22 March 2015

The Spring 2015 Eclipse Season

We are in an Eclipse Season, a period of time approximately every six months when we experience 2 or 3 eclipses in a short period of time. Just a few days ago Europe experienced a Total Solar Eclipse far in the north of the continent, and by coincidence I was in the region on a business trip and experienced a partial eclipse. Being there reignited the love I have for eclipses and now that I am back in San Francisco, I am counting down the days to the next Total Lunar Eclipse on the early morning hours of April 4th. This is the third in a 'Tetrad of Total Lunar Eclipses' that started in 2014 and conclude later this year.

Lunar Eclipse April 4
The upcoming Lunar Eclipse will be visible from the west coast of the United States in the pre-dawn hours, starting at 3:17 AM and reaching totality from 4:58 until 5:03 AM. This should be a unique eclipse due to the very short duration of totality. As the Moon will barely be fully engulfed in the umbral shadow of Earth, the color will likely be quite unusual. The past few Lunar Eclipses have produced 'blood red' Moons, but I expect this one will be a more shallow shading with more light on the limb of the Moon and not the dark or ruddy color that is often seen during totality. I look forward to a high-speed Lunar Eclipse. In many ways it will be reminiscent of a Total Solar Eclipse, in that we will only experience a tantalizing short few minutes of totality - something I am quite used to when it comes to Solar Eclipses, but not used to for Lunar.

The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers are planning a public viewing event at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on April 4th. Come join us for a fun time viewing this unique eclipse at the beach.

Image courtesy Fred Espenak.

09 March 2015

Saturn and Scorpius in the morning

Saturn and Scorpius
With the onset of daylight savings time, there is plenty of darkness in the morning to step outside and appreciate the view to the south, with the constellation Scorpius dominating the southern horizon. Over the past months, the planet Saturn has slowly moved from Libra into Scorpius where it will spend the next two years on a slow journey eastward across the constellation. The Moon joins the pair for the next few days in a lovely showing in the pre-sunrise sky.

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

06 March 2015

Comet Lovejoy still visible

Path of Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy has been a good target for binoculars over the past months. It remains a nice celestial object this month, gradually heading north toward Polaris. In the coming weeks you can find it in the northern constellation Cassiopeia, a faint but distinctive smudge of light that glows against the background stars. I have seen Lovejoy over the past months and enjoy the glow of its coma and tail. Comets don't often remain visible for this long, so if you have a moment and clear skies to the north, enjoy!

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

20 February 2015

A Fantastic Conjunction: Moon, Mars and Venus

Conjunction
This evening three celestial objects form an impressive tight grouping: Venus, Mars and the Moon. On Friday they are all in a group, and on Saturday the Moon moves on but Venus and Mars are even more closely aligned in a conjunction. All you need is a clear western horizon and the rest will take care of itself.

More details on Sky & Telescope's website. Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope.

07 February 2015

The King of the Night Sky

Jupiter has taken its place as the dominant object in the night sky, outshining everything else around it for the coming months. It just reached 'opposition' as it has its closest approach to the Earth for the next year. At opposition, Jupiter and the Earth and Sun are in a straight line, and Jupiter is visible for the entire night, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west, towering high overhead during the night, and setting in the west just as dawn breaks.

Details of Jupiter
The disk of Jupiter is at its maximum visible size, a clear ball with dominant cloudtops in backyard telescopes, with the four moons visible every night in an interplay that changes hourly. It's one of my favorite telescope objects because there is so much richness and visual beauty in the sight of this giant planet with its equatorial bands shining through.

Take a moment to appreciate the King of the Night Sky, currently passing through Leo the Lion. Jupiter's orbit takes it around the Sun in 12 of Earth's years, so each year we see it move to the next zodiac sign (Cancer in 2014, Leo in 2015, and Virgo in 2016).

Image courtesy Sky & Telescope.

21 January 2015

KFOG Broadcast: January 21, 2015

Had a good show with Renee, Irish Greg and No Name at KFOG. The Morning Show is always a lot of fun, with twists and turns along the way. We talked about Astronomy apps, Aliens, Star Parties, Orion, Comet Lovejoy, Pluto and New Horizons, and more. Click here to listen.

20 January 2015

Moon and Venus in the West

lender Moon and Venus
Wednesday January 21st, a very slender young Moon and Venus form a compact group immediately after sunset. You'll need binoculars to spot this grouping, as the thin crescent Moon will be easily lost in the glare of the sunset sky, but bright Venus should be easier to spot. There's something magic about the sight of the thin crescent Moon, just barely glowing as a small bit of its illuminated side is visible to us, and that small light has to be seen through the glowing atmosphere with the refracted sunlight still filtering through it.

In San Francisco, the Sun sets around 5:20 pm so the view here should be accurate for 6:00 pm. You'll need a clear horizon due west to see this. Best of luck and happy viewing!

If you miss the view on Wednesday, look again on Thursday as the Moon sweeps past Mars.

09 January 2015

Close Encounters

Close Encounters
The evening sky features a close encounter with the two inner planets, Venus and Mercury. When two celestial objects align, the visual effect is usually quite brilliant. Venus is 100s of times brighter than smaller and more distant Mercury, but nonetheless the two make an impressive pair this weekend. You'll need a clear view to the south-west just after sunset. Binoculars will make it faster and easier to locate the pair. The two planets will remain in close proximity for several days. And next week, the old Moon and Saturn will also have a close encounter. There's always much to see in the sky.

Happy Viewing!

Image courtesy Sky & Telescope.