Mercury ended November lost in the solar glare, but as it sweeps rapidly through its orbit, it will become increasingly visible as a pre-dawn target. After about the first week of December, the planet will sit almost 10° above the southeastern horizon at 6:30 AM, roughly 40 minutes before dawn. (By then, it will look like a fat crescent in telescopic views.) A week later, Mercury reaches its widest angle, as we see it, from the Sun (known as “greatest elongation”), and sits slightly higher at the same hour, brightening by about a half-magnitude as well. After that, the planet will appear closer to the Sun each day. Look for a close conjunction with Jupiter on the morning of the 21st, when the two planets will lie within a degree of each other.
Late-November views of Venus were spectacular, even with the naked eye—the planet’s sheer brilliance in a dark sky made a 5:30 AM rise worthwhile. (Venus was so bright, it made it hard to recognize a nearby, seemingly wan star for what it really was: 1st‑magnitude Spica.)
Happily, the views continue in December—though the planet’s brightness diminishes slightly and the disk appears a bit smaller, it still presents a terrific target, Continue reading “December Skies 2018”
November will bring interesting observing opportunities for some of the planets (stay tuned!), but if you need one word to describe viewing Mercury this month, it’s “Meh.” The planet will be a difficult binocular target as the month begins—determined folks can look for it very low in the southwest, about a half-hour after sunset. Mercury’s angular separation from the Sun increases until the 6th, improving the situation slightly (and for a few days that follow); after that, though, it appears closer and closer to the Sun until it’s lost in glare.
Welllllll… We had a planet-rich summer, but many of the planetary observational opportunities are going away or will do soon. At the same time, we’re in a great position for deep-sky targets, with late-summer objects still in play, and winter targets, like Orion, becoming visible to observers in the wee hours. The earlier onset of night helps, too. Here’s what’s up for October: Continue reading “October Skies 2018”
If you’ve been watching the sky after sunset in August, then you’ve likely noticed the striking vista of four bright planets—Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars—lined up from southwest to southeast. Even without a telescope, their sweep makes a memorable view, and the arrangement will continue well into September Continue reading “September Skies 2018”
If you follow the planets, you’re likely aware that Marsis just past opposition at the beginning of August, and thus more or less at its biggest and brightest for the year. Dust storms, though, have blanketed the planet, cloaking surface details that should’ve been visible even in moderately sized telescopes. Recent NASA reports suggest Continue reading “August Skies 2018”