July 27th: MARS Opposition and Lunar Eclipse

Mars at 7820mm (2018Jun04) on fuzzy.photos, ©Frederick Steiling.  Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ on C14 with ZWO ASI174MM camera using IRRGB filters. Image from June 4, 2018 before dust storm overtook the whole planet.

Mars will exceed 24-arc-sec in diameter between July 23rd and August 9th, 2018. This is 97 percent of the maximum of 25.13-arc-sec diameter attained during the last of the ‘favorable’ apparitions, which occurred in 2003.Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers

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BIG Mars Opposition this Month!

Earth and Mars orbit diagram representing how the opposition distance (blue lines) between the planets (Earth = green and Mars = red) can vary depending on where in their orbits the opposition takes place.

At the end of this month, on July 27th, Mars will be in opposition and reach its greatest angular diameter — 24.3-arc-seconds — for the year. This is the best opposition since 2003. It’ll be greater than 21-arc-seconds tonight and well worth observing. For an explanation as to why some oppositions are better, what to expect from this year’s event, and accessories to better view and image Mars, see our blog post: Mars Opposition 2018 Preview.
 

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Saturn at Opposition: June 27th

Saturn with 2.5x Powermate™™
Moons Enceladus & Tethys visible on original.
©Ed Grafton

Saturn is in opposition tonight: it  glides above the horizon around sunset and will be over 18-arc-seconds in diameter for a few weeks. At about magnitude 0.0, it will pair well with the full moon that accompanies it across the sky this evening. 

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Jupiter Opposition & Mercury Tangles with Uranus!

Jupiter with Ganymede just before opposition by flickr user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “I’ve used 10 videos, stacked them and derotated them in WinJupos. About 15 mins worth of imaging squeezed into one photo. The GRS looks majestic as always :)”
Jupiter will rise at sunset on May 9th. At magnitude -2.5 it will be an unmistakable sight: the brightest celestial object on the eastern horizon. It will also be closest to the Earth for the year.
 
A few days later, Mercury and Uranus draw nearer before sunrise. Mercury will be brilliant on the horizon, but northern observers will be challenged in finding Uranus in the gathering twilight. 

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March 17th: Let the Messier Marathon Begin!

M45 – Pleiades Star Cluster © Edward Nash with Tele Vue TV-76 and SXV-H9 camera using LRGB filters.

By the 1970s amateurs had noticed that all 110 Messier objects could be observed at low northern latitudes over the course of a night in mid-to-late March.

You’ve probably heard of Charles Messier’s catalog of celestial deep-sky objects for 18th century comet hunters.  When they stumbled upon an unknown faint fuzzy object, they’d consult this list to see if it was a known object. It was first published in 1774 and expanded with help from fellow observers in that century. Astronomers and amateurs in the early 20th Century rediscovered it, added a few new objects, and made corrections.  There are now 110 “M” objects in the modern catalog.

Every sky chart labels the location of these objects with the letter “M” and a number. For instance, the brightest Messier is M45 — the famous naked-eye Pleiades open star cluster. A third of the way around the sky you’ll find the dimmest: M95 — a galaxy of magnitude 10 or 11 (depending on the source) in Leo.

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Observing the Moon

First quarter moon imaged with FoneMate and DeLite 7mm eyepiece. J. Betancourt.

Most amateur astronomers will ignore the full moon. The best telescopic observations can be had before and after the moon is full.  For instance, when the moon is half-illuminated, at first quarter, as it waxes toward full. Along the night and day terminator line bisecting the moon are the boldly cast shadows of mountains, craters, rilles, and basins. This is where your telescopic lunar observations should begin.

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Mars Opposition 2018 Preview

Mars with Tele Vue 4x Powermate™. ©Russell Croman

About every 26-months,  Earth and Mars get a good look at each other as their orbits cause them to line up together on the same side of the Sun.  At the instant that Earth is between Mars and the Sun we have “Mars Opposition” — Mars is opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky. Mars is closest to Earth around this time and amateur astronomers make a point of observing it.

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2018: Solar and Lunar Phenomena Overview

Sun setting while partially eclipsed on May 20, 2012 during an Annular Solar Eclipse. Taken through Tele Vue-TV-76 with Canon 50D camera. Credit & copyright Edward Nash.
Solar Eclipses
First, some bad-news for all those newly confirmed “eclipse chasers” from the Great American Eclipse in 2017: there will be no total  solar or annular eclipses this year — just some partials.
Southern hemisphere observers will get a double-dose of partial eclipses starting February 15th. That event will cover an area from the southern part of South America to a large chunk of Antarctica. This will be followed by another partial event July 13th — mostly observable in the  waters between Antarctica and Australia — with the shadow making landfall in the southern parts of Victoria and South Australia.

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Jupiter & Venus Conjunction – Nov. 13, 2017

Morning planets group together in mid-November.

Early risers will note that Jupiter & Venus have been approaching each other in the deep-morning twilight of the eastern sky. Jupiter ascends ever higher each morning while Venus settles lower onto the horizon. The two worlds cross paths on the morning of November 13th when they will be about a half-moon width apart.  Continue reading “Jupiter & Venus Conjunction – Nov. 13, 2017”

2017 Eclipse: Naglers in Nashville, TN!

Observers point at first contact in front of the Tele Vue tent. David Nagler is third from left in green.

If ever there was an event that bound together every living thing on this planet, the disappearance of the Sun during broad daylight reminds us of just how reliant, fragile and connected we are. To be able to share the emotions of that special moment with others reminds us that all the moments we share are special.

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