Staycation Halfway Highlights

This time last week I was looking forward to getting out of this house – the one we’ve been sheltering in place in since mid-March for a week-long trip to a BnB in the Flint Hills.

My original plan included dusting off my telescope in the hope of some dark sky observing, only I forgot to check the moon phase calendar before booking the cabin. Full moon occurs this week (tomorrow if I remember correctly).

But despite all the stress of participating (as a team lead) in a hackathon (and placing second), escaping our home however briefly just wasn’t in the stars.

Terry’s health has been a problem for several months now, including a trip to the hospital last month for a few days (that turned out to be a bad drug reaction and interaction). The hospital food also did a number on his digestive system and he’s still suffering weeks later. So at the last possible moment, I cancelled the trip (rescheduled it for the new moon in mid-April 2021) and resigned myself to a week of home improvement and maintenance projects.

Continue reading “Staycation Halfway Highlights”

Mars Slides Behind Moon This Month

In mid-February, a waning crescent Moon glides among Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in the predawn sky. For many viewers in North America, the Moon actually covers Mars on February 18th.
Sky & Telescope

It’s fitting that with my intense focus on Malacandra throughout January that upon finishing the Mythgard Academy class this week I have a major astronomical event featuring Mars to look forward to in less than two weeks.

I can take good advantage of this occultation since I live in the middle of the country just shy of 40 degrees north latitude. If I were visiting my daughter in the Pacific Northwest, I’d have a bit more dark time but might not see it as well being at a more northern latitude at 47 degrees.

Image via IOTA. See the loop at the upper right above North America? As the moon rises in the predawn hours on February 18, 2020, in this part of the world, Mars will covered over by the moon. But, later on before dawn, you can watch Mars reappear from behind the moon’s dark side. Read more.

Actually, not just Mars will be in the spotlight in mid-February. Three planets are center stage in the predawn skies starting February 18th (see first graphic above). Listen to Sky Tour courtesy Sky & Telescope for some viewing tips and other astronomical tidbits for February observing.

Sky Tour Podcast for February 2020

My only concern will be the weather, which in February in Kansas, is dodgy at best.

Keeping my fingers crossed and as always keep looking up!

Fantastic Fun Friday

I knew going into Friday I would have a very long day ahead of me. I had errands I needed to run first thing in the morning, so I planned to be late to work.  I stayed up past my usual bedtime, keeping my husband company.  We watched the inaugural episode of the new Amazon series “The Tick”, which is a remake of the two other Tick series from the 90s and 00s.  We also watched the latest episode of “Salvation,” which is shaping up nicely.  Not enough science, but plenty of political and personal interactions to keep the layman interested.

I forgot to turn off my alarm but didn’t mind getting up at my normal time of half past five. I did a few minutes of exercise on our elliptical and ran myself through the shower. I avoided logging in to work so I wouldn’t distract myself from the errands I needed to complete. In honor of Monday’s total solar eclipse, I wore my commemorative T-shirt produced by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. I made sure to grab my ASKC name badge and place it in my car as I would need it for the final event on my Friday schedule.

At half past seven, I left and headed north, with a quick side trip through the car wash, which was surprisingly unbusy so early in the morning. I continued north through Lansing and most of Leavenworth until I reached the old county courthouse. I parked in the Justice Center’s parking lot and serendipitously ran into one of my book club friends on her way to work.

I walked the block back to the old courthouse and grabbed number 45 from the dispenser with about ten minutes wait time before the Treasurer’s office opened. I decided to pay the taxes and fees for my newest vehicle the old-fashioned way – in person and with a handwritten check. The number displayed as being served was 41 so I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait. I made myself comfortable on the old pew-like wooden bench and continued listening to the Dreamsnake audiobook I’d recently checked out via Hoopla.

Continue reading “Fantastic Fun Friday”

Autumn Arrives and Adventures in Astronomical Observing

Autumn arrived mid-week here in the Heart of America, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at the weather forecast:  Mid 90s and moderately high humidity.  Also with the change of the seasons, I retired my FitBit Charge (or rather it retired itself by falling apart) and upgraded to a Samsung Gear Fit2.  The new fitness tracker is spurring me on to be more active, although my sleep pattern hasn’t improved much. I can safely blame work (10 pm to 4 am conference call on a Saturday night/Sunday morning) and astronomy, which requires, well, dark skies, for my reduced snooze time.

Speaking of astronomy, I’ve upgraded, finally after two years of paralysis analysis, from the Meade ETX 90, gifted to me by my father in October 2010 (also, unsurprisingly the birth of this blog site), to an Orion SkyQuest XX14G.  Continue reading “Autumn Arrives and Adventures in Astronomical Observing”

Tonight’s Adventure in Star Gazing with the Public

Tonight is my first night this year as a volunteer of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City in our public outreach efforts to introduce astronomical observing to the public.  Every Saturday night in May and through the end of October, we open up Powell Observatory to the public and provide education programs, solar observing, binocular observing and of course telescopic observing (weather and cloud cover permitting).  The weather forecast for this evening couldn’t be better.  See for yourself as we have our own weather station and sky cam broadcasting 24-hours a day.

Astronomy’s Sky this Week reports for tonight:

Saturday, May 14

•  The Moon moves approximately 13° eastward relative to the starry background every 24 hours, and its motion carries it near Jupiter this evening. From North America, the two appear within 5° of each other all night. They will be in conjunction at 6 a.m. EDT tomorrow morning, when our satellite passes 2° due south of the planet. Although the best views of the pair come with the naked eye or binoculars, don’t pass up the opportunity to observe Jupiter through a telescope. The giant planet’s disk currently spans 39″ and displays a wealth of atmospheric detail. All this week, Jupiter appears high in the south as darkness falls and doesn’t set until nearly 3 a.m. local daylight time. It shines at magnitude –2.2 — brighter than any other point of light in the night sky — against the backdrop of southern Leo.

While Sky and Telescope Sky at a Glance expands on: The two brightest things in the evening sky, the Moon and Jupiter, shine high just a few degrees apart this evening, as shown here. Third brightest is Mars, low in the southeast after dark.

So for a great time this evening, head south of Kansas City down US-69 to Louisburg and join me and several hundred other people as we take in the wonders of the night sky.

Keep Looking Up!



Full Moon Merry Christmas

Tomorrow, just after six o’clock in the morning and just as the sun is rising, we’ll experience the first full moon to occur on Christmas Day since 1977.  I wasn’t even in high school yet in 1977 (although my husband was already in college by then).  If you miss opening this Christmas present, you won’t get another chance until 2034 (by which time I should be retired).

Other astronomical items of note this holiday week include:

  • On the 4th day of Christmas (Monday that is), Mercury reaches its peak distance from the sun 30 minutes after sunset in the southwest.
  • On the 5th day of Christmas (Tuesday), Saturn continues its return from behind the Sun.  Look to the southeast in the pre-dawn morning time.
  • On the 6th day of Christmas (Wednesday), look up and south to spy the Seven Sisters (aka as the Pleiades)
  • On the 8th day of Christmas (Happy New Year!), use binoculars to find Comet Catalina rising close to Arcturus (a very bright star) around midnight and continue to rise high in the southeast until dawn twilight.
  • On the 9th day of Christmas (Saturday, January 2, 2016) the Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun (at the start of Winter no less)
  • On the last day of Christmas (Twelfth Night) at 10 p.m. EST, Pluto hides behind the Sun.

Comet Catalina

For more interesting astronomical events and items, please visit Astronomy magazine’s The Sky This Week: December 25, 2015 – January 10, 2016 web page.

May the brightest star guide you in your search for Peace, Love and Joy.

Merry Christmas!




The Seven Wonders of the Solar System

Some suggestions for a superlative list of solar system wonders.

My list off the top of my head:

1. Saturn’s rings
2. Jupiter’s red spot
3. Mars’ Olympic Mons
4. Io
5. Titan
6. Uranus for being axially contrary
7. Oort cloud

Posted from WordPress for Android via my Samsung smartphone. Please excuse any misspellings. Ciao, Jon

Moon Passes Near Both Mars and Saturn this Week

Yesterday, I saw a post via Sky & Telescope’s Facebook feed that reminded me to get out my telescope. This week, starting tomorrow, you don’t need a telescope to see something amazing.

Saturday after sunset, look to the south to see the Moon near Mars.

Monday, again after sunset, look a bit farther to the south-east to see the Moon near Saturn.

Here’s a link to Sky & Telescope’s article about the Moon juicing up July:

Two Moon-Planet Conjunctions Juice Up July

But back to my telescope. I know I don’t need it to see the above two events, anyone with eyeballs can observe them. I wanted to get out my telescope and shake off the cobwebs. It’s been a cloudy spring this year, at least on the weekends. I observed Mars first, trying to see the polar ice caps, then I switched to Saturn, where I clearly saw the separation between the rings and the different cloud layers. The angle of the rings with respect to Saturn is spectacular right now.

Find an Island of Stars at Powell Obsevatory Tomorrow Night

A quick shout-out to everyone in the Kansas City metro area to come on down to the Powell Observatory tomorrow night.

Our scheduled program is entitled “Island of Stars” and the weather looks very promising.

I volunteer as part of Team 2 (one of several teams staffed by members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City).  I’m looking forward to meeting many new people and introducing them to the many wonders of the night sky.

More Powell Observatory Information:

The observatory is staffed by ASKC volunteers and is open to the public every Saturday night from the beginning of May through the end of October. The Star Bright Saturday Night Programs begin at dusk and include program presentations on astronomy, tours of the observatory, and (if the skies are clear) viewing through the various telescopes of the moon, planets, stars, star clusters and more! A donation of $6 per adult and $4 per child is suggested to help support the observatory and allow it to continue operations open to the public.

Hope to see you tomorrow night and always keep looking up!

Dew-Wop Star Hop

ASKC June star partyFriday turned into a very long day indeed.  I took the afternoon off to accompany my husband to a doctor’s visit to discuss the next steps in managing his condition.  That appointment went better than I thought it would and I’m grateful for the information and the prospects.  We will persevere.

We got back home with just thirty minutes to spare before venturing out again, this time a couple of miles west of us (on the other side of Lansing) to attend the grand opening of a new farmer’s market.  We’ve known the family that owns the farm for years, and we love to buy locally grown produce.  We didn’t stay long as I needed to research and prep for the star party at Powell.

I received the ‘all clear’ or ‘go ahead’ e-mail from the ASKC star party coordinator earlier in the afternoon.  I called my dad to see if he wanted to join me.  He had a conflict so I asked my husband.  He preferred to stay home.  So I was on my own.

First thing I needed to do was dust off the 8-inch Dob.  Then I attempted to collimate it.  Then I dialed in the finder scope.  I didn’t remember until later that I’d purchased, back in October, a new finder scope, so I missed the opportunity to try it out.  The weather forecast for the rest of the weekend doesn’t look good for more testing opportunities.

Next, I found my Astro Quest Observing checklist and started planning my overly ambitious observing list for Friday night’s star party.  I’ve been working on this observing award for nearly two years now.  I really need to step it up and get it done!  I got a bit distracted when I realized I hadn’t recorded some of the observations I made last fall and winter.  Eventually, I returned to those items I’ve yet to observe that would be the best candidates for an early June dark-of-the-moon night sky.  I used my Pocket Sky Atlas and the Android App SkySafari Plus on my Samsung Galaxy Note II to select twenty items.  I added these targets to a list in the app:

  • R CrB
  • R Leo
  • 48 Librae
  • Thuban (in Draco)
  • Adhafera (in Leo)
  • Sarin (in Hercules)
  • Owl Nebula (M 97)
  • Blinking Planetary Nebula
  • Ghost of Jupiter Nebula
  • Cat’s Eye Nebula
  • Sombrero Galaxy
  • Black Eye Galaxy
  • M 86 (in Virgo)
  • M 81 aka Bode’s Nebula
  • M 22 (in Sagittarius)
  • M 5
  • M 7 (aka Ptolemy’s Cluster)
  • IC 4665
  • NGC 6231
  • NGC 6210

I partially disassembled the Dob for transport, placing the tube in its carrying case.  I had some concern that the base would not fit in the trunk of my car, but it did, barely.  I discovered my portable emergency red light battery needed charging so I plugged it in a couple of hours before I needed to leave.  I found a lawn chair and a table I could take.  I forgot two items that in hindsight I should have brought with me:  1) the monopod for my binoculars (to reduce shaking while observing) and 2) Deep Woods Off or some other Deet laden bug spray.  I got everything into the car, except the charging battery, and watched the clock tick down to 7:30 p.m.

ASKC June star party at Powell ObservatoryThe drive to Powell Observatory near Louisburg took an hour, but I enjoyed listening to my audiobook and dodging Johnson County drivers.  I arrived to a gorgeous sunset (see photos above and at right).  I also noticed a baseball game in progress to the northwest of the observing field (you can see the field lights already on in the photo above).  These lights became an annoyance for the next two hours.

I opted to park in the parking light north of the observatory and across the street.  Several ASKC members were already setting up their telescopes east of the dome.  The parking lot to the west of the dome was filled with what I assumed to be a private party that had reserved the dome facilities for the evening.  It took me three trips to get the telescope and accessories from the car to the observing field.  While I made these trips, the star party coordinator informed me I could have driven my car around the dome onto the observing field to make my life easier.  But I excel at doing things the hard way.  Maybe next month I’ll be lazier.

I put the scope back together and checked the alignment of the finder scope.  Then I settled into my lawn chair to wait for darker skies.  Eventually, around 9:30 p.m., I got my binoculars out and waited for Venus, Mercury and Saturn to pop out in the twilight.  I observed all three of these planets with binoculars and with the 8-inch Dob.  I could clearly see that Mercury was half full (or is that more properly referred to as quarter illuminated?).

During this time (after sunset but before the ball field lights were extinguished), we saw the ISS pass over in the northern part of the sky.

I used my binoculars to locate M13 in Hercules and I used the scope to find M4 in Scorpius.  I roamed around the sky with my binoculars, relaxing in my lawn chair, getting increasingly annoyed by the brightness of the ball field lights.  I also started to notice an accumulation of dew on just about everything.  When I would pick up my binoculars and look through them, often I would see bright halos instead of pin pricks of starlight.  Any printouts I had sitting on my table quickly became sodden and unusable.

The ballgame finally wrapped up a few minutes before 10:30 p.m.  We all cheered when the lights finally died and we could let our eyes adjust to the dark.  Within fifteen minutes, I had found the Sombrero Galaxy (aka M 104) in the constellation Virgo.  This was my first chance to really field test using SkySafari Plus on my smartphone, using the night vision setting (red display) and the ability to zoom-in to match the field-of-view I saw through my scope’s eyepiece.  Made star hopping easier.  No more juggling my reading glasses, a red light flashlight and my Pocket Star Atlas.  To find the galaxy, I actually came up from the constellation Corvus (see chart above).

I had to abandon searching for dim nebula and the harder to find variable stars on my observing list because of the persistent haze that hung over the sky.  While I was grateful for the lack of wind, this also resulted in no movement of the thin clouds.  I had to focus on brighter objects.  I did observe, in my binoculars, the stars Thuban, Adhafera and Sarin, but I did not attempt R CrB or 48 Librae, which require better seeing conditions to locate via star hopping.

During the eleven o’clock hour, I set my sights on locating M5, a globular cluster, found in the constellation Serpens.  I’ve tried a couple of times in the past to locate this cluster, but there are no bright stars near it to guide you to it.  Since I’m trying to perfect my star hopping abilities (and didn’t bring my “goto” telescope with me), I again used the SkySafari Plus, zoomed in to with in a couple of degrees of the cluster, to find a suitable path among the faint stars.  At first I attempted from the east (my left) using some stars in the Serpens constellation, but I kept getting lost (or nowhere), so I changed tactics and thought I’d try coming ‘up’ from Libra.  No luck there either.

Finally, I moved to the west, to the right leg of the constellation Virgo, and used stars tau and 109 to draw a line due east (to the left) directly to M5.  Huzzah!  I found it at 11:30 p.m.  I observed the cluster, as best I could with the less than stellar seeing conditions, and sat savoring the triumph of finally locating this illusive globular cluster.

Several other star party attendees had started packing up their equipment, probably because of the dew and the haze.  I wanted to stick it out, at least until midnight, so I quickly scanned through my observing list and decided to investigate the 13th constellation in the Zodiac (or rather, one of the thirteen constellations that cross the ecliptic) and find an open cluster, IC 4665.  It should have been visible with binoculars, but I had little hope of that.  Ophiuchus, also known as the Serpent Bearer, is a large constellation between Sagittarius and Scorpius.  I used the nu and tau stars to guide me to the open cluster.  I could see it well (although it barely fit in the field of view) via the scope, but could not discern it through my binoculars, which kept fogging over and became more and more useless as the night progressed.

I still had a few minutes to go before tomorrow arrived, so I turned the scope northward, to Ursa Major, hoping to find the Owl Nebula. Unfortunately, looking north from Powell Observatory means looking back through the entirety of Kansas City and all its glorious star-obscuring light pollution.  I made a half-hearted attempt to locate the nebula and decided enough was enough.

I switched on my portable battery and it’s ’emergency’ red light (in non-flashing mode) so I could see my observing site well enough to start packing up the equipment.  Everything was soaked in dew.  Thank goodness my Pocket Sky Atlas is designed for moisture-laden environments.  The paper it’s printed on isn’t traditional paper.  I suspect a high content of plastic.

Three trips later, I had everything back in the car.  I pulled out of the parking lot at six minutes past midnight and pulled into my driveway an hour later.  I went straight to bed.

Final thoughts?  I was able to check off three of the twenty items from my observing target list.  Not nearly as many as I had hoped to find, but given the conditions, I’m satisfied with the results.  I’ll give it another go next month and as I can from my backyard, weather permitting.