Thursday, August 23, 2012

What to see in the night (or early morning) sky:

The Summer Triangle: Vega, Deneb, and Altair, in the NorthEast make up this Summer Triangle. the rather narrow band of stars in front of which the sun, moon and planets forever travel. They call it the Summer Triangle, but I am not sure why. Particularly when if you miss it ALL SUMMER, then you can catch it during the Spring in the early morning or if you’re REALLY BUSY, in the Fall the summer triangle can be seen in the evening until November. * From the southern hemisphere it appears upside down and low in the sky during the winter months. "Northern Triangle" sounds about right!

Blue Moon: A Blue Moon is no more than the 2nd full moon of the month…hence ‘once in a blue moon’.

ISS (International Space Station): Viewing opportunities occur sporadically, based on the spacecraft’s orbit route and its position relative to the sun and Earth. Right now Maryland has the view. When it is visible, the space station zips across the sky, appearing as a bright, steadily moving light. Here are three viewing opportunities this week that fall during normal waking hours: Look to the southwest at 9:54 p.m. tonight. The space station will reach almost directly overhead by 9:57 p.m. and then disappear over the northeast horizon at 9:59 p.m. At 9:01 p.m. Tuesday, the space station will appear on the south-southwest horizon, moving halfway up the horizon as it moves toward the east-northeast until 9:07 p.m.It will appear in the west-southwest sky at 8:51 p.m. Thursday, rising about three-quarters of the way up the horizon as it moves to the northeast, disappearing at 8:57 p.m.

Mars in the night sky: To find Mars, look low and to the West just after sunset. The planet will be roughly 30 degrees above the horizon. Although Mars is definitely visible you can also see Saturn and Spica, one of the brightest stars. Yes, you can use a telescope but all three are definitely visible to the naked eye. If you should use a telescope Saturn appears golden, Spica is blue-white, and Mars is rusty red but that was a no-brainer! On Aug. 21, the moon will pass near Mars, Saturn and Spica, which may help some observers spot the trio. The next time the moon will shine close to Mars will be on the evening of Sept. 19.

Mercury & Venus: Both Mercury and Venus travel in orbits that are much closer to the sun than we are on Earth. For this reason they are always in the direction of the Sun and so we are rarely able to see them. Two things make this possible now: Mercury is currently the farthest from the Sun and second, the moon is aiming to be a crescent moon, which is not as bright and will point you towards them!

Orion the hunter & Sirius the dog star: The changing seasons become obvious in the predawn and dawn sky - Orion the Hunter and Sirius the Dog Star. The constellation Orion the Hunter rises just before dawn at this time of year, and Sirius follows Orion into the sky close to that time.As the temperature grows colder Orion will become visible in the evening, hunting in the SouthEast during Summer but after sunset and to the west last spring, and, in early summer, this constellation was behind the sun as seen from Earth. When a constellation becomes visible again, after being behind the sun, it always appears in the east before sunrise. Because – as Earth orbits the sun – all the stars rise two hours earlier with each passing month, Orion is now higher at dawn than a month ago.

Neptune, night sky on Friday-This week Neptune can be easily spotted in binoculars or a small telescope. All you will see is a tiny blue-green disk, hardly larger than a pinpoint, but knowing this is the farthest outpost of our planetary system still makes it worth the search. If you miss Neptune on Aug. 24, you can still use this chart at any time over the next few weeks because Neptune moves very slowly, gradually getting closer to 38 Aquarii.

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