Friday, August 29, 2008

Venus has returned

Over the past 3 months, Venus has swung around the far side of the sun and appears now in our western sky just after sunset. In June it was positioned behind the sun and was impossible to see. Now, it has moved away from the sun so it can be glimpsed in the bright evening twilight.

Look tonight to the west about 8:15 p.m. You should see a steady "star" — Venus — close to the horizon. Look at it again, this time through binoculars. At the lower left edge of the field lies another object, Mercury. By 8:30 at both Mercury and Venus begin to hug the horizon, dimmer Mars pops into view to Mercury's upper left. There you have the first four planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth (you are standing on it) and Mars. Directly south glows bright Jupiter, number 5 from the sun.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Venus meets Saturn

Tonight and tomorrow night just after sunset, the planets Venus and Saturn get together. From our point of view, they lie next to each other very low above the western horizon. You may be unable to spot them because of the mountain ridges. If you have a clear western horizon, scan the area with binoculars about 8:45. Venus will be the brighter of the pair — Saturn may be difficult to see.

Good luck!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mid-Summer Classic: Perseid Meteor Shower

Tonight and tomorrow night is the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower. On both nights, the bright Moon will wash out the sky. But after it sets, prime meteor watching begins! Tonight, after 1:30 a.m. (8/12), begin observing from a dark spot away from city lights. Tomorrow night begin about 2:30 a.m. (8/13). If the weather cooperates, you may see several dozen meteors per hour. The published rates are higher because those values take into account the unobserved meteors streaking behind you and the dimmer meteors that are difficult to spot.

Good luck!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Demanding Jupiter

For the rest of August and into much of September, bright Jupiter demands our attention in the southeast just after sunset. By midnight the mighty planet moves low in the south. By 3 a.m. it begins to set in the southwest.

Extend your left arm, spread your left hand, and place your little finger over Jupiter. Your hand covers the "teapot" asterism of the constellation Sagittarius. Look closely, the group of stars really do resemble a teapot! This is a great area of the sky to scan with binoculars, revealing many fuzzy features. You are really seeing star forming nebulae, giant clusters of stars, and dark lanes amid star fields. You are gazing toward the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, some 26,000 light years distant. The star fields you see aren't nearly that far — only 6000 light years away! More distant objects are blocked by interstellar galactic gas and dust.

Look again at the solar system's largest planet — 10 times the diameter of our Earth — this time with binoculars. If your focus is sharp and your hands are steady, you can discern a small round disk with 1, 2, 3, or 4 "stars" in a row close to the planet. Those aren't stars but Jupiter's four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Io and Europa will be the most difficult to spot since they always appear very close to the planet, but a small telescope can pick them out quite easily.

Jupiter currently is the brightest object, other than the Moon, in our night sky. Later this year, Venus plays a bigger, i.e., brighter, role. Now, however, Venus sets just after the sun and is difficult to spot above the mountain ridges.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fall Class: Stargazing for the Curious Skywatcher

If you would like to learn more about the fascinating avocation of stargazing, here is a class for you!

Fall 2008
Sponsored by Dabney S. Lancaster Community College
To register, contact NonCredit
Coordinator Judy Clark at (540) 8632863
or email Toll free: (877) 73DSLCC, ext. 2863.
Greenfield Education and Training Center
57 S. Center Drive, Daleville, VA
Stargazing for the Curious Skywatcher
Tuesdays, Sept. 23 – Oct. 28, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., $85, Room 122. Instructor John Goss. Tour
the universe and learn how to see lunar craters, planets and their moons, constellations, star
clusters, etc. Book & planisphere may be purchased first night. (PHSC 1100G1N,

This will be a great opportunity to learn about our autumn sky.

Such is our view from Earth ...