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02/11/2021 – Ephemeris – The Winter Triangle

February 11, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, February 11th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 17 minutes, setting at 6:06, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:47. The Moon is new today, and won’t be visible.

I usually talk about the Winter Circle of bright stars, but some other astronomers talk about the Winter Triangle. The stars involved are Betelgeuse in the hunter Orion, Sirius in Canis Major, Orion’s large hunting dog, and Procyon in Canis Minor, his other small hunting dog. These three stars enclose a rather blank piece of sky with the faint Milky Way running through it and the almost invisible constellation of Monoceros the unicorn. The Summer Triangle has three bright stars with no other close competition. The Winter Triangle has four other bright stars near it. Any three of these would make a nice triangle. One of these constellations Canis Minor is tiny, with Procyon and one other star. It makes me think of a dachshund, or maybe, if I’m hungry, a hot dog.

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

Addendum

Winter triangle finder animation

Winter Triangle finder animation. It shows the star field, named first magnitude stars, then their constellations, then the Winter Triangle and constellations of the three stars. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

01/29/2021 – Ephemeris – Let’s get Sirius

January 29, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, January 29th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 42 minutes, setting at 5:47, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:03. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 6:49 this evening.

In the early evening the great constellation of Orion the hunter can be seen in the southeast. Its large rectangle of bright stars is easily visible, even with a full moon. The three stars in a straight line, his belt, tilt downward to the left to a very bright star merrily twinkling lower in the sky. This star is called Sirius, also known as the Dog Star because it’s in the heart of Orion’s larger hunting dog, Canis Major. It is an arc light white star as seen in binoculars or telescope. It is the brightest star in the night sky, and a neighboring star, just twice the distance of the closest star to the Sun at 8.6 light years. It’s name, Sirius, has nothing to do with a dog, but is from the Greek meaning scorching for its brightness or sparkling, due to its intense twinkling.

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

Addendum

Sirius finder

A Sirius finder animation for late January/early February at around 8 pm. Even in bright moonlight the seven bright stars of Orion can be seen. The three stars of Orion’s belt make a great pointer to Sirius. Created using Stellarium, GIMP and Libreoffice (for the arrow).

I’ll come back to Sirius several times this winter. Or search for Sirius for other times I’ve talked about this brightest of the night-time stars.

01/26/2021 – Ephemeris – A look at the bright red giant star Betelgeuse

January 26, 2021 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, January 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 9 hours and 35 minutes, setting at 5:43, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:06. The Moon, 2 days before full, will set at 7:38 tomorrow morning.

At 8 pm the constellation of Orion the hunter is in the southeastern sky. The bright reddish star at the top left of Orion’s distinctive seven-star pattern is Betelgeuse a star near the end of its life. Being a single bright star, its distance is not well determined and is estimated to be about 550 light years away with an uncertainty of up to 20 percent, which make other estimates that uncertain too, like its mass and diameter. It’s somewhat less than 20 times the mass of the Sun, and a diameter possibly as large as Jupiter’s orbit of the Sun. It is old for a star of its mass, probably 8 million years old, with up to a million years to go on the outside before it will probably explode as a supernova and grace our skies as bright as the Moon for the better part of the better part of a year.

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

Addendum

Orion

The seven brightest stars of Orion in the south-southeast at 8 p. in late January.

Betelgeuse drawing

“This artist’s impression shows the supergiant star Betelgeuse as it was revealed thanks to different state-of-the-art techniques on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which allowed two independent teams of astronomers to obtain the sharpest ever views of the supergiant star Betelgeuse. They show that the star has a vast plume of gas almost as large as our Solar System and a gigantic bubble boiling on its surface. These discoveries provide important clues to help explain how these mammoths shed material at such a tremendous rate. The scale in units of the radius of Betelgeuse as well as a comparison with the Solar System is also provided.” Credit: ESO/L. Calçada (ESO is the European Southern Observatory)

12/17/2020 – Ephemeris – Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse… Nope not saying it again

December 17, 2020 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Thursday, December 17th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:03, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:15. The Moon, 3 days past new, will set at 8:18 this evening.

The constellation Orion the hunter will have completely risen by 8 pm this evening. The leftmost bright red star in his shoulder is Betelgeuse. It’s phonetically spelled name (Beetle Juice) made the title of a movie in 1988. A year ago it’s dramatic dimming for a while caused some to wonder that it was about to explode in a supernova. Betelgeuse does normally vary a bit in brightness, but that was the most ever recorded. It’s a red giant star with a mass of 16 to 19 times the Sun’s. Its distance is thought to be about 550 light years away. It is difficult to measure the distance of single bright stars, even with satellites. Its age is maybe 8 to 8 ½ million years old out of a life expectancy of 10 million years, compared to the Sun’s 10 billion year life expectancy.

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

Addendum

Orion

Orion at 8 pm or about 3 hours after sunset in mid December. Its seven brightest stars make an unmistakable pattern with only Betelgeuse and Rigel labeled. Created using Stellarium.

Betelgeuse before and after dimming

This comparison image shows the star Betelgeuse before and after its unprecedented dimming. The observations, taken with the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in January and December 2019, show how much the star has faded and how its apparent shape has changed. Credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.

Betelgeuse's dust plume

An image of the star Betelgeuse taken in infrared shows it’s surrounded by a vast cloud of dust that erupted from the surface (the bright star itself is masked out, though an image of it has been superposed there for scale — the star is about the size of the orbit of Jupiter, over a billion km wide). Credit: ESO/P. Kervella/M. Montargès et al., Acknowledgement: Eric Pantin via Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog on syfy.com.

Categories: Ephemeris Program, Stars Tags: ,

09/18/2020 – Ephemeris – A closer look at Cepheus the king’s most famous star

September 18, 2020 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Friday, September 18th. Today the Sun will be up for 12 hours and 20 minutes, setting at 7:46, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:27. The Moon, 1 day past new, will set at 8:52 this evening.

There’s a faint constellation in the northeast above the W shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. It’s a nearly upside down church steeple of a constellation called Cepheus the king, and husband of queen Cassiopeia. Cepheus’ claim to astronomical fame is that one of its stars, Delta (δ) Cephei, is the archetype for the important Cepheid variable stars. Delta is the bottom most of a trio of stars at the right corner of the constellation. In the early 20th century Henrietta Leavitt discovered that Cepheids in the nearby galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud varied in brightness with a period that was related to their average brightness. This meant that Cepheids could be used as standard candles to measure the great distances to other galaxies.

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

Addendum

Cassiopeia and Cepheus finder animation

Cassiopeia and Cepheus finder animation looking in the northeast at 9 pm or about an hour after sunset in mid-September. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Delta Cephei (circled) finder for mid-September at 9 pm or about an hour after sunset looking northeast. The brighter stars are marked by their Bayer Greek letters. Numerical designations are Flamsteed numbers. Created using Cartes du Ciel (Sky Chart).

Delta_Cephei_lightcurve

Light Curve of Delta Cephei. The pulsation period is 5.367 days. Credit: ThomasK Vbg – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13887639

07/06/2020 – Ephemeris – The southernmost star of the Summer Triangle, Altair

July 6, 2020 Comments off

This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Monday, July 6th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 25 minutes, setting at 9:30, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:05. The Moon, 1 day past full, will rise at 11:02 this evening.

The southernmost star of the Summer Triangle is Altair, high in the east-southeast. The other two stars of the triangle are Vega nearly overhead in the east, and Deneb high in the east-northeast. Altair is the closest of the three at a distance of 16.7 light years away. One light year is nearly 6 trillion miles. Altair is 10 times the brightness of the Sun. If seen at Altair’s distance, the Sun would only be as bright as one of the two stars that flank it. What is rather different about Altair is its rapid rotation. While it’s almost twice the sun’s diameter, it rotates once in about 9 hours, The CHARA Interferometer at Mt. Wilson has actually imaged its squashed disk in the infrared. Our Sun’s a slow poke, taking nearly a month to rotate once.

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

Addendum

Summer Triangle. Created using Stellarium.

Summer Triangle. Created using Stellarium.

Altair

Lines added to show the rotation axis. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation.

 

 

07/02/2020 – Ephemeris – The star Deneb in Cygnus the swan

July 2, 2020 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, July 2nd. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 29 minutes, setting at 9:31, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:02. The Moon, 3 days before full, will set at 4:29 tomorrow morning.

This evening when it gets dark enough the bright star Deneb in Cygnus the swan will be high in the east-northeast. Deneb is the dimmest star of the summer triangle. Of the other stars of the triangle, Vega is higher in the east, while Altair is lower in the southeast. Deneb’s apparent magnitude, or brightness as seen from Earth, makes it the dimmest of the three bright stars. Its vast distance of possibly 2,600 light years is over 100 times the distance of Vega. If brought as close as Vega, Deneb would be as bright at least as the quarter moon. It is possibly as bright as 200 thousand Suns; and a huge star, possibly as large in diameter as the orbit of the Earth. For all this it is only 19 or so times the mass of the Sun.

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

Addendum

The constellations Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila

Deneb with the other stars and constellations in the Summer Triangle. Created using Stellarium.

Deneb & North American Nebula

One of my old photographs of Deneb and the North American Nebula digitized from a slide.

06/29/2020 – Vega, brightest star of the Summer Triangle

June 29, 2020 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Monday, June 29th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 31 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:00. The Moon, 1 day past first quarter, will set at 2:46 tomorrow morning.

Vega is the highest star In the east and brightest star of the Summer Triangle also rising in that direction. It is an important and much studied star, first as a standard for brightness for thr star brightness magnitude scale at magnitude of almost exactly zero. It also has two fields of debris orbiting it. In 1983 the Infrared Astronomy Satellite discovered an excess of infrared radiation coming from the star. It seems now that there are two orbiting rings, one warm, and the other cold orbiting the star. This is somewhat like the two disks the Sun has: The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and the Kuiper belt, beyond Neptune. No planets have been discovered around Vega, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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

Addendum

Vega debris fields

Vega possesses two debris fields, similar to our own solar system’s asteroid and Kuiper belts. Astronomers continue to hunt for planets orbiting Vega, but as of May 2020 none have been confirmed. More info: bit.ly/VegaSystem Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Summer Triangle. Created using Stellarium.

Summer Triangle. Created using Stellarium.

 

 

06/26/2020 – Ephemeris – The stars known as the Horse and Rider

June 26, 2020 Comments off

Jun 26. This is Bob Moler with Ephemeris for Friday, June 26th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 33 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:59. The Moon, 2 days before first quarter, will set at 1:28 tomorrow morning.

The most interesting star in the Big Dipper is Mizar and its dim companion Alcor. It is the second star from the end of the handle, where the bend in the handle takes place. Folks with good vision can see the dimmer star right next to Mizar. In ancient times it was used as an eye test for visual acuity for warriors. As such it was known as the “Horse and the Rider”. Mizar is second magnitude, in the second rank of star brightness invented by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the 2nd century BC. He ranked stars in 6 classes, from first magnitude for the brightest to 6th for the dimmest visible to the naked eye. Alcor comes in at 4th magnitude. It does suffer a bit by being very close to Mizar which is 6 times brighter.

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

Addendum

Mizar finder animation

Mizar finder animation for the Big Dipper’s orientation in late June at 11 pm where I live or an hour and a half after sunset. Created using Stellarium and GIMP.

Mizar and Alcor as they would appear in a telescope

Mizar and Alcor as they might appear in a telescope. Mizar is a binary star in a telescope. The other star in the field is apparently a background star. The brighter star of Mizar is Mizar A, while the dimmer is Mizar B. It turns out that Mizar A and B plus Alcor are all spectroscopic binaries, meaning the companion stars are too close to resolve in telescopes, but whose motion shows up in the spectra of the stars. Mizar and Alcor are around 80 light years away. Created using Stellarium.

06/25/2020 – Ephemeris – The bright star Spica

June 25, 2020 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, June 25th. Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 33 minutes, setting at 9:32, and it will rise tomorrow at 5:58. The Moon, 3 days before first quarter, will set at 12:59 tomorrow morning.

Low in the southwest at 11 p.m. is the bright star Spica which can be found from all the way back overhead to the Big Dipper. Follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper to the bright star Arcturus high in the southwest. Then straighten the curve of the arc to a straight spike which points to Spica. Arcturus is much brighter than Spica and has an orange tint to Spica’s bluish hue. In fact Spica is the bluest of the 21 first magnitude stars. That means that it is hot. Actually Spica is really two blue stars orbiting each other in 4 days. Spica is 250 light years away, which is reasonably close. Spica was an important star to the ancient Greeks. One temple was built, and aligned to its setting point.

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

Addendum

Spica finder chart

Spica finder chart using my LookingUp program fo 11 p.m. tonight June 25.