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.
The weather forecast for today predicted over an eighty percent chance of rain so I either needed to make my observation before midnight or wait a couple of days for cloudless skies. Fifteen minutes before my Mythgard Academy class started last night (at nine o’clock Central Time), I decided to make my first observation. I set the timer on my smartwatch for ten minutes and hung outside while my neighbors to the north decided a fire in their firepit was warranted (not helping my light pollution survey one bit). My neighbor to the south also appeared to have search lights trained on my backyard so adjusting my eyes for optimal viewing already had steep hills to climb. I somewhat patiently waited for the timer to count down.
Meanwhile, I found Venus immediately, very high and extremely bright in the west. Next, both Procyon and Sirius shown brightly in the upper and lower southwest. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the western sky still seemed dimly luminescent and I detected a very slight haze obscuring the fainter stars. My timer buzzed and I began sketching out the brightest stars and the only constellation I could identify – Orion – sinking slowly into the southwestern horizon. To the north I could just barely make out Polaris but could not find the Big or Little Dipper (mostly because the trees are starting to leaf out).
Almost directly overhead but still on the eastern side of the zenith, I could barely make out a sickle, an asterism that can be found in the constellation Leo (see diagram below). I had checked the Sky and Telescope Interactive Star Chart before stepping outside so I knew where to crane my neck in the hopes of spotting the lion. In addition to the sickle, I could also make out, barely, the triangle of stars that form the lion’s rear and tail. I could not tell where Leo ended and Virgo began as the stars were so faint I gave up.
I returned to my computer, logged into the Webinar and while I waited for it to start, I verified my sketch against the star chart. I had found Leo, but only by the very brightest of it’s stars (which aren’t that bright when you compare them to Sirius, Vega or Procyon). Fast forward two hours, where I found myself nodding off and decided I’d consumed enough First Age elven antics for one session and bailed out of the webinar (I can always watch the last 15-30 minutes via YouTube later).
I went back outside and noticed immediately the haze had disappeared. The air was crisper and I didn’t even need to wait the full ten minutes before I could clearly see the constellation Leo, now slightly west of top-dead-center overhead. My northern neighbors were still enjoying their outdoor fire but my southern neighbors had toned down the search lights to just one very bright LED porch light.
I returned inside and recorded both of my observations via the Globe at Night web site. I plan to repeat my observations each night weather permitting until the middle of next week.
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.
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”
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!
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”
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.
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’)