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10/12/2018 – Ephemeris – The Moon’s phases

October 12, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, October 12th. The Sun will rise at 7:54. It’ll be up for 11 hours and 8 minutes, setting at 7:03. The Moon, halfway from new to first quarter, will set at 9:31 this evening.

The Moon’s changing appearance over the month may seem to be mysterious at first glance. Maybe because one may think that the objects in the sky are somehow different from the familiar objects we see around us on the Earth. In ancient times, especially the Greeks thought that everything in the heavens halfway perfect and spotless. They explained the definite markings we see as the man-in-the-moon as a reflection of the Earth by a spotless Moon. The Moon’s phases are simply light and shadow on a ball in the sunlight. Sometimes, when the Moon appears in the daytime, take a small ball, like a golf ball and hold it up to the Moon, while the ball is also in sunlight, and the small ball will exhibit the same phase as the Moon.

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

Addendum

Moon phases
One of the best explanation diagrams of the Moon’s phases as it relates to the Earth and Sun. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit Wikimedia user Orion 8.
Moon ball
Demonstration of the Moon’s crescent phase with the Styrofoam moon ball we use for Project Astro held up to a light off of the frame to the right. The night side of the ball is illuminated a bit by the translucency of the ball, and the reflection off of my hand. Note the roughness of the ball is visible only at the terminator.
Moonball
Demonstration of the Moon’s gibbous phase with the Styrofoam moon ball we use for Project Astro held up to a light off of the frame to the right. The night side of the ball is illuminated a bit by the translucency of the ball, and the reflection off of my hand. Note the roughness of the ball is visible only at the terminator.
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09/27/2018 – Ephemeris – Twilight zone

September 27, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, September 27th. The Sun will rise at 7:35. It’ll be up for 11 hours and 54 minutes, setting at 7:30. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 9:12 this evening.

It will get dark tonight with the end of astronomical twilight at 9:11 p.m., and a minute later the bright Moon will rise spoiling the dark sky. Speaking of astronomical twilight there are three twilight periods: Civil, Nautical and Astronomical. In the evening civil twilight lasts from sunset to when the Sun drops to 6 degrees below the horizon. The scene around is still quite bright, but car headlights still need to be on. Nautical twilight lasts until the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. Bright stars and the horizon are visible for sextant use. After that is astronomical twilight until the Sun is 18 degrees below the horizon, when the stars become more and more numerous. After that it’s officially dark, Moon willing.

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

Addendum

Twilight phases by timeanddate.com.
Twilight phases

More information about twilight, dusk and dawn can be found here:  https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/different-types-twilight.html.

08/16/2018 -Ephemeris – The Moon’s phase, a closer look

August 16, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, August 16th. The Sun rises at 6:46. It’ll be up for 14 hours exactly, setting at 8:46. The Moon, 2 days before first quarter, will set at 11:59 this evening.

With the Moon at a fat crescent tonight, it’s a good time to turn binoculars or a small telescope toward it. The demarcation between the bright part and the dark part is called the terminator. In the case before full moon, it is the sunrise line. After that the sunset line. The Moon’s entire day lasts about 29 ½ earthly days. I am sometimes asked “What’s blocking the light from the unlit side of the Moon?” It’s the Moon itself. It’s the night side of the Moon, just as when we are in night. The Earth itself is blocking the Sun’s light from us. The Moon, like the Earth and all the other planets are spheres lit on one side by the Sun. It’s near the terminator of the Moon where the most detail is revealed by the long shadows cast by the Moon’s features.

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

Addendum

Crescent Moon tonight

The crescent moon as it should appear tonight. Created using Stellarium.  Stellarium always shows details on the night side of the Moon.  The crescent phase of the Moon is now too fat to really see earthshine on it’s night side.

Moon ball

Demonstration of the Moon’s crescent phase with the Styrofoam moon ball we use for Project Astro held up to a light off frame to the right.  The night side of the ball is illuminated a bit by the translucency of the ball, and the reflection off my hand.  Note the roughness of the ball is visible only at the terminator.

07/30/2018 – Ephemeris – Early tomorrow morning Mars will be the closest to is in 15 years

July 30, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, July 30th. The Sun rises at 6:26. It’ll be up for 14 hours and 44 minutes, setting at 9:10. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 10:51 this evening.

Mars’ closest approach to the Earth since August 27, 2003 is tomorrow at about 3:51 a.m. at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million km). The last really close approach of Mars was on August 27, 2003 when it was about 600 thousand miles (a million km) closer. That close approach was probably the closest in 50 thousand years. Mars and the Earth get close in their orbits about every 26 months. But because Mars has a much more elliptical orbit than the Earth, the very best close encounters occur every 15 or 17 years. Despite the fact that we have satellites that orbit Mars and two rovers operating on its surface, amateur astronomers still challenge themselves to observe and photograph Mars at its very closest.

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

Addendum

Mars closest approaches 2003-2018

Mars’ closest approaches to the Earth in the period 2003 to 2018 also showing the apparent sizes of the planet at each approach. Click on image to enlarge. Created using my LookingUp program and Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

 

07/26/2018 – Ephemeris – How can you get to Mars – the Hohmann transfer orbit

July 26, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, July 26th. The Sun rises at 6:22. It’ll be up for 14 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 9:15. The Moon, 1 day before full, will set at 6:06 tomorrow morning.

How does one get a spacecraft to another planet, like Mars? One might think to wait until the two planets are closest and zip across. That would take more energy than we are capable of. We cab barely escape the Earth and get a spacecraft into solar orbit. Also one needs energy to slow down to be captured by the planet if one wants to orbit it. The most economical way was devised way before the space age by Walter Hohmann, a German scientist in 1925. The idea is to launch a spacecraft with enough velocity to reach the other planet half way around the Sun, so the transfer orbit is tangent to both the Earth’s and the planet’s orbit. Transit times to Mars would be in the range of 7 months. The InSight lander is currently on such a trajectory.

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

Addendum

Hohmann transfer orbit

Hohmann transfer orbit. Credit Planetary Society-Myron Kayton

Hohmann orbit to Mars

A Hohmann lowest energy transfer orbit to Mars. This diagram is for the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity orbits, launched in 2003, arrived in 2004. Solid planets, Spirit launch and arrival. Ghost planets, Opportunity launch and arrival. Credit NASA/JPL.

07/23/2018 – Ephemeris – The importance of Mars in determining the nature of the solar system

July 23, 2018 Comments off

Monday, July 23rd. The Sun rises at 6:19. It’ll be up for 14 hours and 59 minutes, setting at 9:18. The Moon, half way from first quarter to full, will set at 3:41 tomorrow morning.

The accurate observational positions of Mars by Tycho Brahe allowed Johannes Kepler in the early 17th century to discover his three laws of planetary motion. Tycho was the last and greatest of the naked eye astronomers. Kepler befriended Tycho who jealously guarded his observations. It was only after his death in 1601 that Kepler took possession of Tycho’s data. Until then it was believed that planets moved with uniform circular motion, even though they didn’t look like it. Astronomers added circle after circle, called epicycles, to attempt to make their system work. Mars was the worst case. Kepler finally determined that Mars, and indeed all the planets, orbited the Sun in elliptical orbits. That was his first law of planetary motion.

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

Addendum

The source if the images below is the talk “Mars 2018” I gave at the Betsie Valley District Library, July, 20, 2018.

Tycho and Kepler

Tycho and Kepler. Artist for Tycho: Eduard Ender (1822-1883). Artist for Kepler, unknown. Source: Wikipedia.

Mars and Earth's orbits

Mars’ and Earth’s orbits to scale and positions of the Earth and Mars July 20, 2018, one week before opposition. Note that Mars’ orbit is decidedly not circular. Credit my LookingUp program.

Retrograde Mars Path 2018

Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

Retrograde motion explained

Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).

05/24/2018 – Ephemeris – Jupiter is really BIG

May 24, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, May 24th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 8 minutes, setting at 9:14, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:05. The Moon, 3 days past first quarter, will set at 4:24 tomorrow morning.

Jupiter is a big planet. How big is it? One could fit thirteen hundred Earths inside it. Even so Jupiter has the mass of only 318 Earths, so Jupiter is made of lighter stuff than the Earth, including a lot of hydrogen and helium. NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently orbiting Jupiter, working that out. Still, Jupiter is massive. The late science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote that the solar system consists of the Sun, Jupiter and debris. Jupiter contains more than twice the mass of all the other planets and asteroids combined. Jupiter is also surrounded by a huge set of radiation belts, lethal to all but the most radiation hardened spacecraft. And that goes for would be astronauts too.

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

Addendum

Planet size comparison

Planet size comparison. Note that even though Saturn looks almost as large as Jupiter it is less than 30% of Jupiter’s mass. From connormorency.wordpress.com