There’s a Star in the East

Long winter nights.

Crisp clear skies.

Denser colder atmosphere.

These are a few of my favorite things during the winter months and they add up to darker skies and brighter stars.  This weekend also has a few things going for it, astronomically, and also happens to be Twelfth Night (tomorrow, January 5th) and Epiphany (the day after) commemorating the journey of the Three Wise Men guided by a Star in the East.


Observing Highlights for this Weekend (courtesy of “The Sky This Week” at Astronomy.com):

Friday, January 4
Although people in the Northern Hemisphere experienced the shortest day of the year two weeks ago (at the winter solstice December 21), the Sun has continued to rise slightly later with each passing day. That trend stops this morning for those at 40° north latitude†. Tomorrow’s sunrise will arrive at the same time as today’s, but the Sun will come up two seconds earlier Sunday morning. This turnover point depends on latitude. If you live farther north, the switch occurred a few days ago; closer to the equator, the change won’t happen until later in January.

† I’m just 68 miles south of the Kansas-Nebraska border, which juxtaposes with the 40th parallel.  Weird fact discovered this morning via Google Maps:  The Kansas Highway that is literally a block west of my house (K-7) ends at the border and turns into 666 Avenue (see map screenshot below).
Continue reading “There’s a Star in the East”

The Sky this Week: June 26–July 5, 2015 | Astronomy.com

http://www.astronomy.com/observing/sky-this-week/2015/06/june-26july-5-2015

Look west for the next few evenings after sunset to catch Venus and Jupiter passing very near to each other.

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

Look West After Sunset Tomorrow Evening

I probably won’t get to see this.  Snow is forecast for this afternoon in the KC metro area and continuing cloud cover for the next couple of days.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed and my eyes on the western horizon as I drive home tomorrow night.

For those of you with clear skies, enjoy a triple conjunction of the bright planet Venus, the red planet Mars and the two-old new Moon.

Whatever you do, just start watching the western twilight sky. Set a reminder on your phone if need be. The planets and moon won’t be up for long after sunset. And the views will be spectacular from now through Saturday night!

Earthsky, “Venus, Mars, moon after sunset February 19

Venus Overtakes Jupiter

I thought I’d use the European racing term more commonly known in the States as ‘passing’ to refer to the progress Venus has made in the predawn sky this past week.

Saturday morning I woke up way too early for a weekend, but remembered reading something about Venus and Jupiter getting closer together.  Without reminding myself by actually looking the information up via Facebook or Twitter or Google, I threw on some clothes, grabbed the keys to one of the vehicles (didn’t care which one) and rushed outside.  It was still very dark, just after five o’clock (Central time zone).  I drove a block up a slight hill to my favorite eastern horizon viewing site (just to the east of Lansing City Hall) and waited … and waited … and waited.  I finally used my smartphone (which I never leave home without) to check when Venus and Jupiter were supposed to rise (using Astronomy.com’s Tonight’s Sky mobile web page).  Continue reading “Venus Overtakes Jupiter”

Dramatic photos of Venus disappearing behind the moon | Human World | EarthSky

http://earthsky.org/space/dramatic-photos-of-venus-disappearing-behind-the-moon#.Uw3M6MFME0M

Some day I hope to be in the right place at the right time to see an occultation like this.  If only I’d been visiting India this week.

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

Venus Dives Past Saturn

Twelve degrees Fahrenheit this morning as I setup the tripod and camera for the third pre-dawn photo shoot of Saturn and Venus.  Completely calm, unlike yesterday morning, so no jiggles to the camera, beyond my fumbling numb fingers.  I opted for longer exposures (three or four seconds), so I ended up with some trails, especially when using the telephoto lens.  Otherwise, much the same as before, with the exception of the planetary dance partners.

SaturnVenusMercury3secExp18mmWithLabels
Venus slipping below Saturn pre-dawn Tuesday 11/27/2012 (click image for rest of album)

I don’t plan on repeating this for a fourth time tomorrow morning, but I do plan on trying to capture the full moon as it approaches Jupiter tomorrow night.  There also happens to be a penumbral lunar eclipse occurring Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, November 28
Full Moon arrives at 9:46 a.m. EST. It appears against the background stars of Taurus the Bull before dawn this morning, approximately midway between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters and below brilliant Jupiter. (The Moon will slide within 1° of the planet after sunset tonight.) But the Moon has a lot more going for it today. First, it passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow. This penumbral lunar eclipse will slightly darken the Moon’s northern half. People in much of North America can see the eclipse’s early stages, which begin at 7:15 a.m. EST. (Those in Australia, eastern Asia, and the Pacific islands have the best views of the event.) Second, this Full Moon is the smallest (29.4′ in diameter) of 2012. Our satellite’s relatively diminutive size arises because it reaches the farthest point in its orbit around Earth at 2:37 p.m. EST today, when it lies 252,501 miles (406,362 kilometers) from Earth’s center. (Astronomy.com ‘The Sky This Week – November 23 – December 2, 2012’)

Saturn Squeezing Venus

I went to bed Sunday night lamenting the end of my longest vacation in over a decade.  I double-checked and triple-checked my return-to-work checklist (security badge, laptop, cell phone, sunglasses, lunch bag, work clothes and shoes, etc.) before nodding off.  I woke up fifteen minutes before my alarm went off at five o’clock.  I jumped out of bed and had myself dressed and ready to go before half past five.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss this morning’s Saturn-Venus photo opportunity.

VenusSaturnMon26Nov2012-0557

I got everything, including the camera and tripod, packed into the back of the van and drove up the hill, squinting through the frosty windshield, to the library parking lot. I left the van running with the defroster on half-blast, but turned off the headlights. I setup the tripod and camera on the sidewalk, but quickly became concerned by the slight breeze from the north, which could (and did) jiggle the camera during the longer exposures necessitated by the pre-dawn darkness.

I changed lenses on the camera back to my normal lens and took a couple of wide angle shots to begin with:

VenusSaturnStarsWideAngleCorrectedwithLabels

I adjusted the brightness (something I rarely do since I don’t own Photoshop and need to learn how to use Gimp) to make the horizon a bit more visible.

Shortly after six o’clock, I observed Mercury and took a photo in portrait orientation (vertical) to include all three planets and the star Spica:

VenusSaturnMercuryCorrectedRotatedwithLabels

Because I needed to begin the commute to work at a quarter past six, I had to stop taking photos early. A good thing, too, since my batteries, which I had just put in before yesterday morning’s photo session, had already depleted due to the cold temperatures and long exposure times.  I did take the time to switch back to my telephoto lens to zoom in on several of the prime targets.

I managed to snatch a closeup of Venus and Saturn and of Mercury and Alpha Librae before I packed up the equipment and left for work:

VenusSaturnCloseupwithLabels
Saturn squeezing closer to Venus (click image for rest of album)
MercuryAlphaLibraeBrightenedwithLabels
Mercury just risen near Alpha Librae (adjusted brightness to improve visibility)

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting clear skies, I will attempt to capture Saturn as it slips past and above Venus.

Begining of the End

I learned last night at the November general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City that we have just fifty days (forty-nine as I write this blog) until the end of a Mayan age (the 13th Bak’tun).  More commonly known to us as the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2012 (12/21/12 or 21/12/12 depending on your longitude).  I had a lot on my mind as I drifted off to sleep last night,  but when I woke to clear skies and a newly risen Venus blinking at me through the bare branches of trees along my eastern horizon, I shook off the last vestiges of ancient doom and gloom and braved the brisk late fall pre-dawn environs with my tripod and camera.

Armed with new tips and techniques garnered from Tom Martinez’s astrophotography presentation during the club’s Astro 101 session, I attempted a long exposure (ten seconds long) of the Big Dipper using my normal lens:

BigDipper10secExp

I was gratified to discover that my camera can take even longer exposures without the necessity of a handheld remote. Not that I don’t plan to purchase a remote for it soon though.

I didn’t attempt to capture Canis Major or Orion in a long exposure since I would have been shooting west over the well-lit parking lot of City Hall.  Instead, I turned my camera towards the southeast and bright shining Venus and the slightly dimmer Saturn.

VenusSaturnMercurySpicaArcturusWideAngleShot3secExpWithLabels
Wide angle shot of Venus, Saturn and Mercury (click image for rest of album)

I knew Mercury had risen shortly after six o’clock, but I couldn’t see it clearly until about a quarter after.

MercuryAlphaLibrae4secExp
Mercury & Alpha Librae in a four second long exposure.

Later, I accidentally captured not only Mercury, but a passing plane, as it took off from KCI (northeast of my location).

MercuryAlphaLibrae1secExpAWBwithPlaneStreak
Passing Plane (the streak) approaching Mercury

When I got back to my laptop and downloaded the photos, I also double-checked and compared them to the alignment at the time they were taken using the Star Dome Plus java applet at Astronomy.com:
SoutheasternHorizon45degSun25Nov2012-0615A short successful photo shoot this morning.  I didn’t hang around for the sunrise, since I judged it wouldn’t be as pretty as the one I captured Saturday morning.

VenusSaturnMercuryAlphaLibrae3secExpAWB
Venus-Saturn-Mercury Line-up Sunday morning 11/25/2012

Weather permitting, I’ll be repeating this activity for the next two or three mornings. I’m excited to see Venus and Saturn pass each other in the night (or very early morning).

And next week I’m going to wish I was visiting Egypt to witness a once in 2,737  years event involving these same three planets and the Great Pyramids at Giza.