By Dave Fuller on 3/30/2012 4:13 PM
On Sunday, April 1 2012, Venus will make a close approach to one of the best open clusters in the night sky, the Pleiades.  This is should make for a truly stunning view in most any set of binoculars, as the planet is the third brightest object in the night sky (after the Sun and Moon), and the Pleiades shine in a fairly compact area of sky themselves, about 1.5 degrees or so of sky.  Binoculars therefore are the perfect instrument to use to see this conjunction, which is to wide to see in most telescopes.  Check it out this weekend (and into early next week as well).

Venus near the Pleiades star cluster; April 1, 2012 The beauty of this conjunction is that it helps point the way towards another bright object and open cluster.  Look for Aldebaran - the brightest star in Taurus the Bull - which happens to reside in our line-of-sight...
By Dave Fuller on 3/26/2012 5:08 PM

Across the south to western sky on Wednesday, March 28th 2012, from south-to-west, look for Sirius, Betelgeus in Orion, the Moon, Aldebaran / Hyades then the Pleiades in Taurus, capped off by Venus and Jupiter in the west.  Should make for quite the site of bright objects cresting across the sky.  Here's what it should look like about and hour and half or so after sunset.  To see where Venus is headed later this weekend, see this week's Eyes on the Sky video.

Looking south-to-west, about 90 minutes after sunset.

By Dave Fuller on 3/25/2012 5:18 PM
On Tuesday, March 27, the Moon moves past the Pleiades, and in-between that cluster and the Hyades open cluster near Aldebaran.  Check out these two celestial sights with binoculars on each side of the Moon, and don't forget to turn your specs towards the crescent Moon itself.  How many craters can you spy along the terminator - the section where sunlight meets shadown on the surface?  Stay tuned this week - there's more highlights to come as the planets move into more interesting places - see "Eyes on the Sky: March 26 thru April 1" to find out more.

But don't stop there!  Notice those bright stars towards the south from that aligment of Moon and clusters?  That's Orion, and the spectacle of all of those bright objects in the sky is something no telescope can show you - naked eye astronomy can be pretty amazing in...
By Dave Fuller on 3/25/2012 4:55 PM
On Monday, March 26, there is a lovely grouping of celestial objects in the night sky.  From the horizon up, look to the west about an hour after sunset and spot Jupiter closer to the horizon, and the brilliant Venus near the slim crescent Moon.  

But it gets better about 30 to 60 minutes later.  The lovely Pleiades star cluster - fantastic in a set of binoculars - is visible just 6 degrees from the Moon and only 7 from Venus.  So you can find them just by training binoculars on the Moon / Venus, and moving them up from there.  Just as the Moon and planet are leaving the field of view, the Pleiades should move into view.  And don't overlook the larger Hyades star cluster near the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus, just a hop away from the Pleiades (about twice the distance of the previous jump).  For more information about what's up in the sky this week, see the video "Eyes on the Sky: March 26 thru April 1"...
By Dave Fuller on 3/20/2012 12:12 PM
Last year's supernova in M101 - the closest one to us in decades - was an astronomy event that sent science-minded hearts racing.  A Type 1a supernova occurs when a white dwarf star gains stellar mass via accreting mass from another object, and exceeding 1.38 solar masses, at which point runaway fusion occurs and the star explodes.  With new instrumentation available to see this kind of stellar explosion occur, scientists are getting closer to understanding what forces cause these massive releases of energy occur:

"Soderberg and her colleagues examined SN 2011fe with a suite of instruments in wavelengths ranging from X-rays to radio. They saw no sign of stellar material recently devoured by the white dwarf. Instead, the explosion occurred in a remarkably clean environment.

"This white dwarf was a tidy eater," said Laura Chomiuk...
By Dave Fuller on 3/18/2012 5:26 PM
When we look up to the stars, our lights here on Earth - well, the ones that spill upwards into our atmosphere, uselessly - block many of the stars we can see.  Take a look at this video from the ISS showing all the lights on the ground being brighter than the stars in space.  But it need not be that way; check out this blog post from Scott Kardel.  The last picture shows southern Nevada and a lot of Arizona.  Flagstaff and Tucson - even Phoenix - have far better lighting standards than Las Vegas, which overexposed the camera from it's lights.

We need not waste so much energy.  Let's do better.  It's the responsible thing to do.  And it saves us money, and doesn't make us any less safe.

By Dave Fuller on 3/16/2012 7:37 PM
I cannot believe what I just saw in this little 76mm Funscope from Orion.  Literally, it is jaw-dropping.  (Click here for Part 1 of this review.)

Okay, it probably helps that it is a ridiculously transparent night tonight.  I can see 4th magnitude stars while I have 8 (count them, EIGHT) outdoor lights streaming into my front yard where I did the observing.  Now granted, I started with the easy stuff.  The Pleiades, M45, is a naked-eye object, so it's not like that target is particularly difficult to see anyway.

But I saw 4 dozen stars in it.  Using a stupid little 76mm refractor, and a 20mm 3-element eyepiece.  Is that supposed to happen?  Perhaps.

So I turned towards another easy object: Collinder...
By Dave Fuller on 3/16/2012 4:19 PM

When many well-meaning people get started in astronomy - or wish to encourage a youngster to do so - they think, "What is the least expensive / good scope I can get so I won't have spent too much in case it doesn't work out?"  The problem with that mindset is that inexpensive scopes - though nowadays they have acceptable optics - usually have a host of other cost-cutting issues: Shaky tripods, poor finderscopes, and nearly impossible-to-use mounts that make pointing the telescope frustrating more than fun.  Fortunately, a couple of manufacturers may have solved many of those "first telescope" problems.  And one of them is by Orion Telescopes: Enter the Funscope 76mm.

About 2 years ago, I bought a Celestron Firstscope.  It's one of those little tabletop Dobsonian type telescopes that is meant to be inexpensive yet...
By Dave Fuller on 3/12/2012 9:00 PM
Okay, so I'm not the most cold-weather tolerant person in the world, but I do live near Chicago IL, and we get some doozies when it comes to winter.  But this year has been an aberration; not much snow, and lately, not all that cold.  And this week, so far, it's been downright warm.  Not "early spring" warm; more like LATE spring warm.  Today was 70F!  

Well, it was also supposed to get cloudy.  But... it didn't.  So I brought a scope out, my 90mm f/10 refractor.  Looked at Jupiter while it was still light, and impressed my younger daughter that she could see the orange bands on the planet while it was not even dark.  I realized this was a real opportunity for me, so I decided to take out a larger scope.  Out came the 120mm f/9 refractor.  And a set of 10x50 binocs for the larger targets.  Woo-hoo!  Now we're talking some better...
By Dave Fuller on 3/8/2012 12:40 PM

In an era of exploding government budgets and dwindling revenues, why we are sending dollars floating up into the atmosphere in the form of uselessly directed photons is beyond me.  Because the fact is, excessive light at night won't necessarily make you any safer, but it will make you poorer.

The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.