Shooting Stars in Orion!

The Orion Meteor Shower peaks the morning of Saturday, October 21, 2017. In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, how to view the meteor shower, and when to view it.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back in a comfy lawn chair and look up — no telescope needed!

Meteor Showers 101

Halley's Comet
Halley’s Comet left a lot of dust particles in its wake: Every year, Earth flies through those dust particles, which burn up in our atmosphere as “shooting stars.”

Shooting stars are meteors — small pieces of dust in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The dust particles for the Orion meteor shower (or “the Orionids” for short) are leftover bits of Halley’s Comet. As the Earth orbits the Sun, every year at about this time we pass through the dust left behind by Halley’s many visits to our neck of the galactic woods.

Orion
The most prominent stars of the constellation Orion. Image Credit: NASA

It’s called the “Orionids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the constellation Orion. In classical mythology Orion was a hunter, and is depicted in astronomy as a man wearing a belt of three stars, holding a shield with one arm, and holding a club with his other arm to fight the constellation Taurus (the bull). He’s alternatively depicted as a hunter about shoot an arrow at Taurus.

How to view the meteor shower

So consider going outside under the night sky with your significant other, and make some wishes upon every shooting star you see! No telescope or binoculars needed: Just bring along a lawn chair or long towel on which to lie down. You might want to bring along some food and drink and, depending on where you live in the world, either some mosquito repellant or warm clothing. Then, just look up.

When to look for the Orionids

Under perfect conditions — a clear sky, far from city lights, and viewing just before dawn the morning of October 21 — you might see as many as 20 shooting stars per hour. But you can still see an above average number of shooting stars no matter what time of the night you look. And you should be able to see an above-average number of shooting stars from now through the first week of November.

Clear skies to you!

Fall begins!

Fall begins at 4:02 pm in Eastern, 3:02 pm Central, 1:02 am Pacific, 8:02 pm GMT on September 22, 2017. Here in the northern hemisphere this is called “fall equinox.”

“Equinox” means equal night, because the Sun is exactly over the equator, the Earth’s terminator runs exactly from pole to pole, with all parts of earth receiving 12 hours of daylight and 12 of dark… but wait!  Look at your newspaper.  The time from sunrise to sunset on Sept 23 is actually LONGER than 12 hours, by about 6-7 minutes.  Why?

Equinox
On an equinox, sunlight falls directly over the Earth’s equator.  The “terminator” — the line dividing daylight from nighttime — runs vertically from pole to pole.

Answer:  Actually the answer has two causes.  One is the finite size of the sun.  Sunrise is defined as the first part of the Sun peeking over the Eastern horizon, and sunset as the last part of the Sun slipping below the western horizon.  This is twelve hours PLUS the time that the Sun takes to move its width across the sky.  The Sun is a half-degree across and the Earth rotates 15 degrees per hour (360 degrees in 24 hours), so the Earth rotates a half-degree in two minutes.  So two minutes of the difference is just from the finite size of the Sun.   What is the rest?   REFRACTION.

Light refracts when passing through a medium.  If the medium is uniform, light just slows down a little. But if the medium is not uniform in density or thickness, the light bends.  Since the air is more dense near the Earth’s surface, the light moves more slowly there than in higher elevations, causing the wave front to tip forward, following the curvature of the Earth.  So we actually see the sun BEFORE it actually breaks our horizon, and we see it for a few minutes after sunset too..  And that’s the other 5 minutes!  The refraction depends on the air temperature, surface temperature, etc, but in general is just larger than the diameter of the Sun – we see all of the Sun before any of the Sun really is above the horizon!

More info: www.weather.gov/cle/Seasons and www.timeanddate.com/calendar/september-equinox.html

View the Solar Eclipse anywhere on Monday!

Everybody’s talking about it. It’s going to be one of the most spectacular astronomical events in American history! On Monday, August 21, 2017 a total solar eclipse will be visible along a narrow path going across the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina. But did you know that you can see at least a partial eclipse that day no matter where you live in North America? And, of course, no matter where you live in the world, you can watch it online.

Global eclipse map
On August 21 people throughout North America, Central America and northern South America will see at least a partial eclipse of the Sun, weather permitting. Image Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

As viewed from land, the total solar eclipse (“totality,” where the Moon completely covers the Sun) begins near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:15 a.m. PDT (1:15 p.m. EDT). Totality ends at 2:48 p.m. EDT near Charleston, South Carolina. That roughly 70-mile wide path is represented by the darkest line in the image above. But those above and below the path of totality can see a partial eclipse of the Sun, weather permitting. Continue reading “View the Solar Eclipse anywhere on Monday!”

See shooting stars this weekend!

The famous “Perseid meteor shower” peaks this coming weekend! In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, the mythology behind the “Perseids,” how to view the shooting stars, and when to view them.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading “See shooting stars this weekend!”

The Saturn Opposition

Saturn
NASA image of Saturn

What has Saturn ever done to us?

No, there’s not an insurgency planning to take action against the planet Saturn!  Rather, this month Saturn will be at what astronomers call “opposition,” which is a great time to observe the beautiful ringed planet. On June 15 (June 16 for those of you in Australia, Japan, China, India and other parts of the eastern hemisphere), Saturn will be at opposition, meaning Saturn will be on the opposite side of the sky from the sun: When the sun sets that evening in the west, Saturn will rise in the east. Really, all of June and into July is a great time to see Saturn.

For the best view, wait until at least two hours after sunset to look at Saturn through a telescope.  (Before then, you’ll be looking at Saturn through the thicker layers of Earth’s atmosphere near the eastern horizon.) So get out your telescope and take a look at the beautiful ringed planet this summer!

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the northern hemisphere of Earth.) To the right is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Saturn
Saturn rising in the east during the evening hours of June. (View from the southern hemisphere of Earth.) Above is the bright star Antares of the constellation Scorpius. Saturn will be near Antares all summer.

11 Earth's could fit across JupiterIn addition to Saturn, you can see the giant planet Jupiter in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month. Viewed through a telescope, you may see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons. And did you know that 11 Earth’s could fit across the width of Jupiter?

Viewed from the northern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your southern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

Viewed from the southern hemisphere…

Jupiter
Jupiter will be over your northern horizon after sunset, near the bright star Spica and the constellation Corvus.

 


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The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know what constellation the Moon is in each night.

Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software and planisphere constellation finder!

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Use the Moon to find Jupiter this Sunday!

On Sunday, May 7 you can use the Moon to find the planet Jupiter!

Jupiter and the Moon
Jupiter will be the brightest ‘star’ nearest the Moon the evening of Sunday, May 7, 2017. The gas giant and the Moon will be in the constellation Virgo that night.

Through a telescope you may see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons.

Jupiter and Jovian Moons
Jupiter and its four largest moons as viewed through an amateur telescope

Furthermore, if you have a good telescope, you may make out some of the prominent horizontal cloud bands across the surface of the King of the Planets. You may also see up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons — the “Galilean satellites” — named after Galileo Galilei, who discovered them in 1610. These four moons move very quickly around the planet. In fact, if you observe them shortly after it gets dark, be sure to draw a diagram of where the moons are in relation to Jupiter. Then, observe the moons again a few hours later: If you do, you’ll notice the moons have moved significantly between your two observing sessions.

Fun facts about our solar system’s largest planet:

11 Earth's could fit across Jupiter
11 Earth’s could fit across Jupiter
  • If Earth were the size of a nickel, the gas giant would be about as big as a basketball, which in turn would make LeBron James a heck of a lot taller than he is now! 🙂
  • Earth has one moon, Jupiter has 67
  • The largest moon of Jupiter, Ganymede, is larger than the planet Mercury
  • Jupiter’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium  — like a star!
  • The Great Red Spot could contain 2-3 planet Earths
  • Earth rotates every 24 hours, the king of the planets rotates every 10 hours
  • Earth revolves around the Sun once a year, Jupiter takes 12 years

Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know what constellation the Moon is in each night.

Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software and planisphere constellation finder!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Mothers in the Sky

Andromeda and Cassiopeia
Cassiopeia and Andromeda — Two constellations (areas of the night sky) named after mothers from classical mythology. You can name a star in either constellation!

Naming stars for our mothers is popular today.  In fact, many objects in the night sky have been named after mothers for thousands of years.  And now mothers fly among the stars as astronauts!

The Name A Star Live constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia are named after two beautiful mothers from classical mythology.  Cassiopeia, the Queen of the Ethiopians and the mother of Andromeda, was a prideful woman who boasted that she was more beautiful than the female attendants to Poseidon, the god of the sea.  For this transgression Poseidon punished Cassiopeia by sending a sea monster to attack Cassiopeia’s country and to kill Andromeda.  But Andromeda was saved and would later have seven children of her own.  Now both mothers travel together in the heavens above as the constellations we know them by today.

Continue reading “Mothers in the Sky”

Love is in the stars!

 

Heart of the Milky Way
Credit: ESO/J. Girard (djulik.com)
There is a lot to love about astronomy, and — in time for Valentine’s Day — photographer Julien Girard offers a “heartfelt” example in this image. A bright pink symbol of love appears to float ethereally against the backdrop of the night sky over the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. Girard drew the heart in the air by shining a tiny flashlight keychain at the camera during a 25-second exposure with a tripod.

The central region of the Milky Way appears in the middle of the heart, as the plane of our galaxy stretches across the image. The stars of the constellation of Corona Australis (The Southern Crown) form a glittering arc of jewels at the top of the heart’s left lobe. The diffuse glow to the left of the heart’s lowest point is zodiacal light, caused by the scattering of light from the Sun by dust particles in the Solar System.

On the far right horizon, the 8.2-metre telescopes of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) facility stand out in silhouette atop Cerro Paranal. The lights of a car driving down from the observatory platform can be seen just to the left of the telescopes.

Julien Girard is an ESO astronomer based in Chile, who works at the Ver Large Telescope (VLT). He is the instrument scientist for the NACO adaptive optics instrument on the VLT’s Unit Telescope 4. He submitted this photograph to the Your ESO Pictures Flickr group, from where it was picked out as an ESO Picture of the Week.

Antenna Galaxies

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgement: B. Whitmore ( Space Telescope Science Institute) and James Long (ESA/Hubble).

Colliding galaxies make love, not war

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

Heart on Mars
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

This picture of a heart-shaped pit on Mars was taken on February 26, 2008 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and is centered near Mars’ equator. The pit is one of many adjacent to Hydaspis Chaos, a jumbled topographic depression thought to have formed by collapse of the surface due to—perhaps—catastrophic release of groundwater.

A Valentine's Day asteroid
Credit: NEAR Project (JHU/APL)

Just in time for its Valentine’s Day 2000 date with 433 Eros, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft snapped this photo during its approach to the 21-mile (34 kilometer)-long space rock. Taken Feb. 11, 2000 from 1,609 miles (2,590 kilometers) away, the picture reveals a heart-shaped depression about 3 miles (5 kilometers) long. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory – which manages the NASA mission – processed the image on Feb. 12, 2000.

Watch a Star Disappear!

You may see a star disappear behind the Moon the night of December 12/13! Over that night the Moon will pass in front of a very bright star in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

The Moon and Aldebaran
The Moon will move in front of the star Aldebaran over the night of December 12-13, 2016.

Those of you in the eastern, central and mountain time zones of North America should see the star, called “Aldebaran,” disappear behind the Moon sometime during the first 1-3 hours after sunset. After sunset, look for the Moon over the eastern horizon. Aldebaran will be just to the left of the Moon. Then, over the course of the next few hours, the Moon will move closer and closer until it covers the star. Unfortunately, this celestial show won’t be visible in the Pacific time zone, or in the southern hemisphere.

Those of you in Europe will need to wake up early in the morning to see Aldebaran disappear. Look for the Moon and Aldebaran over your western horizon. If you’re in London, look especially during the 3-4 am time period. If you’re in Berlin, Paris or Rome, look between 4 and 5 am.

Aldebaran is a red giant star that’s called the fiery eye of Taurus the Bull. The name Aldebaran comes from the Arabic and means “The Follower,” because the star appears to follow the Pleiades star cluster throughout the course of any given night. (BTW, people often confuse the Pleiades with the Little Dipper: The Little Dipper is found over the norther horizon.) Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus, and is part of a prominent, V-shaped group of stars called the “Hyades.”

Aldebaran and our Sun
The relative sizes of Aldebaran and our Sun

Aldebaran is about 65 light-years away, meaning that the light you see from Aldebaran this month was generated in 1951. That’s how long it took the light to reach us.


Get our Moon Tweets!

The Twitter Moon
Our Moon Tweets let you know when the Moon is in a Name A Star Live constellation.

Did you know you can use the Moon to identify where your star’s constellation is in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we let you know when the Moon appears in a Name A Star constellation (area of the night sky).

Name A Star Live offers some really good tools to learn about the night sky and find your star’s constellation. Visit our website to learn about our Virtual Planetarium software, planisphere constellation finder, and First Light Astronomy Kit!

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

The Star of Bethlehem

The MagiFor centuries astronomers have speculated about the famous Star of Bethlehem, which the three Magi (the three wise men/the three kings) followed to the place of Christ’s birth.  Of course, the star may defy scientific explanation altogether, and be viewed as a miracle.  Nevertheless, various astronomical theories have been proposed, including that the star may have been a comet, or a supernova (an exploding star), or a “planetary conjunction” (a gathering of planets in one part of the sky).  In this column, we’ll examine two of today’s most popular theories, both of which hold that the planet Jupiter played a key role.

Continue reading “The Star of Bethlehem”