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Venus, Mars and thin crescent moon - tonight and tomorrow

Star friends,

Go outside - look west. The thin crescent moon is spectacular. The bright object above and to the left is Venus - almost impossibly bright for a planet. If you have binoculars, zero in on Venus. Then shift your binocular view just slightly to the upper left. About one binocular field of view to the upper left is the planet Mars. It is nowhere near as bright as Venus (or the moon!), but it is slightly reddish - especially as seen through binoculars.

The brightness of stars and planets is given in terms of "magnitude". Each step of magnitude corresponds to an object that is two and one half times brighter. Venus is shining at a magnitude of -4.4 (by far the brightest object in our sky, aside from the sun and moon). Mars, on the other hand is magnitude 1.1.

Tomorrow night, if we can manage two winter nights in a row with some clear sky, the moon will be in the same field of view as Venus and Mars. This event underscores just how far the moon moves in the sky between one night and the next.

Since you are checking all of this out with your binoculars (or even your spotting scope or astronomical telescope!), make sure to look at the crescent moon as well. This is a great opportunity to study a thin crescent moon. The moon phase will be somewhat more advanced tomorrow night. if you look along the terminator (the line between light and dark), you get a real feel for the moon as a round body in space. You can see some amazing craters along this line.

Happy observing!


Auroras and Planets This Summer

Contributor: Steve LaForest

Sky and Telescope magazine has issued a notice that there may be strong auroras this weekend.  Saturday July 14 looks especially promising, and Sunday might be good too.  For auroras, the darker your skies the better.  Having said that, I have certainly seen some lively aurora shows right here in brightly lit suburbia near Frenchman's Bay - so it's always worth going outside and looking up!  Please see the attached link for details on the aurora and other interesting astronomy news.


While you're outside, make sure to look west after it gets fully dark - say 10:30 - 11:00 pm or so.  Saturn is in the west-south-west, about 5 degrees to the upper right of bright star Spica (in the constellation Virgo, but its stars will mostly be too dim to see.)  Mars may also be seen well to the right (almost 20 degrees) of Saturn.  Mars will get closer and closer to Saturn and Spica each night between now and August 14.  At their closest, Mars and Saturn will be just 3 degrees apart.

And don't forget to mark the Pickering Naturalists' Perseid Meteor Shower outing on your calendar - Sunday August 12 at 8:40 pm at Greenwood Conservation Area, entrance off Church St. just south of Fifth Concession Road (rain/cloud date Monday August 13).

If you would like a star chart, as well as other essential star-gazing information, visit the website www.heavens-above.com

Keep looking up!

Perseid Meteor Shower Outing

Sunday August 12, 2012 (Rain / cloud date Monday August 13)

8:40 pm

Leader: Steve LaForest

Meet at Greenwood C.A., northwest parking lot, at 8:40 pm.  

Annually on approximately August 12 - 13, the earth sweeps through debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle.  The encounter results in a meteor shower.  As the tiny particles streak through earth’s upper atmosphere, they leave trails of hot gas.  From the ground, the trails show up as "shooting stars.”   That evening, the moon won’t rise until 2:20 am, so we’ll have ideal viewing conditions.   We can expect to see as many as 60 meteors an hour.

Highlights for this year’s outing will include several planets.  Both Mars and Saturn will be visible in a close conjunction with the bright star Spica.  We'll also see many stars and constellations; some nebulae, star clusters and artificial satellites; as well as a distant galaxy.   Jupiter will join the show, but not until very late - about 1:00 am.  For insomniac observers, Venus and Mercury will rise in the predawn sky, at about 2:25 am and 4:55 am, respectively.

People may want to bring their binoculars for looking at stars.  If you have a spotting scope (or even an astronomical telescope) it might be a good idea to bring that along too.  For those who have neither - a pair of eyes will do!  There may be some mosquitoes at dusk, so please dress accordingly.  Also note that it is generally quite a bit cooler after sunset, so bring along a jacket and maybe a sweater or two as well.  For the ultimate in meteor-viewing pleasure, a folding lounge chair is ideal.

Directions for Greenwood C.A.: From Hwy 401, take the Westney Road exit (exit # 401) and go north 6 km to the 5th Concession Road, turn left (west) and go 1 km to Church St., turn left (south) and go ~0.2 km to the parking lot on the left (east) side.  Note – do NOT follow signs into the main C.A. parking lot off Westney and Greenwood Road.

Anyone wishing to check ahead may contact me through the website: www.pickeringnaturalists.org or email pn@pickeringnaturalists.org.  If conditions look questionable on Sunday August 12, I will send an email later that afternoon to reschedule to the rain/cloud date of Monday August 13, at 8:40 pm.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  Note that this is a family-friendly event!


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