Archive for the ‘Ephemeris Extra’ Category

03/21/2023 – Ephemeris Extra – Spring has sprung without me

March 21, 2023 Leave a comment

Being in the hospital and now in inpatient rehab one loses a sense of time. So the vernal equinox snuck by me unnoticed. My view of the outside world is another part of the hospital, a part of the HVAC system, and a piece of sky.

Yesterday, the Sun passed over the Earth’s equator, heading northward. The Sun is gradually setting at the South Pole and rising at the North Pole. Folks like me who live in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing longer daylight than those south of the equator, who are beginning autumn. The daylight hours will increase daily until June 21st, the summer solstice. In the Interlochen/Traverse City area, that will be 15 hours and 34 minutes.

The cause of the Earth’s seasons is not our varying distance from the Sun in our eliptical orbit of the Sun of 93 million plus or minus a million and a half miles.By the way, the Earth is currently moving away from the Sun. It will be farthest from the Sun around July 4th or 5th.

Our perception of the advance of spring, besides the gradully warming temperatures and increasing daylight hours, will be the height of the Sun’s path in the sky, and the position of the Sun’s rise and set points on the horizon. All these annual changes are angles having to do with one’s latitude (an angle), Earth’s position in orbit (an angle), and the tilt of the Earth’s axis to it’s orbit (more angles).


03/19/2023 – Ephemeris Extra – Zodiacal light

March 19, 2023 Leave a comment

This is the time of year when the faint glow can be seen in the west at the end of asttronomical twilight in the evening. It’s called zodiacal light. It is difficult to spot the first time. The final twilight glow tends to be horizontal, along the horizon, while źodiacal light has a thin pyramidal shape tilted to the left along the constellations of the zodiac. Right now, Venus appears in the heart of the glow.

Some of my older blog posts also cover zodiacal light with images of it I’ve taken, so search for zodiacal light in the spot provided.

On a personal note: I’m expected to be discharged from rehab by month’s end. I’m hoping that a couple of weeks after that, I can get back to a regular schedule. Here’s hoping.


11/12/2022 – Ephemeris Extra – Family Night at the Rogers Observatory is Canceled

November 12, 2022 Comments off

We’re getting lake effect snow, which means clouds, too. So there is no hope for observing tonight.

Our next events will be

December 2: Grand Traverse Astronomical Society monthly meeting at 8 pm – the presentation Searching for the Star of Bethlehem by yours truly. There will be observing after the meeting if it is clear. This will be at Northwestern Michigan College’s Rogers Observatory.

December 3: Family Day at the Dennos Museum Center on the Northwestern Michigan College campus starting at 1 pm with hands-on activities and a presentation at 2 pm. This is in celebration of the NASA Kiosk at the Museum through December. The Museum admission fee is waived for Family Day.

10/02/2022 – Ephemeris Extra – NASA goes on the offensive

October 2, 2022 Comments off

Didymus and Dimorphos from DART

DART images of both Didymos, the big one, and Dimorphos, on approach. Credit NASA / JHAPL

This is a slightly revised version of my article in the Stellar Sentinel, the newsletter of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society. Educators may receive a free PDF copy of this monthly publication via email, which covers astronomical topics and events visible from Northwest Lower Michigan. Send your request, stating your affiliation, to

The score is: Asteroids-billions, NASA-1. It’s a bit unfair, since asteroids have been hitting the Earth for 4.567 billion years or so, and NASA has been around for 64 years before DART spacecraft collided with the asteroid Dimorphos. Hey, this was their first attempt at a small asteroid. As far as the 21st century destructive asteroid score is 1 to NASA’s 1, as far as I know.
That strike was in Chelyabinsk, Russia. That was February 15, 2013. We were all waiting on another asteroid making a close pass of the Earth, when the Chelyabinsk meteoroid exploded 14 miles above the city. Over a thousand people were injured by the blast wave. They saw the bright flash and rushed to the windows to see what it was. Then the blast wave hit, shattering the windows, causing glass cuts for over a thousand people. One building’s wall collapsed, and a fragment fell into a lake outside of town.
NASA’s record in attempting to hit a planetary object dates back to the early 1960s and the nine Pioneer missions to crash a probe on the Moon, sending back pictures all the way down. Back in the early 60s, just hitting a 2,100-mile (3380 kilometer) wide object a quarter of a million miles away was a dicey prospect. It’s one thing to miss the Moon on one side or the other, but to not have enough oomph to even make it all the way is downright embarrassing. NASA did much better by the end of the decade with the Apollo manned landings and bombarding the Moon with used space vehicles for seismic studies of its interior.
NASA actually collided a spacecraft into a comet. That was July 4, 2005, when the impactor part of the Deep Impact spacecraft hit Comet Tempel 1’s nucleus, attempting to study part of its subsurface. The non-impactor part was later renamed EPOXI and went on to fly by the dog-bone shaped Hartley 2 comet nucleus. Another reused comet explorer spacecraft Stardust after collecting cometary dust from Comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt 2), and possible interstellar dust penetrating the solar system, and after dropping the sample re-entry capsule back on Earth it ended in solar orbit. Later it was repurposed as the Stardust-NexT mission and flew by Tempel 1 six years later to study the crater the Deep Impact Impactor made in the comet.
To study the effect of a collision of a spacecraft from the Earth despite the fact that Dimorphos cannot be seen is a trick. However, the pair is an eclipsing binary from our point of view, so the brightness of the unresolved pair changes as they eclipse each other.
Before the collision, Dimorphos had an 11.9 hour orbit of Didymos. Dimorphos is a fifth the size of Didymos orbiting it at three times the primary’s radius. If the orbit is near circular, Dimorphos’ orbital velocity is only 0.39 mph (0.63 kph). It should be relatively easy to see a tiny change in Dimorphos’ orbital period.

Last frame Dimorphos fit in from DART

Last frame Dimorphos fit in from DART. Credit NASA / JHAPL.

Two images from the LiciaCube satellite

Two images from the LiciaCube satellite launched from the DART spacecraft 15 days before the impact, and trailing it to record the collision with its wide and narrow angle imagers. Dimorphos does appear to be a rubble pile asteroid from its appearance and the amount of ejecta caused by the impact. The ejecta adds to the effect of the spacecraft’s kinetic energy by pushing away from the asteroid by Newton’s third law of motion. Credit: Italian Space Agency.

Dimorphos ejecta from Atlas

A frame from a time-lapse video taken from the ATLAS Project’s South African observatory of the unresolved Didymos – Dimorphos pair and the expanding ejecta cloud. The asteroid pair developed a dust tail like a comet for a while.
ATLAS is an acronym for a rather apocalyptic title “Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System”. Developed by the University of Hawai’i and funded by NASA. It has two telescopes in Hawai’i, one in Chile, and one in South Africa. Credit: NASA/UH.

Days later, Dimorphos was exhibiting a thin dust tail, like a comet.

Now we wait on Earth’s observatories to observe of the period of Dimorphos’ orbit. It should decrease the orbital time.

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.

Ephemeris Extra – Sunrise solar eclipse

June 10, 2021 Comments off

The partially eclipsed Sun this morning

The partially eclipsed Sun this morning, taken through a solar filter, so it’s redder than it actually was. Taken shortly after 6 am from Traverse City, MI West Middle School. There were quite a bit of clouds on the horizon. Credit Bob Moler.

Here is an unfiltered view taken a few minutes earlier:

Sunrise solar eclipse

Here is an unfiltered shot of the Sun bisected by a cloud. Credit Bob Moler.

12/11/2020 – Ephemeris Extra – Venus will hide behind the Moon for W US, Canada and N Pacific Tomorrow

December 11, 2020 Comments off

Tomorrow Saturday, December 12, 2020 Venus will be occulted, or covered, by the thin crescent Moon for the area bounded in the map below. The southern boundary is a thin red line denoting that the event will take place in daylight.  For safety sake observe the event from the shadow of a building open to the sky west of the Sun to not inadvertently point binoculars or telescope toward the Sun and cause permanent damage to your eyes. Venus is visible in the daytime. A program like Stellarium will help in locating Venus and determination of the time of the event for your location. Also, for Stellarium, in the configuration window’s Tool tab make sure “Topocentric coordinates” is checked.

The event will NOT be visible from Michigan.

Occultation of Venus World map 12/12/2020

Occultation of Venus World map 12/12/2020. The occultation will be visible within the bounded area. For the area that looks like a lazy figure 8 the occultation will start (on the left) or end as Venus and the Moon rises or sets. For most areas within the bounded area the occultation is a daytime event. Credit Occult4.


12/03/2020 – Ephemeris Interruptus – I’m in the hospital for tests

December 3, 2020 1 comment

Yesterday I developed some symptoms of the stroke I had last January and my daughter took me to the ER where I had a CT scan. I’m waiting on a early am MRI. I should be home later today. I hope to be finishing up my Zoom program In Search of the Star of Bethlehem. If you’re interested go to Friday. The program will start ar 8 pm EST, though you can join earlier with the GTAS business meeting in progress. I might get the 12/03 post up later in the day.

The audio Ephemeris programs will run on Interlochen Public Radio through Monday regardless of my health issues. They’re already in the can, so to speak.

11/17/2020 – Ephemeris – The Pleiades in legends from different cultures

November 17, 2020 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, November 17th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 29 minutes, setting at 5:12, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:44. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 7:23 this evening.

Let’s look at how some other cultures saw the Pleiades, the star cluster that is seen in the eastern sky these evenings. To the Anishinaabe native peoples around here the Pleiades is the “Hole in the Sky” or the seven stones that are heated for the sweat lodge ceremony. To the Kiowa these were sister stars that had been whisked into the sky from the top of Devils Tower in Wyoming where they were threatened by a huge bear. In Norse mythology these were the goddess Freya’s hens. The name we know them by has rather misty origins. Some think the Greek name is from the mother of the seven sisters, Pleione. The Greek word for sail is similar to Pleiades, and it seems the appearance of the Pleiades in the morning sky saw the best sailing weather in the Mediterranean.

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


Devil's Tower

Seven maidens being attacked by a giant bear, having fled to the top of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Painting by Herbert Collins,

The Pleiades, about what you'd see in binoculars.

The Pleiades, about what you’d see in binoculars, more than the 6 or 7 stars visible to the naked eye. The brighter stars are Freya’s Hens and also the Seven Sisters and Indian maidens. Credit Bob Moler.

Pleiades finder animation

Pleiades finder animation looking east about 8 pm in mid-November. Created using Stellarium.

02/17/2020 – Ephemeris Extra – The Moon will cover the planet Mars in morning twilight tomorrow, Tuesday the 18th.

February 17, 2020 Comments off

Sorry, I missed this until now. Tomorrow morning the 18th Mars will be occulted by the Moon. For Northern Lower Michigan Mars will disappear shortly after 7:10 a.m. The exact time depends on your location, so I can’t be more specific.  At that time the Moon and Mars will be in the southeastern sky. Mars is now first magnitude, but will fare poorly in the morning twilight, so I’d suggest finding the Moon and Mars at least 15 minutes earlier with binoculars or telescope. Mars will reappear at the Moon’s unlit side around 8:37 a.m. This is after sunrise, so a telescope will be required to spot it.  Hoping for clear skies, though the weather forecast isn’t promising.

Occultation map

A map of where the occultation of Mars will be visible. Created using Occult4.

Mars Occultation Start

Where Mars will disappear at the Moon’s sunlit edge. Created using Stellarium.

Mars Occultation End

Mars will reappear at the Moon’s unlit edge around 8:36 a.m. give or take. Created using Stellarium.