Categories
General News

Star Talk for June 2022

by Astronomer Jim

June Mornings

During June, in the early pre-dawn sky, all our solar system’s unaided eye visible planets can be seen at one time—that means Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and they will be lined up in the same order as their distance from the sun! With the help of a (large) telescope, Uranus and Neptune will be visible too, plus the brightest asteroid, Vesta.

Schematic is from Sky and Telescope Magazine.
  • Mercury, as always, will be close to the rising sun and only easily visible in the later part of the month. On June 27th, a thin crescent moon will be only 3.5 degrees above Mercury, making Mercury relatively easy to see.
  •  Venus will appear the brightest of all the planets, but its proximity to the sun will appear to dampen its brightness. On the 24th, Venus and the Pleiades will be in the same binocular view. On the morning of the 26th, the crescent moon and Venus will be only 2½ degrees apart, making for a very fun observation!
  • Mars will be the “reddish looking star” just to the left of bright Jupiter if you’re looking southward.
  • Jupiter will be southeast and, except for Venus and the moon, the brightest object in the sky at -2.5 magnitude.
  • A 1st magnitude star is a bright star. Jupiter is so bright that it often has a negative magnitude. However, Venus’s magnitude is -3.3 and Mars, for this month, is basically 0.0 magnitude.
  • Saturn rounds out the early morning planet show, gleaming due south all month long.
  • On June 21st, we’ll have the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Let summer begin!

June Nights

  • No late-night planets and no (known) meteor showers during this June.
  • A comet (PanSTARRS) will be in the night sky in the constellation of Ophiuchus, but it is expected to be dim and will require a large telescope to observe.
  • However, there are always interesting things to see. Using the below star chart, see if you can find the bright star Arcturus. Arcturus will be nearly overhead and is very bright. Follow the last two stars in the handle of the Big Dipper backwards, and you’ll find it! Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation of Bootes and is a Red Giant! Arcturus is about 25 times bigger than our sun! It is the 4th brightest star in our sky, shining a “zero” magnitude. For reference, Polaris, the North Star, and the brightest star in Ursa Minor, is a 2nd magnitude star.
  • While you’re in this part of the sky, take a close look at Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. Mizar is really two stars and with a human eye, the second star is just barely visible!
  • Close to Bootes is another constellation that is fun to look at is Hercules, the Hunter. I don’t know which is the more powerful hunter—Hercules or Orion! Fortunately, they never meet because Orion is a winter constellation and Hercules is a spring constellation!
  • In the constellation of Hercules is a star cluster called M13, near the edge of the “square” of Hercules. With a pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see it, but it will be faint.
  • Below is a close-up schematic for the constellation of Hercules. You’ll also see a close-up photo through a telescope of M13.
  • Do you know that the “Big Dipper” IS NOT a constellation? The Big Dipper is a grouping of stars, called an asterism, that resides within the constellation of Ursa Major, the Big Bear! The same holds true for the “Little Dipper.”

Below is the June Star Chart from Orion Telescopes website

Categories
General News

Star Talk For May 2022

By Astronomer Jim

The big-deal for the month of May is a total lunar eclipse! On May 15th, in Oregon, the moon will rise just as the total eclipse commences, at 8:30 pm. Totality will last for nearly 1.5 hours; after that, the moon’s motion will start taking it outside of the Earth’s shadow. The moon will appear “blood red” and considerably darker than normal because all the direct sunlight that normally reaches the moon will be blocked by Earth! The moon will be in the Earth’s shadow.

The moon isn’t completely dark during a lunar eclipse because of the Earth’s atmosphere refracting and reflecting solar rays, permitting some light to reach the moon—but not very much. The light arriving from the Earth’s atmosphere is tinted red which is why what we see in a total lunar eclipse is a “blood red” moon!

A total lunar eclipse can only occur during a full moon. But because of the inclination of the moon’s orbit, not every full moon results in a lunar eclipse—in fact, very few of them do! The last full total lunar eclipse was over three years ago.

From NASA
Schematic from In the Sky

Below is a photo of Earth’s atmosphere ring (of how Earth looks from the moon). In the middle is a blood red moon as it’s coming out of totality. To the right is a total eclipse in the middle of totality. All images are considerably magnified by a telescope. If seen from the same distance, the diameter of the Earth would appear about 4 times bigger than The Moon’s.

Stars in May:

The major planets are still not visible in May in the nighttime sky. If you want to see planets, you’ll need to get up early!

At Night (see the below star chart, which is calibrated at about 9:00 pm):

  • Orion is gone! And so is Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Taurus. They will return next winter.
  • The constellation of Leo has moved off to the east side of due south and the constellation that is now centered in the south is Virgo. Virgo is a big constellation with lots of galaxies for a big telescope, but its stars and faint and not very interesting for an observer without a telescope.
  • May 2nd. The star Aldebaron, the crescent Moon, the planet Mercury, and the Pleiades are a pretty grouping.
  • May 15th. Lunar eclipse.
  • May 16th. The night after the total lunar eclipse, The Moon will appear very close to Antares, the giant red star in Scorpius. Because of its reddish hue, Antares looks a bit like Mars to an unaided human eye, but it’s definitely not a planet! Antares is a very large “Red Giant” star, larger in diameter than the orbit of Mars!
  • May 18th, The Moon hangs near the head of Leo.
  • At any time this month, follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper backwards until you find “Arcturus.” Arcturus is a very bright star in Bootes that will be almost due south. An interesting thing is that Arcturus is believed to be 7 billion years old—far older than anything in our own solar system, which is believed to be 4.5 billion years old. It’s believe that Arcturus is just passing through, and wasn’t formed at the same time as the other stars in nearby stellar neighborhood!
From Sky and Telegraph magazine

In the early Morning:

  • May 6th. The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower is at it’s height in the early morning (when it’s still completely dark, at about 4:00 am). This meteor shower is of rock debris left by Halley’s comet!
  • May 25th. Jupiter, Mars, and the Moon all appear VERY CLOSE together!
  • May 26th and 27th.  The crescent moon and Venus will appear very close together.
  • May 29th. Jupiter and Mars appear VERY CLOSE to each other in the early morning sky. They will be only ½-degree apart and in a telescope would be in the same eyepiece field of view!
Sky and Telescope magazine
Star Chart from Orion Telescopes website

Categories
General News

Summer Camp Info Session

Tuesday, April 26 at 5:30 Pacific

We are hosting a Summer Camp Info Session! Click here to join us! Meet the Blue Spruce leadership team, including the head nurse, Camp Director, two counselors and the founder and ask all your questions!

Kids need overnight camp now more than ever! For ten years, Camp Blue Spruce has been serving up delicious allergy-friendly meals and building a community of kids who know what it’s like living with food allergies! Our programming is robust and affirming and offers challenges and activities for youth in every age group. High schoolers enjoy special off-site activities, and the CIT program provides rising seniors with leadership skills and a community they will cherish. Learn more about all things Blue Spruce at the info session. We hope to see you there!

Categories
General News

Star Talk for April 2022

Stars in April:

After Night-time Dusk

  • Cancer the Crab is now centered in the Southern sky at sunset, but Cancer is a faint constellation.
  • Just to the East of Cancer, is the bright zodiac constellation of Leo the Lion. The constellation of Gemini is still visible, but off to the East, and Orion is getting closer to the Eastern horizon.
  • Leo is one of the few constellations that actually looks like the living creature that it represents.
  • Regulus, the brightest star in Leo (in the chest of Leo), is one of the brightest star in the sky. Unfortunately, although Leo’s bright stars well outline the constellation, that are few objects inside the constellation to look at unless a person has a strong telescope.
  • Canis Major, with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky will still be very visible, to the East and below Orion and to the West and below Leo.
  • This month of April 2022 is another month of no bright planets in the evening sky.
  • Although Cancer a drab constellation, right in its middle, nearly due south at dusk is a beautiful star cluster, M44, the “Beehive Cluster.” M44 is barely visible to the unaided eye but is quite pretty as a small cluster of stars in binoculars. M44 isn’t shown on the below star chart, right at the end of the word “Cancer.”
The Beehive photo is from NASA,
  • On the evening of April 4th, look outside at the moon with a pair of binoculars—you’ll see the moon just below the Pleiades, the bright star cluster in the constellation of Taurus.On the 8th, the moon, Castor, and Pollux (the two stars that are the heads of the constellation Gemini, the twins) will form an almost perfect isosceles triangle.On the 29th, we’ll have a chance to see Mercury, which is always hard to find. After sunset, near the western horizon, Mercury can be sighted to the lower left of the Pleiades star cluster.

Early Morning

  • If you want to see planets, early morning before sunrise is the place to be in April!
  • As you can see from the below schematic, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will all be close to each other in the morning sky as the month begins.
  • Mars and Saturn will appear very close together on April 5th.
  • By mid-month, those three planets, plus Jupiter, will be strung in a line from the western horizon:
Acknowledgements: Above schematics are from Sky and Telescope Magazine,
Star Chart from Orion Telescopes website
Categories
General News

Star Talk for March 2022

By Astronomer Jim

Star Chart is from Astronomical Society of Northern New England

Stars In March, with a focus on Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Gemini:

  • March is named after the god of war, Mars.
  • March is the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, this year occurring on March 20th. Days and nights are of equal length at the beginning of Spring (and are also equal when Autumn begins).
  • As last month, March doesn’t have any bright planets in the early evening sky. However, with Orion still visible and Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Gemini still visible to the East of Orion, there are still plenty of bright constellations to see!
  • On March 26th, from 8:30-9:30 pm, we will have “International Earth Hour.” It is an event that began in Australia fifteen years ago and now includes 192 countries (of the world’s total of 195). The purpose of the event is simply to increase awareness of the problems facing the Earth. The idea is that everyone should turn of all nonessential lights for that hour. The theme last year was climate change. The theme this year is nature loss and biodiversity.  

Canis Major and Canis Minor:

  • The scientific name for the “Big Dog” constellation is Canis Major and the scientific name for the “Little Dog” constellation is Canis Minor. Canis Major and Canis Minor, in Creek mythology, are the two hunting dogs to the east of Orion in the sky (see the above star chart). They each have one very bright star. The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius, the brightest star in the entire sky! The brightest star in Canis Minor has the name of Procyon.
  •  In Canis Major is a star cluster called “M41” (after its discoverer, Messier, who made a catalog of faint star clusters and galaxies). M41 is over 2,000 light years away (each light year is 6 trillion miles). It can be seen as a faint smudge of stars below Sirius; with even binoculars, dozens of stars can be visible.

Gemini:

  • Gemini is the constellation of “the twins” and is a constellation of the zodiac. Two bright stars are the heads of the twins. Castor, an orange-giant star, is the twin closest to Orion. Castor is also really a triple star, and each of those three stars is really a double star! Pollux is slightly brighter than Castor. 
  • Near the foot of the twin that is closest to Orion is a star cluster called “M35.” M35 is a bright star cluster and is just barely visible to an unassisted eye. With binoculars or a telescope, M35 can be seen as comprised of hundreds of stars!
M35 Star cluster

Other Sky sights (as discussed last month):

  • Orion is still in sky with his belt of three stars and a sword dangling down from his belt. Within the belt is

M42, a luminous gaseous nebula where new stars are constantly being formed—but it takes many millions of years for each new one!

M42, NASA
  • Lower on the horizon are the Pleiades, sometimes called the “seven sisters.” The Pleiades are a relatively close-by star cluster. With a sharp eye, 5-7 stars can be seen in the Pleiades without binoculars or a telescope.

March Planets and our Moon:

  • On March 5th, near the east horizon in early morning twilight, you can see four planets at once: Venus and Mars will be close to each other and Saturn and Mercury will be very close together. Mercury, the planet that always stays close to the sun, will then return to being too close to the sun to see later in the month.
  • On March 8th, the waxing crescent moon will be in Taurus, between the star Aldebaran and the Pleides. With binoculars, this will be very pretty. A waxing moon is one that is in phases that are “growing,” more lit-up from one night to the next.
  • By mid-month, Venus will rise first (two hours before sunrise) and will be very bright in the early morning sky all month. Venus will be in a nearly half-moon phase, but a telescope is needed to see the phases of Venus (even a low-power telescope will be sufficient.
  • Mars will rise next, and on March 15 will be only 4 degrees away from Venus.
  • Next, Saturn will rise. On dawn of March 25th, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will be an early morning trio, with Venus far outshining the other two. Saturn will be the one closest to the eastern horizon.
  • On the early morning of March 28th, a waning crescent moon will join Venus, Mars, and Saturn. And, Jupiter will be very low in the morning sky, so all together we’ll have four planets and the moon, all visible in a small part of the sky!