Thursday, May 31, 2007

TAA Annual Business Meeting June 5


The Tulare Astronomical Association will hold its annual business meeting on Tuesday, June 5 at 6 p.m. at 3124 W. Hillsdale Dr. in Visalia. All interested parties are invited to attend.

Map to the meeting.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mars Joins Planetary Parade

Mars Joins Planetary Parade
by Dave Adalian
In my last column, I took you on a tour of the naked-eye planets, starting at sunset with elusive Mercury and ending in the early morning hours with blue Neptune. This time, another member of the solar system entourage joins the show while two others put in their best appearances of the year.

Tiny Mercury, a rocky planet just 3,000 miles wide, sits closest to the Sun, making it a bit of a challenge to view. But on Saturday, Mercury will be as far as it ever gets from the Sun as seen from Earth, a condition known as greatest elongation.

While Mercury, swift-footed messenger to the gods, will be visible for another couple of weeks, now, before it falls back into the fiery skirts of Sol, is the best time to see it. Look a bit north of dead west about an hour after the Sun retires to find it.

Don’t confuse Mercury with its brighter sister, Venus, also prominent in the west after sundown. This brightest of planets reaches greatest elongation one week after Mercury, but being farther from the Sun rides higher in the sky. Venus is a bright white, while Mercury, seen through more of Earth’s atmosphere, appears pink. Beside Venus are the twin suns of Gemini, Pollux and Castor.

Imagine a line through Mercury and Venus and follow it up the sky about the same distance as the current separation of Mercury and Venus. There, you’ll find Saturn, still sitting like a cosmic ball of yarn before the paws of Leo the Lion.

Saturn and Venus are headed for a close conjunction toward the end of June, so watch them night-to-night as grow ever closer together. Both will be gone from the sky by late July.

While the western trio is riding high, the King of Worlds, Jupiter, is rising in the southeast. By 11 o’clock it is well placed for viewing.

By 3 a.m., Neptune is high enough to be seen--if the sky is dark enough--but a chart is necessary to find it. (See link to a finder chart below.)

About an hour and a half later, just before dawn’s probing fingers creep above the horizon, look east to find Mars’ shining ruddily.

The Red Planet bears watching over the next year as it sweeps toward a close pass of Earth on Christmas Eve then fades back into the distant reaches of the Solar System, not to return again until mid-2009.


This column appeared originally in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register on May 31, 2007.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Finding Neptune (and Uranus, too!)

Here's a link to a set of charts to help planet-hunters find the dimmest of naked-eye planets, Neptune. The charts are also good for finding Uranus, but you'll need at least a pair of binoculars to see it.

Thanks to the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand for the charts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Conjunction Images

Here's a shot of Venus and the new moon I took from my backyard in Visalia, Calif. around 8:45 p.m. PDT on May 19, 2007.

Here's the best of the snaps I got of the Mercury-Moon conjunction two nights earlier from a local park about 8 o'clock:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Planetary Tour Starts Tonight

Planetary Tour Starts Tonight (May 3, 2007)
by Dave Adalian

You may be one of the many people who found themselves with a sudden interest in the stars and planets after the announcement last month of the discovery of a possibly earthlike planet just 20.4 years away.

If the first earthlike planet we’ve found is this close, imagine how many others there must be in a galaxy bigger than 100,000 light years across. Suddenly, the possibility we’ve got neighbors who could be peering back at us with their own telescopes from their own backyards becomes tantalizingly real.

The star the newly discovered planet orbits, Gliese 581, is a dim red dwarf in the constellation Libra, and it doesn’t do much for the imagination, especially if you’re a newly minted planet-gazer looking for something to hang your dreams of space upon.

But, I’ve got good news for you would-be space cases: there is a bevy of much closer planets you can see with your own eyes starting tonight.

If you look west tonight just after sunset, you’ll find the brightest of the naked-eye planets, brilliant Venus, shining like a jewel. This sister planet to Earth will be spending the entire summer as the evening star.

To find the largest of the local planets, you’ll have to stay up tonight until the Moon rises around 11 o’clock. When it makes its way skyward, it will sit just to the right and below Jupiter.

Though you’ll need a telescope if you want to see it, the recently demoted dwarf planet Pluto is to Jupiter’s left. The bright red star to the right and above the Moon is Antares.

When Jupiter and the Moon are just entering the sky, Saturn will be in the opposite direction, sitting well above the horizon to the west in the constellation Leo.

The dimmest of the naked-eye planets, sea-blue Neptune, is rising in the early morning these days, around 3 o’clock. It takes a dark sky to see Neptune, but you can get a very good idea of its general location when the Moon rises near it on the morning of May 10.

On the evening of May 17, the Moon will be back in the west just after sunset, this time with elusive Mercury just below it. The Moon will be the barest slice, just a few hours past new, and may itself be difficult to find.

Finish your springtime planetary tour on May 19 when Venus and the Moon meet in an incredibly close pairing that’s sure to dazzle.


This column appeared originally in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register on May 3, 2007.