There's a lot of great information available from both timeless "Basics" astronomy videos, to the weekly Eyes on the Sky videos of the past. Check them out here.
Jupiter at opposition
Jupiter reaches opposition March 8, meaning the next week or two are the best time to see the planet at its largest diameter from our perspective. But, being the largest planet, it will remain quite large for several months, so if you have cloudy skies, there's still plenty of time to see it. Check out the video above for tips on observing our solar system's largest planet.
Dual shadow transit dates/times:
Hopefully I converted all of the EDT times correctly - send me a message if I got something wrong. Thanks!
Two more great open clusters in Auriga
Messier 36 is probably the least impressive of the triple Messier clusters in Auriga, but it's worth viewing. Learn how to find it from Beta Tauri (Alnath) with just a single 6th magnitude star to guide you there. Just outside the constellation's shape is M37; a narrow triangle near Theta Aurigae helps point the way there. Alternatively, red dot finder and Telrad users can easily locate these clusters with a bit of simple triangulation.
Auriga has a distinctive, if unremarkable shape. But it is punctuated by the bright star Capella, making the constellation easy to find and discern in the sky. Within the confines of the well-known shape are several open clusters. But they are just far enough away from bright stars that it takes a little bit of a star hop to reach them. This video shows how to find Messier 38 and NGC 1907 from the Cheshire Cat asterism in Auriga.
To top that off, Mercury isn't easy to see, even when it's best-placed. So the timing of when, where and what date to look is important. Check out the video above for all the details for spotting all 5 planets in the coming weeks.
Here's a step-by-step written guide to the planets - it includes a sheet you can print and take with you when you go to find these objects in the sky.
It seems like the Moon should occult bright stars all the time, but there's a lot of space between the stars, so it often misses. But on Jan 19 (evening U.S./Canada) / Jan 20 (western Europe) the Moon will occult - or cover - the first magnitude star Aldebaran. In the video above, Dave talks about features that can be seen on the Moon right around this time.
Here's that Jan 19/20 lunar graphic.
Also, Comet Catalina is moving it's way north, and will be above Polaris in a couple of weeks. Watch where the 6th magnitude fuzzball is going in the sky. Here's a chart to help you track its progress through the end of January.
The Hyades in Taurus is incredibly easy to find: Locate Aldebaran in Taurus, and the naked eye stars nearby are the Hyades! Or are they? There's more to that story - find out just how far the Hyades extends beyond that simple large "V" shape - and - learn where another nearby open cluster lurks that can be found from the "throat" of the Hyades.
Messier 42, the Great Orion Nebula, understandably gets observed a lot. It's big, it's bright, for many, it's even colorful! But within a degree of this fantastic object, there are a half a dozen other objects that, if they weren't so close to M42, would be great targets to observe on their own. They just get overshadowed by the large nebula's awesomeness.
But when you're done taking in the giant cloud of dust and gas, check out these other sights: NGC1981, M43, 42 & 45 Orionis, Iota Orionis, Struve 747 and Struve 745. They're well worth a tiny change in direction of your telescope and the minor adjustment of your eye's attention.
So you got a new telescope for Christmas, or perhaps some new astro-accessories. What to view first? Here's a few old friends to seasoned observers, but make perfect "Here's what to view first" for beginners. This video shows how to find them and how to get started observing.
After the amazing Double Cluster and the very large Alpha Persei Cluster, Messier 34 might seem like a let-down. But this is a fantastic open cluster on it's own - just remember not to compare it to the other ones. It is smaller. It is less dense with stars. But on it's own, it IS a great open cluster to observe.
And, nearby is a lovely double star that many don't know to observe: 20 Persei. It's simple to locate once you know the "jump off" points to star hop over to M34. Check out the video above for details.
Large and very simple to find, but often overlooked due to the nearby Double Cluster, the Alpha Persei Cluster is nonetheless a wonderful open cluster to observe in Perseus. But! It is HUGE in an eyepiece - too large, in fact, to see fully with most telescopes even at very low magnification. How does one find and observe this object then? Watch the video above to find out.
For many, Cepheus may seem like a "pass-over" constellation; after all, Cassiopeia is literally littered with open clusters, and the Milky Way abounds with things to see just beyond in Cygnus. But the King, though dim, has quite a few worthwhile objects to see.
To begin, Delta Cephei is a pulsating variable star that can be seen naked eye from many areas, and easily with binoculars from severely light polluted locations. It is also the progenitor star for that class of variable. Not far from there is the deep-hued star of Mu Cephei, a massive red giant star about 6,000 light years away that glows a warm orange - perfect for cool October nights. Nearby is the very large open cluster IC 1396, though darker skies will help to see more of that. But for city dwellers, look the other direction - NGC 7160 may be small compared to IC 1396, but even a small telescope will give up some of it's stars. And easy for anyone is Xi Cephei, a double star split by most any telescope, but close enough together to offer up some intrigue.
Check out Cepheus this month, especially while the Moon is out the way. To download a star chart of the Cepheus region, click here.
Over in the morning sky, a lovely dance of planets is developing. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all within a short angular distance of each other, and later in the month, Mercury tries to join them. Plus! The Moon stops by in early October, and again in early November. Check out this "planetary pile up" in the first part of the video above.
And on October 2, the Moon passes through the Hyades in Taurus. After the Sun rises for much of North America, the Moon will keep on moving and occult the first magnitude star Aldebaran. Can you see a star in the daytime? Of course you can! (A telescope of 4" / 100mm aperture is recommended.) The hard part if finding them. But with the large gibbous Moon to guide you to Aldebaran, it should be easy to find on Friday. See more in the video.
Sagitta may be small, but there's a lot to see in and around this neat little constellation - and none of it is all that hard to find. First stop is the Coathangar, which, very much like Sagitta looks like an arrow, looks like a coathangar. Next is a dim, but reasonably-seen globular cluster - it is a Messier object, after all, so it's not too hard to find. How WELL you see it will depend on the aperture of your telescope, and the darkness of your skies. After that, a trek out of the constellation, but very nearby into Vulpecula to find the Dumbbell Nebula, along with two very tight and challenging double stars.
See Neptune through September and October with just binoculars - or, use that as a great way to learn the star hop for when you move to the finderscope on your telescope. This video shows both the correct-image, binoculars field of view star hop, AND the reversed imaged finderscope star hop to the 8th planet. Also covered is where to find the area of sky Neptune is located - check it out, and find this planet this month! Static graphics below tell more of the story below, and Sky and Telescope has a longer-term motion star chart here.
There's a lunar eclipse on Sunday, September 27. Check out the video above for more details about this event. For times when you can expect to see this eclipse, check out the timetable below:
See Neptune this week and into September and October with just binoculars - or, use that as a great way to learn the star hop for when you move to the finderscope on your telescope. This video shows both the correct-image, binoculars field of view star hop, AND the reversed imaged finderscope star hop to the 8th planet. Also covered is where to find the area of sky Neptune is located - check it out, and find this planet this month! Static graphics below tell more of the story below, and Sky and Telescope has a longer-term motion star chart here.
Doubles in the Harp
Here's a new "Eyes on the Sky video! I've gone with a new format to allow me to make the videos faster, and also include more detail. I simply didn't have the time to keep putting into the old format. Hopefully everyone likes this new version. If you'd like to skip to specific sections, use these links (opens new windows in YouTube):
There's some big changes happening in the night sky with respect to where the planets are visible. Mercury marks off space in the early morning sky (look soon! It's quick!), Venus is sliding around the Sun and will be an 'evening star' in the next month or so, Mars is mozying its way above the horizon in the evening (for a looooong time), Jupiter will soon be jumping its way to an evening object, Saturn is slipping past the Sun - in the opposite direction of Venus! - and Uranus and Neptune are ideally placed for night-time viewing.
Finder chart for Uranus and Neptune here.
See the link for more information on how to view the planets successfully.
With Halloween this week, it is a great time to look at some stars that 'dress up' and change their appearance - though many of them do it quite regularly! Check out several easy-to-spot stars in Cepheus the King that are variable in nature, along with one that has a binary companion that's split in most any small telescope.
Check out Chart #1 for a star map you can download of the Cepheus region.
The AAVSO guide to Delta Cephei.
Lunar eclipses aren't terribly rare, but most people recognize they don't happen every month, so they look for them. But solar eclipses are even rarer than lunar ones, so when they happen, go look! This week offers a great opportunity for most of North America - check the map in the video for areas that can see it. Also, lots of resources here, such as:
Most importantly, watch the video below for how to view the Sun safely. There are several ways to view a partial eclipse safely without using a solar filter, but NEVER look directly at the Sun, and be sure to know that your method IS safe - this video shows you what's safe, and what's not.
This constellation harbors perhaps the most-observed spiral galaxy in the night sky: Messier 31. But that's not the only thing here - the brightest stars of Andromeda are fascinating in and of themselves. For example, ever hear of a mercury-manganese star? There's one in Andromeda. Another bright star here, while appearing as lovely double, is actually a quadruple system. Another is not much larger than our Sun, but is a lot hotter.
All that, plus tips on how to find that great galaxy lurking in the same line-of-sight from our perspective - learn all about them in the video above. And for a more detailed star chart you can print off to bring outside, see these free star maps here. Oh, and even if you know the mythology story about Andromeda, don't miss this week's "Astronomy Theater" - it's a quick and fun version of her story.
Well, it sure is a busy week for amateur astronomy! First, there is a lunar eclipse occurring; to find out the times you may be able to see it, click here.
Next, Uranus is at opposition this week. While not exactly the most exciting planet to view for features (there pretty much are no features to see), simply finding and observing the planet with your own eyes is exciting for many amateurs. The Moon passes right near Uranus during the eclipse, but the video above shows a neat trick to finding the planet easily with binoculars or a finderscope over the next few months.
And lastly, the Draconids. While not a major shower - and one that would normally get zero attention from me due to the full Moon phase this week - check for them during the eclipse when you're not looking at Luna. You might see a few with a radiant point in the Dragon. More tips on observing meteors here.
The major mare on the lunar surface are well known to observers, even if they don't know their names. The dark splotches can be seen naked eye from Earth compared to the brighter, craters areas. But there are some maria that are slightly hidden from view, and best seen only when the libration of the Moon causes it to "tilt" a bit more one way or the other.
Mare Australe gets the benefit of that tilting this week, as the southeastern edge of the Moon can be seen better than at other times. The dark lava of this often-unobserved mare is seen from an oblique angle, but most any small telescope can see it - look for it all week long.
Also in the southeast of the Moon is Rupes Altai - an escarpment, or cliff - that is over 400 kilometers long. Learn where to see this, along with a 'wavy line' caused by sunlight catching the tops of four other craters. What else is there to see? Deslandres, the crater "Hell" (yes really!), Clavius, Tycho, Landsberg, Reinhold and others. All easily spotted with a 60mm telescope or larger.
Summer leaves and autumn arrives early this week, and the familiar friends of summer like Sagittarius, Scorpius, and other southern night sky constellations will soon be gone from the evening sky. But replacing them are many autumn shapes such as the Great Square of Pegasus, and the Summer Triangle actually hangs around overhead and towards the west for the rest of this coming season. Learn how to find a whole bunch of constellations and the brighter stars of autumn simply by pointing to those shapes from the Triangle or Square stars. It's easy! Dave will show you how in this week's Eyes on the Sky episode.