PEGASUS ANCHORS THE FALL SKIES
(October 16, 2017) The stars: Some refer to this time of the year as the Capricorn Hour since this faint but beautiful constellation is easily situated for viewing in the southern skies in the early evening. Capricornus is known as the “seagoat” and is really a celestial joke. It seems the god Pan, who was half boy and half goat, was startled by the monster Typhon. His immediate reaction was to change himself into a fish and swim to safety. But in his haste, he got all mixed up and ended up with the torso of a goat with the tail of a fish.
CASSINI IS GONE BUT SATURN IS STILL IN THE EVENING SKY
(October 2, 2017) After thirteen years of exploration in orbit around the beautiful ringed planet Saturn, last month the spacecraft Cassini took a final plunge to its demise in the atmosphere of the planet. Yes, this was planned. Originally designed as a 4-year period of exploration, Cassini’s mission was extended as it made multiple passes by and through the rings of the planet and passed its sixty-two moons multiple times.
PLANETS GATHER FOR A REUNION AFTER ONE MONTH
(September 18, 2017) The planets: The planets move. The ancients were well aware of this and, in fact, our English word planet comes from the Greek word for “wanderer.” Back on the day of the Eclipse of a Lifetime, August 21, those who were blessed with clear skies during totality were able to spot a total of four naked eye planets in the sky with the eclipsed sun. To the right or west of the sun and most obvious was the brilliant planet Venus.
(September 4, 2017) The planets: Well, the Eclipse of a Lifetime is history. No more observing the planets during the daytime . . . at least until the next total solar eclipse in Transylvania County on October 17, 2153. Actually, we really don’t have to wait that long since Venus is so bright that it is possible under good conditions to spot it during daytime.
MONDAY’S GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE!
(August 17, 2017) The stars and the sun: There is really only one star to write about this month. That is, of course, the sun which this coming Monday will disappear from our daytime sky for up to 2 minutes 40.2 seconds depending on where we are located to observe it. I am, of course, talking about the Great American Solar Eclipse a.k.a. the Eclipse of a Lifetime. Most of Transylvania County will be within the path of totality.
PERSEID METEOR SHOWER DUE THIS WEEKEND
(August 7, 2017) The stars: For the constellation study this time, let us go a bit later in the evening than usual. Rising in the northeast about sunset is the beautiful constellation of Cassiopeia the queen, sometimes referred to as “the lady in the chair.” Cassiopeia is best spotted by looking in the northeast for a big letter “W” made up of five bright stars.
THE “SUMMER TRIANGLE” IS FOR THE BIRDS!
(July 17, 2017) – The stars: Now that summer is upon us, it’s not too early to look high in the east in the early evening for the so-called “Summer Triangle.” This pattern of three bright stars is not one of the classical constellations but rather what astronomers refer to as an asterism.
THE SCORPION AND THE ARCHER DOMINATE OUR SOUTHERN SKY
(July 3, 2017) The stars: The summertime Milky Way is a beauty to behold if we can view it under clear, dark skies. The mountains of western North Carolina often present us with such opportunities. Becoming more and more prominent as the summer progresses are the constellations of Scorpius the scorpion and Sagittarius the archer.
SUMMER BEGINS WEDNESDAY
(June 19, 2017) The Earth: At 12:24 a.m. EDT Wednesday we have the summer solstice which marks the first moment of summer in the northern hemisphere. This is the point in the Earth’s orbit when the northern hemisphere reaches its maximum tilt towards the sun. Thus, the sun is highest in the sky at noon and the days are longest. In Brevard sunrise will occur at 6:17 a.m. EDT and sunset will occur at 8:49 p.m. that evening. This will give us 14 hours 32 minutes of daytime. The sun will rise at 6:15 a.m. in Asheville giving those folks two more minutes of daylight. Happy Solstice!
SATURN RETURNS TO THE EVENING SKY
(June 6, 2017) The planets: Perhaps the most exciting nighttime object to view through a telescope is the beautiful ringed planet Saturn. At public observing sessions such as the SkyTrek observing sessions offered at PARI (weather permitting, of course), one of more of our telescopes will be on this spectacular object if it is in the sky. To the naked eye, Saturn appears to be just another reasonably bright star although it doesn’t twinkle. (Planets don’t twinkle.)
PLANETS APPEAR IN DIFFERENT SEASONS
(May 22, 2017) The planets: Jupiter the king planet is now the brightest object in the evening skies as It has been for the past month or so. I’m often asked in reference to the bright planets, usually Venus or Jupiter, the two brightest, if they are always up in the early evening at the same time of the year.
CONSTELLATIONS DATE WELL BACK IN HISTORY
(May 8, 2017) The stars: The spring skies are with us now in the early evening. What do we mean when we identify sections of the sky with the various seasons, e.g., the “spring skies”?
LEO CLIMBS IN THE EAST
(April 17, 2017) The stars: We know spring is now in full swing as we watch Leo the lion climb higher in the eastern sky each night. See if you can spot a pattern traditionally referred to as the sickle. This marks the head and mane of the magnificent lion. The bottom of the sickle is marked by the star Regulus.
VENUS AS THE “EVENING STAR” AND THE “MORNING STAR”?
(March 20, 2017) The stars: While the bright stars of winter continue to dominate the southern sky in the early evening, turn around and look to the north, specifically the northeast. Here, low in the sky, we find the familiar pattern of the Big Dipper. It’s still not late enough in the year to see it high in the north, but we can see it rising, standing on its handle with the bowl opening to the left.
FOUR PLANETS GRACE THE EVENING SKIES
(March 6, 2017) The Planets: The stage is set. Two performers are already on the stage with two waiting in the wings. The two already on stage are Venus and Mars which have been accompanying each other in the evening hours since the first of the year. Look for the two well up in the southwest as the twilight deepens.
WINTER TRIANGLE TIES ORION TO HIS DOGS
(February 20, 2017) The stars: The bright stars of the winter skies are now becoming even more apparent. Orion the hunter can be found in the east as the sky darkens and serves as the central figure for our observing.
MOON SLIDES THROUGH EARTH’S SHADOW FRIDAY EVENING
(February 6, 2017) The Moon: This coming Friday evening, there will be a penumbral eclipse of the moon that will be visible from western North Carolina, weather permitting. As the full moon rises that evening, it will be passing through the very bottom of the earth’s shadow, not entering the umbra, the dark part of the shadow, but passing through the much fainter outer part of the shadow, the penumbra.
MARS AND VENUS FLY IN FORMATION
(January 16, 2017) The planets: Venus and Mars are still flying in formation high in the west at sunset. They are actually getting a little bit closer to each other on successive nights since Venus just went through its greatest elongation from the sun this past Thursday while Mars is very slowing descending into the evening twilight.
ORION DOMINATES THE EVENING SKY
(January 2, 2017) The stars: Winter is truly here now, marked for the astronomer, not by the errant snow shower, but by the inevitable appearance of Orion the hunter in the evening skies. Orion dominates the skies in the winter as does no other constellation in any other season.
Big Dipper is an Asterism
(December 19, 2016) The stars: When asked to name a favorite constellation, many people respond with either “Orion” or “The Big Dipper.” Orion is the hunter in the sky and was well known to the ancient Greeks. It is one of the 88 traditional or classical constellations.