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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014
An eyeful of autumnal sky (10/22/14)
As the autumnal season has now fully taken hold of our surroundings on Earth, let's consider what our autumnal sky looks like. As ancient people looked at the night sky they began to connect the dots to make pictures of the characters in their myths. One such group of characters can be located in the early evening in the northeastern sky...
Make it a double (10/08/14)
Since the moon is just past full, and even if we tried, we would not be able to observe any constellations, let us try something else for our viewing pleasure. First, since what we will be observing is directly overhead, I would recommend a reclining lounge or lawn chair to keep from getting a cramp in our neck from looking directly up...
A lunar eclipse for night owls (10/01/14)
OK my fellow space cases, we are a week away from the total lunar eclipse next Wednesday, Oct. 8. That's the good news, the bad news is the eclipse runs its course between 3:12 to 5:23 am, that is as in the early morning. Well, I guess we gotta take'em when we get'em...
Heads up for a coming lunar eclipse (09/24/14)
Consider this your official "heads up." Mark your calendars for Wednesday, Oct. 8, and Thursday, Oct. 23, as days you will want to be outside and observing. On Oct. 8, there will be a total lunar eclipse, but you will need to either stay up late or get up early to view it...
Equality and the loneliest star in the sky (09/17/14)
The time of the turning of the leaf and the turning of the year is here again. The wonderfully warm days of summer are shortening and cooling off. In fact, some places have already had a touch of the dreaded "S" word, snow. The autumnal equinox -- when the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south -- will be on Monday, Sept. 22, at 8:29 pm MDT...
So what IS up, after all? (09/10/14)
Well, what exactly is up? The changing of the seasons is upon us, and so is the changing of the constellations. The spring group is exiting stage right over the western horizon and the summer crew is high overhead with the autumn team rising over the eastern horizon...
Welcome back, old friend (09/03/14)
Met an old friend this morning, one of my oldest friends in fact. I couldn't sleep because of a head cold so I decided to get up. Out our balcony window I saw Orion, the Hunter hanging high above the south eastern horizon. Haven't seen him since last May...
Constellations continue trek across sky (08/27/14)
My how time flies, even if you aren't having fun. The constellations are moving westward and the Sun is moving south toward the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of autumn, on Sept. 23. Have you noticed the sunlight on the floor beneath any south-facing window has been creeping across the floor, extending itself further into the room?...
Keeping our stars, and planets, in a row (08/20/14)
I enjoy receiving questions from readers. One, it lets me know there are people who are actually reading this column; and two, there are people who have had their curiosity piqued. Such is the case this week. This particular reader asks, "I have noticed that the moon repeatedly passes near several stars and the planets, why is this?"...
Second-guessing the Perseid meteor shower (08/13/14)
One difficult thing about writing a weekly newspaper column is I have to write well before an event takes place so I often don't know what really happened on any particular day. I am thinking about the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower which was between Aug. 12 and 13 specifically. I won't know what the weather was like or if the sky was cloudy or not...
A visual workout, and then a shower (08/06/14)
My original intent was to talk about the "celestial superhighway," however, that will need to be put off until later, because there are a couple of other things I would like to present that are happening this week and next. The first is another one of those pesky "Super Moons" that seem to be happening all too frequently. We had one in June and July, now one in August and there will be another one in September...
A cloud like you've never known (07/30/14)
Did you know there is a hole in Cygnus, the Swan? Well, perhaps not a "hole," it is more like a cloud, but not like any cloud you have ever known. We are following the Milky Way up from its south end in Scorpius and Sagittarius and are now come to the constellation Cygnus, the Swan which is very easy to find almost directly overhead looking east...
Calendar creates more time for viewing (07/23/14)
The days are getting shorter, can you tell? Since the first day of summer we have lost 21 minutes of day length, sunrise is 16 minutes earlier, and sunset is 11 minutes earlier, and we have gained 42 minutes of twilight, or dark time (14 minutes in the evening and 28 minutes in the morning)...
And now, for your viewing pleasure ... (07/16/14)
Here we are, almost in the middle of summer. The nights are getting longer -- a little bit at a time, but definitely longer, and some of the most exciting astronomical objects are available for our viewing pleasure. Our old friends in the Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) are in great position above the eastern horizon about an hour after local sunset; The Big and Little Dippers and their crew are in the north, and Sagittarius and Scorpius, two more traditional summer constellation are in prime viewing position in the south.. ...
Another 'Super Moon' is on the way (07/09/14)
Seems we have another so-called "Super Moon" coming up. The question now comes, is that important or not. Personally, I lean toward the idea that it is not ... important that is. First off, what exactly is a "Super Moon?" The term "Super Moon" does not have an astronomical background. It was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle more than 30 years ago and has only recently come into prominence. Before that the term was totally unknown to astronomers...
Stand by for some super conjunctions (07/02/14)
We are in for some super conjunctions involving the moon and two bright planets in our early evening skies this week. In addition to the usual pyrotechnic fireworks we are accustomed to on July 4th, we will also be treated to some activity in the sky to supplement our viewing pleasure...
Spring has sprung, summer's here, etc. (06/25/14)
To quote an old poem I learned once, "Spring has sprung, and fall has fell. Summer's here and boy is it hot." In fact, summer has been here for several days. It's official beginning was on Saturday, June 21, at 4:51 a.m. MDT. That is when the Sun reached its most northern point for the year and Earth's axis is tilted 23.5 degrees toward the Sun and the Sun is over the Tropic of Cancer...
Sighting the celestial swan (06/18/14)
These words are being written on a 5-year-old Macintosh computer, using 4-year-old software, the image eventually finding its way onto a 50-year-old press to be distributed around the southwest corner of an 150-year-old state. The technology is functional and well-taken care of despite its age, but someone was needed to invent it, get it working, and restore it to working order when something inevitably goes wrong. (Keeping the state in order is a question for another time.)...
Summer is arriving ... almost (06/11/14)
I am always glad to see summer arriving, almost. The outside temperatures are getting better for staying outside longer for more time at the telescope, but the nights are growing shorter so there is less time for viewing. As we approach the Summer Solstice (June 21 at 4:51 am MDT) the amount of dark grows shorter and the amount of daylight grows longer, for example, on the day of the Summer Solstice there will be about 15 hours of daylight. That means there is only nine hours for dark...
A constellation that isn't, and a star party (06/04/14)
One of the most identifiable star groupings of the summer sky is the three-star association of the Summer Triangle. I can't say it is a constellation, because it isn't. The Summer Triangle is an asterism, a group of stars made up of stars from other constellations. One of the other best-known asterisms is the Big Dipper which is made from stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear...
Camelopardalid peteor shower mostly a sprinkle (05/28/14)
Well, the May Camelopardalid meteor shower was mostly a bust. The hoped-for meteor storm from the debris stream produced by comet 209P/Linear just didn't happen. Reports received from around North America indicated there were a few bright streaks and a few fireballs but that was about it...
Stars are what you make of them (05/21/14)
Triangles and more triangles. One nice thing about the stars, you can make just about anything you want out of them, even make up your own constellations. This week there are two particular triangles I want to look at, one a made-up one and the other is one of our old friends...
Good news, bad; which do you want to hear first? (05/14/14)
The good news is, there are several planetary conjunctions occurring this week which will make great binocular/telescope sights. The bad news? The moon will be full tonight and will mess up a couple of them. Fortunately, the rest will be in the early morning when the moon won't be causing a problem...
The Pleiades' last hurrah (05/10/14)
As mentioned last week, our old friends, the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters are sinking rapidly toward the western horizon. However, there is one more hoorah for the Pleiades, and that is tonight, May 7. Look to the west about 45-minutes after local sunset for the tiny star cluster just above the horizon. They should be very visible in binoculars...
Happy Beltane! (04/30/14)
Happy Beltane! That would have been the traditional greeting in Ireland and Scotland centuries ago. Beltane, or May 1, is a cross-quarter day, or a day that is about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In many of those cultures it was observed as the start of the summer season and was observed by lighting large bonfires on hilltops around the countryside...
Moving on to the next sky-sights (04/23/14)
Now that we have survived all the excitement from the recent total lunar eclipse, we can move on to other night time goodies the sky has to offer. If you missed the eclipse because you forgot or were clouded out -- something we here in southwest Nebraska didn't suffer from -- not to worry. There will be another one on Oct. 8. in fact, there will be three more, all part of the 2014-15 lunar eclipse tetrad...
Catch the Galilean moons this week (04/16/14)
The Nebraska Legislature's vote to override nearly $65 million in gubernatorial budget vetoes on April 1 was no joke. Not only did the 49 members of the Legislative branch restore the budget crafted for them by the Appropriations Committee, but they also took a major step toward separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches...
Shedding light on the lunar eclipse (04/09/14)
Lots going on this week, let's get to it. First off, the total lunar eclipse on April 14/15. This gets a little confusing because totality -- the darkest part of the eclipse -- begins at about midnight MDT on April 14, when Earth's umbra -- the darkest part of Earth's shadow -- will touch the edge of the moon...
Get ready for the total lunar eclipse (04/02/14)
Got your viewing location picked out for the upcoming total lunar eclipse? The eclipse occurs on the evening of Monday, April 14, and continues into the early morning hours of Monday, April 15. This eclipse is the first of a series of four total lunar eclipses, this series is called a "tetrad."...
Watch for occultations tonight (03/12/14)
We have all heard the little phrase that says if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. Many of you long- time readers know I have discussed this before, but it never hurts to go over it again. The basis of that phrase has its roots in astronomy. Just as Pegasus is an indicator of autumn, and Orion of winter, so Leo is an indicator that spring is at hand and his stars have been peeking over the eastern horizon these past few weeks...
Scanning the skies for the Irish constellation (03/05/14)
Now, let's see, where were we? Oh yes, looking south at Orion, the Hunter. Which reminds me of a question someone asked me last week. Which constellation is the Irish constellation? Why O'Ryan, of course. Now that St. Patrick's Day is a little more than a week away, you can use that...
What's up? Stars and planets getting together (02/26/14)
What indeed is up? We haven't done a sky survey for a while, I think it is time for one. Okay, let's start looking west about an hour after local sunset. The first thing we see is the large constellation Pegasus sinking toward the horizon. As a reminder, Pegasus looks like a giant diamond standing up on one corner...
Does the moon rotate? (02/19/14)
OK troops, time for another question. This one is not from the in-box, but rather is a question from a friend on my Facebook page. "Does the moon rotate?" He went on to say that he has noticed that we always see the same face of the moon and was wondering why it didn't rotate...
Sighting the Seven Sisters (02/12/14)
One of the nice little jewels in the winter sky is the tiny Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, because seven very bright stars can be seen without optical. Even from the light polluted city skies the cluster can be seen. The little group is also known as M-45 in French astronomer Charles Messier's list of things that are not comets...
Halfway to spring (02/05/14)
Well, we have survived halfway through winter. Sunday, Feb. 2, marks the halfway point between winter and spring, which is only 43 more days away. Feb. 2, is a cross-quarter day, or a day that is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox which are two of the quarter-days, the other two being the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox...
Keeping an eye on the moon (01/29/14)
With new moon tomorrow, this will be a great opportunity to follow the moon throughout an entire monthly cycle. We can start after sunset now, but by the end of the 28-day cycle we will need to be looking in the morning. This new moon is the second one for the month of January. Usually we hear about two full moons in one month with the second one being called a "Blue Moon." However, up until recently I had not heard a name for a second new moon...
Happy birthday, Galileo, once again (01/22/14)
Oops, Grandpa always said, confession is good for the soul, but sometimes bad for the reputation. That is what happens when you don't pay attention to what page you are on when you write things in your calendar. Last week I said Galileo's birthday was on Jan. 15, it isn't, it is on Feb. 15, that is the day we can celebrate his 450th birthday. Any reason for a party I guess...
It's a good week for night owls (01/15/14)
If you are a night owl, or in this case a morning owl, this is a good week to follow the moon from the evening into the morning hours. Today, Wednesday, Jan. 15, the moon is full and will be below the bright planet Jupiter between the constellations Gemini and Cancer. Best time to view is about 7 p.m. local time...
How do I find out 'What's Up?'? (01/08/14)
Well, as promised, we go to the old mail bag for a letter -- or in this case, the computer in-box. A question from a reader asks, "How do you know all this stuff about astronomy?" OK, very good question. I got started in astronomy when I was about 12 yearS old...
Paying attention in class (12/18/13)
OK, first off, all of you get a D- for not noticing that I called Aldebaran a planet and not a star in last week's astronomy lesson. Or, some of you may have noticed and sent an email which I haven't seen yet because I have been out of Internet contact for the last week in the wilds of Nebraska...
So, what do we look at now? (12/11/13)
Well, the hoped-for grandeur of Comet ISON during December will not happen, so what else do we have to look at? A lot actually. But before we get to that, we have some unfinished business; what to get our grown-up astronomer for Christmas. Since the more experienced astronomer is likely to already have a lot of the basic equipment to pursue his or her avocation, what would make a nice gift for them?...
The little comet that could (12/04/13)
Astronomers around the world held their collective breath last week on Thanksgiving Day as Comet ISON took its turn around the Sun to head back out into the icy depths of the solar system, to the Oort Cloud, where it came from more than a million years ago...
Things getting real for Comet ISON (11/20/13)
This is the week the rubber meets the road, so to speak, for Comet ISON. The icy ball of rock, dust, and frozen gas has been hurtling toward the inner solar system for about a million years now -- no exaggeration intended -- and will make a turn around the Sun and head back out to the icy depths on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 28...
Finding the elusive Neptune (11/13/13)
Did you have success finding the elusive planet Neptune last week? I was able to get a quick view of it from my location here in Denver -- even with the light-polluted skies. Caught it in my 10x50 binoculars at about 8:30 in the evening. It looked like a very small blue dot just below the moon, since I have seen it before I knew what to look for...
Halfway through autumn, cruising toward winter (11/06/13)
We are halfway through autumn and rapidly cruising toward winter. Well, technically the halfway point is today but that is just so much detail. Aside from the typically nasty weather often associated with autumn, there is a good side. The nights are getting longer and the sun is setting earlier giving us more time for stargazing...
Technically, no full moon on Halloween (10/30/13)
Tomorrow is Halloween, that annual celebration of things ghoulish. Speaking of ghoulish, that word reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from an old Scottish prayer book, "From ghoulies and ghosties, and long legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us."...
Spying the zodiacal light (10/09/13)
Capricornus is the smallest of the zodiacal constellations. Represented as half goat and half fish, this boat-shaped constellation lies due south at about 8:30 p.m. MDT on these early autumn evenings. It is somewhat difficult to find from city skies as only one of its stars is brighter than magnitude three...
Comet ISON already visible in small telescopes (10/02/13)
Comet ISON has passed Mars on its million-year inward-bound journey from the outer solar system. It is already visible in small telescopes and in another two weeks or so it should become visible in binoculars. Last week I mentioned that ISON was a "sungrazer." This week I want to examine that term a little closer. It is basically what the term sounds like. A "sungrazer" is a comet that comes very close to the sun...
Headed for a breakup? (09/25/13)
The comet is still coming. Comet ISON that is. Officially designated Comet C/2013 S1, it is basically a hunk of frozen water and rock with small gravel or grain-of-sand-sized bits with perhaps some carbon dioxide thrown in for good measure. After its initial discovery in January of this year, there was some hope that ISON could perhaps put on a great show in November becoming a very bright comet. ...
Skies change with changing seasons (09/18/13)
For those of us who have grown weary of the 100+ degree temperatures of late August and early September, relief is in sight. Summer ends and autumn begins for the northern hemisphere on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 2:44 a.m., when the sun crosses the celestial equator heading south. The date is called the "Autumnal Equinox" generally so because the length of day and night will be equal...
Comet's speed not easy to see (09/11/13)
Contrary to current popular misconception, comets do not go streaking across the sky. True, they are traveling thousands of miles per hour, but, at the extreme distances they are located such speed is not readily apparent to the eye. Even when the comet is visible it will not appear to be moving -- unless you are viewing it through a large telescope. The only indication of movement will be the next evening when it will be located in another part of the sky...
Impending doom, or a spectacular show? (09/04/13)
The comet it coming, the comet is coming! While in ancient days that may have served as a notice of impending doom, for us today it means we may be in for a spectacular showing of dark sky splendor put on by an icy visitor from the outer reaches of our solar system...
Who named the constellations? (08/28/13)
Well fellow space fans, since there is nothing particularly exciting happening in the sky this week, how about we go back to the mailbag -- or in this case -- the inbox. The question is, "Where did the constellations come from?" As with most astronomical questions, there is no one simple answer. Generally it depended on where you live. Different areas had different names for the same group of stars...
The Perseid disappointment (08/21/13)
I certainly hope some of you had better success with viewing the Perseid Meteor shower than I did. On both of the peak nights--Monday, Aug. 12, and Tuesday, Aug. 13--it was clouded out here in Southwest Nebraska. But, as they say, that is an occupational hazard for astronomers...
Star light, star brights -- what's the first star I see tonight? (08/14/13)
"Star light, star bright; first star I see tonight." You ever say that little poem? I think a lot of us have. So, what is the first star you will see tonight? Well, depends which way you are looking. If you are looking almost directly overhead the first star you will probably see is Vega, the brightest star in Lyra, the Harp, and the fifth brightest star in the night sky or it could be Altair in Aquila, the Eagle, one of the three stars in the Summer Triangle below and to the lower right of Vega.. ...
Ready for an annual shower? (08/07/13)
The meteors are coming, the Perseids that is. The annual August meteor shower that some astronomers have called the best one of the year; it will peak between midnight on Aug. 11, and sunrise Aug. 12. The best time for viewing is between 10:30 p.m. MDT on Sunday, Aug. 11, and 4:30 a.m. MDT on Monday, Aug. 12...
The second crown jewel in summer sky (07/31/13)
The second crown jewel in the summer sky -- the first being Scorpius -- is Sagittarius, the Archer located right next door to the left of Scorpius. It will be at its highest above the southern horizon at about 10 p.m. local daylight time these mid-summer evenings...
Venus starts her eastward slide (07/24/13)
The center of celestial attention now shifts to the morning sky this week as bright Venus, who has kept us entertained for several weeks, is now starting an eastward slide which will last until early September when it will sink below the horizon. You early risers -- or those of you who just want to get up early for a planetary peek -- will be able to view three planets against the rising sun...
Sun heading south again (07/17/13)
Have you noticed that sunlight is creeping back into your south-facing windows? Now that we have passed the summer solstice, the sun is moving southward and more and more sunlight is spilling into your south-facing windows and onto the floor. It means you can move your sun-loving plants back there in preparation for winter...
Looking at the sky from a different angle (07/10/13)
When you look at the night sky and see the constellations you are familiar with and know the stories behind them. Did you ever stop to consider that someone on the other side of our planet may be looking at the same constellation but have a different story for it?...
More "solemn displays" in the sky (07/03/13)
As we approach the 237th birthday of our republic; a day which was predicted to be remembered and celebrated with "...bonfires, fireworks, parties, and solemn gatherings," let's add one more aspect to the observance of the birthday of our country--a quick gaze at the "solemn displays" in our sky...
A whole new set of constellations (06/26/13)
Well, here it is. Summer has begun and we are almost halfway through our year. Have you noticed how the sky has changed from our observations in January? Well, for one thing we have a whole new set of constellations to look at, and for another the weather is sure a lot warmer...
Weatherman wins again (06/19/13)
Lots to do this week, so let's get to it. The first big event is the summer solstice, the first day of summer, although I think the weatherman beat us to it. Technically at 11:04 pm, MDT, on Thursday, June 20, the sun will reach the Tropic of Cancer--some 23 degrees north of the equator which supposedly gives us the longest day and the shortest night of the year...
Throwing a party for the stars (06/12/13)
Before we begin, a word from our sponsor ... well, not really, but this is a shameless commercial for the Nebraska Star Party. The Nebraska Star Party is an annual gathering of amateur astronomers from not just Nebraska; attendees come from many states and even a few foreign countries...
This giant is hard to spot (06/05/13)
When ancient mapmakers didn't know for sure what was beyond the edge of what was drawn on their maps, they wrote in, "Here there be giants." In addition to the giants of Orion and Hercules, there is another giant character from mythology who inhabits our sky. Unfortunately, this one is a little more difficult to locate...
Another mythical hero takes the stage (05/29/13)
Orion is not the only celestial strong man in the sky. Now that he has exited stage-right for the summer, there is another constellation depicting a mythological hero taking his place, Hercules. Strangely, Hercules clears the eastern horizon in the same manner as our old friend Orion -- he is laying down, parallel to the horizon with his head to the right and his feet to the left...
Jupiter, Venus, Mercury get things straight (05/22/13)
OK, troops, this week is where our watching of Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury all comes to a grand conclusion. We have watched as the gas giant planet Jupiter has crossed the sky from a morning object into the evening sky and now is about to leave our view on its trip around to the far side of the Sun...
Doing a double-take on double stars (05/15/13)
More about double stars. Astronomers have estimated that between one-half to 80 percent of the stars in the Milky Way are double stars. It was once thought that most of the stars in the galaxy were like our sun, a single star. But when larger and more powerful telescopes began to come into play, more and more of the stars were discovered to be doubles...
Seeing double (05/08/13)
Well, it's a slow news week astronomically speaking, so let's go the mailbag--or rather the in-box that is. Interesting question from a reader, "What are double stars?" Ok, the simple answer is a double star is a pair of stars that appear close to each other in the sky as seen from Earth. A double star can also be called a binary...
Wishing on a star (05/01/13)
"Star light, star bright; first star I see tonight; wish I may, wish I might; grant the wish I wish tonight." You ever say that little verse when you were growing up, when you saw the first star of the evening in the sky? I must confess, I did upon occasion. However, the first star you see in tonight's sky won't be a star at all. It will be the planet Jupiter and I don't know about the power of planets for granting wishes...
Wishing on a star (05/01/13)
"Star light, star bright; first star I see tonight; wish I may, wish I might; grant the wish I wish tonight." You ever say that little verse when you were growing up, when you saw the first star of the evening in the sky? I must confess, I did upon occasion. However, the first star you see in tonight's sky won't be a star at all. It will be the planet Jupiter and I don't know about the power of planets for granting wishes...
Saturn in opposition to the sun (04/24/13)
OK space fans, a couple of things this week. First, our favorite planet, Saturn, will be at opposition on Sunday, April 28. Opposition means "opposite" the sun in the sky. That is just a big word that means the ringed-planet is on the opposite side of Earth from the sun. If you will think of is as Earth being in the middle with the sun on one side and Saturn on the other...
A good night to spot some old friends (04/18/13)
The last few days of this week will be a good opportunity to use our old friend, the moon, to help us find some astronomical objects. Let's start with tonight, Thursday, April 18. Tonight the moon is high in the southwest just below the constellation Cancer, the Crab...
Changing seasons bring changing skies (04/11/13)
As the seasons change, so do the constellations in the sky. The "Old Guard" of winter -- Orion, Taurus, Canis Major, and Auriga, are giving way to the constellations of spring. Above the eastern horizon in the early evening Leo, Virgo, Bootes, and Cancer are making their annual appearance...
Sighting Comet PanSTARRS, finally (04/04/13)
I was finally able to get some glass on Comet PanSTARRS. After several days of clouds there was finally a clear evening with great viewing and I bagged it. However, I have not been able to view it since. A conspiracy of lack of time and clouds worked together to prevent any opportunity for another view...
Where is the South Star? (03/28/13)
OK space fans, let's go to the mailbag for this week's question. "What is the brightest star in the sky?" Okay, good one. I have heard some who have said that Polaris, the North Star, is the brightest star in the sky; too bad they are wrong. In fact, there are about 50 stars in the sky that are brighter than Polaris...
Springtime views of the moon, Mercury (03/21/13)
"Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the flowers is?" Or so goes the old saying. And spring has sprung, or at least it did yesterday, Wednesday, March 20, at 5:02 a.m. MDT. For those in other time zones, adjust the time accordingly. Technically, spring--or the vernal equinox--is when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving north along the horizon...
Catch PanSTARRS if you can (03/14/13)
Have you seen comet PanSTARRS? As of this writing I haven't. You still have some time to catch a glimpse in the western sky about a half-hour to 45-minutes after local sunset. Which, now that Daylight Savings Time has kicked in, will be at about 7:05 pm MDT...
Astronomy 101, Part II: Comets (03/07/13)
Comets are basically just big balls of frozen water, dirt, and gasses. They come whizzing into the inner solar system from out beyond the orbit of Pluto, make a trip around the sun and head back out to where they came from -- generally. In ancient times they were thought to be bringers of bad news. You know, kings dying, catastrophe and other sorts of bad news...
Astronomy 101, Part II (02/28/13)
For this session of Astronomy 101 Part II, we are going to discuss the difference between comets, meteors, and asteroids. First, comets. Comets, contrary to popular belief, do not go whizzing across the sky at great speed. Now, understand, comets are traveling at great speed, but with the distances involved in space, the human eye will not perceive it as moving fast. Only when we see the comet change locations against the background stars each evening will we see that it is indeed moving...
Asteroids make for big news events (02/21/13)
Did you see asteroid 2012 DA14 last week? I think I did. It was quite a news event. Combining the very close pass of DA14 with the explosion of a possible asteroid over Siberia injuring more than 1,000 people the day before made for some real headlines...
More easy, not-so-easy to find objects (02/14/13)
The last two objects on our easy-to-find, quick-view list are the star Capella in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, and one of our very best old friends, the Big Dipper. Capella is also known as the "Goat Star" due to its association with three small nearby stars in a small triangle (Almaaz, and Hoedus I and II) which are called "The Kids."...
More easy-to-find objects (02/07/13)
The next two objects on our easy-to-find list are the "Belt of Orion," and the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. By now we should all be familiar with the hourglass shape of our old friend Orion with the three stars across the middle for a belt and the three objects that look like stars hanging down from it like a sword...
A quick look skyward on a cold winter night (01/31/13)
When I started writing this column eight and a half years ago, my intention was to simplify the concept of astronomy and give the readers an opportunity to get to know just what is out there. As such, I am always on the look-out for any information that would help accomplish that task...
More lessons on celestial mechanics (01/24/13)
Healthcare is back on the front burner in Lincoln this session of the Legislature, with lawmakers set to consider expanding Medicaid coverage to as many as 159,000 Nebraskans by fiscal 2016. The move would bring the state into line with the federal health care law, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the provision that would allow Washington to withhold funding from states that chose not to expand Medicaid programs...
Sighting Taurus, the Bull (01/17/13)
Aside from Orion, the Hunter, the second most-recognizable constellation in the winter sky is Taurus, the Bull. It can be easily found these winter evenings by going outside about an hour to an hour and a half after local sunset and looking southeast. The sky doesn't have to be totally dark, but the darker, the better...
The sun and moon, riding high and low (01/10/13)
We have had winter now for almost a month and the physical traits of the season are well in view. The cold weather, the snow (if you have some), and the runny noses which seem to abound. The winter sky is also well in view. The giant constellation Orion, the Hunter, often referred to as the "King of Winter," is in full view in the early evening sky in the east by 7 p.m. local time...
Fun with asterisms (01/03/13)
I trust you all had the merriest of Christmases and the safest and sanest of New Years. Now, on to business. There are 88 officially recognized constellations in the northern and southern skies. There are also many unofficial asterisms, or star patterns, that while not ordained by the International Astronomical Union, they are recognized by astronomers and star gazers around the world...
Christmas reminders in the sky (12/27/12)
Here is hoping that each of you had a wonderful and enjoyable Christmas, now, down to business. OK, ok, enough with the correction notes. Contrary to popular belief, I do know the difference between a solstice and an equinox; it is just that I get them confused once in a while, OK, almost always (here insert very large grin)...
Are two big comets on their way? (12/20/12)
The outdoor temperature seem to be catching up with the season. We can definitely say that winter is on its way; as if two inches of snow wasn't a good enough hint. But, as we have discussed before, the seasons are an astronomical event, not a meteorological one...
'The Bringer of Jollity' (12/13/12)
When English composer, Gustav Holst wrote his orchestral suite, "The Planets," he gave a different musical identity to each planet. Mars he called "The Bringer of War," Venus he called, "The Bringer of Peace," but Jupiter he called, "The Bringer of Jollity."...
How to tell when winter arrives (12/06/12)
The calendar says that winter is here. Friday, Dec. 21, at 4:12 p.m. MST, the Sun will cross the celestial equator heading south ushering in the winter season for the northern hemisphere. Well, the calendar may say it, but the recent daily temperatures sure don't say that winter is here...
Give the binoculars a workout (11/21/12)
Thursday we will sit down with our family and friends to a table that is overflowing with all those things our doctor has told us we shouldn't be eating and engage in that annual feast called Thanksgiving. Ostensibly it is to celebrate and remember the Pilgrims and their journey to find religious freedom and to honor the Native Americans who helped then through that first year...
Something to look for every night (11/15/12)
Okay troops, I have a fun-filled week of observing for you this week. Something to look for almost each night. First up is something you can't look for, a total solar eclipse, unless you are out in the South Pacific, or northern Australia. The new moon will totally cover the face of the sun causing it to be blotted out, eclipsed...
Smoky meteor trails in the sky (11/08/12)
Now that the way we count the time of day has returned to normal, we are suddenly noticing that it is dark a lot sooner. By the middle of next week, the sun will be dropping below the western horizon at about 4:30 p.m. MST. Now, while that may not be good for the average person, it is great for us astronomers. That means about another hour of dark that we can use for outside observation...
Moon late Halloween arrival (11/01/12)
While there were no "celestial spooks" in the sky last night, there were many of the earthly variety wandering from house to house seeking treats. I hope you were generous, even though you may have wanted the leftovers in the bowl for yourself. Another thing that wasn't in the sky, at least for the early goblin crowd, was the moon. The just-past-full moon didn't rise over the eastern horizon until around 8 p.m. local time...
Continuing the tour and the 'Faint and Fuzzies' (10/25/12)
Hope you had a nice Autumn Astronomy Day last Saturday. The sky was perfect in Nebraska, and Colorado too. Good opportunity to view the first quarter moon. As we continue our tour of the Perseus/Pegasus/Andromeda group I want to focus this week on one of those famous "Faint Fuzzies" I always talk about...
The romantic couple in the eastern sky (10/18/12)
There are many romantic couples in history. Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, Tristan and Isolde, Wayne and Wanda (OK, you have to be a Muppets fan to know that one). One such romantic couple can be seen in the eastern evening sky about an hour and a half after local sunset...
Keeping track of the seasons with the stars (10/11/12)
One nice thing about the stars, they are always there and they keep coming back around again each year. The ancients used them to determine plowing and planting time, harvest time, and when to expect seasonal changes long before the changes actually occurred...
Ready for the Great Worldwide Star Count (10/04/12)
The Great World-wide Star Count starts in just a few days. I hope you have your star charts ready. If not, point your favorite web browser to the following: www.windows2universe.org/citizens_scienc.... Now that October is here, time once again to take a dip into the celestial ocean to play with the critters there...
Vernon Whetstone
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