What’s in the Sky July 18, 2017
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Venus continues to dominate the morning sky in the east, but appears slightly lower in the sky each morning as it pulls ahead of us in its orbit. The waning crescent Moon will appear near Venus the the star Aldebaran on the mornings of July 19th and 20th. The New Moon will be on the 23rd. Jupiter and Saturn appear in the south-southwestern sky after sunset; Jupiter will appear slightly lower in the western sky each day as the Earth pulls ahead of Jupiter in its orbit. The constellations Pegasus and Andromeda appear low in the northeast sky after sunset; the wispy cloud of M31, the Andromeda galaxy, makes a good target for telescope observers. M31 is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. It is 2.5 million light years distant, and heading straight at us; in a little over 4 billion years, it will collide with the Milky way, and the two galaxies will merge into a large … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – July 11, 2017
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Venus continues to be the “morning star” in the east, and will appear very close to the red giant star Aldebaran – the “eye of the bull” in the constellation Taurus. On the 11th, Venus will be 3◦ north of Aldebaran, over the course of the week, Venus’ day to day change in position relative to Aldebaran will be very noticeable. In the west, bright stars Vega and Altair are the last to fade in the oncoming dawn. On the 11th, a waning gibbous Moon will be rise in the east before midnight, and set in the west around 9:00 AM. On the 18th, a waning crescent Moon will rise shortly after 2:00 AM, and be visible until it is lost in the glare of the rising sun after 6:00 AM. The Moon will be at third quarter on the 16th, and will be visible from about 1:00 AM – 1:00 PM.* Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southern sky … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – July 4, 2017
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Venus is the bright morning star in the eastern sky, attended by the Pleiades star cluster, and the bright star Capella to the northeast. The southern sky is adorned with several jewels this week: the Moon appears high in the southern sky before sunset as a waxing gibbous – a few days past first quarter. Jupiter and Saturn are both visible, as are the bright stars Antares and Spica. The full Moon will be on July 9th. The bright star Altair (featured in the classic SF film Forbidden Planet) rises in the east followed by the constellation Sagittarius to the southeast. Sagittarius is recognizable by “The Teapot” asterism low on the horizon. Sagittarius has several interesting deep sky objects to observe using telescopes; something cool you can do with the public during nighttime observing sessions is point to the Teapot’s spout and say “that’s where center of our Milky Way galaxy is!” Before dawn, the constellation Hercules sets in the west, and “The … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – June 27, 2017
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Venus remains high in the eastern morning sky, the Pleiades star cluster appears between Venus and the star Capella. The Moon is a waxing crescent, appearing in the west after sunset. Jupiter is high in the southwest, and Saturn is low in the southeast sky after sunset. There will be a conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter and the star Spica on the evenings of June 30th and July 1st. Here is the current positions of the planets in the solar system: Also in In the Sky This Week Weekly post on what you can see in the sky. In the Sky This Week – June 22, 2017 In the Sky This Week – June 27, 2017 In the Sky This Week – July 4, 2017 In the Sky This Week – July 11, 2017 What’s in the Sky July 18, 2017 View the entire series … Continue reading

In the Sky This Week – June 22, 2017
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The planet Venus appears high in the eastern morning sky; the bright star Capella, to the northwest, is the last star to fade with the oncoming dawn. The waning crescent Moon will vanish amid the morning haze to the east, to reappear in the west as a waxing crescent after dusk on June 25th. The Summer Triangle is an asterism formed from the three stars Altair, Deneb, and Vega, the brightest stars in the three constellations of Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra. They can be see in the eastern sky before midnight. Jupiter is high in the southwestern sky after dusk, and sets in the west around 1:30 AM. Saturn appears high in the southeastern sky after dusk, is at its highest around midnight, and sets in the southwest just before dawn. Directly overhead, the Milky Way flows through the constellations Cygnus and Aquila (if you live in a city – trust me, it’s really there… drive out of the city … Continue reading

New Cassini Module in NASA Eyes App
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The new Cassini Mission module is live in the NASA Eyes on the Solar System app! The module is JAM-PACKED with features, including a cinematic simulation the entire 20-year mission, images of Saturn, its rings and moons, an interactive timeline – where you can follow the spacecraft throughout its mission, and simulations of several Cassini Grand Finale events. NASA Eyes is a free app for the PC/MAC and a GREAT educational tool. With NASA Eyes, you can go to any planet in our solar system, many moons, asteroids, and comets. You can zoom to several different active space missions, and simulate what they are doing in real-time, or fast-forward or backward to any point in their mission; several missions have built-in tours – like Cassini. There’s a module about the 2017 eclipse, and the Eyes on the Earth module has several different visualizations of climate data. The Eyes on Exoplanets module lets you zoom to hundreds of different exoplanet systems, see what … Continue reading

Rhapsody in Blue – Saturn / Moon Occultation
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On the evening of May 22nd 2007 the beautiful blue sky was host to a first quarter moon. The evening was to bring me one of the most visually rich observations in my drawing odyssey . When I set up my dob I really wasn’t expecting to  catch a glimpse of Saturn in a daylight sky. The software gave me an idea of where the planet was, I scanned the area in the hope of finding it. My task was to see Saturn before it went behind the unlit quarter of the moon. In my first look there it was, the white ringed planet, one billion miles away in space. Saturn was there in my eye, embedded softly in the azure sky moving swiftly toward  the invisible limb of the moon.  Nothing could have prepared me for that  revelation, it was a totally different experience to seeing Saturn in a dark night sky. My drawing paper was hastily endowed in blue … Continue reading

Cosmic Lobster Pot
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I have always visualised Cassini’s journey through the Saturnian system as a kind of orchestrated cosmic dance. Cassini moves silently at great speed in its petal shape overlapping orbits. This precisely executed dance brings Cassini frequently through the icy ring plane north to south and then back again on the opposite side of the planet, south to north. This robot ship continues on its unparalleled odyssey of exploration. On board, Cassini is the custodian of twelve science instruments all primed to seek, gather, and process the offerings of this unique planetary system. Collectively they are performing one of the most important scientific probing of Saturn and its many moons in the history of space exploration. One of these science instruments is the Cosmic Dust Analyser. The CDA looks a bit like a golden lobster pot,that is not a bad analogy. This apparatus is trawling the interplanetary ocean for particles of cosmic dust, tiny particles that are the messengers of the … Continue reading

Grand Finale – Painting inspired by the Cassini Mission to Saturn
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Also in Exploring the Solar System Exploring the Solar System: The Mass of the Sun Marvellous Mars Drawing Workshop at Dunsink Observatory Dublin Astronomical Sketching – Education in action Stars Wonderful Stars at Wexford Town Library Ireland Get ready the Perseids are coming Space the final Frontier – World Space Week 2016 On the richness of the lunar surface Dark Sky Magic at Ballycroy National Park Mayo Ireland Grand Finale – Painting inspired by the Cassini Mission to Saturn Cosmic Lobster Pot A Slice of Solar Drawing in h-alpha View the entire series … Continue reading

Titan: Frozen Moon of Saturn
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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years since the Huygens probe touched down on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan – the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere and clouds. The probe returned images of rugged terrain as it descended, and revealed what appears to be drainage channels flowing down to a possible shoreline. The lander returned data for about 90 minutes after touchdown. Huygens is the most distant landing of any human-made craft. The Huygens lander was part of the Cassini mission to Saturn; the mission was so successful, it was extended in 2008, and again in 2010. The spacecraft has flown by numerous moons, and returned a treasure trove of scientific data; it has also returned some of the most spectacular imagery ever produced by a robotic probe. Cassini is now in its final months at Saturn, with the probe slated to burn up on Saturn’s atmosphere this September. From JPL Press Release 2017-006: 2005 Historic Descent … Continue reading

Cassini’s Final Months at Saturn
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NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn is in its final months. The spacecraft has been put into a polar orbit which brings it over Saturn’s poles, and very close to the main rings. Cassini has sent back spectacular views of  Saturn’s north polar region shortly before it made its first close pass by the outer edge of Saturn’s main rings. In late April, Cassini will again change its orbit, bringing the spacecraft between Saturn’s innermost ring, and its cloudtops. These orbits send tingles through my spine when I think about them; there is a chance that a ring particle might impact the spacecraft, rendering it nonfunctional. According to NASA Eyes on the Solar System, when Cassini passes through the ring plane from now through April, it will be travelling at 21 km/sec. When it changes orbit in late April, and gets closer to Saturn, it will be passing over the cloudtops at about 34 km/sec. If Cassini survives all its passes … Continue reading

Venus and Mars in the Evening, Jupiter in the Morning
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Venus is low and bright, and Mars is high and dim in the southwestern sky after dusk. Jupiter is low in the predawn sky to the southeast. Venus orbits the Sun faster than the Earth, and as it catches up with the Earth over the next couple months, it will continue to appear higher in the evening sky. In mid-February, Venus will start to appear lower in the sky each evening, until it disappears into the glare of the Sun in early March. Venus will reappear in the predawn sky starting in early April. Mars will continue to dim as the Earth puts more distance between the two planets, until it disappears into the glare of the Sun in mid-April. Mars will reappear in the predawn skies in late September. Jupiter will be visible in the predawn skies for several months, slowly moving from east to west; it will appear high in the southern sky in January, and low in … Continue reading