Tag Archives: Zodiac

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 Brochure – An Observational Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet

To cut to the downloading chase: Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet V6.pdf

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

Those who’ve ever run an observing session have inevitably faced the most daunting of amateur astronomy outreach questions:

“Woah. How far away is that?!”

In the interest of having a rapid response to that and similar questions, the posted cheat sheet combines as much of the usual information that observers and attendees might want to know as can be fit in not-too-small font into groupings that fit on single pages (10, total).

An important word on the facts: To the very best of ability, all of the information has been checked and double-checked against available data online. To that end, all of the data as presented can be directly attributed to the following websites as of their content on 1 January 2017:

* astropixels.com/messier/messiercat.html – extra thanks to Fred Espenak for use permissions

* astropixels.com/stars/brightstars.html – extra thanks to Fred Espenak for use permissions

* www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/2016-meteor-shower-list/

* www.dl1dbc.net/Meteorscatter/meteortopics.html

* nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/

* star.arm.ac.uk/~dja/shower/codes.html

And, of course:

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exceptional_asteroids

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/88_modern_constellations

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_meteor_showers

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_brightest_stars

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_magnitude

* en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_classification

The Observational Astronomy Cheat Sheet contains the following:

Page 1: The only two figures in the document, including the famous “finger how-to” for measuring distances in the night sky and a figure describing right ascension and declination (with values for many objects given in the tables).

Page 2: Moons And Planets – All of the standard information (and descriptions below) about the relative places of planets in the Solar System (distances, masses, temperatures, distances from Sun), then an extra column for our Moon.

Page 3: Best Meteor Showers – All of the categorized Class I, II, and III Meteor Showers throughout the year, including approximate peak dates, times, and directions.

Page 4: Marginal Meteor Showers – All of the categorized Class IV Meteor Showers (these are surely poor meteor showers for observing, but that fact that we’ve catalogued them there tells you how exhaustive astronomers have been in keeping track of periodicities in our day/nighttime sky).

Page 5: Winter And Spring Messier Objects – including abbreviations, NGC labels, types, distances (as best we know them), and Common Names.

Page 6: Summer And Autumn Messier Objects – including abbreviations, NGC labels, types, distances (as best we know them), and Common Names.

Page 7: Northern and Zodiacal Constellations – including family, origin, brightest star, and positional information.

Page 8: Southern Constellations – including family, origin, brightest star, and positional information.

Page 9: Top Asteroids – the best and brightest (and best identified), including distances, discovery information, and magnitudes (as available).

Page 10: Stars – the Top 50 brightest (with our Sun at its rightful position as #1), including constellation, magnitudes, distances, and mass and positional information.

And, without further ado…

Download Astronomy Facts And Figures Cheat Sheet V6.pdf

Barlow Bob’s Corner – Ophiuchus, By Mary Lou West, Ph.D.

The following article has been forwarded along by Barlow Bob, founder & organizer of the NEAF Solar Star Party and regional event host & lecturer on all things involving solar spectroscopy. You can read more about Barlow Bob and see some of his other articles at www.neafsolar.com/barlowbob.html.

Poster’s Note: I can only imagine that there are outdoor statues all over the world reaching back to antiquity that reveal something astronomical only once a year – and no one knows that this is their purpose. This article describes a modern reminder nearly in our own backyard. This story initially appeared in the Fall 2011 Montclair State University College of Science and Mathematics newsletter. And apologies for the image graininess (exported out of Microsoft Word).

Ophiuchus, the Serpent carrier is an ancient myth from the Middle East, a constellation in the summer sky, and a sculpture on the Montclair State University campus in Montclair, NJ. But how many times have you bypassed it on your way to and from the library or College Hall and wondered what it might be, other than an abstract metal sculpture?

The sculpture, the story of a young man’s victory over “the snake of all knowledge,” consists of a concrete disk, an iron tripod, and aluminum artwork. It was designed in 1988 by Mac Adams and Montclair State University professor of sculpture. This victor changed his name to “Ophiuchus” (snake carrier in Greek) because he then carried the snake wrapped around his walking stick as he traveled from village to village learning the methods of medicine from the snake. The caduceus has become the emblem of physicians and veterinarians since that time.

2014march11_ophiuchus_statue

The not-entirely-Ophiuchus-like sculpture.

But it is also more than just a metal sculpture. At true noon on May 24, 2011, as its shadow is centered on the disk, we were able to see a figure with his hand around a writhing snake’s throat. At other times of the day or year when the shadow is not centered, it is not recognizable, except for July 17 when the sun is at the same declination as on May 24. We chose May 24 because it was graduation day, when college seniors are celebrating their personal victories over the snake of all knowledge. The alignment calculations and surveying were done by Mary Lou West, and should hold for hundreds of years. Ophiuchus is also the (small) thirteenth constellation of the Zodiac.

2014march11_ophiuchus_shadow

An entirely-Ophiuchus-like shadow made from the sculpture, visible on May 24th and July 17th each year (for the next few hundred years, anyway).

If you are in Montclair, New Jersey on either May 24th or July 17th, Please consider visiting this Ophiuchus sculpture at the Montclair State University campus.