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.
Comet ISON 2012 S1 made its death-defying plunge into the sun’s atmosphere on Thanksgiving Day, and the sun won.
After lagging behind its projected brightness curve for weeks, Comet ISON suddenly sprang to life late last week and now is the brightest of five comets visible in our predawn sky.
Don’t be surprised if you see a blazing fireball or two streaking across the heavens while you are driving home after dark this week. It’s just the annual Taurid meteor showers reaching their peak of activity.
As the first “star” to pop out after sundown, Venus is popularly known as the Evening Star, but, of course, it isn’t a star at all. Venus is the second planet from the sun in our solar system and shines by reflected sunlight.
In early autumn, the number of bright stars has been reduced to five. The two bright stars that are specifically associated with the season of autumn are Fomalhaut and Capella.
No one knows how brightly Comet ISON will shine after it swings around the sun on Thanksgiving Day. Right now, it is a faint wisp of light in the pre-dawn sky, invisible to the unaided eye, but very close to the bright planet Mars and visible in backyard telescopes.
A group of 22 students, faculty, and staff — all members of the Colorado Mountain College SKY Club — recently flew to Alaska in search of the Northern Lights. These magnificent lights, also called the aurora borealis, are rare from Colorado but are more common as you head north toward the Arctic Circle. From far northern latitudes, the aurora can be seen on most dark, clear nights of the year.
The sun has been very quiet lately, a most unsteady calm, considering that this is predicted to be the peak year of activity in the sun’s 11-year sunspot cycle.
Peering at us from out of the darkness on early fall evenings are the twinkling eyes of Draco, the Dragon.
Most stars shine with a constant brightness in our sky throughout the eons of time, however, a few stars do not. These are the variable stars whose light output can change in a matter of minutes or months. Our autumn sky holds two of the most spectacular variable stars known to astronomers and both can be observed with nothing more than your naked eyes.
Comet ISON, the potential “super comet” discovered last year, is not brightening as much as comet watchers would like to see as it approaches the sun. If this trend continues, then the comet might not live up to the most optimistic predictions.
Summer is slipping away, and the changing constellations are a sure sign of autumn’s approach. The Big Dipper that rode high in the sky during spring and summer evenings now is sinking into the northwest. The Summer Triangle, too, is migrating westward. A whole cast of new celestial characters is rising in the east to take their places.
Friday morning was a remarkable morning and unique to my 50-plus years of stargazing. Two “new” stars were visible in the sky at one time, a nova and a supernova.
This month, you will have an opportunity to witness an unusual blue moon, but don’t expect to go outside and see a blue-colored moon staring back at you.
The annual Perseid meteor shower is underway and is expected to peak midday Monday. That means the predawn hours of Monday and Tuesday should provide lots of beautiful shooting stars for skywatchers in Colorado.
Even though Delphinus the Dolphin contains no star brighter than third magnitude, one’s eye is immediately drawn to its small, distinctive shape.
When the summer sun goes down, three of the first stars to peak through the lingering twilight are the trio of bright stars that form the unmistakable asterism called the Summer Triangle, high in the northeastern sky.
There aren’t many constellations that resemble the objects or creatures for which they are named. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is a delightful example of one that does.