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"The Nightlight" by Eyes on the Sky is all about how to see things in the night sky, things you can build to improve your amateur astronomy experience, and general thoughts on astronomy and light pollution.
By Dave Fuller on 7/25/2014 8:26 PM
Every so often the stars, planets and Moon make some lovely alignments in the sky. Despite appearing small and close together, they are often far enough away from one another than photographs do not do them justice. However, their proximity in the sky naked eye often makes for a lovely sight.

Moon position August 1-5, 2014 From August 1 through August 5 2014, the Moon travels near the ecliptic - that imaginary line in the sky along which the Sun appears to travel. Because the planets of the solar system are mostly along the same plane, so do the Moon and planets. This week, the waxing crescent Moon will first stop near the first magnitude star Spica in Virgo on August 1, then split the space between Spica and Mars the folowing night of August 2nd. The following night it will have passed Mars and have Mars to the west and Saturn to the east. On August 4 the Moon...
By Dave Fuller on 7/23/2014 7:34 PM
There are various ways to find objects in the sky. Some are easy, such as, "Point your telescope right at Saturn / Albireo / the Moon." Others take a bit more effort. Ophiuchus is a large constellation, just above the better-known Sagittarius and Scorpius. While large, it only has 3 stars of magnitude 2, but a total of 9 at 3rd magnitude or brighter. So city observers may have some challenges, but suburban viewers can likely navigate their way around this large "doctor in the sky" with little difficulty.

There are a number of Messier objects in Ophiuchus, along with some great double stars and other clusters. But two that are right near each other are Messier 10 and Messier 12, globular clusters both. While relatively bright as globulars go, they aren't exactly right next to any 2nd or 3rd magnitude stars, so there are a few techniques required to find them. 

One is by drawing a few imaginary lines in the sky that intersect where the clusters are located. This graphic below shows how t that can be...
By Dave Fuller on 5/4/2014 10:25 AM

Saturn reaches opposition on May 10, 2014. The ringed planet is a favorite of amateur astronomers and casual stargazers everywhere! So where to find this planet, and what to look for through a small telescope? 

For the next few weeks Saturn is at its largest size from our perspective. Opposition means the planet is "opposite" Earth from a line from the Sun, through Earth, and on to Saturn. That places Earth at the closest point to the second-largest gas giant, though it is still about 900,000,000 miles away. But it can still be seen without the aid of binoculars or a telescope! Not the rings of course, but the bright spot that the planet does display shines at nearly 0 magnitude - that's brighter than all but a handful of stars. 

How to find Saturn May 2014

Look to the southwest about an hour or two after sunset....

By Dave Fuller on 1/30/2014 2:00 PM
I finally got a chance to see the supernova in Messier 82 last night. What with clouds, snow, or -10F temperatures with -30F wind chills either blocking the view or keeping me inside to not freeze to death when it was clear, last night offered me an opportunity. It was clear - I'd put it at around a 7 of 10 for transparency - and though still cold and windy, 19F with a 10-12 mph breeze felt downright balmy.

I also didn't have much time. I am in the process of directing the play "Doubt: A Parable" for one of my local theater troupes, and we had a rehearsal - well, set building - last night. I got home around 10. Had hardly seen my wife or kids that day, so I spent a few minutes catching up with them. After that, I decided to try to spot SN 2014J. I didn't want to take much time to set up a large scope, but knew I needed useful aperture. I chose to use my Starblast 4.5 scope on my Super Simple 2x4 tripod - two hands, out-the-door, ready to go.

By Dave Fuller on 1/29/2014 12:13 PM

Eyes on the Sky as a website exists entirely as a means to raise awareness about light pollution and work towards reducing it. I started writing articles for my local newspaper to educate about the night sky and include a paragraph or two about light pollution, and then in 2011, moved to a worldwide audience with YouTube videos that are views in literally dozens of countries around the world. Marking 500,000 views in late October of 2013, I have been pleasantly surprised to have exceeded 600,000 views already in early 2014.

While this is personally satisfying on some level to have that kind of viewership, I often wonder about the real-world effects. Am I really making a difference? The Light Pollution forum at Cloudy Nights is a good resource, but not heavily trafficked compared to, say, arguments over the best eyepieces or whether reflectors are better than refrators. Sadly, many amateurs assume that the International Dark Sky Association will do this for them; they pay their annual dues, and hope for the best. What they don't realize is the IDA has a staff of just SIX PEOPLE. Six people aren't going to get light pollution changed in every locality. We ALL need to get involved. And you don't even need to spend time to do it on clear nights - just do it when it's cloudy or raining.

So I am issuing a challenge to amateur astronomers...

By Dave Fuller on 1/26/2014 11:20 PM
Slim crescent Moon near Mercury

On Friday Jan 31 of this week (see above graphic), a very slim crescent from a just-past-New-Moon will pair up with Mercury in the evening sky. Ideal times to look are about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.  The planet is surprisingly bright, though you will need to look in what I call the "middle twilight" area of the sky. That's the area of twilight between the darker sky above it, and the brighter sky below from the already-set Sun. In that transition zone, the bright point of Mercury pops out - if you have access to a relatively flat and clear western horizon.

These types of situations are when binoculars can be your friend to see the Moon. The planet - despite having the smaller angular diameter / size in the sky, may appear brighter. Point-like objects at lower magnitude can seem brighter...
By Dave Fuller on 1/26/2014 10:34 PM
The waning crescent Moon near Venus

This is truly a week for the Moon to be nearby objects. About an hour before sunrise on the morning of January 28, look out towards the east-southeastern sky where you have a clear, unobstructed view. Venus will be hard to miss, it's vivid, bright sparkling light dancing about 10 degrees above the horizon. 

But despite being technically brighter by almost 50 times, the larger surface area of the Moon may be harder to see, due to the very slim crescent of a Moon phase just a day or so before new. in the northern hemisphere, look to the right of Venus about 10 degrees or so (will vary somewhat based on location and time zone). Binoculars can help you pick out the narrow lit section of the Moon, though unfortunately the...
By Dave Fuller on 1/26/2014 10:10 PM
Mars near Spica last week of January 2014

For the next week or so, the Red Planet of Mars will be nearby the bluish white star of Spica. The two will not be much above the horizon at midnight, but an hour later achieve enough elevation to be reasonably observed. The contrast between them should make for an interesting sight, too: Mars has a very distinct, orange hue to it, and Spica is a large, B-spectral class star that glows with a bluish tint. 

With the two objects at nearly the same magnitude, and just a few finger width's apart from each other, they are well suited to comparison. Of course, the actual size and distance is fascinating to consider as well. 

Mars is a mere 1 Astronomical Unit from Earth this week - or about 150,000,000...
By Dave Fuller on 1/26/2014 9:41 PM
Here's what's happening in the night sky for the week of January 27 thru February 2 Want to see what's up in the sky this week? This daily reminder chart will let you know lots of individual, time-sensitive events occurring in the night sky for amateur astronomers to observe naked eye, with binoculars and sometimes a telescope.

Not sure how to convert the Universal Times to your local time zone? For U.S. observers, click here. For other visitors, check this site.

Monday, Jan 27:  Camelopardalis contains a several sights like Kemble's Cascade and NGC1502 Tuesday, Jan 28: Mars is 5 degrees north of Spica, and remains close to the star all week long...
By Dave Fuller on 1/20/2014 10:35 AM
Here's what's happening in the night sky for the week of January 13 thru January 19 Want to see what's up in the sky this week? This daily reminder chart will let you know lots of individual, time-sensitive events occurring in the night sky for amateur astronomers to observe naked eye, with binoculars and sometimes a telescope.

Not sure how to convert the Universal Times to your local time zone? For U.S. observers, click here. For other visitors, check this site.

Monday, Jan 13:  Find and observe colorful double stars in Cassiopeia Algol at minimum, 08:12 UT Tuesday, Jan 14: Camelopardalis contains a several sights like...

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.