Fall “Equals” Autumn

September 22, 2008

So here we go again, proceeding to a new season. At 11.44am ET, the season of Autumn officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere of good old planet Earth. At that time, the sun is directly over the equator.

“Equinox” means “equal night” (from the Latin). In theory, on the equinoxes you have equal amounts of day and night, but it actually varies because of a few factors, some of which being the orbit of the earth, the way the atmosphere bends light (refraction), and your actual position on the earth. But the common understanding is that we have equal amounts of daylight and nighttime on this date.

So here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days grow cooler, the nights crisper. Leaves fall from the trees. It’s time to harvest. And for a few days, it’s really hard to drive east/west at sunrise and sunset, as the sun appears directly in front of you.

If you are one of the people who love the soon-to-be-past summer (like me), you have my condolences. It will return, but there’s months to go, so you might as well enjoy the change of seasons.



August 20, 2008

The title of the post says it all.

But to clarify, no matter what you have received via email, or heard from friends, you are NOT going to see “Mars as big as the full moon” on August 27th.

This is a hoax, which has now been going for five years.

If you want more information, you can search previous posts. Otherwise we have no comment.

An August Full Moon

August 15, 2008

Somtething is going to happen at 5.16pm EDT on Saturday, August 16th. The moon will be opposite the sun in the sky, having reached its “full” phase.

The August full moon is called the “Sturgeon Moon” as the large fish were seemingly easier to catch this month.

And if you just so happened to be on the other side of the world there will be a partial eclipse of the moon. If you remember last August, we actually had a total lunar eclipse at full moon.

So as the sun sets on the warm Saturday evening, turn around 180º from the sunset and see the luminous full moon rising in the southeastern sky, as it begins its journey across the night sky, bathing the earth with its reflected glow.

Summer Shooting Stars

August 9, 2008

The Perseid meteor shower for 2008 peaks in the morning hours of Tuesday, August 12th. The best views will be after 2.00am when the moon sets.

This is called the “Perseid” meteor shower because, from our view, the meteors seem to come from the area in the sky which includes the constellation Perseus. This constellation rises around 11.00pm and will be high in the northern skies all night.

If it’s a good shower, you might get to see sixty meteors an hour.

What you need to observe them:

Darkest skies possible. If you can, get as far away from the city (and any lights) as you are able.

Despite it being summer, it gets chilly late at night. Bring a jacket, blanket, etc.

Bug spray. Skeeters love to bite.

You can either bring a reclining lawn chair or lay on the ground, it’s your call.
(We always bring some tunes, plus snacks and drinks).

Bring a red-filtered flashlight. The red light won’t ruin your night vision like a white-light will. You want your pupils to be as dilated as possible to see as much of the sky as you can.

Star Light, Star Bright… Oops, That’s Not a Star!

June 28, 2008

You know the old rhyme “Star Light, Star Bright. First Star I See Tonight.” But what if the first “star” you saw, wasn’t?

That would be the case if you were looking to the southeast just after 11pm (EDT) these days. You would see a brilliant white “star” above the SE horizon, easily outshining everything else in the sky. You might even think at first glace it was an airplane’s landing lights. No, what you are seeing is the planet Jupiter.

Apart from Venus, Jupiter is the brightest planet in out sky. And it should be, considering Jupiter is the solar system’s “King of the Planets.” Only the Sun is larger than Jupiter in our solar system.

Jupiter is currently in the constellation Sagittarius, and makes a wonderful showpiece to the stars surrounding the planet in the sky. When you are looking towards Sagittarius, you are looking towards the center of our Galaxy.

Here are some facts about Jupiter:

  • Jupiter is five times as distant from the Sun as the Earth.
  • You could fit over 1000 Earths inside Jupiter.
  • It takes Jupiter nearly twelve (Earth) years to orbit the Sun once.
  • Jupiter has sixty-three moons.
  • One “day” on Jupiter is only ten hours.
  • If you weighed 100 lbs on Earth, on Jupiter you would weigh 214.
  • Jupiter is extremely large, but it is not as dense as the Earth.

Jupiter is going to dominate the night skies for the rest of the year, rising earlier and earlier each evening. In fact, on July 9th, Jupiter will be at a point in its orbit called “opposition” and will rise at sunset. It is “opposite” the Sun from Earth, so we see it all night long.

Jupiter will also be one of the featured objects at Public Nights at the James C. Veen Observatory this year. It’s an amazing sight in telescopes.

Good Old Summertime!

June 20, 2008

Ah yes… the wonderful joyous season of summer! The trees are fully in leaf, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing. There’s warm weather abounding, and no thoughts of cold and snow.

Welcome to summer (the Summer Solstice).

The term “Solstice” is Latin for sun (sol) and to stand still (sistere). On this day – and on the Winter Solstice, the sun stops it’s north/south travels and “stands still” in declination.

For the northern hemisphere, summer officially began at 7.59pm EDT today (Friday the 20th). At that time, the sun was at its highest point visible from this hemisphere, 70.5° high in the sky at local noon. If you were in a more tropical setting, say 24.5° latitude (North) the sun would be directly over your head. You would be at the “Tropic of Cancer.”

And if you were farther north, say above 66.5° latitude, you would be living in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” as the sun would never set for weeks.

So go out and enjoy the warm weather… the green grass… the sounds of nature. If it’s clear at sunset, take a long look at the first sunset of the season.

June 2008’s Full Moon

June 17, 2008

The middle of the third week of June heralds the full moon for the month. This time the moon will attain “full” phase at 1.30pm Eastern Time on the 18th. June’s full moon is called the “Full Strawberry Moon” and everyone in Michigan knows it’s time for the sweet, juicy locally-grown berries, which are much better than the imported ones from other states.

June’s full moon is the southernmost full moon of the year. With the sun at it’s highest point in the sky for us in the northern hemisphere (the Summer Solstice was just over a week ago) the moon, which when it is in the “full” phase is 180° from the sun, is at it’s lowest point. Hence, the moon will rise in the southeast sky, and not get very high above the southern horizon all night.