09/20/2019 – Ephemeris – Two local astronomy events this weekend

September 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Ephemeris for Friday, September 20th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 17 minutes, setting at 7:44, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:28. The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 11:19 this evening.

There are two local astronomical events tomorrow. The Leland Heritage Celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fishtown in Leland. The Grand Traverse Astronomical Society will be there to show the Sun through member’s telescopes, maybe spot the Moon plus give out NASA items for the kids. That evening from 9 to 11 p.m. members of the society will move to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s Dune Climb for this month’s star party featuring the planets Jupiter and Saturn and the wonders of the summer Milky Way. Rain will affect the Leland event, and heavy overcast will affect the Dunes event. Last month’s Dune event appeared earlier in the day to be clouded out, but it did clear up later on.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Don Flegel at Fishtown

Don Flegel, in the foreground, with the society’s solar telescope assisting a person viewing the Sun at he Leland Heritage Festival 2017 at Fishtown. Don Flegel, in the foreground, with the society’s solar telescope assisting a person viewing the Sun at he Leland Heritage Festival 2017 at Fishtown. Man in the background in the blue cap is Gary Carlisle. Telescope in the middle is mine.

Preparing to start the star party

Preparing to start the May star party 3 years ago at the Dune Climb. A few of the telescopes are visible including the GTAS 25″ “Emmettron” telescope at the far right. Credit: Eileen Carlisle.

09/19/2019 – Ephemeris – The celestial upside down flying horse

September 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Ephemeris for Thursday, September 19th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 20 minutes, setting at 7:46, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:27. The Moon, 2 days before last quarter, will rise at 10:42 this evening.

Rising and almost half way up the sky in the east at as it gets dark around 9 p.m. can be found one of the great autumn constellations: Pegasus the flying horse of Greek myth. Its most visible feature is a large square of four stars, now standing on one corner. This feature, called the Great Square of Pegasus, represents the front part of the horse’s body. The horse is quite aerobatic, because it is seen flying upside down. Remembering that fact, the neck and head is a bent line of stars emanating from the right corner star of the square. Its front legs can be seen in a gallop extending to the upper right from the top star of the square. From the left star extend, not hind legs but the constellation of Andromeda, rescued with the help of Pegasus.

For my retelling of the Greek myth that links these two and other autumn constellations click here.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Pegasus-Andromeda finder

Pegasus & Andromeda animated finder chart for 9 p.m. September 19, 2019. Click on the iamge to enlarge. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Ephemeris Extra – The Great Star Story of Autumn

September 18, 2019 Leave a comment
Autumn Star Story Constellations

The constellations of the great star story of autumn. Looking southeast on October 31 at 10 p.m. Created using Stellarium.

The great star wheel of the sky rolls on. In the evening sky gone are the stars of spring, and going are the southern stars of summer. In the morning sky before sunrise the stars of an early winter evening.

A constant in both skies are the stars of autumn: rising in the evening and setting in the morning. In no other part of the sky do so many constellations take part in a single story

The constellations, as seen above are Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus, and Cetus. And their story goes like this:

In distant Ethiopia a crisis was brewing. King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia were at wits end as how to stop it. A giant sea monster named Cetus was ravaging the country’s coastal cities destroying them and devouring the inhabitants.

The king and queen consulted the temple oracle as to what happened and what could be done to save their country. The oracle intoned gravely that the fault was Cassiopeia’s. Suddenly the queen knew what happened. Cassiopeia was very beautiful and she had vainly boasted to all who could hear that she was more beautiful than even the sea nymphs, the lovely daughters of the sea god Poseidon.

The sea nymphs had heard of Cassiopeia’s boast and complained to their father. Poseidon, like any father, was angered, and being a god was able to do something about. Being a god means never having to say your sorry when you do something really mean. He loosed the monster Cetus upon the Ethiopians.

The oracle said that to appease the monster and Poseidon Cassiopeia would have to sacrifice her daughter the Princess Andromeda to the monster. That is how young Andromeda was chained to the rocks on the sea shore to await her doom…

Far away in ancient Greece a wedding was about to take place between the beautiful Princess Danaë and King Polydectes. Danaë’s son Perseus, fathered by Zeus, but that’s another story, wasn’t too happy about the proposed union, and Polydectes wanted the boy gone.

When Perseus asked Polydectes what he wanted for a wedding gift, he said, “I want the head of Medusa.” The boy immediately and foolhardedly agreed to get it for him.

Merdusa, it turns out, was one of three sisters, the Gorgons, who had snakes for hair. They were so ugly that one glimpse of them would turn the beholder to stone. Medusa was the only mortal one.

Luckily Perseus had the favor of the god Hermes and Athene. They armed him with Hermes’ winged sandals, a helmet that made him invisible, a pouch that would expand to hold an object of any size, a shiny mirror shield, and a sword.

Thus armed Perseus was told to find the Graiae or the gray women, who could tell him where the lair of the Gorgons was. They were three in number and shared but one eye and one tooth among them which they passed from one to another to use.

The Graiae refused to help Perseus. But he was able to force them to help by snatching their one eye while it was being passed from one to another. They told him that the Gorgons dwelt in the shore of the river Ocean at the edge of the world in perpetual twilight.

In approaching the lair of the Gorgons Perseus put on the helmet of invisibility. He approached Medusa stepping backwards, cautiously peering only at Medusa’s indistinct image in his shield. Perseus then swept his sword in a backhanded way and managed to sever Medusa’s head. It is said that Athene guided his hand.

Amazingly, springing full grown from Medusa’s blood was the winged white stallion Pegasus. After placing Medusa’s head in the pouch, Perseus mounted Pegasus for the trip home.

Cruising high in the sky over the Ethiopian coast Perseus spotted a horrific sight. There far below the beautiful Andromeda, in chains; her screams reaching his ears. Then he spotted why she was screaming. A short distance away, crawling out of the surf was the monster Cetus, heading towards Andromeda. Perseus immediately sizes up the situations and swooped with Pegasus down to a spot between Andromeda and the monster. Then, burying his head in his shoulder drew out the head of Medusa from the pouch and held it in front of Cetus. The head was as lethal in death as in life, and the monster was promptly turned to stone. Replacing the head in the pouch, Perseus freed Andromeda. They flew off to, well supposedly, live happily ever after.

Oh yes. Perseus did present the head of Medusa to his step father Polydectes. He, of course, was also turned to stone when he laid eyes on it.

There you have it a story connecting the autumn constellations of Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus and Cetus.

Cepheus is a dim church steeple of a constellation. Its dim star Delta is a variable star, the prototype of an important class of distance measuring stars called Cephieds in its honor. Cassiopeia is the famous W shaped constellation that along with Cepheus doesn’t set at our latitude.

Perseus looks to me more like the cartoon roadrunner than a hero. As the ancients saw him, he is holding the head of Medusa, whose still glittering eye is the star Algol, a variable star which ghastly winks at us every 2 days and 21 hours.

Andromeda’s modern claim to fame is the great galaxy that lies beyond her stars, the Great Andromeda Galaxy which has the designation M31. The galaxy is faintly visible to the unaided eye on dark nights. The farthest you can see without optical aid. The galaxy lies some 2.5 million light years away.

Pegasus can be easily found by the square of stars the form his body. It’s called the Great Square of Pegasus.

What can be said about Cetus. It now represents a whale, not a monster. Its star Mira, which means “Wonderful”, slowly varies in brightness over 330 days from a star barely visible in binoculars to a 2nd or 3rd magnitude star.

Look up on an autumn evening and recapture the wonder the ancients had as they looked upward at the stars.

09/18/2019 – Ephemeris – Checking out the whereabouts of the bright planets

September 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Ephemeris for Wednesday, September 18th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 23 minutes, setting at 7:48, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:26. The Moon, 3 days before last quarter, will rise at 10:11 this evening.

Let’s look at the planets for this week. Mars, Venus and Mercury are too close to the Sun to be seen. Venus and Mercury are on the evening or east side of the Sun, Mars is on the west or morning side. Bright Jupiter will be low in the southwestern sky as it gets dark. With steadily held binoculars a few of the 4 largest satellites of Jupiter can be seen. Three of the four Jupiter’s Galilean satellites can be easily spotted in telescopes this evening. The moon Europa will appear very close to the planet. Jupiter will set at 11:21 p.m. Saturn, the ringed planet, will be in the southern sky in the evening. It will pass the meridian, due south at 8:52 p.m. and will set at 1:19 a.m.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


Evening planets

Jupiter and Saturn with the constellations of the southern summer sky at 10 p.m. September 18, 2019. Created using Stellarium.

Binocular Moon

The waning gibbous Moon at 11 p.m. September 18, 2019. Created using Stellarium.

Telescopic planets

Telescopic views of Jupiter and Saturn with the same magnification at 10 p.m. September 18, 2019. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

Planets and the Moon on a single night

Planets and the Moon at sunset and sunrise of a single night starting with sunset on the right on September 18, 2019. The night ends on the left with sunrise on the 19th. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using my LookingUp program.

09/17/2019 – Ephemeris – It looks like another interstellar object has been found passing through the solar system

September 17, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, September 17th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 26 minutes, setting at 7:50, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:24. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 9:45 this evening.

Last week Monday I talked about a project to detect interstellar meteoroids that hit the Moon. It turns out we don’t have to wait that long. This past August 30th, Gennady Borisov of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory discovered apparent comet since designated C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). It will approach the Sun just outside Mars orbit in December. It’s moving at over 25 miles per second (41 km/s) or nearly 92 thousand miles an hour (150,000 km/hr). In 2017 the first interstellar body discovered to enter our solar system was spotted, ‘Oumuamua. It was already past its closest to the Sun when found. This one is still approaching and visibly out gassing, so we’ll find out much more of its composition.


Color photograph of C/2019 Q4

Color photograph of C/2019 Q4. Image Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA

Orbit of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov)

Orbit of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Check out these links:




09/16/2019 – Ephemeris Extra – I’ll be giving my presentation “Apollo and the Moon Race” tonight

September 16, 2019 Comments off

I’ll be giving my illustrated talk Apollo and the Moon Race tonight at 7 p.m. at the Traverse Area District Library on Woodmere Avenue in Traverse City.  The 1960s were a heady time with the space race between the US and the USSR in achieving space firsts.  I will look at the competition, and the incremental steps that had to be made to finally send astronauts to the surface of the Moon on July 20th 1969.

If you miss this presentation, there will be another on Friday September 27, at 7 p.m. at the Betsie Valley District Library in Thompsonville.

Both events will have viewing of the skies with the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society including Jupiter and Saturn afterward if it’s clear.



09/16/2019 – Ephemeris – Astronomers view a supernova that completely destroyed its star

September 16, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, September 16th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 29 minutes, setting at 7:51, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:23. The Moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 9:21 this evening.

When a star explodes in a supernova due to being very massive, it generally leaves a tiny compact remnant called a neutron star or a black hole within an expanding cloud of gas and dust. However in the early universe there was only hydrogen and helium. It turns out that stars could get much more massive, maybe several hundred times the mass of the Sun, rather than tens of times more massive that the Sun that exist now. Theoreticians suggest that when these stars explode, there was no core to collapse into a black hole or neutron star, but the whole star ignites in a thermonuclear reaction spewing its entire self, and newly created elements into the universe. Astronomers are studying a supernova suspect discovered in 2016: SN 2016iet.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


SN 2016iet

The discovery image (right) shows SN 2016iet and its most likely host galaxy. It was taken with the Low Dispersion Survey Spectrograph on the Magellan Clay 6.5-m telescope at Las Campanas Observatory on July 9, 2018. On the left is a pre-discovery image of the area wit a circle of where the supernova would appear.

The article I gleaned this information from:  https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/supernova-that-destroyed-its-star/

It contains a link to the publication preprint.