Spooky Sights and Sounds from Outer Space!

October’s the month for Halloween, and Name A Star Live can help you get in the mood for trick-or-treating! Here are some spooky sights and sounds from outer space.

First, let’s set the scene with some scary space sounds! Before scrolling down this webpage any further, turn up your speakers or headphones, and start this video of some eerie sounds from Saturn:

Let’s start with a witch who resides just outside the Name A Star Live constellation Orion:

The Witch Head Nebula
The Witch Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni

As frightening as this witch may be, no need to fear: She’s about 800 light-years away, and so won’t be casting any spells on us for a long time to come! She’s actually a giant collection of dust particles that is reflecting light off of a star named “Rigel” in Orion.

The Ghost Nebula
The Ghost Nebula. Image Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts — especially when they’re 1,200 light-years away! This phantom of the night haunts the constellation Cepheus, which borders the Name A Star Live constellations Cassiopeia and Cygnus.

The Ghost of the Sisters
The Ghost of the Seven Sisters. Image Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA), George Herbig and Theodore Simon (University of Hawaii)

This ghost is located a little closer to Earth, at 380 light-years away in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. It’s part of the Pleiades star cluster (a.k.a. “The Seven Sisters”), which many people confuse with the Little Dipper. Let’s hope this ghost doesn’t get any closer to Earth!

Ghost Head Nebula
The Ghost Head Nebula. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri (Observatoire de Paris) et al.

The Ghost Head Nebula, or NGC 2080, is a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way Galaxy visible from the southern hemisphere of Earth. The nebula spans about 50 light-years across.

Black Widow Nebula
The Black Widow Nebula. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisc.

What’s Halloween without spiders? The Black Widow Nebula hangs in her web in the southern hemisphere constellation Circinus. But arachnophobes have no fear! This spider from the depths of space is actually a stellar nursery. In this Spitzer Space Telescope image, the two opposing bubbles are being formed in opposite directions by the powerful outflows from massive groups of forming stars. The baby stars can be seen as specks of yellow where the two bubbles overlap.  So upon seeing the Black Widow nebula, instead of screaming shouts of terror, we should say, “Aw, how cute!”

Mimas and the Death Star
The Death Star from “Star Wars,” and Mimas, moon of Saturn. Image Credits: Pinterest.com and NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Much closer to home than any of the nebulae presented above, Mimas — a moon of Saturn — appears ready to blast Earth out of existence! We better keep a close eye on this scary menace!

Jack-O'-Lantern Sun
The jack-o’-lantern Sun. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Finally, we wish you a Happy Halloween with this solar image showing active regions on the Sun that combined to look something like a jack-o-lantern’s face on October 8, 2014.  This image blends together two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these spooky sights and sounds!

 

October’s Starry Skies

SaturnYou can see some really neat things in the night sky this October: planets, shooting stars, and some rare, eery morning light called the “False Dawn”! You can use the Moon to find many of the interesting sights overhead this month, including Saturn. In fact, Saturn is getting lower and lower in the sky, and October will be the last chance to get a good view of Saturn in 2016.

Using the Moon to find Venus, Mars and Saturn
The Moon on the evening of Oct. 7 as it will appear from the northern hemisphere. The constellation Scorpius is highlighted. You can use the Moon to find Venus, Saturn and Mars in early October.

October 3 — Look for Venus near the thin, crescent Moon over your western horizon near sunset. Venus will be the brightest point of light low on the horizon, near the Moon.

October 5 & 6 — The Moon will appear near the beautiful, ringed planet Saturn, which will be hovering near the constellation Scorpius.

October 7 & 8 — The Moon will appear near the red planet Mars.

The Moon on October 8, 2016
The Moon as it will appear from Sydney, Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere on October 8, 2016. The Moon will also appear to pass by Venus, Saturn and Mars in early October.
Uranus near the Moon
Uranus near the Moon the night of Oct. 15, 2016

On October 15 the planet Uranus will reach its maximum brightness for the year. So pull out your telescope and take a peek! Uranus will be easy to spot as it will appear next to the Moon that night. Through a telescope it will appear as either a grey circle or a faint green dot, depending on whether you have a small or large telescope, respectively.

The Moon near the Hyades
The Moon near the V-shaped group of stars called the “Hyades” the morning of October 19. The Pleiades star cluster appears nearby (to the right in this image). If you’re in the southern hemisphere, this image will appear rotated clockwise about 90-degrees in your pre-dawn sky the morning of October 20, 2016.

If you’re an early bird, you can use the Moon in the pre-dawn skies to see a couple of beautiful sites in October. On October 19 the Moon will be near the “Hyades” star cluster, which is a V-shaped group of stars in the constellation Taurus. Nearby is another cluster of stars known as the “Pleiades.” Many people confuse the Pleiades with the Little Dipper, which is actually located over the northern horizon. And on October 28, the thin, crescent Moon will appear near Jupiter, the king of the planets, in the east near sunrise.

October’s Shooting Stars

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

The Orionid meteor shower peaks before dawn on October 21, although you can see its shooting stars from October 2 through November 7. To get the best view, lie down outside with the Moon at your back in the pre-dawn hours. It’s called the “Orionid meteor shower” (a.k.a., “the Orionids”) because the shooting stars all appear to fly out of the constellation Orion. The meteors are leftover dust particles from the many visits of Halley’s Comet every 75 years to our neck of the solar system. Each October, as Earth passes through the dust trail left behind by Halley’s Comet, the meteors burn up in the atmosphere as “shooting stars.” Actually, Halley’s Comet is responsible for two meteor showers each year: the Orionid meteor shower each fall and the “Eta Aquarid” meteor shower each spring.

October’s False Dawn

Zodiacal Light
Artist’s rendering of zodiacal light, a triangular, faint area of cosmic light extending from the ground (center, right) up, and toward the left. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you live far from city lights, consider waking up early sometime in the first half of October and look for the “False Dawn” — a beautiful, triangle-shaped glow of cosmic light that appears in the eastern sky before sunrise. See our blog article about “Fall’s False Dawn” for details.


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!

Fall’s False Dawn

Zodiacal Light
A glow called the zodiacal light can be seen in the sky before sunrise for two weeks beginning in late September. It’s formed by sunlight scattered off of dust near the plane of Earth’s orbit. Credit: Yuri Beletsky/ESO Paranal

A beautiful, triangle-shaped glow of cosmic light appears in the eastern sky before sunrise for two weeks, from late September through mid-October for those of you who live in mid-northern latitudes (e.g., most of the US, southern Europe, Japan, northern China).  Called the “zodiacal light” (as the triangle of light extends from the sun along the constellations of the zodiac), this wondrous apparition can be viewed only if you are in a dark location, far away from bright, city lights.  The zodiacal light will appear slightly dimmer than the Milky Way, and will rise up through the zodiacal constellations Leo, Cancer and Gemini.

Zodiacal Dust Cloud

Zodiacal light is caused by the reflection of sunlight off of dust particles in the plane of the solar system. It’s viewable during the spring and summer of each year. Quoting NASA, “Zodiacal light is so bright this time of year because the dust band is oriented nearly vertical at sunrise, so that the thick air near the horizon does not block out relatively bright reflecting dust. Zodiacal light is also bright for people in Earth’s northern hemisphere in March and April just after sunset.”


Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

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!

Scorpius in September

Butterfly Nebula
The Butterfly Nebula in the constellation Scorpius. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth’s night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, the Butterfly Nebula (a.k.a. NGC 6302) in the constellation Scorpius is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust.

Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star’s dusty cosmic shroud. The Butterfly Nebula lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).

Saturn
Saturn

While you need the Hubble Space Telescope to get such a spectacular view of an object like this in Scorpius, there are other neat things you can see in Scorpius with an amateur telescope or just a plain pair of binoculars.

The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn and the red planet Mars are both just to the east of the prominent, summertime constellation Scorpius. If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Scorpius toward the south-southwest after sunset. Its brightest stars outline a large “J” in the night sky. Mars, Saturn and Scorpius’ bright, red star Antares form a triangle in the night sky.

Scorpius, Mars and Saturn
The constellation Scorpius, with Mars and Saturn, in mid-September 2016

While you need a telescope in order to get a good view of Mars and Saturn, with a simple pair of binoculars you can see two famous, open clusters of stars. Look for the two “stinger” stars at the tail end of Scorpius. Draw an imaginary line through them and extend the line eastward to Ptolemy’s Cluster (a.k.a. “M7”). M7 is about 800 light-years from Earth. In other words, the light you’ll see from this star cluster was generated 800 years ago! Just up and somewhat westward from Ptolemy’s Cluster is the Butterfly Cluster (a.k.a. “M6”), which is about 1,600 light-years from Earth. You should be able to see both M6 and M7 simultaneously through a pair of binoculars.

BTW, don’t confuse the Butterfly Cluster of star with the Butterfly Nebula. While they’re both in Scorpius, they are located in entirely different areas of the constellation.

Scorpius, Saturn, Mars
Scorpius as viewed from the southern hemisphere in mid-September 2016

If You’re in the Southern Hemisphere

If you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth look for Scorpius high in the sky after sunset. The brighter stars of the constellation will form an upside-down letter “J”. Because Mars and Saturn will be much higher in the sky, you should get a better view of those two planets than observers in the northern hemisphere.


Don’t miss the Harvest Moon!

Harvest Moon
The Harvest Moon will occur on September 16, 2016.

The Harvest Moon in the northern hemisphere occurs Friday, September 16. The Harvest Moon is defined as the full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox. Full Moon occurs at 3:05 pm EDT (7:05 pm GMT) September 16. So grab your scythe, get out there and harvest the crops! If nothing else, take a peek at the beautiful full Moon tonight!

Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

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!

See Saturn and Mars tonight!

Saturn
Saturn

Tonight the beautiful, ringed planet Saturn, the red planet Mars and the red star Antares all form a line in the sky. Saturn’s easy to spot in the night sky, so get out your telescope and show your whole family this magnificent jewel of the solar system!

Here’s how to find Saturn and Mars tonight: Look for the three points of light you’ll see together toward the south-southwest this evening.  Antares — a bright, red star in the constellation Scorpius — will be at the bottom, Mars in the middle, and Saturn at the top.

Antares, Mars and Saturn in Scorpius
The bright star Antares, and the planets Mars and Saturn the evening of August 24, 2016

If You’re in the Southern Hemisphere

If you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth look for Antares, Mars and Saturn over your north-northwestern horizon the evening of August 25.


Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

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!

See the best shooting stars of the year!

The best display of shooting stars this year occurs around mid-August.  This display is called the “Perseid meteor shower.”

In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, the mythology behind the “Perseids,” 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 and look up — no telescope needed!

Continue reading “See the best shooting stars of the year!”

Jupiter near the Moon tonight!

Family stargazing
Stargazing makes for family fun, and tonight’s a good night to see the planet Jupiter near the Moon!

The mighty planet Jupiter will appear very close to the crescent Moon tonight (Friday, July 8, 2016). Jupiter’s easy to spot in the night sky, so get out your telescope and show your whole family the king of the planets!

Here’s how to find Jupiter tonight: Look for the bright ‘star’ just above and to the left of the thin, crescent Moon. Both the Moon and Jupiter are in the constellation Leo this evening.

Jupiter and the Moon
Jupiter and the Moon as viewed from the northern hemisphere on July 8, 2016

Scientists believe Jupiter has 67 moons. You can easily see four of them through a telescope. But because they move so quickly around Jupiter, you may not see all of them at once: It just depends on when you look.

Jupiter and its four large moons
Jupiter and its four largest moons as viewed through a powerful amateur telescope. Image Credit: Michael Stegina/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF

If You’re in the Southern Hemisphere

If you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth Jupiter then you’re in luck! Jupiter will appear even closer to the Moon the night of July 9, 2016. Just look west-northwest shortly after sunset. Jupiter will appear just above, and to the right of the Moon.


Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

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!

See Saturn throughout June

 

Saturn
Saturn

This is a wonderful time to see the beautiful, ringed planet Saturn, which reached “opposition” this month. You can see Mars and Jupiter too!

“Opposition” just means that Earth is directly between Saturn and the sun – Saturn and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth. So Saturn rises in the east as the sun sets in the west. With Saturn at opposition, you can get a very good look at Saturn all month.

Saturn at opposition
Saturn and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth in June. You can get a good view of the ringed planet all month! Image Credit: NASA

Saturn will be in the constellation Ophiuchus throughout the month. Ophiuchus is one of the constellations of the zodiac, like Aries, Taurus and Cancer. But it’s the one constellation of the zodiac not used for birth signs.

Saturn and Mars
Saturn and Mars in June’s night sky as viewed in the northern hemisphere

If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Saturn toward the southeast about an hour or so after sunset. It will be the bright point of night just to the east of the bright constellation Scorpius. If your telescope is powerful enough, you will be able to see the dark gap in the rings known as the “Cassini division,” named after the French astronomer Jean D. Cassini who discovered the gap in 1675. While you’re checking out Saturn with your telescope, take a look at nearby Mars: If you look closely, you may see Mars’ ice cap!

Saturn and Mars
Saturn and Mars in June’s night sky as viewed in the southern hemisphere. You’ll find Saturn and Mars over your eastern horizon after sunset.

 

Fun Fact!

Saturn is the basis for the “Father Time” figure we see every New Year.

Father Time
Father Time traces its origins to Saturn from Roman mythology. Image Source: Pinterest.com

Father Time is usually depicted as an old man carrying a harvesting scythe, usually with the baby New Year. Actually, this association of Saturn with Father Time is an historical error that can be traced back to at least the Renaissance when the Roman god Saturn was mistakenly confused with the Greek god Chronos, god of time. Saturn was the Roman version of the Greek god Cronus, which sounds a lot like Chronos! So it’s easy to see how the two names could be mixed up! Just to be clear:

  • Cronus was the ancient Greek god who was the father of Zeus, king of the gods. The Romans adopted Cronus and renamed him Saturn, and adopted Zeus and renamed him Jupiter. In other words, Saturn was the father of Jupiter.
  • Chronos was the ancient Greek god of time. (We get the word “chronological” from Chronos.) But the names Cronus and Chronos were confused during the Renaissance (if not earlier), and the  Father Time figure was thus associated with Saturn by mistake.

See Saturn’s son Jupiter this month too!

Jupiter
Jupiter is in the constellation Leo throughout June. If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Jupiter and Leo toward the west-southwest shortly after sunset.

Jupiter, the son of Saturn and king of the gods, is also the name of the king of the planets. It’s easily seen in the constellation Leo throughout the month of June. Jupiter will be the brightest object in Leo this month — except when the Moon passes by!

Jupiter and Leo
Jupiter and Leo as viewed from the southern hemisphere of Earth. Look for Jupiter over the north-northwestern horizon shortly after sunset in June.

Did you know you can use the Moon to find constellations in the night sky? Follow us on Twitter where we post information each day about what constellation (area of the night sky) the Moon is in that evening.

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 Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

The Night Sky of May 2016

The skies of May 2016 provide some wonderful celestial delights. Read on to see what you can see in the night sky this month!

Mars
Mars, the “Red Planet”
See the planet Mars in the night sky in May: The brightest it’s been in over a decade!
Mars opposition
Mars and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth on May 22, which makes for a great opportunity to view the red planet! Image Credit: NASA

Mars reaches “opposition” on May 22, reaching peak visibility for 2016. In fact, Mars will appear brighter than it has since 2005. “Opposition” just means that Earth is directly between Mars and the sun – Mars and the sun will be on opposite sides of Earth on May 22. So during that evening Mars will rise in the east as the sun sets in the west. On May 30 Mars will reach its closest approach to Earth for the year. The two planets will be only 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) apart – that’s about half of the distance between the Earth and the sun. Continue reading “The Night Sky of May 2016”

The Big Dipper

When you name a star with Name A Star Live you choose the constellation (area of the night sky, such as Aries or Taurus) in which your star will be located. Many people want to name a star in the Big Dipper. But did you know the Big Dipper is not actually a constellation? It’s really a group of stars that are part of a very large constellation called “Ursa Major,” which is Latin for “big bear.”

Ursa Major
The Big Dipper is part of the constellation Ursa Major, the “big bear.” Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Various cultures around the world have interpreted these stars in interesting ways. The Iroquois and Micmac peoples of North America viewed the bowl of the Big Dipper as a bear that was pursued by a group of hunters — the stars in the Big Dipper’s handle. The Arabians viewed the Big Dipper as a funeral procession with the Big Dipper’s bowl as the deceased and the stars in the handle as the mourners. The Germans thought of the Big Dipper as a large wagon. And in classical mythology the Big Dipper and the nearby Little Dipper were a mother and son that Zeus, the king of the gods, had transformed into bears and placed in the heavens.

Alaska's flag
This is the state flag of Alaska, which features the Big Dipper and the North Star. In the Alaskan flag the two stars on the right-hand side of the Big Dipper point to the North Star.

Sailors, pilots and hikers have long used the Big Dipper to navigate. The two stars on the outer edge of the Big Dipper’s bowl are referred to as the “Pointer Stars.” If you draw a line from these two stars, the line will point to the North Star. In fact, American slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad used the pointer stars of the “drinking gourd” (as they knew the Big Dipper) to find their way North to freedom.

Alcor and Mizar
The stars Alcor and Mizar are circled in green.

When you look at the Big Dipper, see if you can distinguish between the two bright stars Alcor and Mizar in the Big Dipper’s handle. Being able to distinguish between these two, close stars is a traditional test of one’s eyesight. These two stars — a.k.a. “the horse and the rider” — are about 83 light-years from Earth. The brighter star Mizar is actually a quadruple star system, and its dimmer neighbor Alcor is a binary star system.

When can you see the Big Dipper?

The Big Dipper is visible all year from most of Europe, the northern U.S. and Canada. In the southern U.S. it can be seen in the springtime during evening hours. Visit our online Constellation Calendar to see when the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major) is visible from your community.


 

Star Bear Gift Set
Name a star in Ursa Major with the Star Bear Gift Set

If you’re thinking of naming a star in the Big Dipper for someone, consider Name A Star Live’s popular Star Bear Gift Set. This unique gift includes:

  • A Star Bear — a cuddly teddy bear holding a star. What more appropriate way to name a star in the “Big Bear”?
  • A printed Star Certificate;
  • A digital, letter-size Star Certificate that you can download and print right away;
  • A digital Launch Certificate we provide to you after we launch your star’s name into space: We’re the only star-naming service that makes you part of a real space mission!