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”

Beautiful Super Moon Images

Did you see the Super Moon this month? It was the largest full Moon we’ve seen since 1948, and we won’t see another one this large until 2034. But in case you missed the Super Moon, here are some really neat images!

Image Credit: Pinterest.com
Image Credit: Pinterest.com
Super Moon over St. Louis
The Super Moon over St. Louis. Image Credit: Google+
Super Moon and Soyuz
Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, this Soyuz rocket stands on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14. Beyond it rises a supermoon, but fame for exceptional feats of speed, strength, and agility is not the reason November’s Full Moon was given this popular name. Instead, whenever a Full Moon shines near perigee, the closest point in its elliptical orbit around Earth, it appears larger and brighter than other more distant Full Moons, and so a supermoon is born. In fact, November’s supermoon was the second of three consecutive supermoons in 2016. It was also the closest and most superest Full Moon since 1948. Meanwhile, the mild mannered Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch its Expedition 50/51 crew to the International Space Station today, November 17. Image Credit: NASA, Bill Ingalls

Finally, here is a video showing many images of the Super Moon from around the world!

 

 


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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!

Use the Moon to find Mars!

The Moon is a very useful ‘landmark’ in the sky to find planets, prominent stars and other interesting things in the heavens above. You can use the Moon in early November to find the planet Mars.

Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 5, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth
Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 5, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere of Earth

On November 5 look for Mars, which will appear reddish in color, just to the east of the crescent Moon. Both of these celestial objects are in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius this evening. You should also see Venus and Saturn very low on the southwestern horizon.

Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 6, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere
Mars and the Moon on the evening of November 6, 2016 as viewed from the northern hemisphere

The next night, November 6, the Moon moves into Capricorn to a position above Mars, which remains in Sagittarius.

Venus, Mars and the Moon as viewed from Sydney, Australia, Nov. 6, 2016
Venus, Mars and the Moon as viewed over the western horizon from Sydney, Australia, Nov. 6, 2016

If you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth, look for the Moon and Mars over your western horizon the evening of November 6. The Moon and Mars will both be in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius as viewed from the southern hemisphere.


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!

See a Star Explosion!

Nova
GK Persei, a nova in the constellation Perseus. Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/RIKEN/D.Takei et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NRAO/VLA

A star in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius has exploded, and you can see it now! But you better hurry as Sagittarius will soon not be visible to observers in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

The star, which has not been ‘named’ by Name A Star Live, is actually a binary star where one of the stars has stolen hydrogen from its companion. The hydrogen built up on the surface of the stellar thief and, under pressure, ignited like a hydrogen bomb. The exploded hydrogen is given off as a shell of gas that surrounds the star. (See photo above.) The star remains intact, and will likely repeat the process of sucking hydrogen from its companion until another explosion (nova) occurs in the future. When you see the nova you will see the exploded shell — although what you will see through your binoculars or telescope won’t look like the spectacular NASA photo above!

How to See the Nova

Nova in Sagittarius
Look for the nova, marked by the red dot, near the “Teapot” of Sagittarius, which will be low on the southwestern horizon shortly after sunset. You’ll need a pair of binoculars or a telescope to see it.

You should be able to see the nova with a 50mm pair of binoculars or just about any telescope. Just look for Sagittarius toward the southwest about 1 1/2 hours after sunset. You’ll notice the bright planet Mars. Just below and to the right of Mars you’ll see a group of relatively bright stars called the “Teapot.” The nova will be just to the right of the Teapot.

The nova as viewed from Sydney, Australia
The “Teapot” as viewed from Sydney, Australia, facing west after sunset.

Those of you in the southern hemisphere can also get a good look at the nova. Sagittarius will be somewhat higher in your sky after sunset compared to observers in the northern hemisphere.

Finally, don’t confuse a nova with a “supernova.” Classical novas can be considered to be “miniature” versions of supernova explosions. Supernovas signal the destruction of an entire star and can be so bright that they outshine the whole galaxy where they are found.

For more information about novas, see chandra.si.edu/photo/2015/gkper/


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!

 

See Uranus Near the Moon

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 2016. But even if you can’t observe the 7th planet from the Sun that night, you can get a good look all month. So pull out your telescope or binoculars and take a peek! Uranus will be relatively easy to spot October 15 as it will appear next to the Moon as a fairly dim ‘star.’ If you can’t view Uranus on the 15th you can use our Virtual Planetarium astronomy software to find it on other nights this year. This gas giant is in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces.

Through a telescope Uranus will appear as either a grey circle or a faint blue-green dot, depending on whether you have a small or large telescope, respectively. The planet is so far away that the light you’ll see through your telescope or binoculars will take four hours to reach you. That translates into a distance between Earth and Uranus of 2.7 billion miles, or 4.4 billion kilometers.

Uranus, Earth and the Sun at opposition
Uranus, Earth and the Sun at opposition

On October 15 the planet will be at “opposition,” meaning that, as the sun sets in the west that evening, the planet will rise in the east — on the opposite side of the sky as the Sun. That’s because at that time Earth will be directly between Uranus and the Sun.

Uranus has 27 known moons, including its famous five large moons, which were discovered before the space age. The remaining 22 were discovered by Voyager 2 and the Hubble Space Telescope. While most of the satellites orbiting other planets take their names from Greek mythology, Uranus’ moons are unique in being named for Shakespearean characters, along with a couple of the moons being named for characters from the works of Alexander Pope.

Relative sizes of Earth and Uranus
Relative sizes of Earth and Uranus

The planet was discovered in 1781 by the British astronomer William Herschel, who initially thought the planet was a comet. Once he realized what he had actually discovered, Herschel wanted to name the planet “Georgium Sidus” (George’s Star), after King George III. But astronomers decided instead to name the planet after the Greek god Uranus, the husband of Gaia — Mother Earth.

Uranus cartoon
Image Credit: NASA

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!

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!

Throw a star party!

Space costumes
Consider throwing a space costume party! Image Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Looking for new ideas for entertaining guests? Maybe your child has a birthday coming up, you want to have a few co-workers from the office over, or you’d like to celebrate a special occasion with family and friends? Then throw a star party! Name A Star Live can help. Here are some ideas:

Show your friends where your star is in the night sky

Using our Virtual Planetarium astronomy software you can see when your star’s constellation will be visible. Plan for a rain date — a backup date — for your party, just in case Mother Nature clouds over your night sky.

Friends stargazingShow your star, the Moon and planets with your telescope

Again, using our Virtual Planetarium software you can see when the Moon and planets will be visible as well — think how neat it would be to show your guests the rings of Saturn! Don’t own a telescope? See our blog article about telescope buying tips. Your Name A Star Live Star Chart shows the position of your star within its constellation.

Space birthday cake
A space-themed birthday cake! Image Credit: Pinterest.com
Astronaut ice cream
Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Party supplies for the kids

Mars bars and Milky Way bars are always a good choice for a star party.

Kids like freeze dried astronaut ice cream and freeze dried astronaut fruit packs. But as an alternative, consider getting your kids to make their own astronaut pudding.

There are all sorts of decorations and fun activities for the kids you can create yourself.  Visit this “PBS Parents” webpage for some really neat ideas for a space-themed birthday party.

Space drink
A space-themed mixed drink for adults. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Party supplies for adults

There’s a lot of overlap between party supplies for kids and adults. But for the adults at your party you’ll likely want to provide some space-themed cocktails and finger foods.

There are many websites that provide recipes for space-themed cocktails and food. Click here and here for some sites we like. But you can just prepare common cocktails and give them spacey names, like the “Moon Shot,” the “Romulan Fizz,” or the “Milky Way.” And for fans of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy you’ll find a number of recipes online for the famous “Pangalactic Gargleblaster” that, in the Hitchhikers Guide, was invented by ex-President of the Universe Zaphod Beeblebrox! See, for example, this recipe.

Black light party
A black light helps set the scene for an out-of-this-world party!

Other Ideas

Use a black light to set an eery space mood!

Play some space-themed music — perhaps music from 2001: A Space Odyssey or from other sci-fi greats.

Consider offering a door prize: Perhaps Name A Star Live’s Virtual Planetarium astronomy software, or a Planisphere constellation finder.

A few days before your party, check out NASA’s easy-t0-use “Spot the Station” website to see if the International Space Station will fly overhead during your star party. It’s easy to see — even inside bright cities! To see what other satellites — such as the Hubble Space Telescope — that will fly overhead during your party, check out Heavens-Above.com.

Have fun!

How to throw a space party

Name A Star for Your Dog on National Dog Day

Dog with womanMany people name stars after their departed canine friends. On National Dog Day — August 26 in the U.S. — we celebrate the love and companionship that every dog owner enjoys with:

  • A beautiful, touching dog video we’re sure you will find moving;
  • Some of the messages our customers have written on their Star Certificates in memory of their departed dogs;
  • The famous “Rainbow Bridge” poem.

Give your dog an extra treat today and name a star for your best friend!

And consider our sister company, Celestis Pets, which can fly a symbolic portion of your dog’s ashes into space!

If I Could Talk, Amazing Dog Short Film

Stars Names and Messages Written by Our Customers:

For a star named “Kona”
In Memory of Kona She was your friend, your protector, your defender, your dog. You were her life, her love, her leader. She was yours faithful and true, to the last beat of her heart.

DogFor a star named “Sofie”
Dogs are miracles with paws – she’ll be forever missed.

For a star named “Domino’s Whisper on the Wind”
Many dogs may walk in and out of our lives, but only a true companion like you were will leave footprints on our hearts. We love and miss you sweet Maggie.

For a star named “Benny the Beagle”
This is in honor of our trusty beagle Benny. He was a good dog and will watch over us from above…

For a star named “Remo & Romolo”
Now you will always be able to look up at night and see Remo & Romolo looking down on you. In memory of the most amazing & loyal dogs.

Buttercup the dog
Buttercup, Name A Star Live’s mascot, cooling off on a dog day afternoon

For a star named “Mercy”
Words can not express our deepest sympathy and regret over the tragic loss of your dog. We hope that Mercy’s shining star will remind you of the joy and love she gave to you.

For a star named “Jack One Lucky Dog”
Look up in the sky! No matter where you are, Jack will always be there to protect and guard you. That’s what Best Friends do. xoxoxo

For a star named “Echo”
For the dog that lived “the life.” All because he was blessed with greatest mother a dog could ask for. He will always be with you.

Dog on grass for National Dog Day

The Rainbow Bridge Poem

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor;
those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again,
just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing;
they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.
His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers.
Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass,
his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet,
you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy
kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head,
and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet,
so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author unknown