Some of our favorite planetary targets, Venus and Jupiter, are up in the pre-dawn sky this month, and Mercury appears in the evening, as we’ll see in “The Solar System,” below. In “Stars and Deep Sky,” we’ll take a look at two notable open clusters in Auriga, M36 and M37.
The Solar System
Mercury starts off February still lost in the solar glare, but begins to reappear after the first week of the month. It’s still difficult on the 10th, but the party is just beginning—just a few days later, on Valentine’s Day, you’ll see Mercury glowing at magnitude -1.2; look for it low in the west, Continue reading “February Skies 2019”
The Women’s March will take place tomorrow morning—and if it’s anything like the first two years, millions of women and men all across our country and around the globe will turn out. My lady friend and I will be there, too.
In our politically divided country, we’re increasingly on one “side” or the other for every issue, and I’m sure that regardless of your political stripe, you’ve heard the arguments for and against the Women’s Marches—including discussion of some of the rougher language. Let me suggest the following, as a bit of common ground for all of us: Continue reading “Thoughts on the 2019 Women’s March”
We start the first month of the New Year off with a splash—a total lunar eclipse on the night of January 20th. Along with that, we have planets and two targets in Eridanus—one is an important multiple-star system, and the other a striking planetary nebula.
Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth, Moon, and Sun align so that the Earth is between the other two bodies, preventing the Sun from shining onto the Moon. A total lunar eclipse occurs when all of the Sun’s direct rays are blocked; these are mesmerizing phenomena to observe, and while a telescope or binoculars would be great to have, you’ll be riveted even with your naked eyes. (Unlike solar eclipses, there’s no need to worry about eye protection.)
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”