What's Up In The Sky?

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…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? November 2015

Written by  |  Wednesday, 11 November 2015 22:59  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
The huge and brilliant constellation Orion rises up from the eastern horizon by mid-evening in November. This one is a favourite of mine with its spectacular nebula Orion at the bottom of the sword that hangs from the three stars of Orion’s belt. It is easy to make out with binoculars and is a glorious eyeful through a modest telescope. Another constellation that never fails to amaze me is the Great Square of Pegasus. Pegasus can be found during November high in the south just below the zenith. You should have no trouble finding it if you go out between 8 and 9 pm. It covers over 1100 square degrees and is one of the largest constellations in the sky! The constellation Andromeda looks like…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? September 2015

Written by  |  Thursday, 03 September 2015 09:56  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Many lunar observers called the Full Moon at the tail end of August a Supermoon because it occurred less than a day from perigee when the Moon is closest and at its biggest in the sky. The Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle. It’s an ellipse – an oval shape with the Earth closer to one end of the oval. When the Moon comes around that end of the oval and is closest to the Earth, it is called the perigee of its orbit. The farthest point is called the apogee. The full Moon this month is better than last month! It will be less than an hour from perigee and bigger than last month. But wait! It gets even better. This month’s Full…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? August 2015

Written by  |  Wednesday, 05 August 2015 21:51  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
After a nine and then some year trip, the New Horizon space probe arrived at Pluto last month. It’s incredible that it wasn’t hit by any space debris over that long trip or suffer any major electronic or mechanical failures. It’s even more astonishing that it flew past Pluto and its five moons without hitting anything in that complicated and busy area. The fly-past was a picture perfect success – you couldn’t ask for more! Speaking of pictures, the initial images showed spectacular structure and very varied features on Pluto’s surface and with a good smattering of mountains thrown in for good measure too. Who could have expected such a dynamic and active terrain way out there in the hinterlands of our Solar System? The…

What’s Up in the Night Sky? July 2015

Written by  |  Wednesday, 01 July 2015 15:04  |  Published in What's up in the Sky?
Pluto is almost in the camera sights of the New Horizons deep space probe! It is scheduled to arrive on July 15. This event is especially exciting for me. I’ve had an endless fascination for the far off Dwarf planet all my life. It has caused me much frustration seeing Pluto in my pictures and through my telescope as a bright spot in a field of view filled with stars. I can only find it because it shifts position a bit each night. It was originally discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 as the ninth planet of the solar system. In recent years it has been reclassified as a Dwarf planet. He spent several years comparing photographic plates taken nights apart, trying to find a…
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