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.
Raise your hand if you’re an Ophiuchan. Hmm … I’m not seeing many hands out there. Perhaps you are an Ophiuchan and you don’t know it. Allow me to explain.
The solar system’s two innermost planets, Mercury and Venus, behave differently than the rest of the planets.
I love star lore. The legends and stories attached to the stars carry us back centuries and tell us not only about the stars, but also about the stargazers of old.
The five naked-eye planets — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — are among the brightest objects visible in our earthly sky. These wandering stars occasionally pass close to one another as they thread their way through the 12 constellations of the zodiac.
In the course of one year, the sun makes a 360-degree circuit of the celestial sphere, passing in front of 12 different constellations in the background. These are the 12 constellations of the zodiac.
For the past few months, Jupiter has been the only planet visible during the early evening. Well, move over, Jupiter — Saturn is moving in.
What has nine heads, deadly breath, poisonous blood and stretches nearly one-third of the way around the whole sky? It’s the dreaded sea serpent known as the Hydra, defeated by Hercules in the second of his twelve labors and now forming the largest of our 88 constellations.
The celestial Bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, are coming out of their winter hibernation and can be seen parading around the north celestial pole this month.
The Spring Diamond asterism, also known as the Virgin’s Diamond, is marked at its corners by four of the brightest stars adorning the spring sky.
Comet PanSTARRS, the first of two bright comets expected this year, already has reached its peak brightness and is fading as it heads back to the outer solar system.
It’s been a long time since the aurora borealis has been seen in the Yampa Valley. The last good one I can recall was in November 2004. While most folks were snug in their beds during the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day morning, a 1-billion-ton cloud of hot plasma, ejected from the sun Friday, slammed into the Earth’s protective magnetic field and sparked a moderate geomagnetic storm, sending auroras as far south as northern Colorado.
Comet PanSTARRS has entered our evening sky and will be at its very best in the week ahead. The comet is intrinsically bright, but it is so close to the sun right now that it cannot be viewed in a totally darkened sky.
Named for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System atop Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui, Comet PanSTARRS is the first of a potential trifecta of bright comets coming in 2013.
I have a recurring dream that a meteorite lands in my backyard and buries itself in a crater. I run out and sit on top of it, guarding it with a shotgun. Only in my dreams. For the good folks living in and near the town of Chelyabinsk, Russia, it was no dream.
“Beautiful” isn’t a word one usually uses to describe the face of a bull, but Taurus, the celestial bull, is an exception. The familiar V-shaped asterism of Taurus’ face hanging high in our winter sky is like no other group of stars visible from Earth.
High overhead on February evenings you’ll find a close pair of bright stars, nearly equal in brightness. After seeing these stars, you probably would not be surprised to learn they always have been associated with the mythological Gemini twins.