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

Astronomical Events

Venus, the Pleiades and Hyades

Image

Tonight, the planet Venus shining bright in the western sky appeared close to the dipper-shaped open star cluster, Pleiades.

Just above them was the V-shaped Hyades, another noticeable cluster. In mythology, the Hyades are the half sisters to the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas.

Image taken with Nikon D60 DSLR camera (24 mm, f/5.6, 20 sec. exp. at ISO 1250).

More photos below:

(From bottom to top) Jupiter, Venus, the Pleiades, and the Hyades.

The streak of light was an airplane which happen to pass in between Venus and the Pleiades while the shot was being taken

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March Equinox 2012

It’s equinox time again, and this year’s March equinox took place today at precisely 5:14 a.m. GMT, or Universal Time (13:14 in Manila). The March equinox was also known as the “spring equinox” in the northern hemisphere and “autumnal (fall) equinox” in the southern hemisphere as this event  marks the change of seasons — the beginning of spring in the northern part of the globe and autumn in the south.

During equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world. This is the reason it’s called an “equinox”, derived from Latin, meaning “equal night”.

However, even if this is widely accepted, it isn’t entirely true. In reality equinoxes don’t have exactly 12 hours of daylight. A good website for looking at sunrise and sunset times in Manila can be found here. The best one for checking the bearing (direction) of sunrise or sunset anywhere in the world is the US Naval Observatory.

A more appropriate way to define equinox is given by astronomers. According to its astronomical definition, an equinox is the moment when the sun arrives at one of two intersection points of the ecliptic, the sun’s path across the sky, and the celestial equator, earth’s equator projected onto the sky.

Image credit: Chris de Villiers (www.skywatch.co.za)

My plans today were to head on the top of a high place and catch the sun setting due west. Sadly, the weather was not very good and the visibility was terrible.

Had I been able to see the sun it would have set due west.

Everyone always says that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but if we were really aware of our surroundings and more attuned to the sky we would realize that this is not true. In fact this is only true for two days out of the entire year and those are during equinoxes.

By studying the sun’s position in the sky over the course of a year from the same location, one can notice that its rising and setting positions are changing by more at a particular time of year than at any other time.

The amount of change in the location of the rising and setting of the sun  throughout the year depends upon where your viewpoint is. However, irrespective of where you are on the globe, the Sun will always rise exactly east and set exactly west during equinoxes (on March 20/21 and September 20/21)

On the other hand, near the solstices the sunrise position slows its change to close to a ‘standstill’  (the name ‘solstice’ being derived from the Latin for ‘sun standing still’).

Path of the Sun in the sky at different times of the year. Image copyright: Addison-Wesley

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Seasons Without Borders: Equinox March 2012

swb_equinox_march2012

Wherever you are on 20 March, 2012, celebrate your season in the cycle of life with Astronomers Without Borders.  Enjoy your own unique Equinox this year—and why not tell others about the experience?  Being mindfully aware of your place on this moving Earth may bring out the storyteller and poet in you.  AWB invites you to share your event reports and poems at the AWB Members’ Blog and AWB Astropoetry Blog. Send your poems to: astropoetry@astronomerswithoutborders.org.


AWB’s Venus-Jupiter Conjunction Image Collection

Enjoy the beautiful views of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction as seen from various parts of the globe through Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) image collection.

Last March 13-15, a lot of amateur astronomers participated in AWB’s event, “Beauty Without Borders: Conjunction of Glory” which highlighted the closest encounter of Jupiter and Venus — the two brightest planets in the night sky.

Images were submitted to AWB by uploading the them in Twitter and using the hashtag #VenusJupiter. Two of my images got included in this collection as well. Thank you, AWB!

Under the motto “One People, One Sky”, AWB brings people together from around the world through our common interest in astronomy .

True enough, “the boundaries we place between us vanish when we look skyward.” 🙂


Closest Encounter of Venus and Jupiter in 2012

If you’ve been looking west after sunset recently you can’t have failed to see Venus blazing there so bright, outshining everything else in the sky. To Venus’ upper left is another bright” star”, which is actually another planet, Jupiter.

Jupiter and Venus - 8 degrees apart. Image captured 5 March 2012 at 6:45 pm.

These two bright planets visible in the night sky have been putting on quite a show this past month as they have been slowly getting closer together in the western sky just after sunset.

Next week, Venus and Jupiter will be MUCH closer than they are now. 🙂

On March 15, an impressive celestial show at twilight will surprise sky observers as these two planets reach what astronomers call conjunction – the closest they can appear in the sky together.

Getting closer - 5 degrees apart. Image taken 9 March 2012 at 6:24 pm.

The pair of planets will appear to be only 3 degrees apart in the western sky. That is equal to the width of your three middle fingers at arms’ length. Their proximity in the sky is an illusion, of course, as Venus is 180 million km away from Earth and Jupiter is more than 600 million km farther away.

After their mid March close encounter, the two planets will quickly go pass each other – Jupiter dropping down towards the horizon, getting closer to the Sun, while Venus moves higher up in the sky, moving away from the Sun, and brightening as it does so.

The next Venus-Jupiter conjunction after this one falls on May 28, 2013.

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Beauty Without Borders: Conjunction of Glory

13 – 15 March 2012

The Jupiter-Venus conjunction on March 15 will be quite a spectacle, as both planets are very bright. This will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often that you get the brightest planets in our Solar System so close together.

In line with this, Astronomers Without Borders (AWB), in collaboration with Amateur Astronomers Association of Kurdistan & Opportunity Astronomical Observatory (Iraq), presents “Beauty without Borders: Conjunction of Glory”.

All the amateur/professional groups out there are invited to participate and enjoy the beautiful views.

Participate by hold an observing night with your local astronomy group or do a backyard astronomy session with your family and friend. Take your scope to the street for a “guerilla-astronomy” session.

Connect:
Join the conversation on Twitter @awb_org using #VenusJupiter with other groups around the world. Post your images on our Flickr or Facebook page.

Chat by NASA on 25 March 2012

Join and share with your friends!

Clear skies!

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Here is a video from Newsy.com to help you know more about this event: http://www.newsy.com/videos/venus-and-jupiter-set-for-cosmic-meetup/


AWB March 2012 Events

Global Astronomy Month 2012 (www.gam-awb.org) is merely a month away. Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) has organized three exciting events in March to do the warm-ups!

Spread the word and join in.

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“Hello Red Planet”

3-5 March 2012

Mars will come into Opposition on March 3, 2012 in the constellation Leo with its face fully illuminated by the Sun and two days later, on March 5, 2012, the planet will have its closest approach to Earth during this apparition: 100.78 million km (0.6737 AU)—the best time to say “Hello” to the Red Planet.

Read more…

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“Conjunction of Glory”

13 – 15 March 2012

Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets in the sky, will be within 3 degrees of each other in the evening sky of 15 March 2012 at 10:37:46 UTC.  This will be quite a spectacle, as both planets are very bright—and this will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often that you get the brightest planets in our Solar System so close together. 

The next Venus-Jupiter conjunction after this one falls on May 28, 2013. 

Read more…

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“March Equinox 2012”

20 March 2012

The March equinox occurs at 05:14 UTC, Tuesday 20 March.  The Sun will shine directly down on the Earth’s 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.

Wherever you are on 20 March, 2012, celebrate your season in the cycle of life with Astronomers Without Borders.  Enjoy your own unique Equinox this year—and why not tell others about the experience?

Read more…

To the stars! 🙂

More about GAM 2012:


Mars at Opposition – March 2012

Mars will reach opposition (when it is directly opposite the Sun in the sky and brightest for this apparition) on the night of March 3rd 2012, positioned 5º.4 SSW of the star Coxa ( Leo or Theta Leonis, mag. +3.9) and 4º.5 West of Leonis. Mars is now brighter and closer than it’s been for two years – and brighter and closer than it will be again until 2014.

However, Mars’ perigee (closest point  to the Earth) will take place two days later – on March 5th – when it is 0.6737 AU (100.7 million kms or 62.6 million miles) from the Earth. This is due to the eccentricity of the orbit of Mars.

The motion of an outer planet, as seen from a "fixed" Earth. | image from cseligman.com

It’ll be hard to miss Mars because it’s the fourth-brightest star-like object to light up the night at this time, after the planets Venus and Jupiter, and the star Sirius.

You can find Mars in the eastern sky at nightfall and early evening, in front of the constellation Leo the Lion. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, is to the upper right of Mars when they are in the east in the evening hours.

Looking for Mars | image: Stellarium

On opposition day this 2012, Mars will shine at magnitude -1.2 and will have an apparent disk diameter of 13″.9. This is not as bright nor as large (when seen through a telescope) as it was at its previous opposition in January 2010, when the planet reached magnitude -1.3 and had an apparent diameter of 14″.1.

Trivia: At opposition,  the Earth passes in between the sun and Mars, so that the sun, Earth and Mars lie along a line in space. During this event a superior planet like Mars rises around sunset, is visible throughout the night and sets around sunrise. Its highest point in the sky is reached when it crosses the observer’s meridian at local midnight (due South at midnight in the Northern hemisphere and due North at midnight in the Southern hemisphere).

Say “Hello” to the Red Planet

Through the Beauty without Borders program, Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) will bring together groups around the world to enjoy the event through observing, webcasts, activities, photography and poetry.

Beauty without Borders: Hello Red Planet

Mars will come into Opposition on March 3, 2012 in the constellation Leo with its face fully illuminated by the Sun and two days later, on March 5, 2012, the planet will have its closest approach to Earth during this apparition: 100.78 million km (0.6737 AU)—the best time to say “Hello” to the Red Planet.

For more info visit http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/projects/observing-activities/beauty-without-borders/1045.html

Join this event and share it with your friends!

Clear skies!

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Useful links:


Triangular Spectacle: Moon, Venus and Jupiter

Last February 26, 2012, the crescent Moon joined the other two brightest objects in the night sky – Jupiter and Venus – to form a spectacular celestial grouping during and after twilight! They’re just a few degrees apart at the time of twilight in the west.

This sky show dazzled a lot of  skywatchers around the world during the weekend.

I have always been fascinated with celestial conjunctions. Hence, I immediately headed to SM Mall of Asia (near the Manila Bay area) after my on-the-job training in Makati City to take pictures of this event.

Traveling around the city—especially during the busiest evening rush hour period is one hell of a headache. Nonetheless, all the effort was worth it. 🙂

When we came, big dark clouds threatened our view.  As the brightest objects in the night sky, Venus, Jupiter and the Moon can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds. During that time, however they were hardly visible behind the clouds.

Fortunately, the skies cleared up just in time and we saw the awesome celestial trio. Thank God! 

Once the moon retreats from view, Jupiter and Venus will continue growing closer. The gap will narrow to 10 degrees by the end of February until they pass each other in mid-March.  On March 13 and 14, Jupiter and Venus reach their closest distance to each other. They will lie only three degrees apart. That’s just about the width of a finger and a half at arms length.

March 26, 2012: Venus, Jupiter and the Moon align | Image : Stellarium

By March 26, a crescent moon will join them once again, producing another brilliant sky display visible at twilight.

Don’t miss it!


UP AstroSoc’s Public Observation of the Celestial Grouping on February 26, 2012

In celebration of the National Astronomy Week (NAW) 2012, the University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP AstroSoc) in partnership with the Philippine Society of Youth Science Clubs (PSYSC) invites everyone to a public observation of the celestial grouping of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter on February 26, 2012.

The said event will be at the Sun Deck of the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory in UP Diliman.

Define closeness; see the thin lunar crescent pass close to Venus and Jupiter on the eve of February 26. Observation starts at around 6PM or later. 🙂

Messier marathon begins at 9 PM. Messier objects were discovered in the 18th century. These were listed so that observers using small telescopes would not confuse these with comets

SEE YOU THERE!

To join the event, please visit its Facebook event page : https://www.facebook.com/events/148142481972887/

Clear skies! 🙂

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Related link:


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.


Notable Celestial Events in 2012

This year comes with its share of many remarkable skywatching events that we can participate in.  The most important is the rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in  June 2012. The next time this will occur again is in 2117. We have the unique opportunity to observe this. (A note to Philippine observers: We are in a good location for this event!)  Moreover, there’s also the Mercury elongation in February, Jupiter-Venus conjunction on March 13-15, the solar eclipses on May 21 and November 14 and  our favorite annual meteor showers.

The list below also contains some tips for Philippine observers.

Clear skies and happy observing! 🙂

February 20 – March 12 :  Best Chance to see Mercury

The planet Mercury will be far enough from the Sun’s glare to be visible shortly after sunset. Mercury will reach greatest elongation from the Sun on March 5, reaching a relatively bright magnitude of about -1. This will be your best chance to see the planet this year.

February 26 : Moon, Jupiter and Venus at Dusk

Look westward after sunset to see the moon and the dazzling planets Jupiter and Venus lighting up the western sky.

Moon, Venus and Jupiter | 6 pm | Manila

March 3 : Mars at Opposition

The red 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 this planet. Mars will be an imposing naked-eye sight, shining at magnitude -1.2, just a bit dimmer than Sirius, the brightest star, and will be visible in the sky all night long.

March 14 : Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

The two brightest planets in the sky will be within 3 degrees of each other in the evening sky. On March 25 and 25, the crescent Moon will be near the two planets, creating a dazzling evening spectacle.

March 26 : Crescent Moon, Jupiter and Venus line up at Dusk

Watch for the young waxing crescent moon and the planets Jupiter and Venus near each other in the west after sunset. The moon, Venus and Jupiter rank as the brightest, second- and third-brightest heavenly bodies of nighttime respectively. This will be last chance in 2012 that you will see them all-together at dusk.

moon, venus, jupiter - march 2012

March 27: Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation

Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation and will be separated from the Sun by 46°, its greatest apparent distance from the sun on our sky’s dome. Venus will set about three hours after sunset during this event. At this superb evening elongation for the Northern Hemisphere, Venus will stand above the setting sun. This is a good time to look out for the Schroter Effect, which predicts that dichotomy the 50% lit phase occurs a few days early for evening elongation.

April 3: Venus near the Pleiades

Venus will appear to the left of the Pleiades star cluster.  Especially with binoculars or a small telescope, this bright plant should appear swimming in a sea of stars.

April 15 : 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.

April 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. With no moon to get in the way this year, this really should be a good show. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.

*April 2012 is Global Astronomy Month!

May 21 : [Annular] Solar Eclipse

The path of annularity will begin in southern China and move east through Japan, the northern Pacific Ocean, and into the western United States. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout parts of eastern Asia and most of North America. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information) (Note: In the Philippines, we will be able to see a crescent sun at dawn.)

Partial Solar Eclipse | 6am | Manila

June 4 : Partial Lunar Eclipse

The eclipse will be visible throughout most of Asia, including the Philippines  Australia, the Pacific Ocean, and the Americas. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information) In the Philippines, we can observe this event as an eclipse at dusk, meaning we will be able to see an eclipsed moon rising.

eclipse magnitude:  37.6%
moonrise: 6:17 pm PHT
greatest eclipse: 7:03 pm PHT
partial eclipse ends: 8:07 pm PHT
penumbral eclipse ends: 9:19 pm PHT

(source: PAGASA)

June 4 Partial Lunar Eclipse | 7 pm | Manila

Go to http://shadowandsubstance.com/ to see an animation of the eclipse.

June 6 : Transit of Venus Across the Sun

This extremely rare event will be entirely visible throughout most of eastern Asia, eastern Australia, and Alaska. A partial transit can be seen in progress at sunrise throughout Europe, western Asia, and eastern Africa. A partial transit can be seen in progress at sunset throughout most of North America, Central America, and western South America. The next transit will not take place until the year 2117. (NASA Transit Information | NASA Transit Map)

Local circumstances for Philippine viewers

Venus transit of the Sun in June, 2004. Photo by Anthony Ayiomamitis.

July 15 : Moon, Venus and Jupiter near the Hyades and the Pleiades Star Cluster

See the three brightest objects in the night sky next to the Pleiades and the Hyades open star cluster in Taurus before dawn on July 15th.

Moon, Venus, the Hyades and Pleiades | 6 am | Manila

August 12, 2012: Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon

For Philippine observers, the morning of 12 August sees the waning crescent Moon pass in front of Jupiter and its moons in a so-called occultation. Occultations are comparatively rare events, which offer good photo opportunities for amateur astronomers. Prospects and timings for the event vary with location.

The event takes place while Jupiter and the Moon are low in the sky during the wee hours of the morning.

Local circumstances:

2012 Aug 12 02:43 Occultation disappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)
2012 Aug 12 03:16 Occultation reappearance of Io (Mag 5.5)
2012 Aug 12 03:17 Occultation reappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)
2012 Aug 12 03:18 Occultation reappearance of Europa (Mag 5.7)
2012 Aug 12 03:20 Occultation reappearance of Callisto (Mag 6.1)
2012 Aug 12 03:32 Occultation reappearance of Ganymede (Mag 5.0)
source: Pyxis Astronomy Educational Services

August 11, 12 : Perseids 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 11 & 12, but you may be able to see some meteors any time from July 23 – August 24. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Perseus. The near last quarter moon will be hanging around for the show, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a shower with up to 60 meteors per hour. Find a location far from city lights and look to the northeast after midnight.

October 5 : Moon-Jupiter Conjunction

The King of the Planets and the crescent moon will reunite for a close celestial pairing. Check the eastern sky around midnight to spot these two objects that are less than one degree apart!

Moon and Jupiter at 11 pm | Manila

October 21, 22: Orionid Meteor Shower

The Orionid Meteor Shower usually reaches its peak around October 21, having an average of 20 meteors per hour. The Orionids are fast meteors and also have fireballs. These meteors radiate near the boundaries between the Great Hunter Orion and Gemini. The cometary debris left behind by Comet Halley — bits of ice, dust and rubble — create the Orionid meteor shower. It last visited Earth in 1986.

A good show could be experienced on any morning from October 20 – 24, but some meteors may be seen any time from October 17 – 25. The first quarter moon will set by midnight, leaving a dark sky for what should be a good show.

The best time to view these meteors is usually in the wee hours before dawn. That time holds true no matter what time zone you’re in.

The red lines illustrate the position of the radiant for the Orionid Meteor Shower. The radiant is the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate from.

November 13 : Total Solar Eclipse

The path of totality will only be visible in parts of extreme northern Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean. A partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of eastern Australia and New Zealand. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information (Note: This event is not visible in the Philippines.)

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. The crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should be an excellent show. Look for the shower radiating from the constellation Leo after midnight, and be sure to find a dark location for viewing.

November 27 : Conjunction of Venus and Saturn

These two bright planets will be within 1 degree of each other in the morning sky. Look to the east around sunrise.

December 3 : Jupiter at Opposition

The giant 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 Jupiter and its moons.

December 11 : Saturn, Venus, Mercury and the Crescent Moon at Predawn

Check the eastern sky about an hour before dawn to see this magnificent celestial display of the three planets and the thin lunar crescent.

Eastern sky at around 5 am | Manila

December 13, 14 : Geminid 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. This year the new moon will guarantee a dark sky for what should be an awesome show. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location.

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References:

  • Stellarium Planetarium Software