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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 2011

April showers are trying to decide if they are going to leave us alone, but we will catch plenty of snatches of the sky in between the rain clouds to see some pretty neat stuff!

May begins with a nice, dark sky until around the 17th when the moon is finally full. We will end out the month with a new moon and dark skies again.

The year is continuing to bring a lot of sunspots; there have been 57 to date this year. Sunspot 1203 will be visible, bringing a low level threat of producing C-class flares.

There was more than one kind of April shower last month. The Lyrids shower is still flinging a few leftovers here and there, with a few impressive lone fireballs spotted by eyewitnesses in this region in recent days. We begin the month with another shower on the 5th and 6th, but it will probably be a weak show. This particular shower is caused by debris dropped by Halley's Comet, discovered by Edmond Halley in 1705.

An excellent constellation to check out this month is Virgo, with its bright alpha star Spica. Virgo is home to the Virgo cluster, a group of galaxies akin to M84 and M86, except all grouped together in one area. Stars 61vir and 70vir are known to harbor their own solar systems, too, so try to keep an eye out for those stars.

During the first week of May, a beautiful planetary conjunction will be visible in the morning sky just before dawn. Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter will all be there to greet you in the east. Uranus will be there, as well, but you will need a decent telescope to catch a glimpse of it. All can be seen in the constellation Pisces. Saturn can be seen cruising through the constellation Virgo.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Caught up

OK, we are caught up now. Any posts that occur from here on out should be for that month. The others we just posted here for reference :)

Happy hunting!
~the crew at Thronateeska

April 2011

April showers might just cloud your view of the night sky this month, but there are some interesting things worth waiting with an umbrella for holes in the clouds to see.

The month begins with a new moon on the 3rd and a full moon on the 17th.

Last month saw an unprecedented number of massive sun spots, and we can expect to have a few at the beginning of the month. There is no immediate threat of big solar flares, though.

As far as meteors go, the Lyrids will visit us on the 21st and 22nd of the month, but it will probably only yield a medium-sized show. Bright and quick, these short-lived dust grains come from comet C/Thatcher, and enter our atmosphere at 29.8 miles per second. Too bad the moon will almost be full; its light should obscure most of the view.

If you are into constellation-gazing, you can expect to see Vela, the sail of the Argo, just over the southern horizon. A very dim Hydra is just below Leo and Cancer, and Ursa Major will dominate the northern skies this month.

If you are out to spot a particular star, we recommend finding Leo’s alpha star Regulus, star of kings, and heaven’s guardian. A binary star system of three stars lying 72 light years away, Regulus is a blue dwarf of spectral class B7 V.

Last but not least, Saturn is back in view, northwest of the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Venus will be the morning star for only a little longer, rising just ahead of the sun. And right before sunrise, Mars will make a brief appearance in the east.
For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

March 2011

Spring is quickly approaching, and with spring comes a new set of things to see in the night sky. Well, if the pollen doesn't get too thick in the atmosphere, that is! As you sit in this warmer weather and enjoy the scent of freshly blooming flowers in this spring night air, here are some things you can expect to see this month.

The month begins with a new moon on the 4th, so you won't really see it, but it will be a full moon again by the 19th.

You can expect to see a lot of solar activity this month. Last month on Valentines Day, sunspot complex 1161-1162 gave us our first class X solar flare (that's the strongest level of solar flare that we know of, for sun watching newbies). 1158 threatened us with an M class (lowest level) flare, and now sunspot 1164 is crackling with M class energy as it comes over the horizon. We recommend turning off (and maybe even unplugging) any electronics that are not in use so as not to risk them getting damaged in the event of another severe solar flare. Solar flares send out powerful electromagnetic pulses that can fry anything with an electric current running through it, so if you don’t need to use something, turn it off. You just might save your dear computer’s life! True story: the flare last month knocked out a lot of communications in the South Pacific, and even made some polar flights reroute.
As far as constellations are concerned, Scorpio is the star of the show this month. It will be big and beautiful in our southern horizon just before sunrise all this month, so rise and shine, grab a cup of coffee, and check it out!
If you are more into individual stars, you can get a good look at Aldebaran this month. It is the brightest star in Taurus, straight above your head in the evening sky. It is a bloated orange red giant (K5 III), about 65 light years away. It could go nova at any time, too, but it’s not a threat to us.

If planets are your cup of tea, you can see Mercury and Jupiter in conjunction on the 16th, which is very cool, because Mercury is ridiculously hard to see because it is so close to the sun. On the 22nd, it will be visible all by itself for about 30 minutes just after sunset. Last but not least, you can see our beloved Venus has her own little moondance this month, as she is in conjunction with the crescent moon for the first few days in March. It will be a beautiful sight!
For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

February 2011

Well folks, we would usually say that the chilly weather lends itself well to sky watching, and it certainly would if all those nasty rain clouds would leave us alone! Maybe we will have a few clear nights when we can catch some glimpses of these great things this month. Be sure to bundle up!

This month expect to see a new moon. OK, well, there is no moon to see. The new moon phase is the opposite of the full moon. Instead of seeing a head-on, full view of the moon, it is nowhere to be seen in the sky from our position on the globe. At least the means you can take advantage of the darker skies to see everything else!

Image credit: SDO/HMI, SDO/AIA.
For the braver souls out there (with the proper observation tools for sun watching, of course), there are a few small sunspots right now. There was a recent hole in the sun's coronasphere that blasted Earth's magnasphere with a good-sized solar storm, but no need to worry; it happens all the time. No harm done. Always remember to never look directly at the sun; take extra-special precautions, and make sure you always use the proper technology that was designed by professionals just for the task. Burning your vision away by staring at the sun make for very poor sky watching, after all, and we certainly would not want that!

For the more serious sky watchers, check out comet 103/P Hartley coursing through he constellation Monoceros this month. You will need at least an 8" telescope to see it, though; this is no casual observation.

February is also an excellent month to get a great view of the constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Taurus (including galaxy M31), and Orion. while you are at it, the Pleiades in Taurus are a great target for binoculars, and are one of our favorites!

Venus appears as our morning star this month, near the constellation Sagittarius, and Mars will be in a conjunction of sorts, actually on the far side of the sun. Lastly, catch a glimpse of Jupiter going down after sunset, still in the constellation Pisces.

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

January 2011

Happy New Year! What a wonderfully crisp, clear, and chilly New Year it is, too! You know why we love the cooler, clearer weather? Better sky watching! Here are some of the things you can keep an eye out for this month.

Tonight marks the beginning of the Quadrantids meteor shower! One of the smaller meteor showers of the year, it should prove to be a reasonably good show with no moonlight to get in the way, weather permitting. It radiates from Comet 2003 EH1. You should be able to see about 40 meteoroids per hour in the early morning hours, so set your alarm clocks extra early tonight!

Catch a peek at Jupiter as it follows the Sun into the western horizon by just a few hours. You will be able to see it for most of the month just after sunset.

You can still find Saturn in the constellation Virgo this month. It is still fairly close to Spica. Venus is in the process of moving into the constellation Virgo now. It rises just ahead of the sun, so you will really have to go out in the wee hours of the morning to spot it this time!

Mars, Mercury, and Pluto are close to the Sun. They may be difficult to see, but hey, at least you will know where to look!

There will be a new moon on January 4th, and a full moon on the 19th.

A partial solar eclipse is also occurring today, but regrettably, we cannot see it from this part of the northern hemisphere.

If it is just general star gazing you are after, see if you can spot the great square of Pegasus, Andromeda, Gemini, Taurus (and the Pleiades!), and the Orion wheel high overhead.

Well, folks, that is it for this month. It is not very much to ring in the New Year, but it is going to be a wonderful year for sky watching nonetheless. Bundle up, stay safe, and happy hunting!

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

December 2010

As we shiver our way into the cold, clear months of winter, December brings some sights worth lugging some coffee along with you and losing a few hours of sleep to see.

The Geminids meteor shower will go streaking again! Expect to see a good show December 14th from about 12am to sunrise. While the Geminids can be seen from any point on the globe, in the northern hemisphere, the constellation Gemini should be directly overhead during the previously mentioned time frame; that should be a good place to begin searching. You can expect to see upwards of 100 meteors per hour!

Ever seen a full lunar eclipse? Now is your chance! Beginning just a little before midnight on December 20, the moon will go completely through earth's shadow throughout the night, coming out of it in the wee hours of the morning. And yes, the moon would have light from the the sun on the other side of earth shining on it, lighting it up in its usual grey. But, during an eclipse the light is coming in more at an angle, and this filters out all of the blue light that we normally see reflected through our atmosphere. The only colors that are left for us to see are the colors on the other end of the light spectrum (the reds, greens, and resulting browns). If earth had no atmosphere at all for light to be filtered through, the moon would look black and disappear completely during a total eclipse. So we are just (literally) seeing the shadier side of the moon! As the eclipse rings in the winter solstice, be sure to bundle up while you watch it-- unseasonably cold temperatures are being reported all around the world this autumn!

You can also expect to see Mercury and mars throughout the month in the west, as well as Jupiter and Uranus cruising high overhead near the constellation Aquarius. The more memorable constellations Orion and Taurus will be well above the horizon after sunset.

Pleiades (the seven sisters) is an open star cluster that is riding on the back of Taurus, and is best observed with binoculars. Pegasus and Andromeda are almost straight up. Look for the tiny fuzzy patch in Andromeda; this is M31, the Andromeda galaxy, the furthest the human eye can see. How far away is it, you ask? Oh, just 2.2. million light years away.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.


NASA had a super-awesome sky-watching promotion to tie in with the lunar eclipse: these badges for those who committed to report in when they saw the eclipse. You better believe we were all over that!

Image credit: NASA.

November 2010

There is really not much to see this month. Comet Hartley 2, which has been cruising part Earth for an entire month and offering up a great show for sky watchers, is presenting the possibility of its own meteor shower. While authorities are saying it is not likely, some fireballs have been spotted, and their paths have been traced back to the comet. It could be coincidence, or it could actually be a newly discovered meteor shower. It is expected to peak November 3-4. It should be radiating from the constellation Cygnus, which should be directly overhead after sunset. Do not expect to see a brilliant shower, however.

Image credit:
Last but not least, keep an eye out for the Leonids meteor shower, which is expected to peak November 17-18. The Leonids are caused by debris left by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. As the name indicates, the shower can be seen radiating from the constellation Leo. Light from the full moon this month will probably obstruct many of the meteors from being seen, though.

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

October 2010

 October is going to be a busy month for star gazers. First you have the Draconids meteor shower on the 8th and 9th. In the past, this shower put on a pretty good show, but not this year.

A better meteor shower will be on the 21st and 22nd. The Orionids shower, from the comet 1P/Halley, should produce 20 meteors an hour.

Then, we will have the small asteroid 2010 ST3 that will pass by the Earth at a distance of 4 million miles. Today ST3 is not a threat to us, but when this 150-foot rock return in 88 years it has a slight chance of hitting us. It will make its closest approach in mid-October.

Last but not least, comet Hartley 2 is cruising the constellation Cassiopeia heading for Perseus and Auriga. This is a small comet, but it is already producing a huge, green corona! It should be an easy target for binoculars and small telescopes.

Image credit:

For more information or for tips on star gazing, call 229-432-6955.

First post!

OK, we know the blog is still quite plain at this point, but we're working on that.
The plan is to upload all of our editions of the Wetherbee Sky Watcher to date, so that this will almost be like a virtual archive. We'll be sure to date every post so you can keep track of when they actually were published.
Feel free to send a message and let us know what you think about the blog, or if there are any topics you would like us to discuss here.
Thanks for following the Wetherbee Sky Watcher!

Happy sky watching!
~the crew at Thronateeska