Uranus Opposition October 23rd

Uranus by Instagram user astrobobo. Copyright astrobobo. Used by permission. Imaged with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™ on Celestron EdgeHD 8″ SCT (effective focal length = 5080-mm) and ZWO ASI290MC camera.

On the 23rd, the “ice  giant” Uranus will be visible all night, as it rises when the sun sets (hence it is opposite the sun). It will also be at its largest for the year: a diminutive 3.73″ of arc. Due to its distance and close-to-circular orbit, Uranus doesn’t vary that much in brightness over time.  It will reach magnitude 5.7 from mid-October through early November before slightly fading to magnitude 5.9 in late March 2019. This makes it a naked-eye target in dark skies and easy to locate in a binocular or finderscope.

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This Week: Neptune Opposition 2018 and Comet 21P!

Neptune image by Voyager 2 probe. NASA/JPL

With the moon a waning crescent, it is a good time to pick out some faint objects in the sky.

On Friday, September 7th, Neptune rises opposite the sun and is closest to earth. Being in the sky all-night, and at it’s brightest, presents a good opportunity to sight this rarely-seen telescopic planet. Unlike the naked eye planets, you’ll have to crank-up the power to make sure you’ve really found it. Even at 100x it just looks like a magnitude 7.8 star. So don’t expect to see a Voyager 2 quality image through your eyepiece.

Click on image to enlarge. Neptune (dots showing position from Sept. 5 to 12) is just south of a line between Phi- and Lambda-Aquarii. In early September it will be moving slowly toward the Lambda star. Using your finder, or a wide-field eyepiece, setup your field on the stars labeled by magnitude inside the 5° circle. Over the course of the week, Neptune will be approaching a line drawn between the mag. 7.5 and 7.4 stars shown. Neptune will be slightly dimmer than both at mag. 7.8.  83-Aquarii it is the brightest of the stars labeled by magnitude — shining at  mag. 5.5 — and will help you orient the chart.

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Flashback: Great American Eclipse Aug. 21, 2017

Has it really been a year already?  A year since people from all-over converged on a 70-mile-wide ribbon of land, that spanned the continental United States, coast-to-coast , to gaze in awe at the Great American Eclipse. This was the first total solar eclipse to land in the contiguous United States since 1979 and the first coast-to-coast one since 1918. So, for many people, this was their first.

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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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