Wandering through the realms of the cosmos, pondering its huge vastness

Constellations

Moon, Mars and Leo – Feb. 8, 2012

Mars in the eastern sky at 9:51 pm | Quezon City, Philippines

We were sitting on one of those weird benches surrounding the trees in the open-air space of UP-Ayala Technohub after having a rewarding dinner when I noticed a red-orange star in the eastern sky infront of us. My brain told me that, based on its brightness and location it had to be Mars.  It was hardly recognizable at first because the waxing gibbous moon was shining close to it. Moreover, we were situated in a very light-polluted area that my eyes were struggling to see those faint celestial objects near the horizon.

The red planet is back in the eastern sky at nightfall on these evenings. It is now in fact, one of the brightest “stars” (around -0.9 mag) in the night sky. It is growing even brighter and more prominent, especially towards the end of the month as it comes close to opposition to the Sun and its nearest pass to Earth.

Moon, Leo and Mars

Mars started to retrograde (move westward) toward the star Regulus in the constellation Leo last January 24. That happens whenever Earth is about to pass between the sun and Mars, which will happen on March 3, 2012. Mars has been brightening ever since retrograde motion began.

By the end of February, Mars will rise only 20 minutes after the Sun sets, so it will be easily seen by the time the sky darkens and will shine all-night long. By then Mars will have brightened to magnitude -1.2, nearly as bright as Sirius.


The Solitary Star

Fomalhaut, the Solitary star

Have you ever noticed the loneliest star?

Fomalhaut (or Alpha Piscis Austrini) is the brightest star in the faint constellation Piscis Austrinus – the Southern Fish – and the 17th or 18th brightest in the sky. It can be seen low in the southern sky during these evenings.

Fomalhaut, sometimes called the Autumn Star, appears in a part of the sky that is largely empty of bright stars. For this reason, it is also often called the Lonely One or Solitary One.

But, it’s been less lonely since the discovery of its planet ‘Fomalhaut b’ in 2008. Fomalhaut b – the first extrasolar planet to be imaged at visible wavelengths – orbits the loneliest star.

Fomalhaut is also one of the first known to have a disk of dust around it, a sign that more planets might be forming there.

Image taken last October 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm.


Triangles of the Night Sky

Here are images of the two famous triangles of the night sky — the Summer Triangle and the Winter Triangle — that I took last October.

Winter Triangle - October 5, 2011 3:42 am. This triangle is formed by the three first magnitude stars Sirius in Canis Major, Procyon in Canis Minor, and Betelgeuse in Orion. This shape is a nearly perfect equilateral triangle.

Summer Triangle - October 4, 2011 11:00 pm. This asterism sets in the west shortly after sunset around now. It consists of three bright stars: Vega in the constellation Lyra, Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, and Altair in the constellation Aquila.

These two serve as a stellar calendar, marking the seasons.

The Summer Triangle is the signature star formation of summer. Likewise, the Winter Triangle is a landmark of the winter night sky.

Though December is just around the corner, the Summer Triangle still lights up these autumn evenings. It will continue to shine after dark throughout December and January.

Meanwhile, as the Summer Triangle descends in the west around mid-evening, the Winter Triangle can be seen rising in the east.

Isn’t it amazing that these stars that make up these celestial triangles just happen to be positioned the way they are in the night sky? :)

Both photos were taken from our suburban place in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. 


Bye bye, Mr. Teapot

Sagittarius (plus a faint apparition of the Milky Way?) over our local suburb. Click on image to enlarge.

 As summer time has already ended, the constellation Sagittarius, along with the other Summer constellations sets earlier during the month of October.

Sagittarius is believed to have originated with the Babylonians. He was their god of War, and he stands with his bow aimed at the heart of Scorpius, the scorpion. Like Centaurus, he is a half man, half beast creature.

We in modern times may not be able to imagine the stars of Sagittarius as a Centaur. Instead, many stargazers know the stars of Sagittarius as a “Teapot”. This asterism is really easy to recognize.

Sagittarius is an important constellation in that it marks the direction of the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. It also contains more Messier objects than any other constellation in the sky.

Earlier this evening, I took the chance to take an image of the “Teapot” before it disappears in the night sky. I was also planning to image Scorpius but it was already too low in the south west. As I looked at the image more closely, I began to noticed something interesting. On the right (just above its lid), there is a faint cloud-like patch that resembles the Milky Way. I got surprised. :)

Could it be really possible to see a faint apparition of the Milky Way in this light-polluted suburb?

Perhaps, yes.


Orion, Jupiter and the Pleiades

This morning, I went outside again at around 4:30 AM to check the sky condition. I’ve been doing this for about a couple of days now in hopes of  seeing a clear sky despite the continuous rains over the past few weeks.

It’s really creepy out there — wind’s blowing strong & it’s totally dark! But thank God it wasn’t too cloudy and I was able to do some timelapse photography just before the stars start fading away against the blue sky at dawn.

An image of the constellation Orion [The Hunter] as it marched through the zenith at 5:21 AM local time, 2 October 2011 (SJDM, Bulacan)

The planet Jupiter & the star cluster M45 (Pleiades) separated by about 20 degrees in the western sky at 5:02 AM, 2 October 2011  (SJDM, Bulacan)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the coming weeks. :) Clear skies!


Happy Birthday Neptune!

On Tuesday, July 12, 2011, the planet Neptune will complete its first revolution around the sun since its discovery on September 23, 1846. As it takes Neptune 164.79 Earth-years to go full circle through the constellations of the Zodiac, it is only now completing its first full orbit since its detection by humans. Hence the anniversary celebration.

Neptune, the 8th planet outward from the sun, is presently the most distant planet in the solar system. That’s because the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a “dwarf planet” in 2006. By the way, Neptune circles the sun three times for every two times that Pluto does.

There is much to commemorate – Neptune’s discovery marked a turning point in astronomy. Its existence was revealed, not through a serendipitous observation by an astronomer but by the careful work of mathematicians. They calculated that perturbations in the orbit of Uranus, then thought to be the sun’s most distant planet, could only be explained by the existence of another, even remoter world whose gravity was affecting Uranus’s path.

The mathematicians – Englishman John Adams and Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier – made their calculations separately. Both agreed, however, where in the sky astronomers would pinpoint the planet causing those perturbations. But they dealt with the information very differently, says historian Allan Chapman of Wadham College, Oxford.

As Neptune is too faint to be seen by the naked eye,  a pair of binoculars or a telescope is needed to view this world if you know where to look.   This  detailed sky chart will help you to find Neptune’s place in the sky — it will be located in Aquarius, the constellation where astronomers discovered the blue planet.

Next month Neptune reaches opposition and is a decent target for observers.

Happy Birthday, Neptune!  :)


Night Sky Gazing in June

In the Philippines, the rainy season usually starts in the month of June and runs through about November. During this period,  thunderstorms and typhoons which generally affect a wide area (sometimes half of the archipelago) are common. In fact, only this June three typhoons (namely Dodong, Egay and Falcon) have already visited the country along with heavy rains.

Clear skies were seldom visible for most of the month of June was so stormy. Hence, having an opportunity to spot this season’s prominent constellations during clear nights was  really a blessing to an amateur astronomer like me. :)

The sky was moonless on the first week of June. So I took this chance to set up the tripod and the Panasonic Lumix digital camera to get nice constellations images. Thanks to Aaron Misayah for loaning his camera to me. :)

The  Lumix camera features a ‘starry night’ scene mode — a setting which allows you to capture long exposures, with 15, 30, and 60 second shutter speed options. I selected the 60 sec exposure and point to regions of some of my favorite constellations.

Note that the Lumix didn’t have ISO control when in starry night mode. If I set the camera to manual mode (where I do have access to the ISO settings), I don’t have access to the exposure time.  The longest exposure time I have in manual mode is 1/8 seconds. But after I looked at the pictures in manual mode (ISO 1600, 1/8 seconds exposure), I notice that there are a lot of noise.  I think they’re trying to hide the fact that the Lumix is very noisy in high ISO mode so they made it not selectable when you’re using long exposures.

Anyway, below are some of the photos I took from our residential area in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. I used Photoshop to add the constellation lines.

1 June 2011
camera settings: 6mm, f/2.8, 60 sec. exposure time, ISO-80

Bootes - 12:01 AM 
northwestern sky

Scorpius – 12:30 AM

Zooming into the photo above will reveal vertical streaks (not the star trails). These unnecessary streaks have occurred because I forgot to use the self timer on the camera for this shot. By clicking on the shutter button, even a slight vibration from the finger would create blur on the picture, even when you are using a tripod.

5 June 2011
camera settings: 6mm, f/2.8, 60 sec. exposure time, ISO-80

Leo and Leo Minor – 9:23 PM
Corvus – 9:27 PM
Big Dipper – 9:54 PM

By the way, I am living from a suburban site. The limiting magnitude for such a location is frequently close to 4 . This means that the apparent magnitude of the faintest star that could  be visible to the unaided eye is about magnitude 4.

The original images were a bit darker but I increased the brightness and contrast in the post processing to find out the dimmest star recorded. I found that every star that was visible with the naked eye was in the image, which is good! The results of each shot have actually far exceeded my expectations.  I never thought that a little humble compact camera could go a long way.

I have also tried using this camera in shooting landscape and scenery pictures and it also produced good results. Click here to see my previous post about it.  At about 30-45 minutes after the sunset, the sky is not completely dark yet, but the colour appears to be more intense with traces of natural light still available. It would also be nice to take sky photos during this time.

Perhaps, this could be an interesting camera at a truly dark sky site. I have yet to try that when I still have the opportunity. :)

Clear skies!


Skywatching Highlights: April 2011

This month’s highlights:

  • Saturn in the evening sky
  • The 2011 Lyrid Meteor Shower
  • Four Planets and a Crescent Moon in the morning sky
Date Event Time (in PHT, UT+8)
3 New Moon 22:30
5 Saturn at Opposition 

– The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons.

09:50
6 Jupiter in conjunction with the Sun 23:00
10 Mercury in inferior conjunction 04:00
11 First Quarter Moon 20:05
17 Moon at perigee (nearest distance to Earth) 14:00
18 Full Moon 10:45
21-22 Lyrid Meteor Shower* 

– The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. This year, the gibbous moon will hide most of the fainter meteors in its glare. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight, and be sure to find a dark viewing location far from city lights.

22 Mercury-Venus-Mars-Jupiter visual alignment 

– Visible from April 25 to May 30

dawn
23 Venus at Uranus at minimum separation (0.9 degrees) dusk
25 Last Quarter Moon 10:45
27 Neptune 6 degrees south of the Moon 21:00
29 Four Planets and Crescent Moon in the morning sky 

– On the last two mornings of the month, given a clear low eastern horizon, there will be four planets and a thin crescent Moon visible just above.   You will need binoculars, so cease looking when the Sun has risen.

dawn
31 Moon at apogee (farthest distance to Earth) 02:00

*Check out the following links for more info:

Lyrids Quick Facts:

The red dot shows the "radiant" for the Lyrid meteor shower. The radiant is the spot in the sky that the meteors seem to fan out from. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Lyrid meteor streaks | Image credit: Wally Pacholka

A video guide on finding the constellation Lyra:

HubbleSite – Tonight’s Sky: April 2011

 

Clear skies to all and happy observing! :)

 

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References:


Waxing Gibbous Moon in the Winter Hexagon

 

Moon and the Winter Hexagon directly above at 9 PM local time

Tonight’s waxing gibbous moon resides inside the Winter Circle – an incredibly large star configuration made of six brilliant winter stars.  Be sure to notice the variety in the colors of these stars.

The Winter Circle – sometimes called the Winter Hexagon – is not one of the 88 recognized constellations. Rather, it’s an asterism – a pattern of stars that’s fairly easy to recognize. Our sky chart cannot adequately convey the Winter Circle’s humongous size! It dwarfs the constellation Orion the Hunter, which is a rather large constellation, occupying the southwestern part of the Winter Circle pattern.

Clear skies!

 

reference: EarthSky.org


Moon and the Winter Constellations

Tonight’s sky (January 17, 2011) —- Find the waxing gibbous Moon (96% illuminated) surrounded by the stars of the bright Winter Constellations (Auriga, Taurus, Orion, Canis Minor, Canis Major, and Gemini). This beautiful celestial view will climb up to the zenith at around 10 PM local time.

Image: Stellarium (You may download this free planetarium software here.)

Clear skies!


Ophiuchus — A New Zodiac Sign???

Hey, have you checked your daily horoscope? :D

Well, think again because you might be surprised to learn that you are no longer a Gemini, an Aquarian or whatever you call yourself as an individual who is under one particular sign of the zodiac based on Astrology.

Please don’t get me wrong. I haven’t convinced myself to shift my interest in astronomy into studying and forecasting the future of people according to stellar and planetary movements.

Though they may sound the same, Astrology and Astronomy are pretty much different from each other. “Astronomy deals with the study of celestial objects (such as stars, planets, comets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies) and phenomena that originate outside the Earth’s atmosphere (such as the cosmic background radiation). Astrology on one hand, are set of beliefs and traditions which hold that the relative positions of celestial bodies and related details can provide information about personality, human affairs and other “earthly” matters”.” (Wikipedia)

I was just overwhelmed to see how this news about the “new zodiac sign” - which was supposedly not news anymore especially to astronomy buffs – spread like wildfire all over local television and the Internet. Below are some of the links I found which contained the topic.

Yahoo News: Earth’s rotation causes new zodiac sign assignments

Yahoo News: Horoscope Hang-Up: Earth Rotation Changes Zodiac Signs

ABS-CBN News: What’s your sign? Double-check ‘new’ zodiac before answering

A Pakistan Times: New Zodiac Signs 2011

CBS News: Zodiac: What’s Your New Sign?

NewsTube: New Zodiac sign dates: Don’t switch horoscopes yet

There are a lot more of these that you could find online. According to these news, a certain Parke Kunkle of the Minnesota Planetarium Society said that because of the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth, the alignment of the stars was pushed by about a month which prompted new consideration of a new sign — Ophiuchus —  into standard zodiacs.

“Astronomers from the Minnesota Planetarium Society have found that the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth changed our planet’s position in relation to its axis, making the original alignment of the stars, the basis for the zodiac signs, “off” by about a month. Thus, a thirteenth zodiac sign, Ophiuchus, was added to the original 12.” (Yahoo News)

Precession—the change in orientation of the Earth's rotational axis. (Source: NASA)

Read more about precession and its effects here.

If you’re gonna ask me whether this is true or not, I would definitely say yes, it is true. But here’s the catch: this truth has been established a long time ago and in fact, there’s really nothing new about it.

The constellation Ophiuchus

Ophiuchus was recognised as a part of the zodiac by the  International Astronomical Union in 1930, during the time when IAU set the official constellation boundaries. Each constellation was published as a set of specifications that reads like a surveyor’s plot of irregular parcels of land. The redrawing of the boundaries is what caused this addition of a constellation to the Zodiac.

However, the fact is that Ophiuchus was recognized as a zodiacal constellation at least 1700 years before the IAU even came into existence. Even Ptolemy’s “Almagest”, written in the 2nd century A.D., recognised Ophiuchus as a part of the zodiac.

The Zodiac, the constellations that lie on the plane of the ecliptic through which the Sun passes in the course of a year, now has 13 constellations* - not 12 - including Ophiuchus or “the Serpent Bearer”. The Sun is in front of its stars during the first half of December and as it turns out, most Sagittarians are really Ophiuchans.

*Note: The signs are named after twelve of the constellations that coincide with the ecliptic, though they no longer correspond well to them due to precession. The zodiac is a celestial coordinate system, or more specifically an ecliptic coordinate system, taking the ecliptic as the origin of latitude, and the position of the sun at vernal equinox as the origin of longitude.

Below is a list of constellations and the dates the Sun now appears in front of those stars in the 21st century.

Constellations of the Zodiac (Google Images)

SAGITTARIUS December 19 – January 20
CAPRICORNUS January 21 – February 16
AQUARIUS February 17 – March 13
PISCES March 14 – April 19
ARIES April 20 – May 15
TAURUS May 16 – June 21
GEMINI June 22 – July 21
CANCER July 22 – August 10
LEO August 11 – September 17
VIRGO September 18 – October 31
LIBRA November 1 – November 24
SCORPIUS November 25 – November 30
OPHIUCHUS December 1 – December 18

So why do we have a new astrological sign, Ophiuchus? It turns out that the answer is far less scientific.  Back in ancient times, when the dates of the astrological signs were solidified, astrologers divided the sun’s path through the stars into twelve equally-spaced segments.  Each of the twelve segments was assigned to a different constellation.  But the fact of the matter is that these constellations are not equally sized.  In fact, the “size” of a constellation isn’t even very well defined, since what is a constellation but a set of stars that’s supposed to look like something (but usually doesn’t really). As I what I have written above, It was only then in 1930 that these constellation boundaries were made specific.

Going back to those articles, I found out that Parke Kunkle is indeed a professional astronomer, a Minneapolis professor and MnPS board member. He was first interviewed by the Star Tribune regarding this topic on the additional zodiacal constellation. Here is the link to the original article. However, contrary to what it appears like, this guy is a no fanatic of Astrology.

“There is no physical connection between constellations and personality traits,” said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. “Sure, we can connect harvest to the stars,” he said. “But personality? No.”

Historically, people looked at the sky to understand the world around us,” he said. “But today I don’t think people who are into astrology look at the sky very much.” (startribune.com)

I also got to find this part of a note from the Facebook Fanpage of Minnesota Planetarium Society which contained his statement about the spreading of this news:

In science we deal with a long tradition of fact based investigation. We are not in the business of interpreting  the purported relation between the positions of planets and human affairs.”

From this I could say that this particular issue must have been another product of biased reporting and sensationalism caused and spread by improper media coverage. Complex subjects and affairs like this one, are often subject to sensationalism.

Anyway, If you happen to be a proud Ophiuchan, your constellation has several astronomical splendor that actually exist in the sky. First of all it contains seven Messier globular clusters- M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62 and M107- making Ophiuchus pretty much a good spot for globular clusters. Also, NGC 6240, the strange remnant of a merger between two smaller galaxies, resulting in a single larger galaxy, with two distinct nuclei and a highly disturbed structure. The high proper motion star and one of the closest stars to the Sun, Barnard’s Star can be found in Ophiuchus, as well as RS Ophiuchi, a recurrent nova thought to be teetering on the brink of becoming a Type 1A supernova.

It’s fun to learn the meaning and the legends behind all the astronomical names, made up by people thousands of years ago as they looked to the sky in amazement at celestial patterns and motions they didn’t understand.  But it’s a lot more fun to observe the heavens through the eyes of a 21st century critically thinking human being, capable of understanding to a great extent, the origin, history and fate of our universe. The universe is beautiful, amazing and mysterious without the mumbo-jumbo. :D

 


2011 Skywatching Highlights

2011 promises to be a  great year for astronomy enthusiasts as it was filled with several upcoming spectacular lunar and solar eclipses, beautiful planetary conjunctions, celestial groupings and of course, annual meteor showers.

What excites me most about this year is that all of Asia including the Philippines —  where I live — will be able to see all of the eclipse phases of a Total Lunar Eclipse on December 10, 2011, including a “Reddish Moon” during the peak stage. :) Such is truly a rare event to witness, but how rare is that? Well, according to what I found during my online research, I think the last total lunar eclipse that was visible from the Philippines occurred during the 1980s. I wasn’t even alive then.

Anyway, below is a list of astronomical events for this year (arranged according to date) to serve as a guide on your skygazing and give you a preview on your 2011 cosmic journey.

January 3 – 4 Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks The Quadrantids are an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower usually peaks on January 3 & 4, but some meteors can be visible from January 1 – 5. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation Bootes.
January 4 Partial Solar Eclipse The partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of northern Africa, Europe, and Asia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
January 10 Crescent Moon and Jupiter approximately 10 degrees apart.
March 20 Equinox The March Equinox occurs at 23:21 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the southern hemisphere.
April 3 Saturn at Opposition
April 22 -23 Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. This year, the gibbous moon will hide most of the fainter meteors in its glare. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight, and be sure to find a dark viewing location far from city lights.
May 5 – 6 Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower peaks Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids are a light shower, usually producing about 10 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on May 5 & 6, however viewing should be good on any morning from May 4 – 7. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.
March 15 Mars-Jupiter Conjunction Like two ships passing in the twilight, Mercury and Jupiter come within 2 degrees of each other this evening. For comparison, your fist held at arm’s length covers about 10 degrees of arc in the night sky.Jupiter will be heading toward the sun, while Mercury is moving away from the sun during this time. Immediately after sunset, concentrate on that part of the sky just above and to the left of where the sun has just set. Using binoculars, sweep around this part of the sky to see bright Jupiter sitting just below and to the left of the harder-to-spot Mercury.
May 11 (all month long) Four of the five naked-eye planets will crowd together into what could be described as a Great Celestial Summit Meeting.Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are contained within a 10-degree span on May 1, shrinking to a minimum of less than 6 degrees on May 12, then opening back up to 10 degrees on May 20.Twice during May, three planets close to within nearly 2 degrees of each other: Mercury-Venus-Jupiter (on May 11-12) and Mercury-Venus-Mars (May 21).  And the crescent moon joins the array on May 1 and again on May 30-31.
June 1 Partial Solar Eclipse The partial eclipse will be visible in most parts eastern Asia, Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
June 15 Total Lunar Eclipse The eclipse will be visible throughout most of South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.(NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
June 21June 23- 27 June SolsticeOccurs at 17:16 UTC. The North Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. This is the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the southern hemisphere.Pluto+Charon+Hydra occultation by 2 bright starsRead more …Link 1Link 2, Link 3
July 1 Partial Solar EclipseThis partial eclipse will only be visible off the coast of Antarctica. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
July 28 -29 Southern Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower The Delta Aquarids can produce about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower usually peaks on July 28 & 29, but some meteors can also be seen from July 18 – August 18. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. This year the thin, crescent moon will be hanging around for the show, but it shouldn’t cause too many problems. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location.
August 12 -13 Perseid Meteor Shower The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on August 13 & 14, but you may be able to see some meteors any time from July 23 – August 22. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Perseus. Look to the northeast after midnight.
August 22 Neptune at Opposition The blue planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view Neptune, although it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
September 23 Equinox The September equinox occurs at 09:05 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the southern hemisphere.
September 25 Uranus at Opposition The blue-green planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view Uranus, although it will only appear as a tiny blue-green dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
October 8 Draconid Meteor Shower Many meteor experts are predicting a good chance that an outburst of up to many hundreds of Draconid meteors will take place. Unfortunately, like the Perseids, a bright moon could severely hamper visibility.  The peak of the display is due sometime between 16h and 21h UT, meaning that the best chances of seeing any enhanced activity from these very slow-moving meteors would be from Eastern Europe and Asia.
November 10 Mars and bright star A colorful conjunction takes place high in the predawn sky between the yellow-orange Mars and the bluish-white star Regulus in Leo, the Lion.  They are separated by 1.3 degrees, but they’ll be within 2 degrees of each other for five days and within 5 degrees of each other for nearly three weeks, so they will be a rather long-enduring feature of the mid-autumn morning sky.
October 21-22 Orionids Meteor Shower The Orionids is an average shower producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. This shower usually peaks on the 21st, but it is highly irregular. A good show could be experienced on any morning from October 20 – 24, and some meteors may be seen any time from October 17 – 25. Best viewing will be to the east after midnight.
October 29 Jupiter at Opposition The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons.
November 17 -18 Leonids Meteor Shower The Leonids is one of the better meteor showers to observe, producing an average of 40 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower itself has a cyclic peak year every 33 years where hundreds of meteors can be seen each hour. The last of these occurred in 2001. The shower usually peaks on November 17 & 18, but you may see some meteors from November 13 – 20. Look for the shower radiating from the constellation Leo after midnight.
November 25 Partial Solar Eclipse This partial eclipse will only be visible over Antarctica and parts of South Africa and Tasmania. (NASA Map and Eclipse InformationNASA Eclipse Animation)
December 10 Total Lunar Eclipse The eclipse will be visible throughout most of Europe, eastern Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific Ocean, and the North America. ((NASA Eclipse Information)
December 13 – 14 Geminids Meteor Shower Considered by many to be the best meteor shower in the heavens, the Geminids are known for producing up to 60 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak. The peak of the shower usually occurs around December 13 & 14, although some meteors should be visible from December 6 – 19. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Gemini. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.
December 21 December Solstice The December solstice occurs 05:30 UTC. The South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the southern hemisphere.


Clear skies and happy skygazing! :)

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Sources:

SPACE.com – Solar Eclipse and Meteor Shower to Launch 2011 Skywatching Season

AstronomyOnline.org — Dates for conjunctions, eclipses, meteor showers and transits

Astronomical Almanac Online


Skygazing – Dec. 15, 2010

In hopes of observing the Geminids again, I stayed over at a friend and fellow U.P. AstroSoc member’s house which has a roof deck in Marikina City.

As soon as we were at the roof deck, we immediately looked for the constellation Gemini. Even though the eastern sky was partly covered by thin, hazy clouds and the waxing gibbous Moon shone bright in the night, we were still able to find the stars of Gemini along with the stars of neighboring constellations. My friend, Bea who had her Canon 400D DSLR with her, began taking images of the night sky. You may click on the images to see a higher resolution.

 

Auriga and Gemini at 10:17 PM (PST) Yellow lines indicate the radiant of the Geminid Meteor Shower

Auriga and Perseus at 10:38 PM (PST)

In the northwest, our attention was also caught by the stunning Cassiopeia which was in a slanted “M” position above a dormitory building.

 

Cassiopeia at 11:05 PM (PST)

We scanned the rest of the sky for several more minutes and found not a single meteor. About half an hour later, we noticed that the cloud cover was getting worse and it was getting too cold outside. As we were starting to pack up and go inside the house, a lunar corona formed around the setting Moon.

 

Lunar Corona - Dec. 15, 2010

According to Atmospheric Optics site, a corona may be seen when thin clouds partially veil the sun or moon. They are produced by the diffraction of light by tiny cloud droplets or sometimes small ice crystals.

The night sky is really full of surprises. :D

Clear skies, everyone!


Leonids Observation and Catching Venus in the Predawn Sky

Due to a busy schedule, I was not able to observe the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower last Nov. 17 to 18. According to Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the best time to look for these fast moving meteors would be  around two to three hours before dawn when the waxing gibbous Moon has already set and the constellation Leo is  high in the Eastern sky.

I planned on observing the following night. However, I realized that aside from missing the peak of the meteor shower, I would probably have less chances to see the Leonids because the light from the nearly full Moon will wash out the fainter meteors. The angular difference of the plane of revolution of Earth around the Sun and that of the Moon around the Earth causes the Moon to rise and set about 50 minutes later each successive night, so I would have an even smaller chance of seeing a meteor every night I wait after the peak.

Nevertheless, because of my eagerness and keen determination to see even a single Leonid, I tried my luck during the night of Nov. 19-20. :)

Together with some friends and fellow orgmates, we drove home to Marikina City at around 2am. While on the way, I noticed the Moon shining brightly in the west. Jupiter was nowhere to be found as it has set earlier along with Uranus.

After arriving at my friend’s house, I immediately told her of my plan and we prepared to set up at the topmost part of the house. It was cold and a bit foggy outside during that time. We took a sleeping bag with us so we could lie down on the floor of the roof deck as we watch for meteors. Unfortunately, the floor was already wet – probably because of the dew – when we climbed upstairs. So instead, we spread out the sleeping bag across the roof just below the topmost deck and began our quest for that night. Below us, all the little houses and buildings stood silent as the little spots of light coming from the street lamps appeared to twinkle just like the stars above us.

We found the very conspicuous Leo, the constellation where the meteors seem to radiate from, lying high in the northeastern sky. As we started out to look for zooming meteors from other parts of the sky, we were stunned by the total beauty of the night sky surrounding us. Luna was already low and obstructed by a building to the west, which allowed the stars of the bright constellations to shine brightly against the dark sky. In the west, the Winter Triangle – which is composed of red Betelgeuse of the mighty Orion, Procyon of Canis Minor and Sirius of Canis Major – stood out together with Castor and Pollux of Gemini, Aldebaran of Taurus, Capella of Auriga, Mirphak of Perseus and Arneb of Lepus. Of course, the heavenly sisters, Pleiades and Hyades, could be easily noticed as well. In the south, bright Canopus greeted us with the other stars of the former Argo Navis. Looking northwards, I  was surprised to see the famous seven stars comprising the Big Dipper in Ursa Major again. It has been a long time since this asterism, which serves as a guide in finding the North Star, became visible once again. The eastern horizon was practically covered with dark, low-lying clouds so it remained blank for a few hours.

After several minutes of searching the sky, I saw my very first Leonid – a swift yellow meteor with a long trail. :D As I traced back its path, it appeared to have come from the sickle of Leo which confirmed that it was indeed a Leonid! After that I saw 7 more meteors, 3 of which were big yellowish-orange with long trails. We were so astounded by their beauty that we screamed with delight every time we saw one. The best one I saw was very bright with a long, lingering, smoky tail behind it which lasted for about 5 seconds.

Meanwhile, we also saw several artificial satellites moving across the northwestern sky from 4am-5am.

At about 5:15 am, we decided to end our meteor counting and go inside because it’s getting too cold and our sleeping bag was already wet due to the morning dew. But before we went downstairs, we noticed this very bright apparition in the eastern sky. At first, we thought it was an airplane because of its intense luminosity. However, we noticed that it wasn’t moving at all. I thought that maybe it was another celestial object. Was it a big meteor that was about to hit Earth or a UFO? Or, was it a star that had just risen? I know that there’s only one celestial object that could shine that bright then – the planet Venus. After undergoing inferior conjunction with the Sun, Venus was now back to being a morning star. However, I wondered why we didn’t see it rising. I suddenly recalled that maybe it was covered by the thick clouds in the east that we saw a while ago as it rose up in the horizon.

Upon checking Stellarium, I realized that Venus was also perfectly placed near Saturn and the star Spica of Virgo then. My friend, Bea, had her Canon 400D DSLR camera with her that time so we decided to capture this remarkable view at that moment.

Venus, Spica, Saturn and Arcturus at 5:24 am PST – Click on image to enlarge.
Venus and Spica close up

Though I caught a cold, got no sleep, and had itchy mosquito bites all over my arms and feet during this observation (such is the life of an amateur astronomer, ha ha), seeing all those beautiful sights of the heavens would always be more than enough for me to go to great heights for astronomy and continue on this passion of exploring the cosmos and sharing it to everyone . :)

“For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.” – John Calvin


The Sky at Night from Bohol, Philippines

As what I have written in a previous post, I love the month of October when it comes to skygazing :D It is mainly because during this month, my favorite Orion Constellation family starts become prominent in the evening sky, and the sky is fairly clear. However, several typhoons hit the northern part of the Philippines — where I reside — during last month. It even rained during the peak of the famous Orionid Meteor Shower that most people where not able to observe it. Global Warming and Climate Change might have really changed today’s weather patterns. :(

Good thing, a friend was able to go to a beautiful island located in the southern part of the country and he shared his experience of seeing the stunning view of the starry sky there.

Bohol is one of the most popular tourist destination in the Philippines with its nice beaches and numerous attractions like The Chocolate Hills, The Philippines Tarsier, a number of very old churches (dating back to the early years of the Spanish colonization), historical monuments, caves, waterfalls, and more. But apart from these, what I personally love most about this place is its nice beautiful night sky (which I have just seen through photographs :P). I would definitely like to visit this place soon.

Panglao Island, where my friend Andre Obidos stayed, is located just southwest of the capital, Tagbilaran City.

 

Andre preparing his camera set up during dusk.*

Unlike in Manila, the sky in Bohol is so much less light polluted and very ideal for skygazing. Moreover, the rain clouds from the typhoon which raged the country for weeks did not reached this part.

Andre took a lot of images of the night sky from there and with his permission, I compiled some of the best shots which were taken during the night of Oct. 20 and 22, 2010 into a slideshow below.

Enjoy! :)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Camera used: Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

 

 

===========================

*image courtesy of Rebecca Obidos


October 2010 Night Sky Guide

 

October is my favorite month when it comes to sky gazing :D My favorite constellation, Orion, starts become visible again during this time of the year.

Also, the famous Orionids – which I consider as one of the best meteor showers because of the high chance of “fireballs” lighting up the sky during this shower – make their appearance during this month.

Aside from these, the night sky is usually clear during October. Rain is infrequent and nights become longer and colder. As soon as early evening comes, the stars of different noticeable colors fill the sky like scattered jewels. Sagittarius, Scorpius and Corona Australis in the southwest, Bootes in the west, the royal family of Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Andromeda with winged-horse Pegasus on the northeast, and the very prominent Summer Triangle up high, fill up the sky dome. As the evening wears on, more and more interesting constellations also show themselves like the Charioteer Auriga beside Taurus which contain the spectacular open star clusters, Hyades (the V-shaped one) and Pleiades (the rosary-like group).

So there. :) I hope I have somewhat convinced you why I love this month. If you’re interested to do your own skygazing at your own backyards, I have compiled here a list of other special astronomical highlights for October 2010 as a guide in observing the night sky and to encourage more people to look up and appreciate the awesome sky display this season.

All dates are set for Philippine sky observers. (Note: PST is equivalent to UTC+8)

 

This month’s observing highlights:

Oct 7-8 : Draconids Meteor Shower (Expect a peak rate of 10 meteors per hour under clear, moonless conditions.)

The Draconids will start on October 6th and will continue until October 10th, when the Earth passes through the dust from the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

Although this particular meteor shower may not present a lot of meteor activity this year, it has been known to produce hundreds of meteors in an hour at times.

We are  in luck with the Draconids meteor shower this year for the new moon is scheduled for October 7, promising darkened conditions for easy observation. One of the best parts is that activity occurs earlier in the evening, so no one has to stay up till after midnight to catch a glimpse or obtain a full view, of the meteor shower.

Some people had reported to have seen 2 or more meteors during early this month in the northwestern direction around 6:30 – 7:00 PM.

Try to find these yellowish, slow-moving meteors around your area, too. Use the picture as a guide to locate the radiant point of the Draconid meteor shower which almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon, in the northern sky.

phtoto credit: meteorblog.com

 

Oct 6-9 : Comet Hartley 2 (officially designated 103P/Hartley) which is said to be the brightest comet this year, will be near the double cluster in Perseus.

Comet Hartley is expected to reach magnitude 5 during month. It is said to be large and diffuse, meaning its light is spread out over a wide area. You will definitely need a dark  sky – free of city lights – to see it. Also, when searching for the comet, remember to use averted vision. That’s the technique of looking to one side of the faint object you seek on the sky’s dome, instead of directly at it. Through binoculars, it should look like a smudge of light, like a faint, fuzzy green star against the dark sky background.

To find the comet near the the double cluster in Perseus, first find the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen, that is shaped like the letter M or W. Draw an imaginary line downward through the Navi (Gamma Cassiopeiae) and Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopeiae) just like the one shown below. It will point to the double cluster and Comet Hartley will be just within its vicinity.


Guide to finding Comet Hartley during early October

 

Comet Hartley 2′s path as shown against the background of constellations (click to enlarge view)

 

Oct 10 : Moon – Venus Conjunction

The Waxing Crescent Moon and Venus are both very close to the southwestern horizon at sunset.

Oct 11 : Moon near red Antares in Scorpius

Oct 20: Comet Hartley 2 will make its closest approach to Earth.

For a few days around October 20, the comet should be bright enough to view with the naked eye in the early morning sky. Look to the east just before sunrise.

This comet will be near the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga. Capella is about 30 degrees above the northeastern horizon at 11 PM (PST) on this date.

Oct 20 : Waning Gibbous Moon – Jupiter Conjunction

These two will be less than 10 degrees apart. Check the eastern sky after sunset.

Oct 21-22 : Orionids Meteor Shower peaks

The Orionids is an average shower producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. Best viewing will be to the east after midnight. The radiant of the shower will be observed north of Betelgeuse, the brightest star in the constellation Orion, the Mighty Hunter.

Oct 26 : Moon in between Pleiades and the star Aldebaran in Taurus

 

* * * *

Planets

Mercury will be a “morning star” at the very beginning of the month, then will be too close to the Sun to observe for the rest of the month.

Venus sinks ever closer to the Sun as the month begins, making it very hard to observe in the Northern Hemisphere. Experienced observers with accurate setting circles or goto can follow it quite close to the Sun but should use extreme caution. The narrowing phase of Venus will be visible even in binoculars if you block the Sun with a rooftop or chimney. Inferior conjunction is on October 30.

Mars is pretty much lost in evening twilight.

Jupiter is just past opposition and visible most of the night, dominating the southern sky. It is in retrograde motion, so spends the first half of the month in the constellation Pisces, moving into Aquarius on October 15.

Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun on October 1, and reappears as a morning “star” late in the month. Its rings have now returned to their usual glory after being on edge for the last two years.

Uranus is in Pisces all month, and remains within a few degrees of Jupiter.

Neptune is visible most of the night in northeastern Capricornus.


* * * *

Moon Phases

October 7New Moon

October 15First Quarter Moon

October 23Full  Moon

The Full Moon of October is usually known as the Hunter’s Moon. This will spoil the Orionid meteors, which peak the night before.

October 30Last Quarter Moon

 

 

 

Clear skies and happy observing! :D

 

 

 


===========

In astronomical terms…

+ Conjunction – two celestial bodies appear near one another in the sky

+ Radiant – (meteor shower) is the point in the sky, from which (to a planetary observer) meteors appear to originate. An observer might see such a meteor anywhere in the sky but the direction of motion, when traced back, will point to the radiant. A meteor that does not point back to the known radiant for a given shower is known as a sporadic and is not considered part of that shower.

 

sources: SPACE.com, EarthSky.org

October 2010′s night sky :)Oct 7 : New Moon
Oct 7-8 : Draconids Meteor Shower (Expect a peak rate of 10 meteors per hour under clear, moonless conditions.)
Oct
6-9 : Comet Hartley 2 near the double cluster in Perseus [to locate
this, draw an imaginary line downward through the Navi (Gamma
Cassiopeiae) and Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopeiae)]
Oct 10 : Waxing Crescent Moon-Venus Conjunction (check western sky a few minutes after sunset)
Oct 11 : Moon near red Antares
Oct
20 : Comet Hartley 2 will make its closest approach to Earth ( For a
few days around October 20, the comet should be bright enough to view
with the naked eye in the early morning sky. Look to the east just
before sunrise)
Oct 20 : Waning Gibbous Moon – Jupiter Conjunction (check Eastern sky)
Oct
21-22 : Orionids Meteor Shower Peak (The Orionids is an average shower
producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. Best viewing will be
to the east after midnight.)
Oct 26 : Moon in between Pleiades and the star Aldebaran
Clear skies!=====
*conjunction – two celestial bodies appear near one another in the sky

October 2010′s night sky :)

Oct 7 : New Moon

Oct 7-8 : Draconids Meteor Shower (Expect a peak rate of 10 meteors per hour under clear, moonless conditions.)

Oct

… 6-9 : Comet Hartley 2 near the double cluster in Perseus [to locate

this, draw an imaginary line downward through the Navi (Gamma

Cassiopeiae) and Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopeiae)]

Oct 10 : Waxing Crescent Moon-Venus Conjunction (check western sky a few minutes after sunset)

Oct 11 : Moon near red Antares

Oct

20 : Comet Hartley 2 will make its closest approach to Earth ( For a

few days around October 20, the comet should be bright enough to view

with the naked eye in the early morning sky. Look to the east just

before sunrise)

Oct 20 : Waning Gibbous Moon – Jupiter Conjunction (check Eastern sky)

Oct

21-22 : Orionids Meteor Shower Peak (The Orionids is an average shower

producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. Best viewing will be

to the east after midnight.)

Oct 26 : Moon in between Pleiades and the star Aldebaran

Clear skies!

=====

*conjunction – two celestial bodies appear near one another in the sky


One September Night…

The month of September which was highlighted with rich planetary displays, the occurrence of  autumnal equinox and an international moon viewing event was just over. This also marked the change of seasons and the start of having longer nights.

In the Philippines, September is usually visited by several typhoons which means that most of the time, the sky is cloudy. If you live in the city where light pollution is more severe, your chances of having a clear sky with good viewing conditions also diminishes.

This is why, seeing the sky full of stars one clear September night was really a great blessing for us. Thank God there was fairly good view of the south and western sky where the nice crescent moon together with two of the most prominent zodiacal constellations, Scorpius and Sagittarius could be found then. The red star Antares, heart of Scorpius, was just a few degrees below the beautiful waxing crescent moon.

But not only Luna and these constellations were captured by the camera. Three deep-sky objects surprised us after giving the pictures a closer look! :D These objects were usually difficult to see without the aid of binoculars or telescopes.

Luna and Antares
The Crown, the Teapot and the Scorpion’s tail (click to view larger image)
M6, M7 and M8 near the Teapot
M6, M7 and M8 near the teapot
Luna behind the leaves
Bird’s beak moon? :)
Waxing Crescent Moon (enhanced in Registax v.5.1) Notice its craters near the terminator.

I wish the sky would always be like this :)

Thank you to Andre Obidos, a fellow amateur from the Philippines, who took these photos using Canon PowerShot SX 20.

Clear skies to all! :D


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