Monday, August 29, 2005

Look to the West

Don't forget the meeting of Jupiter and Venus. Look due west 30 minutes after sundown to see these bright planets converge. They'll come closest to one another Thursday, Sept. 1, when they'll be about 1.2 degrees apart, just more than twice the width of a full moon or about the width of your pinkie finger when held at arm's length.

Click here for my earlier, more detailed post about this conjunction.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

CalStar Party at Lake San Antonio

Lake San Antonio is a great dark-sky location and CalStar is a well-attended party attracting observers from all over the state. The 2005 CalStar, hosted by the San Jose Astronomical Association, will be held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Lake San Antonio, 25 miles east of Paso Robles.

Details are here:

http://www.sjaa.net/calstar2005.html

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mars NOT Looming Large

If you expect to see Mars swelled to the size of a full moon on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, you've probably been the victim of a cruel hoax. Someone, for reasons known only to himself, decided to pull a prank on all the would-be planet-gazers out there by sending around an email describing a closer-than-ever pass of Earth by the Red Planet.

It's not going to happen, at least not again.

Most of the information in this fatuous email is very near the truth about the close approach of Mars back in summer 2003. Mars did come closer to Earth than it has in 60,000 years and it did appear the size of a full moon, but only if you viewed it magnified by 100 times in a quality telescope. I wrote a column about it at the time, which you can read here.

The good news for those who'd like a gander at the God of War is he'll be making a bright appearance at the end of October and beginning of November. Watch this space as details will come as the date approaches. In the meantime, Mars is coming up in the east about 11 p.m. your local time, and over the month of September it will double its brightness, which is a great reason to start watching now.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hubble Scanning Moon for Base Sites

I know this is meant to be an astronomy blog, but I find this so cool I have to post it. The Hubble Space Telescope is being used to look for lunar base locations. I'll be packing my bags! Here's the story as told in New Scientist magazine.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wanna See Something Beautiful?

Go out and look west tonight just after sunset and you'll see two extremely bright "stars" down near the horizon. These are really Jupiter, king of the gods, and his daughter Venus, goddess of love. Venus is the one on the lower right and Jupiter is up to the left.

Over the next two weeks they are going grow closer until they reach their closest on the nights of Wednesday, Aug. 31 and Thursday, Sept. 1. Keep watching as they part ways because on Tuesday, Sept. 6, they're going to be joined by a very slender sliver of a moon. Make sure to look for earthshine in the Moon's darkened limb that night.

Venus and Jupiter will be easiest to find about 30-45 minutes after sunset. If you have trouble finding planets, here's a Quicktime video of this conjunction from skyandtelescope.com that may help.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Full Green Corn Moon

The Moon is full today, Friday, Aug. 19. Because this is the month before harvest begins in many areas, this full moon is sometimes known as the Green Corn Moon or the Grain Moon. It's also the Full Sturgeon Moon, this being the season when that fish is most easily caught. (But don't ask me why--damn it, Jim, I'm an astronomer not a ichthyologist!) You'll find the names of each month's full moon here:

http://www.space.com/spacewatch/full_moon_names_2005.html

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Strolling Astronomer

The Strolling Astronomer
by Dave Adalian

During summer I take my walks after the Sun is down, when my family's gone to bed and the heat of the day has faded. I stroll among the stars, hoping for the thrill of a meteor and making sure those points of light are still fixed to their places.

My front door faces east, and as August fades the Great Square of Pegasus, part of the winged horse’s constellation, hovers above my neighbor’s rooftop. Later the Square will rise high into the night sky, trailing Pisces the Fish behind, but early on it sits on its eastern point, a huge diamond-shape of stars.

Right of Pegasus’ Square are the dim, indistinct zodiacal constellations of Aquarius the Water Bearer and Capricornus the Sea Goat. This seemingly empty ocean of sky has a single bright star, lonely Fomalhaut in Pisces Austrinus, the southern fish, hanging over the southeast horizon, bobbing above the houses as I lope along.

Beyond this barren portion of the night is Sagittarius the Archer with his famous Teapot asterism and to his right the long, barbed hook of Scorpius the Scorpion, home of the red supergiant star Antares. Despite the city lights, I can still sometimes see the Milky Way rising like steam from the Teapot’s spout to trail beside huge Ophiuchus, the snake-handler, whose healing power defied death itself until Zeus immortalized him in the sky.

Walking west, I see the orange star Arcturus shimmering in the heavy air marking Bo├Âtes the Plowman, and above it is a half-circle of stars, Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Higher still is brave Hercules, club at the ready.

As I march along, I catch glimpses of the Big Dipper in Ursa Major among the trees and housetops northwest, and due north is always faithful Polaris, the North Star, in the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor. When I finally turn back toward home again there is the W-shape of Cassiopeia the Queen standing on edge in the northeast, and below her the hero Perseus defending Andromeda, the Chained Lady, who lends her brightest star to Pegasus as the northernmost corner of his Square.

I arrive back at my doorstep and crane my neck to look straight overhead for the Summer Triangle: Altair in Aquila the Eagle, white Vega in Lyra the Lyre and Deneb marking the tail of Cygnus the Swan. Then I quietly steal inside, careful not to awake those who lie sleeping.

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This column appeared originally in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta on Aug. 25, 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2005

And Still More Perseids

I woke up at a quarter past three and came back outside where I stayed until about a quarter after four, lying under a blanket on the diving board at the north end of the yard where the light is least. I spotted another 25 Perseids and three more meteors from other sources, including two that seemed to come from the direction of Aquarius, home to a minor shower or two this month. What a beautiful night of viewing, especially considering I was able to do it from my own backyard.

Perseids Watch

I did a short Perseid meteor watch from my backyard tonight starting at about 12:40 and going until just before 2 a.m. I saw 22 Perseids, some of them very bright and beautiful, and about five sporadic meteors. I'm going to get some sleep now, but I may come back for another look in about 90 minutes.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Astronomy TV Online

Here are a couple of astronomy-oriented television programs available via the web:

First, here's Jack Horkheimer's Star Gazer, a series of one- and five-minute programs on the week's astronomical highlights. And, second, the venerable The Sky at Night hosted by Sir Patrick Moore.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Getting to the Purcell Observatory

Getting to the Arthur L. Purcell Observatory is very simple in broad daylight, but can be a bit tricky in the dark.

Take Highway 99 south past Tulare to the Avenue 184 exit. Turn left onto Avenue 184 and drive west approximately 2.1 miles. To do this you'll have to go through the intersection of 184 and Road 96; the observatory is about half a mile past the intersection on the right-hand (north) side of the road, so keep an eye on your odometer.

We have a sign for the observatory at end of the driveway, but it sits slightly off the road and is not lighted. The driveway leads to our parking lot, and the observing is done in our courtyard just beyond.

If you're not comfortable walking in darkness, a flashlight with a red filter will help, but please do not use unshielded lighting once you have left the parking lot.

This interactive Google map can provide driving directions from any location in Tulare County.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Welcome to Starry Nights!

Welcome!

This is the new online home of my astronomy column, Starry Nights, published monthly in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta. Besides posting my columns both old and new, I'll be including interesting astronomy-related news and links, as well as announcements of the Tulare Astronomical Association's monthly star parties.