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08/16/2022 – Ephemeris – Scanning Sagittarius with binoculars

August 16, 2022 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Tuesday, August 16th. Today the Sun will be up for 14 hours to the minute, setting at 8:46, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:47. The Moon, 3 days before last quarter, will rise at 11:15 this evening.

The Moon has left the evening sky, so let’s take another look at the constellation of Sagittarius. Its bright stars make a follow the dots image of a stout little teapot. In, around and above the teapot is a wealth of nebulae, which are clouds of gas and dust and clusters of stars. Stars are born in bunches from a cloud of gas. When enough stars are born, their stellar winds blow away the nebulosity leaving a star cluster. Use a pair of binoculars or a very low power telescope and just wander around and above the teapot, including and especially the spout on the right side. In binoculars, star clusters appear fuzzy like nebulae, however a small telescope with magnification of 20 times should resolve most of them.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EDT, UT – 4 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Annotated Sagittarius photograph

Sagittarius in a short time exposure with added annotations. The “M” designations are objects in Charles Messier’s catalog created in the latter half of the 18th century. LSSC is the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud, SSSC is the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud. Labels are to the right of the objects they name. Credit Bob Moler.

This is the short radio program version of the August 8, 2022, Ephemeris Extra post Wandering through Sagittarius

Ephemeris Extra – Wandering through Sagittarius

August 8, 2022 Comments off

Annotated Sagittarius photograph

Sagittarius in a short time exposure with added annotations. The “M” designations are objects in Charles Messier’s catalog created in the latter half of the 18th century. LSSC is the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud, SSSC is the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud. Credit Bob Moler.

Sagittarius is seen low in the south in August. It’s between Scorpius to the west, and Capricornus, rising in the southeast. The name Sagittarius simply means archer. It doesn’t describe the fact that the archer isn’t just any old bloke with a bow and arrow, but is, indeed, a centaur, one of the two in the list of constellations. The other, Centaurus, is too far south to be seen from Michigan. And whose brightest star, Alpha Centauri, is in the closest star system to our solar system.
Centaurs, as a rule, were a rowdy bunch, the ancient Greek equivalent to a modern motorcycle gang. However, the centaur depicted by Sagittarius can be thought to be Chiron, though it can also be ascribed to Centaurus. Chiron was learned, a teacher and physician. I’ve noticed that in some artist’s depictions of Chiron, he is teaching Achilles how to use the bow and arrow. He also taught medicine to Asclepius, the great physician, who is seen in the heavens as the constellation Ophiuchus, above and right of Sagittarius.
What most of us see in the stars here is maybe a bow drawn to shoot at the heart of Scorpius, or a stout little teapot as in the children’s song. It even has the Milky Way seeming to rise from the spout like steam. The teapot rises in the southeast as if standing upright, and as the night wears on, it rises and move westward, slowly tilting to pour out its tea on the southwestern horizon.
The area of Sagittarius and the Milky Way is a fantastic part of the sky to explore with binoculars or a low power telescope on moonless nights. At the head of this post is a photograph of Sagittarius and the Milky Way taken from my home, with lines and labels. It’s somewhat spoiled by the sky glow from Chum’s Corner, a small commercial center 3.6 miles away, from the lower left. Most binoculars will show open or galactic star clusters as fuzzy spots like nebulae, which are fuzzy because they are clouds. The older globular star clusters require larger amateur telescopes to resolve.
I’ve only pointed out one in the image, that’s M22, whose designation, we have fun with at star parties at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, since the road M22 runs through the park. Which came first? That’s easy, Charles Messier cataloged his 22nd object before Michigan was a state or even had roads. Well, maybe there were a few, around Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie, back when the major “roads” were the Great Lakes, and the rest Indian trails.
A telescope, even a small one, will resolve open clusters, showing individual stars. Telescopes will show the shapes of nebulae if they are bright enough.
One nebula with a distinctive shape is M17. The descriptive name I first knew it as was the Omega Nebula, and also the Horseshoe Nebula. To me, it never looked like either. It looked like a check mark, or a somewhat short necked swan. And it also goes by those names too. The planetarium program I use a lot, Stellarium, also calls it the Lobster nebula. I’m not much for seafood, but it doesn’t look like a lobster, or maybe I’m not hungry enough.
M16, is the Eagle Nebula. It has an associated star cluster. My eyes are drawn to the star cluster. The nebulosity is very faint, and I usually can’t see it. Part of the nebula was famously photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope and called the Pillars of Creation. In actuality, they are the Pillars of Destruction as they are being blown away by the stellar winds of the star cluster.
M8 is the Lagoon Nebula, it also has an associated star cluster. In telescopes, it is crossed by a narrow dust cloud suggestive of a lagoon. Nearby M20 is the Trifid nebula, which has a low surface brightness and can easily be missed. It is crossed by three narrow dust clouds dividing it into three, or on closer inspection, four wedges.
These just scratch the surface. So with or without optical aid wander through the celestial wonders and star clouds of Sagittarius. You have August and September to do it in the evening before they set for another year.

Based on an article I wrote for the August 2022 issue of the Stellar Sentinel, the Newsletter of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society.

01/24/2022 – Ephemeris – The Great Orion Nebula

January 24, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, January 24th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 30 minutes, setting at 5:40, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:09. The Moon, 1 day before last quarter, will rise at 1:03 tomorrow morning.

The closest star nursery to us, places where stars are being born, is the Great Orion Nebula, 1,300 light years away. A light year is about 6 trillion miles, if you want to pace it out. It’s located in the constellation Orion’s sword that hangs below his belt. In as little as a pair of binoculars, it shines by emission and reflection of the light of a tiny clutch of four stars at its heart, which astronomers have called the Trapezium. These extremely hot young massive stars are not destined to live long. Unlike the Sun’s 10 billion year lifetime, these stars lifespans will be measured in millions of years. Yet do not mourn for them, even now stars are forming within their dusty cocoons in the nebula. The Trapezium stars’ deaths will provide heavy elements for new stars and planets.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

Addendum

The lower part of Orion with the Great Orion Nebula. Created using Stellarium.

The lower part of Orion, with the Great Orion Nebula. Created using Stellarium.

The Great Orion Nebula (M42) long exposure photograph

The Great Orion Nebula (M42) long exposure photograph by Scott Anttila. Includes all the sword stars.

Inner part of the Great Orion Nebula. Image by Scott Anttila

The inner and brightest part of the Great Orion Nebula. Also, visible are the four stars of the Trapezium, whose ultraviolet emissions light up the nebula. This is pretty much one’s perception of the nebula as seen in a small telescope, except it would appear colorless. In larger telescopes, one would perceive a greenish color. The red color of hydrogen is outside our night adapted visual range. The green emission is due to mainly doubly ionized oxygen and the green emission of hydrogen. Image by Scott Anttila.

12/10/2021 – Ephemeris – Our last look at Comet Leonard before it leaves forever*

December 10, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, December 10th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 52 minutes, setting at 5:02, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:10. The Moon, at first quarter today, will set at 12:25 tomorrow morning.

This is the day of the earliest sunset of the year. It doesn’t coincide with the shortest day because the Earth is moving faster in its orbit than average and getting ahead of its rotation a bit. Comet Leonard’s last appearance in the morning sky is tomorrow or Sunday before twilight overwhelms it. At 6:30 am it will be just a bit south of due east at azimuth 93 degrees and an altitude of 9 degrees, a bit less than the width of a fist held at arm’s length. When it gets into the evening sky, its track will take will be along the horizon from the southwest to the south. It will come very close to Venus, and I suspect that is what will alter its orbit slightly, so it will never return and end up becoming an interstellar comet.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

* After this weekend, the comet will enter the evening sky, but will hang quite low to the horizon in evening twilight as it passes Venus, heads southward and fades. It would best be viewed by observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s headed out of the solar system in a hyperbolic orbit.

Addendum

Comet Leonard 7 am, 12/11/21

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) finder chart for 7:00 am, December 11, 2021. The comet’s tail may not be visible visually. The comet’s head, what astronomers call a coma, may appear as a large fuzzy spot. At that time it will be 22.1 million miles away, and will come within 21.7 million miles at its closest to us on the 12th. Created using Stellarium.

Comet Leonard (C/2021 A1) in the morning

Comet Leonard’s positions at 7:15 am on the dates indicated. The labels are Month-Day Total Magnitude. The star’s position relative to the horizon and the position of Mars are for December 10th. The star field will be shifting to the upper right each morning at 7:15 from the December 10th date at 7:15. Comets always appear dimmer than their magnitude suggests because they are extended objects, not points like stars. Also, comet magnitudes can be unpredictable. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

09/03/2015 – Ephemeris – Jewels in the shield

September 3, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, September 3rd.  The Sun will rise at 7:07.  It’ll be up for 13 hours and 9 minutes, setting at 8:16.   The Moon, 2 days before last quarter, will rise at 11:26 this evening.

The teapot pattern of stars that is the constellation of Sagittarius lies at the southern end of the Milky Way this evening. It appears that the Milky Way is steam rising from the spout.  The area above Sagittarius in the brightest part of the Milky Way is the dim constellation of Scutum the shield.  Don’t bother looking for the stars that make up the constellation; what’s important is the star clouds of the Milky Way.  Scan this area with binoculars or small telescope for star clusters and nebulae or clouds of gas.  In binoculars both clusters and nebulae will appear fuzzy, but a small telescope will tell most of them apart.  Even if you’ve never been able to find anything in your telescope, you’ll find something here.

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

Addendum

Scutum

Scutum between Sagittarius below and Aquila above at 10 p.m. September 3, 2015. Created using Stellarium.

Star hopping in Scutum

How to find the three brightest deep sky wonders around Scutum by star hopping. Created using Stellarium, annotated by myself.

Star hopping is a method to find objects from familiar star patterns.  At the top my method to find M11, the wild duck cluster is to locate the three stars at the tail of Aquila the Eagle and follow them to M11.  M11 takes a little bigger telescope to resolve.  I remember having trouble resolving it is a 5″ telescope.  It looks like a triangular cluster with all the stars of the same dimness except one brighter one.

At the bottom of Scutum, I locate that distinctive 5 star group circled.  Directly west is M16, the Eagle Nebula and star cluster.  The star cluster is easy to spot, the nebula is hard.  The Hubble space telescope made the nebula famous in the 1990’s as the Pillars of Creation.

Below and west is M17, the Omega Nebula, or the Swan Nebula.  To me it looks like a swan swimming or a check mark of nebulosity.  The associated star cluster is much less noticeable.

Happy star hopping.