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.

Star Map: November 2016

november2016

This star map shows the Houston sky at 8 pm CST on November 1, 6:30 pm CST on November 15, and dusk on November 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.

The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest.  How long can you follow Saturn as it sets in twilight?  The Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out. 

Venus is a little higher in the evening sky this month.    Look low in the west southwest in evening twilight.  Venus pulls away from Saturn, having passed it late last month.

Mars is now in the southwest at dusk.  Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind

Saturn  gradually drops into the Sun’s glare this month.  Visible to the right of Venus on November 1, Saturn sets earlier and earlier each night until it sets in twilight by Thanksgiving.  You’ll need a clear horizon to the west southwest to find it.  How long can you still see it?

Jupiter is much higher in the morning sky this month.  Look in the east southeast at dawn. 

Autumn represents sort of an ‘intermission’ in the sky, with bright summer stars setting at dusk, while bright winter patterns such as Orion won’t rise until later (Orion is up by about 10 now and about 9 mid-month).  The Summer Triangle is in the west.   Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is almost overhead.  The stars in the southern sky are much dimmer than those overhead and in the west because when you face south at dusk in November, you face out of the Milky Way plane.  The plane of our Galaxy follows a path from the Summer Triangle in the west through Cassiopeia in the north and over to the northeastern horizon.  

Constellations in the November southern sky are almost entirely devoid of bright stars.  They represent beasts and gods related to water, indicating that they are part of the ‘Celestial Sea’.  Examples are Aquarius, the Water Bearer and Pisces, the Fish.  Even Capricornus, the Goat, has a fish tail because he’s originally Ea, Babylonian god of the waters.  Below Aquarius is the one bright star in this area, Fomalhaut, marking the mouth of the Southern Fish.  Ancient Mesopotamians imagined that the Persian Gulf extended upwards into the sky, joining this ‘sea’ of dim stars. 

All of these celestial happenings are on show every Saturday at our George Observatory. Located in Brazos Bend State Park, the seclusion provides a nice dark sky, perfect for viewing stars. Docents and Observatory staff are available to help new star gazers discover amazing extra-terrestrial wonders.

Sky events for October 2016

1st Quarter 1st-quarter1October 8, 11:33pm

Fullfull

October 15, 11:23pm

3rd Quarter3rd-quarter

October 22, 2:14pm

Newnew

October 30, 12:38pm

 

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on October 1, 9 pm CDT on October 15, and 8 pm CDT on October 31.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. 

oct-sky1

The Summer Triangle is high in the west.  The ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius sets in the southwest.  How long can you follow Saturn as it sets in twilight?  The Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk. To the south and east, we see a vast dim area of stars known as the ‘Celestial Sea’, where only Fomalhaut stands out. 

 

Venus is a little higher in the evening sky this month. Look low in the west in evening twilight. On Saturday, October 29, Venus passes three degrees below Saturn.

Mars and Saturn are now in the southwest at dusk.

Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind. Also, it moves faster than Saturn against the background stars, so you can watch Mars pull away from Saturn this month.

Jupiter emerges into the morning sky this month. Look low in the east at dawn.

The Big Dipper is to the left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up. From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ in the west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. Saturn is right above Antares. The Summer Triangle is almost overhead. The stars of summer remain high in the early evening sky. Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk. Autumn is here.

Moon Phases in October 2016:

1st Quarter Oct. 8, 11:33 p.m.

Full Oct. 15, 11:23 p.m.

Last Quarter Oct. 22, 2:14 p.m.

New Oct. 30, 12:38 p.m.

Just after midnight on Wednesday, October 19, the waning gibbous Moon occults the bright star Aldebaran. Aldebaran blinks out of view at 12:04 am as the Moon passes in front of it and reappears at 1:06 am from behind the dark limb of the Moon.

In fact, the Moon has occulted Aldebaran at least once a month since January 2015; this will continue until September 3, 2018. However, many of these events are not visible from North America or happen in daytime for us. This occultation, however, is clearly visible from Houston (weather permitting, of course). The waning gibbous Moon and Aldebaran will be high in the east by midnight. You may need a telescope to watch the actual moment of disappearance, as the sunlit lunar disk will wash out Aldebaran. The reappearance, however, is noticeable in binoculars since the opposite limb of the Moon will be dark. We’ll see another occultation of Aldebaran on Monday evening, December 12, with the Moon one day before full.

Come see us Saturday nights at the George Observatory! 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.

Our annual Astronomy Day at the George Observatory is on Saturday, October 8! On Astronomy Day we have activities from 3-10 pm, and all of the telescopes, even the ones that normally cost money to look through, are free. Surf to www.astronomyday.net for more information.

Star Map: September 2016

hmns

Star Map September 2016

Venus is a little higher in the evening sky this month.    Look low in the west in evening twilight.

 

Mars and Saturn are now in the southwest at dusk. 

 

Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind.  Also, it moves faster than Saturn against the background stars, so you can watch Mars pull away from Saturn this month.   

 

Jupiter is behind the Sun and out of sight this month.  Conjunction (Jupiter directly behind the Sun) is on September 26.  

 

The Big Dipper is to the left of the North Star, with its handle pointing up.  From that handle, you can ‘arc to Arcturus’ in the west at dusk. 

 

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left.  Saturn is right above Antares.  The Summer Triangle is almost overhead.  The stars of summer are here.  Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk, and is fully risen by month’s end.  Autumn is here.

 

Moon Phases in September 2016:

 

New 1st quarter Sept. 1, 4:03 am; Sept. 30, 7:11pm        

 

  1st Quarter  1st quarter1

September 9, 6:49 am       

 

  Full   full

September 16, 2:05 pm        

 

3rd Quarter3rd quarter

 September 23, 4:56 am  

 

The New Moon of September 1 blocks the Sun, causing an eclipse.  However, the Moon is too far away at the time to block the Sun completely, resulting in an annular rather than total eclipse.  Further, the whole event happens at night for us and is visible only in Africa. 

 

At 9:21 a.m. CDT on Thursday, September 22, the Sun is directly overhead as seen from the equator.  This marks the Autumnal Equinox, the ‘official’ start of fall.  On this date, everyone on earth has the same amount of daylight and night.  After this date, night becomes longer than day for us in the northern hemisphere.  Below the equator, day now becomes longer than night, and spring begins. 

 

This makes September one of the best months to observe an interesting effect.  You may have noticed that the spot where the Sun sets on the horizon varies day to day.  This variation is greatest, however, near the equinoxes in March and September.  Therefore, if you watch the Sun set each evening you can this month, the change will be quite noticeable. 

 

Come see us Saturday nights at the George Observatory!  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. 

 

satr mat sep 2016

 

       This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on September 1, 9 pm CDT on September 15, and 8 pm CDT on September 30.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.

 

The Summer Triangle is overhead.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the southwest, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to his left.  From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ in the west.  The Great Square of Pegasus is high in the east at dusk, heralding the coming autumn. 

You can learn more about the stars over Texas by visiting the Burke Baker Planetarium, here at HMNS. 

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: Jupiter is Shining Bright

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on August 1, 9 pm CDT on August 15, and dusk on August 31.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle is high overhead.  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.  From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest.  Mars begins to pass under Saturn in the south at dusk.  The Great Square of Pegasus rises in the east, heralding the coming autumn.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 10 pm CDT on August 1, 9 pm CDT on August 15, and dusk on August 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle is high overhead. 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. From the Big Dipper’s handle, ‘arc to Arcturus’ and ‘speed on to Spica’ in the southwest. Mars begins to pass under Saturn in the south at dusk. The Great Square of Pegasus rises in the east, heralding the coming autumn.

Jupiter is low in the west at dusk; this is the last month to see it in the evening sky until March 2017. It outshines all stars we ever see at night, so you can’t miss it even as it sets in twilight.

Venus begins to re-emerge into the evening sky this month. How soon can you spot it low in the evening twilight? Towards the end of the month, watch Venus approach Jupiter; they are only 0.07 degrees apart on August 27. On that night you must observe right after sunset to catch that pair, as they set before twilight ends.

Mars and Saturn are now in the south southwest at dusk.

Mars continues to fade each night as Earth leaves it farther and farther behind. Also, it moves faster than Saturn against the background stars, so you can watch Mars overtake Saturn this month. Today, Mars is to the right and is much brighter. By August 23-24, however, Mars will pass between Saturn and the bright star under it, Antares in Scorpius. By the end of the month, Mars is to the left of Saturn.

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 west at dusk.

Antares, brightest star of Scorpius, the Scorpion, is in the south, with the ‘teapot’ of Sagittarius to its left. Saturn is right above Antares. The Summer Triangle is almost overhead. The stars of summer are here. Meanwhile, the Great Square of Pegasus rises in the east at dusk, and is fully risen by month’s end. Autumn is on the way.

Moon Phases

Moon Phases in August 2016:

New Aug. 2, 3:45 p.m.

1st Quarter Aug. 10, 1:21 p.m.

Full Aug. 18, 4:27 a.m.

Last Quarter Aug. 24, 10:41 p.m.

As of Jul 19, 2016, Brazos Bend State Park is all dried out from the floods of April and May and back open to the public. Come see us Saturday nights at the George Observatory! 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.
Clear Skies!