November’s Stars and Planets

The night sky puts on some neat shows this month.  And for those of you in the Land Down Under, you can look forward to an eclipse of the sun!

Shortly before dawn on November 26, Venus and Saturn appear very close together:

Chart showing planets and stars
Saturn and Venus appear to kiss shortly before sunrise on November 26. Go out about 45 minutes before sunrise that morning and face East-Southeast to see these two, bright planets.  If you’re lucky, you might also see the planet Mercury hugging the horizon.  You’ll also see the bright, binary star Spica, located in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.

The evening of November 27 also presents a wonderful show:

Star Chart for November 27
Look for the Moon and the planet Jupiter toward the East-Northeast the evening of November 27. Both of these solar system objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. Jupiter will be near the V-shaped group of stars (called “The Hyades”), marked by the star Aldebaran. Look above the Moon for the beautiful group of stars known as “The Pleiades,” which are often confused with The Little Dipper, which is a different group of stars altogether.

Those of you in Australia are in for a real treat this month: An eclipse of the sun!  The sun will be totally eclipsed by the moon along a narrow path across the Northern Territory and Queensland.  But those of you in the rest of Australia will see a partial eclipse (local weather permitting).

Australian map showing eclipse path
Australians will be able to see a solar eclipse the morning of November 14, 2012, weather permitting. A total eclipse of the sun will be visible along the path highlighted in red. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout the remainder of Australia, as well as all of New Zealand.

Never look at the sun directly, even during an eclipse!  For more information about the eclipse, including how to observe it safely, read “Australia counts down to solar eclipse” appearing in Australia’s Cosmos magazine.  Those of you in New Zealand might want to check out the Stardome Observatory’s webpage about the eclipse.  Also, no matter where you live, you can watch the eclipse live, online.

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.

Beautiful Space Photos

Here are some beautiful space photos and videos that have been posted on the Internet recently.  The photos are from  NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day.”  Enjoy!

 

IC1396
IC 1396: Emission Nebula in Cepheus Image Credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator, Color Composite: Davide De Martin (Skyfactory)

Stunning emission nebula IC 1396 mixes glowing cosmic gas and dark dust clouds in the high and far off constellation of Cepheus. Energized by the bright, bluish central star seen here, this star forming region is 3,000 light-years from planet Earth.

 

View of Lunar Surface from Apollo 11
Apollo 11 Landing Site Panorama
Credit: Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11, NASA – Panorama by Syd Buxton

Assembled from high-resolution scans of the original film frames, this panorama sweeps across the magnificent desolation of the Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Taken by Neil Armstrong looking out his window of the Eagle Lunar Module, the frame at the far left (AS11-37-5449) is the first picture taken by a person on another world.

 

M72
M72: A Globular Cluster of Stars
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HPOW

Globular clusters of stars, such as M72, once ruled the Milky Way. Back in the old days, back when our Galaxy first formed, perhaps thousands of globular clusters roamed our Galaxy. Today, there are less than 200 left. Many globular clusters were destroyed over the eons by repeated fateful encounters with each other or the Galactic center. Surviving relics are older than any Earth fossil, older than any other structures in our Galaxy, and limit the universe itself in raw age. There are few, if any, young globular clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy because conditions are not ripe for more to form. Pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope are about 100,000 of M72’s stars. M72, which spans about 50 light years and lies about 50,000 light years away, can be seen with a small telescope toward the Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius (the Water Bearer).

 

This is the ultimate cute, space video — “A Toy Train in Space” — a story of a father who sends his son’s toy train to the edge of space.

 

This is an absolutely beautiful video called “Purely Pacific Northwest” that features views of the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. View this one after a hard day’s work!

Top Ten Holiday Messages

Christmas ornamentsAs you’re thinking about what to get your friends and loved ones for Christmas and/or Hanukkah, you might be interested in some of the holiday messages Name A Star Live customers have included on their Star Certificates in recent weeks.  Below are just some of the many holiday messages so far from the 2011 season.  (Of course, we’ve changed the names in the messages to protect the privacy of our customers.)

  1. Merry Christmas 2011. Our love is as boundless as the stars.
  2. Christmas comes but once a year, but now you always have this star to bring you great cheer. Whenever you look up at the sky remember this star and let it symbolize what will last forever.
  3. Merry Christmas! Thank you for being the most amazing dad all year round. I hope every time you look up at this star you are constantly reminded of how much we love you and care for you!
  4. The best yuletide decoration is the twinkles from above on a clear moonlit night. Merry Christmas!
  5. God gave His greatest Gift in Baby Jesus on that first Christmas night.  May the wonder and promise of Jesus always guide and light your way.
  6. Merry Christmas Princess.  Watch your star sparkle in the sky!  Love you xx
  7. Dearest Jane,    We named this star after you to celebrate your first winter solstice, Chanukah, and Christmas.  Your beautiful smile is as bright as a star.  We love you endlessly.
  8. Merry Christmas Alfred. Wishing you have many fun nights star gazing and dreaming
  9. A new star named Henry will be shining bright  From Christmas Day then to be seen every night
  10. Happy Christmas  May your star always be watching over you

Name a star for the holidays!

Telescope Buying Tips

Telescopes

Two Dobsonian telescopes. The tube of a Dobsonian telescope is easily removed from its base, making for easy transport. Credit: NASA

Many people who want to view their star through their own telescope go out and buy a telescope right away, but later find that the expensive telescope they bought doesn’t really suit them. Or they eventually determine that they really didn’t like astronomy as a hobby like they thought they would. Either way, their telescopes end up buried in a closet, basement or attic, and they find that they’ve wasted a lot of their hard-earned money.  Many needlessly burn out on a hobby they might otherwise have enjoyed the rest of their lives if they had only taken a more measured approach in the beginning.

It’s really best to ease into astronomy, learn about the different types of telescopes, try using a few, become an educated consumer, and then make a purchase.  A great way to start is to get the following:

Continue reading “Telescope Buying Tips”

The Dog Days of Summer

Buttercup the dog
Buttercup, our CEO's dog, cooling off in the shade during the Dog Days of Summer

Here in the United States, it’s hot. Real hot. Vast areas of the country are experiencing record drought. As the old saying goes, we’re in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer.

You may be surprised to learn that the term “Dog Days of Summer” is based on astronomy. The term dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans who associated the first rising of the bright star Sirius — together with the early morning Sun — as marking the onset of very hot weather. In fact, the Romans (falsely) believed the heat from Sirius actually contributed to the hotter weather here on Earth during the summer months. The Egyptians called Sirius “the dog star” (among other names) and also associated its rise with the annual flooding of the Nile river, which was critical to Egyptian agriculture. The Romans, however, saw the Dog Days of Summer as an inauspicious time of year, when disease became rampant in the heat and humidity of summertime Rome.

Sopdet
Sopdit, an ancient Egyptian personification of the star Sirius. Image Credit: Jeff Dahl

Sirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky, and is in the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for “the large dog.”

The Romans considered the Dog Days of Summer to run from late July through late August. The Greek word ὀπώρα (Opora) appears in the lexicon of the King James Bible, and basically refers to the part of the year between the rising of Sirius and the rising of another star called “Arcturus,” which basically demarcate the period of time we call the Dog Days of Summer.

In folklore, the Dog Days of Summer were perceived as the time of year when dogs went mad with the extreme heat of summer.

Here is a little ditty from folklore about the Dog Days of Summer – a ditty that often appeared in farmers’ almanacs:

Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times our hopes are vain

The Dog Days even appear in the Charles Dickens’ classic, wintertime tale, A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

November 2009 Constellations

Want to see where your star is 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 the World Constellation Map below to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight) in November. Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!)  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

constellation_map2

DIRECTIONS: Find your approximate location in one of the horizontal bars on the map, and then note the corresponding red number (1-7).  Then find your number in the list below to identify what Name A Star Live constellations you can see this month from your corner of the world.

1. Those of you in northern climes can see Andromeda, Aries, Cassiopeia, Gemini, Pisces, Taurus, and Ursa Minor, where the “Little Dipper” and the North Star are located.
2. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, Gemini, Orion, Pisces, Taurus  and Ursa Minor are visible.
3. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, Gemini, Orion, Pisces and Taurus are visible.
4. Look for Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, Gemini, Orion, Pisces and Taurus this month.
5. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Orion, Pisces and Taurus are visible this month.
6. Aries, Pisces, Orion and Taurus are visible.
7. Aries, Orion, Pisces and Taurus are visible.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software.  A planisphere is another useful device.

Here’s a neat image from the Hubble Space Telescope of a beautiful object that can be seen from just about anywhere in the world at this time of the year:

The Pleiades
M45, The Pleiades Star Cluster

Located in the constellation Taurus, the Pleiades Star Cluster (designated “M45” by astronomers) is one of the most famous and beautiful objects in the night sky.  The Pleiades, which can be seen without the aid of a telescope,  are often confused with the Little Dipper due to the arrangement of the Pleiades’ brightest stars in a ladle-like formation.  While, using the naked eye, we can distinguish anywhere from six to nine stars in the Pleiades (depending on local observing conditions and one’s eyesight), in reality M45 has approximately 500 stars located about 400 light-years from Earth.

The Pleiades are also known as “The Seven Sisters” that represent the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione from classical mythology.  The story goes that when Orion attempted to burst into the private sanctuary of the sisters’ home, Venus turned them into a flock of doves so they could fly away to safety.

The Aborigines also interpreted this group of stars as a cluster of young girls. These girls were seen as musicians who played for a group of boys, which are represented by the stars that are seen in the Belt of  Orion.

The Zuni people of North America called the Pleiadies “seeds” because the first appearance of the Pleiades helped the Zuni decide when to plant their crops. The Zuni also knew that when the Pleiades moved directly overhead in the early morning it was time to harvest what they had planted, because the winter was coming soon.

The Japanese word for this set of stars is “Subaru,” after which the famous Japanese car company is named.  In fact the Subaru corporation’s logo is patterned after M45.

November’s Planets

Jupiter still dominates the evening skies this month: For those of you in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for the bright, steady light towards the south shortly after sunset.  For those of you in the southern hemisphere, look for Jupiter towards the north shortly after sunset.

You earlybirds in the northern hemisphere will see Mars almost due south (almost due north for those of you in the southern hemisphere) shortly before sunrise this month.  Regardless of where you live, Saturn will be above the eastern horizon before sunrise in November.

October 2009 Constellations

Want to see where your star is 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 the World Constellation Map below to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight) in October. Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!)  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

constellation_map2

DIRECTIONS: Find your approximate location in one of the horizontal bars on the map, and then note the corresponding red number (1-7).  Then find your number in the list below to identify what Name A Star Live constellations you can see this month from your corner of the world.

1. Those of you in northern climes can see Andromeda, Aries, Cassiopeia, Pisces and Ursa Minor, where the “Little Dipper” and the North Star are located.
2. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, Pisces and Ursa Minor are visible.
3. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia and Pisces are visible.
4. Look for Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Cassiopeia, Pisces and Sagittarius this month.
5. Andromeda, Aquarius, Aries, Capricorn, Pisces and Sagittarius are visible this month.
6. Aquarius, Capricorn, Pisces and Sagittarius are visible.
7. Aquarius, Capricorn and Sagittarius are visible.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software.  A planisphere is another useful device.

Here’s a neat image from NASA of a nearby galaxy in the the constellation Andromeda:

m31
The "Andromeda Galaxy" (M31)

On a clear, moonless night — far from city lights — you can see the Andromeda Galaxy with your naked eye: It will appear as a fuzzy blob of light in the constellation Andromeda.  The Andromeda Galaxy is located relatively close to our own galaxy, the “Milky Way,” at a distance of 2.9 million light years, meaning it takes light from the Andromeda Galaxy almost three million years to reach us.

BTW, we’re on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy:  Eventually the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies will collide.  But don’t worry — the collision won’t occur until billions of years in the future!

August 2009 Constellations

Want to see where your star is 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 the World Constellation Map below to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight) in August. Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!)  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

World Constellation Map
World Constellation Map

DIRECTIONS: Find your approximate location in one of the horizontal bars on the map, and then note the corresponding red number (1-7).  Then find your number in the list below to identify what Name A Star Live constellations you can see this month from your corner of the world.

  1. Sorry, no constellations visible this month: Too much daylight!  But check back in September when some of our constellations will be visible.
  2. Ursa Minor’s visible, especially toward the end of August.  Capricorn and Sagittarius are visible as well, although they are low on the horizon.
  3. This is a great month to see Sagittarius — Scorpius too!  Ursa Minor and Capricorn are visible as well.
  4. Capricorn, Sagittarius, Scorpius and Ursa Minor are visible (although Ursa Minor’s very low on the northern horizon!).
  5. Capricorn, Libra, Sagittarius and Scorpius are visible.
  6. Capricorn, Libra, Sagittarius and Scorpius are visible.
  7. Capricorn, Libra, Sagittarius and Scorpius are visible.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software.  A planisphere is another useful device.

Hey, here’s a cool image from the constellation Sagittarius:

trifid_nebula
The Trifid Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius (Credit: NASA)

Nebulae are clouds of dust and gas.  Many nebulae — like the Trifid Nebula — serve as stellar nurseries, where stars are born.

Be Sure to See Jupiter This Month

This August is a prime time to see the massive planet Jupiter.  It’s at “opposition” in mid-August, meaning the Earth is between the sun and Jupiter, and Jupiter is at its brightest.  Jupiter’s easy to find with the naked eye:

  • If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, Jupiter is the very bright object that you’ll see toward the southeast during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight).
  • If you live in the southern hemisphere of Earth, Jupiter will appear in the northeast during the evening hours.

If you have a telescope, the best time to see Jupiter is in the late evening hours, close to midnight.  At that point Jupiter is high in the sky, above the thicker layers of the atmosphere found near the horizon: You’ll get a much crisper view of Jupiter if you observe it when it’s high in the sky.  You might see as many as four large moons orbiting the planet.

BTW, if your star is in the constellation Capricorn then you’re in luck: Jupiter is also in Capricorn right now.  So just find Jupiter and you’re looking at your constellation.

Jupiter and one of its moons.  Three Earth's could fit inside the Great Red Spot, pictured here.  (Credit: NASA)
Jupiter and Io, one of the giant planet's four largest moons. Jupiter is so big that three Earth's could easily fit inside the Great Red Spot, which is pictured here. (Credit: NASA)

For you early birds, the planets Mars and Venus are visible  this month in the east before sunrise.