Monday, April 9, 2012

April 2012

Hopefully April showers will not ruin our chances of good sky watching this month!

The moon this month was full on the 6th. We should have a new moon again by the 21st.

So far as sunspots go, infamous spot 1429 and now 1450 have calmed down and no longer are a threat. 1429 had been tracked on the far side of the sun for the last month.

Looking for a meteor shower? The Lyrids will be this month on the evening of the 21-22. The Lyrids originate from detritus left by comet C/Thatcher. As the moon will just be new, we should have nice dark skies to watch the show.

Want something a little more challenging to target this month? Why not try spotting M44, the beehive cluster in Cancer. M44 is a good, open cluster for mid-range scopes. In ancient Greek mythology, Cancer the crab along with Hydra the water snake both fought the hero Hercules and lost after an epic battle.

Spica will be an excellent star target this month in Virgo. Always glittering, try to see if you can spot the planet Saturn close by as it rises this month. Regulus and the planet Mars will also be rather close together, too, by the way. While we are at it, Venus will be with the Pleiades, so there is more than enough to look for.

If you have any questions about these subjects or any other subjects in astronomy, join us on the 3rd Tuesday night of each month for our Astronomy Series from 7:00-8:30pm in the Wetherbee Planetarium at Thronateeska Heritage Center.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February 2012

     Well, the weather has not really been cooperating with us much here in southwest Georgia. Sometimes we can sky watch, some times we cannot. For the times the sky is clear, though, see if you can catch a glimpse of some of these things.
     The moon will be full on the 7th and new by the 21st, so there will be better sky watching towards the end of the month.
     The sun gave us quite a few powerful flares in January. This may continue through February.
     There are no regular meteor showers in February, although you may still catch a random “falling star” or two.
     One of the best constellations to observe this month is Gemini, the twins. Start by finding Orion, then look for two bright stars up and to the left. Only two deep space objects reside here: the open cluster M35 and NGC 2392, the “Eskimo” nebula.
     Most of the stars in Gemini are very faint, but Castor and Pollux are noticeably bright. Pollux is a K0III orange sub-giant that is only 33 light years away. It is a beta star, but is actually brighter than the alpha star. Castor, on the other hand, is actually several stars. This binary system has 6 stars all orbiting each other, and the two brightest stars (A1V/A2Vn) are both A class dwarves.
     Some other notable objects that were discovered in Gemini are Uranus and Pluto. You would need a pretty high-powered telescope to see them, however. The sky this month is dominated by the two brightest objects in the sky besides the sun and moon: Venus and Jupiter. Venus is setting now around 10:00pm, and Jupiter is starting this month in conjunction with the moon and Pisces. Also look for Mars rising just after 10:00pm close on the heels of Leo the lion.
     If you have any questions about these or any other subjects in astronomy, join us on the 3rd Tuesday night of each month for our Astronomy Series in the Wetherbee Planetarium at Thronateeska Heritage Center.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 2012

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to a wonderful new year full of great skywatching.
The year kicks off with a full moon on the 9th and a new moon by the 23rd.
If you want to try sunspotting, big spot 1389 is still harboring m class energy, but it’s just now starting to decay.
So far as meteors go, the year began with the Quadrantids meteor shower in the wee hours of the morning on the 4th. They originated around the constellation Bootes and towards Polaris in the north, but actually originated from Comet 2003 EH1. NASA estimated a show of 60-200 per hour, but the average was about 100 spotted per hour.
If you plan on going to the southern hemisphere sometime this month, try to catch of glimpse of comet Lovejoy. It is putting on a fantastic display. This is the same comet that made a death-defying pass around the sun and survived.
For constellations, Orion is by far the easiest one to see in the northern hemisphere at this time. You can gaze at a super red giant or young, hot, blue stars. Best of all is the great Orion nebula. This is one of our galaxy’s best stellar nurseries. New stars are being born there every day. At 1500 light years away, it is the only nebula you can see with the naked eye.
If you are in to planet hunting, try to catch Jupiter in conjunction with the moon in the constellation Pisces. Mars will also be visible as it rises just before midnight, and the Venus will be visible just after the sun in Capricorn.
If you have any questions about these subjects or any other subjects in astronomy, be sure to visit the planetarium on the third Tuesday of every month from 7:00-8:30pm for the Astronomy Series.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2011, 12.01.11

As the year draws to a close, we can only grow more excited about all the great things we have yet to see this year. Bundle up, grab some coffee or cocoa, and get ready for the show!

This month, the full moon will grace us on the 10th and we will have a new moon by the 24th, just in time to do some Christmas Eve star gazing.

The march of sun spots continues. The end of November saw a goodly amount of flares and CME’s shot at us, and more can be expected this month. Remember to never try solar observation without the proper equipment.

The Geminids are coming! We always love a good meteor shower. From December 12th-24th, the earth will pass through the debris trail of comet 3200 Phaethon. This should be the best show of the year, with a multi-colored display that has produced fireballs in the past. The Geminids will appear to radiate from the star Castor, one of the twins, in the constellation Gemini as it rises higher and higher into the sky as the night progresses. With the darker skies we are expecting later this month and hopefully clear weather, we can expect up to 100 meteors per hour.

The coming of winter brings with it very bright, prominent constellations. A good one to try to pick out is Taurus the bull. There are many deep space objects in Taurus, the Pleiades open star cluster M45, and the Hades cluster NGC 1647. The famous M1 Crab nebula can be seen at the tip of the horn, a supernova remnant with a neutron star at its heart. Taurus’ alpha star Aldebaran, 65 light years away, used to be like our sun, but now it is running out of fuel and is classified as a K3 III sub-giant. Its days are numbered, for in the next million years or so the whole thing will go nova.

Venus and Jupiter are putting on a pretty good show this month. Jupiter is cruising high overhead through the constellation Pisces. Although it will only be visible for relatively short periods of time, many are dubbing Venus this year’s “Christmas star,” as it will be the brightest thing in the night sky besides the moon. You can see it about 15 degrees over the horizon towards the east-northeast just after sunset, especially around the 24th, as the moon will be new and the skies will be extra-dark.

Friday, November 4, 2011

November 2011, 11.04.11

It’s November! November is a good month for watching the sky, with cooler temperatures and clearer nights.

A full moon will be on the 11th, and a new moon on the 26th. If you think full moons are nice things, just wait until next month. There will be a complete lunar eclipse in December!

So far as sun spotting goes, expect to see plenty spots through November. There are 5 now, and number 1330 has the potential for launching strong flares. All these sun spots make great targets for those people with solar telescopes. Remember to never, ever look at the sun without the proper protection.

We have another two meteor showers this month! Our first shower is spread over 7 days, because it is actually 2 in 1! From the 5th through the 12th, the north and south Taurids should put on a decent show. Expect about 5 bright yellow meteors per hour. Although few in number, they are lots of fun because they have a tendency to fragment into many tiny pieces. Comet 2P/Encke is the source of both of the dust trails we have to thank for the Taurids.

The Leonids will again dazzle us from the 16th through the 18th. Comet 55/Temple-Tuttle should put out 15 to 20 blue-green meteors per hour, which often leave dust trails across the sky.

This month, we want to focus on Pisces Australis, the southern fish, as our constellation target. PsA will be low on our southern horizon with its bright alpha star, Fomalhaut. A hot, young A3V-class star only 25 light years away, it is one of only four star systems that astronomers have actually photographed a Jupiter-sized planet in orbit around it. They confirmed the planet using infrared cameras and taking pictures every few years to catch its movements. PsA is one of the smaller constellations, so it will be challenging to find. We know you are all up to the task, though!

Last but not least, Venus is moving to our evening “star” once again. Venus will start to become visible just after sunset. Mars is still going up just before sunup and Jupiter is already high in the morning sky by day break.

So, let the night wash over you, and take a long look at all the heavens have to offer. Good luck, and good hunting!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October 2011, 10.06.11

We love autumn here. Cooler weather means clearer skies, which means much better sky watching for us! So, what sorts of things can we expect to see this month? Well…

The moon will be full on the 11th, and enter into its new phase by the 26th, so there will be excellent star gazing towards the end of the month, weather permitting.

There are a lot of sunspots going on right now, so if you have the proper sun spotting equipment, you can expect to see about 8 different spots. Forecasters are expecting about a 30% chance for a big flare some time in the next week or so.

Expect to catch glimpses of two meteor showers this month. The Draconids (named after the radiant point Draco, the constellation) will peak on the 8th and 9th. This is one of the less impressive showers of the year, with only a few mild yellow streaks here and there. Comet 21/P Giacobini-Zinner is responsible for the detritus that causes the Draconids.

The other shower this month is the Orionids. The Orionids (named after–you guessed it—Orion) will peak around the 21st and 22nd. Caused by comet 1P/Halley, it will be a little better than the Draconids, but still less than average with about 40 yellow and green meteors per second. The Orionids have been known to produce a few fireballs in the past, too. Remember, you will always get the best view of meteor showers if you get as far away from light pollution as possible. Find a big, wide field where you cannot see city lights glowing on the horizon for the best viewing experience.

Comet C/2009 P1 (Garrad) is moving across the lower half of the constellation Hercules, and is visible with binoculars (and good aim). has some good sky charts that you can use to get your bearings and track this comet.

Pegasus will be clearly visible this month. We challenge you to try to find galaxy M31 with a pair of binoculars. Trust us—it’s worth it!

Jupiter has been shining bright for some time now. You can check it out in the late night sky in the constellation Pisces. Mars will also be a bright red speck in the constellation Cancer this month, well before sun up. Remember: all the planets orbit along the ecliptic (the path of the sun across the sky), so you always look along that line to find them. It is about 23 degrees above the northern horizon, from east to west.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 2011, 08.10.11

The month starts out with relatively dark skies, but by the 13th we will have a full moon on our hands. It will be in its new phase by the 28th, though, so back to dark sky gazing then! Did you know that some scientists are theorizing that Earth actually had two moons long ago? Check it out here at:

If you are into sun spots, there has been a lot of sizzling and popping going on lately. Sunspot 1263, yesterday, just fired off the largest solar flare seen in years, an X7 class.  No need to worry, though. It was not aimed at us. The way things are looking now, we will probably have plenty more sunspots in our near future. Remember: always use proper observation gear, and NEVER look directly at the sun.
As for meteors, the best shower of the year hit at a pretty bad time this year. The Perseids, long considered to be one of the most prolific meteor showers, peaks during our full moon. Your best bet for seeing any at all will be to go to a very dark observation field just before sunrise up until about the 10th or 12th of this month. Radiating from the constellation Perseus, the Perseids are caused by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, and should produce up to 60 meteors per hour. Good luck and good hunting!

Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) at a magnitude of 8.2 should be visible in binoculars in the constellation Pegasus moving to Sagitta by months end. We are definitely going to keep an eye out for this; comets are always a cool sight.

Two bright constellations are straight up this month: Lyra, the harp, and Cygnus, the swan. Both have bright alpha stars. Vega, in the constellation Lyra is an A0V star 25 light years away. Deneb, which means “tail” of the swan, is an A2Ia class star and is about 3,229 light years away. Why is Deneb so bright and so far away? Because Deneb is a super giant, and Vega is a dwarf.

For planet-hunters, Saturn is setting now right after sunset, but Jupiter will be taking its place soon. Jupiter is right now rising early in the morning well ahead of the sun. Neptune and Uranus are also out but you’ll need a decent telescope to see them. Mars and Venus are rising just before sun up. Remember to always look to the ecliptic to spot the planets.

If you have any questions about these subjects or any other subjects in astronomy join us on the 3rd Tuesday night of each month for out Sumer Astronomy Series, on Aug 16th and Sept 20th.