Almanack Contributor Mike Rector

Mike Rector


Although he now lives in Clinton County, amateur astronomer Michael Rector has fond memories of spending time at Great Sacandaga and West Canada Lake where the skies are dark and the Milky Way is bright.

Michael writes about astronomy on his own blog Adirondack Astronomy and is interested in getting together with other star-gazers around the region. If you are interested in getting together for an occasional star party feel free to contact him at [email protected]







Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adirondack Night Sky: The Lyrid Meteor Shower

Lyrid_meteor_shower_radiant_pointIf you have spent any time on Facebook, or other social media sites, you may have come across an image that states:

“During the night On April 22 2013, people on Earth will have a chance to see one of the rarest meteor shower. During the night you will be able to see thousands of these falling stars until April 23, 2013, these meteors will have best visibility during the night of April 22, 2013. There is a predicted number of about 20 meteors an hour with possible surges of 100 per hour.”

I’m all about spreading the news of meteor showers and getting people to go out and look up. Experiencing a meteor shower is quite enjoyable, and gives your kids a reason to stay up late and see something extraordinary. What I don’t like however, is the false alarm of it being “one of the rarest meteor showers” since it’s an annual occurrence making it not all that rare.

The Venus Transit last June was a rare event with it’s two occurrences in 8 years and then another 105 years until the next one with another 8 year spread before it takes 121 years for the next cycle; that’s a rare event. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adirondack Astronomy: Cassiopeia Constellation

High in the northeastern sky after sunset is the constellation Cassiopeia. On a clear night during the fall and winter you can watch as it makes its way across the sky. Cassiopeia can be seen a few different ways depending on it’s location in the sky; as it rises it can look like the number three, and as it reaches the meridian – straight overhead – it looks like the letter ‘M’, and the letter ‘E’ as it sets to the northwest later in the season.

There are five stars that make up the letters and numbers I mention in the main constellation of Cassiopeia; Segin, Ksora, Cih, Schedir, and Caph. These five stars resemble the chair in which the queen sits in looking out towards the rim of the Milky Way.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Astronomy: The September Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of September. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies. If you do have a pair of binoculars, or a small telescope you can enhance many of these views.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 6, 2012

The Night Sky in August: Featuring A Blue Moon

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of August. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Adirondack Astronomy: The Night Sky in July

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of July. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for July 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in July at 10 pm for early July; 9 pm for late July. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Astronomy: The June Adirondack Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of June. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. Planets and the moon can be seen in red, and orange zones.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for June 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in June at 10 pm for early June; 9 pm for late June.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

» Continue Reading.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Adirondack Astronomy: Transit of Venus Events Planned

Coming up in the month of June is a rare astronomical event. The second planet to the sun, Venus, will pass between us, and the sun. Venus transits have a strange pattern of 121.5, 8, 105.5, 8 years, and the one prior to the transit in June of 2004 was 121.5 years ago in 1882. The next pair of transits wont happen again for another 105.5 years, so this will be the last chance any currently living human get’s to witness this event.

The reason transits don’t happen more frequently is due to the orbits of Venus and Earth not being on the same plane. Venus’ orbit is slightly inclined to the orbit of Earth, so when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun every 1.6 years Venus is either slightly above or below the Sun. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Astronomy: The May Adirondack Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of May. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Astronomy: The April Adirondack Night Sky

Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for April 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in April at 10 pm for early April; 9 pm for late April.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better! » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Astronomy: The March Adirondack Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of March. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for March 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in March at 8 pm for early March; 7 pm for late March.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:
Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°

Highlight for viewing with the unaided eye

March 11 – 15 – Jupiter and Venus conjunction where they will lie 3° from each other.

March 25 – Jupiter and the Moon 3° apart.

March 26 – Venus and the Moon 1.8° apart.

The Moon
March 1 – The Moon will be at first quarter.

March 8 – Full Moon. The Full Moon will pass 10° south of Mars in the constellation Leo.

March 11 – The Moon will pass 6° south of Saturn

March 14 – Last quarter Moon

March 22 – New moon, best night to get out and enjoy the darkest skies possible.

March 25 – The thin crescent Moon will pass within 3° north of Jupiter to the west after sunset.

March 26 – The thin crescent Moon will pass within 1.8° south of Venus to the west after sunset.

March 30 – The second occurrence of a first quarter Moon in the month of March.

Mercury
For the first week of March, Mercury will be at it’s prime location for viewing. Mercury will reach it’s greatest eastern elongation on March 5. For viewers in the Adirondacks Mercury will reach a height of 11° above the horizon just after sunset in the west, and will set after 30 minutes. Although low on the horizon and in the glow of sunset, at a magnitude of -0.4 it should easily be visible. After March 5, Mercury will slowly start to lower, and will pass between Earth and the Sun on March 21.


Venus
By March 4 Venus and Jupiter will be 9° apart, and by March 11 and 15 they will lie 3° from each other. During this conjunction the two planets will be 30° above the horizon to the west, and don’t set until close to 11pm. Venus will reach it’s greatest elongation on March 27. By the 31st Venus will be 3° below the star cluster Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus, which can be seen with the unaided eye.

Mars
As the sun sets take a look to the East and you will find the red planet shining as it rises above the horizon. On March 3 Mars reaches peak visibility and will lie opposite the Sun in our sky. This will be as close as Mars gets for another two years.

Jupiter
Jupiter and Venus get together by mid March for a spectacular conjunction which can be enjoyed with the unaided eye or even through a pair of 10×50 binoculars.

Saturn
Saturn rises shortly before 10pm by mid-March in the constellation Virgo. Saturn will be 6° northeast of the brightest star in Virgo, Spica. Spica will be quite dim in comparison to Saturn’s bright yellow glow.

Orion
In the south after sunset you can find the constellation of Orion. The red supergiant star Betelgeuse in the upper left of the constellation making Orion’s shoulder. Below it you will see 3 stars going from left to right creating Orion’s Belt. Below Orion’s belt you will find 3 dimmer stars perpendicular to the belt. If you look at the middle star of those 3 you may notice a slight haziness surrounding it. That haziness is referred to as a stellar nursery and is the Orion Nebula. This nebula contains a group of new stars within a dust cloud. This is where and how solar systems are born.

Taurus
Up and to the right of Orion is the constellation Taurus. A bright orange star, Aldebaran is the eye of Taurus the bull. Also within this constellation near Aldebaran is a grouping of stars that you can see with your naked eye, even in moderately light polluted areas; this cluster of stars is known as the Hyades.

Pleiades
Within the constellation of Taurus you can also find a closer grouping of stars known as the Pleiades (also known as the 7 Sisters or Subaru – Look at the logo for the Subaru vehicle, it is very similar to this cluster). Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology. It rises about 45 minutes earlier than Orion in the East.

Gemini
Up and to the left of Orion you can find the Gemini twins. The two brightest stars within this constellation are Pollux and Castor, forming the heads of the brothers.

Canis Major
Below and to the left of Orion is the constellation Canis Major – The Dog. One of the most defining features of Canis Major is the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. Sirius can be seen twinkling in the southern skies, and may even appear different colors as you look at it; from blue, to green, to white. This flickering is due to the earths atmosphere. Sirius is roughly 8.5 light-years away making it one of the closest stars to us.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the unaided eye which appear faint and fuzzy.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Ursa Major
Rising earlier and getting higher in the sky by sunset. Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

A couple notes
I invite anyone with a camera to share their pictures of the night sky with me if you’d like them to appear on my blog, email address can also be found on my blog. Please include a location, date and time that the images were taken. Any other information is also welcome.

With the warmer weather getting near I am scouting out a location that I can set up my telescopes and share the night views with anyone that may want to join. Public property with no closing hours, and a good view of the sky in all directions in a low to moderate light polluted area is preferred. If anyone knows of a place that is welcome to this idea please either email me with information, or comment in the comments section below with information. Looking for an area preferably in Clinton County. Again my email can be found via my blog, link below.

Photos: Above, Jupiter, Venus, and thin Waxing Gibbous Moon lineup of February 23 over Plattsburgh, by Michael Rector; Below, showing the conjunction of Jupiter and the Moon on March 25, and the conjunction of Venus and the Moon on March 25 via the astronomy freeware Stellarium.

Photo Below: Venus and Jupiter conjunction via the astronomy freeware Stellarium.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Astronomy: The February Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of February. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for February 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in February at 8 pm for early February; 7 pm for late February.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:
Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°

The Moon
February 9th – Close encounter of the Moon and Mars. Look for the moon in the east after 8:30pm, Mars will be about 10° to the left glowing a red.

February 12th and 13th – The moon pairs up with another planet, this time it’s with the ringed planet Saturn. Saturn will be about 11° down and to the left of the moon on the 12th, and about 9° above the moon on the 13th.

February 14th – The last quarter moon, visible from midnight into the morning.

February 21st – New moon, best night to go out and enjoy the stars without the light of the moon washing out the skies.

February 22nd – If you can find the one day old very thin crescent moon after sunset, Mercury will be 5° to the left. Mercury may be a bit difficult to spot, and both objects may be too low on the horizon to see with the Adirondack mountains.

February 25th – The moon and Venus pair up in the west-southwest just after sunset. The moon will be 3° to the right of Venus.

February 26th – The moon pairs up with one more planet before this months end. After sunset in the southwest you will see Jupiter about 4° to the left of the almost crescent moon.

February 29th – First Quarter Moon.

Mercury
Near the end of February you can find Mercury 10° above the horizon in the west after sunset. Early to mid month Mercury will be too low to see.

Venus
Venus will be very prominent in the west-southwest after sunset. Venus will be the brightest object about 30° (three fist-widths) above the horizon. Venus sets around 8:15pm.
On February 9th if you have a pair of binoculars look for Venus, to the left in the same field of view will be a blue-green star, that star is actually the planet Uranus.

Mars
Mars rises in the east after 8pm just under the back end of the constellation Leo.

Jupiter
The gas giant is high in the sky at sunset and will finally set around 11pm

Saturn
Not rising until about midnight in the constellation Virgo. Saturn will be close to the brightest star in Virgo, Spica.

Orion
In the south around 8pm you can find the constellation of Orion. The red supergiant star Betelgeuse in the upper left of the constellation making Orion’s shoulder. Below it you will see 3 stars going from left to right creating Orion’s Belt. Below Orion’s belt you will find 3 dimmer stars perpendicular to the belt. If you look at the middle star of those 3 you may notice a slight haziness surrounding it. That haziness is referred to as a stellar nursery and is the Orion Nebula. This nebula contains a group of new stars within a dust cloud. This is where and how solar systems are born.

Taurus
Up and to the right of Orion is the constellation Taurus. A bright orange star, Aldebaran is the eye of Taurus the bull. Also within this constellation near Aldebaran is a grouping of stars that you can see with your naked eye, even in moderately light polluted areas; this cluster of stars is known as the Hyades.

Pleiades
Within the constellation of Taurus you can also find a closer grouping of stars known as the Pleiades (also known as the 7 Sisters or Subaru – Look at the logo for the Subaru vehicle, it is very similar to this cluster). Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology. It rises about 45 minutes earlier than Orion in the East.

Gemini
Up and to the left of Orion you can find the Gemini twins. The two brightest stars within this constellation are Pollux and Castor, forming the heads of the brothers.

Canis Major
Below and to the left of Orion is the constellation Canis Major – The Dog. One of the most defining features of Canis Major is the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. Sirius can be seen twinkling in the southern skies, and may even appear different colors as you look at it; from blue, to green, to white. This flickering is due to the earths atmosphere. Sirius is roughly 8.5 light-years away making it one of the closest stars to us.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the unaided eye which appear faint and fuzzy.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Ursa Major
Very low on the horizon at sunset and not rising back into the sky until after midnight. Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

Photo Above: Image of the constellations Gemini, Taurus, Orion, and Canis Major from the astronomy freeware Stellarium.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Astronomy: The January Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of January. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for January 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in January at 8 pm for early January; 7 pm for late January.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:

Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°

The Moon
January 8th Full Moon

January 10th The Moon is near a cluster of stars in the constellation Cancer known as the Beehive cluster.

January 14th The Moon south of Mars, about 9°.

January 16th Is the Last Quarter Moon below Saturn and the star Spica.

January 23rd Is the New Moon, great night if clear to go out and learn some constellations and do some star gazing.

January 26th The thin crescent Moon will be about 6° from Venus after sunset in the West.

January 30th The Moon will be 6° above the planet Jupiter.

Mercury
Mercury rises 90 minutes before sunrise in the southeast and will be about 9° above the horizon. Don’t confuse Mercury with the ruddy glow of the star Antares. Mercury may be quite tough to spot with the twilight glow, but if you’re up early enough in the morning it worth giving a look to see if you can spot the innermost planet. Every day Mercury will get closer to the horizon, disappearing by the middle of January.

Venus
Venus can be found in the southwest just after sunset all throughout the month of January about 15° above the horizon.

Mars
Mars rises after 10pm in the constellation Leo, and nearly 2 hours earlier by the end of the month.
Mars will move into the constellation Virgo by January 14th as it moves slowly eastward in our sky. By January 24th the eastward motion of Mars will come to a halt as the red planet then switches direction and makes it way back into the constellation Leo by the first week of February.
Throughout the month of January Mars will actually double in brightness going from a magnitude 0.2 to -0.5 as we get ever closer to Mars in our orbit. Do not be fooled by any e-mails you may get about Mars being as big as the Moon in the sky, it is a hoax, Mars will never be that large from Earth.

Jupiter
Jupiter will be some 60° above the southern horizon at nightfall shining at a magnitude of -2.5 and will be setting 4 minutes earlier each day as we go through the month of January.

Saturn
Starting to come up a little earlier, Saturn will be visible in the East around 1:30am within the constellation Virgo at about 6° east-northeast from the constellations brightest star Spica.

Orion
The constellation Orion can be seen rising in the East after sunset. This is one of the most well known constellations and within it is one of astronomers favorite nebula; M42 also called the Great Nebula in Orion. If you are in a dark enough location you may be able to see this nebula with the unaided eye. Look for Orion’s belt and look for the 3 stars that are perpendicular to the belt. The middle star in this group of 3 is actually a small cluster of stars within a nebula of dust and debris. This can be seen as a small hazy glow around this middle star.

Andromeda
To the East of the square of Pegasus, attached to it in most drawings of the constellations, is the constellation Andromeda. If you find the bright star Mirach and follow the chain of 3 stars to the North it will bring you to the Andromeda galaxy in clear dark skies.

Triangulum
The constellation Triangulum is to the South of Andromeda. Made up of only 3 stars forming a triangle shape.

Pleiades
A great grouping of stars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology. It rises about 45 minutes earlier than Orion in the East.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the unaided eye which appear faint and fuzzy.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Ursa Major
Rising in the North-Northeast after sunset. Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

Photo Above: Image of the double cluster in Perseus. Taken by Michael Rector.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Astronomy: The December Night Sky

Hope everyone has a great and safe holiday season. Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of December. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your naked eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for December 2011). The map shows what is in the sky in December at 8 pm for early December; 7 pm for late December.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. Extend your arm out and do the following.
Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°


Meteor Showers
Geminid meteor shower peaks this month on December 14th with a possibility of 120 meteors per hour. Again another meteor shower that will be hard to catch due to an 89% full Waning Gibbous Moon. I would still suggest giving this meteor shower a look because even the brightest ones can’t be outshined by the Moon. Best viewing time for the Geminid’s is early morning on the 14th with the radiant being between the stars Castor and Pollux (the two brightest) in the constellation Gemini. The meteors in this shower often produce fire balls entering Earth at 21.75 miles per second generating a multi-colored display of whites, yellows, and a hint of blues.

The Moon
December 5th Jupiter will be 9° to the left of the Moon.

December 6th Jupiter will be 6° below the Moon.

December 10th is the full Moon also known as the Christmas Moon, Bitter Moon, and Snow Moon.

December 17th is the Last Quarter Moon which will be visible from Midnight into the morning. Also on this night you can find Mars 8° to the left of the Moon.

December 19th Saturn will be 13° down and left of the crescent Moon.

December 20th Saturn will be 7° up and to the left of the crescent Moon.

December 22nd Mercury will be 9° to the left of the very thin crescent Moon in the morning.

December 23rd Mercury will be 6° above the very thin crescent Moon in the early morning.

December 24th New Moon also referred to as No Moon. Best night to star gaze!

December 26th Venus will be 7° to the right of the very thin crescent Moon.

December 27th Venus will be 7° above the very thin crescent Moon.

Mercury
On the morning of December 23rd Mercury reaches it’s greatest elongation meaning it will be the highest in the sky that it will get for quite a while. If you look East Southeast in the early morning before the sun rises you’ll see Mercury 9° to the left of the Moon on the 22nd, and 6° above the Moon on the morning of the 23rd although you may have trouble seeing the Moon as it will be a very thin crescent Moon.

Venus
Looking Southwest after sunset you’ll see Venus, the brightest object about 15° above the horizon. Venus will set at around 6pm. On the 26th and the 27th Venus will be close to the Moon.

Mars
Rising around 11pm in the East is Mars reaching 45° in the sky by sunrise. Mars can be found within the constellation of Leo. To the naked eye it will look like a star with a reddish hue, slightly brighter than the brightest star in Leo – Regulus. Mars will be above the 3rd Quarter Moon on the 17th.

Jupiter
Jupiter rises before sunset and is in the South East after the sun finally sets. Jupiter sets around 3am throughout the month of December. Jupiter will be close to the Moon on the nights of the 5th and 6th. If you happen to have a pair of binoculars you can view the Moons of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – as they orbit around the giant gas planet as the pattern of the Moons change daily.

Saturn
Saturn still comes up early in the morning before sunrise in the Southeast and will reach up to 30° above the horizon this month. Look for Saturn on the morning of the 20th to see it 7° above a thin crescent Moon.

Pegasus
Straight overhead will be the constellation Pegasus. This constellation is easy to spot due to there being 4 stars that form the Great Square of Pegasus with a seemingly empty area inside of it.

Pisces
To the South of Pegasus is the constellation Pisces. Easily found following the right side of the square of Pegasus south until you reach the keystone of Pisces.

Andromeda
To the East of the square of Pegasus, attached to it in most drawings of the constellations, is the constellation Andromeda. If you find the bright star Mirach and follow the chain of stars to the North it will bring you to the Andromeda galaxy in clear dark skies.

Triangulum
The constellation Triangulum is to the South of Andromeda. Made up of only 3 stars forming a triangle shape.

Pleiades
A great grouping of stars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology. It rises about 45 minutes earlier than Orion in the East.

Andromeda
The Andromeda Galaxy cataloged as M31 is visible to the naked eye in the northeast. The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way lying about 2.5 million light-years away. If in a dark enough location the light produced by this galaxy is roughly the diameter of 5 moons in our sky.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the naked eye. M34, which you may need to wait until around 11pm for it to be high enough to see is nearly a moon-diameter wide and is a fairly easy to see open cluster.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Cygnus
North America Nebula (NGC7000) – The unaided eye sees only a wedge-shaped star-cloud which may be quite dim, or not visible at all. In dark skies it should pop out a bit. Located near the star Deneb. M39 an open cluster patch of stars northeast of the star Deneb. The Northern Coalsack spans across the sky between the stars Deneb, Sadir, and Gienah in the northeastern portion of Cygnus. If you don’t know which stars of Sadir and Gienah just find Deneb with the map and look to the east northeast.

Ursa Major

Very low on the horizon at sunset and not rising back into the sky until after midnight. Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

Photo Above: Star trails taken by Michael Rector.

Photo Below: The radiant of the Geminid Meteor Shower. The red dot shows the radiant of the meteors and the position of the Moon at 3:30am on the morning of the Peak. Screen grab from the astronomy freeware Stellarium.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Astronomy: The November Night Sky

Here are some naked eye objects for the month of November. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your naked eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for November 2011). The map shows what is in the sky in November at 8 pm for early November; 7 pm for late November.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

Meteor Showers
November 12th is the peak of the Northern Taurid’s Meteor Shower in the constellation Taurus. This meteor shower is leftover debris from the Comet Encke. The Moon will be in Tauris as the meteor shower peaks so expect to only see a few due to being washed out by the Moon’s light. The meteors from this shower that I have seen so far are quite bright and seemingly slow and look like a flare falling from the sky.

November 17th is the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower in the constellation Leo rising around midnight. The Leonid Meteor Shower produces around 20 meteors per hour. Just like most meteor showers this year the Moon will be affecting it.

The Moon
November 10 is the full Moon, this months full Moon goes by the name of Beaver Moon, and also sometimes referred to as the Frosty Moon.

Last quarter Moon is on the 18th

New Moon is on the 25th. Best night time to go out and enjoy the darkest skies with no interruption from the Moon.

November 9th and 10th the Moon and Jupiter will be 9° below the Moon which is about a fists width apart held at arms length, and 6° to the right of the Moon respectively.

November 19th In the morning hours Mars will be about 8° to the left and a little bit up from the Crescent Moon in the.

November 22nd Moon and Saturn before sunrise about 7° to the left

November 26th just after sunset, very thin Crescent Moon Venus and Mercury can be seen close to horizon.

November 27th the Moon will move up and to the left of Venus.

Mercury
Mercury will get as high in the sky as it will all month just after sunset by mid November and may not be visible due to the mountains of the Adirondacks. May be a difficult planet to spot.

Venus
Venus will be visible all month low on the horizon just after sunset in the West.

MarsAround 1 am in east Mars will be roughly 60° above the horizon by sunrise in the constellation of Leo.

Jupiter
Rises at sunset and sets as the sun rises for most of the month. Jupiter can be found to the left of Pegasus and Pisces and still remains the brightest object in the sky besides the Sun and the Moon.

Saturn
Making a new appearance of about 15° above the horizon as the sun rises

Pegasus
Straight overhead will be the constellation Pegasus also known as The Great Square. This constellation is easy to spot due to the 4 stars that form the Great Square of Pegasus with a seemingly empty area inside of it.

Pisces
To the South of Pegasus is the constellation Pisces. Easily found following the right side of the square of Pegasus south until you reach the keystone of Pisces.

Andromeda
To the East of the square of Pegasus, attached to it in most drawings of the constellations, is the constellation Andromeda. If you find the bright star Mirach and follow the chain of stars to the North it will bring you to the Andromeda galaxy in clear dark skies. The Andromeda Galaxy cataloged as M31 is visible to the naked eye in the northeast. The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way lying about 2.5 million light-years away. If in a dark enough location the light produced by this galaxy is roughly the diameter of 5 moons in our sky.

Triangulum
The constellation Triangulum is to the South of Andromeda. Made up of only 3 stars forming a triangle shape.

Pleiades
A great grouping of stars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the naked eye. M34, which you may need to wait until around 11pm for it to be high enough to see is nearly a moon-diameter wide and is a fairly easy to see open cluster.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Aquila
The Great Rift is a non-luminous dust cloud that can be seen splitting the Milky Way in two separate streams. It stretches from Aquila to the constellation Cygnus although it is more prominent in the constellation Aquila.

Hercules
Messier Object 13 (known as M13) is a globular cluster. It will have a small hazy glow to it. Hercules is getting lower in the sky so M13 may be difficult to spot through the haze of the atmosphere.

Cygnus
North America Nebula (NGC7000) – The unaided eye sees only a wedge-shaped star-cloud which may be quite dim, or not visible at all. In dark skies it should pop out a bit. Located near the star Deneb. M39 an open cluster patch of stars northeast of the star Deneb. The Northern Coalsack spans across the sky between the stars Deneb, Sadir, and Gienah in the northeastern portion of Cygnus. If you don’t know which stars of Sadir and Gienah just find Deneb with the map and look to the east northeast.

Photo: Above, a screen capture of the constellations straight overhead this month. Image from the freeware programStellarium. Below, a long exposure image taken by Michael Rector of the constellations Auriga, Taurus, Perseus and the open cluster of stars Pleiades. Upper left is Perseus, upper right cluster of stars is Pleiades, below Pleiades is Taurus, and near bottom center is Auriga. In the upper left corner there is a fuzzy grouping of stars, that’s the double cluster.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy


Monday, October 10, 2011

Astronomy: The October Night Sky

Here are some naked eye objects for the month of October. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your naked eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. If you aren’t in a dark sky location you may still be able to see these objects with a pair of binoculars or telescope.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at Skymaps.com (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for October 2011). The map shows what is in the sky in October at 9 pm for early October; 8 pm for late October.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

Meteor Showers
This post was a bit late for the Draconids, which peaked on October 8th. The peak was during our daylight hours and we (as far as I could see) didn’t get much of a show. I looked but saw maybe one that was a Draconid meteor. However, from what I’ve read Europe, Northern Africa, and the middle East got a pretty good show as it was dark for them during the peak hours of the meteor shower.

Orionid Meteor Shower peaks on the 21st and 22nd. With the peak you can expect to see as many as 20 fast although faint meteors per hour. This shower should be easier to spot than Draconids and Perseids since this shower will have a thin crescent moon that will rise in early morning. Orion will rise in the east around 11pm and that is when I would suggest to start looking for meteors, although they may be better as Orion is higher in the sky at 2am. Remember the darker the site for viewing the better your chances are of seeing them. I also suggest to bundle up since October is quite chilly.

The Moon
The moon will be full on the 11th, as with every full moon it rises at sunset and sets and sunrise.

On the 11th, and the 12th there will be a close encounter again between the moon and Jupiter. Around 8pm on the 11th you’ll see Jupiter just below the Moon. Throughout the night you will see Jupiter and the moon getting closer. On the 12th the two will be about a degree closer together.

The Last Quarter Moon is on the 19th which will be visible from midnight into the morning.

On the 21st and 22nd the Moon and Mars will be about 10° apart (a fist-width at arm’s length) with Mars above the Moon.

New Moon on the 26th.

Mars
Mars is still a morning object for this month rising around 2am. Before sunrise it will be about 45° above the horizon below Gemini and in Cancer.

Jupiter
Jupiter is rising just a little after sunset in the East and will be in the sky all night. In the West around sunrise. If you happen to have a pair of binoculars I suggest pointing them at Jupiter to check out some of it’s moons which change their position every day. The moons you can see are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Lyra the Harp, Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle
Due to earlier dark hours this month these constellations still remain directly overhead after sunset, around 7:00pm. These three constellations contain 3 of the brightest stars in the summer sky which form what is called The Summer Triangle. The star Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila. If you are in a really dark area you should be able to see the Milky Way passing through the constellations Cygnus and Aquila. Again, if you have a pair of binoculars and want to be wowed (even from a light polluted spot) look towards the Milky Way and look at all the stars that pop out at you.

Delphinus
If you have spotted The Summer Triangle, look to the left (East) of the star Altair to find a small kite shaped constellation called Delphinus, the Dolphin.

Pleiades
A great grouping of stars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. Looking at it has always reminded me of a smaller version of the little dipper. In dark locations you can see anywhere from 5-7 and possibly a few more stars in this grouping. It has also been called the seven sisters and is actually a Messier object, number 45. These are very hot blue and extremely luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. This grouping of stars has quite a bit of history in mythology. It rises about 45 minutes earlier than Orion in the East.

Andromeda
Although it may be easier to view later in the night around midnight or later – The Andromeda Galaxy cataloged as M31 is visible to the naked eye in the northeast. The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way lying about 2.5 million light-years away. If in a dark enough location the light produced by this galaxy is roughly the diameter of 5 moons in our sky.

Perseus
The Double Cluster, cataloged as NGC 869 and NGC 884 is a beautiful cluster that shows quite a group of stars with the naked eye. M34, which you may need to wait until around 11pm for it to be high enough to see is nearly a moon-diameter wide and is a fairly easy to see open cluster.
Look for a grouping of stars around the brightest star in Perseus, Mirphak.

Sagittarius
M8 is an open star cluster and nebula complex, also known as the Lagoon Nebula . Visible to the naked eye as a small hazy patch. Bright enough that it is visible even in suburbia. It may look small with the naked eye, but it is actually quite large nearly two moon diameters across. I’m not sure if any of the other objects are visible to the naked eye, although Sagittarius is a beautiful sight as it lays in the Milky Way.

Aquila
The Great Rift is a non-luminous dust cloud that can be seen splitting the Milky Way in two separate streams. It stretches from Aquila to the constellation Cygnus although it is more prominent in the constellation Aquila.

Hercules
Messier Object 13 (known as M13) is a globular cluster. It will have a small hazy glow to it. Hercules is getting lower in the sky so M13 may be difficult to spot through the haze of the atmosphere.

Cygnus
North America Nebula (NGC7000) – The unaided eye sees only a wedge-shaped star-cloud which may be quite dim, or not visible at all. In dark skies it should pop out a bit. Located near the star Deneb. M39 an open cluster patch of stars northeast of the star Deneb. The Northern Coalsack spans across the sky between the stars Deneb, Sadir, and Gienah in the northeastern portion of Cygnus. If you don’t know which stars of Sadir and Gienah just find Deneb with the map and look to the east northeast.

Ursa Major
Very low in the North at sunset and low at sunrise. Mizar and Alcor is a double star in the handle of the Big Dipper. Was once used as a test of good eyesight before glasses. Mizar resolves into a beautiful blue-white and greenish white binary (double star system). They are labeled on the map I linked to above.

Photo: The radiant of the Orionid Meteor Shower taken from the astronomy freeware Stellarium.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.



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