The tiny planet Mercury lingers in the western sky after sunset, still tangled in the lacework of star clusters in the constellation Taurus. The planet reaches greatest eastern elongation on May 7, 2015 at an angular distance of 21º from the Sun. Because of the angle of the ecliptic, this translates to a better view for northern stargazers who can see the planet about 10º above the northwestern horizon at 9 p.m. local time [Read more…] about Mercury Lingers in the Western SkyShare 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.
It’s a good time for seeing planets. Venus moved past the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in early April. Now it’s Mercury’s turn. In this image, you see the speedy little planet near the two famous star clusters on May 1, 2015. The Hyades star cluster is tangled in the branches at left. For the next week, Mercury makes its best appearance this year in the western sky after sunset. Venus is much higher above the horizon after sunset, and Jupiter higher still. Saturn rises in the east before midnight, its rings tilted dramatically, as it moves to its closest approach to Earth later in May.Share This:
Just 11 weeks left to go until the closest flyby of New Horizons by Pluto. These images, released on April 29, 2015, show Pluto and its largest moon Charon, which is as large as Texas, revolving about their common center of mass. You can also see Pluto rotating about its own axis, ‘like a chicken on a BBQ spit’. Most amazingly, there are surface features visible on the surface of Pluto including a bright patch at one of the poles. NASA explained that these surface markings are remarkably visible compared to other planets given the distance and size of Pluto. These constitute the most detailed images ever captured of the ‘former planet’. The view will only get better from here.Share This:
The usually reliable Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the night of May 5-6 this year. The shower runs from April 21 – May 20, 2015, with many meteors still visible for several days on either side of the peak. It is perhaps the best meteor shower of the year for southern hemisphere stargazers.
The annual Eta Aquarids occur as Earth passes through an stream of icy and dusty debris from the famous Comet 1/P Halley, more commonly called Halley’s Comet. We pass through a second stream of the comet in late October. This results in the Orionid meteor shower. So if you missed the comet during its last apparition in 1986, you can at least see sand-grain-sized bits of the comet burn up in the atmosphere during these two meteor showers.
The Eta Aquarids gets its name from the 4th magnitude star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. The star is 168 light years away and bears no physical relation to the meteor shower. But the meteors appear to trace their paths back to a point in the sky near this star as the Earth moves into the debris field.
Because Aquarius lies on the ecliptic well south of the celestial equator, this is a better meteor shower for observers in the southern hemisphere. Rates of 30-60 meteors per hour are typical. Northern stargazers can see perhaps half as many near peak, but it’s still an impressive event. The Eta Aquarids on average are quite speedy and enter the atmosphere at 66 km/s (148,000 mph).
As with most meteor showers, the hours before
twilight dawn, as the Earth turns into the meteor stream, are the best time to see the Eta Aquarids. You don’t need to find the star Eta Aquarii to see the meteors. They can appear anywhere in the sky. You don’t need any optics… just lie back under dark sky and look up.
Enjoy this short four-image GIF of the transit of the shadow of Ganymede across the face of Jupiter on April 14, 2015. Taken by Andrew Symes of Ottawa, Canada with an iPhone 6 and a Celestron NexStar 8SE alt-az telescope, this image also shows several belts and zones in the atmosphere of Jupiter including the prominent north and south equatorial belts, along with the possibly perpetual anticyclone of the Great Red Spot.
— Andrew Symes (@FailedProtostar) April 24, 2015