30 May 2007

Evening Planets / Blue Moon

I spent last week at the Live Power Farm in Covelo with the 3rd grade. The sky there was clear and beautiful and we had two opportunities to meet with the kids to look at the darkening sky. At around 9:00 pm, the evening sky was filled with a parade of planets, something still visible this week as well featuring Mercury and Venus. To see this you will need a clear view of the western horizon over the next many days. The 3rd grade experienced this view and was able to see the changing position of Venus over the three evenings we were there.

Venus is moving quickly across the evening sky so if you view it on successive evenings, you will notice it moving up and to the left compared to the two twin stars in Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Further up and to the left of Venus is Saturn, currently located in the constellation Leo.

The Moon is full on May 31st, the second full moon of May for us in the western hemisphere. This unusual situation takes place infrequently and is known as a "Blue Moon." The exact time of the full moon on May 31st is 6:00 pm in California, when it is already June in Europe and Asia.Therefore, the eastern hemisphere will end up having two full moons in June. The result? We have a Blue Moon in May in North and South America, and the rest of the world gets a Blue Moon in late June. That is truly a "once in two blue moons" situation!

02 May 2007

Moon, Scorpio and Star Parties

Now that the days are getting longer, it is getting more challenging to see the night sky in the morning. This week I was outside at 5:45 am and the sky was already brightening with daylight. So to see the skies at dawn, you will need to get up very early. Don't despair, however, because if you are a night owl and are up near midnight, you can still see the Moon drifting eastward each night across the constellation Scorpio on May 4th, 5th and 6th. Jupiter is shining brightly and will be visible just above the bright Moon. You will need a good view of the south-eastern horizon to see this at midnight, and a good southern horizon to see this in the early morning.

I would like to say "Thank You" to the Gower and Henderson families. They were the top two "Star Party" bidders at the SFWS auction last weekend and for their contribution, I'll be conducting a personal star party for them and their friends.

What is a star party, you ask? It is a gathering of people in an open space to spend quality time observing the heavens. Many astronomy clubs host star parties, events in which the members of the club assemble in a good viewing spot, set up their telescopes, and share the night sky with other members and friends. I find that amateur astronomers are very friendly people and generally enjoy sharing the wonder of the sky with others. I too enjoy sharing the sky and have conducted astronomy lectures and star parties for some of the classes at SFWS. For those who purchased my star parties, you can be assured we will have a great time learning about the motions of the stars and planets in the heavens and take a close-up look through binoculars and a telescope.