Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 11th and Thursday, November 12th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 11th and Thursday, November 12th written by Louis Suarato

The New Moon occurs Wednesday at 12:48 p.m., leaving the skies dark for optimal viewing of the peak of the North Taurid meteor shower Wednesday and Thursday nights. Although this is peak time for the North Taurid meteor shower, two great Leonid meteor showers took place on November 12th. In 1799, Andrew Ellicott wrote the first known record of a meteor shower when he documented his observations from a ship off the coast of the Florida Keys. Ellicott wrote, “In every instant the meteors were as numerous as the stars,” and that the “whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with sky rockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel. They continued until put out by the light of the sun after day break.” What was amazing about Ellicott’s observation, was that it occurred during a Full Moon!

Another great Leonid shower was recorded on November 12, 1833. Observational estimates of this meteor shower range from 100,000 meteors per hour to 240,000 meteors over its nine hour duration. The Taurids have been known for its fireballs, and some have been reported prior to the writing of this Skywatch Line. The Taurids normally have about 7 to 10 meteors per hour and seem to have a peak of fireballs every 7 years, and 2015 falls into that cycle. The radiant of the Taurids is near the Pleiades star cluster, but they can been seen throughout the sky. Although the constellation Taurus is above the eastern horizon after 8 p.m., the best time to view this shower is between midnight and dawn.

While lying back watching for meteors and fireballs, you’ll be able to view the parade of planets as they rise in the east. Jupiter rises first around 1:30 a.m. below the constellation Leo. Mars follows Jupiter about an hour later in the constellation Virgo. Twenty minutes later, Venus adds her brilliance to the eastern horizon.

On Friday, November 13th, beginning at 6 p.m., Dudley Observatory Outreach Astronomer, Dr. Valerie Rapson will give a lecture on “Mars – The Wet Red Planet”, at miSci in Schenectady, NY. A star party will follow the lecture, weather permitting. The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will also be hosting a star party on Friday at Grafton Lake State Park. The star party will be rescheduled to Saturday if Friday’s event is cancelled.

Skywatch Line for Friday, November 6, through Sunday, November 8,

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 6, through Sunday, November 8, written by Alan French.

This weekend features a nice celestial treat in the morning sky just before sunrise. If you look toward the east southeast at 5 am on Saturday morning the crescent Moon, Venus, and Mars will form a nice, tight grouping against dark skies, with bright Jupiter well to their upper right. Venus will be to the left and just a bit higher than the old Moon, while fainter, reddish Mars will be above the pair. Venus and the Moon will be just over a degree and a half apart – three times the apparent diameter of the lunar orb.

If you hate such early hours, you can still spot the grouping at 6 am, although morning twilight will be encroaching on the horizon. The Sun rises at 6:38 pm.

If you up again on Sunday morning at 5:00 am, the Moon will be well below the planets, but it will be a very pretty, slender crescent, less than 10% illuminated.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will take advantage of the dark moonless skies this weekend to hold public star parties at Landis Arboretum in Esperance. The star parties will be at 8:00 pm on Friday, November 6, and Saturday, November 7. At star parties club members set up telescopes to show guests a variety of celestial sights – galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, and double stars. All ages are welcome and there is no admission charge, although we encourage guests to make a modest donation to our fine hosts, Landis Arboretum.

Landis Arboretum is on Lape Road and there are good signs leading there starting at Route 20 and Charleston Street. Turn up Charleston and follow the signs (when driving into Esperance on Route 20 from the east Charleston is the first right after crossing the Schoharie Creek). You can also find directions on their web site. After reaching the farmhouse on the right and parking lot on the left continue up Lape Road for 100 yards. Turn right into the Meeting House field driveway. It will usually be marked with a “Star Party” sign.

For newcomers there will be a brief introductory talk at 8:30 pm. Gather in the south side of the gravel parking area next to the Meeting House. The talk will include hints about using and enjoying the telescopes and a brief tour of the brighter constellations.

Star parties are canceled if the skies are mostly cloudy or if it’s raining. If conditions seems uncertain or in doubt, please call 518-374-8460 to insure the event is being held. If no one answers the phone, wait for a message. We encourage people to call unless the skies are completely clear and the forecasts predict the same for the night.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 4th and Thursday, November 5th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, November 4th and Thursday, November 5th written by Louis Suarato.

The Last Quarter Moon sets in the early afternoon Wednesday, leaving the skies dark for evening observing. The constellation Pegasus is nearly straight overhead on these nights, east of Cassiopeia. Between the two constellations is the Andromeda Galaxy. There are four stars that head away from the Square of Pegasus. The third star is 2nd magnitude Mirach. The Andromeda galaxy can be found about 6 degrees above Mirach. Look approximately 6 degrees below Mirach for the Triangulum Galaxy, also known as M33. The Triangulum Galaxy is a spiral galaxy located 3 million light-years from Earth. The Triangulum Galaxy is the third largest of the Local Group of galaxies that include our Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. It is estimated that the Triangulum Galaxy may host 40 billion stars, compared to 400 billion in the Milky Way and 1 trillion stars in Andromeda.

The 44% illuminated, waning crescent Moon rises around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Moon will be about 3 degrees to the right of Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Jupiter follows the Moon as it rises around 2 am. to the right of the constellation Leo. Friday morning, Jupiter will be 3 degrees to the lower left of the crescent Moon. Mars and Venus, now a degree apart, rise around 2:30 am Friday. Try to see both planets in the same field of view through binoculars or a small telescope. Venus shines at magnitude – 4.5, while dimmer Mars shines at a magnitude of 1.7.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers invite you to join them for star parties this Friday and Saturday at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. The star parties will begin at 8 pm near the Meeting House at the top of the hill. Look for signs at the gate. Directions can be found at http://dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/directions/.

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.