Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 7th and Thursday, October 8th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, October 7th and Thursday, October 8th written by Louis Suarato

The 22% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 3:39 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. A slightly thinner crescent Moon will rise again at 2:31 a.m. Thursday. Thursday morning’s crescent Moon will be joined by Venus and the constellation Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, less than a half hour later. Venus and the Moon will be less than a degree apart, while Venus and Regulus will be 2.6 degrees apart with the Moon to their upper right. Mars and Jupiter join the party at 3:54 and 4:15 a.m. respectively, and will be 4 degrees apart. Mercury rises around 6 a.m., but may be a challenge to see with the morning glow of the Sun. The crescent Moon, four planets, and the bright star Regulus should provide a wonderful photo opportunity. Friday morning, a 10% illuminated, crescent Moon will be 3 degrees to the side of Mars.

October 7th is the anniversary of the first photos taken of the dark side of the Moon. In 1959, the Russian spacecraft, Luna 3, looked back of the side of the Moon never seen before, and transmitted 29 photos back to Earth. Although the photos were of poor quality, they did provide details of 70% of the side of the Moon that never faces our planet. The far side of the Moon was first seen directly by human eyes when, during the Apollo 8 mission, astronaut William Anders said “The backside looks like a sand pile my kids have played in for some time. It’s all beat up, no definition, just a lot of bumps and holes.”

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting public star parties at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY on Friday, October 9th, and Saturday, October 10th. These star parties provide a great opportunity to learn about the night sky’s constellations and deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, star clusters and asterisms. Amateur astronomers are also available to discuss and demonstrate the various types of telescopes on the market. Directions to the arboretum can be found at .

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday October 5th and 6th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday October fifth and sixth written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 6:30 PM; night falls at 8:04. Dawn breaks at 5:24 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:58.

The darkening sky reveals a host of bright stars, but only one bright planet – Saturn. Saturn is getting lower daily, and our turbulent atmosphere begins to smear the details of its rings. Saturn sets at 8:47 PM.

Nightfall reveals distant Solar System members Neptune and Uranus. They remain in their usual places, Aquarius and Pisces, respectively. Neptune fades slightly this month, while Uranus is actually at peak brilliance. Finder charts can be found in astronomy magazines, websites and apps. Neptune sets at 10:35 PM. Uranus is best observed at 1:07 AM and remains up the rest of the night.

The waning Moon rises at 12:53 AM on Tuesday, and 1:51 AM on Wednesday. It occupies the constellation Cancer on both nights. The Moon’s brilliance unfortunately blots out two binocular star clusters, the Beehive, also called M44, and M67. Note the Moon’s location and, when it is far away from Cancer, try spotting these star clusters in your binoculars.

At Dawn, three bright planets, all in Leo, join the Moon. Venus is the first to rise, at 3:14 AM. By Dawn, Venus is moderately high in the eastern sky, and appears lower left of the Moon. Venus is second to the Moon in brightness. With high-powered binoculars or a telescope, an observer will see that both Moon and Venus display phases. Tuesday, both are illuminated the same; Wednesday sees the Moon as thinner than Venus. Venus also lies three degrees from the bright star Regulus, the main star in Leo. Mars rises next, at 3:52 AM, and appears under the Lion’s belly. Finally, Jupiter rises at 4:18 and appears between the Lion’s rear legs. Early risers should track the progress of these planets as they slowly converge.

One other Solar System member is visible in tonight’s sky – Vesta. Vesta is an asteroid, just past opposition. It is best observed about 12:30 AM, when it shines at magnitude 6.2 It is located in Cetus, near the star Iota Ceti.

Vesta is the fourth dwarf planet to be discovered. It orbits the Sun every 3.6 years. Like the first three asteroids, Vesta was temporarily named a planet, until astronomers realized their small size. Vesta is the brightest. It can be seen in binoculars from a dark, rural site. Those seeking Vesta should consult magazine articles and web sites to identify the asteroid amid similar looking stars.

Vesta is the goddess of the hearth. Roman homes had hearths for cooking and heat; in fact the hearth was her shrine. Romans said daily prayers to her in thanksgiving for food and heat. The household fire must never go out. Should the fire go out, a new fire could only be started from another holy hearth or Vesta’s temple fire. At the temple, six Vestal Virgins, unmarried women, tended to the sacred fire day and night. Vestalia was a religious festival when the Vestal Virgins would clean the temple and relight the flame with a magnifying glass.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 30th and Thursday, October 1st

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 30th and Thursday, October 1st written by Louis Suarato

The 88%, illuminated waning gibbous Moon rises at 8:17 p.m. Wednesday night. Rising 15 degrees to the Moon’s northeast will be the Pleiades star cluster. Thursday night, the Moon will below the Pleiades and about 5 degrees to Aldebaran’s upper right. Further to the northeast will be the constellation Auriga’s brightest star, Capella. Capella is the 6th brightest star in the sky and the third brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere. It is also the brightest yellow star that can been seen in our sky. Capella is the nearest to the Pole of all 1st magnitude stars. Capella, also known as Alpha Aurigae, is a multiple star system consisting of a pair of binary stars. The brightest pair consists of two stars with radii 10 times larger than our Sun. These two giant stars have been designated as Capella Aa and Capella Ab. These two bright giant stars orbit each other once every 104 days. Their faint companions are known as Capella H and Capella L. This multiple star system is estimated to be 42.8 light-years from Earth.

To the lower right of Capella are three open star clusters. The nearest is M38, or The Starfish Cluster. Discovered by Le Gentil in 1749, M38 has over 100 stars within its cluster. Approximately 2.3 degrees to M38’s southeast is the open cluster, M36, also designated NGC 1960. M36 and M38 can be seen in the same field of view of a low-power, wide angle telescope. M36 is the smaller of the two clusters, but brighter, containing about 60 stars of magnitudes 9 to 14. The open star cluster M37, or NGC 2099, is located about 3 degrees below M36. C.E. Barns described M37 as a “diamond sunburst”. M37 was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna before 1654 and contains about 60 stars.

Thursday’s pre-dawn sky features the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter rising over the eastern horizon. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, will be found below Venus and above Mars. Continue to follow these planets during October as they draw closer.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, September 28th and 29th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, September 28th and 29th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 6:42 PM; night falls at 8:16. Dawn beaks at 5:15 AM and ends with sunrise at 6:50.

The darkening sky reveals only one bright planet – Saturn. Saturn appears moderately low in the southwestern sky. It appears between Libra and the head of Scorpius and is slowly closing in on the Scorpion. Saturn sets at 9:21 PM.

Nightfall reveals Neptune still keeping station in Aquarius. Finder charts, found in astronomy magazines, websites and apps, assist in locating this distant world. Neptune sets at 4:30 AM.

Normally visible Uranus, in Pisces, may not be observable on Monday and Tuesday evenings. The Moon, which experienced an eclipse last night, has parked itself less than two degrees from Uranus. The overwhelming lunar brilliance will probably drown Uranus by its light and make observation of the planet difficult. The sixteen-day-old Moon rose after 7 PM on both nights and sets during daylight, appearing nearly full on both evenings.

Astronomical Dawn introduces three new characters on stage, in Leo. Brilliant Venus rose at 3:18 AM, second in brightness only to the Moon. In high-powered binoculars or telescopes, Venus appears about one-third illuminated and keeps shrinking in size. First magnitude Mars is next to rise, at 3:57 AM; it lies about eleven degrees from Venus, but only three degrees from Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. Its rusty color distinguishes it from the white star Regulus. Jupiter is the last to rise, at 4:38 AM. It is quite low on the eastern horizon, about seven-an-a-half degrees to Mars’s lower left. All three remain up well into daytime and, in the coming months, will populate the pre-sunrise sky.

Since Autumn began last week, let us consider the Fall constellations. Some “Summer Constellations” are misnamed. They rise in early summer, but are best seen in late summer or early fall. Between nightfall and midnight, the Andromeda saga is displayed. Her parents are Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Cepheus is house-shaped and points to the North Star. Cassiopeia looks like a “W” or “M”. Andromeda is depicted by a chain of stars that flow from the upper left of the Great Square of Pegasus, the horse. Perseus is a constellation below Cassiopeia with a long and a short leg. Cetus, the sea monster, swims low on the horizon. These constellations together account for twelve percent of the celestial sphere. Also visible are Lacerta, the lizard and Triangulum, the Triangle. All are in excellent position to be seen tonight.

Skywatch Line for Friday, September 25, through Sunday, September 27, written by Alan French

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, September 25, through Sunday, September 27, written by Alan French.

This is an exciting weekend for amateur astronomers and casual sky watchers – we have a total lunar eclipse on Sunday night. The eclipse is well timed for the eastern United States, with the eclipse visible from start to finish. 

When the Moon is full it is on the opposite side of our Earth from the Sun. Earth casts a shadow into space, and usually the Moon passes above or below the shadow and we simply enjoy a lovely full Moon. When the Moon moves through the shadow, we have a lunar eclipse. On Sunday night the Moon will move completely into the darkest part of the shadow, so we’ll have a total lunar eclipse. 

The Earth’s shadow is composed of two parts. The lighter, outer penumbra is where Earth only blocks part of the Sun’s light. The darker, inner umbra Is where the Earth blocks all of the Sun’s direct light. Light, however, is bent or refracted as it travels through our atmosphere. It is also scattered, with the blue end of the spectrum scattered the most. The result is that the light bent into the darker part of our planet’s shadow is mostly red, so a totally eclipsed Moon may appear reddish. How colorful and how bright the eclipsed Moon appears depends on how many clouds are around the edge of the Earth, as seen from the Moon, and how many particulates are in our atmosphere. (Forest fires, volcanoes, and man-made pollution can darken an eclipse.) The Moon is illuminated by the sunrises and sunsets around the Earth. 

The Moon will enter the penumbra, the brighter part of the shadow, at 8:12 pm, but it will be some time before the subtle penumbral shading will be visible on the Moon. You might spot it around 8:40 pm. 

The Moon will move into the umbra at 9:07 pm and this darkening will be almost immediately obvious. By 10:11 pm the lunar orb will be entirely in the umbra and the eclipse will be total. The Moon will be in the southeast. The Moon will be deepest into the umbra at 10:47 pm and will start leaving the umbra at 11:23 pm, ending totality. It will slip completely out of the umbra at 12:27 am Monday morning, and the last subtle penumbral shading will be visible around 12:55 am. At 1:23 am the Moon will be completely out of the penumbra and the eclipse will be over. 

As the Moon moves fully into and through the umbra look for color, perhaps red or copper. Also notice the darkness of the eclipsed Moon. The northern part of the Moon is deeper into the umbra, so it will probably look darker. 

No special equipment is needed to watch and eclipse. It is lovely by eye. It can be interesting to watch with any modest optical aid too – binoculars or a small, lower power telescope. 

 If you’d like to join other people and have telescopic views of the eclipse, consider going to miSci for Dudley Observatory’s Night Sky Adventure: Total Lunar Eclipse. There is a modest admission charge.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 23rd and Thursday, September 24th written by Louis Suarato.

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 23rd and Thursday, September 24th written by Louis Suarato.

Autumn arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 4:21 a.m. EDT Wednesday. This astronomical event, known as the Autumnal Equinox, occurs when the Earth’s celestial equator passes through the center of the Sun from north to south. It is during this time that the terminator is perpendicular to the equator and both hemispheres are equally illuminated. In our latitude, there will be 12 hours, 7 minutes and 51 seconds of daylight Wednesday. The Sun will rise due east and set due west on the day of the equinox.

After sunset, look for Saturn approximately 17 degrees above the southwestern horizon. The 77% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon will be about 28 degrees above the south-southeastern horizon. Fomalhaut, also known as the Autumn Star, rises in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, at 8 p.m. above the southeastern horizon. Fomalhaut appears at its highest in September and remains above the southern horizon during the months of Autumn. It is the brightest star over that region in an area devoid of bright stars. Fomalhaut is 25.13 light-years away and shines at magnitude 1.15. Fomalhaut is the second brightest star as viewed from Earth, after Pollux, known to have a planetary system. Fomalhaut is a relatively young star estimated to be about 440 million years old. It is also a binary star with its companion star, Fomalhaut B, .91 light-years away from the main star.

Venus rises around 3:30 Thursday morning, followed by Mars a half hour later, and Jupiter at about 5:00. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, and Mars will separated by less than a degree early Thursday and Friday mornings. Both Regulus and Mars will be 11 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Jupiter will be approximately 10 degrees to the lower left of Mars and Regulus.

Join the Dudley Observatory for the September 27th full lunar eclipse! On this night, the moon will pass through Earth’s shadow, making it appear blood red in the sky. The eclipse will occur from ~8:00pm to 1:30am the night of September 27th, with totality (full eclipse) occurring from ~10-11:30pm. miSci will be open (rain or shine) from 8-11:30pm with moon activities indoors and eclipse observing outdoors. Members of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers group and Dudley Observatory Outreach Astronomer Valerie Rapson will be on hand with telescopes to help everyone enjoy the view. This is the last full lunar eclipse until 2018. You won’t want to miss it!

Moon activities and eclipse observing are free with museum admission. See for museum information.

Skywatch Line for Friday, September 18th through Sunday, September 20th

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, September 18, through Sunday, September 20, written by Alan French.

The Moon will reach first quarter very early Monday morning, so a waxing crescent will dominate the early evening skies this weekend. The Moon sets at 9:57 pm Friday, 10:38 pm Saturday, and 11:25 pm on Sunday.

Weather permitting; the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers, in association with NYS Parks, will hold a public star party at 7:30 pm on Friday, September 18, at the Deerfield Pavilion in Grafton Lakes State Park. At star parties telescopes are set up to provide guests with views of a variety of celestial objects – galaxies, nebular, star clusters, and double stars. Lovely ringed Saturn will be visible low in the southwest during the early part of the star party.

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 weather permits, it will be rescheduled for 7:30 pm on Saturday, September 19. In case of possible cancellation, or for more information, call one of the coordinators, Ray (658-3138) or Bernard (658-9144).

If you look fairly high in the southern sky around 9:00 pm you should spot the bright yellow-white star, Altair. If you’re looking at the right star, it has two fainter stars to either side, one roughly to the lower left and one at about equal distance away on the other side. Altair is the brightest star in Aquila, the Eagle, and its name means “the flying eagle.”

Like most of the brightest stars, Altair shines brightly because it is one of our nearer neighbors, lying at a distance of just under 17 light years. The light you see tonight, traveling 186,000 miles every second, left the star in 1998, the year many watched “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact.” The 1956 science fiction classic, “Forbidden Planet,” was about a visit to Altair 5, a planet orbiting Altair.

The star to the lower left of Altair, Alshain, lies almost 48 light years away, while the one to the upper right, Tarazed, is 390 light years from us. As you can imagine, Tarazed is inherently much brighter than Alshain, but its light is dimmed by its greater distance.

Don’t forget to check next weekend’s Skywatch Line for details on the total lunar eclipse on Sunday night, September 27.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 16th and Thursday, September 17th

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, September 16th and Thursday, September 17th written by Louis Suarato

The 12% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon can be seen low over the west-southwestern horizon after sunset before setting at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday evening. This is a good time to see “Earthshine” on the Moon. Earthshine is sunlight reflecting from the Earth onto the Moon’s shadowed surface creating a faint glow. It was Leonardo Da Vinci who concluded that Earthshine was created by the Earth’s reflected sunlight. Da Vinci was wrong about sunlight reflecting off the Earth’s oceans onto the Moon’s oceans, since Earthshine occurs when sunlight reflects off the Earth’s clouds, and, of course, the Moon doesn’t have oceans. But given Da Vinci’s perceptions occurred during the early 1500’s, years before even Copernicus’ heliocentric theories were published, it was an amazing discovery. Earthshine, also known as “The Da VInci Glow”, is best viewed 1 to 5 days before and after the New Moon.

You can find Saturn in the constellation Libra, to the upper left of the crescent Moon. Look about 15 degrees over the southwestern horizon. It was September 17, 1789 when William Herschel discovered Saturn’s moon Mimas. Mimas is the 7th largest moon of Saturn, and the 20th largest in the solar system. Mimas’ most outstanding feature is a gigantic crater known as Herschel. This crater measures one-third of Mimas’ 242 mile diameter.

The pre-dawn hours welcome the arrival of three planets. Venus is the first to rise at 3:40 a.m. Thursday, followed by Mars at 4:08 and Jupiter at 5:15. Look over the eastern horizon for all three planets. Continue to follow these planets as they draw closer during October.

The Dudley Observatory will host two events this week. The first is a lecture and star party at the Octagonal Barn in Delanson, NY on Friday, September 18th, beginning at 7 pm. The lecture will be given by Dudley Observatory’s archivist Josh Hauck on “A Scientific Sweatshop: The Industrialization of American Science and the Women of Dudley Observatory”. The Dudley Observatory will also be hosting “International Observe the Moon Night” at MiSci in Schenectady, beginning at 7 pm on Saturday, September 19th. More information about these events can be found at

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting a Star Watch on Friday, September 18th at Grafton Lake State Park. If the Friday event is cancelled, it will be held Saturday night.