04 October 2014

The Next Blood Moon: October 8, 2014

Total Lunar Eclipse of October 8th
We're in for the second of four total lunar eclipses in 2014-2015. Next week the Full Moon slips into the shadow of the Earth and reveals itself as a 'blood moon' in the early morning sky of Wednesday October 8th. You'll need to be up in the wee hours of the night, as the eclipse reaches total phase at 3:25 am pacific time, where it will remain in total eclipse for an hour. Given our good weather in San Francisco, this should be nicely on display and the view from the west coast should be nice, if you can get out to the beach. The Moon itself will not be a 'super moon' but will be larger than most Full Moons, so it should be an awesome sight.

You can find more details on the Sky & Telescope website. You'll need clear skies and a good view of the sky to the southwest. It should be a dramatic blood-red color, as the Moon will move deep into the umbral shadow of the Earth.

This infographic from Guy-AndrĂ© Pierre-Nicolas of astroshop.eu is an excellent resource that illustrates beautifully many facets of a lunar eclipse.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

24 September 2014

Red 'Stars' and White Moon

Slender Moon, Mars and more
For the next week, the twilight sky will feature a close alignment of two bright shiny red objects, Mars and Antares, and the slender Moon wending its way through the southwestern sky. The Moon encounters the ringed planet Saturn on Saturday 27th and then brackets the close pairing of orange-red Mars and the red supergiant star Antares in the constellation Scorpius. This first lunar cycle of autumn should start out beautifully with the waxing Moon and some lovely alignments. Look south and west shortly after sunset each evening for the best viewing.

Image courtesy Sky & Telescope.

10 September 2014

Luxury Star Gazing

Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay
Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area means clear skies and mild temperatures, and clear skies along the coast - a welcome change after the fog of summer. If you are in the Bay Area in the coming months, stop by the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Resort in Half Moon Bay for a Friday night star party. I am running star parties there a couple Fridays per month and love the setting, the reasonably dark skies, and the fun interaction with guests from all around the world. The patio is located on a stunningly beautiful stretch of California coast next to the 18th green of the Ocean Course. Hope you can make it. Click here for the schedule and more information.

02 September 2014

Celebrate the Moon - Saturday September 6th

This Saturday is International Observe The Moon Night. Where will you be for this special evening? I'll be conducting sidewalk astronomy in front of the Exploratorium in San Francisco along with other astronomy enthusiasts. The Moon will be a few days away from another Supermoon, and if the skies cooperate, we should have a lovely view of Earth's natural satellite in gibbous phase between first quarter and full. Click the link for more information on International Observe The Moon Night. Hope to see you at an event.

22 August 2014

KFOG Broadcast - August 12, 2014

I paid a visit to the KFOG Morning Show and had a fun chat with Renee about the Supermoon, Perseid Meteor Shower, How to Look At The Night Sky, and Star Parties in and around San Francisco. Click here to listen

14 August 2014

Jupiter & Venus Conjunction – Closest Approach Since 2000

After the Moon, the two brightest objects in the night sky are the planets Venus and Jupiter. Venus is a close neighbor and a very reflective planet, dominating morning and evening skies with its brilliant white shimmer against the changing colors of the dawn or dusk sky. Jupiter is the giant planet of the Solar System and despite its distance, is a bold and bright object for us to enjoy, especially in a telescope or binoculars.

Venus & Jupiter Conjunction
These two planets, like all of the objects in the Solar System, gradually change their position with respect to the background stars from day to day. All of the objects in the Solar System move along a common path across the sky, the Ecliptic. And from time to time these objects line up and create beautiful patterns and visually stunning sights.

On the morning of Monday August 18th (from North America), we will see Venus and Jupiter in a conjunction, a close alignment of the two bodies from our Earthbound point of view. The two will be in the east just before sunrise, so you’ll have to get up early to see this, but it will be rewarding. The two will be less than the Moon’s width apart, and given their bright nature, the pairing should be spectacular. Through binoculars, you will also be able to see a lovely star cluster, the Beehive Cluster, in the background of stars, as Jupiter and Venus will be in the constellation Cancer and passing through the Beehive.

The image (courtesy of Sky & Telescope) shows where to look. From San Francisco, sunrise will be at 6:30 am and the Venus-Jupiter pair will rise at 5:00 am, so you will need a good northeastern horizon to see the pairing, and the 30 minute window starting at 5:00 will provide the best dark-sky viewing conditions as the glare of dawn will start to interfere by 5:30.

You can find an excellent write up on the conjunction on Sky & Telescope's website. 

10 August 2014

Perseid Meteor Shower 2014 - what to expect

This year’s Perseid Meteor Shower will peak on August 11-12-13 and should offer up a moderately pleasing view of meteors but will be impacted by the nearly Full Moon. Meteors come in all sizes and shapes and during a reliable shower like the Perseids, you can see them all. However, moonlight increases the ambient lighting of the entire night sky and consequently makes the faint meteors all but invisible. The medium-strength meteors and the fireballs will shine through the glare of course, so the Perseids will have a showing, but just not at the rate we often see during a truly dark sky shower.

Perseid Meteor
I’ve often written that meteor showers are best viewed after midnight, when we are turned toward the path of Earth’s orbit (we are on the “front-face of Earth” after midnight), and we get better meteors. This still holds true, but in a recent article in Sky & Telescope, author Alan MacRobert suggests that early evening is a very good time to look for earth-grazers, meteors that enter the Earth’s atmosphere as a low angle and can be seen for much longer periods of time.  I will certainly be looking for these. I’m not an all-night observer and prefer looking out into the sky waiting for meteors when I am a bit more awake. So the idea of seeing grazers carries appeal for me in more ways than one. Last week on Mt. Tam we witnessed some spectacular meteors, one of which had a trajectory that suggested it was an early Perseid grazer.


For more information on the Perseids, check out these resources.

Image courtesy of Stefano De Rosa