We recently received this great set of images taken by Prof. Dr Arnold Hanslmeier of the Institute for Physics at Graz University. His astrophotography quite vividly shows the shadows cast on their parent planet by Io and Ganymede, two of the Galilean satellites of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Dr Hanslmeier captured the images earlier this month using the following equipment: a Meade 15″ telescope and a Celestron Neximage CCD camera.
Full Moon and Perigee Moon converge for a Supermoon
Track down two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta
Planetary pairings of Saturn and Mars, Jupiter and Venus
The Perseid meteor shower peaks
The Equinox restores balance to days and nights
Mars meets its rival, Antares
An early Harvest Moon occurs in September
Look out for Noctilucent Clouds
…to steal a line from R.E.M. And I do feel fine, but that’s because it isn’t really the end of the world as we know it, contrary to what some hoaxers would have you believe. You may have heard that December 21, 2012, will be the end of life on Earth as we know it, and if so, you’ve heard wrong. The end of the world has been predicted countless times before, and as we all know, it has never come true. Sometimes these scenarios involve astronomical events, which makes them all the easier to debunk. Apocalyptic movies such as Melancholia and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World might help fuel some of these fears, but the baseless doomsday warnings floating around the internet are as fictional as the movies. Read the rest of this post …
The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the best deep-sky targets for autumn and the easiest galaxy to spy. Located in the constellation Andromeda, it is often found using the right half of the W-shape in Cassiopeia to point the way down to it. At magnitude 3.4, it can even be seen without any optical aid, but it’s best to look with a telescope or binoculars first to nail down the location and then try looking with your eyes alone.
M31, as the Andromeda Galaxy is also known, is unmistakable once you have it in the eyepiece. It’s not a bright light that jumps out at you but the large oval of milky gray with its brighter core that makes it stand out from the thousands of stars and background darkness of space. For whatever reason, when I look at Andromeda it always reminds me of the seed of a milkweed, with its solid-looking oval core that is surrounded by a tenuous fuzz. Read the rest of this post …
If you want to get someone hooked on observing, you have to do more than just show them the stars. While the moon and Saturn look great through a telescope, many astronomical objects need to be understood to be truly appreciated. There is nothing better than viewing a faint haze of light while someone tells you the fascinating story behind it. One such object that you can grab in the east before it sets until next spring is M13.
The globular cluster M13 in Hercules was discovered by Edmund Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) in 1714. Charles Messier cataloged the globular cluster in 1764. At magnitude 5.8, M13 can just barely be seen as a fuzzy patch with the unaided eye. M13 is one of about 140 globular clusters that orbit the Milky Way’s center.
My children’s book about weather on the planets, Solar System Forecast, was published recently by Sylvan Dell. As part of its launch, I’ve been visiting local schools and reading the book to students and then participating in a little Q&A time with them.
When I initially anticipated these visits, it was with a fair amount of anxiety. I have two children of my own, but large groups of children intimidate me. I have a quiet voice and thought that these kids could easily steamroll me. I started out talking to all second graders at the first school I visited and realized this is an excellent age group for such an activity. They listened quietly to the book and then asked such a range of questions, from the incredibly insightful to the adorably absurd, that the Q&A session quickly became my favorite part. Read the rest of this post …
First quarter is a great time to observe the Moon. The Moon is available in the evening after the sky has completely darkened but you don’t have to stay up late to catch it. The terminator nicely divides the satellite, allowing for much of the surface to be seen and also putting the mountains and valleys into stark contrast. On a recent night with a first quarter Moon, I dragged my smaller 4.5-inch scope outside because the larger scope would be overkill (and is not easy to carry). I’ve observed the Moon plenty of times, but usually it was just as a stopping off point before and after targeting deep-sky objects. It is not usually my primary observing target and I haven’t really taken the time to sit down with a moon atlas and learn the names of everything I’m spying.
One of the most notable areas the eye gravitates to when observing a first quarter moon is the half circle of mountains in the northern hemisphere (which will look like it’s at the bottom of the moon through a telescope’s inverted view). The northern line of mountains is named Montes Alpes, the one on the side that leads away toward two larger craters is Montes Caucasus and the lower ridge is Montes Apenninus. These mountain ranges are all named after Read the rest of this post …
I write about all the good stargazing events that can be seen each month, but for a variety of reasons there are many of them I never get to see myself. But as far as predawn observing events are concerned, there is really just one reason I don’t see them: I like my sleep. I am not a morning person, and while I have, on occasion, woken in the middle of the night to look for meteor showers, by and large I find that my sleep and mental health the next day are more important.
But recently I was able to catch an absolutely gorgeous early morning conjunction through no planning of my own. About a week ago, I came home from some activity or other to find my cat sitting in front of the stove and staring very intently underneath it. I knew at that point that Read the rest of this post …
One of my favorite things about astronomy is the wonderful names given to stars hundreds of years ago. Some of the stars have beautiful or bizarre names, some of the names have entertaining meanings, and some are informative.
My daughter’s middle name is Bellatrix, which is a shoulder star in Orion and means “female warrior”. I had the name picked before I read the Harry Potter book in which Bellatrix is introduced as an evil witch. We also use the original astronomical pronunciation of the name, buh-LAY-trix; although since the Harry Potter novels, everyone, readers and astronomers alike, have begun calling it BELL-a-trix. This is similar to when the movie Beetlejuice came out and made everyone pronounce the star name Betelgeuse incorrectly. The astronomical pronunciation is BET-el-jews (short e in BET).
Two stars in the constellation Libra the Scales with both bizarre and enchanting names are Zubenelgenubi (the southern claw) and Zubeneschamali (the northern claw). You wouldn’t think that two stars in a constellation named after scales would be named for claws, and that’s because Read the rest of this post …