December 2017

• November 29th, 2017

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         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher, or iTunes.

The holidays are upon us, and we have some non-magical awesomeness happening in the skies this December, including a great Geminid Meteor Shower, the winter constellations appearing, 2 or 3 morning planets, and a year-end occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon.

 

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – None

Planets you can see throughout the night – None

Planets you can see in the Morning – Venus (SE – 1st week), Jupiter (SE), Mars (SE)

  • Mercury – Not visible this month.
  • Venus – You MIGHT be able to catch it very low on the horizon the first week as it rises about 30-45 minutes before the Sun does around 7am.
  • Mars – Dim, but 30˚ high in the sky by 7am, rising around 4am. Look SE and find the red object near Jupiter and bright Spica, Virgo’s brightest star.
  • Saturn – Not visible this month.
  • Jupiter – Rises around 5am in early December, getting higher and higher in the sky every morning until it rises at 4am to about 30˚ above the SE horizon on December 30th at sunrise, right below Mars.

 

EVENTS...

Full Moon – 3rd (Visible all night)

Last Quarter Moon – 10th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

13th, 14thGeminid Meteor Shower – A good year for the Geminids, given the moon will be a thin waning crescent rising very late in the morning, giving us a shot at around 100 meteors per hour, depending on your light pollution levels.

Some advice for watching:

  • Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty
  • Look at the whole sky, but note Gemini is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from. Gemini will be in the East after sunset, South after midnight, West in the morning.
  • Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear
  • Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 
  • If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count (S&T and IMO)
  • Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.

12th – 15thClose Encounter – Moon, Spica, Mars, Jupiter – Every morning, Jupiter will be super bright, with dimmer red Mars about 10˚ up and to the right, and bright Spica (Virgo’s brightest star) 8˚ up and to the right of Mars and a little brighter.  The Waning Gibbous Moon moves through this collection throughout the 4 days.  On the 12th, the Moon is above Spica, while on the 13th it will make a nice triangle with Spica and Mars.  The next morning, the 14th, the Moon will be about 4˚ above Jupiter, and on the 15th it will move to about 10˚ down and to the left of Jupiter, creating a great 4 object lineup in the morning sky visible after 5am.

New Moon – 18th (darkest skies) 

21stWinter Solstice - The longest night and shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. More info here: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html

First Quarter Moon – 26th (Visible until midnight)

30thOccultation – Moon, Aldebaran – Find the Moon with bright Aldebaran right nearby. Witness the motion of the Moon by watching Aldebaran get covered up by it. In my area, the star will disappear at right about 6:20pm behind the dark portion of the Moon, then reappear from the lit portion of the Moon at 7:12pm. Your times will vary, but you can find times here.

 

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

  • After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm) – Pegasus, Andromeda - Extra Challenge!  Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.  It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda.
  • Between Sunset and Midnight – Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia
  • Midnight – Auriga, Taurus, Gemini
  • Early Morning – Ursa Major’s legs, Leo Minor

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS: 

Fall Constellations: Andromeda, Pegasus

If you can find the Summer Triangle and Delphinus in the West, about 40˚ to the East (leftish – pretty much straight above you) will be the Great Square of the fall constellation Pegasus.  Perhaps you’ll even see the two curves of Andromeda off of one side, with the Andromeda Galaxy as a small, faint fuzzy nearby (you’ll need dark skies to see it).  A sky map will help you tremendously in finding these. 

Winter constellations:  Orion is easy to spot as he is rising in the East around 7:30pm.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

Using Orion:  Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East around 7:30pm.  If you draw a line from the left (bottom) star to the right (top) star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.

Draw a line from the right (top) star in Orion’s belt to the left (bottom) star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

 

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November 2017

• November 3rd, 2017

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed, or get my podcast feed on Stitcher, or iTunes.

November brings us earlier nights, all the naked-eye planets visible at some point near dusk or dawn, and a couple of close encounters between them. You might catch some Leonid meteors or a lineup of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars in the mornings.

 

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Saturn (SW), Mercury (SW, last week)

Planets you can see throughout the night – None

Planets you can see in the Morning – Mars (SE), Venus (SE), Jupiter (SE)

 

Mercury – You might be able to catch Mercury the last week of November, pretty low in the sky after sunset, and setting only an hour after the Sun.  Look SW, find Saturn, then find Mercury down and to the right.

Venus – Venus will be just 10˚ above the horizon at 6am at the beginning of the month, and drops lower every day.  It doesn’t drop completely out of sight, but harder and harder to see every morning.

 

Mars – Dim, but 30˚ high in the sky by 6am, rising around 4am. Look ESE and find the red object above bright Spica, Virgo’s brightest star.

Saturn – Look SW after sunset and find the brightest light only about 10˚ above the horizon. It will set around 7:30pm EST in early November and just after sunset by month’s end.

Jupiter – Makes its transition to morning planet this month. It seems to switch places with Venus, getting higher and higher in the sky every morning until it’s about 20˚ above the SE horizon on November 30th at sunrise.


EVENTS...

Full Moon – 4th (Visible all night)

5thDaylight Savings Time Ends

Last Quarter Moon – 10th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

13thClose Encounter – Venus, Jupiter – Get out after 6am on the morning of the 13th and look ESE toward the horizon.  You’ll find VERY bright Venus about a quarter of a degree away from Jupiter, making this a great time to get both of them in a picture in a telescope, along with all four Galilean Moons.  But get out there as close to 6am as possible, as the Sun will rise at about 6:45, ruining your view even by 6:25.

14th – 17thClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Venus – An interesting 4 days.  Jupiter and Venus are close together low on the ESE horizon in the morning, with Mars over 20˚ up and to the right.  The Moon joins in on the 14th, being about 7˚ above Mars.  The next morning, the Moon will be down and to the left of Mars, but still far from Jupiter and Venus.  The 16th brings the Moon closer to Jupiter and Venus, much thinner, but still above them.  Lastly, and most difficult, on the 17th the Moon is incredibly thin, and hanging out to the left of Venus, with Jupiter nearby.  You’ll have to get out at 6am or shortly thereafter to witness this, as it is very low on the horizon.

 

17th – Leonid Meteor Shower – You might just catch a couple meteors coming from Leo, if you get out early in the morning and look at the whole sky in general, like other meteor showers.  However, this meteor shower is losing steam throughout the years, but still producing about 15 per hour.

New Moon – 18th (darkest skies) 

20thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn, Mercury – Look SW after sunset (4:45pm EST) but before 6:15pm EST to see Saturn 3˚ to the left of the thin crescent Moon, with Mercury (if you can spot it) 7˚ below the Moon.

23rd – Thanksgiving – Saturn/Mercury in the SW after sunset, a nice crescent Moon until 8:30pm, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus in the morning.

First Quarter Moon – 26th (Visible until midnight)

28thClose Encounter – Saturn, Mercury – Look SW after the Sun sets, and you MIGHT be able to catch Saturn and Mercury only 3˚ apart very low on the horizon. Binoculars will certainly help.

 

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm after Nov. 2nd) – Lacerta, Pegasus (the Great Square)

Between Sunset and Midnight – Pegasus, Andromeda - Extra Challenge!  Using your naked eye (dark-adapted and in a dark area) or binoculars under normal conditions and a star chart, try finding our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.  It’ll be a faint, but bigger, fuzzy in the constellation Andromeda.

Midnight – Perseus, Taurus

Early Morning – Lynx, Cancer, Gemini - Extra Challenge!  Using binoculars, find the bright and open cluster M35.  Find Gemini, look at the rightmost leg, go down to the foot, and move 2-3 degrees to the right (W).  

 

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS: 

Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the West after sunset until about 9pm and you’ll still be able to see Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, (and Delphinus.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Being summer constellations and it being fall right now, they are setting and are visible for a shorter period of time.  If you’re under dark skies (away from city lights) you may just catch a glimpse of the Milky Way passing through Cygnus and Aquila.

Fall Constellations: Andromeda, Pegasus

If you can find the Summer Triangle and Delphinus, about 40˚ to the East (leftish) will be the Great Square of the fall constellation Pegasus.  Perhaps you’ll even see the two curves of Andromeda off of one side, with the Andromeda Galaxy as a small, faint fuzzy nearby (you’ll need dark skies to see it).  A sky map will help you tremendously in finding these.  You’ll see these in the East after sunset, straight above you around midnight, and in the West in the morning.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

 

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