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

Posts tagged “planets

Moon and Mars above the Cityscape

As I prepared to observe the Orionid Meteor Shower last October 22, a nice celestial pairing of the waning crescent Moon (22% full) and the tiny planet Mars greeted my view. These two were roughly 8 degrees apart during this conjunction and were located  just slightly above “the Sickle” in Leo.  Unfortunately, the glow from the light-polluted city  made the 1.2 magnitude Mars (on the upper left of the image) difficult to notice with the naked eye.

Mars appears to be like a plain bright red star right now that rises in the east during the wee hours after midnight. In the months ahead, Mars will brighten and will also rise earlier at night. By December 2011, this planet will climb over the eastern horizon before midnight. In January 2012, it’ll be up by mid-evening, and even sooner on February 2012 evenings.

Mars will come closest to Earth in March 2012. It will be out from dusk till dawn, shining about nine times more brightly than it does at present. Even so, Mars won’t be nearly as bright as the planets Venus or Jupiter.

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!  🙂

Moon in the Predawn Sky this Week (Jan. 28 – Feb. 1)

Last Jan. 25, Saturn, Spica and the Moon formed a beautiful triangular celestial grouping. During the following days, early risers can watch the waning crescent Moon pass bright Venus, with Antares and Scorpius looking on. Check southeastern sky a few hours before sunrise.

Location of the Moon in the predawn sky for the next few days:

Jan. 29 — Moon is near the red star Antares in the constellation Scorpius
Jan. 30 — Venus and Crescent Moon are almost 5 degrees apart
Jan. 31 — Moon will be located just above the “Teapot” asterism in Sagittarius
Feb. 1 — Moon and Mercury will be less than 10 degrees from each other

This is a good opportunity to spot these celestial objects because of their proximity with one another and because of their perfect location within the prominent constellations. Clear skies! 🙂


Reference: Stellarium Planetarium Software

New Year’s Celestial Treat

A beautiful celestial display of Mercury and Venus with the thin waning crescent Moon brightened up the first two mornings of  2011. 🙂

Heavy smog caused by the cold, foggy weather and  smoke generated by firecrackers and fireworks from the New Year’s Eve celebration blanketed our suburban place during the early morning of January 1st. Despite this, I was still lucky enough to have witnessed even just the nice pairing of Venus and the Moon in the Eastern sky, a few minutes before sunrise. Below are some of the images I took using my point-and-shoot Kodak C813 8.0 megapixel digital camera. Images were a bit blurry because I didn’t use a tripod.

A thin old Moon to the lower right of the planet Venus (1/1/11 at 5:47 AM) Mercury, the red star Antares and Saturn were difficult to see because of the smog. Click on the images to enlarge.

I also posted about this skygazing guide over my Twitter and Facebook account and I was happy that some of my fellow amateur astronomers and UP AstroSoc friends have also tried capturing  images of this sky event over their own places. With their permission, I have included their pictures into this post. 🙂

Moon and Venus over Pasig City, Philippines – images by Elaine Tacubanza

Happy Hatsuhinode (初日の出) – the first sunrise of the year – by Kathleen Rosario (Parañaque City, Philippines)

Another friend, Bea Banzuela, did her skygazing during the predawn of January 2. Aside from taking landscape photographs of this event, she also used the 4.5″ Newtonian Telescope of UP AstroSoc to view the Moon and Venus over her place at Marikina City. Notice the lovely earthshine on the Moon in her pictures. 🙂

From L to R : Mercury, Moon and Venus

Mercury, Moon and Venus with a few bright stars of Scorpius


A few minutes before sunrise

Thin Moon through the finderscope

Moon taken through the eyepiece of Datascope (afocal method)


This event was indeed a nice celestial treat to start the year off. 😀

Constellation Hopping and The Planets this month — September 2010


* Venus, Mars and Spica together in evening sky at start of month
* The above 3 joined by the Moon on the 11th
* Jupiter at opposition (21st) with Full Moon (23rd) and Uranus nearby
* Mercury bright in the morning sky

Western sky view a few minutes after sunset on September 11 – the thin crescent moon joins the celestial trio of Venus, Mars and Spica (brightest star of Virgo)

Philippine nights will be longer as the Sun approaches the celestial equator. Autumnal equinox will occur on September 23 when day and night will have approximately equal length on Earth.This point is also called as First point of Libra.

The rich band of constellations and stars along the Milky Way from the constellations Cygnus, the Swan, in the north to Sagittarius and Scorpius in the south, begin to give way this month to fainter constellations, many of them with watery associations such as the constellations of Capricornus, the Sea Goat, Aquarius, the Water Bearer and Pisces the Fish. The famous asterism Teapot in the sky in the constellation of Sagittarius can be observed at about 40 to 47 degrees above the southern horizon, an hour after sunset as shown below.

View of the eastern sky on September 7 at 4:00 AM (PST)

Betelgeuse, the super giant red star and the prominent star of the famous constellation Orion, the Mighty Hunter, will be located at about 25 degrees to the upper right of Mars. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog, will be an easy target as it glows below the constellation of Orion. Procyon, the brightest star of the constellation Canis Minor, the Little Dog, can be located at the lower left of Canis Major. By drawing an imaginary line among the bright stars of these constellations, an equilateral triangle will be formed called the Winter Triangle as shown here:

Southern sky at 7:25 PM (PST)

Also, flying high in this month’s sky is the mythical winged horse Pegasus. Although one of the largest constellations in area, it boasts no bright stars. Its most noticeable star pattern is the Great Square of Pegasus: four second magnitude stars marking the body of the horse. Ironically, the brightest of those stars, Alpheratz, isn’t even an official member of the Pegasus constellation, being part of the neighboring constellation Andromeda. The brightest star in Pegasus isn’t part of the Square: it is Enif, the Arabic word for “nose.” It marks the head of Pegasus, off to the west.

As you look further south, you can see Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish, with the only bright star in the region: Fomalhaut. Fomalhaut, which is 25 light-years from Earth, made headlines in 2008 as one of the first stars to observed to have a planet that was directly imaged with telescopes.

To the east of Fomalhaut is another huge dim constellation, Cetus the Whale, with the only other brightest star in the area, Deneb Kaitos, which means the tail of the whale. Cetus also contains the variable star Mira. Currently this star is too faint to be visible with the naked eye, but over the next few months it will start climbing in brightness until it becomes one of the brightest stars in this constellation.

Normally this sea world is a dim and mysterious place, with only one bright star, Fomalhaut. But this year it is enlivened by a visit from the giant planet Jupiter, right on the border between Pisces and Aquarius.

The Planets

The tight grouping of Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Spica ends its spectacular run this month. All four are low in the western sky at nightfall as September begins, but Saturn drops from sight early in the month. Mars and Venus are still in the sky by month’s end, but they shine for only a little while before dropping below the horizon. By that time, however, the night sky’s next-brightest object, the planet Jupiter, is climbing skyward in the east, and will shine brilliantly throughout the night.

Mercury will shine brightly at magnitude -1 as it reaches its greatest elongation west on September 20 (18°  from the Sun). For early risers, Mercury makes its best morning appearance of the year on the second week of September. Look in the constellation of Leo the Lion near his lower foot star, Rho Leonis. The two objects are 20 arcminutes apart on September 16 and 17.

Venus continues to be prominent in the evening sky, though also low for northern hemisphere observers, at around magnitude -4. The crescent Moon, less than 3° away on September 11 will make an attractive pairing. On the 24th, Venus will reach its peak magnitude of -4.6.

Mars is now shining very low in the evening twilight sky. This month +1.5 magnitude Mars starts a few degrees to the upper right of brilliant Venus. Though the planets will slowly move apart they will stay within 7° of each other all month long.On September 11, the Moon will pass with 5° of the planet.

Giant planet Jupiter is now top target for planetary observers, dominating the night sky and rising in the east as it is getting dark at a bright magnitude of -2.9 in Pisces. The planet is putting on a show for those with reasonable sized telescopes, having lost one of its prominent dark belts and with its two red spots in close proximity. On the 21st,  Jupiter will be at opposition,means it will be visible all night long, rising in the evening, reaching its highest elevation around midnight and setting during dawn.

Saturn is located low in the west during evening twilight. By month’s end the +1.0 magnitude planet will be too close to the Sun to be seen easily by most observers. On September 9,the Moon will be within 7° of Saturn.

Uranus will lie within one degree of Jupiter in Pisces between September 12 and 25, making the giant planet a good signpost to finding its more distant cousin. On the 22nd, it will also be at opposition. If given a clear dark sky and no moonlight, it can be spotted with the unaided eye at magnitude of 5.7.

Neptune will be found among the background stars of the constellation Capricornus, the Sea-Goat and will be standing 42 degrees above the east southeastern horizon at around 7:00 PM (PST) on the 19th of the month. A modest size telescope will be needed to observe the bluish planet.

Sporadic Meteors

Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are Sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During September, 10-16 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.

Minor Meteor Showers

Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors. Information on most of the minor showers will be provided on a weekly basis by Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook this month.

Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the following sites: Wayne Hally’s and Mark Davis’s NAMN Notes, and the International Meteor Organization’s 2010 Meteor Shower Calendar.


sources: PAGASA, SPACE.com, Skymania.com, TheTransientSky

The brightest star in Pegasus isn’t part of the Square: it is Enif, the Arabic word for “nose.” It marks the head of Pegasus, off to the west.

Venus at Greatest Elongation in 2010

The planet Venus has reached its greatest eastern elongation, or its maximum angular separation (visual distance) from the Sun as observed from the Earth, last August 20. The inferior planets, Venus and Mercury, are best viewed during their greatest elongation. On that night, Venus appeared higher and brighter in the evening sky.

During this appearance, I and my  fellow UP AstroSoc member, Andre Obidos saw our nearest planetary neighbor hanging about 20 degrees above the western, an hour after sunset. For comparison, your fist held at arm’s length covers roughly 10 degrees of the night sky.

We were really amazed by its dazzling display during that night. 😀 One may not easily tell that it was indeed a planet. Shining at -4.22, it was the brightest object then, aside from the waxing gibbous Moon. Unfortunately, fainter Mars and Saturn which were lying about a few degrees from Venus were not easily visible.

Below are the images which Andre took.

Venus at its greatest elongation in 2010

Venus and Arcturus

Last year, Venus, the planet named after the Goddess of Love, reached its peak of brightest just after Valentine’s Day 2009.

If observed through a telescope, it can be noticed that Venus was one half lit by reflected light from the Sun and the other half in dark.

Just like the Moon, Venus has phases. It can be full, gibbous, half or a crescent. These phases occur for the same reason that Moon phases do. One side of Venus is sunlit (the “dayside”). The other side is dark (the “nightside”). As Venus orbits the Sun it turns one side, then the other, toward Earth. At the moment, Venus is turning its nightside toward us. We can see only a sliver of the dayside–hence the crescent.

In one way Moon-phases and Venus-phases differ: The Moon is bright when it’s full, and dim when it’s a crescent. Venus is just the opposite. It reaches greatest brilliancy at crescent phase. When it is “full”, it is not normally possible to observe Venus because it is then on the other side of the Sun. Strange but true. 😀 (useful diagrams and explanations here)

By October 2010, Venus will end its reign as it goes lower and lower in the sky. It will reach its peak magnitude of -4.6 on September 24, about 23 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star. But in mid-October, Venus will dim to -4.3 and will set with the sun until it passes inferior conjunction on Oct. 28. In November, it will enter the dawn sky as the “Morning Star”.

it will be brightest in early autumn as it heads back down toward the sun, reaching its peak brilliance for this apparition on Sept. 23 at an eye-popping magnitude of –4.8.  That would make it 23 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star. Venus then quickly fades, vanishing from view in mid-October, and passes inferior conjunction on Oct. 28.

Jupiter and the moon on August 26

Moon and Jupiter in the East (about 25 deg above horizon) at 8:35 PM (PST)

The night sky on August 26 will be dominated by  Jupiter and the waning gibbous moon. They can be seen in the east by mid-evening, after brilliant Venus has disappeared beyond the western horizon. Rising just an hour or two after sunset, Jupiter and the moon can be viewed for the rest of the night among the faint stars of the constellation Pisces the Fish.

With a bright moon passing near them, Pisces’ dim outline might not be visible except from very dark locations. Still,  a prominent asterism – or noticeable pattern of stars – can be glimpsed near Jupiter and the moon on that night. It’s called The Circlet in Pisces.

Jupiter,  is slowly increasing in brightness as it heads towards its opposition and closest approach to Earth in 12 years just next month, September 21 .  This time is the best chance to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons. The giant planet will be as big and bright as it gets in the night sky. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands.


references: EarthSky.org, SeaSky.org

Planetary Events — August 20, 2010

For Philippine sky gazers, the planets Venus and Neptune will make their greatest appearance for this year on the evening of August 20 😀

The brightest planet in the solar system, Venus  will appear especially prominent because it will climb to its highest point in the evening sky upon reaching its greatest elongation. It will lie 47° from the Sun, its maximum distance for this appearance.

Also on this night, the planet Mars will lie just 2° above Venus. (That’s approximately the width of one finger when held at arm’s length.) Using binoculars will help bring it to view because it glows less than 1 percent as Venus. The planet Saturn lurks approximately 10° to Venus’ right and the star Spica in the constellation Virgo sits 10° to Venus’ left. Both shine a little brighter than Mars but fall far short of dazzling Venus.

Although naked eyes and binoculars offer the best views of the evening scene, anyone with a small telescope will get a thrill from targeting Venus. At greatest elongation, Venus looks like a miniature version of a First Quarter Moon, with one half in sunlight and the other in darkness.

On the other hand, the planet Neptune will be in opposition (opposite the sun in the sky and closest to Earth) and will be highest in the sky at local midnight. This opposition is special because Neptune will be returning close to the spot where it was discovered in 1846, marking its first complete trip around the sun since its discovery.

To find Neptune,  look for the large but faint triangle of Capricornus, to the left of Sagittarius and the Milky Way around 1 a.m. this week. The two stars at the left end of the triangle point the way to Neptune, just a little bit short of and above the star Iota in the neighboring constellation Aquarius.

In a small telescope or even binoculars, Neptune will look just like a star; what gives it away is its distinctive blue-green color.

Happy planet hopping! 😀


sources:  SPACE.com, Astronomy.com news, EarthSky.org

Lucky Friday the 13th! — Planet Parade and the 2010 Perseids

Many astronomy enthusiasts gathered last Friday, August 13 to observe the peak of the annual Perseids Meteor Shower as well as the beautiful display of planets after sunset.

My astronomy organization here in the Philippines, the UP Astronomical Society (UP AstroSoc), held a public observation for this event at the Sun Deck of PAGASA Astronomical Observatory in the University of the Philippines – Diliman. It was attended by around 30-40 guest who patiently waited for the Perseids despite the partly cloudy sky before midnight. The org’s telescopes were also set up so the attendees could view the planets Venus and Jupiter (with 4 of its moons!) which were visible during that night.

This observation was even featured in a news report of GMA’s Saksi, a local news program. Below is the video containing  interviews by some of the attendees:


Saksi: Astronomy enthusiasts await celestial alignment of 4 planets with Moon

Note: It was mentioned in the report that the planetary conjunction (planets appear near one another in the sky) is difficult to see without the use of telescopes. This is not true because seeing planetary groupings require a wider field of view (extent of the observable area) of the sky. Telescopes offer more details but have smaller field of view than our eyes.

I and two of my colleagues, Andre Obidos and Bea Banzuela, chose to observe from Marikina City. The skies were also cloudy there but we were still lucky enough to see and capture the ghostlike Moon with the planet Venus an hour after sunset in the west. Mars and Saturn however, were too dim to shine through the clouds.

We waited for the constellation Perseus (where the meteors would seem to radiate from) to rise around midnight but the sky was still full of clouds. We went out again around 3am but we saw nothing except for an overcast night sky with just a few bright stars like Altair, Vega and Deneb and the planet Jupiter which was nearly overhead. Following are some our images which were taken using Canon PowerShot SX 20:

Moon and Venus

Crescent Luna

Venus (15-sec exposure)

Reddish Moon

Other members of the organization went to different locations to help facilitate the other public observations of the event.

Below are photos taken by some UP AstroSoc members* during the observations.

members while waiting for the Perseids

UP AstroSoc members and guests at the PAGASA Sundeck while waiting for the Perseids

members posing beside one of the org's telescopes

a member peeks into the telescope to observe the planet Jupiter with its moons

Moon and Venus (viewed from Seven Suites Hotel in Antipolo)

members who went to Los Banos, Laguna posed beside the UPLB AstroSoc banner

Due to the coming of the rainy season here in the Philippines, having a clear night sky this month was almost impossible. Nonetheless, observers were still thankful that the clouds cleared up for even a short while, allowing them to see 4 or more of those beautiful bright streaks of light with the planets. 😀

According to the IMO measurements  the 2010 Perseid meteor shower was above normal with a peak activity of over 100 meteors per hour under optimal viewing conditions but not spectacular. In the coming nights the Perseids will still be visible, but with fewer and fewer meteors night by night.


*Photo credits:

Ana Geronimo (in UP Diliman)

Regyn Avena (in UP Los Ba ños)

Zal Gerente (Seven Suites Hotel in Antipolo)

All photos were used with their permission.

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Public Observations of the Perseids on the 13th

Wondering what to do on this Friday night? Dance with the meteors and the planets. 😀

The University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP Astrosoc) invites everyone to its public observation of the spectacular Perseid Meteor Shower and planetary grouping of Mars, Venus, Saturn and Mercury on August 13th (Friday) from 6pm to 6am of the following day at the PAGASA Observatory Sun Deck in the University of the Philippines Campus, Diliman.

Likewise, the UP-Los Banos Astronomical Society (UPLB Astrosoc) will hold an Astronomy Camp entitled “Astra La Vista: The First Encounter” also on the 13th at D.L. Umali Hall in UP Los Banos, Laguna. Aside from observing the Perseids and the planetary grouping, this event will be its launching activity as well.

So don’t forget to mark your calendars on this date, list down your wishes and watch these events from  your local areas.

Let’s pray for clear skies 🙂