What's Up In The Sky?

August 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 02 August 2017 14:20  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
The big news this month is that a partial eclipse of the Sun will occur in our area on August 21 starting about 1 pm. Our American friends can view the Total Eclipse along a path that curves across the middle of the United States. If you are ambitious enough and want to see the total eclipse in person, you will have to travel to the American south on a line through Kentucky to South Carolina. It’s an experience like no other and well worth the effort. In our area, we will have the shadow of the Moon cover about 60 to 70 percent of the Sun. Looking directly at the Sun to view the partial eclipse is a bad, bad idea. Welders goggles rated…

What’s Up in the Night Sky - July 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 05 July 2017 11:56  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
This month you will notice that there is a picture of a star field included with the column.  It encompasses the summer triangle in its entirety.  The circled star at the far left is Deneb at the tail of the Swan constellation Cygnus.  The star circled at middle top is Vega in the constellation Lyra.  The 3rd star at the bottom right is Altair in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle.  After the long summer evening has darkened enough, look approximately straight up and right in the middle of the band of the Milky Way.  These 3 bright stars should be prominent amongst all the others.  Compare what you see with the picture and hopefully the summer triangle will pop right out.  Vega, especially, is very…

What’s Up in the Night Sky - June 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 31 May 2017 13:52  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
I had a fellow email me last month asking if a modest size drawing or picture of the night sky for the month of the column could be included to help find the constellations and objects I point out in the column.  I’ll see what I can do.  The column has limited space and an illustration would eat up some of the limited territory that is set aside for me.  I suppose I could tighten things up a little bit.  I would love to go out and take a picture of the night sky, just before the start of that month and in time for the column and use it to help you get your bearings.  I could also make a drawing for that month…

What’s Up in the Night Sky – May 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 03 May 2017 10:59  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Where oh where are Spirit and Opportunity?  These 2 Mars rovers landed successfully on Mars in 2004.  In 2009, poor Spirit rover succumbed when one of its 6 wheels went lame.  It could travel and move at a much-reduced rate by going backwards but soon it got stuck, and in March 2010 it had to be abandoned.  Incredibly, Opportunity rover is still working very well thank you and still collecting very useful scientific data about Mars.  Just recently it left its data collecting position on the rim of a crater named Tribulation after a 90 day stay.  It is now heading towards a nearby feature called Perseverance Valley.  Spirit lasted 6 years and so far, Opportunity has been constantly collecting valuable data about Mars for…

What’s Up in the Night Sky - March 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 08 March 2017 12:33  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Did you know that the Earth is not a perfect sphere?  There’s a special area of study in mathematics that involves measurements of Earth.  It is called ‘geodesty’.  It got its start in the 17th century when improvements in the field of astronomy made astronomical measurements more accurate.  A need for precise mathematical descriptions became necessary.  Earth can be described as a flattened sphere or more mathematically, as an oblate spheroid.  This is a sphere that is wider at its horizontal axis than it is at the vertical axis.  Due to the Earth’s rotational velocity (1674.4 Km/h), our planet is flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator.  Our planet’s diameter between the poles is about 12,713 Km and at the equator roughly 12,756…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? - February 2017

Written by  |  Friday, 03 February 2017 14:54  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
What’s up there indeed?  In this column, I’m going to talk about, um… nothing.  Did that catch your attention?  There are vast spaces between the stars and galaxies that appear to be completely empty, seemingly filled with nothing!  Even our Solar system looks to be mostly empty space out past the Sun.  It contains only a miniscule amount of material.  When compared to the Sun, the planets and asteroids and meteors take up only a extremely tiny fraction of the space out there.  Empty space reigns supreme… or does it? In the 18th and 19th century light was considered a wave motion and this theory caused a great debate within the scientific and religious communities about what made up space.  One side, initially the majority,…

What’s Up in the Night Sky – January 2017

Written by  |  Wednesday, 11 January 2017 12:19  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
I hope the New Year finds you all raring to get out there and find all the adventures and challenges that our beautiful skies have to offer!  Of course, the minus temperatures demand dressing carefully to keep warm but the crisp, clear vista overhead that comes with the below zero weather sure makes it worth it. I won’t tell you how to dress to fend off icicle formation at the end of your nose since we should be winter experts by now but here’s some tips that you might find useful.  Wear your warmest boots.  It is surprising how much heat is lost through your feet while standing out in the snow.  Use hand warmers wrapped around your binoculars to keep the eyepieces (ocular lenses)…

What’s Up in the Night Sky - The Star of Bethlehem

Written by  |  Wednesday, 21 December 2016 13:06  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
To track down the celestial event that occurred 2000 years ago that might be interpreted as the Star of Bethlehem, we must have a reasonably accurate idea of when Jesus Christ was born.  Theological historians place the birth of Jesus in September or October in 3 or 2 BC.  They researched several historical facts derived from biblical accounts in Matthew and Luke to arrive at that date.  These facts included the date of the census taken at that time, who was ruling Judea and Syria and the death of Herod in 1 BC.  First, it must be noted that in ancient times the word ‘star’ could be interpreted several ways.  It could be any bright object that traveled across the sky.  We can discount a…

What’s Up in the Night Sky - December 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 07 December 2016 14:16  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
I remember a Christmas Day some 15 years ago when a ¾ partial eclipse of the Sun occurred at midday.  It was a cool, clear day and I was out there with my tripod and camera (a primitive DSLR) taking time lapse photos of the event while family and friends were inside celebrating the day and looking forward to a great Christmas feast.  They finally dragged my frozen body inside to carve the turkey!  I’m not saying that you gentle readers should be as fanatical as me but with the extra free time that the holiday season provides, it’s a golden opportunity for some early evening observing. There’s certainly plenty up there.  If you go out about 8 pm and look straight up towards the…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? February 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 03 February 2016 13:06  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Is there a Planet X out there? Gravitational irregularities are shaping the orbits of some very distant Kuiper belt objects far out in the outer Solar System. Researchers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown at Caltech hypothesize that a very large planet some 5000 times the mass of Pluto, gravitationally dominates the area in its neighbourhood and has nudged six extremely distant objects into elliptical orbits that all point in the same direction in space even though their orbital speeds are all different. That rarely occurs. They are also all tilted downwards at a 30 degree angle and that is an extraordinarily rare and improbable occurrence in celestial mechanics! Planet X, if it exists, is posited to be a gaseous planet and similar to Neptune and…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? May 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 04 May 2016 19:34  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
May is Mars month! Every 780 Earth days (2.14 years) Mars has its closest approach to Earth when it is in opposition, which occurs when it is in a line between the Earth and the Sun. Mars has the second greatest eccentricity after Mercury. Eccentricity is a measure of how non-circular an orbit is. Mars has an elliptical orbit and thus the distance at opposition can change depending on where it is in its orbit. Due to orbital mechanics, Mars’ point of closest approach actually occurs eight days after opposition. Opposition is at 7:17 a.m. EDT on May 22 and eight days later, on May 30 at 5:34 p.m. EDT, Mars will be 75,280,000 km from Earth. It will be roughly in the middle of…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? June 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 01 June 2016 16:52  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Yahoo! I had a wonderful time getting a video of Mercury transiting the Sun last month. I have to say it was quite a challenge setting everything up to record the event. I can’t say that I’ll qualify for an Oscar with my not very exciting video of a tiny black dot moving slowly across the Sun’s face, but think about it. That tiny dot represents a whole planet! Nearby there was a sunspot that was actually bigger than little Mercury. Speaking of planets, this month is a real treat for observing four very well positioned planets. To make your trip through the night sky easier and less frustrating, get a hold of a star chart on the internet or from the Canadian magazine Skynews…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? September 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 07 September 2016 18:31  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
One of the biggest announcements in astronomy recently was the discovery of a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun. First, let’s look at a bit of introductory information. Proxima Centauri is part of a trinary star system called Alpha Centauri, which is about 4.4 light years from our Sun. The system is made up of a pair of stars called Alpha Centauri A and B. One star is a little smaller than the Sun and the other a bit bigger. The 3rd member is Proxima Centauri and it is a small red dwarf star. Although scientists are not absolutely positive, it is more than likely that Proxima is gravitationally bound to the AB pair at a distance of about…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? October 2016

Written by  |  Wednesday, 05 October 2016 21:50  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
This month we have one of the better annual meteor showers, the Orionids. The earliest meteors from this shower will start arriving in a sky near you about October 2 and continue to flash across the sky until about November 7. The shower is predicted to peak on October 21 and as many as 70 meteors have been seen in the past. This year the experts are expecting a more modest 15 to 25 meteors per hour. When observing a meteor shower, you can trace the meteor trails back to a single area in the sky. This point is called the radiant. The meteor shower is named for where the radiant is situated. The Orionid radiant sits in the Orion constellation near where it borders…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? December 2015

Written by  |  Wednesday, 16 December 2015 17:27  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
To try and figure out what celestial event might have been the Star of Bethlehem 2000 years ago, we must have a reasonably accurate idea of when Jesus Christ was born. Theological historians place the birth of Jesus in September or October in 3 or 2 BC. They researched several historical facts derived from biblical accounts in Matthew and Luke to arrive at that date. These facts included the date of the census taken at that time; who was ruling Judea and Syria; and the death of Herod in 1 BC. First, it must be noted that in ancient times the word ‘star’ could be interpreted several ways. It could be any bright object that traveled across the sky. We can discount a meteor shower…
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