Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mars passes the Beehive

All this week and all next week, binocular users will watch a treat with Mars slowly crossing the field of the Beehive star cluster. This passage has no trick!

The Beehive, aka M44, is a star cluster in central Cancer. Every so often, planets appear to move through it. However, on all occasions, each particular planet is only a few tens of millions or a few hundreds of millions of miles away. The Beehive is much, much farther — close to 500 light years distant or 500 x 5.9 trillion miles.

Mars and the Beehive rise about 12:30 a.m., so you should wait an hour or two for them to inch high enough above the horizon to give a decent view. Telescopes will magnify the image too much, destroying the cluster effect of the many dim stars of the Beehive. Binoculars show a field that is just right!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Here come the Orionids!

On Wednesday night, Our planet plows through the center of the debris trail left many years ago by the famous Comet Halley. This results in the Orionid Meteor Shower, which actually spans a few weeks. Sometime during the overnight on October 21st, the shower's peak is reached giving upwards of 25 meteors per hour as viewed from a dark sky site. The meteor streaks are the sand size pieces of the comet's tail quickly entering our upper atmosphere.

Begin observing after 11:00 p.m. when the "club" portion of the constellation Orion rises directly east. At this time, both the bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel lie near the horizon. As the night proceeds, this grouping of stars rises higher making more meteors visible.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saturn just misses Mercury and Venus

Over the next week, three planets can be found close to the eastern horizon in the morning twilight. The brightest, Venus is also the highest, at least initially. Saturn rises higher each morning, catching Mercury on the morning of October 8. A pair of binoculars will help see these two planets clearly.

As the mornings pass, Saturn continues moving higher, leaving Mercury behind and approaching Venus. On the 13th, Saturn and Venus lie closely together. Again, binoculars help separate the planetary pair. Saturn, then, moves higher, pulling away from Venus.

On the morning of the 16th, the thin crescent moon hangs just to the right of Venus and Saturn, making an interesting celestial triangle. The moon will be awash with earthshine. Now, that should be an empyreal sight!

Such is our view from Earth ...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mars slides past Castor and Pollux

The Red Planet, Mars, moves across the constellation Gemini this month. It is currently creeping below its brighter stars, Castor and Pollux, taking several days to eventually form a straight line with them. Mars will be the brightest of the three. The moon moves into the area on October 11 and 12, helping to positively identify Mars.

Look high in the south at 6:00 a.m. for this scene. Over the next three months, Mars grows brighter and rises much earlier. By January it will be one of the brightest objects in the evening sky.

Such is our view from Earth ...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturn, Mercury, and Venus begin their dance

For the next several mornings, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus all appear close together in the east 45 minutes before sunrise. As the mornings progress, Saturn rises higher and passes Mercury, then it catches bright Venus. For a better view, use binoculars.

Such is our view from Earth ...