The planet Jupiter is always one of the brightest objects in the night sky. It’s brighter than any star, and is only outshone by the planet Venus and the Moon, and, very rarely, by Mars and Mercury. Jupiter reaches a position for optimum viewing in a telescope once every 13 months, roughly, and it makes its latest closest approach to Earth on May 9, 2018 when the planet appears in the constellation Libra along the southern ecliptic. A couple of months before and after this date, Jupiter is in perfect position for viewing with a small telescope, or even a pair of binoculars. You can’t miss it: the planet is by far the brightest object in the southeastern sky. The visible face of Jupiter reveals so many interesting features in a small telescope that the planet is a favorite target for new and experienced stargazers [Read more…] about A Guide to Observing the Planet Jupiter – 2018Share This:
Solar System Observing
Articles about how to understand, find and see solar system objects including planets, the Moon, the Sun, asteroids, meteors, and comets with binoculars, telescopes, and the naked eye.
I looked out the window this morning and saw the Moon hanging clear and bright in a crisp and dry winter sky. So, of course, I had to take a picture!
Here you see the history of the ancient solar system etched like geological hieroglyphs into the face of our nearest celestial neighbor. The dark regions, the maria (or seas), are younger than the heavily cratered light-colored regions of the terrae (or highlands). The large dark region at the upper left is Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms), which is capped by Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) to the north and Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds) and Mare Humorum (Sea of Moisture) to the south. To the right in this image, closer to the shadow beyond the terminator, the line between night and day on the Moon, you can see the circular Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), below which is Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility). All these seas are lowlands flooded with lava after major meteor impacts some 3 billion years ago. The highlands are older and heavily peppered with craters from the days when the solar system was a more crowded and dangerous place.
You can see a few large craters here also. At the extreme western edge of the Moon (left in this image) you see the dark and worn crater Grimaldi. Copernicus, above and left of center, is a white bulls-eye bathed in full sunlight. Artistotle and Eudoxus are stacked on top of each other at the top, near the terminator. Theophilus is beautifully shadowed along the terminator just below center, while Maurolycus and Tycho grace the highlands to the south.
In this image, the Moon is nearly 5 days past full and 71% illuminated. The image was snapped by aiming a Nikon D750 camera out the window with a Nikon 200mm-500mm f/5.6 lens at 500mm, f/8, 1/2000s, ISO400. Cropped and lightly processed in Adobe Lightroom. Who says astrophotography has to be hard?Share This:
“Dad, you finally saw a total solar eclipse. Now you’re a real astronomer”, said my younger daughter in the minutes after the August 21 eclipse.
It was a joke, of course, but I still winced. This was a sore point with me. Forty-five years of stargazing, on and off, and I’d seen thousands of sights in the sky from earthbound satellites to the Moon, from icy flotsam from the outer solar system to the colorful cloud bands of Jupiter, and all manner of wonders of the deep sky including galaxies billions of years older than our solar system. But I’d never seen a total solar eclipse [Read more…] about Field Notes from a First-Time Eclipse WatcherShare This:
Many casual observers get hooked on amateur astronomy after a first look at Saturn through a telescope. More than a few have looked through my small refractor on a night of good seeing and asked of Saturn, “Is it real?”
Oh, it’s real, all right. And incredibly beautiful… the color, the proportions, the apparent 3D perspective of this grand icy world. It is arguably the finest sight accessible with a small telescope. The planet reached opposition on June 15, 2017 and will remain bright and large in a telescope over the next few months. Here’s how to find it and see it in a small telescope.
A little periodic comet is visiting the inner solar system over the next few months. Comet 45/P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková, a tiny piece of ice and dust left over from the earliest days of the solar system, moves periodically around the Sun every 5.25 years. It made its closest approach to the Sun on December 31, 2016 and it’s visible now. As it passes close to Earth in February, it will brighten and appear to move quickly across the sky from day to day. You’ll need binoculars to see it, but it’s worth following this little leftover hunk of the early solar system [Read more…] about A Guide to Observing Comet 45/P Honda–Mrkos–PajdušákováShare This: