Monday, June 30, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 30: Jupiter Sets a Hour After the Sun


At the end of the month, the planet Jupiter, 4th brightest object in the sky, is setting just about an hour after the Sun. For observing purposes, late June/early July presents the last chance to catch Jupiter in the twilight sky. As the days progress, Jupiter will sink more into the twilight every day. By the middle of next month, the king of the plants will be lost in the Sun's glare. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 29: Easy Thin Moon


Couldn't spot the Moon last night? No problem, the Moon will be much easier to see tonight thanks to its 7% illuminated disc. Unlike last night, no optical aid should be required to catch the show.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 28: 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!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 27: 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.     

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 26: The Latest Sunsets

While the solstice (and shortest nights) was almost a week ago week, the latest sunsets occur now. Why is this? Short answer: celestial mechanics. As for why the Sun doesn't have its extreme rise/set dates on the day of the solstice, it all has to do with solar noon, the point in time wherein the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, which is the basis for the timing of the solstice. Problem: the Sun doesn't always reach its highest point in the sky as seen from Earth at noon. In addition, at the time of the solstice, the lay is actually longer than 24 hours. Result: solar noon doesn't always sync up with measured noon, hence why extreme sunrises and sets do not occur on the Solstices.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 25: 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. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 24: Moon Meets Venus


Want to see the planet Venus but don't know where to look? Well, you're in luck this morning as the waning crescent Moon will be parked right next to Venus. To see the show, simply go out in the predawn sky, look East and find the Moon and that bright “star” next to it. The Moon is the Moon, of course and that “star” is Venus, second planet from the Sun, closest planet to Earth, and third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 23: Mercury Moves to Morning


Remember a month ago when Mercury was so well placed for viewing in the dusk sky? Well, no more now as the little planet has since dropped out of view, moved into conjunction with the Sun, and now has officially crossed into the morning sky. While still too close to the Sun to see now, look for Mercury to pop out of the predawn light in the coming weeks as it moves farther away from the Sun a little more each day until it peaks in height in mid July. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 22: International Sun Day

Today is International Sun Day, a day devoted to our nearest, life-giving star: the Sun. Coinciding with the Solstice, which took place yesterday, today is devoted to solar astronomy. Across the country, many organizations are holding special events, so Google science organizations/astronomy clubs near you to see what's going on today.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 21: Summer Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year for us living in the Northern Hemisphere. With the summer solstice comes the longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season.
So, why do we have seasons, anyway?


It's all about Earth's tilt. If the Earth were spinning on its axis with no tilt at all, everyone would be treated to days of identical length every day of the year, with latitudes nearer the equator having longer days than those nearer the poles. However, with the tilt, the angle of the Earth relative to the Sun changes as or planet moves about its orbit. On the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year) the Northern Hemisphere is tilted up and away from the Sun. On the Summer Solstice (today), the Northern Hemisphere will be tilted down toward the Sun. On the equinoxes, the tilt is half way between the solstices. To see this effect, go out and observe the path the Sun takes through the sky for the course of day of winter).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 20: Ophiuchid Meteor Shower


It's an obscure one but it is a meteor shower and it peaks tonight: the Ophiuchid. Never heard of it? Don'tr feel bad as t his is one of the lowest rate meteor showers all year. To find the location, one must find the constellation Ophiuchus which, in itself, is very dim and can rather be seen as a void between Scorpius and Hercules in the Southern summer sky. So, if you do any observing tonight, keep an eye out for a random meteor coming from this barely-there constellation. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 19: Third Quarter Moon

  
Today, the Moon, second brightest object in the sky, has reached the Third Quarter phase, which means that it is exactly 270 degrees around its orbit of Earth.

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 at a 90 degree angle relative to the Earth and Sun, we see the Moon as half lit and half dark, leading to the popular, erroneous phrase 'half Moon.'

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 18: First American Woman in Space (1983)


On this date 31 years ago, Sally Ride became the first woman to enter space, which she did on the STS-7 mission flown by the space shuttle Challenger.

Sally Ride was born in 1951 in California and grew up with a fascination in 
science, which she credited her parents for encouraging. It was in 1977 as she was completing her doctorate that Ride saw an ad in the Stanford University student newspaper stating that NASA was, for the first time, going to start considering non-military applicants for its astronaut training program. Up until that time, all astronauts had been military test pilots, and male.With this new opening to civilians, NASA was flooded with over 8,000 applications, from which it selected a mete 35 astronaut candidates, with Ride being among the lucky few. Ride's training program commenced in 1978, with certification being completed a year later.

However, Ride would have to wait 4 years to fly, when she was assigned as a mission specialist aboard the STS-7 mission on the shuttle Challenger. It was on June 23, 1983, that Ride broke the gender barrier by becoming the first American woman in space. At the time, according to Ride, the feat was not not on her mind but, only with the passage of time, did her accomplishment really begin to sink in. Ride would fly into space once more a year later before retiring from NASA in 1987.

After NASA, Ride used her immense science credentials to make a career for herself in academic as both a consultant, researcher, and professor. What could be considered the crowning achievement of Ride's non-astronaut career came in 2001 when she founded Sally Ride Science, a company that promotes science education through creation of classroom materials and programs as well as professional development for science teachers, all while continuing to serve as a consultant for various organizations.

Ride died of cancer on July 23, 2012.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 17: Brightening Comet UQ4 Catalina


In the sky right now, there's a cosmic shape-shifter in the form of Comet UQ4 Catalina, which was initially thought to be an asteroid.

Discovered last October by the Catalina Sky Survey, which searches for near-Earth asteroids, the asteroid, then called simply 2013 UQ4, was then lost in the Sun's glare as it disappeared behind our nearest star. However, upon reemergence, the asteroid was found to be sporting a coma and tail, which is something that only comets do.

As of now, the comet is shining at around +13 magnitude and will only be getting better as time goes on, at least in terms of visibility, as it will rise higher and higher into the sky as it moves away from the Sun. As of now, predictions call for a peak magnitude of +7 (easy in binoculars) in the first full week of July.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 16: First Woman in Space (1963)


On this date 51 years ago, Valentina V. Tereskova became the first woman to enter space, which she did on the Vostok 6 mission.

Valnentina Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937 in the village of Maslennikovo. In her early life, Tereshkova was a textile worker before she became interested in skydiving. Following Yuri Gagarin's flight in April, 1961, it was decided that, having launched the first man into space, the Soviets should have a new goal:” launch the first woman into space. Beating out hundreds of other applicants and the other 4 finalists, Tereshkova launched into space aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. In all, Tereshkova would spend 3 days in space, orbiting the Earth 48 times, logging more orbital time than all the American astronauts up to that point combined.

However, there was an irony to Tereshkova's flight: the first female astronaut corps would never fly another member and would be itself disbanded in 1969. It would not be until 1982 when another woman would enter space.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 15: Moon at Perigee


Tonight, the Moon is about as big as it will ever get thanks to the fact that the Moon is at perigee, a point in its orbit that is closest to Earth.


What many people may not realize is the fact that the Moon (and all other celestial bodies) do not orbit their parent bodies in circles, but ellipses, which are slightly elongated circles. Result: any given day of an orbital period, any orbiting body will be at a slightly different distance from its parent body. As for the Moon, this variance in orbit amounts to about 20,000 miles.

As for tonight, the Moon will be about as close to Earth as it is going to get. When it comes to practical implications, the difference will be hard to notice with the naked eye to all but an experienced observer but, in a telescope,
the difference will be obvious

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 14: the Earliest Sunrises


While the solstice (and shortest nights) will not occur for about another week, the earliest sunrises occur now. Why is this? Short answer: celestial mechanics. As for why the Sun doesn't have its extreme rise/set dates on the day of the solstice, it all has to do with solar noon, the point in time wherein the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, which is the basis for the timing of the solstice. Problem: the Sun doesn't always reach its highest point in the sky as seen from Earth at noon. In contrast, the Sun is at its peak elevation about a week before the solstice in summer, which means that, solar noon being about 8 minutes before Earth noon, that also means that the sunrise occurs about 8 minutes earlier, too.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 12: Vega 1 Flys By Venus (1985)\


On this date in 1985, a Soviet probe directed at incoming Halley's Comet flew by the planet Venus and dropped a probe designed to study both the atmosphere and surface of Venus. While the lander portion of the mission failed, the atmospheric probe returned data to Earth chronicling wind speeds of around 120mph, pressure of around 535 Mbar (1 megabar equals the approximate atmospheric pressure on Earth), and temperatures of around 300K. All of these measurements were made at a height of about 25 miles. In all, the balloon traveled an estimated 4,000 miles around the planet. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 11: Moon Meets Antares


Tonight, the Moon will make a close pass with Antares, the bright red star that is the alpha (brightest) star in the Zodiac constellation of Scorpius. The best news: no telescope is required, non is a dark sky as Antares shines at first magnitude, numbering it among the brightest stars in the sky. Too see the show, simply head out and look South just after dark. See that red star close to the Moon? That's Antares.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 9: Johnann G. Gallee is Born (1812)


On this date in 1812, Johann G Gallee, the man who discovered Neptune, was born in Radis, Germany. At an early age, Gallee excelled in academics and eventually became a teacher before becoming assistant at the Berlin Observatory in 1835. Gallee's supervisor there was none other than Johann Franz Encke of comet fame. Using a 9-inch refractor, Gallee proceeded to discover 3 comets and an inner, dark ring surrounding Saturn.


In 1846, using calculations from French astronomer Urbain Kle Vaeeier, Gallee discovered the planet Neptune, whose locations was theorized from orbital oddities discovered in the path Uranus took around the Sun, which suggested an eighth, more distant planet.

Following his discovery of Neptune, Gallee would work as both a professor and observatory director. In all, Gallee published over 200 scientific works in a long career. Gallee died in 1910 at the age of 98. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 8: Christian Huygens Dies (1695)


On this date in 1695, Christian Huygens, the man who discovered Saturn's largest moon, Titan, died at the age of 66. A leading scientist of his time, Huygens made scientific contributions in the areas of what. In terms of astronomy, Huygens invented a 50 power refracting telescope, which he then used to discover the first moon of Saturn, Titan, and complete the most detailed examination of Saturn's rings up to that time, becoming the first man to suggest that Saturn was, in fact, surrounded by a ring at all. In addition, Huygens is noted for his making of the first drawing of the Orion Nebula and for his discovery of several nebulae and binary stars.

Additionally, shortly before his death, Huygens wrote Cosmotheros, in which he made arguments for the existence of alien life and proposed a system for determining stellar distances based upon the star Sirius. In fact, if Sirius were as intrinsically bright as the Sun (which it is not), Huygens' estimates would have been very close.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 7: Moon Meets Mars


Don't know where to find the planet Mars in the night sky? Well, tonight, you're in for a treat as Mars will be within a few degrees of the Moon. So, if anyone asks you to name that 'star' right next to the Moon, well, that's no star, but the Red Planet. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 6: Venus Rises 2 Hours Before the Sun

Look for Venus in the predawn sky.

Well, this isn't exclusive to the 6th, but something worth noting: Venus rises about 2 hours ahead of the Sun today, and for that matter, all month. To see Venus, simply look East in the dawn sky. See that bright 'star' low in the sky? That's Venus. Have a telescope? Even better, as, even at low powers, you will be able to see that Venus is not round, but exhibits a phase similar to the Moon (which changes as Venus orbits the Sun). 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 5: First Quarter Moon


Today, the Moon, second brightest object in the sky, has reached the First Quarter phase, which means that it is exactly 90 degrees around its orbit of Earth.

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 at a 90 degree angle relative to the Earth and Sun, we see the Moon as half lit and half dark, leading to the popular, erroneous phrase 'half Moon.'

After today, we will see more and more of the Moon as its lit side turns more toward us as it heads for a straight line in Sun, Earth, Moon order, and thus Full phase.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 4: Mars Due South at Dusk


Don't have a watch? Well, no problem, at least at 9pm as Mars, fourth planet from the Sun, is just about due South at 9pm. To see it, just go out, look South, and about half way up from horizon to zenith (straight overhead). See that bright 'star?' That's Mars.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 3: Moon at Apoge


Tonight, the Moon is about as small as it will ever get thanks to the fact that the Moon is at apogee, a point in its orbit that is farthest from Earth.


What many people may not realize is the fact that the Moon (and all other celestial bodies) do not orbit their parent bodies in circles, but ellipses, which are slightly elongated circles. Result: any given day of an orbital period, any orbiting body will be at a slightly different distance from its parent body. As for the Moon, this variance in orbit amounts to about 20,000 miles.

As for tonight, the Moon will be about as far from Earth as it is going to get. When it comes to practical implications, the difference will be hard to notice with the naked eye to all but an experienced observer but, in a telescope, the difference will be obvious.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tonight's Sky for June 2: Jupiter Sets 3 Hours After the Sun


At the start of the month, the planet Jupiter, 4
th brightest object in the sky, is setting about 3 hours after the Sun. For observing purposes, early June presents the last chance to catch Jupiter under a sort-of dark sky, provided you have a low Western horizon. As the month progresses, Jupiter will sink more into the twilight every day. By month's end, Jupiter will be setting only about an hour before the Sun as it heads for Conjunction, which is set for July. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014: Month at a Glance


The arrival of June also heralds the first day of summer and thus, the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Since the length of day/night varies with latitude (the more North you go, the more extreme the lighting), not all people will be having equal length nights on the longest day of the year. Now the good news: the summer sky is a cosmic picture book.

Cool Constellations
By the time June arrives, some of the Spring constellations are already taking their annual dives out of view. Among these are Corvus, Crater, Hydra, Cancer, and, to a lesser extent, Leo. By the arrival of June, the Big Dipper signpost is starting to become obsolete. As the Dipper begins its annual dive, on the other end of the arc,Corvus and Crater are already disappearing but Bootes and Virgo are coming into their best placements of the year. By the time July comes, you'll only be able to speed on to Spica.
Besides the already mentioned herdsman and virgin, Corona, Hercules, the Summer Triangle (made up of constellations Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila), Ophiuchus, and Serpens are all flying high at this time of year, too. For those who like to stay up later, Libra and Scorpius are also on the rise, as is deep sky treasure trove Sagittarius along with the ghostly arch across the sky that is the Milky Way. By the time the sky starts to brighten around 4:30am (sunrise is before 5:55 in mid month), a fall preview in the form of Pegasus, Andromeda, Aries, Capricorn, Aquarius, and even Pisces Australis is on tap, too.

Planetary Perceptions
On the planet front, June is shaping to be a good month for planet viewing. First of all, there's elusive Mercury, which appears at dusk at the start of the month. Don't wait, though, the little planet won't be visible for long! Additionally Jupiter, the king of the planets, is rapidly disappearing, too. At the start of the month, it sets about 3 hours after the Sun. By month's end, Jupiter sets only about an hour after the Sun. Needless to say, the time to view Jupiter is very limited. In the evening, June also presents the last chance to catch Mars under truly dark skies. Moving into the night, Saturn is visible most of the night, the only bad news is that it is rather low, which means that telescopic viewing might be rather problematic thanks to its low elevation and having to look through a lot of atmosphere. Moving to the morning, Venus, third brightest object in the sky, is visible in the hours before sunrise all month.




Tonight's Sky for June 1: The Shortest Nights Are Upon Us

June brings a seasonal change: the transition from spring to summer for 2014. In addition to the new season, the transition to summer also means another thing to astronomers: the shortest nights of the year. When the Summer Solstice occurs, it will signal the shortest night of the year, though for most of June and July, the nights will not be noticeably longer. Bottom line: since there are so few hours of darkness, make the most of them when doing astronomy!