Summer is the season for Noctilucent Clouds

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
Full details in the Sky Guide » »

The Transit of Venus

Posted by Kelly on June 6th, 2012
Viewing the Transit of Venus

Viewing the Transit of Venus

Some people made big plans to watch this rare transit of Venus, traveling to special spots around the globe. I had plans, too: It was my bi-weekly golf night with my girlfriends. The transit was expected to last from 5:30 to 8:30 (sunset for us), and our tee time was at 5:30. Normally nine holes should only take two hours, but the course is pretty packed on ladies’ league night and it usually takes us closer to three hours. So I expected to be on the golf course during the entire transit, and it turns out I was.

I took my trusty, decades-old eclipse glasses and stowed them in my golf bag. On the first hole while we were waiting for the group in front of us to tee off, I took them out to take a peek and, sure enough, Venus was edging in front of the top of the Sun. Just about every tee after that as we waited for our turn to play, we passed around the eclipse glasses and watched as Venus buried itself further into the depths of the Sun. The small black dot of Venus also became much easier to see as it passed farther onto the Sun’s surface. Read the rest of this post …

May 20 2012 Solar Eclipse

Posted by Kelly on May 21st, 2012
May 20 2012

The partial solar eclipse of May 20, 2012

While an annular solar eclipse was witnessed in places such as Japan and the national parks of the western United States today, I was able to see the partial event from my location near the Great Lakes.

My day went from sunny and hot to cloudy and stormy, with luck bringing us just a few bands of clouds by sunset. The beginning of the eclipse could be seen with my eclipse glasses as the Moon nicked the lower right portion of the Sun. Then the Sun sank below a band of clouds and I had time to set up my camera and take some sunset pictures of a gorgeous cloud with a wave-like feature on top before the Sun reappeared below it.

Although using pinhole projection is a safe method, it is not easy to get a great view this way, especially with a Moon that was less than 50-percent eclipsed most the time and low on the horizon, shining through many layers of atmosphere. The eclipse glasses, even though they were nearly 20 years old, was the way to go.

We invited neighbors over to peek at the eclipse with us. The view was definitely three-dimensional, with the Moon hovering in front of a portion of the Sun. I managed to snag a picture with the filter held up to the front of my camera while another small band of clouds hung right above the Sun. Had we not had our eclipse glasses, the event would have been a bit disappointing.

With the Venus transit coming up, I highly recommend people find a pair of eclipse glasses of their own!

Northern Lights Shine On

Posted by Kelly on April 25th, 2012

Aurora Borelias

With the Sun more active over the past few months, aurora reports are picking up. There were so many “warnings” for bad solar weather for a while that I thought for certain I’d be able to spot the Northern Lights from my house without much difficulty. But every time I saw a notice of strong or storm levels from the Twitter user I follow (@Aurora_Alerts), it was daylight or cloudy. Like the boy who cried wolf or those annoying car alarms triggered by accident, I had become almost immune to the rumour that an aurora could be lighting up my sky.

Last night I logged onto Twitter and saw another alert, this time for a storm. I hopped over to the NOAA POES website to double check the activity and saw that the aurora oval was extending farther south than it had been any other time I had checked during daylight or cloudy nights. I went to the window to see if it was clear and I could already see a light blue glow ringing the northern horizon.

I took my camera and tripod out and decided to try my first ever photos of the Northern Lights. My camera is nice but not fantastic and I have very limited knowledge of how to use it properly, so I wasn’t expecting much when I set it up. I was prepared for the camera to refuse to take a picture or for all-black images, but instead, I heard the shutter click and pause, holding itself open for up to 10 seconds at a time as it captured photo after photo of the greenish ring and stars in the north. Considering the display was rather quiet despite its southerly extent, I was quite pleased with the results.

I went upstairs and found my daughter still awake. She was excited to see the aurora too, so I took her to the window and gave her a peek. She looked at it and said to me, “I bet it looks better in different places.” It was true. While it was still a pretty display, I’m looking forward to the next one where we can look straight up and see the glow and possibly curtains and columns and whorls dancing in the night.

Venus and the Pleiades in Binoculars

Posted by Kelly on April 3rd, 2012


Sometimes I make observing much harder than it has to be. A couple years ago I upgraded to an 8-inch Dobsonian, and now I feel that if I’m going to take the time to observe, that automatically means I am lugging my large telescope out into the dark. Or, more accurately, I’m having my husband do it for me.

On nights that I try to be more self sufficient, I go back to the 4.5-inch reflector, which is lighter and easy to carry outside on my own except for the fact that the tripod base sometimes gets tangled in my doorway. It doesn’t help that as soon as my cat Perseus hears the door open I have to stomp a jig to keep him from slipping out while I’m maneuvering the scope.

An occasion such as the Venus-Pleiades conjunction reminds me that sometimes it’s okay to keep it simple. Last night I grabbed my binoculars, looped the strap around my neck and sneaked out the door before my cat even knew what was up.

Venus was a radiant beacon high in the west, and for anyone just taking a quick look, they wouldn’t have even noticed the faint smattering of stars just above it. Venus outshines anything in its vicinity, and not until your eyes start to adjust to the dark do you start to notice the Pleiades, and then only because you’re looking for them.

Aim binoculars at Venus and out pops the teensy dipper shape of the star cluster. On the night I looked, Venus was like a brilliant interloper in the usually tranquil sea of the seven sisters. If you go out to view Venus and the Pleiades through binoculars, take the time to catch a couple other great binocular sights before they set. Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and the Double Cluster in Perseus (not my cat) are all top contenders for viewing through binoculars. And don’t forget the moon!

Blue skies smiling at me

Posted by Kelly on March 25th, 2012

Jupiter and Venus together in the night time skyWinter is a decidedly cloudy season where I live. I check my calendar and planetarium software and write about all kinds of great observing opportunities in winter, but in reality I don’t get to see an awful lot of them myself. The clouds steal much of the winter evenings, and on those evenings when it is clear, it is generally downright cold.

Venus went visiting the solar system in the beginning of the year, stopping by Neptune in January (cloudy) and Uranus in February (cloudy). But in March when Venus and Jupiter made their fair pairing, the skies were ready. I captured a decent photo of the two brightest planets as they mingled in the west (see left). The next night they were lined up perfectly side by side, and I went in to get my telescope ready to see each planet up close. Five minutes later, as I was lugging my 8-inch scope through the doorway, I looked out to see the clouds had once again drawn a curtain across the sky.

But each day gets better in spring, both cloud-wise and temperature-wise. And I’m happy to give up my chances at the Venus/Neptune and Venus/Uranus pairings if it means clear skies for the solar eclipse and Venus transit in May and June. Stay tuned …

Comet Garradd flyby of globular cluster M71

Posted by Marc on August 30th, 2011

Comet Garradd

Brian McGaffney sent in this great image of Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd’s flyby of M71. It was taken from his own Nutwood Observatory in Ontario, Canada on August 26th at 11pm (EDT). Brian used a 14 inch astrograph (a telescope specifically for use in astrophotography) and an Apogee U16M CCD camera.

Countdown to the close of an era

Posted by Lydia on July 8th, 2011

We’re not ending the journey today … We’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end … Let’s light this fire one more time” – comments uttered by Commander Ferguson just before the final launch of Shuttle Atlantis. The launch was delayed at the 31 second mark due to last minute verification that the launch pad support equipment had been completely retracted adding suspense to a hurried and limited launch schedule. Atlantis will deliver a year’s supply of necessary items to the ISS as equipment will be transported by the Soviets in a much smaller vehicle for about the next five years. On return, Atlantis will be displayed at Kennedy Space Center.

Atlantis – STS 135, the final mission

Posted by Lydia on July 6th, 2011

Update: “You are clear to launch Atlantis.” Atlantis is go for launch!

There are close to 750 thousand Earthlings present at the Kennedy Space Center viewing areas to observe this historical launch. (Usually the area is invaded by a mere 150-250 thousand tourists.) Launch Day! As NASA’s Mission Control comments: “Launch chances are always 50/50 due to weather and other potential issues which may occur during countdown. The crew is seated and ready to contribute their part to the Shuttle’s final mission taking Atlantis passed it’s already accrued 115 million miles, on its 33rd flight to the ISS. The next possible launch date, should Atlantis not launch this weekend, is July 16, 2011.”

Read the rest of this post …

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