30
Jul 14

Perseid Meteors versus the Supermoon

Credits: NASA Science News

Which is brighter--a flurry of Perseid fireballs or a supermoon? Sky watchers will find out this August when the biggest and brightest full Moon of 2014 arrives just in time for the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

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6
Aug 11

Coming up: Comet Garradd


Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1) on August 2, 2011. Image credit: Peter Lake.

Comet Garradd is now getting brighter in the night sky and you can look for the fuzzy ball going from the constellation of Pegasus into the Summer Triangle (view map @Astro Bob). At a magnitude of about 9, it should be visible in a dark place with a small telescope or even binoculars. It will peak at February at a magnitude about 6 and shall pass closest to Earth in the beginning of March 2012 when it will be seen in the Little Dipper asterism.

Comet Garradd was discovered by G. J. Garradd (Siding Spring Observatory, Australia) on four images obtained on  August 13, 2009 . He was using the 0.5-m Uppsala Schmidt telescope and a CCD camera. The magnitude was given as 17.5-17.7 and the coma was described as circular and 15" across. The first confirmation was obtained by W. Robledo (El Condor Observatory, Cordoba) on August 14, 2009.

Upcoming Highlights (from Cometography)
# The comet will reach a maximum solar elongation of 149 degrees on 2011 August 8.
# After having moved northward since September 2010, the comet will attain a declination of +19.9 degrees on 2011 September 12 and will then turn southward.
# The southward motion will only continue until 2011 October 26, when the comet attains a declination of +18.7 degrees and will then resume a northward motion.
# The comet will reach a minimum solar elongation of 45 degrees on 2011 December 5.
# The comet will be closest to Earth on 2012 March 5 (1.27 AU).
# The comet will attain its most northerly declination of +70.7 degrees on 2012 March 11 and will move steadily southward for the remainder of the year.

# The comet will reach a maximum solar elongation of 112 degrees on 2012 March 17.

Links:
AstroBob
Gary W. Kronk's Cometography - C/2009 P1 (Garradd)
AstroSwanny's: garradd

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24
Jul 11

Mars, Aldebaran, Jupiter and the Moon before Dawn

During the next mornings  Mars, Aldebaran, Jupiter and the Moon will be making a parade for early day observers.

The image above represents the sky on July 26th before dawn where you can observe Mars, Aldebaran, Jupiter and the Moon in the same region of the sky looking East. This is a nice opportunity to see the red planet with a red star near a small waning crescent Moon. The Moon on this will be very close to Alpha Tauri and will make for a spectacular contrast.

So don't loose this observational opportunity.

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16
May 10

A Rare Meeting of Planets and Spaceships

Source: NASA


Western view of the horizon after sunset on May 16th, 2010. Created with Stellarium.

This weekend, Venus and the crescent Moon are gathering in the western sky for a spectacular conjunction, and they're not alone. The International Space Station and, very likely, space shuttle Atlantis will join them for a rare four-way meeting of spaceships and planets over many locations. (read more)

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7
Apr 10

Planets galore!

This week is an excellent opportunity to see all the five “naked eye” planets in one night of observation.

You need to start about an hour after sunset by looking relatively low on the western horizon, you should be able to make out both Mercury and Venus, Mercury being the lower and fainter of the pair. You then need to look almost directly above your head to spot Mars – with it’s reddish hue you shouldn’t miss it. Saturn can be found by looking towards the east (to your left); if you have a telescope take a look, even a small instrument should show the famous rings. For the final of the five planets, Jupiter, you need to wait until the morning and take a look low on the eastern horizon about an hour before sunrise.

As the month progresses there will be some interesting encounters to watch out for – Venus and the Pleiades, the Moon and Saturn, Mars and the Beehive………. So keep reading the blog for more information.

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1
Apr 10

30 Nights of StarPeace

The Sky literally brings together the Earth during GAM-be part of a global peace chain!

Inspired by the idea of sharing the beauty of the sky across national borders, "Thirty Nights of StarPeace" is a worldwide-scale event that will join together astronomy groups in neighbouring countries, one patch of Earth at the time, on successive nights during the month of April.
Using geographical longitude as a reference, we've divided the Earth into ten equal segments, each one spanning 36 degrees of longitude. Countries located in each of these 10 segments will have a period of three days to participate in the Thirty Nights of StarPeace project.
What you have to do is synchronize your group with an astronomy group across your national border, so that both groups observe the beauty of the sky at the same time. We will start at 180 degrees longitude (the International Dateline), and proceed westward in 3-day increments. Thus, countries located between 180 and 144 degrees east longitude will pick a night from April 1-3 for their public night of observation. Countries located between 144 and 108 degrees will have the April 4-6 time-slot, and so forth. In this way, through the month, the starry-night experience will progress around the globe westward in ten stages, creating a global star peace!

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22
Mar 10

The Constellation of Leo

For the last of our late winter early spring constellations, let’s take a look at Leo, the Lion.

Leo is one of the constellations that actually looks reasonably like what it’s supposed to represent.

The brightest star of this constellation, alpha Leo, is called Regulus (meaning: the little king), it’s a blue-white star and when viewed with binoculars or small telescopes a fainter companion star of can be seen.
At the tip of the lion's tail the blue-white star beta Leo, or Denebola, viewed through a telescope beta Leo seems to have an orange companion, but actually the two stars are far away from each other – it is an “optical” double as opposed to a real double star system.

Another excellent double is the binary gamma Leo, or Algieba (the lion's mane), this pair, consists of a orange-red giant and a yellow giant, a small telescope is sufficient to split gamma Leo into the single stars.

Leo contains many bright galaxies, of which Messier 65, Messier 66, Messier 95, Messier 96, Messier 105, and NGC3628 are the most famous.

Have an enjoyable lion hunting safari!!

Image credit John Walker

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13
Mar 10

The constellation of Cancer

For the second of our late winter early spring constellations let’s take a look at Cancer.

Cancer is best noted among stargazers as the home of Praesepe (Messier 44), an open cluster also called the Beehive Cluster or the Gate of Men. The smaller, denser open cluster Messier 67 can also be found here.

The constellation of Cancer is a difficult one to recognize even when you are looking right at it, so imagine how hard it is to find if you do not know anything about it. While this star grouping represented a giant crab to the ancient civilizations that named it, it looks nothing like a crustacean, resembling an upside-down "Y" if anything.

To locate Cancer, you must find two more easily identifiable constellations, Ursa Major and Leo, and then use them as a roadmap to the crab. You will find some instructions that may help here: www.ehow.com/how_5690312_constellation-cancer.html
Image credits: Cancer Till Credner. M44 NOAO/AURA/NSF
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13
Mar 10

The constellation of Cancer

For the second of our late winter early spring constellations let’s take a look at Cancer.

Cancer is best noted among stargazers as the home of Praesepe (Messier 44), an open cluster also called the Beehive Cluster or the Gate of Men. The smaller, denser open cluster Messier 67 can also be found here.

The constellation of Cancer is a difficult one to recognize even when you are looking right at it, so imagine how hard it is to find if you do not know anything about it. While this star grouping represented a giant crab to the ancient civilizations that named it, it looks nothing like a crustacean, resembling an upside-down "Y" if anything.

To locate Cancer, you must find two more easily identifiable constellations, Ursa Major and Leo, and then use them as a roadmap to the crab. You will find some instructions that may help here: www.ehow.com/how_5690312_constellation-cancer.html
Image credits: Cancer Till Credner. M44 NOAO/AURA/NSF
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11
Mar 10

Messier Marathon

If you are looking for something interesting today this coming weekend why not try a Messier Marathon. A Messier marathon is an attempt, usually organized by amateur astronomers, to find as many Messier objects as possible during one night. The Messier catalogue was compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier during the late 18th century and consists of 110 relatively bright deep sky objects (galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters). For more information take a look here www.richardbell.net/marathon.html or here http://deepskymap.org/ or even here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_marathon.

Happy hunting!

Image credit: SEDS, the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space,

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10
Mar 10

The constellation of Gemini

For the first of our late winter early spring constellations let’s take a look at Gemini. The constellation is dominated by Castor and Pollux, two bright stars that appear relatively close together, encouraging the mythological link between the constellation and twin-ship. The twin to the right is Castor, whose brightest star is α Geminorum (more commonly called Castor) and the twin to the left is Pollux, whose brightest star is β Geminorum (more commonly called Pollux); the other stars can be visualized as two parallel lines descending from the two main stars, making it look like two figures. At present a further “bright star” can be found to the left of Castor & Pollux, the star is in fact the planet Mars.

Viewed with good amateur telescopes Castor can be split into three components: Castor A and Castor B revolve around each other with a period of 420 years (less good telescopes may only split Castor into two blue-white stars of 2nd and 3rd magnitude). The third component, Castor C (also known as YY Gem) circulates this pair with a period of several thousand years.

There are two double stars in Gemini that are best viewed in small telescopes, epsilon Gem and 38 Gem. The first consists of a 3rd magnitude yellow super giant with a 9th magnitude companion. The second splits into a pair of white and yellow 5th and 8th magnitude stars.

With the help of small telescopes the planetary nebula NGC 2392 reveals an 8th magnitude blue-green disk about the size of Jupiter. When viewed with larger telescopes it shows a funny shape, which is why it is named Eskimo or Clown Face Nebula.

The open cluster M35 (also known as NGC 2168) is an outstanding cluster with about 200 stars. In binoculars or small telescopes it is visible as a hazy patch.

In the next posting we’ll take a look at Cancer.

Photo credits: Constellation chart IAU, M35 NASA.
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3
Mar 10

The late winter early spring sky

Now that the moon is out of the way in the evening sky, take the opportunity to find some of the late winter, early spring constellations. If you have been looking at the sky regularly and at the same time each night (21h00 is a good time), you will have noticed that Orion has slowly “drifted” to the right (west) and its position has been replaced by other stars. The constellations that will dominate this part of the sky for the next month or so are Gemini (The Twins), Cancer (The Crab) and Leo (The Lion), all three being constellations of the Zodiac.

All three are interesting, but not all are easy to find; Gemini is very easy to find, just look for the two bright stars called Castor and Pollux. They represent the heads of the twins, while fainter stars sketch out two bodies; although Cancer the Crab is one of the more famous constellations, it is mostly made of dim stars; Leo's head and mane are formed by an asterism known as the Sickle which looks like a backward question mark, one of the brightest spring stars, Regulus being at the base of the question mark.

Try to find these constellations in the sky and over the next few postings will take a look at some of the interesting objects that can be seen with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope – double stars, star clusters, galaxies ……….

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22
Feb 10

World wide Astronomy Event – Advanced Warning

If you enjoy worldwide astronomy events, watch out for Global Astronomy Month (GAM), running throughout April of this year. The GAM motto is “One People, One Sky” and it’s an opportunity to connect with people around the world.

For more information take a look here: www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=99&layout=blog&Itemid=149
Image credit: Astronomer’s Without Borders

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7
Feb 10

Comet Hunting

Note: this post is adapted from Weekend SkyWatcher's Forecast by Tammy Plotner on Universe Today, http://www.universetoday.com/

If you are ready for a challenge why not try spotting 11.8 magnitude Comet Tritton! Now cruising through the constellation of Aries (RA 1h 53.5m Dec 17° 39'), this faint fuzzy won't be the easiest of targets to spot – but then it wouldn't be a challenge, would it? Comet 157P Tritton was discovered by Keith Tritton (U. K. Schmidt Telescope Unit, Coonabarabran) on February 11, 1978. Now, almost 32 years later to the date, it's back again on its every 6.33 year journey around our Sun. Although it won't reach perihelion (closest position to the sun) until February 20, its original estimated return brightness was only expected to reach magnitude 16 and now it is far exceeding expectations. Don't expect to see a flaming ball exhibiting a tail because that's not going to happen… but congratulate yourself if you can find this faint fuzzy in the sky.

Image credit: Universe Today

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29
Jan 10

Full Moon Experiment

If your skies are clear tonight, January 29, take advantage of one of the sky watching highlights of the year. A full Moon and Mars will be putting on a show, and the pair will be prominently close to each other in the sky. Plus, this Friday night's full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It's a "perigee Moon," as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than other full Moons you'll see later in 2010.

If you have a camera try taking a photo of this full moon and then the next couple of full moons (you’ll need to make sure you keep the camera “settings” the same each time); you should be able to see the difference in the “apparent” diameters .

For more information take a look here: www.universetoday.com/2010/01/28/

Image credit: Universe today - McDonald Observatory

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28
Jan 10

The Moon's Seas

A couple of days either side of the full moon is a good opportunity to try and take a look at all the moon’s seas or lunar maria. What you are looking at are, of course, not seas in the conventional sense of the word, they are in fact large, dark, basaltic plains. The plains are less reflective than the mountains or "highlands" as a result of their iron-rich compositions, and hence appear dark (and sea-like) to the naked eye.

With a pair of binoculars you should be able to see eleven Seas and one Ocean; you may also be able to spot a couple of the larger craters such as Tycho or Copernicus. Bon voyage!

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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27
Jan 10

Star Bright

In a previous posting we looked at the fact that not all stars are the same colour, this time we’ll take a look at their brightness. You will have noticed (I hope) that when looking at Orion, not all the stars are of the same brightness. Betelgeuse (top left) and Rigel (bottom right) are much brighter than the stars top right and bottom left which are in turn brighter than the three stars that make up the “belt”!

So, why are some brighter than others? Are they closer? Are they Bigger? Are they hotter? Are they all three? Take some time to think about it (and maybe look at some other stars) and we’ll talk about it in the next posting.

Image credit: Wikipedia - Mouser Williams

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22
Jan 10

Seeing Double

Find the constellation of The Plough (also known as the Big Dipper, the Saucepan or the Wagon depending on which country you are in) and take a look at the second star of the “handle” of the saucepan; you should be able to make out a second, fainter, “companion” star. The two stars are sometimes called the "Horse and Rider," in fact the ability to resolve the two stars with the naked eye is often quoted as a test of eyesight.

Many of the stars in the sky are in fact double stars (or even triple or quadruple stars), although not as easy to see as the example above. Many, however, can be seen in a small telescope or even in a pair of binoculars.

What is particularly interesting (and often quite spectacular) is the fact that many of the double stars are often two different colours, yellow and green, or orange and blue for example.

Here are a couple of double stars relatively easy to find.

The Pole star (Polaris) is a very easy double and can be seen in any small instrument
Rigel the bright star bottom right in the constellation of Orion is also easy

In another post we’ll look at some double stars a little more difficult to find, but when you find them or show them to others you will undoubtedly here “wow”!

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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18
Jan 10

Star colours

Did you get to take a look at the stars? Here's what you should have seen, Betelgeuse (top left of Orion) is a reddish star, Rigel (bottom right of Orion) is a bluish star, Aldeberan (found by the following the imaginary line through the "belt" upwards to the right) has a distinct orange tint to it and Sirius (found by the following the imaginary line through the "belt" downwards to the left) is white - yes there are white stars! There are also yellow stars, green stars and stars of almost all the colours of the rainbow!

So why are stars different colours? In short it's linked to their temperature, blue and white stars being extremely hot and red and orange being somewhat cooler, although still very hot!

If you would like to know more about the colours, temperatures and sizes of stars, take a look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star

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16
Jan 10

What's the colour of the stars?

If you asked someone what is the colour of the stars, they would probably say white; they wouldn't be completely wrong; however, not all stars are white.

Go and take a look at the stars we have been talking about in previous posts; Betelgeuse (top left of Orion), Rigel (bottom right of Orion), Aldeberan (found by the following the imaginary line through the "belt" upwards to the right) and Sirius (found by the following the imaginary line through the "belt" downwards to the left).

Take a good careful look at these stars and in a future post we'll talk about their colours!

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