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”

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.

October’s Stars and Planets

Zodiacal Light
Zodiacal Light, a.k.a. “False Dawn”

If you’re an early riser, you’re in astronomical luck in October! While Mars is fading rapidly in the western sky during the early evening hours, Venus and Jupiter dominate the early morning eastern sky.  And if you live in mid to northern latitudes on Earth, you’re in for a special treat: the zodical light, or “false dawn.”

False Dawn

The false dawn looks like a faint, triangular-shaped light that stretches from the eastern horizon up into the sky above.  It appears during the period of time between about 1 to 2 hours before sunrise at about this time of year.  This year, the best time to view this spectacle is between October 13 and 27.  To see it, go far from city lights on a clear, moonless night.

This strange celestial display is caused by the reflection of sunlight off of tiny particles of dust in space.  The dust orbits the sun in the same way Earth does. So at this particular time of the year — when the days and nights are of roughly equal length — we view this dust when it is aligned vertically in our pre-dawn, eastern sky.  A similar thing will happen six months from now, only the triangular shape of light will appear in the western sky, after sunset.

The Planets This Month

Venus is the ‘morning star’ — the bright point of light you’ll see toward the east before sunrise.  Look for the giant planet Jupiter — in the consetllaton Taurus — toward the south, near the prominent constellation Orion, shortly before sunset.  (If you live in the southern hemisphere of Earth, Jupiter will appear toward the north shortly before sunrise.)  Jupiter will also appear as a bright ‘star’ in the night sky.

But fear not, fellow night owls, for you too can feast your eyes on some celestial treats! The planets Neptune and Uranus will be visible through binoculars and small telescopes during the evening hours this month. While you can see both Neptune and Uranus through a telescope, Uranus — strictly speaking — is just barely visible to the naked eye — but just barely! In order to see it, you’d need to go far from city lights and view it on a clear, moonless night. (And you better have good eyesight to boot!) We recommend sticking with your telescope or binocs!

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.

See Your Star with Google Earth

Did you know you can view your star using the free Google Earth software?

Just follow these steps to find your star in Google Earth:

  • Download the Google Earth software to your computer.
  • Once you open the software you’ll see a row of icons in the toolbar at the top of the screen. Click on the icon that looks like the planet Saturn.
  • From the drop-down menu, choose “Sky.”
  • You should see some stars and constellation names appear on your computer screen.
  • Toward the upper, left-hand corner of your screen you should see two tabs under the word “Search.” Choose the “Location Search” tab.
  • Now you’ll need to enter the astronomical coordinates of your star, specifically, the star’s “Right Ascension” and “Declination,” which you’ll find on your Name A Star Live Star Certificate.
Star Certificate
Look for your star’s Right Ascension and Declination on your Star Certificate
  • You’ll need to convert the Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (DEC) values from your Star Certificate into a format Google Earth can understand. This is really easy to do! Here’s an example:
    • Suppose your star has Right Ascension 5h 8m 39s and Declination 3° 48′ 33″.
    • Then convert those numbers into the following format: 5:8:39,3:48:33
    • Note that there are no spaces between any of the numbers or other characters.
    • Also note that you must list the Right Ascension value first, followed by the Declination value.
    • Now, just enter 5:8:39,3:48:33 into the box for “Location Search” and click on the magnifying glass icon (or just hit “Enter” on your keyboard).
    • Google Earth will then zero in on your star.
  • Note that some stars are not visible in Google Earth. In this case, Google Earth will zero in on a black area of space.

Also, consider ordering an Astrophoto of your star!  This is a beautiful, letter-size photo of the constellation (the area of the night sky) in which your star is located.  We highlight the area of the constellation where your star is, and include an inset showing your star and its neighboring stars.  Finally, we personalize the Astrophoto with your star’s name and astronomical coordinates.   You can have the Astrophoto e-mailed to you in a PDF format for easy downloading and printing.  Or we can ship a Printed or Framed Astrophoto to you in the mail.  Contact us today to order your Astrophoto!

Astrophoto Thumbnail Image
This is an example of an Astrophoto for a star in the constellation Scorpius.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and video that have been posted on the Internet in recent weeks.  Enjoy!

Milky way
The Milky Way

This beautiful photo of the Milky Way was taken from Concordia Research Station, a remote Antarctic facility run by French and Italian scientists. The scientists at this facility are cut off from civilization during the winter months – no chance of resupply or rescue … much like future space explorers!

Pinwheel Galaxy
The Pinwheel Galaxy: The light from this galaxy takes 21 million years to reach Earth! Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR & UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI

This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA’s space-based telescopes. This combination of telescope views into one image shows that both young and old stars are evenly distributed along M101’s tightly-wound spiral arms. Such composite images allow astronomers to see how features in one part of the spectrum match up with those seen in other parts. It is like seeing with a regular camera, an ultraviolet camera, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision, all at the same time.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is in the constellation of Ursa Major (which includes the Big Dipper). It is about 70% larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy, with a diameter of about 170,000 light years, and sits at a distance of 21 million light years from Earth. This means that the light we’re seeing in this image left the Pinwheel Galaxy about 21 million years ago – many millions of years before humans ever walked the Earth.

The hottest and most energetic areas in this composite image are shown in purple, where the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the X-ray emission from exploded stars, million-degree gas, and material colliding around black holes.

The red colors in the image show infrared light, as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope. These areas show the heat emitted by dusty lanes in the galaxy, where stars are forming.

The yellow component is visible light, observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Most of this light comes from stars, and they trace the same spiral structure as the dust lanes seen in the infrared.

The blue areas are ultraviolet light, given out by hot, young stars that formed about 1 million years ago, captured by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

England at Night
England and Wales at Night

Billions of people are seeing London through many different filters and lenses during the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. None of those views looks quite like this one from NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite.  The image above shows London and the southern half of Great Britain as it appeared on the night of March 27, 2012.

Taikonaut Liu Yang

China’s first female astronaut (called “Taikonaut” in China), Liu Yang, emerges from the re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which landed in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Friday, June 29, 2012. Liu and two other crew members returned safely to Earth after a 13-day mission to an orbiting prototype space station, the Tiangong-1.

Saturn
Saturn with its largest moon, Titan. Shadows from Saturn's thin rings are cast onto the planet below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/J. Major

Humanity’s robot orbiting Saturn has recorded yet another amazing view. That robot, of course, is the spacecraft Cassini, while the new amazing view includes a bright moon, thin rings, oddly broken clouds, and warped shadows. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, appears above as a featureless tan as it is continually shrouded in thick clouds. The rings of Saturn are seen as a thin line because they are so flat and imaged nearly edge on. Details of Saturn’s rings are therefore best visible in the dark ring shadows seen across the giant planet’s cloud tops. Since the ring particles orbit in the same plane as Titan, they appear to skewer the foreground moon. In the upper hemisphere of Saturn, the clouds show many details, including dips in long bright bands indicating disturbances in a high altitude jet stream. Recent precise measurements of how much Titan flexes as it orbits Saturn hint that vast oceans of water might exist deep underground.

Here is a new video of time-lapse imagery of Earth taken from space courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.  This video was set to music by Tomislav Safundžić.

July’s Planetary Pairings

The brighter planets of our solar system put on some impressive night shows in July!  You don’t need a telescope to enjoy these sights, although you’ll need a scope to see the rings of Saturn or the large moons of Jupiter.  Enjoy!

And if you take any good photos of these planetary pairings, send them along to cs1@nameastarlive.com.  Who knows, we might highlight your photo on our blog next month!  You don’t need a telescope or any special equipment.  Consider taking a nice photo of the planets with your regular camera, perhaps against a nice background setting.  (Click here for an example.)

The pre-dawn sky of July 15
The pre-dawn sky of July 15 (July 16 in the southern hemisphere of Earth)

During the hour, or so, before sunrise on July 15 (July 16 in the southern hemisphere), face east and you’ll see quite a sight in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.  Next to the thin, crescent Moon you’ll see both the planet Jupiter and the planet Venus.  Venus, in turn, is near the bright star “Aldebaran,” a giant red star located about 65 light-years from Earth (meaning the light you see took 65 years to arrive at Earth).  Taurus represents a mythological bull.  You’ll notice that Aldebaran is on the tip of a large, V-shape group of stars: Those are the “Hyades,” and form the head of the bull.  In fact, Aldebaran is called the “fiery red eye of the bull.”  The name “Aldebaran” means “the follower,” as this bright star follows the Pleiades, a group of stars that many people mistake for the Little Dipper.  You’ll see the Pleiades above the Hyades and Jupiter on July 15.

Dusk July 24
Looking west after sunset, July 24 (July 25 for those of you in the southern hemisphere of Earth)

Shortly after sunset on the evenings of July 23-25, the Moon is near the planets Mars and Saturn.  Of course, Saturn is always a treat to view through a telescope.  Mars, however, is moving away from Earth now and is not as impressive a sight as it often is.  Near Saturn is the bright star Spica, which is the brightest star in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.  Spica is about 260 light-years from Earth, meaning the light you see from Spica was generated in the year 1752! 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.

Meteor Showers, an Eclipse & the Planets

Two meteor showers grace the night skies in December.  The Geminid meteor shower is the most famous meteor shower of all, and is visible from most locations on Earth every December. However, this year’s Geminid shower, which peaks on the night of December 14, occurs at a time of the month when moonlight will drown out most of the meteors we would otherwise see.  But for those of you in the northern hemisphere, check out December’s other meteor shower — the Ursids.

Shooting Stars
Time lapse photo showing shooting stars from the Geminid meteor shower. Credit: NASA/JPL

Continue reading “Meteor Showers, an Eclipse & the Planets”

Get a rare look at Mercury — Venus too!

April 2010 is a particularly good time to see the planet Mercury.  Mercury is the innermost planet to the sun, and is thus difficult to observe.  But you can get a good look at Mercury in early April this year, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth.

Look toward the west at sunset (being careful not to look at the sun!).  You should see two bright points of light above the western horizon.  The object on top is the planet Venus, and the object beneath that is the planet Mercury.   Both planets are in the constellation Aries, which is a Name A Star Live constellation.  So if you have a star in Aries, then if you find Venus and Mercury, you know your star is nearby!

Venus and Jupiter at Sunset
Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, June 2002. Credit: NASA

Mercury and Venus will appear closest together on the evenings of April 3 and 4.  Again, the best views will be from the northern hemisphere of Earth.  If you live in the southern hemisphere, then the two planets will appear so close to the western horizon at sunset that you may not get a good view.  (Again, don’t look at the sun!)

If you observe the two planets through a telescope. you’ll notice that Venus looks like a bright, almost-full circle, while Mercury looks like a semi-circle — or even a crescent shape.  This is because Mercury is so very close to the sun that we never really see the full face of the planet.

Don’t wait!  Your best views of Venus and Mercury will be in the first week to 10 days of April.

See the planet Mars!

A heart-shaped surface feature on Mars.
From Mars, With Love. This heart-shaped pit on the surface of Mars was photographed by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.

Pull out your telescope and look to the skies above, for this is a good time to see the planet Mars as the famous “Red Planet” is near what’s called “opposition.”  This means that Mars and Earth are close to one another in their orbits around the Sun.  (See diagram below.)

Name A Star Live diagram of Mars at opposition
At opposition Mars and Earth are at their closest approach to one another in their orbits around the Sun. (Note that this diagram is not to scale.)

It’s called “opposition” because, when viewed from Earth, Mars and the Sun appear at opposite sides of the sky at sunset: on the day of opposition, Mars rises over the eastern horizon just as the sun sets over the western horizon.  While the Mars opposition was January 29, 2010, you can get good views of Mars throughout February.

If the star you have named is in the constellation Cancer then you’re in luck, for Mars is in the constellation Cancer as well for the next few months:  If you find Mars, then you’ve found the constellation Cancer!  Mars appears as a rather bright, reddish-orange object in the eastern sky during the first few hours after sunset this month.

Mars
Hubble Space Telescope image of Mars Credit: David Crisp and the WFPC2 Science Team (JPL/CIT), and NASA

If you have any trouble finding the planet, just use your Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software, which is included in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets.  Also, you can view Mars through the SLOOH online telescope — Name A Star Live is the only name-a-star company to offer SLOOH.

Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to view the Red Planet as Mars oppositions occur only about once every 26 months.