January 2018

• January 1st, 2018

         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.

Mornings are for the planets this month, with Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all making appearances, including conjunctions of two different pairs of these planets. The Moon will pass by each of these planets, be full twice, and be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, but only visibly in certain spots.

 

Naked-eye PLANETS...

  • Around Sunset – None
  • Throughout the night – None
  • Morning (SE) – Mercury (1st half of month), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (2nd half of month)

Mercury

  • You MIGHT be able to catch Mercury about 10˚ above the horizon about half an hour before sunrise, which is around 7:30am, but only for the first week or two. Luckily, Saturn passes only ½˚ away on the morning of the 13th, making it a little easier to find.

Venus

  • Not visible this month, on the other side of the Sun – superior conjunction

Mars

  • Dim, but 30˚ high in the sky by 7am, rising around 3am. Look SE and find the red object near Jupiter and moving through Libra toward Scorpius throughout the month.

Saturn

  • About halfway through the month Saturn might be visible very low on the horizon, and easier to find on the 13th when Mercury is only ½˚ away. But the view just gets better every morning.  By month’s end, Saturn rises at 5:30am and is 15˚ high at sunrise. Thus, Saturn’s season of morning appearances begins.

Jupiter

  • Rises around 3am in early January, 2am in late January, to about 30˚ above the S horizon at sunrise, moving slowly through Libra.


EVENTS...

Full Moon – 1st (Visible all night) – Happens to be a supermoon, which is when the Moon appears a tiny bit larger in the sky due to the coincidence of the Full Moon and the Moon being at perigee, or closest approach in its (slightly) elliptical orbit.

6th, 7thConjunction – Jupiter, Mars – Both mornings, look SSE after 3:30am but at least 20 minutes before sunrise, which is about 7:30am.  Find bright Jupiter, with dimmer, but redder, Mars less than ½˚ away (half a pinky’s width held at arm’s length).

Last Quarter Moon – 8th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

11thClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter – After 3:00am find the Moon in the SE. Mars and Jupiter will both be within 5˚ to the right and down of the beautifully crescent Moon.

13thConjunction – Saturn, Mercury – Rising at about 6:30am, when sunrise is 7:24am, these two will be VERY low on the horizon, but visible in the SE less than 1˚ apart. Mercury should be a little brighter than Saturn, which is right above it. If you’re having trouble, find the crescent Moon and look a little less than 20˚ down and to the left, using two fists held at arm’s length as your guide.

14th, 15thClose Encounter – Saturn, Mercury, Moon – On the 14th, the Moon will be a little lower, thinner, and closer to Saturn and Mercury, which are a little further apart than yesterday morning.  On the 15th, the Moon will be VERY thin, VERY low, and to the left of Mercury and Saturn

New Moon – 16th (darkest skies) 

First Quarter Moon – 24th (Visible until midnight)

Full Moon & Total Lunar Eclipse (for some) – 31st (Visible all night) – Find the Moon on the morning of the 31st to catch a glimpse of a total eclipse, but only if you live in the West or Midwest of America, Australia, China, and other places.  Eastern U.S. might only see the very beginning of the umbral part of the eclipse, since the Moon will be setting at about that time.

 

 

CONSTELLATIONS... STRAIGHT UP

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

If you’re looking straight up above you…

  • After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm) – Perseus, Taurus, Auriga – Extra Challenge! Right in the middle of Perseus is an open cluster called Mel 20. If you take binoculars and look around Perseus, you’ll see plenty of stars, but right in the middle where Mel 20 is, there are a lot more than you can see anywhere else in Perseus, hence they call it a cluster of stars.
  • Between Sunset and Midnight – Auriga, Taurus, Gemini
  • Midnight – Gemini
  • Early Morning – Bootes

SEASONAL CONSTELLATIONS: 

Winter: Orion is easy to spot as he is visible in the East after sunset.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

  • Taurus, Pleiades: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East after sunset.  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.
  • Canis Major: 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.
  • Gemini, Auriga: 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.
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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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