Check out the new video on the constellation Orion—including how to recognize it, where and when to look for it, and some good targets there. The eight-minute video then shows how to use Orion as a springboard for finding other constellations surrounding it, making this part of the night sky easy to learn!
Orion is a great landmark for beginners learning their way around the night sky, because its main stars are so bright and the pattern they make is so distinct. The famous Great Orion Nebula, Messier 42 (M42), is here too—along with double stars, you could spend an evening with a telescope in Orion alone!
In North America, Europe and and Central Asia, Orion is visible high in the south around 9 PM in January and February. It’s also visible in the same part of the sky around 8 PM in March, and low in the west after twilight in April. (The constellation then disappears into the Sun’s glare until late summer, when it reappears in the eastern sky just before dawn in August, around 3 AM in September, 1 AM in October, 11 PM in November, and so forth, starting the yearly cycle anew.)
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.)
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.
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”