Archive for February, 2009

March IYA2009 events – blog

Posted in astro blogs, IYA, observing, space, urban skies on February 28, 2009 by bellaireastro

March IYA2009 events – blog.

Check out the post over at the blog all about March IYA2009 events:International Year of Astronomy 2009

March 2009
NASA theme: Observing at night (and during the day)
Featured object in the sky: Saturn and its nearly edge-on rings

March 8: Saturn is at opposition (exactly opposite the Sun) and in the sky all night. It’s great for viewing in a telescope this month, but its rings are nearly edge-on and thus hard to see. To track Saturn’s position in your night sky, use StarDome,’s interactive star chart.

March 10: The Full Moon is just south of Saturn in the southeastern sky during the evening.

March 14: Celebrate Albert Einstein’s 130th birthday. Einstein’s ideas of space and time underpin our modern view of the universe.

March 14: Add a little pie to your festivities! March 14 (3.14) is also Pi Day. This day celebrates the Greek letter π, which in math is the symbol that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameters (3.14159…).

March 20: The spring equinox (when the Sun is located vertically above a point on the equator and day and night are the same length) marks the culmination of NASA’s Sun-Earth Day. Each year, the Sun-Earth Day recognizes NASA’s Sun-Earth Connection science, missions and cutting-edge research. This year’s theme is “Our Sun, Yours to Discover.”

March 16–28: Spend two weeks measuring the darkness of the sky and the amount of light pollution in your area with the GLOBE at Night campaign.

March 28: You can turn off your lights for one hour (between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time) to show your support for the Earth Hour campaign.

NASA – Pretty Sky Alert

Posted in astro blogs, moon, observing, space, urban skies with tags , on February 27, 2009 by bellaireastro

Originally posted  NASA – Pretty Sky Alert.

February 26, 2009: Be careful, this sort of thing can cause an accident.

see captionOn Friday evening, Feb. 27th, the 10% crescent Moon will glide by Venus, forming a gorgeous and mesmerizing pair of lights in the sunset sky. Moon-Venus conjunctions are not unusual, but this conjunction has some special qualities:

(1) Venus is at maximum brightness: magnitude -4.6. The planet is twenty times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. It is so luminous that it can actually shine through thin clouds and cast subtle shadows on the ground.
Right: A Moon-Venus conjunction in Dec. 2008 photographed by Tamas Ladanyi of Mönichkirchen, Austria. This month’s conjunction will be even tighter and brighter. [larger image]
(2) As seen from North America, the Moon-Venus separation is only a little more than 1o. Stick up your thumb and hold it out at arm’s length. Venus and the Moon will fit comfortably behind the thumb-tip. Tight conjunctions like this are the most beautiful of all.
(3) Not only is the Moon a crescent, but so is Venus. A small telescope pointed at the glittering planet will reveal a slender 20%-illuminated disk.

Add it all together and you’ve got a major distraction. Evening drivers should pull to the verge. Staring at Venus and the Moon could be riskier than texting!

Venus is a crescent because, like the Moon, it has phases. The planet can be be full, gibbous, new, or anything in between. The illuminated fraction we see on any given date depends on how much of Venus’ nightside is turned toward Earth.

It might seem odd that Venus is brightest now when it is a crescent. That reverses our commonsense experience with the Moon, which is brightest when it is full. A 6-month animation of Venus created by Hong Kong astrophotographer “Wah!” solves the mystery at a glance:

The crescent phase of Venus occurs when Venus is close to Earth, very big and bright. The full phase of Venus, on the other hand, occurs when Venus is on the opposite side of the Sun, far away and relatively dim.

Crescent Venus is so bright, you can see it in broad daylight. During the day on Friday, scan the sky for the crescent Moon. Hint: Stand in the shadow of a tall building to block the glare of the Sun. At noon, the Moon will be due east of the Sun’s position. Got it? Look a few thumb-widths around the Moon and—voilà!—Venus pops out of the blue. The planet is surprisingly easy to see when you know where to look.

Once daytime Venus has been located, you might feel tempted to examine the planet with binoculars or a telescope. Don’t. The nearby Sun can damage your eyes if you accidentally point your optics in that direction.

an animation showing phases of Venus

Wait until the Sun sets and behold the pair framed by deepening twilight blue, first with your unaided eyes, then with a small telescope. On the Moon, you will see mountains, craters, and a vast expanse of nighttime lunar terrain gently illuminated by Earthshine. On Venus, you will see a delicate little crescent of impenetrable clouds.

It’s a nice way to end the day. – Catch Comet Lulin at Its Best!

Posted in astro blogs, observing, space, urban skies with tags on February 23, 2009 by bellaireastro – Observing Highlights – Catch Comet Lulin at Its Best!

Be sure to go out after 9 pm or even before dawn and catch a glimpse of the strange Comet Lulin before it zooms away.

George Observatory Observing Session

Posted in galactic astronomy, observing, space on February 23, 2009 by bellaireastro
2 of the Domes at the George

2 of the Domes at the George

Last Thursday my astronomy went to the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park (which is run by the Houston Museum of Natural Science) for an observing session. The weather was cold and clear and the transparency was great.

Our tour guide was the always-knowledgeable Barbara Wilson. We managed to make it through all of the objects on the list.

  • Venus (awesome crescent through the scopes)
  • M 31 (Andromeda Galaxy)
  • NGC 884 (Double Cluster in Perseus)
  • M 37 (Open Cluster in Auriga)
  • M 1 (Crab Nebula Supernova Remnant)
  • M 42 (Great Orion Nebula – Star Forming Region)
  • NGC 2264 (Christmas Tree Cluster)
  • NGC 2261 (Hubble’s Variable – Nebula)
  • NGC 2392 (Clown Face or Eskimo Nebula) – students called this one the Simba Nebula
Simba Nebula

Simba Nebula

The equipment in the research dome at the George is impressive and we got to use it just for the class! It was a great time and I recommend area teachers take their classes out to the George for a session.

Shot of the Gueymard 36 Relfector (courtesy of Capella 7009)

Shot of the Gueymard 36" Relfector (courtesy of Capella 7009)

Jill Tarter TED Prize

Posted in exoplanets, galactic astronomy, IYA, SETI, space with tags , on February 21, 2009 by bellaireastro

I just watched the video of Jill Tarter’s talk about winning the 2009 TED Prize for her work on SETI. It is a must watch.

We are the products of a billion year lineage of wandering stardust. We are what happens when a primordial mixture of hydrogen and helium evolves for so long that it begins to ask where it came from.”

Visual Astronomy-An Eclipse As Seen From the Moon

Posted in astro blogs, moon, observing, robotic astronomy, space with tags , on February 21, 2009 by bellaireastro

Visual Astronomy: An Eclipse As Seen From the Moon.

JAXA’s Kaguya spacecraft sent back this image of the Earth eclipsing the Sun from the vantage point of Earth’s moon. Seriously cool…

Today in Astronomy-Nicolaus Copernicus

Posted in astro blogs, astronomical history with tags on February 19, 2009 by bellaireastro

Linking to “Today In Astronomy” to honor Copernicus.

Today in Astronomy: February 19:

Nicolaus Copernicus

February 19, 1473 – May 24, 1543

Nicolaus Copernicus was the first astronomer to formulate a scientifically-based heliocentric cosmology that displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. His epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the Scientific Revolution.

Nicolaus Copernicus.

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