Conjunctions, groupings and a comet hunt

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Last week we had a lot of nice conjunctions and groupings. To quote a song from my generation, "And the beat goes on." Now you know why they call me the "Stargeezer."

The "Path of the Planets" is still quite visible and can be traced from Venus low in the west after sunset up and to the left finding Mars and Saturn.

While you are on the path, look for the open star cluster M44, The Beehive Cluster, Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion and Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the Maiden. They all lay along the planetary pathway.

The moon will also be marching along the pathway as it never strays too far from the ecliptic.

Tonight, June 16, a five-day old crescent moon will be below Mars and Regulus. On Saturday it will be close to Saturn.

If you will watch each evening as the moon travels further eastward note how the crescent grows larger until on Saturday, June 19, when it will be at first quarter, or half of the moon's face will be lit by sunlight.

Venus is also traveling these evenings. Tonight it is just above the western horizon and by Saturday it will be up near M44 where the moon was a few days ago. Watch each evening as it travels on up to near Regulus.

Bright Venus will stay in the area of M44 for the next few days which will provide some excellent opportunities for some fine binocular viewing.

If you will follow Venus each night, by the end of the first week in July it will be near Regulus where Mars was recently.

The summer solstice, the first day of summer, is on Monday, June 21, at 5:28 p.m. MDT. The solstice means the sun has traveled as far north along the horizon as it is going to get.

For the week of June 20 to 26 the sun will rise and set at about the same time and place each day. In this case rising at 5:16 a.m. MDT and setting at 8:18 p.m. MDT.

Solstice means "sun stand still" from when the sun seems to rise and set at the same place and time each day.

After that, the sun will start to travel back south along the horizon and the days will get shorter and the nights longer until the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of autumn, when day and night will be relatively equal.

And now for a shameless commercial. There is still time to register for the Observational Astronomy class sponsored by the extended campus of Mid-Plains Community College in Imperial.

The first class will be an indoor meeting on Wednesday, June 23, at the campus building in Imperial at 1320 Broadway at 7 p.m. MDT. Call the Imperial office at (308) 883-5972 and ask to register for the class.

The class will meet once a month for four months. The plan is to observe the constellations of spring, summer and autumn. Depending on how well the class goes we may even try for some winter constellation observing later.


First quarter moon, June 19. I wasn't ready to share this yet until I had the opportunity to view it myself. Okay campers, grab the binoculars and head outside at between 3:30 and 4 a.m. MDT and look northeast and let's start our "Comet Hunt."

Comet 2009 R1 McNaught is presently below Perseus showing at about sixth magnitude which is just about visible with just the eyes alone, although binoculars will be a great help. A dark-sky place will be needed far away from any city lighting. As the week progresses the comet will move down toward the horizon and on Monday, June 21, it will be within one degree of bright Capella in Auriga which will be a great help in finding the comet. As this is being written there is no visible tail but that could change as the ice ball from the outer part of the solar system moves closer to the sun. Happy hunting.


More astronomical blathering.

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