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03/19/2017 – Ephemeris Extra – Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is within reach of binoculars and small telescopes

March 19, 2017 Comments off

UT

Comet 41P finder chart

Comet 41P finder chart for the next month, March 20 to April 19. It is expected to be brightest at magnitude 6.6 in early April. Comet positions and orientation in the northeast are for 11:30 p.m. on the date specified or 3:30 UT on the next date. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).  Click on the chart to enlarge.

Note above:  The tail symbol points to the direction of a tail.  However none of the photographs I’ve seen show a tail, so none will be visible visually.

This comet is known to have frequent outbursts where its brightness increases by many times.  If an outburst occurs in early April, the comet could become visible to the naked eye.   Original source material for this post comes from Seiichi Yoshida’s Weekly Information about Bright Comets web page.  The comet will pass less than 14 million miles (22 million km) from Earth on April 5th, only 8 days before it’s closest approach to the Sun, called perihelion.  From the finder chart one can see the comet will pass to the north of the Earth.

According to Gary Kronk’s Cometography.com web site the comet was discovered and lost three times.  It was first discovered in 1858 by Horace Tuttle, whose name was attached to at two well known comets that produce meteor showers.  It was unobserved for the next eight returns, which were expected every 5.42 years.  Michel Giacobini rediscovered it again in 1907.  Giacobini was the discoverer of Comet Giacobini-Zinner, another famous meteor shower producing comet.  It was lost again until Lubos Kresák rediscovered it in 1951 after seven more missed returns.

11/28/2016 – Ephemeris – The Hyades the star cluster in the face of Taurus the bull

November 28, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, November 28th.  The Sun will rise at 7:57.  It’ll be up for 9 hours and 7 minutes, setting at 5:04.  The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 7:45 tomorrow morning.

Rising in the east now is the bright star Aldebaran an orange star that’s at one end of the sideways letter V of stars that is the head of Taurus the bull.  Above it is the jewel-like Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster.  There’s more to Taurus, like it’s freakishly long horns and front part of its body.  But you can say you’ve seem Taurus, if you can spot his face.  That V of stars is actually a star cluster called the Hyades, and in Greek Myth were the half-sisters of the Pleiades, also fathered by the god Atlas.  Both the Hyades and Pleiades are being pursued by Orion, which as Robert Frost put it is throwing a leg over the eastern horizon at 8 to 9 pm.  He isn’t the only one following the Pleiades, the name Aldebaran means “The Follower”.

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

Addendum

the Hyades, Taurus, Orion and the Pleiades

An animation showing the Hyades, Taurus, Orion and the Pleiades. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.  Click on image to enlarge.

Closeup of the Hyades and the Pleiades

Closeup of the Hyades and the Pleiades. Created using Stellarium.

11/14/2016 – Ephemeris – Watch the setting of the super moon this morning

November 14, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, November 14th.  The Sun will rise at 7:39.  It’ll be up for 9 hours and 36 minutes, setting at 5:15.  The Moon, at full today, will set this morning at 7:23 and will rise again at 5:53 this evening.

During the 6 to 7 o’clock hour this morning the Moon will be officially the closest super moon, most likely of your lifetime unless your 68 or older.  Super moon’s apparently only count when the Moon is closest to the Earth at full moon.  The Moon passes perigee, its closest point to the Earth once a month, but not always at full moon.  It happens that both October and December’s full moons are also super moons.  Rising and setting moon’s work the same way, to make the Moon appear even larger than it is.  This is an optical illusion, but go with it.  The Moon will be slightly farther away when it rises this evening.  Moon set will occur at 7:23 or thereabouts this morning while moon rise will be at 5:53 this evening, somewhat earlier east of Traverse City, later west.  Get out early if it’s clear.

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

Addendum

Full super moon

The nearly full super moon at 8 p..m. EST (1 hr UT) last night. The fact that the moon is not quite full is the dullness on the Moon’s left side and a hint of a crater shadow. The Moon will be as full as it gets at 8:52 a.m. EST (13:52 UT). Credit Bob Moler

For more facts on the super moon check out these links:

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2016/11/11/supermoon-fact-vs-fiction-synopsis/

http://www.livescience.com/20093-supermoon-moon-myths.html

11/09/2016 – Ephemeris – Your mid-week bright planet report

November 9, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Wednesday, November 9th.  The Sun will rise at 7:32.  It’ll be up for 9 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:20.  The Moon, 2 days past first quarter, will set at 2:23 tomorrow morning.

Low in the east-southeast at 6 a.m. Jupiter can be glimpsed in the morning twilight.  Jupiter will rise tomorrow at 4:25 a.m.  We are approaching Jupiter, though it’s 5 times Earth’s distance from the Sun and will pass it April 7th.  Venus, Saturn and Mars are in the evening sky. At 6 p.m. these planets will be seen in the southwest and low in the sky.  Venus will be the brightest, Saturn might be picked out of the twilight to the right and a bit below Venus, and Mars will be higher to the left.  Saturn will set first at 6:54, with Venus setting a half and hour later at 7:24.  Mars will hang on a bit longer and will set at 10:07.  Venus is almost at its farthest south in the sky, and will be slowly heading northward for the rest of it’s evening appearance.

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

Addendum

Evening planets in twilight

The evening planets in twilight in the southwestern sky at 6 p.m. November 9, 2016. Created using Stellarium.

Mars and the Moon

Looking south at Mars, two bright stars, and the Moon at 8 p.m. November 9, 2016. Created using Stellarium.

Binocular Moon

The Moon as it might be seen in binoculars at 8 p.m. November 9, 2016. Created using Stellarium.

Jupiter rising

Jupiter in the morning sky at 6:30 a.m. November 10, 2016. Created using Stellarium.

Telescopic Jupiter

Jupiter and its Galilean moons, as they might be seen in a telescope at 6 a.m. November 11, 2016. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Charts).  Note the image is not inverted.

Planets and Moon at sunset and sunrise of a single night

Planets and Moon at sunset and sunrise of a single night starting with sunset on the right on November 9, 2016. The night ends on the left with sunrise on November 10. If you are using Firefox right-click on the image and select View Image to enlarge the image. That goes for all the large images. Created using my LookingUp program.

Ephemeris Extra – Autumn telescopic wonders

November 6, 2016 Comments off

This is an updated article I wrote from the October 1998 issue of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society’ newsletter the Stellar Sentinel

18 years ago Judy, my late wife, and I bought a telescope from Enerdyne. Officially it was Judy’s telescope and is a Celestron 11 inch (280 mm) Star Hopper Dobsonian. After over 20 years of relying on the telescopes at the Lanphier and Rogers observatories, we felt the need again for a personal backyard telescope again. This was also brought home by the appearance of the comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp in the 1996 and 1997.

Though large in diameter, the telescope has a focal length of 49.5 inches (1260 mm), much closer to the telescopes I’ve made and used in the past, and a third to a half the diameter of the C14s at the observatories above. So the scope gives bright low power views of galaxies and nebulae. The diameter allows the resolution of some globular clusters. I was also quite pleasantly surprised at the scope’s ability to see detail on Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter’s Great Red (currently a pale pink) Spot and on Saturn: a cloud band, ring shadows and Cassini’s Division.

Soon after obtaining the telescope I surveyed the dim wonders of the autumn sky beyond the solar system. Here are the results:

Galaxies

  • M31, M32 and M110 Better known as the Great Andromeda Galaxy and its companion galaxies, the view is made to order for the smaller telescope. M31’s glowing nucleus spans the eyepiece field. The galaxy is larger than out own and lies at a distance 2.5 million light years. The brightness falls off sharply along the north side of it’s elliptical minor axis. The nearly spherical M32 is seen nearby, while the faint elliptical galaxy M110 is barely visible on the other side of M31. I used to know M110 only as NGC205.  It was added to Messier’s list in 1967, 11 years after I first observed the galaxy.
    A note about The M designations.  They are from a catalog started by French comet hunter Charles Messier (1730-1817) who made a list of fuzzy objects in the sky that could be confused as being comets because they didn’t move against the stars.   He officially discovered or co-discovered a dozen comets.  As can be seen by the inclusion Of M110, it has been extended by other astronomers.
  • M33 The Triangulum galaxy is seen nearby off the point Triangulum is about as close as M31, but smaller than M31 with a small nucleus and large faint disk. It has a very low surface brightness and requires a dark sky.
  • M74 Is located in Pisces near Aries. It is a face-on galaxy like M33 but a lot smaller and fainter. I saw no central condensation.
  • M77 is a different story, a galaxy with a bright nucleus. M77 is located is Cetus located just below the head of the monster or tail of the whale, however you see him.

Globular star clusters

  • M15 is a globular cluster found by extending the nose of Pegasus. The 11 inch telescope could resolve the cluster’s outer stars. It was a smaller, dimmer version of M13, the grand globular in Hercules.
  • M2 is a more distant globular located due south of M15 and at an equal declination as (α)Alpha Aquarii or Sadal Melik. It earns its inclusion as Messier’s object number 2, for it looks for all the world like a tailless comet. On a second look at it the 11 inch could resolve a few stars.
  • M30 seems the same size as M2 and located farther south just right of the star (ζ)Zeta Capricorni. However the 11 inch can resolve a handful of its brighter stars.

As we move outward from the galactic center in Sagittarius the globular clusters thin out dramatically. The next Messier globular is located in Lepus the hare below Orion a winter constellation.

Open or galactic clusters

  • M34 is a large but sparse open or galactic star cluster located just west of the star Algol in Perseus.
  • M103 is a faint triangular-shaped cluster located just east of the star (δ)Delta Casseopeiae. The triangular arrangement of its stars reminds me of a smaller version of the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer.
  • M52 is a faint but populous cluster located between Cassiopeia and Cepheus.
  • The Double Cluster is a great view in a low power eyepiece. The two clusters do not have Messier designations. But they do have NGC numbers: 869 and 884. NGC is the “New General Catalog” and is not so new. It’s over 100 years old.
  • M45 or the Pleiades is best seen in a pair of binoculars. Also known as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades is close as star clusters go at 400 light years.
  • Melotte 25 or Collinder 50:  The Hyades, the face of Taurus the Bull, is the closest star cluster of all at about 153 light years. Sparse and big, it is almost too large to view in a pair of binoculars. The Hyades is the key to finding distances to the ends of the universe. It is close enough to get good parallax data for triangulation. Its many stars of known brightness and distance can be matched to other star clusters beyond the reach of the parallax method to ascertain their distances.

M76 is the only planetary nebula in our group. Called the Little Dumbbell Nebula or the Barbell Nebula, it has a shape of one of those Milk Bone dog biscuits.

Autumn telescopic wonders


A star chart covering the autumn constellations and the objects described in this article. In Andromeda (And) the overprinted captions are for M31 and M32. The Double Cluster is not shown, not being a Messier object. It’s approximately half way between the northernmost star of Perseus (Per) and M103 in Cassiopeia (Cas). The article doesn’t cover the Messier objects M35, 26, 37 ,38, 42/3 and 78. Which I may do for winter. The star chart was created using the author’s program LookingUp.

10/28/2016 – Ephemeris – The Moon will hang by Jupiter this morning

October 28, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, October 28th.  The Sun will rise at 8:16.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 20 minutes, setting at 6:36.  The Moon, 2 days before new, rose this morning at 6:02 and will rise at 7:01 tomorrow morning.

This morning the planet Jupiter and the Moon will appear close together in the morning sky.  Jupiter rose at 6:03 a.m.  After that until twilight becomes too bright both will appear together with Jupiter to the right of the thin waning crescent Moon.  They passed each other at 4:18 (8:18 UT) this morning.  Jupiter will appear to move farther from the Sun in the coming months, more the Sun moving away from it caused by the Earth’s motion around the Sun.  Jupiter will enter the evening sky in April next year, passing in front of the zodiacal constellation of Virgo.  By then we will have lost Venus as our Evening Star, so Jupiter will have no competition when it arrives from the east.

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

Addendum

The Moon and Jupiter at 7 a.m. EDT (11:00 UT) this morning October 28, 2016.  Stellarium and any other planetarium program cannot display the dynamic range of he sky.  The sliver of the moon should be a lot brightes, including earthshine on its night side.  I had to delete a star that was showing way too bright when it should be barely visible.  Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

The Moon and Jupiter at 7 a.m. EDT (11:00 UT) this morning October 28, 2016. Stellarium and any other planetarium program cannot display the dynamic range of he sky. The sliver of the moon should be a lot brighter, including earthshine on its night side. I had to delete a star that was showing way too bright when it should be barely visible. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

For observers in the UK and Europe the Moon will appear above Jupiter.  As a rule of thumb, the Moon moves its own diameter in an hour against the stars.  In the sky in the east just before sunrise the Moon will be moving down and to the left in relation to Jupiter.

10/27/2016 – Ephemeris – Finding the Great Andromeda Galaxy

October 27, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, October 27th.  The Sun will rise at 8:14.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 23 minutes, setting at 6:37.  The Moon, 3 days before new, will rise at 6:02 tomorrow morning.

The closest large galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy is the Great Andromeda Galaxy seen in the eastern sky when it gets dark.  It is barely visible to the naked eye.  To locate it first find the Great Square of Pegasus high in the east, standing on one corner.  The left star of the square is the head of the constellation Andromeda.  Follow two stars to the left and a bit downward, then two stars straight up.  The galaxy is near that last star as a small smudge of light.  Binoculars are the best way to see it as a thin spindle of light.  A telescope can see only the bright nucleus of the galaxy, that spans 6 Moon diameters in photographs.  M31 is its first catalog designation and it is two and a half million light years away.

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

Addendum

Andromeda at 9 p.m. with the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Created using Stellarium.

Andromeda in the evening with the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Astronomers called it a nebula before the discovered it was a galaxy like the Milky Way.  Created using Stellarium.

Great Andromeda Galaxy

The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) as seen in binoculars. Visually even in a telescope the hub of this galaxy is all that is seen. However it also can be seen with the naked eye. My photograph.

The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Image taken by Scott Anttila.

The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Image taken by Scott Anttila.