About James

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: The Stars of Summer are Here

The Summer Triangle is high in the east.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left.  Leo, the Lion, sets in the west.  From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest.  Venus now moves away from Jupiter as they both gradually become lost in the Sun’s glare

The Summer Triangle is high in the east. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left. Leo, the Lion, sets in the west. From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest. Venus now moves away from Jupiter as they both gradually become lost in the Sun’s glare

This is the last month to observe the two brightest planets in the western evening sky. On June 30, Venus overtook Jupiter. This month, watch Venus shift to the left of Jupiter each evening at dusk. Meanwhile, both planets appear lower and lower to the horizon each night, until they are both lost in the Sun’s glare by the end of the month. At dusk, look over the point of sunset for the brightest objects there; Venus and Jupiter outshine everything but the Sun and the Moon.

Saturn is now in the southern sky at dusk. Although it is not as brilliant as Venus or Jupiter, it outshines the stars around it, so it’s also easy to see.

Mars remains lost in the glare of the Sun.

The Big Dipper is above and left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the southwest at dusk. Leo, the Lion, sets in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southeast, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius rising behind it. Saturn is right above the scorpion’s head. The Summer Triangle has fully risen in the northeast. The stars of summer are here.

full-moon-2

Moon Phases in July 2015:

Full July 1, 9:20 pm; July 31, 5:43 am
Last Quarter July 8, 3:24 pm
New July 15, 8:24 pm
1st Quarter July 23, 11:04 pm

At 2:41 pm on Monday, July 6, Earth is as far from the Sun as it will get this year, a moment known as aphelion. Remember, though, that the difference between aphelion and perihelion (in January) is small (only about 3%). Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt on its axis is a much more important effect. That’s why we have all this miserable heat and humidity now, rather than in January.

Just before 6:50 am CDT on Tuesday, July 14, the New Horizons spacecraft makes its closest approach to Pluto. As this is our first opportunity ever to gather real data from Pluto and its moons, astronomers are quite excited. The craft is already close enough to take some pictures, which you can see here. The Museum will have special activities for this occasion; email me if you want more information.

The Full Moon of July 31 is the second one of the month. That’s one of the definitions of a Blue Moon.

Planetarium Schedule:

Brazos Bend State Park, where our George Observatory is sited, has been closed since May 27 because the rains of Memorial Day and of Tropical Storm Bill caused the Brazos to overflow. The park plans to reopen on a limited basis July 8, making July 11 the first Saturday available for public observing.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement. I generally do one such tour on short June evenings.

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Mars aligns with Earth and sun, solstice on its way

seeing stars

Venus is in the west at dusk. At dusk, look high over the point of sunset for the brightest thing there; it outshines everything but the Sun and the Moon. 

Jupiter is also in the west as soon as night falls. Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night, so it will be obvious when you look up at dusk. During June, watch Venus gradually close the gap on Jupiter, until they are just over one-third of one degree apart on the evening of June 30.

Saturn is now in the southeastern sky at dusk. Although it is not as brilliant as Venus or Jupiter, it outshines the stars around it, so it’s also easy to see. 

Mars is lost in the glare of the Sun. Conjunction (Mars in line with Earth and Sun, behind the Sun) is June 14.

The Big Dipper is above the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are in the south at dusk. Leo, the Lion, is high in the west at dusk. Venus and Jupiter come together right in front of Leo’s face, marked by stars in the shape of a sickle, or a backwards question mark.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southeast, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius rising behind it. Saturn is right above the scorpion’s head. The Summer Triangle has fully risen in the northeast. The stars of summer are here.

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Moon Phases in June 2015:

Full: June 2, 11:19 a.m.

Last Quarter: June 9, 10:42 a.m.

New: June 16, 9:05 a.m.

First Quarter: June 24, 6:03 a.m.

At 11:38 a.m. on Sunday, June 21, the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, the farthest point north where it can be overhead. This puts the Sun as high as possible in our skies, and marks the summer solstice. Of all the days of the year, we’ll have the most daylight and the least night on June 21. In the southern hemisphere, the sun is as low as possible in the sky as they experience the least daylight and the longest night of the year. It’s the winter solstice down there.

Due to the equation of time, the latest sunset occurs for us on June 30, not June 21. Thus, if we sleep through sunrise and watch sunset, as most of us do, days seem to lengthen all the way to the end of the month.

For more information about shows at the Burke Baker Planetarium, visit the planetarium schedule.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement. I generally do one such tour on short June evenings.

Clear Skies!

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Restored Gueymard offers views of brilliant Jupiter this May

Star Map May 2015Mercury is low in the west-northwest, below and slightly to the right. It remains visible for the first half of May before returning towards the Sun.

Venus is in the west at dusk. Look high over the point of sunset for the brightest thing there. 

Jupiter is now high in the west as soon as night falls. Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night, so it will be obvious when you look up at dusk.   

Saturn enters the evening sky this month. It rises May 1 by 9:40 p.m. By May 22, it is up literally all night; it rises at sundown and sets at sunrise. This is because Earth is aligned between the Sun and Saturn on that date. We therefore say that Saturn is at opposition. 

Mars is lost in the glare of the Sun.

A swath of brilliant winter stars sets in the west at dusk. Orion, the Hunter, is still visible in the west as May begins. His two dogs, represented by Sirius and Procyon, are to his left.  Gemini, the Twins, are above Orion. The Big Dipper is above the North Star, with its handle pointing to the right. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’; those stars are high in the east and in the south, respectively, at dusk. Leo, the Lion, passes almost overhead at dusk.

As Orion and Taurus set, look for Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, to rise in the southeast. Saturn will be right on the Scorpion’s head, above Antares. At the same time, Vega, brightest star of the Summer Triangle, appears low in the northeast. These stars remind us that summer is on the way.Phases10-9x-3w

Moon Phases in May 2015

Full: May 3, 10:42 pm

Last Quarter: May 11, 5:36 am

New: May 18, 11:13 pm

First Quarter: May 25, 12:19 pm

Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium schedule.

In case you missed the news, the main telescope at George Observatory is once again fully operational. Thanks in large part to public support, we were able to get our mirror cleaned and then reinstalled. The newly refurbished mirror was opened to the public last weekend. Come join us on clear Saturday nights at the George!

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement. I generally do one such tour on short May evenings.

Clear skies!

 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Lunar Eclipse on April 4

april stars

Mars remains in the west at dusk this month as it moves through Aries. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind. Later on this month, Mars begins to be lost in the glare of the Sun.

Mercury enters the evening sky as Mars leaves it. By April 30, Mars will be gone but Mercury will be low in the west northwest, near the Pleiades star cluster.

Venus is in the west at dusk. Look over the point of sunset for the brightest thing there.

Jupiter is now high in the sky, almost overhead, as soon as night falls. Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night, so it will be obvious when you look up at dusk.

Saturn is in the southwest at dawn.

Brilliant winter stars shift towards the west during April. Dazzling Orion is high in the southwest at dusk. His three-starred belt is halfway between reddish Betelgeuse and bluish Rigel. Orion’s belt points right to Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. Above Orion are the twin stars Castor and Pollux, marking the heads of Gemini, the Twins. Jupiter is among the Twins this month. You can find Sirius, the brightest star we ever see at night, by drawing a line from Orion’s belt towards south (left as you face west). Forming a triangle with Betelgeuse and Sirius is Procyon, the Little Dog Star.

Joining the winter stars are stars of spring in the south and east. Look for Leo, the Lion almost overhead at dusk. In the east, extend the Big Dipper’s handle to ‘Arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica’.

Moon Phases in April 2015:

Full April 5, 7:05 am

Last Quarter April 11, 10:44 pm

New April 18, 1:56 pm

1st Quarter April 25, 5:55 pm

The Full Moon of April 4 passes through the Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse. Unfortunately, the Moon clips the edge of the Earth’s shadow, allowing for only 5 minutes of totality. What’s more, for us the eclipse occurs near moonset and sunrise (which are almost simultaneous when there is a lunar eclipse). That puts the Moon low to the horizon during the eclipse; only those with clear views all the way to the western horizon can get a good look. It also means that totality falls during morning twilight.

Eclipse times:

Partial eclipse begins: 5:15 am
Totality 6:57-7:02 am
Moonset (still partially eclipsed) 7:13 am

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.