Our Milky Way is flat, like a pancake made of star batter. It’s a spinning disk of stars about 100,000 light-years across but only 3,000 light-years thick. During the early evenings of late spring, we are positioned so that we can look straight up out of the top of our Milky Way pancake and into the intergalactic space that forms the rooftop of the sky.
If all goes according to plan, a little space probe named Philae will separate from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft late Tuesday and make the first controlled landing on the surface of a comet Wednesday morning.
Nestled in between the constellations of Andromeda, Perseus and Pisces is a delightful little trio of stellar triangles, visible on crisp November evenings. Each triangle has an interesting history, all its own.
Don’t be surprised if you see a blazing fireball or two streaking across the heavens while you are out trick-or-treating this Halloween season. There’s no reason for alarm. It’s just the annual Taurid meteor showers reaching their peak of activity.
Thursday’s eclipse begins at about 3:20 p.m. when the moon will take the first little “bite” out of the solar disk. Maximum eclipse is at 4:35 p.m.
Mars and Comet Siding Spring will be about 1.6 astronomical units from the Earth (about 150 million miles) at the time of closest approach, around midday Sunday. Amateur astronomers with telescopes 8 inches in diameter or larger might be able to view the very faint comet and Mars together, side by side, in their telescope that night and the night before closest approach.
I am writing today to inform you that now is the prime time to see Uranus up in the sky. Uranus, with its dingy rings and its entourage of 27 moons, will be closest to the Earth for this year on the night of Oct. 7, an event called opposition.
The second total eclipse of the moon this year happens during the wee morning hours of Oct. 8 when the full Harvest Moon once again slips into the shadow of the Earth.
Stroll outside on any early fall evening, look straight up, and there, three very bright stars will catch your eye, forming a giant triangle. The three stars are named Vega, Deneb and Altair and their familiar pattern is nicknamed the Summer Triangle.
Vega is the alpha star in the constellation named Lyra, the Harp, and lies a mere 25 light years from Earth.
Vega, Deneb, and Altair — these are the three bright stars marking the corners of the Summer Triangle, the most prominent star pattern of late summer.
If you know right where to look, catching a glimpse of Neptune is not all that tough. I hereby challenge you to do something that few people have accomplished: find the planet Neptune with your binoculars.
Passing close to the "W" of Cassiopeia this week is the little green fuzz ball called Comet Jacques. Discovered last March 13, Comet Jacques is due to pass a safe 52.4 million miles from Earth on Thursday.
Scutum is an obscure little constellation, to be sure, with no star brighter than fourth magnitude and ranking only fourth in size among all the constellations. Even so, it is an easy constellation to find in the summer sky.
When Venus meets Jupiter Monday morning, they will appear a mere 1/3 degrees apart, less than the width of a single full moon.
Instead of writing about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower, I'll tell you about that big, bright, full moon that will be drowning out the meteor shower. The second full moon of summer is sometimes called the Green Corn moon. It so happens that this year’s Green Corn moon will also be a so-called “super moon.”
Rasalgethi (pronounced ras-al-geth’-ee) is a remarkable star. It is one of the reddest stars visible to the unaided eye and, with its faint emerald green companion star, makes for a wondrous sight through a telescope.
When the last rays of the summer sun fade from the evening sky, the misty star clouds of the Milky Way come into view, arching high overhead like a colorless rainbow.
If the night sky is dark and clear, you also can detect a network of dark clouds and tendrils meandering through the bright star clouds of the Milky Way. These dark patches are vast interstellar dust clouds thousands of light years away that gather in the space between the stars and effectively obscure the light of the distant stars behind them.
Warm summer nights are the perfect time to wander out under the starry sky and enjoy the other half of nature up over our heads.
Earth is farthest from the sun in early July each year, as the northern hemisphere is sweltering in the summer heat. This point in Earth’s orbit is called aphelion and literally means “farthest from the sun.”
If you wanted to attend the Stagecoach Star Party but were unable to for whatever reason, I have some good news. This coming Saturday evening, I will be conducting a second summer stargazing event out at the Yampa River State Park campground
You are invited to join other astronomy enthusiasts from around the community for the “Stagecoach Star Party” this Friday at the Morrison Cove Boat Ramp on the Southshore side of Stagecoach State Park beginning at 9:30 p.m., weather permitting.
To locate Corona Borealis, look high up in the eastern sky after darkness falls for a small half-circle of stars, like a letter ”C.” It’s about a third of the way from the bright star Arcturus toward the comparably bright star Vega to the east.
You can spot the gigantic house-shaped outline of the constellation of Ophiuchus high in the southeastern sky around 11 p.m. in early June. Look for him holding onto his pet serpent just above the fishhook-shaped pattern of Scorpius the Scorpion.
If you have good vision, you can make out an eighth star in the Big Dipper, right beside Mizar, the star at the crook in the Dipper’s handle. This little star is Alcor. Mizar and Alcor have been known since antiquity as the “Horse and Rider.”
This coming Friday night and Saturday morning, if astronomers’ calculations are correct, we might be treated to a brand-new meteor shower, possibly even a meteor storm.
Mercury and Venus each spend a brief time in our sky as an “evening star,” followed by a brief engagement as a “morning star.”
Four bright planets will march across our early evening sky this month. Jupiter and Mars have already been in place for weeks, but Saturn will join the planet parade next week.
Just by coincidence, the Earth’s axis points almost directly at Polaris so that, as Earth spins, Polaris remains nearly motionless throughout the night – the pivot point for the whole sky.
The four main stars of Corvus form an unmistakable kite-shaped pattern located one-third of the way up in our southern sky about 10 p.m. in late April. The distinctive pattern makes Corvus easy to spot.
Total eclipses of the moon are unusual, but not rare. On April 14 and 15, we will be treated to the first total lunar eclipse of the upcoming tetrad.
Move over, Jupiter. There’s another bright planet poised to enter our evening sky in early April. You might already have noticed it, hovering over the eastern mountains about 10 p.m. It’s the planet Mars, and the Earth is rapidly approaching Mars for the closest approach we’ve had in six years.
You can see it high in the eastern sky on spring evenings as a splash of several dozen faint stars, not far from the familiar outline of the Big Dipper. This is our constellation called Coma Berenices, or Queen Berenice’s Hair, and it is one of only a handful of constellations associated with a real person rather than a mythological one.
This year, the season of spring officially arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 10:57 a.m. Thursday. That’s the moment that the sun crosses the equator on its way north, what we call the vernal equinox.
Of the 12 constellations of the zodiac, which mark the sun’s annual path through our sky, Cancer the Crab is the faintest and most challenging to locate. By the first week of March, the Crab has climbed high up in our eastern sky, tucked in between the more prominent constellations of Gemini the Twins to the west and Leo the Lion to the east.
Canis Major has its flashy alpha star, Sirius, outshining all of the other stars in the area, even Canis Minor’s very bright star Procyon. So, I’m dedicating this Celestial News to all the “little dogs” out there, and Canis Minor in particular.
The celestial Unicorn is a relative newcomer to the sky. It doesn’t date back to the time of the Babylonians or ancient Greeks, as many of our constellations do, but seems to have appeared from out of nowhere on a star chart published in 1624 by Jakob Bartsch, the son-in-law of famed astronomer Johannes Kepler.
High overhead as darkness falls on crisp February evenings is a tiny cluster of stars that often is mistaken for the Little Dipper. Although it does have a dipper shape, with a tiny bowl and a tiny handle, its ancient name is the Pleiades star cluster.
What can you expect to see and do at the Crystal Observatory?
Astronomers who study the violent deaths of stars must look to other nearby galaxies to have a reasonable chance of seeing and studying one. That’s why the appearance of a type Ia supernova in a nearby galaxy last week has created such excitement in the astronomical community.
The three bright stars in a neat little row stand out among the other stars like a neon sign. Some call them the Three Marys, others, the Three Wise Men, but officially, these three stars mark the Belt of Orion, the Hunter.
Orion the Hunter rules the winter sky, but, if you can pull your eyes away from his magnificence, you can use Orion to find some other cool constellations.
Venus and Jupiter are both closer to the Earth this week than they will be all year, but on opposite sides of our planet – Venus on the sunward side and Jupiter on the anti-sunward side.
Early risers on the mornings of Friday, Jan. 3 and Saturday, Jan. 4 might see as many as 40 to 60 meteors per hour in the dark hours before sunrise.
JImmy Westlake's 2014 cosmic calendar of celestial events
Year 2014 will be one of eclipses. Two total eclipses of the moon and a partial eclipse of the sun will be the real headline grabbers in 2014, but there are plenty of bright planets and showers of shooting stars to keep us looking up all year long.
For centuries, astronomers have wondered about the nature of this Star of Bethlehem. Was it a one-time supernatural event, never seen before and never seen since?
The winter solstice is the astronomical moment that marks the end of the season of fall and the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It happens this year at 10:11 a.m. MST Saturday.
The best annual meteor shower of the year is in progress this week and is rising toward a spectacular peak before dawn next Saturday morning Dec. 14. It’s the Geminid meteor shower, and it could bring as many as 120 shooting stars per hour to our sky.