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.)
I’m delighted to share my latest video, “Tour of the Constellation Scorpius,” a 7-minute mini-film that will show you how, where, and when to look for this brilliant constellation.
Our view of Scorpius as we see it from Earth looks toward the very center of our own Milky Way Galaxy, in much the same way that an inward-looking view from a metropolis’s suburbs takes in the city’s downtown. Instead of the bright lights of big buildings, we have great numbers of fascinating nebula and star clusters—of several types—and an astonishing swath of stars from the galaxy itself.
The video will get you oriented and help you begin to understand the scale of what we’re really looking at out there, while taking you on a mini-tour of some of these objects—get ready for a great trip “downtown,” to the Milky Way!
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”
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”