Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 31: Saturn is South at Midnight


Don't have a watch? Well, no problem, at least at midnight as Saturn, sixth planet from the Sun, is just about due South at 12am. To see it, just go out, look South, and about a third of the way up from horizon to zenith (straight overhead). See that bright 'star?' That's Saturn

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 30: Moon Meets Mercury


Couldn't spot the Moon last night? No problem, the Moon will be much easier to see tonight (about 5% illuminated and about 10 degrees higher) and, as an added plus, it will be parked right next to the planet Mercury. Unlike last night, no optical aid should be required to catch this celestial meet-up.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 29: Young Moon


How thin of a Moon have you seen? How about one that's just barely over a day old and only 2% illuminated? Well, if you have never seen a Moon this thin, tonight's your chance to do so as such a Moon will be making an appearance in this evening's sky just after sunset.

To see the Moon, you'll need a good Western horizon. How good? One with less than 5 degrees of obstruction. To simulate this, hold your middle three fingers vertically at arm's length to simulate 5 degrees. Hint: if you can't think of a good location off-hand, scout out one during the day. Location found, head there at sunset and start looking, preferably with optical aid. The good news, if you have binoculars, you should be good to go, just remember to be patient as the Moon will often appear to suddenly pop into view out of thin air. On the other hand, if you're still looking 30 minutes after sunset, you missed the Moon. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 28: New Moon


Today, the Moon, second brightest object in the sky, has reached the New Moon phase, which means that it is directly between the Sun and Earth, and thus invisible for us Earthlings as of now. 

As for lunar mechanics, the Moon is always half lit. The reason we don't always see it as such is thanks to orientation in relation to us. Right now, with the Moon directly between us and the Sun, we don't see any of the lit side, thus making the Moon invisible to us as seen from Earth.

After today, we will see more of the Moon each night as its lit side turns more toward from us and heads toward a new lunar cycle.     

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 27: Old Moon


How thin of a Moon have you seen? How about one that's just barely a day before New and only 2% illuminated? Well, if you have never seen a Moon this thin, tonight's your chance to do so as such a Moon will be making an appearance in this morning's sky just before sunrise.

To see the Moon, you'll need a good Eastern horizon. How good? One with less than 3 degrees of obstruction. To simulate this, hold two fingers vertically at arm's length to simulate 3 degrees. Hint: if you can't think of a good location off-hand, scout out one during the day. Location found, arrive there about 15 minutes before sunrise and start looking, preferably with optical aid. The bad news: you'll have to hurry because, as soon as the Sun clears the horizon, you can forget about seeing the Moon. Good luck!

Tonight's Sky for May 26: International Space Station


Tonight (technically tomorrow as it appears after midnight), the International Space Station (ISS) will be making a good appearance in the Northern sky for people living in the mid to Northern United States. Needless to say, exact locations and elevations will vary by location, but the general event will be in the North. To get exact locations and times, Spaceweather's flyover page and Heavens Above are great resources. Good luck!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 25: Mercury at its Best


Want to join a small club of people who have seen the planet Mercury? Well, here's your chance as the first planet from the Sun will be making its best appearance of the spring this evening.

Of all the Classical Planets (those known to the Ancient Greeks and Romans), Mercury is by far the hardest to spot because, as seen from Earth, it never gets very far away from the Sun. As a result, Mercury is often obscured from view by the Sun's glare.

As of today, Mercury has reached a point in its orbit called greatest elongation, which is a fancy way of saying that, as seen from Earth, Mercury is as far from the Sun as it will get on this orbit and making its best morning appearance of the year. How good is it? So good that Mercury sets about two hours after the Sun! So good that, even 30 minutes after sunset, Mercury is still about 10 degrees up from the horizon. To simulate, hold your fist vertically at arm's length. While that may not seem overly high, for elusive Mercury, that's quite good.


So, take a moment or two, go out just before dawn, and try to spot Mercury. If you are successful in spotting the speedy planet, you are accomplishing something that the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (who rediscovered the idea of a sun-centered solar system) supposedly never did. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 24: Camelopardalids: Take 2?

If you stayed up for the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower, last night, you will have seen that it was a bit of a bust, with nowhere near even the low end of meteor predictions coming to fruition. However, since this is a new shower, it's worth staying up again tonight as, just maybe, the shower may exhibit some higher activity. On the other hand, if tonight is slow again, I think we can officially write off this event as a meteor trickle. Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tonight's Sky for May 23-New Meteor Shower


Tonight (or early tomorrow morning, your preference), Earth will run head-on into a stream of debris shed by short-period Comet 209/P LINEAR. The meteors will appear to radiate from the obscure constellation of Camelopardalis, which is located near the North Celestial Pole between the far more famous constellations of Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. For observers living in North America, the placement is perfect as the shower radiant is located near or in the circumpolar region of sky. The shower is set to peak between 2-4am on Friday morning.

See also: the greatest meteor shower in history

Unfortunately, this being a new shower, there is no way to predict what the shower will bring, which means that the only way to know what is going to happen is to hope for clear skies and look up!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reboot Coming . . .

It's been awhile since I've done anything with this little experiment called the Nightly Sky. However, in the coming days, expect a full reboot (as you can see, I've already been playing around a lot with the looks).