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

Sky Viewing Tips

May 10, 2013 Annular Solar Eclipse

An annular solar eclipse will occur on May 9-10, 2013 (depending on your location). During an annular eclipse, the Moon is near its farthest distance from Earth (i.e., near its apogee) so it appears slightly smaller than the Sun’s disk. Since the Moon doesn’t cover the Sun completely, this leaves a bright ring of sunlight surrounding the Moon’s disk, often called the “Ring of Fire” effect. About 95% of the solar disk will be eclipsed by the Moon.

Screenshot from the live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera during the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse.

Screenshot from the live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera during the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse. (via Universe Today)

Visibility

The path of annularity of the eclipse passes through parts of North Australia, SE Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, provided the weather cooperates. Partial eclipse will be seen in a much broader path, which includes other parts of Australia, Eastern Indonesia, Oceania and Southern Philippines.

Overview_map_of_the_annular_solar_eclipse_of_10_May_2013

Global visibility of the eclipse courtesy of Michael Zeiler of Eclipse-Maps.com

Time table Worldwide

Eclipse circumstances                               UTC             Philippine Time
First location to see partial eclipse begin 9 May, 21:25   10 May, 05:25
First location to see full Eclipse begin 9 May, 22:31   10 May, 06:31
Maximum Eclipse 10 May, 00:23   10 May, 08:23
Last location to see full Eclipse end 10 May, 02:20   10 May, 10:20
Last location to see partial Eclipse end 10 May, 03:25   10 May, 11:25

The eclipse can be observed from 6:08 am until 7:34 am in the Philippines. For local observers, please check the gallery below to give you and idea on how the eclipse would look like for selected localities. Other locations nearby will also see similar views.

Partial eclipse as seen from various locations in the Philippines at maximum eclipse, 6:41 a.m. local time. Simulated in Stellarium. Hover your mouse over an image to view the location.

PAGASA indicated the areas where the eclipse can be observed, including Sorsogon, Masbate, Roxas City, Puerto Princesa City, Cebu, Tacloban, Dumaguete, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, Hinatuan, Cotabato, Jolo, Davao, and General Santos. It also created a table of local times for viewing the eclipse for the above-mentioned locations.

Note that the eclipse is not visible in Luzon except in the southern tip.

Eclipse circumstances for selected locations in the southern part of the Philippines courtesy of PAGASA.

Eclipse circumstances for selected locations in the southern part of the Philippines courtesy of PAGASA.

Viewing the Eclipse SAFELY

For observers along the path of the eclipse, astronomers recommend using either a professionally manufactured solar filter in front of a telescope or camera, or eclipse-viewing glasses that sufficiently reduce the sun’s brightness and filter out damaging ultraviolet and infrared radiation. NEVER attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness!

A view of the crescent sun during eclipse maximum of the May 21, 2012 solar eclipse in the Philippines. Image taken using a hand-held Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera on a 2-inch refractor telescope with a Baader 5.0 ND solar filter.

Crescent sun during eclipse maximum of the May 21, 2012 partial solar eclipse in the Philippines. Image taken using a hand-held Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera on a 2-inch refractor telescope with a Baader 5.0 ND solar filter.

To view the eclipse safely, Fred Espenak (www.mreclipse.com) compiled here a  list of the acceptable and non-recommended filters for visual observation.

Acceptable filters for unaided visual observations: aluminized polyester specifically designed for solar viewing, shade 12 and 14 welding filters, black polymer filters (Thousand Oaks Solar Shield 2000 and Rainbow Symphony Polymer), and two layers of fully exposed and developed silver-bearing black and white film negative. For photographic and visual use, particularly with binoculars or telescopes, acceptable filters include: aluminized polyester specifically designed for the purpose, and Questar and Thousand Oaks T1 and T2 glass filters. The Thousand Oaks T3 filter should be used with extreme care for photographic use only.

Not recommended: metal-coated polyester that is not specifically intended for solar observation, smoked glass, floppy disk media, black color transparency (slide) film, floppy disk media, and compact disks (because of the inconsistent quality of the metal coating).”

For those who won’t be able to observe the eclipse from their location, you may still watch via live webstreaming of the event.

Clear skies and happy viewing!


Moon Meets Jupiter – February 18, 2013

moon and jupiter- feb 18

Avid skywatchers had a chance to witness tonight’s close pairing between Jupiter and the First Quarter Moon — a nice sky event that kicked off the celebration of the National Astronomy Week 2013 in the Philippines. If you look closely at Jupiter in this image, you’ll also see a hint of its 4 Galilean moons.

During the closest approach, Jupiter and the Moon were 0.5 degree apart.  For comparison, the angle covered by the diameter of the full moon is about 31 arcmin or 0.5 degree.

moon angular measurement

Image credit: Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

Astronomers use angular measurements to describe the apparent size of an object, or the distance between them. Knowing how to measure angular distance is an essential skill to finding your way around the sky.

Clear skies!


Skywatching Highlights: February 2013

Mercury and Mars less than a degree apart after sunset on February 8th

Mercury is well placed in the evening twilight this month, but spotting it won’t be easy. The closest planet to the sun will be low in the west-southwest horizon and will be a bit washed out by twilight’s glow. Binoculars may be needed to find it in the glare of twilight.

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Mars and Mercury in the western sky at twilight on Feb 8. Image: Stellarium

On February 8, Mercury will be less than 1 degree from pale orange Mars. The sky won’t be dark enough to see them until they’re just setting, so you’ll need a view to the west that is unobstructed and free from light pollution.  They should be visible half an hour after sunset. During the event, Mercury will be about eight times brighter than Mars.

On February 11, a thin crescent moon, one day past new moon will join Mercury and Mars in the twilight sky.

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Mars, Mercury and a thin crescent moon (2.5% lit) Image: Stellarium

Mercury’s visibility will continue to improve until February 16, when it reaches its greatest eastern elongation from the sun and appears 11 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon. Afterward it will drop back toward the sun, disappearing into bright twilight by the end of the  month.

Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart on February 18

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Moon and Jupiter roughly 0.5 degrees apart on Feb. 18. Image: Stellarium 

Another close conjunction between Jupiter and the Moon, joined by Aldebaran and the Hyades to the left and the Pleiades to the right, will occur on February 18th. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.9, and Jupiter at mag -2.4, both in the constellation Taurus.

The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or a through pair of binoculars. To some parts of the world like in the southern Indian Ocean, Southern Australia and Tasmania, this will be viewed as an occultation event where in the Moon will actually pass in front of Jupiter.

Other events this month:

* FEBRUARY 1: Moon ~10 degrees above Spica (in  the constellation Virgo)
* FEBRUARY 4: Moon ~7 degrees below Saturn in the eastern sky
* FEBRUARY 5: Moon by “Scorpion’s Crown” before dawn
* FEBRUARY 8: Mercury & Mars in tight conjunction in the western sky shortly after sunset (about 0.4 degrees apart)
* FEBRUARY 9: Moon ~8 degrees above Venus before dawn
* FEBRUARY 11: Thin moon near Mercury & Mars after sunset
* FEBRUARY 16: Mercury in greatest eastern elongation (11 degrees above WSW horizon)
* FEBRUARY 18: Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart
* FEBRUARY 25: Moon and Regulus (in the constellation Leo) ~10 degree apart

# # #


MOON PHASES:

* FEBRUARY 3: Third Quarter Moon at 21:57
* FEBRUARY 10: New Moon at 15:20
* FEBRUARY 18: First Quarter Moon at 04:31
* FEBRUARY 26: Full Moon at 04:26

# # #

Measuring angles in the night sky

The post made reference to angular separations of objects in the night sky, like the moon and planets. If you’re wondering how to measure or approximate these angular distances when you do skygazing, below is a simple guide that will teach you how.  The good news is you don’t need any device. You only have to use your own hand. 🙂

Hold your fist at arms length, and:

  • Extend your little finger; it’s width is approximately 1 degree.
  • Extend your three middle fingers (without the little finger); thats about 5 degrees.
  • A clenched fist (thumb to little finger) is about 10 degrees.
  • From the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb, an extended hand with fingers and thumb splayed subtends about 20 degrees.

Thats it!  Those measurements are approximations but are accurate enough to locate the objects in the sky .


From Sunset to Dusk

The best time to take photos of the sky 🙂 My favorite part of the day.

At dawn and dusk, the sky opposite the sun takes on a pastel pink color that makes a wonderful backdrop for many subjects.

Most photographers agree that the hour surrounding sunrise and sunset is the best time to take pictures due to the unique lighting opportunities. The sky color at the point of the rising or setting sun takes on a gradation of warm tones at the horizon and bleeds into a blue color the higher you look. Approximately twenty minutes before the sun rises and twenty minutes after the sun sets reveals this beauty at its peak. The tones are riveting and compel me to remain fixated on the glow in the sky.

The following are hand-held shots taken last January 15 and 17, 2013 from Quezon City, Philippines using my trusty Canon Powershot SX40 HS.

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Skywatching Highlights: August 2012

This month, weather conditions permitting, skywatchers will be treated to the Perseid meteor shower, several planet conjunctions, a “blue moon” and a relatively rare lunar occultation of Jupiter (visible for some parts of the globe).

August 7-14: Spica, Saturn and Mars at Dusk 

The planets Saturn and Mars and the star Spica are close together in the first half of the month, low above the western horizon at dusk. They will form a triangle on the 7th an hour after sunset. Saturn will be the top of the triangle, while Mars will be on the lower right corner. Each side of the triangle is about 5 degrees. On the 14th, they will form an almost straight line: Saturn topmost with Mars lying between Saturn and Spica.

View of the western horizon at dusk on August 7 and 14, 2012 as seen from Manila Philippines. Images were screenshots from Stellarium.

August 12: Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon

For Philippine observers,  the waning crescent Moon will pass in front of Jupiter and its moons during a relatively rare event called occultation on the morning of August 12. In astronomy, an occultation occurs when one object is hidden by another larger object that passes between it and the observer. 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

Jupiter and its largest satellites passing behind Earth’s moon.Image: Stellarium 

August 11, 12: Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers.

The best time to watch for Perseids is between midnight and dawn. This is when the shower’s radiant located between the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus, lies highest in the northeast sky.

By the 12th, the moon will only be 25% illuminated and not nearly as intense as when near its full phase. This will allow fainter meteors to be seen as long as the moon lies outside your field of view.

Tip: Find a safe dark location with clear skies in the early morning hours in order to see the shower. This year, the shower peaks on a weekend so it’s more convenient to stay up late.

August 14: A line of planets along with a thin, waning, crescent Moon before dawn

Before dawn on the morning of the 14th August the planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter and the Moon will line up in the eastern sky.  Look for A very thin crescent Moon to the upper right of Mercury an hour before sunrise in the northeast. Venus is to the upper right of the Moon, and a few degrees above them is Jupiter.

August 22: Waxing Crescent Moon joins Saturn, Mars and Spica

On the evening of the 22nd, a waxing crescent Moon, Mars, and Saturn will all lie within a circle just 6° in diameter.

August 31: Blue Moon (second full moon of August)

On the 31st, we will be able to witness a Blue Moon, the term given to the second full Moon in a calendar month.  But don’t expect it to be blue — the term has nothing to do with the color of the moon. [Origin of the term blue moon]

A composite image showing a lunar corona appearing around the full moon last last August 2, 2012

Clear skies!

 


Crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter at Predawn on July 15th

Eastern sky at 4:00 am local time. Manila, Philippines. Image: Stellarium

Philippine sky observers will have a great chance to see all of the three  brightest objects of the night sky in close proximity to each other this weekend (weather permitting). On the morning of July 15th, the waning crescent moon will join the very bright “stars” Jupiter (upper) and Venus (lower) to form a nice celestial grouping, along with two prominent open star clusters — the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades —  in the constellation Taurus.

Venus has reached its greatest illuminated extent in Earth’s sky last July 12. Thus, it appears so dazzling now as a “morning star”  in our predawn sky, near Jupiter.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe, this celestial grouping event will be viewed as an occultation of Jupiter by the moon. An occultation is an event in which a celestial body covers another, farther away object, such as when the moon covers a star or a planet or when a planet or an asteroid covers a far away star. For this event, the moon will cover Jupiter for about an hour (the exact time and durtaion of the occultation is  dependent on the observer’s location). View the visibility map and timings of this event from IOTA.

Seeing Jupiter’s occultation is possible with the naked eye, but the look through a telescope, even using a small magnification, is marvelous. At first, two of Jupiter’s large moons (Io and Europa) will disappear behind the moon, then Jupiter will disappear and then the other two moons (Ganymede and Callisto).

Places close to the southeast will witness a ‘grazing occulation’ when Jupiter and its moons will skim the edge of the Moon. This will be well worth seeing through a telescope and Jupiter’s moons may be seen blinking in and out of view as they pass behind the lunar mountains. Further north and west a very close conjunction will be seen.

Don’t worry because even though we won’t be seeing this event in the Philippines this weekend, we are still lucky enough to see a very rare version of such an event next month, during the morning of August 12, 2012. That will be surely worth getting up to see!

jupiter-occultation-jul-201

Moon occulting Jupiter with its moons. Image: Stellarium

Observing occultations can also contribute to science. During the 80’s, Uranus occulated a distant star. Photos of the events showed that just before and after the occultation the star blinked several times. The theory then was developed that Uranus has a set of rings (like Saturn). When Voyager 2 reached Uranus it detected and photographed the predicted rings.

Don’t miss this event. Clear skies!

Related link: List of Notable Celestial Events in 2012


Finding Mercury at Twilight

March 5, 2012 – This would have been a very fine evening for skygazing if only the clouds weren’t so annoying.

Various sky events were happening all at the same time, but nothing can be seen but the clouds.

This day marked the closest encounter of Mars to Earth until the year 2014. Mars is now displaying its greatest brilliance in our sky. Also on this day, the planet Mercury arrived at its greatest eastern point, 18 degrees to the east of the sun. This was Mercury’s best eastern apparition in 2012.  In addition, a bright ISS (almost as bright as Jupiter) passed near Venus at around dusk. It was a nice opportunity to capture this ISS pass because of its proximity to two of the brightest objects in the night sky this month.

I was originally planning to take photos of Mars and Mercury during twilight – Mercury in the western sky, and Mars on the eastern side – but as I said, thick clouds came in and obscured my view.

Waxing gibbous moon at 6:01 pm. I took this photo while waiting.

Mercury, now shining at magnitude -1.2, is only a little fainter than Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Though this planet is often cited as the most difficult of the five brightest naked-eye planets to see, there is now a fine “window of opportunity” for seeing Mercury in the evening sky. This window which began last February 22 and will close after March 12, provides several good opportunities to see this so-called “elusive planet” with our own naked eyes.

Locating Mercury in the west after sunset is quite a  challenge because it’s so close to the horizon. Moreover, although it is actually as bright as a first-magnitude star, the glow of evening twilight tends to subdue its brilliance.

This month, Mercury starts become visible around 30 to 45 minutes after sunset. This tiny planet can be found hanging beneath the brighter planets Venus and Jupiter. Using Stellarium, I estimated its location to be about 25 to 30 degrees below Venus. It was hard to spot Mercury at first glance but after a few seconds, my eyes were able to detect its faint glow.

However, it was visible only for a very brief moment.

As soon as I finished setting up the tripod and the camera, the clouds have already covered about 5 degrees of the horizon and Mercury was nowhere to be seen.

Western sky - March 5, 2012. Mercury was hidden beneath those clouds near the horizon.

I tried my luck to look for this planet on the following evenings but the sky was not any better until March 8.

Weather was not so bad as the past few days  so I was slightly optimistic.   The sun set promptly at 6:06 pm  and I searched in the same area of the sky, expecting to see Mercury.    After more than half an hour, Jupiter and Venus popped into the view – still there is no sign of Mercury.   A nice big full moon in the east was rising, and it seemed to grin at me cruelly!

I was just about to give in when at 6:40 pm, Mercury sailed into view;  flashing yellow and orange and battling the murkiness. Having just enough time to take a few photos before it disappeared a few minutes after, I hurried and managed to get off a few shots.

It was a pleasant surprise. 🙂

Jupiter, Venus and Mercury at 6:44 pm | UP Diliman, Quezon City

 

Photos above were taken using my Panasonic Lumix digital camera and were post processed in Photoshop to enhance the visibility of Mercury. The planet was too dim and too small to be seen without zooming into the images.

Mercury is quickly decreasing in altitude as each day passes, so take the opportunity well this month to spot it.

Clear skies!


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!


Moon and Venus – February 24, 2012

Taken at 6:25 pm from the Gonzales Hall of UP Diliman (Photo details: 7mm,  f/3.7, 1/8 sec. exposure at ISO 100)

Conjunctions of the moon and the planets are quite special events.

Image taken at 6:43 pm (Photo details: 6mm,  f/3.5, 8 sec. exposure at ISO 100)

A conjunction is an alignment of 2 or more celestial bodies (usually the moon and planets) in the sky, from our vantage point on Earth. The objects aren’t necessarily physically close to each other in space, but from where we see them, when the bodies are grouped close together on the sky we call them in conjunction.

When the objects get so close together that one passes in front of the other from our vantage point, we call that an occultation.

A conjunction doesn’t have any particularly special meaning, but they can be interesting to observe because very close conjunctions are quite rare events. It can be very exciting to see two planets in the same field of view of your telescope!

Not only that, but conjunctions, especially with the moon and/or bright planets are involved, are just a lovely spectacle to look at and photograph.

On February 25-26, the crescent Moon will join the other two brightest objects in the night sky 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 will be a lovely sight to see.

Clear skies! 🙂

All photos were taken by me using Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera.


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.


King and Queen of the Night Sky

Jupiter (upper right) and Venus (left) Feb. 10, 2012 6:50 PM

Jupiter and Venus, the two great and famous luminaries of heaven  are now 30° apart in the western sky during early evening and are moving closer to each other by  roughly one degree each day.

Jupiter, king of planets, has been our constant evening companion for the last six months.  Only Venus outshines Jupiter among the planets and stars. Venus and Jupiter are so bright you might think you’ve witnessed a double supernova beaming through the evening twilight. But, no, it’s just the two brightest planets in our own solar system.

Over the next couple weeks, Venus and Jupiter will continuously reign the evening sky; only the moon will be brighter. The planets will continue to get closer and closer to one another until March.

On the evenings of February 24, 25 and 26, the thin lunar crescent will pass close to Venus and Jupiter.

By March 14 and 15, these two bright objects will be on a spectacular conjunction — the closest in 2012. The next Venus-Jupiter conjunction after this one falls on May 28, 2013.

At the moment of closest approach, Venus will be at mag -4.9, and Jupiter at mag -2.1, both in the constellation Aries. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

After this event, Venus and Jupiter will remain close throughout the month of March 2012. They are like twin beacons – two very bright planets – near each other in the west as soon as the sun goes down.


Venus and the Moon at Dusk – January 26, 2012

I was about to go home when I caught a glimpse of Venus and the thin Moon hanging close together in the western sky at dusk last January 26.

I didn’t have a camera with me then. Fortunately,  a friend of mine had his camera and let me use it to take a few images of this stunning sight.

A view of the U.P. Carillon Tower

Venus is now shining brilliantly in the west-southwest after sunset at magnitude -4.0. It will be climbing higher in our sky over the next three months as it comes closer to us in its orbit. Over that time the planet will brighten but its phase will shrink as the Sun shifts to the other side of Venus from us.

By February 2012, Venus will climb up higher into the evening sky and will stay out even longer after dark. It’ll be at its highest above the sunset in March 2012, when Jupiter and Venus will stage an amazing conjunction in the western twilight sky. These two bright planets will lie about three degrees apart in the West in the constellation Aries. Venus will beam at magnitude -4.3, and Jupiter is a worthy companion at magnitude -2.1. The pairing will make for a lovely photo op. 🙂

On March 25, Venus, Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon will form a straight line in the western sky.

image: Stellarium

Clear skies! 🙂


Skywatching Highlights: January 2012

Well-known constellations like the ones in the Winter Hexagon – Gemini, Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Auriga and Taurus – can be easily seen during the longer hours of darkness in the Northern hemisphere this month.

Most of the events listed here can be readily observed with the naked eye, but some objects such as the planets and some star clusters are best seen through binoculars or a small telescope.

All of the times and dates found here are in Philippine Standard Time (PHT) unless otherwise indicated. Note that PHT = UT+8.

Clear skies and happy skygazing! 🙂

# # #

This month’s highlights:

  • The Quadrantid Meteor Shower
  • Planetary conjunctions with the Moon
DATE EVENT TIME NOTES
Jan. 1 First Quarter Moon 2:15 PM
Jan. 2 Moon-Jupiter close pairing (~7° apart)
Jan. 3 Moon at apogee 4:00 AM farthest distance to Earth
Jan. 3-4 Peak of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower 3:23 AM Quadrantid Shower: ZHR = 120
Jan. 5 Earth at perihelion  (0.9833 AU) 8:00 AM closest distance to the Sun
Jan. 5 Moon near the Pleiades (3.1° N)
Jan. 9 Full Moon 3:30 PM
Jan. 16 Last Quarter Moon 5:08 AM
Jan. 16 Moon near the star Spica (2° N)
Jan. 17 Saturn 6° north of the Moon 3:00 AM
Jan. 18 Moon at perigee 5:00 AM nearest distance to Earth
Jan. 23 New Moon 3:39 PM
Jan. 25 Neptune 6° south of the Moon 8:00 PM
Jan. 27 Moon-Venus close pairing dusk Venus 7° south of the Moon
Jan. 30 First Quarter Moon 3:39 PM
Jan. 30 Moon-Jupiter close pairing
Jan. 31 Moon at apogee  2:00 AM farthest distance to Earth
January 2: Moon-Jupiter Conjunction

Image: Stellarium

An eventful sky year begins with brilliant Jupiter high up on the Aries-Pisces border at nightfall. On January 2, Jupiter will be about 7 degrees away from the 61% full moon in the constellation Pisces.

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January 3-4: Quadrantid Meteor Shower

Image: SkyandTelescope.com

This should be a fine year for one of the best, but least observed, annual meteor showers like the  Quadrantids. The Quadrantids are an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at their peak. This meteor shower should be most active in the early morning hours of Wednesday the 4th, but some meteors can be visible from January 1 – 5.  The Moon sets around 3 AM local time then, leaving the sky dark until the first light of dawn around 6 AM. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation Bootes.

References:


Halloween Celebration and Astronomy

IC 2118 (Witch Head Nebula) in Orion. Original image credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey

Did you know that Halloween is a significant day on the astronomical calendar?

Surprising, isn’t it? Halloween means more than just a day for spooky stuff, costumes and candy treats. This celebration is actually a cross-quarter day which means it falls approximately half way between the Autumnal Equinox, the astronomical start of fall and Winter Solstice, the astronomical start of winter.

Red crosses mark the year’s cross-quarter dates. Credit: NASA

It’s no coincidence that Halloween has a dark side. Halloween is believed to have originated with the ancient Celtic harvest festival Samhain. Samhain roughly translates to “summer’s end”. It was the date that signaled the start of winter when most plant life is dead. A season where food would be limited and living conditions would be less than favorable. It was a day of celebration and of dread, the line between the living summer and the dead winter.  It was not until middle ages that the day was associated with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Days.

This year’s Halloween has  a bit of something for everyone. This is because the eastern sky during late October nights is filled with deep sky treats for stargazers of all types.

For the naked eye observer, the first of the brilliant stars of winter start to peek over the eastern horizon: Capella and Aldebaran. Three of the nearest galactic star clusters are visible to the naked eye: the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the Perseus Moving Cluster.

Halloween Sky Treat — eastern sky on Oct. 31, 2011 (around 9:30 PM)

Want more? Check out these links to see a gallery of eerie and spooky space images:

Happy Halloween! 🙂


Orionid Meteor Shower 2011 Viewing Guide

Created using Stellarium. Click on image to enlarge.

This year’s Orionids will peak on the evening of October 21/22 . These meteor fragments radiate from the top of Orion’s upraised club, near the Gemini border.

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. As the comet moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22. Around this time every year, Earth is more or less intersecting the comet’s orbit.

Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass averaging a modest 20 per hour under dark skies.  The moonlit glare of the waning crescent Moon, however will probably reduce the numbers somewhat this year.

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.

Clear skies to all and happy viewing! 🙂

References:


Skywatching Highlights: October 2011

As the nights get longer in the northern hemisphere, the skies are filled with good observing opportunities. 

Meteor showers, a comet, and Jupiter at opposition are the highlights for October.

DATE

EVENT

TIME (PHT)

2 Mars in the Beehive Cluster in Cancer
4 First Quarter Moon 11:15 AM
8 Draconid Meteor Shower (Active from Oct 6-10, ZHR up to storm levels)
8 International Observe the Moon Night 2011
12 Full Moon (Hunter’s Moon) 10:05 AM
13 Jupiter and the waxing gibbous moon is about 5 degrees apart
14 Saturn Conjunction
15 Waxing gibbous moon near the Pleiades
16 Comet Elenin’s closest approach to Earth
20 Last Quarter Moon 11:30 AM
20 Mercury-Venus Conjunction dusk
22 Orionid Meteor Shower (Active from Oct 17-25, ZHR=20)
27 New Moon 04:00 AM
28 Mercury-Venus Moon at minimum separation dusk
29 Jupiter Opposition (closest approach to Earth) 08:40 AM



Two meteor showers: Draconids & Orionids 

*DRACONIDS (Giacobinids)
The Draconids peak will this year on the evening of October 8th with a higher than normal meteor count expected. Periodic (6.6 year orbit) comet 21P/Giacobini/Zinner is the source of these meteors, and this year Earth is predicted to cross a dense debris stream from the comet. Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass as high as 500 per hour, radiating from the northern constellation Draco, near the Dragon’s head. This is not without precedent as the Draconids stormed briefly to 10,000 meteors per hour in 1933!
*ORIONIDS 

The Orionids will peak this year on the evening of October 21/22 . Periodic (76 year orbit) comet 1P/Halley is the source of these meteors. Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass averaging a modest 20 per hour, best visible before dawn under dark skies. These meteor fragments radiate from the top of Orion’s upraised club, near the Gemini border. The waning crescent Moon this year should not interfere much with your observing of these shooting stars.

Comet Elenin
Newly discovered comet Elenin will make its closest approach to the Earth on October 16. The comet was discovered on December 10, 2010 by Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin. It is estimated that the comet will reach 6th magnitude as it makes its closest approach. This will make it just barely visible to the naked eye. With a good pair of binoculars and a little determination, you may be able to get a good look at this new comet during mid October.

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. The giant planet will be a big and bright as it gets in the night sky. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.

Full Hunters Moon
This month’s full moon is called Hunter’s Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This will also be the smallest full moon of the year because it will be near apogee, its farthest point from the Earth.

Mercury-Venus & Moon at minimum separation
This is a wonderful conjunction of 2 planets, the waxing crescent Moon and the red giant star Antares about 30 minutes after sunset on the nights of October 28 & 29th. You will need an unobstructed view low to the SW. Use binoculars or a small telescope to locate challenging Mercury.

International Observe the Moon Night 2011

Join people from all over the world to celebrate the second annual International Observe the Moon Night on Oct. 8, 2011. InOMN is an annual event celebrated globally to encourage people to go out and observe Earth’s nearest neighbor in space — the Moon.

For more information and resources for planning your own International Observe the Moon Night event, visit: http://observethemoonnight.org/. The website features activities, educational materials, multimedia and much more!

 

Happy skygazing! 🙂

References:


The Longer Nights Are Here!

Hello everyone! 🙂

It’s been ages since I posted my last entry here. I missed this blog so much.

I’ve been really busy doing and organizing a lot of stuff during the last couple of months that I rarely had time to write. Moreover, the observing conditions were very seldom good because of the rainy season — several typhoons hit the country and it’s too cloudy most of the time.

It is not until towards the end of September that the rainy season in the Philippines will start receding.  Its normal termination usually occurs by the end of October.

Anyhow, the coming of October also marks the coming of longer nights in the Philippines. Just last October 1, the Sun rose at 5:46 AM and set at 5:46 PM (Manila time). This day signaled the transition point in nature when the light changes. The days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere — everyone can feel the shortening of the days and sense, innately, that the changes in daylight and darkness are sudden and surprising.

During the equinox last September 23, the length of night and day across the world is nearly, but not entirely, equal. This is because the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator, and because the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations. The axial tilt of the earth affects the day/night duty cycle most strongly at the poles and has no effect at all at the equator. Equal day and night usually occurs a few days after the equinox. For simplicity, we may assume that it has actually occurred on October 1. Take note that there is really no equal day and night at the equator.

For amateur astronomers, longer nights mean extra hours of uninterrupted stargazing! 🙂

The fine meteor showers usually come in by October to December of each year. October 2011 has two meteor showers worth getting outside to see — the Draconid meteor shower on the evenings of October 7 and 8 and the more reliable Orionid meteor shower on the mornings of October 20 and 21.

As the Draconids and Orionids kicks off the meteor shower season, observing the night sky would be more fun and interesting.

 Clear skies to all!


Saturn and Porrima

Meet the night sky’s newest ‘double star’!

It’s only a made-up one and temporary pairing, but Saturn and the star Gamma Virginis, also known as Porrima, make one of the most realistic close pairs of ‘stars’ in the night sky this season. Their pairing closely resembles a telescopic view of a true double star.

The beauty of this close pairing is that Porrima itself is a true binary or double star, making its proximity to Saturn a ‘double double’ delight.

When I took this photo last June 1, Saturn and Porrima appeared as a single star to the naked eye. Zooming into the image revealed 2 separate objects.

As of this month, the two are separated by a gap of just 1.7″ of arc — a quite small separation. Remember that a second of arc is equal to 1/60 of a minute or 1/3600 of a degree. For reference, the full moon is 1/2 degree or 30 minutes of arc in diameter.

Another image of the pairing taken last June 5, 2011 at around 9:46 PM

Saturn is easy enough to find. Wait until an hour and a half after sunset, then look for it high in the south-southwest about 15 degrees from Spica. (Saturn will be just a tad brighter and should look yellow compared to Spica’s blue.) For the naked eye observer, watching Saturn and Porrima during June of 2011 provides a terrific opportunity to see a planet in retrograde motion – then pause,  then swing back in its normal eastward path against the background stars.  For the small telescope user it’s even better.  Porrima is a stunning double star when seen in a back-yard telescope – and Saturn, with its rings, the most awesome planet in a small telescope.

Camera used: Panasonic Lumix Digital Camera (7mm focal length, f/3.1, ISO-80 at 60 sec. exposure)

 

You can view a nice close up image of Saturn and Porrima here


Skywatching Highlights: June 2011

This month’s skywatching highlights:

  • June Solstice. The Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky, the June solstice, on June 21 at 17:16 Universal Time (UT).  This marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the south.
  • Partial Solar Eclipse.  Visible from the Arctic, Siberia, and parts of Iceland on June 1.  The eclipse peaks at 21:16 Universal Time.
  • Total Lunar Eclipse.  Completely visible on June 15 from South Africa and western Australia, this long and deep eclipse is the first of 2011.  The eclipse peaks at 21:12 UT.
  • Boötids Meteor Shower. Peaks on or about June 27 near midnight, this unpredictable meteor shower has shown up to 100 meteors an hour.  Or it could be a dud.  The Moon isn’t a factor this year, so take a look and see what happens.  The radiant is just off the peak of Boötes, though you can see meteors anywhere in the northern sky.

DATE

EVENT

TIME (PHT)

2

Partial Solar Eclipse – This will not be visible in the Philippines. The eclipse will begin at exactly 3:25 a.m. (Philippine Standard Time). It will be visible in Eastern Asia, northern N. America, the N. tip of Scandinavia, Greenland and Iceland.

2

New Moon 5:05 AM

9

First Quarter Moon 10:10 AM

11

Saturn 8° North of the Moon 5:00 AM

12

Moon at perigee (nearest distance to Earth) 10:00 AM

13

Mercury in superior conjunction 8:00 AM

16

Total Lunar Eclipse of the Moon — The eclipse will begin at 1:23 AM Philippine Standard Time (PHT) and will end at 7:02 AM (PHT).

22

Summer solstice  — Philippine nights are at their shortest and daytimes are at their longest around the Summer solstice.This is the time when the Sun attains its greatest declination of +23.5 degrees and passes directly overhead at noon for all observers at latitude 23.5 degrees North, which is known as the Tropic of Cancer. This event marks the start of the apparent southward movement of the Sun in the ecliptic. 1:16 AM

23

Pluto occultation 7:15 AM

24

Uranus 6° South of the Moon 11:00 PM

24

Moon at apogee (farthest distance to Earth) 12:00 NN

27

Peak of the June Bootids (Active from June 22 to July 2 ZHR=0-100+)
— The radiant of the shower will originate from the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman, which lies nearly overhead when darkness falls.

27

Pluto Occultation 10:15 PM

28

Pluto at opposition 1:00 PM

29

Mars 1.7° south of the Moon (These two objects can be found hanging in-between 2 notable star groups – the Pleiades and Hyades in Taurus) 3:00 AM

* PHT = UT + 8

 
Read the guide on how to find the 5 visible planets this month — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn from EarthSky.org. If you are looking for star maps for June, you may check them here. You may also download the free planetarium software, Stellarium to see the the positions of the heavenly bodies each day according to your location.
i
Clear skies!

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References:


Skywatching Highlights: May 2011

From PAGASA:

The month of May will show up the finest planetary conjunctions of the year. Naked-eye planets line-up in the eastern horizon before sunrise. On May 1, 9, 13, and 30 at 5:00 AM, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Neptune will be found lining-up above the eastern horizon as shown in Figures 2, 3, 4, and 5  respectively. Uranus and Neptune will be needing a star map and a binocular or a modest-sized telescope for its proper viewing. The planets will lie among the background stars of the constellation Pisces, the Fish, except for Neptune, which will be found at the constellation of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer.

Saturn will be visible in the evening sky throughout the month. The Ringed planet will be located among the background stars of the constellation Virgo, the Virgin.

Date Event Time (PHT)
1 Mars Jupiter at minimum separation dawn
1-2 Mars-Jupiter-Mercury-Venus-Moon conjunction dawn
2 Jupiter 6° south of the Moon 03:00 AM
3 New Moon 04:50 PM
5 The 3% thin crescent Moon will lie in between the star groups Hyades and Pleiades in the constellation Taurus in the west. dusk
7 Jupiter Conjunction  
7 Mercury at greatest western elongation dawn
7 Eta Aquarids : Active from Apr 19 to May 28 —  ZHR 70  
8 Venus Mercury at minimum separation dawn
10-14 Mercury-Venus-Jupiter conjunction dawn
11 First Quarter Moon 04:35 AM
11 Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter Conjunction – The three planets will form a 2-degree long vertical line in the early morning sky. The planet Mars will also be visible nearby. Look to the east near sunrise. dawn
11 Mercury Jupiter at minimum separation dawn
12 Venus Jupiter at minimum separation dawn
14 Saturn 8° north of the Moon 11:00 PM
17 Full Moon (called Full Flower Moon) 07:10 PM
18-26 Mercury Venus Mars conjunction dawn
18 Mercury Venus at minimum separation dawn
22 Jupiter 8° below the Moon dawn
25 Last Quarter Moon 02:50PM
30 Mars-Jupiter-Mercury-Venus-Moon conjunction dawn
31 Mars 4° South of the Moon dawn

Clear skies! 🙂

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References:

  • PAGASA Astronomical Diary
  • Philippine Celestial Events for 2011 by PAS
  • 2011 Astronomy Calendar – SeaSky.org

Planets Align for This Year’s Lyrids!

Tonight presents the expected peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower, from late night Friday (April 22) until dawn Saturday (April 23). Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.

Sky at 5:00 AM, April 23 (21:00 UT April 22) as viewed from Manila, Philippines. The point where the yellow lines converge 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: Stellarium

Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, which is bright enough to be visible from most cities, but you’ll see more and enjoy them more if you leave the city for a dark place where the stars shine brighter. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. Some Lyrids will be brighter, though, and the occassional “fireball” can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind glowing, smoky debris trails that last for minutes. Lyrid meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second.

In observing these meteors, the hour before dawn is usually best, except that a bright waning gibbous moon will be lighting the sky hiding most of the fainter meteors in its glare. This year, it is more favorable to watch late at night, during the dark hour before moonrise.

Tweet your data!

You can also share your data by Tweeting your postcode, your country (click here to find your country code) and, optionally, the meteor count along with the hashtag; #MeteorWatch (you are welcome to use GAM hastags as well – #GAM2011 #LyridsWatch)

The meteor data will appear in a map at MeteorWatch.org


While the best meteor-watching will be late night through daybreak, it’s well worth staying outside just before sunrise for a beautiful planetary alignment will be joining the Lyrids.

Venus is so bright in the eastern sky you can’t miss it, and below it Mercury, Mars and Jupiter could be found hanging a few degrees away from each other. If you have hazy skies or live in an urban area, you may need binoculars to see Mars and Jupiter.

All four heavenly objects will fit within a circle about 15 degrees in diameter, beaming together through the colors of the predawn sky. 

This planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.

Enjoy the show! 🙂


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:


Mercury at its Best Appearance for 2011

18 March 2011 APOD: Mercury and Jupiter at Sunset  Click image to enlarge. Image Credit & Copyright: Göran Stran

For the northern hemisphere, March 22 (Note: This will be on March 23 for Philippine observers) marks Mercury’s best apparition in the evening sky for all of 2011. Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, never strays far from the sun. It never appears against an black midnight sky. But Mercury does appear in twilight, and today this innermost world reaches its greatest elongation east of the sun. Mercury swings to the end of its tether, at 19 degrees east of the sun. (For reference, your fist at an arm’s length to approximates 10 degrees of saky.)

To find this elusive planet, all you need is a clear evening and a viewing site with an good view down to the west horizon. Note the spot where the Sun sets, and then start scanning above (and slightly to the left) of there for Jupiter. Jupiter may be visible immediately if the air is very clear, but it will be more obvious 15 or 30 minutes later when the sky is darker (though Jupiter will also be lower).

Once you’ve found Jupiter, look for Mercury near it.

During March, Mercury will appear higher each evening until the 22nd, while Jupiter appears ever lower. So by the end of that period, Mercury may actually be the more obvious of the pair, despite the fact that it’s slowly fading. Starting around March 25th, Mercury plunges back toward the Sun, fades rapidly, and soon becomes hard to locate with the unaided eye.

As seen from the northern hemisphere, Mercury stands above the setting sun. It sets about one and one-half hours after the sun.

From the southern hemisphere, Mercury sits to the side of the setting sun. From there, this planet could be seen setting only about one-half hour after the sun.

That’s why Mercury sets so much later after sunset in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere during March of 2011. And it’s why this apparition of Mercury is the best evening apparition of this planet for all of 2011.

But why does Mercury stay out so much longer after sunset in the northern hemisphere? It’s because the ecliptic – the pathway of the planets – hits the horizon at a steep angle on early spring evenings. But in the southern hemisphere – where it’s early autumn – the ecliptic intersects the horizon at a narrow angle at evening time.

In a telescope, however, the later part of this apparition is most interesting, because that’s when Mercury grows into a long, thin, crescent. It’s 7″ wide and 50% illuminated on the 20th, 8″ wide and 30% illuminated on the 24th, and 9″ wide and 20% illuminated on the 28th.

In the northern hemisphere, Mercury should remain in good view until the end of the month. Look for Mercury to shine low in the west some 45 to 75 minutes after sunset.

 

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sources:

  1. EarthSky.org
  2. SkyandTelescope.com

Supermoon Misconception

Biggest Full Moon of 2011 (image: Celestia)

 

During the past few days, rumors associating  the March 19, 2011 “Supermoon” to some recent catastrophes were spreading all over different media like wild fire.

Again, we should not blame this largest full moon of the year for any natural disasters because it has nothing to do with those happenings. Tides will go higher than usual average tides along coastlines as a consequence of the moon’s gravitational pull, but nothing so significant that will cause a serious climatic disaster or anything for people to worry about like the tsunamis in Japan. These tsunamis were caused by earthquakes which were definitely not triggered by the Moon’s attraction.

The following links features helpful articles which debunks the idea of this junk pseudoscience.

Remember, the Supermoon is not a thing to be scared of rather, it is a spectacle to be enjoyed. 🙂

Watch out as the lunar disk rises above the eastern horizon after sunset at 18:10 UT. This will present a stunning sight with the naked eye, in binoculars, and through the camera viewfinder for those of you lucky enough to have a clear sky.