Sunday, November 30, 2008

Best Celestial Sight of 2008

The early evening sky on December 1st holds something special. Jupiter and Venus are approaching each other and will be at their closest separation on that date. It is made even more remarkable by the addition of the thin crescent Moon, full with Earthshine. These three bodies in our solar system fit in the same field of view of a pair of binoculars giving a spectacular arrangement.

Even though they look like they are right next to one another, they are nowhere near each other in space. The Moon glows 250,000 miles away, while Venus and Jupiter respectively lie 93,000,000 and 540,000,000 miles from Virginia.

This all adds up to be the prettiest celestial sight of the year. Look to the southwest between 5:30 and 7:15 p.m. and you won't be disappointed!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Venus rises to greet Jupiter

The two brightest planets in our evening sky are getting together. Venus rises higher each night approaching Jupiter in the southwestern sky. They are next to each other on December 1. Don't miss viewing them over the next few nights, if the weather permits!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

For a good view of the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Endeavor ...

On Thursday and Saturday evenings, people in the Roanoke area have good opportunities to see the International Space Station with the Space Shuttle Endeavor docked to it as they pass directly overhead. They will appear together as a single bright star, growing to the brightness of Jupiter, which lies in the southwest as darkness falls.

At about 6:12 p.m. on Thursday, look to the southwest just to the right of bright Jupiter and brilliant Venus. The station-shuttle pair appears as a star moving upwards in the sky. It takes three minutes to advance overhead, brightening all the while. Another minute passes before they disappear in the Earth's shadow high in the northeast.

The pair appears again on Saturday evening, this time beginning at 5:30 p.m in a brighter sky. Look to the upper right of Venus and Jupiter for this moving pair which appears as one starlike object. By 5:32, it is directly overhead, and three minutes later, it disappears from view as it enter the Earth's shadow.

When they are overhead, the pair are at their closest to us, some 225 miles above our heads.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spot the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor

Friday's launch of the space shuttle Endeavor gives observers along the Blue Ridge Parkway an interesting sight. Since it is scheduled to take off at 7:55 p.m., the shuttle rocket exhaust can be seen from this part of Virginia. Five to seven minutes after it lifts off in Florida it passes off Virginia Beach as it flies over the ocean. If we have clear skies to our southeast and east, the shuttle can be spotted as a swiftly moving "star" low above the horizon. It will pass below the Pleiades star cluster. Then it should approach the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus. The shuttle should be brighter, though. As it moves up the East Coast, it will pass the gibbous Moon before it disappears.

Keep your fingers crossed for a clear eastern sky!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jupiter slides towards Venus

As night falls in the western sky, two cloud covered worlds can be easily seen. One moves higher each evening, the other moves lower.

Venus, the third brightest object in the sky behind the Sun and the Moon, shines brilliantly above the horizon. Each evening it appears to be slightly higher and a little more distant from the Sun.

Jupiter, while not as bright as Venus, is easy to see, nonetheless. As November progresses, it slides towards the brighter Venus. By the end of the month, they lie next to each, giving a fascinating combination.

Such is our view from Earth ...