Tag Archives: Night Sky Network

NASA Night Sky Notes: Mars The Wanderer

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in April, 2019.

By David Prosper

April’s skies find Mars traveling between star clusters after sunset, and a great gathering of planets just before sunrise.

Mars shows stargazers exactly what the term “planet” originally meant with its rapid movement across the evening sky this month. The ancient Greeks used the term planete, meaning wanderer, to label the bright star-like objects that travelled between the constellations of the zodiac year after year.

You can watch Mars as it wanders through the sky throughout April, visible in the west for several hours after sunset. Mars travels past two of the most famous star clusters in our night sky: the Pleiades and Hyades. Look for the red planet next to the tiny but bright Pleiades on April 1st. By the second week in April, it has moved eastward in Taurus towards the larger V-shaped Hyades. Red Mars appears to the right of the slightly brighter red-orange star Aldebaran on April 11th. We see only the brightest stars in these clusters with our unaided eyes; how many additional stars can you observe through binoculars?

Open clusters are made up of young stars born from the same “star nursery” of gas and dust. These two open clusters are roughly similar in size. The Pleiades appears much smaller as they are 444 light years away, roughly 3 times the distance of the Hyades, at 151 light years distant. Aldebaran is in the same line of sight as the Hyades, but is actually not a member of the cluster; it actually shines just 65 light years away! By comparison, Mars is practically next door to us, this month just a mere 18 light minutes from Earth – that’s about almost 200 million miles. Think of the difference between how long it takes the light to travel from these bodies: 18 minutes vs. 65 years!

The rest of the bright planets rise before dawn, in a loose lineup starting from just above the eastern horizon to high above the south: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. Watch this month as the apparent gap widens considerably between the gas giants and terrestrial planets. Mercury hugs the horizon all month, with Venus racing down morning after morning to join its dimmer inner solar system companion right before sunrise. In contrast, the giants Jupiter and Saturn move away from the horizon and rise earlier all month long, with Jupiter rising before midnight by the end of April.

The Lyrids meteor shower peaks on April 22nd, but sadly all but the brightest meteors will be washed out by the light of a bright gibbous Moon.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov

Caption: The path of Mars between the Pleiades and Hyades in April.
Image created with assistance from Stellarium.

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

CNYO Observing Log: TACNY Jr. Cafe And Solar Session @ The MOST, 17 May 2014

The May 17th TACNY Jr. Cafe Scientifique featured New Moon Telescope’s and CNYO’s own Ryan Goodson. His lecture, “Monster Telescopes And How They Are Built,” took attending students and adults on a 70-minute tour of the history of large-aperture telescopes. The lecture focused specifically on the Dobsonian philosophy that Ryan and NMT have developed upon to produce a novel design in scope assembly that many in the amateur astronomy community have taken notice of (when not commenting on the quality of the woodwork!).

The history and recent developments of the kind of telescope made famous by Isaac Newton – the Newtonian Reflector. We will begin the discussion from the perspective of the great Newton in the 1600s with his humble 1 1/2″ reflector, then journey through time to the present day, when amateur astronomers can often be seen in fields with telescopes large enough to rival or often surpass the size and quality of many professional observatories. We will focus on how the telescope is built, from the choice of wood to the installation of advanced electronics, finishing the discussion with what they are ultimately able to show us.

From Newton’s own telescope (perhaps he called it a “Me”ian scope), to the use of the PLOP program for optimizing mirror cells, to the new trend of GOTO-ing Dobsonian designs for tracking and imaging applications, Ryan gave the audience a broad sampling of topics important to scoped builders and users, all in a manner that didn’t bury non-scope owners in the jargon of the field.

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Ryan loading the rocker box of a 16″ Dob.

As is always the case at Jr. Cafe lectures, the kids were full of interest and great questions (as I’ve said before, nothing makes me feel more hopeful about the future of U.S. science than having a student ask a question I have to think hard about before answering).

But Wait! There’s More!

To take full advantage of the number of attendees and attending scopes, CNYO also hosted a solar session at the very beginning of the Creekwalk (next to the MOST) immediately after Ryan’s lecture. Over a two-hour period, approximately 45 lecture attendees and passers-by stopped to take in the sights of out nearest star. On a day that featured a few thick pockets of high-altitude clouds and otherwise perfect blue skies, the Coronado PST in attendance allowed us to follow a few significant prominences that changed shape considerably over the course of only 15 minutes (which was made more impressive to some of the new observers when we mentioned that these prominences were more easily measured in Earth diameters than in miles or kilometers).

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The Sun on May 17th, 2014. From NASA/SOHO

CNYO would like to specifically thank the NASA Night Sky Network for providing a (timely) Solar Kit that has already seen quite a bit of use these past few months at the capable hands of Larry Slosberg. I also want to thank Stephen Ramsden of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project for handing me several pairs of solar shades (at NEAF 2014) that also saw considerable use to those not lined up behind the scopes.

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CNYO Observers Log: MOST Climate Day And North Sportsman’s Club Practice Session, 19 April 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The Saturday after NEAF was a busy one for CNYO members, including a lecture and observing session for the MOST Climate Day during the afternoon and a nighttime “dry run” for the North Sportman’s Club Public Viewing Sessions we’re on the verge of hosting for the rest of the year.

The morning started with a hectic rearrangement of speakers for the TACNY Jr. Cafe session, with Prof. Peter Plumley (MOST, Syracuse University) and Prof. Timothy Volk (SUNY-ESF) admirably filling in for a missing speaker (and the crowd requests for future topics were heavy in astronomy!). And speaking of Jr. Cafe astronomy, we note the May 17th lecture features CNYO’s own Ryan Goodson speaking on Newtonian Telescopes (with a solar session to follow if the skies hold)!

The indoor part of CNYO’s contribution to the MOST Climate Day featured myself and a lecture about the Sun/Earth relationship. While that lecture was given to only 2.5 people (one person left half-way), a 50 minute talk extended to 90 minutes thanks to some excellent discussions and deeper probing of some of the slide content.

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Larry and observers on the Creekwalk. Click for a larger view.

Outside, Larry Slosberg hit the public observing jackpot with his 12″ Baader-ized New Moon Telescope Dob and NASA Night Sky Network Solar Kit. Between the MOST crowd, Record Store Day at Sound Garden, and a Creekwalk made busy by the clear skies and comfortable temperatures, Larry counted over a few dozen new observers before I even made it outside. To Larry’s solar collection I added a Coronado PST for some excellent H-alpha views of sunspots and several prominences that changed significantly over the course of an hour (which was made all the more impressive to passers-by when you mention that these changes could be measured in units of “Earths” instead of miles).

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An intrepid observer at the Coronado PST. Click for a larger view.

Larry and I packed up around 4:00 p.m. after giving nearly 40 people a unique view of our nearest star, providing a three-hour window before heading off to North Sportsman’s Club (NSC) for an evening session.

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Some of the NSC crew setting up. Click for a larger view.

We also used April 19th as a reintroduction to the skies above the NSC, with this session opened up to a short-list of people with scopes interested in helping reduce the lengths of observing lines at future public sessions (and we welcome others interested in bringing their scopes to these sessions to please contact us using our online form or by emailing us at info@cnyo.org).

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The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and surroundings. Click for a larger view.

The total in attendance was between 10 and 12 over the two hours I was present (and the event continued for some time after), with about half as many scopes present (which is a great number for even large public viewing sessions). Despite it becoming a very cold evening, the combined observing list was extensive from among all parties, with New Moon Telescope’s 27″ Dob making many views extra memorable.

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The view to the Southwest (featuring a bright Jupiter near center). Click for a larger view.

We are planning our first public session for 2014 in late May, perhaps to coincide with the predicted meteor super-storm on the early morning of May 24th. Keep track of cnyo.org or our Facebook group page for details!