The Night Sky May 2017.

nightsky may17

The sky at midnight on the 16th. May 2017. All times GMT.

New moon: 25th Full moon: 10th.

The light evenings of mid-spring present a challenge to Astronomers; fewer dark hours at less convenient times means making the most of the sky when we can.

Look towards the south-west at sunset and you will see the brilliant Jupiter. Over the month it fades slightly from magnitude -2.4 to -2.3 but remains a very noticeable object. It lies in Virgo, Jupiter is above the star Spica which is a first magnitude object, yet compared to Jupiter it does not seem so bright. The moon will pass north of Jupiter on the 8th. and will be a lovely sight. Binoculars or a small telescope will show the four Galilean moons and possibly the cloud belts. Your writer had a look at Jupiter through a three inch telescope a few nights ago and was able to make out the equatorial cloud belts with their distinctive ruddy colour and the moons. SO give it a go!

Rising at 23:30 mid-month and by 22:30 at the end of the month Saturn brightens from magnitude 0.3 to 0.1 over the month. It is to be found in Sagittarius and so will be low in the sky. The moon passes just below Saturn on the 14th. Saturn is a beautiful sight and is always worth a look.

Although there are only two planets (which are fantastic objects to observe) there are other things to look at. If you find Leo, the star to the left is called Denebola, to the left of there lies the Virgo cluster. This is a rich area of galaxies which form part of the ‘Local Cluster’ of galaxies to which our Milky Way belongs. There are over 2000 galaxies in the Virgo cluster, many of which can be seen by amateurs – they will appear as fuzzy blobs, but don’t let hat put you off. The light you see form them has be travelling to your eye for millions of years!

On this Day…

90 Years Ago – May 20th.-21st. 1927: Charles A. Lindbergh made the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Lucky Lindy’s single-seat, single engine aeroplane was called the Spirit of St. Louis. It began the flight from Roosevelt Field in New York and landed at Le Bourget Air Field just outside Paris.

45 Years Ago – May 24th. 1972: U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and USSR Premier Aleksey N. Kosygin signed an agreement for cooperation in the exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes which included the docking in space of US/USSR spacecraft in 1975. It was signed in Moscow.

5 Years Ago – May 22nd. 2012: Dragon C2/C3 was launched from Cape Canaveral by a Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft was the first fully functional Dragon spacecraft on the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) C2+ Demonstration Mission for NASA. It successfully docked with the ISS and was later recovered.

Published in: on May 2, 2017 at 11:32  Leave a Comment  
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B-Ring It On!

 

Saturn_s_B-ring_close-up

What do you think this picture might be? Could it be a microscope’s view of a hair? Could it be the pages of a really big book? They’re not bad guesses but they’re not correct.

This image focuses on a region in Saturn’s B ring, which is seen in twice as much detail as ever before, revealing a wealth of rich structure. It shows the incredible detail at which the international Cassini spacecraft is observing Saturn’s rings of icy debris as part of its dedicated close ‘ring grazing’ orbits. The spacecraft was at a distance of about 51 000 km from the rings

Saturn’s rings are composed mainly of water ice and range from tiny dust-size specks to boulders tens of metres across. Some of the patterns seen in Cassini’s close images of the rings are generated by gravitational interactions with Saturn’s many moons, these are known as shepherd moons which by their gravity help to keep the rings in shape by ‘kicking’ material into the rings or out into space. However many details remain unexplained.

Saturn's_ring_plane_svg

A Cassini image looking across Saturn’s rings showing where the B-ring lies.

The spacecraft’s ring-grazing orbits began last November, and will continue until late April, when the mission enters its ‘grand finale’ phase. During 22 final orbits Cassini will repeatedly dive through the gap between the rings and Saturn before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere in mid-September to conclude its incredible 13-year odyssey around the Saturn system.

If you want to see Saturn and its rings this is a good time to do it; Saturn rises about 2:15 in the morning in mid-March and an hour earlier by mid-April and lies in the constellation Sagittarius. That means for us that it is quite low in the sky. It gets to its highest point in the sky a little before sunrise, so you have a good chance of seeing it. (Sagittarius is a lovely constellation full of objects as when you look at it you are looking in the direction of the centre of our galaxy the Milky Way.)

You will need to look towards the East and South to see it but it will be the brightest object in that part of the sky.

To help you find it the moon will be either side of Saturn on the 16th and 17th of April.

Binoculars will show that it has a funny shape, almost like a rugby ball, and a small telescope will begin to show the rings. The rings are currently tilted towards us and will make for a lovely sight.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint venture between NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian space agency ASI. It was launched from Cape Canaveral on the 15th. October 1997 aboard a Titan IV-B which is the NASA’s largest and most powerful rocket.

Published in: on March 26, 2017 at 12:14  Leave a Comment  
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March Night Sky.

march-sky

Graphic from http://www.heavens-above.com

Night sky at 01h on the 20th. March.

Full Moon; 12th. March. New moon; 28th. March.

The Vernal or Spring equinox occurs on the 20th. March

Clocks go forward one hour on the 26th.March.

Spring is approaching and the sky is beginning to show changes as well. The winter constellations are disappearing in the west and spring constellations of Leo and Virgo are beginning to dominate the sky bringing their own treasures. (All times are in GMT.)

Mercury begins to make an appearance this month but as it is close to the Sun it is difficult to see. It fades from magnitude -1.7 at the start of the month to -0.4 by the end of the month. The end of the month is also the best time to see this elusive world as it sets around 20:30 a good couple of hours after the Sun. Make sure the Sun has set before event trying to find it.

Venus’ domination of the early night sky is coming to an end. It fades from magnitude -4.4 to -4.1 over the month but still remains a stunning sight. Venus sets just after 9pm at the start of the month and around 19:15 towards the end disappearing into the twilight.

Mars dims slightly this month from magnitude 1.4 to 1.6 as it moves from Pisces into Aries. It remains well placed for observation as it sets later as the month progresses around 21:50 at the start of the month to 22 hours by the end. The moon passes by twice this month; on the 1st and the 30th Mars will lie just to the North of the moon making a helpful finder.

Jupiter rises shortly after 8pm and so is visible all night long. It remains in the Virgo above Spica the constellation’s brightest star. The moon lies just to the north of the giant planet on the 14th and will make a lovely sight. Don’t forget to use binoculars to follow the paths of its four biggest moons as they orbit the planet.

Saturn remains an object for night owls this month rising around 03:30 at the start of March and by 02:40 at the end. It is to be found in Sagittarius which itself is a lovely rich constellation full of deep sky jewels. Being in Sagittarius also means that sadly Saturn will not be very high in the sky. The moon passes just to the north of the ringed planet on the 20th.

 

On This Day…

105 Years Ago –March 23rd. 1912: Dr. Wernher von Braun, the father of modern rocketry, was born in Wirsitz, Germany (now Part of Poland).

80 Years Ago — March 6th. 1937: Valentina Nikolayevna Tereshkova was born in Maslennikovo, in the Yaroslavl Region of the USSR. She was the first woman in space when she was launched aboard Vostok 6, on the 16th. June 1963.

70 Years Ago — March 7th. 1947: The first photograph was taken from space by a V2 rocket 100 miles above White Sands, New Mexico.

40 Years Ago – March 10th.1977: The rings of Uranus were discovered using the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. They planet was to be used to observe the occultation of the star SAO 158687 by Uranus to study the planet’s atmosphere, when instead the star seemed to flicker, indicating the rings. An unexpected and lucky discovery!

15 Years Ago – March 25th. 2002: Shenzhou 3 (Divine Vessel 3), a Chinese unmanned spaceship, was launched by a Long-March 2F rocket from the Jiquan Space Launch Centre in the north-western Gobi desert. It consisted of three modules: a propulsion section, a conical re-entry capsule, and an orbiter. The capsule was equipped with all that would be needed for a manned flight.

Published in: on February 28, 2017 at 15:39  Leave a Comment  
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February’s Night Sky.

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Sky at midnight on 22nd. February.

(Sky map generated from Heavens-Above.com)

Full Moon; 11th. February. New Moon; 26th. February.

Venus dominates the early evening sky: it is visible from sunset until around 21:15 shining at a magnificent -4.4. have a look at it with binoculars and see if you can make out its shape; it should look like a half-moon. This shape is known properly as ‘Dichotomy.’

Diagonally up to the left from Venus you will find Mars. It is a lot feinter than Venus shining at magnitude 1.1 it fades slightly over the month to 1.3 by the 28th. it sets at 21h50 by the month’s end. Even through a telescope not much detail will be seen as it is a very small object. It is still worth having a look at all the same. On the 1st Mars lies in-between Venus and the Moon.

Rising at 23:30 at the start of the month and at 21:40 by the end is the mighty planet Jupiter. It shines at a bright magnitude of -2.0 brightening to -2.2 by the 28th. Lying in the constellation Virgo, Jupiter can be found just to the north of the bright star Spica. Jupiter is always worth observing; look out for the four main moons of the planet; they are called the Galilean satellites as they were first observed by Galileo in 1610. Over a few nights you will be able to see them change position as they move around the planet. Through binoculars or a telescope they look like stars but you will know they are moons by the speed they change position. The moon passes just above Jupiter on the 15th and 16th.

If you want to see the ringed planet Saturn you’ll need to get up early. It rises around 5:10 in the morning at the start of February and at 3:30 by the end of the month. Although it is not too bright at magnitude 1.4 it lies in the unremarkable and feint constellation of Ophiuchus, the thirteenth sign of the zodiac. The moon passes by Saturn over the nights of the 20th. and 21st. to help you find it.

On This Day…

111 Years Ago – February 7th. 1906: Birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of planet Pluto.

87 Years AgoFebruary 18th. 1930: Pluto was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff Arizona.

72 Years AgoFebruary 1945: Arthur C. Clarke wrote a letter to the editor of Wireless World describing geostationary communication satellites.

26 Years AgoFebruary 7th. 1991: the Soviet space station Salyut 7 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere at 04:00 UTC.

size-of-space-stations

A comparison of the sizes of space stations and the Shuttle.

From top left; Salyut 1 and Skylab. Below them Mir. On right at top Salyut 7, at bottom the Shuttle and the big structure is the International Space Station.

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 14:11  Leave a Comment  
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January’s Night Sky.

jan17-sky

The night sky at 01h30 on the 20th.

(Map generated on Heavens-Above.com)

Full Moon 12th. January. New Moon 27th. January.

Only three planets are visible this month; we start off with Venus. As soon as the Sun sets it is an easy to find shining at magnitude -4.4 in the south-west. By mid month it sets just before 9pm. Venus is almost a half crescent at the moment and it is easily noticed through binoculars.

Mars is a lot feinter than Venus at magnitude +0.9 and shines like a red star a little to the left of Venus. Not much detail is visible even through a telescope as it is such a small object.

Jupiter rises before 01:30 and shines at magnitude -1.8, brightening to -2.0 by the end of the month, in the constellation Virgo. It lies just above Spica, the brightest star in the constellation, which is outshone by the brightness of the king of the planets.

This month sees the Quadrantids meteor shower. It peaks on the 3rd but continues on until the 12th. The radiant, the point from which they appear lies close to he constellation Boötes.

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 14:01  Leave a Comment  
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