By Dave Fuller on 3/27/2013 6:48 PM

This week, the Moon plays leap-frog near the 1st magnitude star Spica and the planet Saturn.  All are rising in the east before midnight, so you'll need to stay up late to see them, but all three are also visible from most anywhere in the world - though the actual position of the Moon may be slightly different depending on your longitude (graphic below depicts U.S. Central Daylight Time at 11 pm).  

Got a scope?  Don't miss Saturn's rings!  And this week's Eyes on the Sky video details some...

By Dave Fuller on 3/26/2013 7:52 AM
Late last week I was able to get a few more pictures of Comet PANSTARRS.  The one immediately below, taken by me, shows the comet on the 21st.  I did a little processing, but not much - mostly just some contrast.  However, as I was playing with the contrast, I notice something about the comet's tail.  There's more there than meets the eye.

Look at the picture closely.  Notice how the tail seems to fan out towards the left?  It's faint... really faint in fact, but some amount of it was picked up and displayed in the photo below.  I asked about that when I posted the picture on an astronomy forum the other day.  Last night, someone followed up by posting a link to a picture of PANSTARRS by Lorenzo Comolli that really captures that tail in fantastic detail - demonstrating just how far out that dust stretches into space.

I thought it made an interesting comparison, and it really helped me see more clearly what...
By Dave Fuller on 3/25/2013 11:44 AM
Messier 67 gets no respect.  It's the smaller open cluster in Cancer the Crab, always overshadowed by the more impressive Messier 44 (clearly, as Charles Messier himself even wrote down the Beehive as an "object" to round out his initial list before ever spotting M67).  But that doesn't mean it's not worth viewing.  See, it is one of the older - and closest/older - open cluster in the sky.  NGC188 is perhaps slightly, but more likely significantly, older, and also somewhat close by to us 

Unfortunately for us, it is stuck in this "empty" section of sky, also known as Cancer the Crab to us.  With no star brighter than 4-th magnitude, it's almost like the Crab is laughing at us, saying, "HAHA!  I've got some great objects here, but I'm NOT going to make it easy to find them!"  Okay, fine!  But that doesn't mean we can't find easy ways to get there, despite the crab being... well, crabby about the whole thing.

By Dave Fuller on 3/24/2013 8:30 PM
The Moon is full on the the 27th, so for much of the week - at least the early part of it in the evening - deep sky viewing will be severely limited.  But Jupiter is still well up for several hours in the west after sunset, and Saturn rises enough before midnight to be at a respectable viewing elevation by the twelve o'clock hour.

But don't dismiss the Moon!  In fact, that's why this week's "Eyes on the Sky" video highlights the lunar surface.  It's big, it's bright, you don't need large aperture to see a lot, and you don't have to hunt for it - just look up at that bright object at night.  So early on, be sure to check out the Schiller-Zucchius Basin, the nearby crater Schiller, and the one-two 90-degrees crater-rays Messier and Messier A up in Mare Fecunditatis.  (And for anyone seeing this months or years later, those features are always visible and worth checking out - here's the PDF chart...
By Dave Fuller on 3/22/2013 9:19 PM
A while back, I got a very nice email from a self-described hearing impaired amateur astronomer.  The email basically stated that due to the way I speak, this person was able to "hear" what I was saying in my videos, as my lips matched well with the words, and comprehension was fairly easy.  I have also gotten lots of nice compliments from people around the globe - whose English is quite good, I might add - who have asked me if I could caption my videos.

Given that I spend 10 to 15 hours per week on each video, I always had to demur, thank them for their interest, and sigh - wishing that I could have done the captioning.

And then, today, I realized that it is quite simple.  YouTube does most of the work FOR me.  Yes, really.

YouTube changed their channel pages, and in making that change and nosing around the various sections of the site, I happened across the captioning info somehow.  As I started reading it, I realized, "Hey, I can EASILY add captions to my videos!"

I already...
By Dave Fuller on 3/22/2013 6:39 AM

This evening (or any evening of 80% waxing gibbous phase) into the morning hours of the 23-rd, the crater Gassendi will be partially lit along the terminator shadow on the Moon.  It is easy to find; in the southwestern quadrant of the Moon, just off the northern edge of the Mare Humorum.   Small telescopes will easily show this 69 miles (110 km) diameter blasted-out dish on its surface.  With a central peak - or rather, multiple peaks - and a rough appearance in the lava-covered floor, viewing this area tonight into tomorrow will produce some of the best views of this area, and after Plato, is perhaps one of the finer sights on the Moon.  See if you can spot some of the cracks and ridges.... (click through for more)

By Dave Fuller on 3/21/2013 9:50 PM
For those of you still wanting to find, observe and/or photograph this comet.  Based on an actual photo from March 21, 2013.  More details on where / how to find, observe and photograph Comet PANSTARRS.

After taking a look at or photographing PANSTARRS, why not take try and observe Messier 44, Messier 67, or the double star 27 Hya?

Find chart Comet PANSTARRS March 21 - April 2, 2013

Note: A previous version of this graphic indicated that...
By Dave Fuller on 3/20/2013 1:37 PM
Last week, Comet PANSTARRS was at it's brightest magnitude.  That doesn't imply that it was necessarily easy to see; that's largely due to where it is in relation to both the Sun and where Earth is, keeping it close to the glow of twilight.  

When comets orbit the sun, if they create a tail, it generally points away from the Sun.  On March 13, I caught a picture of the comet, with it's ~1.5 degree tail aimed slightly towards the south:

135mm lens shot of Comet PANSTARRS, March 13, 2013 around 7:50 pm photo CometPANSTARRSmediumviewbyDavidFullerMarch132013.jpg...
By Dave Fuller on 3/19/2013 5:50 PM
The Winter Milky Way is setting towards the west, and as it does, we lose our cold weather deep sky friends.

Messier 42 Messier 41 Messier 35 The Pleiades The Hyades Okay, okay... I know, they're not gone just yet.  But many of those objects are nice and bright.  True, what awaits us in the spring skies are the Virgo galaxies, but this can be a challenging area for beginners, and without a medium size scope and somewhat better skies, it is also difficult even for experienced observers.  The globulars of spring are still rising.  So what' s left, besides "looking out into space" beyond our Milky Way?

A double star!  And not just any double star, but a double, that has a double.  That's not the same as Epsilon Lyrae, which is a "double/double" - two stars that can each be split into four.  No, this one is different.

27 Hya is a 5th magnitude star just 2 degrees away from Alphard, a 2nd magnitude star that is the brightest star in Hydra, a long, winding constellation...
By Dave Fuller on 3/18/2013 11:28 AM

Look for the "Lunar S" - a feature that is comprised of the craters Kant, Kant E, and Mons Penck.  It is located near the larger crater Cyrillus (see large lunar chart here), and occurs prior to first quarter phase.  Use a small telescope at higher magnification, but don't use too much to avoid image breakdown.

The "S" shape is on it's side - see if you can spot it this evening, or perhaps in the months ahead.  (Click through for graphic/picture).

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.