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11/09/2018 – Ephemeris – The Great Andromeda Galaxy

November 9, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, November 9th. The Sun will rise at 7:31. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 49 minutes, setting at 5:21. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 7:03 this evening.

In the south at 9, this evening can be found a large square of stars, the Great Square of Pegasus the flying horse, flying upside down to the right. What looks like its hind legs stretching to the left from the upper left corner star is another constellation, Andromeda the chained princess. She is seen in the sky as two diverging curved strings of stars that curve upward. She was rescued by the hero Perseus, a nearby constellation, riding Pegasus. Andromeda’s claim to astronomical fame is the large galaxy seen with the unaided eye just above the upper line of stars. The Great Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. To the naked eye the galaxy appears as a small smudge of light. In binoculars the galaxy is a delicate spindle of light.

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

Addendum

Great Andromeda Galaxy finder chart
Great Andromeda Galaxy finder chart. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.
The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Image taken by Scott Anttila.
The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) with two of its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. Image taken by Scott Anttila.
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06/24/2018 – Ephemeris Extra – Mars Summers

June 24, 2018 Comments off

This is a reprint of “Mars Summer” which I wrote for the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society newsletter Stellar Sentinel’s June 2018 issue.

The planet Mars has oppositions from the Sun about every 26 months more or less. These oppositions are a time when Mars is closest to the Earth for its position in orbit. It’s distance at these times range from 34.6 to almost 63 million miles, a range of almost 2 to 1. This is because Mars has a very elliptical orbit as can be seen below.

Mars closest approaches

Mars closest approaches to the Earth from August 27, 2003 to July 31, 2018. Diagram created using Bob Moler’s LookingUp program.

Especially close approaches to the Earth occur every 15 or 17 years in the latter half of summer in those years. My first close approach was September 7, 1956. It was a famous one for the time. Professional astronomers of that time were pretty sure that Mars didn’t have canals, features that were ‘discovered’ by Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877. To him the features were grooves or channels. Unfortunately the Italian word for them was canali. The world press proclaimed that there were “canals” on Mars. Canals by definition are artificial and require canal builders, Martians by inference.

Like I said, professional astronomers had discounted them by 1956. But science fiction read by young impressionable amateur astronomers like myself talked about old races of Martians hoarding every last drop of water. So maybe we believed. With my 5 inch reflector I observed the polar cap and the large dark feature Syrtis Major.

My next close approach of Mars was August 12, 1971. That summer I was working out of town and in the midst of a move from Grand Rapids to Traverse City, so was unable to observe Mars properly.

In the summer and autumn of 1973 I was able to do an observing program of Mars when it was almost as close as in 1971, drawing its features. I found out that to really observe a planet it takes time to educate the eye and brain to see faint, fuzzy detail. And since I didn’t believe in canals by this time, I didn’t see them.

The next close approach was September 22, 1988. The first “Mars Night” held by the society. We had a great turnout. But Mars was tiny as seen in telescopes. At best it was 23.81 seconds of arc in diameter. The Moon and Sun are about 1,800 seconds in diameter. It would be a bit larger than half the apparent diameter of Jupiter at average distance.

On August 27, 2003 Mars came closer than at any time in 50,000 years some astronomers said. The society held its second “Mars Night” at the Rogers Observatory, and wow, the lines of people ran down the drive and onto the shoulder of the road. As in 1988, I was stationed on the lawn at the front of the observatory with the portable Celestron 11 telescope, which actually gave clearer views than the 14 inch telescope in the dome. (Hot bodies in dome make for lousy seeing.)

2003 is also memorable or rather infamous for the “Mars Hoax” email. Proclaiming that Mars would appear as large as the Moon on August 27th. This hoax has been propagated every two years since. I expect 2018 to be a banner year for the resurrection of the hoax.

We come to this year, 2018, 15 years after the 2003 closest approach. Mars will reach opposition on July 27th. It’s closest approach to the Earth will be on July 31st, at the distance of 35,784,000 miles. The reason the dates aren’t the same is that Mars will still be a month before reaching perihelion, its closest to the Sun, so it’s getting even closer than at the time of opposition.

The Mars oppositions of October 2020, December 2022, January 2025 and February 2027 will be of increasing distances up to 63.0 million miles. This will be followed by oppositions of decreasing distances in March 2029, May 2031, and July 2033 leading to another close approach on September 11, 3035 at 35.4 million miles.

However by 2035 there may be humans on Mars waving back at us. It’s odd that anyone on Mars at the time probably wouldn’t be able to see the Earth at that time. Martian oppositions for us, are the time of inferior conjunctions of Earth with the Sun. We’d be lost in the Sun’s glare.
For the very closest views of Mars get on the Internet and search for Mars Curiosity, Mars Opportunity and Mars Hirise. No telescope required.

05/22/2018 – Ephemeris – Seeing detail on the face of Jupiter with a small telescope

May 22, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, May 22nd. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 4 minutes, setting at 9:12, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:06. The Moon, 1 day past first quarter, will set at 3:27 tomorrow morning.

Even in small telescopes Jupiter shows some detail. The larger the telescope in diameter the more detail can be seen. It also depends on what astronomers call seeing, or the steadiness of the atmosphere. The easiest detail to spot are the parallel brown and cream-colored cloud bands. These run in the direction that Jupiter’s moons move, since the four Galilean moons orbit over Jupiter’s equator. Jupiter, 11 time’s the Earth’s diameter, rotates on its axis in a bit less than 10 hours, though the clouds at the equator rotate faster than those at higher latitudes. It also gives Jupiter a slightly squashed appearance., enhanced by the horizontal stripes. Embedded in one of the dark stripes is the famous Great Red Spot.

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

Addendum

Jupiter with red spot

Scott Anttila image of Jupiter from November 14, 2011.

 

04/30/2018 – Ephemeris – Venus-Earth resonances, and Jupiter & the Moon tonight

April 30, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, April 30th. The Sun rises at 6:34. It’ll be up for 14 hours and 12 minutes, setting at 8:46. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 9:30 this evening.

Jupiter will be near the moon tonight. The gravitational force between the planets produces some interesting resonances in their orbital periods. Venus has three different kinds with the Earth. First, Venus orbits the Sun 13 times in the same time it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun 8 times. This is a 13 to 8 resonance. This sets up the 5 Venus Cycles equaling 8 years resonance the Mayan’s discovered. A Venus cycle of 584 days takes Venus to go from Morning Star to Evening Star and back again. The next one wasn’t discovered until we started to bounce radar signals off Venus. We found it rotates backwards, and very slowly at that. Its rotation with respect to the stars is longer than its year. And it so happens that every passage near the Earth the same side of Venus is facing us.

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

Addendum

The Moon and Jupiter

The Moon and Jupiter at 10 p.m. tonight, April 30, 2018. Created using Stellarium.

04/03/2018 – Ephemeris – How to spot Zodiacal Light

April 3, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, April 3rd. The Sun will rise at 7:19. It’ll be up for 12 hours and 53 minutes, setting at 8:12. The Moon, 3 days past full, will rise at 11:44 this evening.

Zodiacal light is a faint but towering glow that can be seen after the end of astronomical twilight on a moonless night. It is seen in the west in the evening in late winter and early spring and in the east in the morning in late summer and early autumn. The axis of the glow is the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth’s orbit, indeed that of all the planets, along which lie the constellations of the zodiac. Right now the end of twilight is about 10 p.m. and advancing at a rate of a minute or two each night. The cause of zodiacal light is dust, micron sized dust from comets and asteroids. Most of these lie in the plane of the solar system, which is why zodiacal light is centered on the ecliptic and the constellations of the zodiac and increases in brightness and width toward the Sun.  Spotting Zodiacal Light takes dark adapted eyes,  time and patience.

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

Addendum

Zodiacal Light

Much enhanced Zodiacal Light from the my back yard at 9:31 p.m. March 16, 2018, 5 minutes after the official end of astronomical twilight. Canon EOS Rebel T5 18mm f.l., f/3.5, 6 sec. ISO 12,800 . The clouds on the left appear to be illuminated by the lights of the towns of Beulah and Frankfort 20+ miles away.  Note the Pleiades at the top of the image.

 

03/26/2018 – Ephemeris – The Moon will slide below the Beehive star cluster tonight

March 26, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, March 26th. The Sun will rise at 7:34. It’ll be up for 12 hours and 28 minutes, setting at 8:02. The Moon, 2 days past first quarter, will set at 5:34 tomorrow morning.

Tonight the gibbous Moon will be seen among the stars of Cancer the crab. It will just about completely drown Cancer’s dim stars out. That is no exception to one of the famous group of stars in Cancer, the Beehive star cluster. It is going to take binoculars or a small telescope to spot them. The star cluster will be at the 11 o’clock position from the Moon. When looking for the cluster try to keep the Moon out of your field of view. The cluster is about 4 moon-widths away, so aim high and slowly aim those binoculars down. There will be other times in the next few months to catch the Moon near the Beehive, when the Moon will be a not so overwhelming crescent as the cluster moves westward in the evening sky with the rest of the stars.

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

Addendum

The Moon and the Beehive Star Cluster

The Moon and the Beehive Star Cluster tonight at 9 p.m. March 26, 2018. The star cluster will be very difficult to spot. Created using Stellarium, however I had to boost the brightness of the stars and eliminate the atmosphere control to darken the sky enough to see the cluster. Good luck!

Cancer the Crab

Cancer the crab finder chart for a dark night. Note the beehive cluster, also known to amateur astronomers as M44, along with other catalog names. Prior to the invention of the telescope this cluster was known as Praesepe which means “Manger”. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

03/19/2018 – Ephemeris – The dim zodiacal constellation of Cancer the crab

March 19, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, March 19th. The Sun will rise at 7:47. It’ll be up for 12 hours and 6 minutes, setting at 7:54. The Moon, 2 days past new, will set at 10:21 this evening.

At 10 this evening, the faint constellation, and member of the Zodiac, Cancer the crab is located in the south half way between the bright stars Castor and Pollux of the constellation Gemini, high in the south and the bright star Regulus in Leo the lion in the southeast. Cancer is very dim, looking like an upside-down Y or even a K if all its stars can be made out. In the center of Cancer is a fuzzy spot to the unaided eye. In binoculars or a low power telescope this fuzzy spot becomes a cluster of stars. It is the Beehive cluster. At 577 light years away, according to the latest measurements, it is one of the closest star clusters. A week from tonight the Moon will pass below this cluster, by about 4 of its diameters.

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

Addendum

Cancer the Crab

Cancer the crab finder chart. Note the beehive cluster, also known to amateur astronomers as M44, along with other catalog names. Prior to the invention of the telescope this cluster was known as Praesepe which means “Manger”. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

The Beehive

The Beehive star cluster, M44. Its ancient name was the Praesepe or manger when glimpsed by the naked eye. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Skycharts)