Spring 2014 Astronomy Videos

Check out past "Eyes on the Sky" videos from the whole year of 2014, here

To go back one season, click here to see Winter 2014 "Eyes on the Sky" astronomy videos.

Polaris at the pole... temporarily

Polaris has a name that seems to indicate an eternal quality to it's presently unique position in the sky, but Alpha Ursa Minoris wasn't always so close to the celestial pole. Find out what stars used to be "pole" stars before, and will be in the future as well. 

And, despite this eventual move away from Earth's celestial pole location, Polaris still has a few interesting things to view. First, there's the engagement ring, and secondly, a second star that many amateurs either don't look for or may not even realize is there. 

See the homepage in the "Dark Sky Friendly" lighting section for silver crown bulbs discussed in this week's "Dark Sky Fact." Have you changed your lamp post bulbs? Why not do it now that the weather is warm?



A lunar sword

Some features visible on the Moon this week as libration and phase changes help us see some features on the lunar surface this week:

Most any small telescope can show these features. For the Straight Wall / Huygen's Sword, more magnification may be needed to see it well. Larger telescopes will make this easier to do, but the Moon has a lot of brightness, so even small telescopes can be pushed to 100x to 150x for a better view. Just be sure to back off the magnification if the view gets dim or fuzzy.

Looking to see more in the sky than just the Moon? Learnhow to see faint objects here.


A truly ancient star in Libra

When we look out into the night sky, we are truly looking back in time. Even light from the Moon is about 2 seconds old. But light from stars is far older than that - up to thousands of years old. For galaxies, we are seeing light that is millions of years old. Although we cannot see billions of years into the past with small telescopes, we can see a star that has been around for billions of years - about 14 billion (around 13.7 billion, to be a bit more precise).

Astronomers have known about this "Methuselah" star for a long time, as it has fast proper motion through the sky. It is zipping through our galaxy so quickly, the Hubble Space Telescope can detect that motion after a few hours! But that's not what we'd be doing - we just want to track it down, and see a star that has itself seen most of the Universe occur. Check out the video above to learn where to find this celestial senior citizen. At 7th magnitude, it can be seen in binoculars from most areas, and small telescopes from pretty much anywhere. Learn how to see faint objects here.


A new meteor shower, and Messier 92

There's a possible new meteor shower that could occur this weekend: The Camelopardalids. The what? Yes, a meteor shower from the dim constellation Camelopardalis, the Giraffe. This constellation will actually be below Polaris around the time of the shower, so basically facing north will be all that's required. Oh, and looking at the right time - when is that? You can check this link for a better idea

But, the shower could be a dud. Or you might be clouded out by the weekend. Not to worry - look for Messier 92 in Hercules. This is a fantastic, bright globular cluster often overlooked thanks to it's brighter and larger neighbor Messier 13. But don't miss this one - it's a good one to see! Find a Hercules star chart here, and learn how to see more of deep sky objects here.


Four naked eye planets in evening sky

Bright Jupiter, red Mars, somewhat elusive Mercury and lovely Saturn are all visible together in the evening sky this week, and into next week as well. Learn when, where, and how to find each of these planets, along with a number of stars that are near the line in the sky they travel, called the ecliptic. Astronomy need not always be done with a telescope - this a great naked-eye type of event, and doesn't even require a specific day to look, as Mercury will actually be easier to see the closer it gets to greatest elongation on May 25. Check out these planets in the evening sky, and if you do turn a telescope in the direction of these planets, learn how to see even more planetary detail here.


Saturn!

Saturn reaches opposition this week on May 10, but it will be quite large (relatively) in telescopic fields of view for many weeks to come. Check out the video above for tips on only only how to find the planet, but what to observe when you're viewing it. Plus! A double star that's nearby which is worth check out as long as your viewing in that area - well, that assumes even wanting to move the telescope away from the lovely ringed planet!

Want to learn how to see even more detail on Saturn? Click here!


Messier 3 and Cor Caroli

Finding Messier 3 is as easy as splitting the difference between two stars. Learn which ones to use to find this fantastic globular cluster that is bright and easy to see even in binoculars. One of those stars used to find this object is Cor Caroli, a double star with some interesting historical and scientific attributes. This part of the sky is nearly overhead a few hours after sunset at this time of year, and the First Quarter Moon won't interfere this weekend - and only in early evening at that. Look for it this week - and while the Moon is out of the picture, try finding the galaxies Messier 65 and 66 in Leo too. 

For the best view of most of these objects, follow these "Deep Sky Observing Tips" in order to give yourself the best opportunity to get the most from observing them. And if you'd like to download a star chart to help you find Messier 3 and Cor Caroli, use Star Chart #5 here.


Leo the Lion, and Messier 65 / Messier 66

Leo has an interesting mythological connection to Hercules; learn about that in the "Astronomy Theater" segment of this video. Afterwards, determine if your sky is dark enough to see the "hop off point" star in Leo to be able to find the galaxies Messier 65 and Messier 66. A hop through the "mane" section of the lion will help you determine if your skies are dark enough. 

Then, use as large a telescope as you have, and follow some of the "Deep Sky Observing Tips" in order to give yourself the best opportunity to be able to locate and observe these 35 million light years distant islands of stars. And while you're out observing them, take a few moments and note what stars you can see in Leo, and submit them to Globe at Night so we can track light pollution. And if you'd like to download a star chart to help you find these galaxies, use Star Chart #10 here.


Lunar eclipse and spring doubles

A lunar eclipse will be visible for much of the Americas - this link can tell you when to look for your area. This is a good eclipse too - the Moon will pass quite deep into the Earth's shadow, which should make for a very red-appearing Moon due to longer (red) wavelengths of sunlight being bent through Earth's atmosphere.

Clouded out? SNOWED out (like I'm likely to be was)? Too tired to stay up that late? No problem - there's some fantastic double stars to see in the spring sky. Look in Leo for Regulus (not often known to be a double star!) and the tight pairing of Algieba - just don't confuse 40 Leonis for the secondary. Algieba requires at least 60 to 75 times magnification to split the pair, and just barely at that. If your scope and skies will allow it, push it up to 100x or more to split the pair cleanly.


Mars at opposition

The fourth rock from the Sun will be opposite Earth on April 8th, but there's plenty of time to observe the intriguing planet. In the video above, learn where to find Mars this week, how long it will stay large enough to observe reasonably well in a telescope, what you can do to improve planetary views and what filters may be used. For some maps of the planet, see this link - Mars map.


Spica sets up some asteroids

Spica in Virgo is an interesting star: Blue, bright, and harboring a few secrets that are a bit surprising for some amateur astroners, such as it's dual nature, intensity of their heat produced, and the speed of their orbit. But that's not all that's going on near this bright star this spring: Mars is nearby, offering the contrast of hues from the blue-white star and the rust-red planet.

And just a short hop, skip and a jump away are two asteroids: Vesta and Ceres. These are two of the largest asteroids in our solar system, and one of them is also a dwarf planet. Learn more about these objects, and where you can find them move night-by-night in this week's video. There's a handy star chart to follow their progress here.


Buzzing to the Beehive

Messier 44 was a bit of an "add-on" object for Charles Messier. Ancient astronomers knew of the hazy patch in the sky between Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis - they could see it with the unaided eye. Dim, hazy, but there (sadly, light pollution keeps most of us from seeing it today!). So after finding 43 non-comet objects in his initial list, he rounded it out to 45 by including the Pleiades (M45) and this object, sometimes called "The Praesepe" or manger.

Today we often call it the Beehive cluster, as the 1,000 or so stars in this one and a half degrees across patch of sky appears like a swarm of bees. But at that angular diameter, this open cluster is too large to see fully in most telescopes, so binoculars are the better option. Plus, it resides in Cancer the Crab, a relatively dim constellation between Gemini and Leo. Check out this week's video to learn how to starhop to the Beehive / Praesepe / M44 using binoculars.

Use Star Chart 10 to find M44 - the stars in the video are the ones along the top edge of this chart.


Springtime skies

As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the night-time side of Earth points towards a different section of the Universe. While Polaris and the circumpolar constellations revolve around the north celestial pole, the other stars and constellations change. During spring, very little of the Milky Way is visible - we are very much looking "up and out" of our galaxy. So although the foreground objects we see are planets and stars, the background ones are often VERY far away - such as the galaxies and a few globular clusters that populate this part of the sky.

Learn more about what to expect in the upcoming season in this week's video.