By Dave Fuller on 8/26/2014 7:49 PM
People are surprised that they can see stars during the day that are not the Sun. “What? Really? How is that possible?” It is possible because bright stars are... well, bright! The trick is that you need to know the exact spot to look, because you won't have the crutch of a dark sky to make the star's contrast with the sky as obvious.

So how to find a star in the sky this week? Use the Moon as your guide. On Friday August 29th, the Moon will be a waxing crescent. Now, some people are still surprised that the Moon can be seen during the day, but that's another matter. Even crescent like this shines at magnitude negative nine, more than sufficient to be seen in a clear blue sky.

Moon and Sun in sky Aug 28 2014

The first step is to find the Moon in the sky, and you have a window of a couple hours for the easiest spotting of the star. For the first opportunity, look slightly before 3:00 pm EDT/12:00 pm PDT....
By Dave Fuller on 8/25/2014 2:18 PM
Unlike the previous double star, HD 213067, our next double star is a bit harder to locate, but it's worth seeking out. For one, it's not just a double star at the eyepiece, it's a triple star. HD 215812 / HIP 112559 is a 7.2 magnitude star located northeast of Sigma Aquarii. But it may be easier to find by locating Lambda Aquarii, a star that can be found pretty easily by extending the "Nashira -> Deneb Algiedi" line in Capricornus out ~20 degrees (learn how to measure distance in the sky here).

Find double star STF 2944

At Lambda, an average finderscope of 6x26 or larger can show where to go, because at 3.7 magnitude, Lamdba is easily seen now. Moving northward in the direction of Zeta Pegasi, a 7 degrees field of...
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 1/5/2014 10:00 PM

On January 9, 2014, the Moon will be about 68% illuminated for the Americas. The terminator - that is, where the shadow of the Moon begins and sunlight ceases - is the best place to view the lunar surface with a small telescope. The shadowing makes for dramatic-looking surfaces, and the detail seen is incredible. Because the Moon continues to orbit the Earth every 29.5 days, that terminator shadow moves across the Moon. As more lunar surface is bathed in sunlight, the details become washed out, and the new terminator details are the places to look.

But on Thursday.....

Straight Wall / Rupes Recta detail area

By Dave Fuller on 1/5/2014 8:31 AM
I actually had what I thought was a clear-ish night last night. Well, I could see stars out the window, which is better than what I've had for most of the last 3 or 4 weeks. But it was also 15F with winds blowing 10 to 20 mph, so rather than take a long focal length scope out, I decided on the Starblast 4.5. I knew the tripod was solid, and the wind wasn't likely to catch the short tube.

Wow... did that turn out to be one of my worst observing sessions ever. I shoveled some snow in my yard to have a decent spot to set up without having to stand in 4 inches of snow. I even dressed totally properly for the weather too - layers of clothing, hand and toe warmers, plus mittens over gloves. Everything was warm. Had my tablet with Sky Safari all set up, and the gloves under my mittens have the little "pads" on them so I could manipulate the tablet while protecting my hands from the cold.

I had wanted to look for a few things in Cepheus, but all those were wayyyy too low behind my house by the time I got...
By Dave Fuller on 1/3/2014 1:29 PM
On the social media site reddit.com, there are wide-ranging sub-reddits for a variety of interests. One of them is astronomy, and a redditor recently postulated the idea of a monthly observing challenge for the readers there to try on their own. It's quite a list for January too, with 50 objects of varying observing difficulty ranging from easy to difficult. Many of the easier ones have been highlighted here at Eyes on the Sky, and I even posted links in that reddit post with links back here. So for 6 or 8 of them, these may be objects you've already observed or have some familiarity with finding and observing.

This is a great way to push your observational skills. There's no prize, no date to complete the objects - just a list of targets to try and find in the night sky. Why not give some these a shot, then post your observations at reddit? If I manage to get some clear skies...
By Dave Fuller on 1/1/2014 10:03 AM
One of the best meteor showers of the year peaks when the Moon is out of the way. But when and where to look? Meteor showers are named after constellations, because their radiant - that is to say, the place in the sky from which they appear to come from - is generally a specific constellation. We have the Perseids radiating from Perseus, the Lyrids coming from Lyra and the Quadrantids coming from... ummmm - Quadr... what now? 

Constellation names Ah yes, that leads to another point: Sometimes constellations got named in the past, but also discarded often because they either fell into disuse or, more recently, were thrown out by the International Astronomical Union. However, the Quadrantids kept the name of the the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis. This was named after a tool that astronomers of yore used to measure angles in the sky. It is located just off the end of the handle of the "Big Dipper" or "Plough" asterism in Ursa Major, and between Draco and Bootes. Composed of largely dim stars, it's...

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.