Early fall nights can be crisp, but it’s rewarding to go out after dark on these clear, moonless evenings to see some stars and constellations in our Western Slope skies.
Rising in the northeast just after dark, you will find a group of stars that looks like a “W” on its side. These stars are part of the constellation Cassiopeia, which commemorates a queen in Greek mythology.
The sun rises in the east each day in our western slope skies and appears to shine with constant brightness. However, we shouldn’t take the sun for granted, because the sun’s energy sustains most life on Earth. And, in this age of widespread, complex technology, the sun can impact our daily lives.
The sun, in fact, is not constant, and we need to pay attention to our active, local star.
Just about any clear night provides an invitation to go outside and see what’s up. Some nights, however, might offer a special attraction: a meteor shower; a conjunction between the Moon and a bright star or planet; or even a lunar eclipse. If you are a beginner stargazer you can maximize your sky watching efforts by taking a few simple steps.
Start with a star chart, and/or a Planisphere or a star-charting app that runs on a smart phone, tablet, or PC. These are valuable tools in learning the night sky, displaying any number of sky objects for any hour of the night.
As August began, all of the bright planets were visible in our western slope skies. Since all of our solar system planets orbit the sun, the visible planets change from night to night.
As of today’s program, we have already lost Mercury from view for the rest of this month. It was visible in the early dawn for the first two weeks of the month. However, we still have Venus shining low on the evening horizon. Saturn will end the month just a little higher than Venus. Jupiter rises well after midnight, followed by Mars even later.
The Perseid meteor shower sprinkles the night sky with shooting stars in August.
The meteors are bits of icy and rocky debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. As Earth flies through the comet’s path, some bits of comet dust slam into the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. They quickly vaporize, creating bright but brief streaks of light in the night sky.
This is the first in a series of Western Slope Skies episodes about Women in Astronomy. We hope that, in some manner, these inspire our young female listeners to become involved in astronomy.
On June 16, 1963, the Russians launched Vostok 6. The lone astronaut on board was Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. She was in space for 48 orbits over three days. In her single mission, she logged more time in space than all the American astronauts who had been in space to that date combined.
“Hey, can you see the flag in that thing?!” It’s a question that makes us wince when observing the moon at astronomy outreaches. The answer is…Maybe if you were aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter… but, all six of the flags are now faded to white, and the first one blew over when the Apollo 11 lunar module blasted off departing the moon.
From our backyards, the moon, our closest celestial neighbor, is easily observed by the unaided eye as it moves through its changing phases. During the next two weeks, the moon will move from new to nearly full.
Saturn…The ringed planet. The sixth planet from the Sun; second largest in the Solar System behind Jupiter; and the one that evokes the most vivid images in our thoughts. It is an unforgettable sight, even in a small telescope.
From now until early May, Saturn will be the brightest it has been for more than 5 years. It rises in the east as the Sun sets and will be visible all night long.
The term Light Pollution refers to excessive and glaring artificial lighting, especially light that is scattered above the horizon. This is a very serious problem for astronomers, because it can prevent them from seeing objects in space.