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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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”

The Christmas Tree in Space

Here’s a holiday treat from outer space: The Christmas Tree Cluster!

Imagine the beautiful green, wispy branches of a Christmas tree — adorned with red, blue and white lights — gracefully on display in the heavens above.

The Christmas Tree Cluster
The Christmas Tree Cluster (a.k.a. “NGC 2264”) is located in the constellation Monoceros, near the Name A Star Live constellations Orion and Gemini.

Newborn stars, hidden behind thick dust, are revealed in this image of a section of the Christmas Tree Cluster from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infant stars appear as pink and red specks toward the center and appear to have formed in regularly spaced intervals along linear structures in a configuration that resembles the spokes of a wheel or the pattern of a snowflake. Hence, astronomers have nicknamed this the “Snowflake Cluster.”

Star-forming clouds like this one are dynamic and evolving structures. Since the stars trace the straight line pattern of spokes of a wheel, scientists believe that these are newborn stars, or “protostars.” At a mere 100,000 years old, these infant structures have yet to “crawl” away from their location of birth. Over time, the natural drifting motions of each star will break this order, and the snowflake design will be no more.

Like a dusty cosmic finger pointing up to the newborn clusters, Spitzer also illuminates the optically dark and dense Cone Nebula, the tip of which can be seen towards the upper right corner of the image.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/P.S. Teixeira (Center for Astrophysics)

And here’s some other neat space imagery for you!

ESO Observatory
An outstanding image of the sky over European  Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory.  Image Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

The object that is glowing intensely red in the image is the Carina Nebula.  The Carina Nebula lies in the constellation of Carina (The Keel), about 7500 light-years from Earth. This cloud of glowing gas and dust is the brightest nebula in the sky and contains several of the brightest and most massive stars known in the Milky Way, such as Eta Carinae. The Carina Nebula is a perfect test-bed for astronomers to unveil the mysteries of the violent birth and death of massive stars.  Click here for more information about this image.

Finally, here is a beautiful video — set to equally beautiful music — showing the night skies over Cornwall and Scilly, in Great Britain.

 

November’s Stars and Planets

Venus is the bright ‘star’ you’ll see in the west at sunset.  It will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius throughout November.  The Moon will help you identify Venus the night of November 6.

Venus and the Moon
Venus will be near the slender, crescent Moon the evening of Nov. 6.  Just look west after sunset and look for Venus, which will be the brightest ‘star’ in the western sky.  Venus will be among the stars of the Name A Star Live constellation Sagittarius.
The elusive planet Mercury is visible over the eastern horizon at mid-month. The ringed planet Saturn will be beneath it.  You may get a glimpse of Comet ISON by first finding these two planets toward the end of the month.  See our blog article about Comet ISON for more information.

September’s Stars and Planets

If you’re an early bird, you can see the planets Mars and Jupiter in the eastern sky at sunrise this month!  If you have a telescope, consider looking at Mars during the mornings of September 8 and 9 as the red planet moves through the famous “Beehive Cluster” of stars in Cancer.  Both Mars and Jupiter will appear as bright points of light in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Mars and Jupiter
Mars and Jupiter are visible in the Name A Star Live constellations Cancer and Gemini, respectively.  Just look east during the hours before sunrise and look for the two bright ‘stars’ over the horizon.

Continue reading “September’s Stars and Planets”

August’s Stars and Planets

The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn rules the night sky this month in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.  You can use the Moon to find this astronomical jewel, and use just about any telescope to see its rings!  August also presents the best meteor shower of the year, the Perseid meteor shower.  Read about this year’s Perseids in a separate blog post.

The Moon and Saturn
You can use the Moon the evening of August 12, 2013 to find the planet Saturn. If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, just face west-southwest after sunset.  Venus will be the very bright object over the western horizon.

Continue reading “August’s Stars and Planets”

June’s Stars and Planets

The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn rules the night sky this month in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.  You can use the Moon to find this astronomical jewel, and use just about any telescope to see its rings!  But be sure to check out the elusive planet Mercury this month as June affords the best view of Mercury for 2013.

Western sky at sunset June 10
On June 10 you can find the planets Mercury and Venus using the thin, crescent Moon which will appear above the western horizon that evening.  All three objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Gemini that evening.  On June 12, Mercury will appear at its highest point in the sky for 2013, although by then the Moon will not appear near Mercury.

Saturn is an excellent telescopic object this summer.  For those of you in the northern hemisphere of Earth (e.g., North America, Europe, Japan) Saturn will appear above your southern horizon after sunset.  For those of you in the southern hemisphere (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, South America) Saturn will appear above your northern horizon after sunset.

The Moon and Saturn
The Moon will appear near the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn the evening of June 18.  All three objects appear in the Name A Star Live constellation Spica, shown here.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

April’s Stars and Planets

The Moon and Saturn
On April 25, 2013, the full Moon will be near the planet Saturn.  You may also notice the bright star “Spica” in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.

The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn shines at its brightest for 2013 this month.  That’s because on April 28 the planet will reach “opposition,” meaning at sunset that evening Saturn will appear just over the eastern horizon, on the exact opposite side of the sky as the setting Sun.  But you can get a good look at Saturn and its rings throughout the month, and for the next several months, through even small telescopes.  Saturn will reside in the Name A Star Live constellation Libra throughout April.

Saturn will be about 9 Astronomical Units (AU) from Earth in April.  An AU is the average distance of the Earth from the Sun, or about 93 million miles.  So in April, Saturn will be about 9 times farther away from Earth than the Earth is from the Sun.

If you view Saturn through a telescope, you should be able to make out some of Saturn’s large moons, especially the largest, and brightest, moon: Titan.  It orbits the planets once every 16 days.  NASA’s Cassini spacecraft “has revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane (the main component of natural gas), which forms clouds and occasionally rains from the sky as water does on Earth.”

Take A Break from Your Taxes and Look at Jupiter!

The Moon, Hyades and Pleiades
The Moon sits between the V-shaped group of stars called the “Hyades” and the beautiful group of stars called the “Pleiades” the night of April 13.

The Moon also passes by our solar system’s giant planet, Jupiter, this month.  Jupiter is in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus in April.  The crescent Moon will lie near Jupiter the night of April 14.  So if preparing your income tax returns is driving you crazy that night, take a break, step outside and look for the crescent Moon.  Jupiter will be the brightest point of light near the Moon.  If you have a telescope, look at Jupiter and see if you can view its four largest moons — the “Galilean satellites.”  These four moons move very quickly: They noticeably change their position over the course of just a few hours.  But those of you in the northern hemisphere of Earth (e.g., North America, Europe) will likely see all four moons that night in the following order (listed from nearest Jupiter and going out): Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

And consider viewing the Moon the preceding evening when it will lie between the “Hyades” and the “Pleiades” in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

February’s Stars and Planets

There’s quite a lot happening in skies this month: A large asteroid will zip by the Earth, you can easily see the mighty planets Jupiter and Saturn, Mercury and Mars can be found next to each other right after sunset, the constellation Orion and its famous nebula are in a prime position for evening viewing … plus, there’s a comet on the way!

Record Setting Asteroid to fly by Earth

A large asteroid will fly really close by Earth February 15, near the low Earth orbits (LEO) in which our Name A Star Live satellites typically fly. The asteroid — called “2012 DA14” — is about the size of a gymnasium.  It will fly approximately 18,000 miles (28,500 kilometers) from Earth’s surface.  That’s really close: By comparison, geostationary satellites used to transmit television signals to people’s homes orbit the Earth at about 22,000 miles (38,000 kilometers).  However, scientists assure us that there is no chance of the asteroid hitting Earth.

LEO and GEO orbits
Name A Star Live’s Orbital Archives of star names typically fly in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) — see the white dot just above the Earth image in this diagram.  The asteroid (yellow dot) will fly between satellites in LEO and satellites in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), which are approximately 22,236 miles (35,785 kilometers) above the Earth.

The asteroid will fly through the Name A Star Live constellations Virgo, Leo, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Because the asteroid will be traveling so fast and so near the Earth, it will be very difficult to view.  You would need a telescope in order to see it, but due to the asteroid’s speed it will be difficult to track the asteroid with the typical amateur telescope.  In other words, even if you could find the asteroid in your telescope, the odds are it would move very quickly out of your field of view.  But assuming you had a telescope with above average tracking ability, then those of you living from Eastern Europe, east, to Australia would have the only significant chance of seeing the asteroid as it will fly past you during your nighttime hours.  Those of us in other parts of the world (such as North America, South America and Western Europe) are out of luck as the asteroid will fly by us during daytime hours.

See NASA’s really neat video about this record setting asteroid flyby!

But We’ll Probably Get to See a Comet Next Month!

In March, astronomers believe we may very well get to see “Comet PanSTARRS”.  Unlike this month’s asteroid, Comet PanSTARRS could be viewable with the naked eye (i.e., no telescope or binoculars required).  Warning: It’s difficult to predict how bright a comet will become.  But this one stands a good chance of being a standout!  We’ll have more to say about this comet in next month’s blog.

Seeing the Planets

Jupiter is in the constellation Taurus throughout February: It’s easy to spot near the V-shaped group of stars in Taurus, marked by the bright, red star Aldebaran.  Aldebaran comes from the Arabic, meaning “the follower” as Aldebaran appears to follow the Pleiades star cluster throughout the course of the night.

February 17 night sky
You can use the Moon to find Jupiter on the night of February 17, depicted in this image.  The Moon will be in the constellation Taurus that evening.  Look for the bright point of light near the Moon — that’s the planet Jupiter.  Take a look at Jupiter through just about any telescope and you’ll likely see up to four of Jupiter’s large moons!  Nearby are “The Pleiades” star cluster.  Many people mistake this group of stars for the “Little Dipper,” which is actually in another constellation (“Ursa Minor”).  You can also get a good view of the nearby constellation Orion.

February is also a good month this year to see the elusive planet Mercury.  Mercury never rises very high in the night sky, but you can see it this month shortly after sunset.  Be sure to look for Mercury during the first half, or so, of the month as Mercury retreats back into the sun’s glare by the end of the month.

Mercury, Mars, Moon Feb 11
You can use the thin, crescent Moon shortly after sunset February 11 to find the planets Mercury and Mars.  All three objects will be above the western horizon.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

December’s Stars and Planets

The best meteor shower of the year occurs in mid-December when ‘shooting stars’ appear to blast out of the Name A Star Live constellation Gemini.  The peak of this year’s Geminid meteor shower occurs over the night of December 13/14 when, under optimal observing conditions (e.g., FAR from city lights), you may be able to see as many as 80 to 120 shooting stars per hour.  But most people generally don’t observe under perfect conditions.  Still, you should see quite a show!

Also, if you’re busy the evening of December 13/14, not to worry: You can still see plenty of Geminid meteors between December 4 and 17.

Geminid Meteor Shower
This meteor shower is called “The Geminid’s” because meteors appear to shoot out from the constellation Gemini.  This year the “radiant” — the central point from which the shooting stars emerge — will be near the bright star “Castor” (at “A” in the diagram above).  The bright star “Pollux” is at “B.”  Castor and Pollux are the brightest stars in the constellation Gemini, which is outlined in this diagram.  Also outlined here is the Name A Star Live constellation “Cancer” (at “C”).

The best way to enjoy a meteor shower is to lie down in a lawn chair — along with friends and family, and maybe even the family dog  — and look up.  That’s it!  No telescopes, binoculars or apps required.  If you want to locate Gemini in the night sky, consider getting our planisphere constellation finder or our Virtual Planetarium™ software.  But you don’t really have to locate the constellation to enjoy seeing shooting stars: Just lie down on your back and look up. The farther away from city lights you get, the more shooting stars you will see.  The best time to see the meteors will be between roughly 10 pm and 2 am.  But if you can’t stay out that late Thursday night/Friday morning, there will still be plenty of Geminid meteors to see this coming weekend.  Be sure to dress for the weather, and bring along some food and drink.  Enjoy!

And here is a perhaps overly-dramatic video about this year’s Geminids: While the Geminid meteor shower is the best of the year, it is easy to overhype.  Still, this video is nicely done: Take a look!

 

Best Time of the Year to See Jupiter

The mighty planet Jupiter dominates the night sky in December.  It also reaches “opposition” this month, meaning that this is a point in time when the Earth is directly between the Sun and Jupiter.  That in turn means that this is the best time of the year to see Jupiter since it is so bright.  Look for the brightest ‘star’ you see over the eastern horizon after sunset: That will be Jupiter!  The king of the planets is located in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus throughout the last month of 2012.

Jupiter in the evening sky
The view facing east in the early evening hours during early December.  Jupiter (at “A”) is in the V-shaped group of stars known as the “Hyades,” marked by the bright star Aldebaran (at “B”).  You may see the pretty group of stars called the “Pleiades” (at “C”).  Many people confuse the Pleiades with the Little Dipper, which is located toward the northern horizon.  Depending on your location on Earth, you may see the giant constellation Orion (“D”) rising above the eastern horizon.  If you live in the southern hemisphere of Earth (e.g., Australia or New Zealand), these stars will appear ‘upside down’ to you.

The Winter Solstice and the End of the World

There’s been a lot in media this year about how the ancient Maya predicted the world would come to an end around December 21, 2012, or that “Nibiru,” a supposed planet discovered by the ancient Sumerians, is headed toward Earth.  These are hoaxes.

Aztec Calendar
This image from NASA features, in the foreground, the famous Aztec calendar, while the background is a satellite image of the outer layers of the Sun. The Aztec calendar incorporates a mythological and calendrical system derived from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, including the Maya.  The calendar, which was extremely accurate, was developed by observing the Sun’s motions in the sky over a long period of time.

NASA Senior Scientist David Morrison does an excellent job refuting these — and other — end-of-planet-Earth hoaxes at LunarScience.NASA.gov/articles/doomsday-2012-fact-sheet.  NASA has posted another excellent discussion on this topic at www.NASA.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html .

In fact, we’re so confident that these are hoaxes that, should the world come to an end December 21, 2012, we will gladly issue full refunds to all our Name A Star Live customers on December 22!

But December 21, 2012 does mark the “Winter Solstice” — the point in time when winter begins in the northern hemisphere of Earth.  It’s a wonderful time of the year, with snow falling, Christmas carolers singing, New Year’s revelers partying, and football fans cheering.  We hope you have a very happy and safe holiday!

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.