shadow and into sunlight when it is 18 degrees above the west northwestern horizon. It will then move through the pentagon of stars outlining Auriga, the Charioteer, and reach its highest point, 64 degrees above the southwestern horizon at 5:56:36 am. Its path will take it near Castor, and, especially, Pollux, the brightest stars in Gemini, the twins.

The ISS will then move down toward the southeastern horizon, where it will disappear just before 6:00 am. It will journey past Regulus, in Leo, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.

Monday morning’s pass is especially interesting with the space station emerging from the Earth’s shadow and brightening into view when already high in the sky. The ISS will appear at 5:03:24 when 67 degrees above the northeastern horizon. Fortunately, its appearance will be near a well-known landmark – it will first appear just below the Big Dipper’s bowl.

It will then move down toward the east southeastern horizon, passing east of brilliant Venus. It will vanish below the horizon at 5:06:30 am.

If you have taken any time exposures of the night sky with a camera, it might be fun to try catching the space station as it emerges from the Earth’s shadow below the Big Dipper’s bowl.

Senior Science Day, Monday, December 7th, 3 pm

The Dudley Observatory at miSci is committed to lifelong learning and has created programming specifically designed for senior citizens! Come explore the museum on a quiet afternoon, then join the Dudley Observatory for an exciting astronomy lesson presented by our Outreach Astronomer, Dr. Valerie Rapson. Each day we will focus on a specific astronomy topic. Topics to be covered throughout the program include: Exploring our Solar System, NASA’s Great Observatories, Searching for alien life, Einstein’s theories explained, current space news, and more! No astronomy knowledge is necessary, just come and enjoy learning! All adults are welcome. Presentation will be given through powerpoint with large print font and videos will have captions when available.

First Monday of every month at miSci

Talk starts at 3pm

Cost: Senior Admission to miSci- $8.00 (for 65+), FREE for miSci members.
Regular adult admission is $9.50

Come early or stay after the lesson to enjoy the many exhibits miSci has to offer! The museum is open from 9 am – 5 pm.  You need not be a senior citizen to attend.

The Dudley Observatory at miSci, (museum of innovation and science)
15 Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady, NY 12308
518-382-7890 ex. 259

Click here for directions

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 18th and Thursday, November 19th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 18th and Thursday, November 19th written by Louis Suarato

The 46% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon will be 35 degrees above the southern horizon after sunset on Wednesday. The Moon will set before reaching its First Quarter phase at 1:28 a.m., rising again at 12:36 p.m. Thursday. Thursday night, use the Moon as a guide to locate Neptune. Neptune will be the bluish looking “star” just 3 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. Use binoculars or a telescope to find this outermost planet. The bright star below the Moon, and closer to the southern horizon, is the Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. Fomalhaut shines at magnitude 1.15 and is thought to be one of 16 stars moving in a group. Other members of this group include the stars Castor and Vega. Approximately 15 degrees to the Moon’s upper right, is the globular cluster M2. Discovered by Jean-Dominique Maraldi in 1746, M2 is one of the largest globular clusters. M2 is about 37,500 light-years away and estimated to contain 150,000 stars. At the age of 13 billion years, M2 is one of the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way galaxy.

The constellation Orion dominates the late night eastern to southeastern sky. The bright stars Pollux in Gemini, Procyon in Canis Major, and Sirius in Canis Major, follow Orion. At magnitude -1.15, Sirius is the brightest star in our sky. After the bright stars come the planets as Jupiter rises after 1 a.m., followed by Mars an hour later, and Venus two hours later.

The Dudley Observatory will be hosting an Octagonal Barn Lecture and Star Party this Friday, November 20th beginning at 7 p.m. in Delanson, NY. The lecture, “Exoplanets: Hidden in the Light”, will be given by Ben Placek, Ph.D. and Instructor of Physics at Schenectady Community College. Admission is free, but donations are graciously accepted. Directions to the Octagonal Barn can be found at

Octagon Barn Lecture and Star Party, Friday, November 20, 2015, 7 pm

“Exoplanets: hidden in the light”

Ben Placek, Ph.D., Instructor of Physics Schenectady County Community College

How do we make use of minute details in starlight to determine the presence and even characteristics of planets around other stars, or exoplanets?  We’ll review notable discoveries from the Kepler Space Telescope and expectations for future space-based telescopes.

Monthly Astronomy Talks & Dark Sky Star Viewing, Delanson, New York, Fridays in 2015

Family friendly.  Programs will be held rain or shine.
Amateur astronomers and families are invited to bring binoculars or telescopes.
Free Admission – $5 donation graciously accepted

Octagon Barn, 588 Middle Road, Delanson NY 12053

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 16th and 17th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, November 16th and 17th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:32 PM; night falls at 6:10. Dawn begins at 5:11 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:49.

The five-day-old Moon rose this morning and is already well up in the southern sky. It appears about one-quarter illuminated in Capricornus, blazes at minus 8.1 magnitude and sets at 9 PM.

Saturn, the lone bright planet, hangs on very low on the western horizon. The observer needs an unobstructed vista to catch the planet before it sets at 5:16 PM.

Outer Solar System members Uranus and Neptune and asteroid 4 Vesta reveal themselves at nightfall. Neptune still occupies Aquarius and is best observed at 6:48 PM, when it is highest due South. Asteroid 4 Vesta is a tiny dot about two-and-a-half degrees from Iota Ceti, in the constellation of Cetus; it is best seen at 8:23 PM. Uranus brings up the rear in Pisces and is best seen at 9:16 PM. The nearby brilliant Moon may overwhelm the view to these objects. All three require detailed finder charts obtained from astronomy apps, magazines and software. Neptune sets at 12:15 AM, Vesta at 1:49 AM, and Uranus at 3:41 AM.

Jupiter rises at 1:11 AM and shines next to Leo’s hind leg.
The minus 1.9 magnitude planet has two events for the all-night sky watcher. The first is the appearance of the Great Red Spot at 2:35 AM on Wednesday. The Great Red Spot is a giant storm, larger than Earth, in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Recent reports indicate that it is shrinking. Jupiter’s moon Io disappears into the planet’s shadow at 4:51 AM, also Wednesday.

Mars, at magnitude 1.6, rises at 2:19 AM. It is in Virgo, about thirteen=and-a-half degrees below Jupiter. Venus, also in Virgo, rises at 2:54 AM, about seven degrees below Mars. The once compact group is breaking up. Venus becomes lower daily, and is closing in on Virgo’s bright star Porrima.

November has two meteor showers. The Taurids appear most of the month. They seem to originate near the Pleiades star cluster. The equally sparse, but more famous, Leonid meteor shower also happens this month. This year, the Leonids peak at Midnight Wednesday. The Leonids are famous because they are the litter of Comet Temple-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun about every 33 years; the meteor shower follows this cycle. Occasionally, the Leonids have generated a meteor storm, producing hundreds or thousands of meteors per hour. The storms of 1833 and 1966 are legendary. This is an average year for Leonids, with a maximum of 20 per hour under ideal conditions. Bright meteors might be seen streaking from Leo’s mane, identifying them as a Leonid. The Leonids are also famed for their “trains.” As the meteor streaks toward Earth, it heats and ionizes upper atmosphere gasses, creating tiny clouds that are twisted by high winds. These “trains” can persist for minutes. Binoculars are the best instrument to see these trails. Remember, November nights can be chilly and the observer should dress warmly.

Night Sky Adventures @ miSci Tuesday, November 17th, 6 pm “Buying a Telescope for your Family Clinic ”

If your plans include the possibility of buying a telescope you’ll not want to miss this event. Members of Dudley Observatory and the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be presenting a family clinic for telescope purchase decisions. The evening will also have a Winter Star Planetarium program.

The Adventure takes place at miSci, museum of innovation and science, 15 Nott Terrace Heights, Schenectady, New York 12308 518-382-7890
$ 3 per person, $ 5 per family, free for miSci members.

Lead by astronomy educators and volunteers from the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers group.

Amateur astronomers and families are invited to bring binoculars or telescopes. One or more telescopes will be provided by The Dudley.

Family friendly! Programs will be held rain or shine!

Dudley Observatory @ miSci
15 Nott Terrace Heights
Schenectady, NY 12308
(518) 382-7890 ext 259

Skywatch Lecture, Friday, November 13, “Mars – The Wet Red Planet.”

Part of the miSci museum of innovation and science’s Science Festival

miSci’s 2nd Annual Science Festival!

miSci’s 2nd Annual Science Festival!

“Mars – The Wet Red Planet.”,  Dr. Valerie Rapson, Dudley Observatory Outreach Astronomer

Lecture 6 pm, Star Party 7-9 pm (weather permitting)

Valerie recently obtained a Ph.D. in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she conducted research on how stars and planets form. She is a National Astronomy Ambassador, and has spent many years teaching people of all ages about the wonders of the Universe. Join Valerie as she discusses the recent news of liquid water on present-day Mars. Learn about the history of Martian exploration, the search for water and life, and the possibility of astronauts traveling to Mars in the future.


Admission to the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Lecture and Star Party is $10 per adult and $15 per family.