5 Planets Aligned

Well, tomorrow morning, there were supposed to be 5 bright planets aligned in the east.

I will have to wait a few more days, since it is totally cloudy here at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.  (I suppose there is a future that can be foreseen, and it is cloudy.)

In any case, it is supposed to go on for some time, but pretty unlikely I will see Mercury, and I have seen the rest.  I also have a really hard time getting up early in the morning.   Maybe the better idea is just to stay up all night.  If we get a clear night in the next few days that is what I will do.  The New York Times says this:

It will be the first time in more than a decade that the fab five will be simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.

But a few lines later they say this:

“For Mercury you will need binoculars,” he said. “It will not jump out at you, but everybody should be able to see Venus and Jupiter.”

So, maybe someone in New York will be able to see all five simultaneously with the naked eye.  Everyone will see Venus and Jupiter.  I suspect that everyone will also see Mars.  Maybe a good telescope will see Pluto (not a planet) and Neptune as well.

And while we are at it, why not a quick pet peeve about news coverage in general these days (I mean NPR in particular).  The NYTimes says this:

The display is made possible by the uncommon alignment of all five planets along what is called the “ecliptic” plane of their orbits according to Jim Green, the planetary science division director at NASA.

Well, there just is an ecliptic (not sure why we have to worry about what it is called, but okay).  The five planets occasionally catch up to each other.  You need not say “according to …” anybody.  Jim Green is not just telling a story here.  Not much of an explanation, but something is true here.  “According to” makes it sound like there is an alternative view.  Probably there is an alternative view.  I expect to hear about it on NPR tomorrow.

I am adding a link to the Fourmilab sky map, in case you want to track this yourself.

Posted in Looking Up | Leave a comment

Jupiter’s Red Spot

Currently Jupiter is in Taurus, I think.  Just was looking at the sky overhead tonight.  Gemini in the east, Orion in the south, Auriga in the north, and Taurus in the west.  At least that is what I can see at the moment from the deck.  Honestly, I can barely see Auriga, and I can sort of see Perseus, but it is mostly behind the trees.  But that is Jupiter in Taurus.  Had the binoculars, so took a look at Hyades.  Pretty bunch of stars.

There is apparently a big storm on Jupiter.  Like a hurricane on earth, except that it never reaches land, so it never dies out.  It is called the Great Red Spot, even though it is not quite red anymore, it was when it got that name.  Well, maybe it has never been red, hard to tell exactly where colors are in the universe.  Some might be on Jupiter.

I have been trying to see the red spot for a number of years, but so far I have not.  Tonight, the spot is supposed to be visible at about 9:30PM local time.  According to:


No reason not to trust them.  According to the clear sky clock, it should be clouding up at about that time.  So, will I see it?  Well, stay tuned.  We have about an hour.  I am going to go set up the telescope, hoping that the clouds will stay away just long enough.

Scope is set up.  Out there right now cooling down.  Unfortunately, it is only 8:40pm local time, and the clouds have already reached Orion.  I did get a nice look at the nebula before everything went hazy.  Even Jupiter (I counted four moons) is getting a bit hazy.  Oh, and it is also about to disappear behind a big pine tree in my backyard.  Looks like it is not going to happen tonight.  However, according to the link given above, the Sky and Telescope site, there will be another opportunity this coming Thursday at about 8:44 pm.  I have put that on my calendar.  But, I think I will go take another look right now, but to be sure.  Oh well, clouds rolling in pretty good.  Don’t think I will get the view tonight.

Thursday, though, should be good.

I can wait. Or possibly, I can’t wait.

Posted in Planets | Leave a comment

August Star Party (part 2)

I am going to finish the August review now, since we are nearly to November.  You can see the previous entry.

As I said, Vega was immediately apparent almost straight up.  Which meant that Lyra was almost directly overhead.  So, I went and got M57, the ring nebula, as a test of my personal seeing that night.  It was a bit fuzzy, but the night was not yet completely dark.  I did manage to split the double double (epsilons).  So, not too bad.

Cygnus was also there, so, since Kathy likes it so much, I took a look at Albireo.  Beautiful, blue and gold double.

Then I looked to the southwest for some reason.  I almost never look there, because in this particular location, it is usually pretty washed out with the lights of the nearby city.  However, on this night, I could see the head of Scorpius.  So, M80 was available.  This is supposed to be easy to see, or perhaps I should say easy to find.  In fact “M80 is very easy to find”.  Indeed it was easy (as I did in fact find it).  M80 is a globular cluster, and it was a little puff in my scope.

From there, I realized that I was seeing the teapot of Sagittarius.  I remember the teapot from our time in Great Basin.  Even though I was not seeing it as well on this occasion, I knew that there were several interesting objects here.  I decided to try for M22, another globular cluster.  Supposed to be very bright, and even larger than M13.  So, yes, that was there even in the sub-optimal conditions.

Scutum, then to the north of Sagittarius, and M11 (the wild duck).  Some of the other observers on the site were looking at that, so I decided to give it a shot.  And there it was.  Quite bright open cluster.  Could not really see a duck (wild or otherwise).  Charlie agreed on the lack of duckness.  I was not seeing the detail in my 6″ that he was getting in his much larger scope, it was still quite a sight.

To finish off the new objects of the night, I went after M6 and M7 (back in Scorpius).  Both open clusters near the stinger, which was now in view.  Bright big, though not everything was visible on this night in this spot.  Still, I had two more M objects.

I felt as though I was seeing really well this night.  The Perseid meteors were happening.  I did not see much of that, but I did hear lots of reactions from the others.  I was enjoying being able to find things, and did not want to give that up for the chance of a meteor.  A few though I did catch.  Pretty spectacular actually, since usually I do not have much luck with meteors.

My year round marathon continues. . . .

Lately I have noticed Pegasus and Andromeda and Cassiopeia in the sky.  Very clear lately, but a bit of interference from the Moon (which lately is full and near full).  That will soon fade.  I hope the sky stays clear.  (Though a little rain or snow during the day won’t hurt.)

Posted in Looking Up, Star Parties | Leave a comment

Star Party August 2012

Pretty successful party for me.  I paid attention, and saw lots of things, including a few of the Perseid Meteors. Though none of the really spectacular ones that others at the site saw.  I had my head down most of the night trying to find what was available.  I did not have time to prepare.  Anyway, I got there at about 7:00 pm to set up.  Which is pretty easy for me.  I am sticking with the 6 inch Dobsonian for the foreseeable future.  I told Charlie, I would look to move up after I have seen everything I can see in this thing.  Which is not likely to happen any time soon.

I worked (to a greater or lesser extent) through, Lyra, Cygnus, Scutum, Sagittarius, Scorpius, Hercules, Pegasus, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda.  I also recognized Aquila, Bootes (Arcturus).  I tried to find Ophiuchus (I know, the biggest thing in the sky), but could not identify it.

I am still trying to work my way through the Messier objects.  I try to find the ones I know and have seen before.  (I am not at all confident in my ability to refind things.)  But, I consider it a successful night if I can find something (dare I say some things?) new.  By that measure, I had a successful night.  I was able to see pretty well into the sky.  I think it helped that I got there early and got my eyes rested and adjusted.

I recognized Arcturus and Vega right away.

Posted in Looking Up, Star Parties | Leave a comment


Apparently, the rover has landed successfully.  So, where are the martians?

Posted in Looking Up, Space | Leave a comment


No, not a post about Heidegger, though we astronomical types often do go to work in a clearing.  The weather seems to be clearing for the weekend.  I will try to plan another night here, soon.

Also my son gave me a book, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.  I may try to offer some reflections here about that.  I recently reread my old astronomy textbook from 1976.  It was a little scary.  I guess some things may have changed (I mean some ways of thinking, of course the things themselves never change).  So, maybe this book will catch me up.

So, that will give me something.

Posted in Poetry & Prose | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


I made it to the star party last night.  The sky was very clear, but a little bit (or maybe a lot) humid.  There were lots of people out with scopes, and I was actually able to help some people find some things.  As usual, Jupiter was very popular.  Though I did not spend much time on it.

Starting with Polaris, which we could split, but it was pretty hazy.  Then pretty much before I knew it, everything was there.  The northern sky was mostly lit up with the lights of the city, which lies in that direction.  But to the west, east and south it was dark enough.  It made me realize that I have been watching the sky over my house and I do not have a very good western view.  So that part of the sky is still quite foreign to me.

The new object for the night was M34 in Perseus.  A nice open cluster.  I was also able to find the wonderful double cluster, also Perseus.  Later Orion gave nice views of the nebula.  Pliedes and Hyades (though for some reason, I couldn’t get anyone interested in Hyades.)  I asked about M1, but only got confirmation that it is too faint.  Several of us looked for M76, but never got anything.  I was pleased with M34.  Once again the telrad worked really nice.  I used it to find pretty quickly Andromeda Galaxy, though it was pretty hazy in that part of the sky.

Anyway, I will come back and finish the list, I don’t have my notes with me right now.  It was one of my best star parties.

Posted in Looking Up, Star Parties | Tagged , | Leave a comment


Okay, tonight was quite clear, but my eyes were not at all dark adjusted.  However, I did get a look at (from South to North, I think) Orion, Taurus (with Hyades and Pleiades), Auriga, Perseus, Casseiopeia, and Gemini just rising over the rooftop.  I spent a long time trying to find (or better to say, see) M1, but I never was convinced.  I swung over to Auriga and glanced at M36 just to convince myself that my eyes had not completely deserted me.  And then found the double cluster in Perseus, which was mostly hiding behind the trees.

I wonder if I should spend money on more telescope, or on getting the trees cut down.

At any rate, I am pretty happy that I am beginning to understand and recognize the night sky.

Posted in Looking Up | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Didn’t make it

Okay, with respect to the last entry, I did not make it out that night.  Don’t ask why, though it did seem to be clouding up when I was preparing to go.  In any case, I think the plan is still good, and I will be attempting those sitings on the next clear night.  Most of it, I think I can get from my own back yard.  Though, there will be no one from who to borrow an O-III filter.

Posted in Looking Up, Star Parties | Leave a comment


Tomorrow should be a nice, clear, cold night.  I think I will concentrate on Perseus, Auriga, Orion, and maybe Taurus, and possibly Gemini, if I can last that long.  (Maybe some long underwear is in order.)

So, here are some targets.

Perseus:  Of course the double cluster (NGC869 and NGC884).  Actually, everything the book says is easy to find, and then a couple of not so easy.  M76 is probably a good one to try for.  Maybe I can borrow someone’s O-III filter.

(Oh, the book, by the way is:  Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, O’Reilly 2007.  This book is dedicated to John Dobson, but it might also have been dedicated to Harvard Pennington, since it seems that the methodology of the Thompsons’ book is quite aligned with the geometric methods of Pennington.  Pennington’s book is The Year Round Messier Marathon, 1997-2003 William-Bell, Inc.  In that book Pennington provides the geometric method.  The Thompsons apply that method to more than Messier, but still.)

Still in Perseus:  M 34 is a good one,  I saw that one last January.  NGC 1023 is a galaxy I don’t think I have ever seen.  NGC1342 open cluster (bright) “very easy to find geometrically”.    NGC 1528 should also be available.  Oh and CR29, which is close to the double.

Maybe I will just stay in Perseus all night.

But Taurus is also available.  Pleiades, Hyades, NGC1514 (which I will probably not see) is a bright planetary nebula.  I am not good at seeing nebulae.  NGC1647 a bright open cluster.  Then M1 the crab.  I should be able to find this.

Auriga M37 M36, M38.  All things I have seen before, but that doesn’t mean a thing. (Something could still not mean a thing even if it had that swing.)  If I can find M36, then I can find NGC1931.  NGC 2281.  Anyway, all of these things in Auriga are sort of close except for 2281, which is sort of out there by itself.  Still.

If I am there long enough.  Gemini.  With M35  Maybe try to split Castor. And as a challenge object NGC2392. The Eskimo Nebula.

That seems like a good plan.  Hope it stays clear.

Posted in Equipment & Gear, Looking Up, Star Parties | Tagged , | 1 Comment