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Tuesday, June 28, 2016
We get more than our share of 'longest days' (06/22/16)
While we were off lollygagging around all the planets that were -- and still are -- visible in the early evening, we missed a milestone for the year, the Summer Solstice (the first day of summer). Solstice is Latin for "Sun stands still," and while it doesn't actually, it would appear to do so for anyone who was watching the rising and setting times and locations each day...
Finding the darkest part of Nebraska (06/15/16)
Before we start with new business, let's stop and take time for a blatant commercial. It is that time of year for the annual Nebraska Star Party. That week-long gathering in north-central Nebraska of 200 to 300 astro-geeks and their families to celebrate all things astronomical...
The best viewing time and how to find it (06/08/16)
There are still three very observable planets in our evening sky. Jupiter off to the southwest just under the belly of Leo, and Mars and Saturn in the southeast almost in the claws of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Best viewing times will be an hour to an hour and a half after local sunset -- sunset for now in Southwest Nebraska/northwest Kansas is just after 8 pm MDT...
Saturn takes the center stage (06/01/16)
Mars has had its turn on center stage, now we give our attention to probably the best looking of all of the planets, Saturn, the ringed one. Friday, June 3, Saturn will be at opposition, or opposite the Sun in our night sky and possibly the brightest for the year. It rises at sunset and sets at sunrise and thus will be up all night for our viewing pleasure...
Planets in the spotlight (05/25/16)
The Mars opposition has passed but the planet is still holding forth in the eastern sky a couple of hours after local sunset. Normally opposition is also the date the planet is closest to Earth, however, due to the vagaries of orbital mechanics -- I don't pretend to understand it, I just report on it -- Mars will be at its closest for this pass on Monday, May 29...
The Great Mars Hoax is about to reappear (05/18/16)
The time is rapidly approaching. Very soon -- if it hasn't already -- the Great Mars Hoax of 2003 will once again raise its ugly head like the ancient Medusa, the beast that no matter how many heads you cut off, more will grow back. With the approaching opposition of the planet Mars -- Sunday, May 22 -- we will probably see a hoax that started in 2003 which says Mars will appear as large as the full moon. ...
The Big Dipper is pouring rain on Earth (05/11/16)
Now that all the excitement of the Mercury transit is over, let's return to our Top Ten List of things to see from a city sky. We left off with the Hercules Cluster (M13) in the northeastern sky. Now we will travel to due north to find our old friend, the Big Dipper...
May the Fourth be with you, Star Wars fans (05/04/16)
First off, let us take care of the important matters, today is Star Wars Day, May the Fourth be With You. Those of you who are fans will understand. Now, let's get back to our Top Ten list for things to see from the not-so-dark sky of the city. We started with the obvious, the moon. There are no problems seeing it from anywhere, and this coming Friday, May 6, will provide an excellent opportunity to begin a month-long "Moon Watch."...
How to drive an astronomer goo-goo (04/27/16)
I know we didn't get far with our "Top Ten" list of things to see from a city sky, but sometimes things just pop up to get in the way. Such is an event this time. Want to know how to drive an astronomer goo-goo? Tell him there is a planetary transit of the Sun coming up. He (or she) will get glassy-eyed, start to drool at the mouth, and get weak in the knees...
Moonshine easiest to partake (04/20/16)
Never let it be said that we don't listen to requests from our readers. Having just finished a series of the Top Ten Objects visible from a dark-sky location, a reader asked about items visible from a city location where light pollution knocks out most observable objects...
A faint, fuzzy peak to the Top 10 list (04/13/16)
And now -- drum roll please -- number 10 on our list of "Top Ten" things to see in the night sky, and sorry folks, but this is another "faint fuzzy" (actually two of them) as were most of the rest of them but it is easier to find. Be outside at your favorite dark-sky place at least one and a half to two hours after local sunset with your binoculars looking north...
Time for No. 5 in our Top 10 (04/06/16)
Let's see, where were we? Oh yes, ready for number five on our "Top Ten" list of things to look for on a spring evening. Just remember, we must be at a dark sky place at least an hour after local sunset which in southwest Nebraska is at about 7:15 pm MDT...
Searching the sky for Messier objects (03/30/16)
Anybody get up early on the morning of March 23, to attempt to see the penumbral eclipse of the moon? Yeah, I didn't either. That kind of eclipse is difficult if not next to impossible to see. However, something we can see can be found in the early evening sky these early spring evenings. Here is a "Top Ten" list of things to look for...
We should still pay attention to the sky (03/23/16)
Now that the equinox is past, I can share my attempt at spring poetry: "Spring has sprung, the grass is rizz, I wonder where the flowers is." Well, make of it what you will. Folks today don't pay as much attention to the sky as they did say 100 years ago. For them the stars and their movement gave directions as to when to plant, when to harvest, care of animals, and when the seasons were changing...
Changing times, sights and a near-miss (03/16/16)
Before we start, I would hope by now you have all made your annual "leap forward" and changed your clocks into Mountain Daylight Time. Daylight Saving Time, our annual leap of partial insanity which makes us think we have a longer day. I am reminded the story of when a Native American chief was told about Daylight Saving Time he said, "It would take the government to think that by cutting a foot off one end of a blanket and putting on the other that he would have a longer blanket."...
Where have all the bright stars gone? (03/09/16)
Okay, first off, you need to be out at your favorite dark-sky spot at least an hour after local sunset--a little later would be alright too--looking southeast. One of the first questions we might ask is, "Where have all the bright stars gone?" And, it would be a good question...
A trip to the blackboard (03/02/16)
Okay, now I have to go to the blackboard and write 100 times, "It is the summer solstice" in order to make up for my gaff of a couple weeks ago when I mentioned the "summer equinox." The correct reference is summer solstice and autumnal equinox which goes along with the corollary of the vernal (spring) equinox and the winter solstice...
Will March be a lion or a lamb? (02/24/16)
So, what will it be? Will March come in like a lion or a lamb? With all the warm temperatures we have been having, and with the wind I was beginning to think March had come early. We have discussed before some of the history behind the lion/lamb mythology. It is not quite as famous as that pesky rodent in Pennsylvania, but still bears a look...
The King of Winter meets the Lion of Summer (02/17/16)
As with most temporal events things are a changing. In case you haven't noticed, or were just not paying attention, the days are getting longer and we are having more hours of daylight. Since the winter solstice we have gained about one hour and 26 minutes as of today and will be gaining more until the summer equinox when our days will begin going the other way...
Time to view two jewels in the sky (02/10/16)
Two of the jewels of the night sky are in good location for viewing these February evenings. The first is the great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the second in the same section of the sky is the Triangulum Galaxy (M33). The Triangulum is also sometimes called the Pinwheel Galaxy, a name it shares with M101...
Groundhog Day, the Mars hoax and other travesties (02/03/16)
Well, we have burned through the first month of our new year and things are starting to heat up astronomically speaking, now we just have to wait for the weather to catch up. Yesterday was Groundhog Day, or the day that pesky rodent in Pennsylvania was supposed to stick his head out of his burrow looking for his shadow...
Why so many bright stars (01/27/16)
It is always fun to dip into the old mailbag to get a question from readers. This one asks, "Why are there so many bright stars in the winter sky?" Good question. With the stars of Orion, Auriga, Taurus all hanging just above the eastern horizon after sunset, it would seem there are a lot of bright stars available for our viewing...
The reappearance of the Milky Way (01/20/16)
Remember last May when we talked about how the Milky Way was all around the horizon? Remember how we said if we come back in a few months we would see it overhead? Well, since we are already outside, look toward the southeast horizon to find a faint trail of stars that marks the Milky Way...
Twinkle, twinkle little stellar scintillation (01/13/16)
Did you ever sing the little ditty that goes, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high. Like a diamond in the sky? Did you ever wonder why stars twinkle? What makes the starry host as viewed from a dark-sky place seem to look like so many blinking Christmas lights against a dark background?...
Orion the Hunter; Those aren't really stars (12/30/15)
While most people would not think of winter is a great sky watching time, but some of the brightest stars and well known constellations are visible during the winter season. Let's start tonight. Go to your favorite dark-sky place at about 8 p.m. local time and look east. There you will find Orion, the Hunter, the king of the winter sky just rising over the horizon...
The reason for the luster (12/23/15)
In the immortal words of the W. Clement Moore's poem, "The Night Before Christmas, "he writes, "The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave a luster of midday to objects below." One reason for that luster was probably a full moon and we are going to have that same view of a full moon on the snow at Christmas this year; an event that occurs rarely. We haven't seen one since 1977 and won't see one again until 2020...
Sun: About as far south as it gets (12/16/15)
We are approaching a major change in the year, winter starts on Dec. 22, at 9:48 pm MST. At that time the Sun reaches its farthest point south of the celestial equator -- an event called the Winter Solstice. However, just because it is winter, that does not change the exciting prospects for observing outside your backdoor have lessened. In fact it is probably just the opposite...
Some observations take optical assistance (12/02/15)
So, now it is we approach the time of year where, for some, thoughts of Sugar Plums start dancing in our heads, for others thoughts of what we have been wanting all year float in and out of our dreams. Often the question comes to us in the form of, "What telescope should I buy? That is like asking what kind of car should I buy? It comes down to first deciding what you want to do with it, before you decide which one you want...
Sailing the Celestial Ocean (11/11/15)
We continue our tour of the Celestial Ocean this week with the last three -- and the most difficult to locate -- of the constellations located there. We left off with a dim and rather nondescript constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish with its very bright Fomalhaut, often called the "lonliest star in the sky" because there are no other stars visible around it, including the stars of its own constellation...
Early McCook goes social -- the GAR (11/09/15)
The Civil War had a profound effect on our nation. One effect that it had on the country was that it hastened settlement of the western United States. A good many of these early settlers were veterans of the Civil War, 1861-1865. McCook, like many other western towns owed much to the Civil War vets, young men, who traded the excitement and adventure of the war for the new adventures (and untold hardships) of opening up a new country, Western Nebraska...
Prepare for grand things in the sky (11/04/15)
Here we are, two months left in the year, and all the excitement of the end-of-year activities (Thanksgiving and Christmas if you missed the hint). But that also means there are grand things afoot in the sky. Specifically the southern area of the sky that we like to call, "The Celestial Ocean" because the constellations there all have to do with water or oceans...
Signs in the sky, some of them spooky (10/28/15)
My original plan was to discuss the celestial ocean this week with all the "aquatic" constellations now floating in the southern sky after sunset, but I am going to put that on the back burner for a week since we are now close to Halloween. Halloween has always had an astronomical connection and not all of them are necessarily "spooky."...
Time for a semi-annual shower -- meteor, that is (10/21/15)
Meteor showers are always fun to watch. Tiny specks of cometary debris left by a passing comets come into contact with Earth's atmosphere and incinerate in the heat of the friction caused by its speed. Tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 21) and into the early morning hours of Thursday residents of Planet Earth will be treated to such a show...
The morning dance of the planets (10/14/15)
If you have been missing the early morning dance of the planets because of clouds or other such things that block your view, not to worry. It will continue on into November and for some aspects even into the next year. The planetary alignment is such now that Venus, Mars, and the giant Jupiter are visible together about an hour before local sunrise these early autumn mornings...
Prepare for the planetary parade (09/30/15)
Now that we have the total lunar eclipse out of the way, let's turn our attention to other coming attractions in our nightly celestial showcase. One thing for sure, I love a parade, and the flashier the better. Well, we have a really flashy planetary parade coming up beginning this week and extending into November and possibly even into the new year...
Sit back and enjoy a total lunar eclipse (09/23/15)
Every once in a while Earth will slide between the Sun and moon and we here on Earth experience what is known as a total lunar eclipse -- that is where the shadow of Earth not only crosses the face of the moon, but totally engulfs it. We almost had one on the Aug. ...
The days are getting shorter (09/16/15)
The days have been growing shorter. Ever since the summer solstice where the Sun was as far north in the sky as it gets for the year giving us the longest days and shortest nights; it has slowly been moving back south until on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 2:21 am MDT it will cross the celestial equator giving us almost equal days and nights -- the autumnal equinox...
Exciting month, astronomically speaking (09/09/15)
We have entered the ninth month of the year and I find myself wondering, what happened to the other eight; anymore they seem to fly by so quickly. Be that as it may, September will be a very exciting month astronomically speaking. There is a lot going on, all the way from watching a very slender crescent moon dancing with some planets in the morning, to the autumnal equinox, the return of the Zodiacal Light, the closest moon of the year, and a total lunar eclipse, and an opportunity to get out and just look at the moon.. ...
Countdown to the Autumnal Equinox (09/02/15)
September, wow, where has the year gone? Sort of like watching the stars and constellations pass overhead from east to west. In three weeks we will be observing the Autumnal Equinox -- the beginning of autumn -- and a few days later a total lunar eclipse. Talk about anticipation...
Sorry, it ain't gonna happen ... (08/26/15)
Normally in this column we discuss astronomical events that are coming up, however, today we are discussing something which is not going to happen--ever. Many of you by this time have seen postings on various aspects of social media that on August 27th, there will be two moon sized objects in the sky, one the planet Mars, and the other the moon. Well, sorry to burst your expectative bubble, but in the vernacular of my people--it ain't gonna happen...
The skies they are a changin' (08/19/15)
Well, now that we have the Perseids out of the way for another year, let's continue with business. One thing we did notice while out looking for meteors -- even if you missed the meteor shower -- the constellations are changing. The Summer Triangle of Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila, which have been on the eastern horizon are now directly overhead at midnight, ready to take the plunge into the downhill slide into the western half of the sky...
Meteor shower tonight (08/12/15)
Do you have your dark-sky place picked out to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower starting tonight, Wednesday, August 12, into Thursday morning, August 13? At present the weather for the Denver area does not look promising for clear skies Wednesday evening. However, the forecast-at present-for southwest Nebraska and Missouri is looking very good with clear skies for both locations. You might want to check out your local forecast for Wednesday evening just in case...
Moving on from the Blue Moon to the Perseids (08/05/15)
Did you see the "Blue Moon" last Friday? Wasn't blue was it? The term "Blue Moon" is just one of those things that get attached to something. In this case two full moons in one calendar month. It is a name for something that happens rarely, like "Once in a blue moon."...
Taking a look at the Scales (07/29/15)
Before we get to Sagittarius, I want to take a quick jump back to Scorpius, or at least to the area around the scorpion, specifically in what is today called Libra, the Scales. Specifically, two second magnitude stars in Libra that used to be attached to Scorpius as its fearsome claws, Zubeneschamali--the Northern Claw, and Zubenelgenubi--the Southern Claw...
Gaggle of giggling scientists (07/23/15)
By now I am sure you have heard that the New Horizons mission to Pluto went off without a hitch and some great data is being returned to Earth; all the scientists are giggling like school girls. Now, remember last spring when we discussed how it was not possible to see the Milky Way because it was running around the horizon? Well, we can see it now in all its glory...
A gaggle of giggling scientists (07/22/15)
By now I am sure you have heard that the New Horizons mission to Pluto went off without a hitch and some great data is being returned to Earth; all the scientists are giggling like school girls. Now, remember last spring when we discussed how it was not possible to see the Milky Way because it was running around the horizon? Well, we can see it now in all its glory...
The Pluto fly-by (07/15/15)
One of the difficulties in writing a column such as this is something called "lead time." That is the amount of time before the publication date the copy has to be into the newspaper. In this case, the copy must be sent in at least by the Friday before the Wednesday publication...
Acting like kids at Christmastime (07/08/15)
Have you ever seen a bunch of grown scientists and engineers act like children at Christmas? Then go to the control room at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab where information is being received from the New Horizons space probe approaching the planet Pluto...
It's time for the seasons to change (06/17/15)
It's that time again. Time for a seasonal change. Although it has felt like summer for a few weeks now, it won't be official until Sunday, June 21, at 10:38 am MDT when the Sun reaches the furthest point north in its travels for the year -- on the Tropic of Capricorn -- 23 degrees north of the equator...
Astronomers now fans of summertime (06/10/15)
Normally we outdoor types are happy to see summer arrive. The warmer temperatures, the bright sunshine, the fun outdoor activities. However, we astronomer types--we do our thing in the dark--are not so happy to see summer begin. "But," I hear you say, "I thought you would be happy. "There are so many more and brighter objects to see in the sky, in the summer, so many more interesting objects to look at. Why would you not be happy?"...
How to tell the stars are moving (06/03/15)
For thousands of years we have used the stars as a symbol of stability. Objects that are fixed in the firmament giving us a sense of steadiness knowing that they would always be there right where we expected to see them in the night sky. We could depend on them to tell us when the seasons changed, when to plant, when to harvest, and when the hunting would be the best. We knew they would be there when and where we expected them to be...
An Illinois view of the night sky (05/27/15)
We are coming to you this week from the gloriously dark skies of rural west-central Illinois, about an hour north of St. Louis. If you look at a map of Illinois, that peculiar bulge caused by the meandering of the Mississippi River is west-central Illinois putting it north of St. Louis...
Star light, star bright may not be a star at all (05/13/15)
Who remembers the little rhyme, "Star light, Star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight"? Who can forget waiting outside for it to get dark so you could be the first one to spot the "wishing star" and have your wish granted. Scanning the sky from right to left, up and down just to be able to find that star...
Why is the Milky Way missing? (05/06/15)
One of the great joys of the late spring/early summer is going outside when the sky is good and dark and gazing at the Milky Way. That glowing stripe of massed stars representing the edge of our galaxy spreads across the sky giving us a grand sight and all we need is our eyes...
Wishing we were all in the dark (04/29/15)
When I was a boy I remember visiting my grandparents who lived out in the country. What I remember most -- aside from gathering the eggs from under the hens for grandma and helping grandpa with the milking -- was the darkness of the skies. In town there was a streetlight across the corner from our house that lit up the corner (but not much else) and by retreating to the backyard and putting the several large Black Walnut and broad-leafed Catalpa trees between me and the streetlight I could get a reasonably dark sky.. ...
A week of easily seen meet-ups (04/22/15)
My original intention for this week was to discus the planet Venus passing through the constellation Taurus, the Bull. But I think I will hold that off for a week because next week the bright planet will be within binocular range of the Crab Nebula, the first object French comet hunter Charles Messier put on his list of things that were not comets, M-1...
Tomato, tomaaato, it was quite an eclipse (04/08/15)
'Twas a great night for a lunar eclipse -- or rather I should say, a great early morning. At about 0415 hours the umbral shadow cone of Earth started to darken the left side of the lunar face and proceeded to totally cover it just in time for the moon to set behind the western horizon...
Getting ready for a total lunar eclipse (03/25/15)
Having survived the total solar eclipse on April 20, we now get ready for a total lunar eclipse in the early morning of Saturday, April 4. This eclipse will not be like the last two, total in the early to mid-evening. Totality for this eclipse won't start until 0419 MDT hours in the wee hours of the early morning, so it will be for early risers...
The long-awaited (?) arrival of spring (03/18/15)
The seasons they are a-changing. We know that Friday, March 20, is the long-awaited first day of spring, or the vernal equinox, but that is not all that is changing. We will be getting a whole new set of constellations to look at. On Friday, the Sun will cross the celestial equator from south to north giving us an equinox, or supposedly equal day and night all around the world, which is what the word "equinox" means, equal day and equal night...
Another look at the ecliptic (03/11/15)
Let's take a step back and look at the ecliptic some more. The ecliptic is the imaginary line that is Earth's equator extended into space. A line that the Sun seems to follow -- as seen from Earth against the background stars of the zodiac. The planets and the moon also seem to follow this imaginary line in their orbits which is why we have been -- and will be -- able to see the planets in occasional conjunction with each other...
Why are the planets always meeting up with each other? (03/04/15)
Well, that is two months of the new year we have burned through, now we are starting on the last month of the first quarter of the year. We also have two more planets appearing close to each other in our early evening sky, this time Venus will be helping us find the dim, distant planet Uranus and there will be another one next week...
Heavenly bodies everywhere (02/18/15)
Planets, planets everywhere, and now a thin crescent moon thrown in to boot. Plus, the day we have been waiting for has arrived, the planets Venus and Mars will be at their closest on Saturday, February 21. We have been watching the pair get closer and closer over the past few weeks and the day we have been waiting for has arrived...
Something bright and shiny for Valentine's Day (02/11/15)
Valentine's Day is coming, and if you are getting sweaty palms trying to figure out what get your sweetie, how about something that is "out of this world." First off, how about something bright and shiny? For that you will need someplace that has a clear, unobstructed view of the southwestern horizon and have either a pair of binoculars or a small telescope...
One down, 11 more to go (02/04/15)
We have blown through one-twelfth of our year and passed the halfway mark of winter. Feb. 2 -- Groundhog Day --is a cross-quarter day which marks about the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. You have probably noticed that the days are growing longer, the Sun is appearing higher in the sky and there is less sunlight coming in your south-facing windows...
Cats and rockers and stars and planets and the moon (01/21/15)
We are going to be busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs this week. With all the planet/planet, planet/moon, and other events we are going to be busy. So, find your favorite dark-sky place with a good, clear view to the southwest, get your lawn chair, binoculars, or telescope and let's go...
Venus, Mercury make quite a pair (01/14/15)
Are you tracking the Venus/Mercury pair each evening just after sunset? You should be. Tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 14, bright Venus and speedy Mercury will be at their closest in the southwestern evening sky, look at about 30-minutes after local sunset. They are quite visible together in the same binocular field of view...
After Christmas, what next? (12/31/14)
The piles of torn wrapping paper and other debris has been cleared away and everyone is busy examining their new gifts and you are staring at the box with brightly printed planets, nebula, galaxies, and other astronomical objects as well as the brand new telescope inside...
Last-minute astronomy gifts, and the true length of days (12/24/14)
Before I get involved with the rest of this, I want to wish each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas. Speaking of which, it may be a little late now, but here are a couple more gift ideas for the astronomically minded person on your gift list. Probably one of the premier books for any astronomer is "Nightwatch," by Terence Dickinson, published by Firefly Books. Not only is there a wealth of information, there are some great maps of the sky to help locate those objects you will be looking for...
U.S. crew capsules back in space (12/10/14)
Kudos first of all to the folks at NASA for the successful launch, orbit, and recovery of the latest generation of space vehicle, the Orion Crew Capsule. This vehicle will hopefully be the one that enables astronauts to travel to Mars or an asteroid and back...
Thanksgiving week leftovers (12/03/14)
There is one more polygon that was left-over from last week, I didn't have room to put it in, so here goes. There is another shape in the winter sky that astronomers look for. Just as the summer has a triangle, so does winter. This triangle can be found low above the eastern horizon after 10 p.m. MDT, and we can use our old friend Orion to do it...
Did you enjoy Durin's Day? (11/26/14)
We sort of left off on a cliff-hanger last week trying to determine the date of Durin's Day, the Dwarves New Year. Now true, there may not be a lot of Tolkien fans out there, but we are around, and with the third -- and hopefully final -- movie of the Hobbit cycle coming out in December there may be more interest...
This, that and the other (11/19/14)
This week, we have sort of a Hodge-podge of information. As you may be aware, the astronomical community was all agog last week following along as the Philae lander separated from the European Space Agency's Rosetta robotic space craft that had caught up with and orbited Comet 67P (it is also named for two Russian astronomers who discovered it, but nobody can pronounce their names)...
First the bad news ... (11/05/14)
There is good news and bad news for this week. Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The celestial viewing this week won't be that good, the moon will be full tomorrow and will pretty much wipe out any viewing opportunities, at least in the early evening for the next few days...
Why Hallmark gets it wrong (10/29/14)
As much as the good folks who print greeting cards would like for us to believe it, there is not always a full moon on Halloween. Take a stroll through any greeting card aisle -- as I did recently -- and you will see depictions of smiling witches riding their brooms across the face of a full moon...
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...
Vernon Whetstone
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